Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Truth About Hope

The truth about hope, is that it isn't hope until you anticipate fulfillment despite discouragment.

The truth about perseverance, is that it isn't perseverance until you have to carry on without seeing progress.

The truth about joy, is that it isn't joy until you dance with peace even in the middle of the storm.

The truth about obedience, is that it isn't obedience until you have to sacrifice to continue doing what's right.

The truth about unconditional love, is that it isn't that kind of love until you love despite the conditions you are in.

The truth about growth, is that there isn't growth without change.

And sometimes friends, that's just a lot of hard work. Work that makes us angry and frustrated.  Work that makes us feel like crying and giving up because it just feels like we are alone and the whole thing takes too long.

But don't give up.

Keep hoping.

Keep perservering.

Keep loving.

Keep choosing joy.

Keep obeying.

Keep believing.

The truth is no good thing becomes a good thing without first being tested.  

Carry on my fellow warriors - wherever your battle is.  I will light a candle and hold you and your struggles in my heart.  And maybe, if enough of us do this, we will look up in the middle of the middle of our journey, see those beacons of light and realize we are in good company.

Amen.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Un Petit Facebook Rant

There are a lot of fantastic things about Facebook.  But every once in a while it makes me want to lose my mind.  This morning I got a bee in my bonnet - What? You don't wear a bonnet while you read facebook?  Odd.  

I digress.  I felt the need to rant a little about speak life into the way many use this social media outlet. I believe we can do better in regards to how we post about what other people are posting.  So enjoy. If you find rants enjoyable, that is:

Dear people of the internet: let's stop using facebook as the metric by which we measure a persons depth of character. Full stop. People will post things all day long that you don't fully agree or identify with.  And that's ok.  You can like it or not.  You can read it or not.  But I think we'd all be better off if we stopped trying to tell people when we post something how what they are posting is not the right thing to be posting.  

I just used post four times in one sentence.  Rants do not make for good writing and stuff. 

I'm sure you want to be known and judged by more than your facebook feed.  Quit trying to fix everyone else's feed and tend to your own.  I believe the literary expression you're now looking for is irony.  I get it.  And yet, I write.

If you post something because you identify with it, stop using shame and guilt as a way of corraling support. Hint: shame and guilt almost always start with "I bet you won't..." or "I know most people don't care about this but...".  If you can't say what needs to be said without firing off those weapons first, perhaps it should give pause for thought before you post it.  Perhaps I don't really mean perhaps.

Stop trying to judge a person's value by what they do and don't post or "like".  Social media is always a snapshot, it can never contain the whole of who we are as human beings.  Thank God for that. 

Believe the best in people.  They are quite often fantastic, even if you don't agree with everything they do, or if they are moved, or humoured, or excited, or passionate about different things than you are. There is enough humour, grief, joy and sadness in the world to go around and it's gonna show up in all different ways on our timelines.  Embrace diversity.  It's really so much more beautiful than the monotony of sameness.

Remember that people are seriously God's best invention ever. So instead of trying to find where someone's character is lacking by what they post - look for what they have. See their grief - even if you're more saddened by something else.  See the humour, even if it's not your particular brand. Reject the scarcity mentality that says that if you let them have their moment-feelings-attitude there won't be enough left for you.  Live with open hands instead of trying to tightly hold on to always being "right" - that's an exhausting burden to carry. Let it go and reflect abundance by looking for it and seeing it in others. 

Reflect generous, abundant spirits - even in how you preface what you post.  Turning weapons into tools that will build and grow a beautiful life starts with us.  Even on facebook.

There.  I feel better now.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Red Lipstick and the Image of God

It's fair to say that it started with red lipgloss.

I walked into the store and decided that I was going to prove to myself that the world would not cast aspersions on me and friends would not disown me if I bought and wore red lipstick.  I purchased it and sat in the van.  I put it on and had a good long look at myself in the mirror.

First thing I noticed was that the mirror didn't crack.  Quelle relief. The second revelation was that no one in the parking lot, at least none that I could see were pointing and laughing at me. Phew. Third, I realized that I kind of liked how it looked. Well that's a new feeling.

Then I was stung with just a tiny bit of regret for never having bought anything bright or bold or really lipstick of any kind for many years because I had decided long ago, that bright and beautiful lips were for bright and beautiful people, and I knew, or at least for most of life I had convinced myself that I was definitely not that.

But I was in the middle-beginnings of some pretty transformative stuff in my life and one of those thoughts I was test driving was this idea that I was worthy of beauty.  This somehow felt safer than saying "I am beautiful".  Baby steps, right?

So I suppose it didn't really start with the gloss, but rather this revolutionary idea that,women, all women - including myself, were created as a primary reflection  of the image of God.

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It doesn't seem to matter what you look like, your shape, your size, your personality - if you want to hear the vast majority of women start going down a laundry list of self deprecating comments about themselves, just try and compliment who they are or how they look.  

We will tell you all the ways we aren't nice if you point out strength of character.  We will tell you everything about our form that we wish was different if you dare to say there is something exceptional about the way we look.  We'll make sure you know our pretty shirt was on sale, or toss out the "this old thing?" if you tell us that we dressed well. We will do anything but accept the compliment graciously and allow it to warm us and encourage us from the inside-out like kind and genuine words are supposed to do.

It wasn't until I was willing to see God differently, and I hope, more accurately, that I was able to change that what I believed about myself.

If facebook feeds are any idication of the group-think out there, I'm not alone in my struggle. But I want so badly for us to be free.  This isn't about shaming women into accepting compliments better, either. And this certainly isn't about snuggling up with apathy or becoming besties with fakeness and over-doing it to make it happen. This is about freedom, and it might come slowly and start with something silly and small like red lipgloss but can you imagine how life would change for you if when someone said "You look nice today" your first response was "Thank-you!"-because you believed it was true.

So picture me, in a totally non-creepy way,  gently taking you by the shoulders and looking into your beautiful face - with the dimples you don't like, or your crooked teeth you wish were straight, or your imperfect eyebrows or lack of long eyelashes, and asking you to stop for a minute and remember who you are.

You.  Yes - you!  Have been made in the image of God.  Have we forgotten that God is not a man? Or maybe that's something we've never really been told.  We often refer to God as He and Him, (and that's not wrong) - but the greatest name that God has is not he or she but I AM.  Throughout the bible there are metaphors and stories that paint a picture of who God is and what God does that are not at odds with your femaleness and who you desire to be. 

Creating woman was not some divine afterthought - it is not as though you are some secondary sorting bin where the lesser things of God reside.  You are fully and completely made in the image of God. Single or married, young or old, your emotion, intuition, sensitivity and compassion reflect your creator. You- how you look and who you are-  belong everywhere: in the home, in the marketplace, in our churches.You are needed: up front and behind the scenes, bringing your strengths and abilities wherever you feel drawn and compelled to live and move and have your being within the kingdom of God.  You are not the less-than creation! You are a reflection of the Divine Creator!

Can we talk about our bodies for a moment? Maybe we have an easier time believing that our personalities and character could be reflection of God but I'd like to suggest that this topic so often frought with shame and guilt could be changed with this truth: your very shape is in God's image. 

Whether it's long and lean or soft and round, with curves and softeness and breasts and hips- your body is not something to be fixed or hidden from the world with burkas or baggy tshirts over bathing suits.  Nor is your form meant to be exploited and sold as though your sexuality and "hotness" was the greatest and only thing you had to offer the world.  Far from it!  Your shape is a part of the Image of God reflecting in you.  Celebrate that.  Embrace that.  Feed that. Care for that like you care for those around you.  Embrace your beauty as something God longs to give to the world as a gift.  Let's steward well the image of God within us! 

If you try to become small and hide behind all that you are not, we will miss the incredible gift of who you are. Be loud and proud, contemplative and quiet, reflect beauty in how you listen and love and lead and serve - but for goodness sake- be you, be that incredible image of God you were meant to be.

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In the end, I've decided that being worthy of beauty is a far deeper and more freeing concept than simply just looking pretty or having an attractive personality.  It's a transformative inside-out kind of concept that brings grace to the very core of who we are.

You. Are. Worthy. Of. Beauty.  It's written all over your face.  

Saturday, July 26, 2014

What They Aren't, What They Are

I'm not kidding when I say that I am good at making messes.


Often I get quite frustrated with myself and might even get a titch testy with those whom I live under this roofwith when things get into such a state of chaos.  I mean honestly, can't we do anything without having to post a "condemned" sign on the kitchen door before we start again? Messes make me have all the feelings all the time about all the things. 

Also, sometimes I express things in dramatic ways.


My perception always changes, however, when these messes happen because part of my tribe has gathered.

Frustration is replaced with a deep contentment as I walk from room to room and realize that these are really and truly the signs of life and beauty and friendship being lived out together.  

It's been a difficult year in many ways - but there have been streams in this desert, and I have found those living waters always, always come to me by way of relationships. People are God's best invention ever.

So for today these aren't rooms that need to be cleaned, tables that need to be cleared, dishes that need to be washed, leftovers that need to be packaged . They are sacred testaments to conversation that were shared, friendships that are being built, dreams that are being spoken out loud and championed together, relationships being build moment by moment over cups of coffee, buttery scones, bacon and eggs.


These are signs of life and I am so thankful for them.



Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Jam-Making Non-Tutorial

This was originally posted July 2011.  Have I really been blogging this long?  Look at the wittle kiddies in the pictures.  That sound you hear is my heart breaking.  They are all turning into wonderful and smelly teenagers.  It only gets better, honestly.  A lot has changed in those 3 years - but I do happen to have a flat of berries I picked up today that need to be made into jam... Happy Sunday!


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I don't know about you, but my house is usually a direct reflection of my brain.

Yesterday, my brain looked a lot like this:

Not pretty - it freaks out my boys, and makes my girl run and hide for calmer, more personal messes in her room.

Things usually get to this state of disarray, well, every 28 days, but I also seem to get a few extra Hurricane Karina's that pass through my house - and it seems to always be just as I'm getting ready for Nathan's birthday.  I'm willing to admit it:  I make messes, but I also can't stand living in chaos, so suffice to say I make a lot of extra work for myself.

It probably happens because it's that time of year where we make the transition from a school-year schedule to a summer schedule. Transitions are good - but they take a few weeks to find that comfortable groove around here.  It may also be because in addition to having two of my kid's birthdays ten days apart in July, the berry season is in full swing, and there is something about the berry/fresh fruit season that revs up my inner hyper-productivity genes like nothing else.

So anyway I have both of the genetic traits of fun and hyper-productivity in spades - and in many ways they live at peace with each, but every so often they create the perfect storm, which always equals a HUGE mess.

The problem with all of these messes and things that get added to my mental (and I mean mental) to-do list, is that they are all things I want to do.  I honestly look at a flat of berries and say "wouldn't it be fun to make jam and pies!", forgetting in that moment that I have to sing at church on the weekend, and have a couple of birthday celebrations that I have to prepare for. Even if I remembered that - the berries are only around for a week or two, and I tend to think of it late in the season, so, busy wins again.

It's a disease, really.

I am getting better - but then there are days like Friday.  It's semi-dangerous getting in the way of Hurricane Karina,  and I'm truly hoping that making fun of myself is the first step to recovery.  I have to believe there is hope, and that one day I will be okay with just doing nothing on a Friday afternoon.

First the title...

I have decided that I am going to use the word "rustic" as often as possible when I describe my activities in the kitchen.

Rustic, if you haven't already figured out, is cook-slang for "lazier".  However, when women all over the world see the word "rustic" they all ooh and ahh and are willing to pay five times the price for something "rustic" whether it's a reject barn-wood shelf, or, in this case - jam.

Also, it's worth noting that while I haven't made jam save for a few times - I always find a way to make it without adding pectin, and do a lower sugar variety.  That's mostly to do with the fact that I never have pectin in the house and when I decide to do something I don't want to wait, plus I'd like to think it's possible to make jam that tastes more like the fruit in it, rather than sugar - so without further adieu, here is:

Rustic Low-Sugar Pectin-Free Strawberry Jam - 
Yield:  8 perfect pints, plus two teaspoons for testing - and maybe a couple for eating right away.


Ingredients:
12 cups (ish) hulled strawberries, measure first, mash second - no cutting - it's rustic!
7 apples, blossom and stem ends removed - roughly chopped (including seeds etc)
1 1/2 lemons, roughly chopped (including peel and seeds)
6 cups sugar (I can hardly believe that's low sugar,  but believe me, it is!)
8 pint jars, lids and rings
canning supplies
very large pot... I'm not kidding.

Place apples and lemons in large pot, just cover with water.  Simmer for 20 minutes till nice and soft.  Drain, press through sieve or run through food mill.  Better yet, make one of your kids do it!

Mash the dickens out of the strawberries.  Better yet, make one of your kids do it! (Did I say that already?)

Choose the right kid to help though - or you may find a lot of taste testing happens.  Don't worry - we'll boil all the germs out of it.  Two year old germs are kind of cute, anyway.


Realize that while you could go all day without eating or peeing while fixated on a project, your kids are not the same.  Make them the quickest variation of carbs and cheese you can manage.

You do know it's impossible to make lunch without carbs and cheese, right?

Feel guilty that, in addition to mostly ignoring them for the morning, you are only feeding them carbs and cheese, and make a fruit smoothie to assuage your guilt. That's much better.

Add the strawberries to the strained apple/lemon mixture.  Make sure there is a lot of room in the pot because it will expand and bubble quite a bit.  Boil for 20 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning.

At twenty minutes take a heaping teaspoon of glory from the pot and place it on a plate and put in the freezer for 5 minutes.
Hint - set a timer or you WILL forget, because you will start trying to clean your kitchen in that five minutes!

At five minutes run your finger through the blob - if it stays separated well, then it's done, if not keep boiling, stirring and checking till you're happy with it. Mine took about 25 minutes.

Ladle jam into the washed pint jars.  You will have one jar that doesn't need processing in the canner - it can go directly into your fridge.  The other seven will need to be processed so they can last for months!  Wipe the rims clean to ensure a good seal.  Place a lid, that has had the seal properly softened in hot water, on the jar, tighten with ring until finger-tip tight.  Over-tightening can cause jars to break while processing, and that will make you cry.   And it's really gross to clean up.

What?  You don't have a magnetic lid lifter?  It only costs a few dollars, but is worth a million when it comes to canning - run to your nearest Home Hardware and get one now!

Place into canner that is half-full with boiling water, making sure the jars stay upright.

(When canning pints in my quart canner - I don't lift the grate and then drop it in once full - the jars tip & move around too much. So I submerse the grate and carefully place pint jars in the bottom. )

After burning your hands a few times trying to sneak the jars into the bottom of the canner, realize you are not invincible and it's not saving you any time, so start using the jar lifter.

You're welcome.

Place the lid on the canner, bring water back to a boil, and then keep at a rolling boil for 10 minutes.  use the handy dandy magnetic wand to lift the hot handles out of the water, then raise the jars out.  let cool for just a few minutes then place on your counter for 24 hours before you start pressing and poking the tops to see if they actually sealed.

Realize that your house is in such disarray now, you may have an apoplectic fit.  Convince the kids it's in their best interest to help you do a 15 minute shakedown to make the house look better. Whatever doesn't get put away in that time, get's put into a laundry basket to deal with tomorrow.

There.  You feel much better.  AND, you just made jam.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Misadventures in Labelling

Have you ever had the feeling that the purpose of your life was to serve as a warning to others?  Or at least to make other people feel better about themselves and their abilities relative to yours?

Just me?

I have many faults, among them - not labelling things I put in the freezer for later consumption.  I overinflate my mental abilities when Josh asks me - everytime - "Are you sure you don't want to write down what that is?"  And I look at him like he just landed here from Ork and cheerily quip : "Nah, it'll be fine" and chuck it in the freezer completely confident that I will a) remember what said nebulus reddish/orangey/saucy dish is in the ziploc bag relative to all the other nebulus reddish/orangey/saucy dishes it sits beside in the deep freeze and b) I will accurately recall how well the original dish was received by the whole of Team Loewen and if it needs any adjusting the next time around.

Truth alert:  I rarely remember either.  And yet I'm not sure after nearly 20 years of married life I'm apt to change this habit.

So for your viewing pleasure - I give you a shot of the mystery dinner I just plunked in the crock pot.  Does it need rice, noodles or bread to go with it? Salad or hot vegetables? Is it spicy or sweet?  I think Gus Portokalos put it best when he said:  "I don' know, I don' know, I don' know!!"


I need help.

Anyone want to come for dinner?


Friday, June 6, 2014

Dear Teachers

Hey there.

I'm not sure where exactly to start.  Our province is in the middle of some nasty negotioations with your union.  As parents we are stuck in the middle of a maddeningly toxic game of "he said-she said" with no happy conclusion in sight.  I don't know how to solve the problem, and I suppose at this point if it were simple, a deal would have been reached already.  It seems both sides are yelling at each other while covering their ears and assigning the worst motives possible to their adversaries.  I don't like it, nor do I understand a way out.

So what I want you to know is this:  I believe you when you say you don't want the kids to get caught in the middle of this - even though, they essentially are.  I wonder, if you aren't a little caught too? What else can you do that might maybe, somehow, get boths sides to actually begin to do what you try so hard to teach your students- our kids- day after day:  to listen, to believe the best in each other, to put aside differences, find common ground and try to work it out.  I know how frustrating it is as a parent to have each week look different because of job action- but how much more is it for you? A day of job action is an inconvenience for me, but it actually messes with your whole learning plan, and yet - you manage to find a way, even with limited planning and communication time.  You are rock stars! Seriously!

I think perhaps if I was in your shoes, I might be doing exactly the same thing.  Your working conditions are my kids' learning conditions.  So they matter. The number of students in a class matter.  Proper special ed support matters.  That you get paid enough to live comfortably, so you can be well-rested, well-planned, and well-equipped to do what most of us cannot imagine doing day after day is important to me.  I don't think I have to agree with the way either side is going about this whole thing to say that I appreciate what you are trying to accomplish on behalf of yourself and my kids.

I do know a lot of you who are with our kids for 30-plus hours a week and I have to say, I haven't met a bad one yet! :) I want to step outside of this conflict for a moment, and just speak to you -YOU- the very real person who is in the middle of this day after day.

I see you and I want you to know - you matter!

I see you each morning, despite all the limitations and rhetoric from both sides that you have to wade through, open the doors to our kids with a smile.  "It's gonna be a great day! Welcome here!" You say. And I know you mean it.

I see you still putting out your own money, despite pay cuts, for extra-special crafts and gifts made with love to be sent home with our kids. I know you believe in teaching them that creating art is important. I see that you notice how they run to us with faces beaming because you believed they could make something fantastic- and they did! Thank you for that.

I see your love for your students come out in the way you plan units that are so much more than just "fill in the blanks" and "copy questions 1 - 12" because you care so much that our kids actually LEARN something, not just become proficient regurgitators for high marks on mandatory testing. That time you spend makes a difference to their learning and I know it takes much more than a few minutes a day to make that happen.  I see the effort you put into it.  Again - I thank you.

I see you, despite the many distractions, notice my completely average kid who is having a hard day and magically find time to help him see where he can improve and where he is having success.  You walk this tightrope between molding their abilities and encourging them to be their best without breaking their spirits with such finesse because you are skilled at this - this is what teaching is all about, isn't it? That tightrope walking is a skill that we as parents try and walk ourselves - we appreciate that it isn't always easy - but you do it, and we notice.

Is see that this teaching and shaping of growing minds and characters is what you love, it's what drives you to do what you do with such care and concern for our kids.  It's why you're willing to put up with so much crap and bad press because you believe your job is not in vain.  I'm here to stand with you today, and agree - you are important.  Our kids are learning because of you not in spite of you! You do so well what so many of us cannot or would not do.  You do it despite the mudslinging and political spin from both sides of the fray.  I want you to put a gold star on your "yay me!" chart tonight because you totally deserve it! This letter is me cheering for you from the sidelines!

I see you despite all that is going on, still trying to find ways to do the impossible - to still pull off the year-end musical, to do those extra-special projects, to start new learning initiatives, to meet learning outcomes in ways that are meaningful to your students.  What you are doing is difficult - but you ARE doing it.  So I want to say - Well done.

I see you also doing the back and forth dance of balancing the time spent planning, reporting and communicating on behalf of my kids, while trying to have a life of your own.  You have relationships, kids, parents, friends -lives outside of teaching that also need care and attention in order for you to be a balanced and well-rounded member of society.  I am thankful that you do not eat, sleep and breath education exclusively, thought I know you do it a lot.  It's important to me that you take time for your life as well as what you do for a living.  This is a good thing, and I hope you find joy in all areas of your life!

I know you aren't perfect.  I want to extend grace on those bad days, just like you try and extend grace and compassion to myself and my kids when we are less than our best.  I promise I won't define you by the worst of your profession, I know you do the same for me. I will believe and promote the best of who you are because I see it over and over again, in classroom after classroom, school after school.

I don't know how this is all going end. I am a little concerned that the worst isn't over yet. But I never want to forget that you are a real person and you are trying in an imperfect system to do the best you can for the benefit of my kids.  I want you to know no matter what happens, I believe what you are doing is important and I believe in you!

Hang in there teacher-friends! We need you!

*i have disallowed blogger comments on this because I want this only to be an encouragment to my many friends who are teachers or are married to them, I have no intention of having politcal commentary play out in the comment section!  I can't disallow the FB comments, but from this post they will be moderated! Happy Friday everyone! :)