About Me

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I live on the North Shore in BC, after a (too) brief time in the prairies. Working as an artist, mother and wife (not necessarily in that order), i am striving to live well, to find the truth of God in all things, and to pass on this truth to others.

Monday, January 19, 2015

perfectionism is for losers

i was asked to speak at our church's mom's group - called "littles" - last week.  it always feels a little surreal when i'm asked to share somewhere; i mean, do people really want to listen to me?  and do i really have something to say?  especially on the topic of parenting...a subject matter that envelops a wide array of emotions for me.  i was asked to share what i have learned as a mother, and it was suggested that i frame the talk in chapter headings.  so, chapter 1:  perfectionism is for losers.  here's a snippet:

early on in my career as a parent, I realized that the term “perfect mother” was an unachievable notion.  it is sadly, one that is thrown about, but what would a perfect mother really be like?  how could you do this job perfectly and keep you sanity?

when my daughter was quite small I started seeing a counselor due to fits of uncontrollable anger I was experiencing.  she quickly diagnosed my perfectionism and asked me “would you want your daughter to have to live up to the ideal of perfection?  would you want to be friends with a perfect woman?”.  those were life-altering questions for me, because I realized that I would never want to lay the burden of perfection on anyone I loved, especially my child.  and I would never want to have a perfect friend.  how could I ever relate to her?  how could I share my struggles with her?  or complain with her? 

I started reflecting on the things I was doing as a mother because of the various voices in my head telling me that these actions were hallmarks of a “good mother”:  my mom had once said “a good mom makes chicken soup once a week”.  actually, what most likely happened is that i made the soup, told her about it, and she said "you're such a good mother". which, in my perfectionistic baby-brained sleep-deprived state, translated to become "make chicken soup every week from scratch if you want to be a good mother".   so I would make the freakin' soup and my daughter would refuse to eat it, and I would lose it because she was inhibiting me from being a ‘good mother’.  didn't she understand that I made the freakin' soup for her?!! ....!!!!! 

my mother-in-law had made a passing comment on how my house was so clean, so I kept it as spotless as possible, and had these horrible conversations in my head while I was cleaning, of her praising me, or of how my house was so much cleaner than this woman who was being mean to me, etc...  and then my poor toddler would dump her raisins on the floor (on purpose!) and I’d rage.

I realized that my desire to be a perfect mom was making me a horrible one.

a friend of mine who I really admire serves her family popcorn for dinner on Sundays so that they can relax and watch little house on the prairie together.  I have yet to reach this level of nonchalance, perhaps because if I don’t eat meat in a meal I’m ravenous an hour later, or perhaps the Canadian food guide is like a chain around my neck.  but I aspire to popcorn dinners.  or something akin to them. 

the goal of our parenting is not to raise perfect people, but healthy ones.  people that know both their flaws and God’s grace.  I want children who will laugh at themselves instead of others.  who practice gratitude daily.  who enjoy life deeply and see God’s best.  who trust their imperfections and the world’s imperfections to a perfect God.  and here’s the secret:  my children will not achieve this healthy state if they have a ‘perfect’ mother. 


*****
it was a good talk for me to have to speak out loud.  a beating away of the voices that circle my head like crows, a murder of crows, calling me to guilt and shame and slavery to perfectionism.  there are these life-long battles we fight that can feel so long and hard and dreary, sloth-ing our way through the mud, hesitant to look back on how long the road is behind us, terrified of looking forward at all that is to come.  tired.  then you speak, and bring things hidden back out into the light, and for a while you are carried by the prayers and understanding faces and tearful eyes of others.  

and i remembered that some of my most profound moments of mothering have occurred when i am apologizing.

i wish for you a week of healthy choices, silenced voices, and cherished friendships.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

mirror mirror

there's a magical mirror in the first harry potter book - the mirror of Erised.  the person who looks into its shimmering depths will see themselves reflected with their hearts deepest desire. Dumbledore warns harry that many a man has wasted their life sitting in front of the mirror.   i think i may have had a glimpse of this dark magic myself yesterday - in the mirror of Anthropologie.

i walked into the change room, glancing at the floor to ceiling mirror beside me, and was struck by feelings of pride. "man, these jeans look good on me" i thought.  my sporadic work outs must be doing something good.  i turned to face the reflection:  my hair looks great today, wow, my legs look long.  wait a minute....my legs look long.

that was my first clue that there was trickery afoot.

i called out to scott "i think the mirror in here stretches me up" and the woman attending the change rooms called back "yah, they do that.  if you want a true image of yourself you can look in the mirrors out here".

well, well.

i called scott in "you have to see my legs in this mirror"...i confess i was entranced.  of course, my husband being who he is, came into the little room angry, using words like "manipulation" and "deceitful".  i just stared at those long legs of mine and smiled.

i suppose it surprises no one that he's the dumbledore and i'm the harry in this relationship.

now, in the comfort of my own home with my truthful mirrors and not-long legs i do feel a little miffed.  how mean to put that image in front of me - an image that no amount of working out or eating well could ever produce.  unless the rack is brought back as a beauty regime, the anthropologie image will never materialize.

and what about the population of women who are tall?  do they look in the mirror and see a behemoth?  do they cringe at the sight?

ah well, i bought the dress anyways, despite the crappy lying mirror and the scented candles that gave scott a headache.  i'm such a sucker for a sale.

usually at this time of year i like to write about looking back, remembering the lessons learned in the previous 12 months, practicing gratitude for all that i have been offered and experienced.

this year, i allowed myself a few peeks behind, but the last few months made me so annoyed that i have snapped my head forward.  ahead!  i will not depress myself with writing out the details of september to december, but let's just say that my role as mother has been requiring many hours of overtime.  sometimes i just have to look at my parenting as a job:  jobs have seasons of high intensity, jobs are not always enjoyable.  somehow this encourages me.  and then i think about all of the perks my job as a mother entails - i get to work from home, frequent snacks, hugs and kisses, no dress code...pretty cushy career!!  (just don't get me started on the lice and 9 weeks of flus and puke on the walls and crabby bored little people constantly complaining....)

as i said, let's look ahead!

2015 sounds like a year from the jetsons.  maybe we should get a pet this year and call it "elroy". wait a minute, did i just say that?!  when i wrote "pet" i meant "plant".

i will turn 40 this year.  that sounds like a number from the golden girls.  no, no, i'm just kidding.  but it is a number that makes me pause, and think "really?!".  mostly because i should be a total bonified legitimate adult by 40.  i always thought i'd be a lot more mature by this age, more calm and demure, finally quiet at parties and able to resist exposing personal information in moments of discomfort.  again, the dream is not the true reflection.

good thing i like the short, loud, inappropriate me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

get me off this ride

this summer has been a bit of  a roller coaster emotionally.  some breathtaking highs and some plummets that pull your stomach up into your throat.  all in all a good ride that's left me a little shaken.

and, as a shining jewel to top it off, my summer ended in my 39th birthday last thursday.

last thursday was one of the best days of my life.  i woke up at 8, grabbed a delicious coffee and my robe, and scooted downstairs to paint for two hours.  it felt like a dream.  my son quietly opened the door to my studio and threw in a paper airplane with birthday love written on it.  my husband made me breakfast.  and i painted and sang and sank into the goodness of my family and my gifting and my life.  later i went shopping with the kids and bought some new plants and gardened in sunshine.  then i headed off to my dear friend leah's birthday party - it was perfect!  an amazing party that i didn't have to plan or execute or clean up after, filled with close friends and delicious food.

at this moment you might hate me, but remember:  the roller coaster.

the next morning i brought the kids to the doctors because i had this insanely itchy scalp.  i had looked up symptoms of candida on the internet (candida is something i'm dealing with, hence the annoying sugar free diet), and confirmed that an itchy scalp is totally related. scott is the one who basically forced me to go to the doctor, so i explained everything to her, in a tone that was saying "i'm sorry i'm wasting your time, since i've self-diagnosed my issue, but my husband made me come...". She smiled and gently pointed out there are many reasons for itchy scalps.  she had me pull my hair up off of my neck and she shone the light on the back of my head.  i think it was instant.  no, i'm almost positive it was instant - her reaction i mean.  she stepped back.  she said "oh, yes, your head is infested with gnats".

INFESTED.

i calmly yelled "GNATS?!!!!" and then immediately realized i had just informed the entire waiting room of my condition.  i confess i fleetingly had the thought that maybe gnats weren't the same thing as lice.  maybe they were a higher more rare breed or something.  the caviar or infectious head-biting diseases.  no, no, they're not.

let's just get it out there:  my whole family has lice.

so, friday, the day after one of the best days of my life, was filled with chemical treatments, lice combs, laundry, vacuuming, more laundry, and sticking hats and dolls and one of my favourite dresses in quarantine.  this was a plummet my friends.

by monday, we'd gotten into a groove as a family.  scott and i would get up, make the coffee, and sit on the back deck in the rising sunshine and nit-pick.  not "i hate it when you leave your flat iron on the counter" nit-pick.  no, the reason the entire phrase was invented.  we pick little spider-like bugs and their eggs off each other's heads (and you know how much i love spiders!).  scott wanted to add "professional de-louser" on his linked-in profile.  actually, truth be told, he's very good at it.

anyways, on monday we're in the groove, no longer completely grossed out, and trying to find the beauty in early morning shocks of sunshine.  it could even be romantic if it wasn't completely disgusting.  i decide, after i've been cleaned, to workout.  to not just do yoga this time, but a weight-lifting routine.

and i put my back out.

and i was lifting three pound weights.

and, yes, now i feel like a louse-y old woman.

do you see what i'm saying about the roller coaster?  don't get me wrong, i know it could be a pit, i know there's worse things than being on this ride, but i still want off.  give me a prairie field of flat predictability.  at least for a few days.

  

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

oh to be wise!

I've been thinking about wisdom the last few days.

on sunday Mike, a pastor at our church, preached a sermon about spiritual gifts.  usually a sermon on this topic touches on the different "gifts" (teaching, encouraging, serving, exhortation, prophecy, etc.), then explains how you know you have these gifts, or how they should be used, and a "spiritual gifts inventory" is sometimes handed out, and a passionate plea is given about how each member of the church needs to use their gifts in order for the church to work effectively.

this is what i was expecting.  this is not what i heard.

instead, Mike, got right down to the root of the matter - why does God's Spirit gift us in certain ways?  what's the point?  sometimes we have gifts that come naturally to us, sometimes we have them for a specific time or place - but all of us are gifted in some way to do something, or be something.  short answer:  the reason we have gifts is to give them, to use them as a means of extending the grace we have received to others.

there's no ego here.  no comparing my gifts with another's.  there's no need - every gifting has the same purpose.  we, each of us, are a gift to God's people and the world in unique ways.  we are each presents, put in place for the good of all.

therefore the question isn't "what's my gift?", but "how am i giving myself?".

i apologize for the little sermonette there, but that is the context to my ruminating on wisdom.  and the short story is: i want to be wise.  i want wisdom to be one of my gifts to my community.

as i was gardening on monday, stewing on this thought, i glanced up at my husband.  he was sitting in the front yard reading theology.  i thought about the fact that he loves, (LOVES) to read theology.  he loves to read autobiographies.  he loves documentaries. my husband is a gleaner of information and the wisdom of others.

i glanced over at the book i'm reading.  no, that is a lie.  i'm not reading it, i'm listening to it as an audiobook. i am not even making the effort to use my eyes to decipher letters.   it's from the "young adult fiction" section at the library, and is about a future distopian society where everyone gets plastic surgery to make them beautiful at the age of 16, thus making everyone "equal" and eradicating crime.  i won't say this is as far from theology as you can get, but it's definitely past the mid-line between wisdom and stupidity.

suddenly something became clear:  i may want to be wise, but i'm not drawn to gleaning wisdom.

i'm drawn to story and beauty and romance, to delicious smells and tastes, to laughter and colour and lilting melodies and complex harmonies.  i can honestly stare at the colour of our kitchen walls and feel this great sense of thankfulness.  i will shove my nose inside a rose and feel pleasure ripple through me.  i paint for an hour and feel restored, or sing with scott and feel blessed beyond measure.

i am gifted with the arts.  i love the arts and the arts love me.  they rejuvenate me and push me to praise.

i thought about this while weeding around our japanese maple and came to the conclusion that i need to just let go of my wisdom fantasies.  surely harry potter and van dyke brown (my favourite brown) and the indigo girls will not end in me being wise.

and then today i was talking to scott about the whole internal process and he said - "you're kidding!  you'll never believe what i was reading while you were thinking that "and he started to read to me from his theology book:
one of the urgent needs of our day is to recover an understanding of the interplay of wisdom with the arts - to speak to how the arts are vital to the formation of a Christian mind, the cultivation of a Christian imagination and the nurturing of a deep love for the good, the noble, the excellent and the worthy of praise. (Gordon Smith, "Called to be Saints").


well, would you look at that!  the arts are vital to the formation of a Christian mind.  hallelujah- i'm not a lost cause after all!!  and maybe (maybe) my young adult fiction isn't an embarrassment - at least it's an inventive and interesting story that's not filled with sex.  and maybe my dream of my paintings pulling others closer to God is not a fantasy.

maybe the Spirit of God is using the arts to build wisdom in me.  a love for beauty, a passion for imagination, a gratitude for creation:  a trust in my Creator.

i must hear more of Gordon Smith!  i'll get Scott to read the book and give me a summary.  maybe in the form of a dance, or a haiku.



Wednesday, June 25, 2014

holiness and husbandry

yesterday i puked my guts out.  or, at least, the entirety of my stomach contents.  in truth,  it felt like some guts snuck in there as well.  perhaps a little spleen?
but let's not dwell.  instead, let me tell you about my incredible husband.
there i am, lying on the floor, half in the en-suite, half in the bedroom.  i am clutching a green plastic bowl at my side, as though it is a flotation device.  i am covered in sweat.  my hair: a rats nest halo.  lets not even mention my breath.  i'm moaning and would be crying if not for dehydration.
scott stands above me, having just saved me from passing out.  the dear man looks down at me and says: "Janet, you are not dying".
(for those of you who are not familiar with my tendencies to over-dramatize my illnesses, feel free to read my past blog post entitled hypochondria).
he then tucks me into bed, washes out the bowl (unbelievable!), researches and buys something sugar-free to re-hydrate me, and sets up netflix on a pile of blankets beside me.
i mean, seriously!!!.

i once read this book. ok, i once read the first few chapters of this book (as is my practice with non-fiction) called "sacred marriage".  the thesis was that marriage is not primarily for personal happiness, but as a means of building holiness.  (i know, that's a slap in the face to popular culture, and me, quite frankly).  the author encouraged his readers to pray something along the lines of "God, help me to find my husband the most attractive man in the world.  may my definition of beauty be all that he is.  may my eyes be for him alone".  so, i pray this every so often (possibly after watching james bond).

as i lay on the floor, my legs stretching into our bathroom, literally wondering if i was at death's door, and he said those words "Janet, you are not dying" i thought "he is the most beautiful man in the world".

answered prayer!

and now i'm typing on my laptop as he sits across the family room, guitar in hand, singing a worship song he wrote when we were first married, and my heart is bursting.

the catch for this marriage-for-holiness thing is that holiness breeds happiness.  when scott was serving me he was acting out the character that God has been forming in him.  who else could make him into a man that deals with his wife's puke and hypochondria but God in heaven?  my hope and prayer is that I am being transformed into someone that reflects Christ too.  that scott will see in me what i see in him.  for the closer to Jesus we become, the more deeply we will love each other, and the happier we'll be.  (which makes me think i'm in this for my personal happiness... perhaps i should read a few more chapters of the book).

oh dear, now he's doing handy man jobs.  this man needs to be kissed!  i must go.

Monday, May 26, 2014

memories of kauai

i'm back from Hawaii.
i know, for some of you it's like i never left, like the blink of an eye.  but i did.  can't say i have the tan to prove it, but i do have sand around the edges of my dryer and some new shells scattered about the house, and, most of all, memories.  want to hear some?...

...it's mother's day and i'm sitting on a manicured lawn which borders a small beach.  my hair is ridiculous -curls curlier than i've ever seen them, splayed around my head, thick with salt.  again, i wish for some sort of hat to cover up the travesty.  the sun is setting.  i rip a piece off the costco roasted chicken with my hands and shove it in my mouth.  scott smiles beside me.  on the beach, my children are building a hill of sand.  they've named this hill "fat joe".  when my son told me it's name he said it a little sheepishly, knowing that i don't like to hear the word "fat" as a descriptor - but i assured him that naming a hill of sand 'fat' is appropriate.  they squeal every time the waves surround them, and cheer for fat joe surviving the onslaught.  they are sun-kissed and filthy and happy down to their bones.  i turn to scott and say "best mother's day present ever".

...we are at secret beach: a series of tiny inlets, framed by mounds of volcanic rock.  we climbed over a few of these before settling onto this stretch of sand.  behind me is more rock and then a jungled cliff-face.  ahead is pounding surf.   beneath me, warm sand.  to my right, a jumble of dry rock.  to my left, wet rocks as the waves crash against them, sending spray up and over to form a small pool.  my husband is in this pool, his back against the rock, smiling at me.  it's deep enough that when he crouches down it hits his shoulders.  suddenly, an enormous wave crashes and scott is under a waterfall of water, laughing and yelling.  i think to myself:  "scott is standing under a waterfall.  i am sitting on a towel reading.  i have to get up."  i'm not the type that loves to play in the surf, not being a great swimmer.  i also abhor being cold.  warm sand and a good book is my circle of happiness.  but something bloomed inside me, when i jumped up and ran into that water.  when i was kissed under a hawaiian waterfall.  something like satisfaction.

i am floating in the ocean, the sun hot on my back.  i hear my breath moving in and out of my snorkel.  salt stings the corners of my eyes.  i hear a little squeal through the water, it's scott.  he's pointing to a school of white tropical fish eating along the edge of the reef.  there's fish everywhere i see, all colours, shapes and sizes.  i love the little round black ones with white polka dots, they make me think of Audrey Hepburn.  a fashionable lady in fish form.  and those longer ones with the florescent purple streak along their backs.  for a moment i am transported above myself, and i see that i am being filled with beauty and warmth, more than i am able to receive.  i squeeze scott's hand.

i am standing in water up to my waist.  the car is packed with all of our suitcases, and we leave for the airport from this beach.  here there is an oval pool, protected from the waves by another rock cropping, but unique in that the rock reaches fully from one point on the beach, to another - one half of the oval.  as i stand holding my daughters hand i see a glint of blue in the water.  as we stare a school of large blue fish with bright yellow side fins comes into view.  my smile must reach my ears.  smaller silvery fish are swimming around us, and then, oh my goodness!  they are circling us - around and around they swim with my daughter and i forming their epicenter.  it is an extravagant parting gift.   i think that i must remember this moment later when stuck in a cramped plane.  and i do.

we arrived home to a cacophony of colour in the form of front lawn flowers.  our personal paradise.  how incredible is my life that my home boasts as much beauty as my vacation destination.  i stand amazed.

now it's back to work and vacuuming and painting and gardening - this abundant life.  hopefully i carry the lessons of beauty and warmth and rest that i experienced.  hopefully i am more grateful and humbled and awe-struck:  some holiness gleaned in the holiday.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

emmaus



this Easter season, I spent a lot of time meditating on the story found in the last chapter of Luke - the disciples travelling to Emmaus.  in it there are two disciples and they are leaving Jerusalem, weighed down by the grief of the crucifixion.  it is sunday.  Jesus has been dead since Friday, and although the Bible does not detail what happened on the day between, I am positive it was a drowning experience. unrelenting waves of hopelessness and bewilderment.

a week prior these two may have been in the throngs of people welcoming Jesus into the city, laying their coats down for the donkey he rode to walk upon.  they had plans, they had hopes and dreams that were being fulfilled in the person of Jesus.  their entire lives were centered around this - they followed him from city to city, they digested his teachings, maybe they worked crowd control on one of his healing nights.  maybe they were in the temple when he rampaged through, and silently cheered him on. they must have lived with the thought "it's happening!  it's happening!" for weeks on end, sure that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, come to free them from Roman rule, but also it seemed from disease and hypocrisy and maybe even death.  no more death.
and then Jesus is arrested.
and he doesn't deny the charges.
and he's crucified.
and he's dead.

and hope is crucified with him.

where does a disciple go from there?  what does one do when your life's' purpose has been murdered?
not stick around, that's for sure.  as soon as it was lawful to travel, as soon as the Sabbath was over and there was light enough to travel, they were gone.  off to Emmaus.

there are days in my life where I feel like i'm plodding along, possibly looking for escape, bewildered and wondering.  why aren't things turning out as I hoped they would?  where is God?  how did i get there and how do i get out?
I can definitely empathize with these disciples, and picture them, unkempt, tired, eyes red from nights of tears, stooped and shuffling along in the rain.  the road seems to stretch forever before them.

and they meet another traveler.
and he begins to change the lens of their worldview.  he pulls out old stories and scripture they hadn't heard for years, and suddenly their perspective is changing.  they start feeling some excitement - which i'm sure was a little terrifying.  their hearts start to burn.
they sit down to dinner and this traveler breaks the bread.  wait a minute....did i just see?....were those nail scars in his hands?!!!
and he's gone.
and they're up from the table.  and they're running, sprinting, back to Jerusalem.  back to the city that stank of death and fear and hopelessness - they can't get there fast enough.


all hope is reborn.  truth has come burning into the hearts of the disciples, and they tie their shoelaces tightly and RUN!  I see them laughing and hooting and praising, looks of wonder and joy and incredulity on their faces.  
"remember when he said...."  
              "when did you know?" 
                             "i can't believe it!!  we have to tell...."

like you, i wish that resurrection could happen without dying.  i wish that the fire of sunday didn't require the bleak hopelessness of saturday, and the agony of friday.  but each year Easter reminds me that it does.  i look around my garden at the little green shoots springing out of what seem to be dry and dead stems, and i'm reminded again.  life from death.  and this life, stronger and more beautiful than the previous one.  and the death has, against all odds, been made worth it.