Saturday, December 20, 2014

Baked French Toast - the one that kind of avoids a heart attack...sort of

Ok - this is for the lovely people on facebook who asked for my recipe.  It's one I modified from the fantastic Pioneer Woman herself.  Her recipe is divine, but if you make it as often as I do, you or your children will die of diabetes or a stroke or something much faster than if you use this modified recipe. Maybe one day I will even add pictures to this, but given my history with my camera - don't wait for it. :)  Happy Christmas everyone!

Baked French Toast
1 Loaf sourdough, french bread, waldorf baguette - basically whichever one is 50% off because it's a day old :)
8 large eggs
2 1/2 cups milk (or 2 c. milk plus 1/2 c whipping cream - I'd like to live to see 75 so I don't, but the choice is yours)
3 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp vanilla extract
*Tear or cut up the bread, chuck it in a greased 9 by 13.  Mix other ingredients, pour over top and set in fridge (covered) overnight or on your counter for twenty minutes because you forgot to make it the night before.  If you do forget - just give the gooey bread crumbs a stir to make sure they are all coated after 20 minutes.

TOPPING:  you can also make this the night before  - but do not put it on the french toast until just before you bake it.
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup rolled oats (I'm sure quick oats would work fine if that's what you have!)
1/4 cup chopped pecans (*optional )
1/2- *3/4 cup cold butter (if I add the pecans I increase the butter, otherwise I usually stick with 1/2 cup butter)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
If your butter is frozen - just use a cheese grater to grate it right into your dry ingredient mixture - brilliant, right?  Thank you Mennonite Girls for the tip.  If it's just cold, you can cut it into the flour using a pastry cutter or whatever floats your boat when it comes to getting cold butter into flour.  Then mix in with the other dry ingredient.  It's basically like a fruit crumble topping now.

BAKING INSTRUCTIONS:  Preheat oven to 350 deg. F . Remove bread mix from fridge (or give it a stir on the counter if you don't plan ahead like me) and cover it with the glorious crumble.  Bake for 45 minutes- 1 hour, making sure the centre is set.

Serve with fruit and syrup and whipping cream and any and all fantastical things you can think to throw on top.  
*If you are tempted to double this recipe for a crowd - make two separate pans - I've found it impossible to, say, put it into a deep french white casserole dish and have the centre bake without the edges burning with double volume, my husband tells me it's science...pfft, whatever man.*

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.


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.


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.


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!


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.

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! :)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Do it Now

Guys, I hereby interrupt this blogging hiatus with a really important task for you to do.

1) Buy a perfectly ripe avacado and an equally perfect Atulfo Mango -the yellow, not red ones - they are in all ways superior, just trust me on this.

2) Slice and dice both into perfectly sized amuse-bouches.

3) Splash with equal parts of the nectar of heaven, aka balsamic vinegar,  and  lime juice.

4) Add a few dashes of freshly ground pepper.  Mix.

5) Inhale.

6) Wipe up the remaining dressing in your bowl with a torn half of a butter croissant.  Which is kind of redundant - Like saying add an orange orange to your recipe, but whatever.  It's totally worth it.

Realize this practically non-recipe was so good that you want to share it and wish you had taken a picture, but all you have is an empty bowl, a full stomach, and a lovely taste lingering in your mouth.

7) Don't judge me for eating lunch at 10:15.  I have a busy day, and if I do one thing it's eat three squares a day.

Here's a pretend abstract imagine-it-could-be-in-your-mouth photo.  Another way to remind you that photography is not in my skill set, and I'm ok with that.  Also - it's the other half of the croissant - I'm gonna eat it once I hit publish.  I have no shame.

Happy Spring People!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Don't Let The Door Hit You On The Way Out aka - A Final Installment

In case you've missed out on the compelling and thrilling first and penultimate installements on the church leaving blogs I've written I give you Thing 1 and Thing 2.

Before I dive into the likely last post on church-leavership (you heard me) I want to make something clear, if it wasn't already abundantly obvious.  I don't have all this answers. Please.  Don't fall out of your chairs.

This post will not address everyone's situation. I'm speaking from a North American paradigm where in most places you will have many options for a house of worship.  Also, I'm in no way equipped to address what to do if your church falls into the "abusive/dogmatic/scandalous" category  except to say I'm so sorry that's what you're going through, God is better than that, and I recommend you find a good counselor.  Even that is probably missing the boat on some or perhaps many levels.  

The main question I want to address is this: How can we, as leavers and stayers in a church, do a better job so that the awkwardness and hurt that it seems is so often associated with leaving is at the very least minimized?

My answer is really a page out of a Relationships 101 class - but I think sometimes we forget that the church should primarily be a family - a great big group of diverse relationships -and an organization second.  Don't forget to remember that people always come before programs.

Onto the good stuff:

Stuff for Everyone: 

Could we agree that belonging to a specific church is not a lifetime contract, and that ebb and flow is a reasonable and natural part of growth and change in our churches?  Just a thought, really.

This of course needs to be balanced with the truth that there is no perfect church this side of heaven. Every church goes through seasons of abundance and seasons of difficulty.  Not everyone gets to stay through the blessing.  Not everyone is meant to stay through the hard times.  If we could believe this first, I think it would be easy to find a better balance between tribalism (you're either for us or against us) and undercommitment (wish I could think of a better word!)

Stuff For Leavers:

Realize that people might feel personally rejected when you leave.  Do your best to assure them of your friendship and continued care for them. I had not thought of this before, but it makes total sense. Remember - you're dealing with people, so however you have to address the truth of your leaving, do so in love.

If at all possible, work to resolution, or at least understanding before you leave.  Personally, I found that once I acheieved understanding my frustration over certain differences were gone.  We still left, but we didn't leave angry, and I'd like to think that's better. :)

If there hasn't been a true scandal, you have likely left over differences: differences in passion, mission, calling, style etc.  If this is you, do NOT bad mouth the church and try to create scandal in order to help you feel better about leaving.  Don't pretend we don't do it either.  Differences are not the same as abuse.  Speak the best possible about the church you have left, and own the differences as just that - differences. "We felt we could better serve in a church with a different focus on..." make it about YOU and not about the church.  Just remember, wherever you go - there you are, and if the churches you go to always seem to end in scandal every other year, the problem might be in the mirror and not the behind the pulpit.

Don't stop talking to people once you announce you're leaving.  Yes, it can be awkward, but be the better person and say something.

Stuff For Stayers:

Understand that for most people, the decision to leave is a very difficult one, made usually over the course of many weeks, months, even years.  You are usually only privileged to the final decision, not the process it took them to get there.  Be careful to be kind when asking questions about "Why?"

This isn't even something we've personally experienced, but could we please lose the "church shoppers" language?  It's couched in shame and it needs to end.  It bothers me because it can sound like false-piety, as though if those church shoppers were truly spiritually mature as you, they would stay as you have done, and like the way your church does church, and be passionate about what you're passionate about.  We're called to diversity and unity - not sameness and conformity. One church will not likely fit the bill for every Christian - and thank God for that! Admit that your church isn't perfect, because it isn't, and release them and pray for God's best as they look for a place to grow and serve.

Assume the best motives in those who leave - ie - don't create scandal over their leaving any more than you want them creating scandal about the church you're staying in.  You don't know their whole story.  It's possible people aren't making the best decision, but give them the benefit of the doubt.  Speak well of them and if you don't know or understand why they left - ASK THEM.

Don't stop talking to people once you hear they're leaving.  Yes, it can be awkward, but be the better person and say something.

Stuff for Leadership:

If it's possible try and find out why people, especially those who have been plugged in and involved, have left. Take the time to listen.  Hear their story- first hand.  The purpose in this isn't to try and change their minds, but to hear them, to gain understanding and to release them in love.  Many people expressed disappointment that nobody in leadership seemed to care that they left.  They didn't want the church to stop in it's tracks, I think they just wanted to be heard.   The other benefit to doing this is that it can help you see if their are unhealthy patterns and practices emerging within different areas of the church.  It might be that everyone is leaving your church just over differences, but it's also possible that something bigger and potentially more damaging is at play.  Care for you sheep, even when they're transitioning to another field.

Perhaps relationships, even church relationships are best summed up in a two step process:

1) Love first
2) Ask questions later

What do you think?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Silencing the Inner Critic - Homeschoolers Edition

*This article was originally intended to be shared specifically with those in the homeschooling community.  However we decided to post it here and share with everyone.  I think the main ideas are universal and I hope that it encourages and inspires you!  Happy Monday everyone!*

Let's take a peek inside the head of a homeschooler, shall we?

"Are they learning enough?  Should we switch from Classical to Charlotte Mason?  I'm not even sure what a Charlotte Mason is, I'm clearly not smart enough to educate my kids! My baby won't sleep through the night, I need 6 cups of a coffee and toothpicks to hold my eyes open while I drag myself through another Sit By Me book.  I'm sure Hannah Homeschooler down the road NEVER has that trouble.  Am I messing them up?  Does homeschooling really make kids weird? I read 13 blogs last night written by moms with 8 kids who are doing amazing hands-on learning units and they have charts and their house looks clean and their 8 year old speaks fluent Latin...I can't even get my laundry folded and two worksheets done with my 5 year old in a morning. Something is definitely wrong with me.  Am I messing them up?  I.  AM.  SO.  TIRED. but if I complain I just know, that my mother-in-law/neighbour/friend/husband will tell me I should never have pulled them from the classroom.  Why does everyone else have it all together? I don't think I'm cut out for this but I really want to make it work. And one more I messing them up?"

Ever had any of these thoughts or ones like them? Sometimes, the battle for our hearts and minds comes from people and circumstances around us,  but I have found that the critical voices that talk  loudest & longest come from within.  Learning to silence the Inner Critic can be an ongoing struggle for many of us, and homeschooling Moms are no different. We spend a lot of time trying to make our system, our lives and our curriculum perfect, hoping we can silence those nagging thoughts that keep us from enjoying the beauty and joy of the educational choice we've made.

I haven't mastered my Inner Critic, but it is a lot quieter than when I started this journey of homeschooling 7 years ago.  Here are some truths I've learned along the way - maybe one or two will ring true and help you realize that you are indeed, a wonderful Mom, who is capable of educating her children and finding joy in the journey along the way.

1) People don't think about you nearly as much as you think they do.

When I started homeschooling I was fairly convinced that people spent all their free time talking to everyone around them about what a mistake I was making by choosing to educate our kids at home. I have discovered that this is not true. The truth is some people won't agree with your decisions, but they are far too concerned with their own lives to obsess greatly over yours.

2) When people do criticize it's  usually because of a lack of confidence in their decision that is different from yours.

People that are confident in their choices don't spend a lot of time tearing down others over choices they make.  They recognize the abundance and freedom that life offers and find ways to support and encourage people.  As I have silenced my Inner Critic, I've found other negative external opinions don't carry the same weight they used to.

3)Even if you do find the perfect system, teach it perfectly, and your children respond perfectly to your perfect teaching, you will not be guaranteed to raise perfect children who will always make perfect choices that you perfectly agree with.

We need to understand that our influence only goes so far. Our kids were created with the same free will that we are.  We can do everything right and our kids can still make wrong choices -the way you educate them isn't going to change that. Once I came to terms with this it actually freed me from the shackles of perfectionism and control and helped me relax and enjoy teaching my kids and their unique personalities a lot more. It also has helped build much needed humility in regards to others - we're all doing the best we can-  let's cut each other some slack, and just be encouragers whenever possible.  It's a lot easier to extend grace if we loosen the chains of perfectionism on ourselves first.

4) It's important to find a group of people, or a person who you can be totally real with.

It might not be "safe" to vent every frustration that comes with homeschooling (because they DO exist!) to every person you meet, but it is important to find a place where you can be open and honest.  Being understood by someone else and knowing you are not alone in  your struggles goes a long way to keeping that Inner Critic quiet.

5) Social Media in all forms are poor yardsticks for comparing your life vs. others

Author Jon Acuff said "Stop comparing your behind-the-scenes footage to someone else's highlight reel."  Social media can be a lot of fun,  just remember that things aren't always as good or as bad as people make them out to be online.  That is the truth.  Don't let yourself believe anything different!

Secondary to that would be realizing that while there might be some amazing "do it all" homeschooling moms out there, they are an exception and not the rule.  I like to think of them like I do Supermodels - they represent about 2% of the population - it doesn't mean they aren't real, or should be shamed for being exceptional at something, but they aren't typical and no matter how I try, I can't be 6 feet tall and a size 4.  However, there might be some good ideas that I can modify and use for myself in my very real almost-5'6"-and-not-quite-the-size-I'd-like-to-be life.

6) Sometimes you need to let something go

Can we just admit that life doesn't always cooperate?  Sometimes you start a fantastic unit on Dinosaurs and the flu visits your house and it's two weeks before the barf buckets and tylenol can be put away and now your perfect schedule is "behind"- right?  A wise person once said "When things aren't adding up in your life, start subtracting."  There's wisdom there.   I found when I held all my plans for schooling a little more loosely and said yes to things because they actually worked best for our family, not because I was trying to prove I could do it all, or that homeschooling was "better" I wasn't nearly as frustrated with myself when I had to adjust those plans along the way.

This list isn't nearly exhaustive, but maybe it's a good place to start.  Moms of all walks of life love their kids so much and want what's best for them.  Don't make your job harder by believing the lies you tell yourself.  When it comes down to it, the only thing we have control over is ourselves and how we react and respond to life.  Speak truth, embrace grace, and set yourself free.  It changes everything.

What things have you done that have helped to silence your Inner Critic?  Share your story in the comments below!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Pack Your Denim Jumper in Your Old Kit Bag


Life is never static.  We use a lot of lovely metaphors for this - journey, seasons, pathway, dessert buffet...ok maybe the last one is my own.  Wouldn't that be great if we treated life like a dessert buffet? Different flavours and finishes, but all delicious and divine. And hello - if everything is dessert, that means that in some way it's great, right?

In five days we will start a new season, take a new path, begin a new journey, put down the delightful chocolate mousse we've been eating for the past 7 years and go crazy for the cheescake that's been placed in front of us:  ALL of the kids will be in school.  I will let go of my responsibilities as teacher-mom and embrace all the good, bad and beautiful that sending kids to brick and mortar schools entails.

It's been a "slow leave" over the past month as it's taken time for the schools we have chosen to have room for each of the boys, but in a sense that has been nice. Morgan already started at highschool this September, so her transition was more typical than the boys has been.  This staggered entry has allowed me time to focus on transitioning to one school at time. Currently we are at four schools, on two different campuses - a leetle bit crazy, but it seems to be working - so far, and next year should be a bit better.

This staggering also allowed the one student who wasn't thrilled with the idea at first to experience what homeschooling was going to look like with just him and me, and let's just say when we got the last phone call this week, he was more than ready to give it a try. (Proof that I'm really not that interesting to hang out with all day, every day!)

To answer the What are you going to do with yourself? question: I personally plan to do nothing but sign notices, sit through homereading and make lunches for my youngest two for at least a month.  Then, as they say in Botswana, we'll make a plan. ;)

We've all had our moments of nervousness and big questions. Learning a new system, being the new kid and making friends is a slow and sometimes difficult process, but we are ready...I think. At any rate, we are going to go for it.

I've loved my years in the homeschooling community.  It's a beautiful way of learning and life.  For sure, it has it's plusses and minuses but I would highly, highly recommend it to anyone who wanted to give it a try. I'm going to miss a lot of things about it.

However, it's time to start something new, and I'm pretty sure this cheesecake is going to be awesome.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Follow-Up Question: Breaking Up is Hard to Do

A few days ago I posted a blog with some thoughts and feelings about what it's like to leave the church, and the response has been most interesting.  It's already moved up to the "favourites" category in terms of blog traffic, (way faster than normal) but most of the response has been through private emails and conversations. This is also unusual - I usually get comments in the comments section (funny enough) or not at all.

So, if you are in a church and someone has left - I want you to know this.  People are hurting. They are still hurting years later.  People are also afraid to talk about their pain, and their experience, which I am sure contributes to the pain, anger and hurt still haunting them years later. There has got to be a better way.  It's totally understandable that some people will only belong to a certain church body for a season.  But the fear and the pain surrounding leaving is just, I don't know, wrong. There has GOT to be a better way!

My questions to the leavers and stayers is this:  What can churches do differently? What can those who move on do differently?  How can we release people to pursue a new church home without them feeling judged? What would have made a difference to you in your story? Is there a better way? 

I'm not asking for things like "Well the church I was at should have kept following the Bible, or had more/less/louder/softer worship or programs"  My sense, at least from the responses I've received is that those differences are not what cause the pain. Or maybe I'm off my nut a mile and a half and just haven't heard from enough of you!

I'm not asking who do we assign blame to - but let's get these "leaving skeletons" out of the closet. Skeletons have a way of following us and affecting future healthy relationships negatively. I'm wondering how and if we can better navigate the problem of pain being associated with church leaving. So if you have experience or ideas around this idea - please sound off!

I promise no names of people and churches will be used in the follow up post, but maybe we can get a conversation going?  Be brave! Share the post, even if its shared via email and not through other public venues.  Write an anonymous comment.  Send me a private email: karinaloewen (at) gmail (dot) com.

You are not alone.  It doesn't have to hurt this much.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

There always have been, and always will be opinions on how, why, when and indeed, if, a person should ever choose to leave their church. In the last few weeks there have been some good articles floating around the internets; first there was Five Reasons Why You Should NOT leave your church, which was closely followed up by Five Reasons you SHOULD Leave Your Church.  Good times, and no lack of opinions on those interwebs, right?

What happens when you have already left your church and you are stuck in that awful middle place? It's likely if you've left a church, you are in some way hurting.  It's probable, if you were at all connected to the other people in your church, that your leaving might have caused pain. I wouldn't want to for a second pretend to speak for everyone who has ever left a church, but I just thought maybe, it would be helpful or at the very least, cathartic, to give insight into our story. We left our church a few months ago, and it still hurts.

Leaving a church is never as easy as it looks from the outside.  If I have learned anything so far from our experience it's  that over-simplifying and assigning motives to someone else's story, especially without talking to them personally, is a mistake. Life is rarely tidy enough to fit into a neat little box of obvious reasons. Rachel Held Evans said the other day :Leaving a church can be incredibly painful and difficult. How about we not rush to judgment about why some people make that decision?

To give a little context, we were not just "attending" our church.  We were involved, invested and trying in every way to be a positive part of the congregation there. We thought for much of the four and a half years we attended there that we were on the same page.  The other point that I want to make very clear is we were in no way abused by the leadership, or anyone else from the church.  There is a difference in being hurt BY the church and just hurting because you wish things were different and leaving is difficult.  We are in the latter category - so when people ask if we've been hurt by the church the answer is always an emphatic- no. Technically, we are hurting, but not because we've been intentionally hurt.

We left, oddly enough, because we loved our church and wanted to release it to fulfill God's purpose and calling for the people that call that church home. I believe that different churches have different callings and purposes in God's kingdom. They should not all look that same. However, it's a tricky thing to talk about all of that when you are leaving without it sounding like you are talking in terms of better or worse, so we've not talked about the details at all, really. In the end, we chose to leave, and my purpose with this post isn't to play the sympathy card, I'm hoping for understanding.  If anything else this experience will help me be more gracious to others when they leave, and that's the good thing about pain. It teaches us better than just about anything else.

Wouldn't it be great if I could come up with Five Things to Know About People Who Leave Churches, (maybe that will come later!) but this whole concept doesn't seem to fit neatly into talking points - it's all about all the feelings and so the best thing I've come up with so far is an analogy:

Leaving a church that you loved and were involved in feels a lot like breaking up with a serious boyfriend:  

*My Mom and I have been writing back and forth, she's my favourite counselor on call, and what follows is a mish mash of our conversations and my thoughts.

Getting involved in a church is like seeking to find the right partner. There's attraction, infatuation (this church is SO great!), seeming perfection (why aren't ALL churches like MY church!) , deepening of involvement and commitment (volunteering, becoming involved in leadership, praying for, caring about the people you are serving) ...which is where the hazards in the relationship start to expose themselves. (hey, wait a second, do you mean what I think you mean?)  Then if you can't get the reaction you want from your boyfriend, or he has no desire to meet your needs, or doesn't seem to care if you are unhappy (recognizing that you could be causing these same feelings in him as well) make a decision on whether the relationship is worth giving yourself too. (Praying things would change, praying you would change, praying that all of this doesn't mean what you think it means, cause man, you are NOT a church leaver...)

Leaving doesn't make you happy (actually it makes you sadder than you thought you could ever be). You wanted him to be the right guy. You invested yourself and you wanted a return on that investment... a marriage, children, a white picket fence (a place to serve, a purpose in building the kingdom, people to share the life with)...the works.

Now here you sit, alone and heartbroken over what you have lost and how all your dreams are shattered. You are going through buckets of ice cream and cases of Kleenex (yes, and yes) and he has already got a new girlfriend. It's not fun, but it's not new either. (But it sure stinks) 

The analogy also extends to the awkwardness that leaving a church inflicts on the relationships you have with people that are still at the church. It's like the siblings and family members that are left scratching their heads and what appears to be a sudden break-up, and they don't understand why you could have broken things off, when after all, you were such a cute couple and looked so good together.  

Anyone that's broken off a serious relationship will tell you that how things look, and how things are, aren't always the same.  Sometimes, two really great people break up and go their seperate ways when neither one has done anything sinful.  I'm hoping that's true - I'm hoping we're both really great people, and it's just sad for me, that it didn't work out like I hoped it could.  I think that's the hardest thing to explain to others.

I'm sure reasons for leaving a church are as varied as the people who make those decisions.  For us, leaving our church was done because of our great love for the church.  We recognized that to stay would leave one of us in the relationship always miserable.  We did what right now feels like the harder thing, for us. I'm hoping against hope that one day, it won't feel so fresh and raw, and we will find a place to connect, serve, and start over again.

Don't even get me started on how finding a new church is like going on a BLIND DATE.  I'm just not ready to go there yet.

Can you relate? Is this what leaving a church felt/feels like for you?