Category Archives: Inspiration

Accepting our children as is: The true task of motherhood

A memory from the years when my children were in their early teens: I went grocery shopping one morning, without my children, of course. We all know that teenagers would rather insert burning hot needles into their corneas than be caught in public with a parent.

I stopped by the breakfast cereal and debated whether to stick to high fibre, healthy stuff or submit to my son’s plea for Reese’s Puffs. As I stood contemplating these options, a young mother with a baby about ten months old in her cart turned the corner. I watched her approach. She wasn’t looking around at anything in the aisle. (No Reese’s Puffs for her!) Instead she bent forward over her baby and crooned to her with unadulterated, innocent, devoted mother love. I could tell that, in her eyes, her child was perfection itself, incapable of any wrongdoing.

I thought “She has yet to learn that her child is a human being.”

Well, actually, if I were a perfect person, I would have thought that, but I’m a complex, independent, imperfect human being, so what I actually thought was, “She still hasn’t learned that her child can be a little rotter.” 

Don’t get me wrong. My children are fabulous, and they make me proud every day. But they’re human, so they are complex, independent and imperfect. They are learning, and they do that by making mistakes.

I still remember the exact moment I learned that my daughter wasn’t perfect, that she wasn’t going to instinctively sense all I wanted her to be and fulfill those expectations. She was three, and her baby brother had just learned to crawl. She didn’t bother much about him before he could move under his own steam, but the minute he crawled across our family room floor and picked up one of her toys, well now, that was a different story She sensed the threat to her domain. My daughter jumped up and began hiding toys out of the reach of her brother.

I watched, aghast. My perfect child was not perfect! She wasn’t instinctively and selflessly going to share everything? What? 

My son also had issues with sharing, but his revolved around food. My daughter wasn’t big on sharing toys, but she did share food willingly and joyfully. With a big smile on her face, she offered up french fries or spoonfuls of ice cream without being asked. But my son? No, no, you never could take food away from him. If he sensed an invader, he wrapped his arm around his plate to protect it and shoveled food in before anyone else might get to it.

That day in the cereal aisle the jaded mother of teenagers who had witnessed her children succeed and fail in different ways wondered what that mother’s moment of revelation would be. What would that beautiful, perfect, imperfect baby girl do someday that would open her mother’s eyes to complexities and to the human capacity for meanness or selfishness? What would happen to make that woman realize how different her child was from herself?

Because that’s what the real challenge of motherhood is: Opening our eyes to the complexities and imperfections of our children and accepting them and loving them exactly as is.

Beautiful, perfect imperfect children

My beautiful, perfect imperfect children, before I became the jaded mother of teenagers.

The parable of the shovels

Two men stood on opposite sides of a field. An Overseer said, “Dig.”

shovelThe first man said “Okay! I can handle that. I’ve been preparing all my life to dig.” He selected his best shovel from five shovels leaning against a large storage shed, and he set to work. He had no trouble digging; his parents had paid for digging lessons when he was a child, and he had a college degree in shoveling. He was so good at digging that sometimes this man wished he had more shovels. The families of some of his friends had so many shovels they needed more than one storage shed. They had more than they could ever use, and this man knew his life would be better too, if he amassed a larger supply.

The second man across the field heard the “Dig” instruction and set to work. He had no shovel, so he dug using his bare hands. He had never had a shovel, so he wouldn’t have known what to do with one if he had it. He believed that shovels were something only other people had, and they were a dream he would never attain. He was a little afraid of shovels, truth be told. And the people who had shovels didn’t treat him nicely at all, so he didn’t want to become like them. Because he didn’t have a shovel, he had to dig longer and work harder than the other man, and he still didn’t get as much done. But he kept working. One day he fell ill, but he dug anyway. There are no such things a sick days for people with no shovels.

The first man didn’t pay much attention to what was happening on the far away side of the field, but one day he decided to take a well-deserved afternoon off and go for a walk. When he came to the side of the field where the second man was working through his lunch hour, he saw how little progress the man had made.

“Look at that,” he said. “He’s hardly done anything. He’s waiting for me to pick up the slack.”

He shook his head and walked away. “He’s just lazy and riding on my coattails.” He didn’t notice that the man had no tools to work with. It didn’t occur to him to share any of the shovels he wasn’t using.

The Overseer came back to check on progress. He visited the man digging with his bare hands, and he complimented him on his progress. “You have done well,” he said. The digger knew he had worked hard. He felt proud of the results of his hard work, even though he knew it wouldn’t look like much to others.

hand-tool

The Overseer went to visit the man with many shovels. That digger said, “Look at what I’ve done.” He waved an arm to show off the large area of ground he had worked. “I’ve done so much more than that guy over there.” He pointed to the small patch the other digger had worked on the opposite corner of the field.

“You have done well,” the Overseer said, “But do you think you might have a shovel to spare?”

Startled, the first digger replied, “Why, sure, I guess.” He’d never thought of that before. He looked down at the shovel in his hand. It had a sturdy handle, and it was just the right length. He really loved it. He didn’t want to give that one away, so he kept his favourite shovel. He gave the Overseer one he’d forgotten he even had out of the back of the shed.

The Overseer returned to the far side of the field and placed the shovel into the dirty and calloused hands of the second digger. The man held it out from his body, overwhelmed at first. He had never handled shovels, so it felt awkward. He didn’t think he deserved such a thing.

“Use it. It will help you,” the Overseer said.

Eventually the second digger gained confidence and became quite comfortable with the new tool. It worked so well for him, he even enjoyed some time off every once in a while.

  • There will always be people with more or fewer tools.
  • Don’t judge people who don’t have tools.
  • Don’t be afraid of tools; master them and they will help.
  • Everyone is worthy of tools.
  • Consider the needs of others and get them some tools, if you can.
  • Sometimes we don’t even realize that we have more tools than we really need.
  • It’s okay to keep your favourite tool.

Facing fear: Cost or benefit?

Last week I wrote about a meeting with a group of people who have to make a difficult decision. The facilitator asked everyone to consider the costs and benefits of saying “YES” and the costs and benefits of saying “NO.”

The group considered financial repercussions, the effect on personal relationships and the overall societal implications—the usual stuff. When listing the benefits of saying “NO” one group spoke up with: “If we say no, we won’t have to face our fears.”

People nodded. True. So true. The status quo—the comfort zone—is very appealing. The people in the room agreed that saying “NO” would, in many ways, make life a little easier.

But it only took a second or two before there was a reflective pause and a murmur. “Wait a minute,” the murmur said. “Not facing fears would also be a cost.”

We realized that not facing fears is an ingredient in recipes for stagnation, disappointment, dissatisfaction, guilt, depression, anger and lots of other unpleasant aspects of life.

It’s not the easy choice. It’s not the comfortable choice. But sometimes it’s a whole lot of fun, and it’s better than getting stuck between the cracks of life.

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, April 16, 1991

Up close and personal with the other side of the story

Yesterday I took part in a meeting with a group of people who have to make a difficult decision. It is the kind of decision that touches people in a deep place, so we know that no matter what the result will create some uneasiness.

The facilitator for the group asked us to consider this: If we say “YES,” what are the benefits of that decision? If we say “YES,” what are the costs of that decision?

I have an opinion on the matter, so I knew that listing the benefits would be a breeze. Easy-peasy. No problem. But I thought I would struggle with pointing out the costs. I was wrong. I was surprised by how readily I was able to come up with both costs and benefits.

We were also asked to look at the situation from the “NO” side. If we say “NO,” what are the benefits of that decision? If we say “NO,” what are the costs of that decision?

the-two-oneAgain, both costs and benefits came easily to mind. I didn’t have to dig around in the recesses of my mind to find them. I didn’t have to struggle with them or make something up. Both sides of the issue were ready for plucking off the surface of my brain once I chose to look for them.

I was surprised by how up close and personal my relationship with the other side of the issue was. 

I realized that I had already, subconsciously or unconsciously, weighed the costs and benefits. I had arrived at an opinion having considered the costs but seeing the benefits as more important, on balance.

It made me wonder, how many people hold strong opinions on a matter without any awareness of how up close and personal they are, or have been, with the other side of the issue?

 

 

A Life Boat Fantasy

Indulge me in a little Life Boat fantasy.

Happy water

Today—I’m not sure why—my mind travels to a mighty river. In the mind voyage I am a passenger in a large boat carried along on the current. I don’t choose the speed of the current. It is. But I can choose to paddle to the side and slow down if I want.

Jagged rocks jut out of the water on either side of me. I steer clear of them, but occasionally I snag on unseen portions of rock that hide below the surface. I must reach down and push off.

A seagull soars overhead and curves toward me in a graceful arc. I enjoy the beautiful freedom of its flight. The seagull swoops low and deposits a large splash of poop on the edge of my bow. I blink at the unexpected unpleasant intrusion into the beauty.

I realize I’m not alone in my boat. Passengers ride with me! I think Where did they come from? Why are they here? And I think Those are good questions to ponder. 

I look around and notice how I feel when I recognize each face. I expect grand and sweeping emotions, like love or hate, but that would be too simple. People are complicated. My reactions arise from the amount and quality of light emanating from each person, because each person has a distinct collection of firefly flickers of light around them. Golden lights pop like fireworks around people who laugh a lot and live joyfully. Blue lights flutter around those who practice gratitude. Violet lights surround the ones who think deeply. Bright white lights shine around those who help others. One person flickers with brilliant—almost supernatural—lights of many colours. I’m surprised by his presence, and I am even more surprised by how many golden lights pop around him.

“Huh,” I say to him. “So, you are here after all.”

“Always,” he says. His white lights glow.

“You’re very joyful,” I say. “People always take you so seriously.”

He laughs.

Some people have only a few dim lights that flicker into life briefly and then die away. I find I don’t hate or resent these people. I’m pulling for them. I want them to learn. One of these dimmer  characters shades her eyes from the bright—almost supernatural—presence.

“There’s a storm coming,” she says. “You’ll never make it.”

“I see the storm clouds,” I say. “But I’m strong.”

The woman starts to pace and I realize she doesn’t want to stay in my boat. I direct myself toward shore, and she leaps over the side before I can even maneuver the boat to solid ground. In her haste to flee anything positive, and with her zombie hunger for negativity, her feet land in sodden muck. She stands in the muck like the Grinch with his feet ice cold in the snow. Other people I hadn’t noticed before clamber out after her.

When I set off again, my Life Boat is lighter and moves quickly in the current.

The storm clouds arrive and rain pelts down, but the people in my Life Boat with me smile, paddle hard and bail water until we pass through the storm and greet a rainbow on the horizon.

After all that hard work, we choose to dawdle for a while. We relax against the sides of the boat and talk and sing. We’re loud, and we don’t care if we’re in tune. “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da” by the Beatles. “Witch Doctor” by David Seville. Ooo, eee, ooo ah ah ting tang / Walla walla, bing bang / Ooo, eee, ooo ah ah ting tang /Walla walla, bing bang.

Just fun.

Other boats float around me. Some have crews that paddle intently and relentlessly. They leave me behind, but I notice that no one in those boats is singing. When I pass near another craft stuck on the rocks, my friends and I row over and nudge it back into movement.

sunsetThe sun is setting in the distance, and my Life Boat moves toward the crimson magenta of the dying sun. I contemplate what the sun means, and I think about pre-destination and free will. My Life Boat involves a little of both.

While on my Life Boat, I can’t choose the speed of the current. I can’t choose where the rocks are, when the thunderstorms come, or when birds poop on me.

But I can choose where to steer my boat. I can choose how to interact with the people who appear in my boat. I can choose when to paddle quickly and when to dawdle. I can choose to sing. I can choose to help people.

In my Life Boat fantasy. 

 

 

The pixels, the picture and the story: A faith mosaic

canadian mosaic july 7th smallSince 2008, photographer Tim Van Horn has been travelling across Canada to photograph Canadians, and he will continue to do so into 2017. Each one of his photographs will become a pixel in a giant Canadian flag mosaic portrait to be completed in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017. The portrait will tell the story of “the collective history and energy of 40,000 of Canadians from across the land . . . weaving together a colourful, diverse, true life look at the Canadian cultural tapestry.”

Van Horn’s Canadian Mosaic Project takes the faces of Canadians and creates a picture. The picture in turn tells a bigger story of a culturally diverse country.

Life is in the details, and life is in the big picture.

To really appreciate his masterpiece, we need to know about and consider the 40,000 unique citizens at the heart of it—the people pixels. But if we were to spend all our time microscopically dissecting the pixels without stepping away to appreciate they way they blend together, we would miss the big picture. We don’t want to make the mistake of thinking that the pixels are the only thing. Sure, we need to study the details, but we also need to enjoy the big picture and, more importantly, ponder what greater story they work together to tell.

Faith is like that.

We can study the bible. We can closely examine the many intricate details therein. But we don’t want to make the mistake of thinking that those details are what faith is all about. We need to step back and look at the bigger picture. And, more importantly, we need to ponder the greater story they work together to tell.

The faith story for me is:

  • All people are of equal value. Each unique face forms a vital part of the whole. All are one.
  • The collective history and energy of billions of people of different faiths weave together to form a colourful, diverse, true life tapestry.

_______________

Find out more about The Canadian Mosaic Project on Facebook.

 

 

 

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