Friday, April 21, 2017

Happy Birthday

I wanted to wish you happy birthday.

I started to write
I'm so glad my childhood included you.
Sounded stiff like a Hallmark card so maybe

I love you. 
Too mushy, or maybe too weird without any context, and it's been ages since we last walked around the block watching our shadows darken while the stars came out, so maybe

I miss you.
I miss running through the woods with you, the way the earth felt spongy and strong underfoot.  I miss building whole-basement forts and doing homework and watching TV with you. The way I could dial your phone number without looking. That time you called to let me know my favourite song was on the radio. Sleeping out and catching fireflies. Hide and seek in the dark. That time we went to the store with your mom and at the checkout she realized her pants were on backwards and we laughed and laughed. (By the way, I understand how that's possible now.)  I always felt a twinge of pointless jealousy every time you told me about a new girlfriend but they came and went and I wouldn't have traded our endless adventures for a few months of holding hands at the movies anyway.
I hope my kids have friends like you. I hope their childhood is full and sunny and happy, like ours. I hope they have good friends who tell them when they find frog's eggs clustered around cattails in the brook, who bike with them to Ripley's for ice cream on hot and boring summer days, who build homemade teeter totters and - even on rainy afternoons - knock on the door and ask if they wanna play.

I miss you. I love you.  I'm so glad my childhood included you.

Happy birthday.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

No, Actually.

This past weekend, in the wake of too-tempting Easter chocolates, the kids were struggling to get along and needed some quiet time.

We sent them upstairs to do whatever they wanted, as long as it wasn't with each other.  Kachi cuddled up on our bed with his blankies and a story, Sam puttered with Lego in his room, and Vava stretched out on the bottom bunk with her paper and pencils.

She wasn't feeling well, so I lay down beside her and rubbed her back.  After a few quiet moments, she broke my heart with this little bit of news:

"Some girls in my class called me a loser."

I felt a rush of mama-bear anger and defensiveness, tempered with pity for the kids who had heard that term at such a young age.  Most of all, I felt a stab of fearful sorrow that she would believe them, that such an ugly label might have kerneled into her heart to grow into something crooked later. 

And I couldn't help thinking of all the insults that I've just let slide right into my heart and make themselves at home.  Even started using them on myself.

Ugly. Embarrassing. Stupid. Fat.

They've become part of me like dandelion roots.

I didn't want to overreact or give her the idea that she should hate them or use mean words in response, so after sputtering through a few false starts, I just asked her what she had done when they said that.

She told me that she had corrected them with, "No, actually; I'm an author-illustrator."


Isn't that the best response ever?
She didn't even give their insult air time.  Didn't twist her own heart to insult them back. Just shielded that attack with her own definition of herself instead. 

So now I've got a new strategy in my pocket. Next time I hear an echo of some ugly label in my heart, I'm going to slay it with a line from my favourite four-year-old author-illustrator: No, actually.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Emptying the Garbage Can

No matter what task I'm doing in the kitchen, my first necessary job is always emptying the garbage can.


Putting away groceries, washing dishes, making supper, cleaning the fridge, packing lunches ... I always need a fresh trash can.  If it's full, it's the place where everything stalls.  Junk piles up on the counter instead of getting tossed, then my work space grows cluttered, and I get cranky.  Because I need to empty that garbage can.

And you're like ... um, big surprise, Janelle. It's kind of a daily task.


But I'm over here trying to juggle my life and adding new activities and new humans and new busynesses and 

never emptying the garbage. 

So things build up and I've got about a hundred things I would like to be doing at any given time but I can't because it's full, the garbage can is full, so the counters are full so the table is full so the house is a mess and ...

You get the idea.

And the metaphorical overflowing garbage can? Migraines, or running late, or scheduling two things at once, or being unreasonably cranky (apparently, that's my overflow go-to).

So how do you empty your garbage can?  How do you clear your schedule, clean out some mental space, keep internal tidiness? What works for you, friends?  Give me some pointers.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Tell Them

My Uncle Ken died yesterday.

He was married to my mom's sister Esther, my Deedee, and I was a flower girl in their wedding. 

We loved going to visit them in the summer and at Christmas time.  The best part of the visit, hands down, was driving with Uncle Ken.  We would put on our seatbelts in the slippy slidey leather back seat of their huge white Lincoln, and off we would go.  We coaxed Uncle Ken to drive faster, faster, until we were flying over the roads and our stomachs would dip out from under us.  There was one hill in particular that never failed to make us cheer, and Uncle Ken sailed over it every time.

I thought he was wildly romantic, because he always held Deedee's hand when they drove, or else she played with his hair, and sometimes they would kiss at stoplights.  (I still think that's romantic.)

When we were a few years older, the swoopy, twisty road was replaced by a highway.  It was quicker of course, but boring to drive on ... but that didn't stop Uncle Ken.  If we weren't close to any other vehicles, he would swerve in big S shapes or pretend to pass ghost cars.  (I was embarrassingly old before I understood just what a ghost car was.)

If we weren't driving in the Lincoln, we were playing inside the bunk of his transport truck.  There were always a half-dozen air fresheners hanging from the mirror, at least two each of vanilla and leather and evergreen.  That combination never fails to call up the happiest memories of climbing up ... up ... up into the cab, pushing and pulling a million buttons, and watching - incredibly! - a tiny little black and white tv from an actual bed inside a gigantic truck.

He would pull up at our place and honk that huge horn and then take us out for ice cream or french fries or whatever we wanted.

When I was supposed to be grown-up, living on my own for the first time in Ottawa, Uncle Ken and Deedee joined my parents and sister and drove all the way to Ottawa just to see me for less than a day before they had to get back for work.  All that way, just to ease my homesickness.

Uncle Ken was fun, and loving, and kind, and patient, and generous.

It's silly - it's stupid, actually, because I'm a writer and I spill words all over the place - but I can't remember actually telling him how much I loved him, or thanking him for making ordinary things special.

So if you're reading this, and you're lucky enough to have an Uncle Ken, or Aunt Lynn, or Grampie, or Grammy, or whomever you have, please please please take some time to tell them the ways that they have made your life better, happier, sweeter.

Tell them.

In honour of my wonderful
Uncle Ken.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Stop and Do Something

Last fall, my sister-in-law was hanging out at our house, and we were making spaghetti for supper. I sliced my finger on  the lid of a can of tomatoes, and, because the cut was so deep and I already had someone to watch the kids, decided to head off to Emerge.

On my way, I drove over a little bridge by a shopping plaza where a young woman was trying to wrestle herself out of the grip of a man.

They were on the other side of the road, but I rolled down my window and yelled, to let them know I saw them and also to get the attention of anyone else who could help. "HEY!" I bellowed with all the volume I possess, "HEY! NO!"  (And as a mama with practice yelling across an entire playground, I like to think I've got considerable volume.)

I wrenched my wheel and zoomed into the parking lot and grabbed my phone and ran to the bridge.

When I got there, the man told me the woman had just failed her driving test and was upset and he was trying to keep her safe.

Something about it all felt wrong.

Another woman pulled over and was calling the police.
The man kept his arm on the young woman and tried to walk away.

I wanted to keep them there until the police came, but obviously couldn't prevent them from going, so I tried to talk to the young woman.
"Can you tell me what happened?" I asked, and when the man spoke up I looked right in her eyes and said, "miss, I want to hear your story from you.  I'm Janelle."
'I'm Paris,' she told me, her expression carefully blank, 'I'm fine. I'm sorry.  I'm fine.'
The man kept his grip on her the whole time. They walked away and got into the backseat of a jeep. I wrote down their license plate, and drove off.

I couldn't fight the urge to do something. My bleeding finger was way less important than this girl, and you will probably dismiss me as a religious nut but I felt like God had sent me out for a drive at just that moment for precisely this reason.

I saw 2 police cars parked in a lot at the next intersection. I pulled in and told them what happened and gave them the license number.

As I finally headed off to the hospital I was overwhelmed with a feeling that my guts were right, and Paris wasn't upset about her driving test but that she was trying to escape being trafficked.

I wish I had been able to do more.
I wish I had thought about trying to get her away from the man so we could talk privately.
I wish I had some way of following up, making sure the police checked it out.

I am not interested in creating fear where none exists, but I'm sharing my story because I read this article today and it reminded me so much of my short interaction with Paris on that bridge.

Take a moment to read it, and keep your eyes open for people who might need help.

And please, pray for Paris.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Persistence and Setbacks and Perspective

This wasn't exactly my favourite day.
Vava's been sick, and after struggling to control her fever and cough for a few days, I phoned the telehealth line. The nurse recommended she be seen by a doctor, so Patrick came home from work and I set off with Vava for the walk-in.

The first one: full.
The second one: full.
The third one: closed for vacation.
The fourth one: full.
The fifth one: closed for vacation.

I'm not going to lie.  My typical tolerance level for persisting through setbacks is pretty small. But I've been trying to deliberately instill determination and persistence in the kids, talking with them about setbacks and attitude and reframing bad situations with positive words, so I guess it was time for me to practice what I've been preaching.  But after driving all over the city, dragging my feverish little girl in and out of the cold, I felt the last of my small store of pluck give way as we saw the closed sign on the fifth clinic's door.

A kind lady nearby recommended the emergency room. "They're usually a little quicker with the young ones," she smiled.

So I straightened my back and we buckled in for one last try.

And they were great - the Thunder Bay emergency room is one of the fastest I've ever been in.  We were assessed and saw the doctor straight away. Somehow there was a mix up though, and we waited for maybe 2 hours after seeing the doctor before we were sent for xrays.

Vava was awesome. Sweet and good and funny. But her eyes were red and her fever was determined to return and she was shy.  She was hungry, but told me she'd rather wait for pizza from her favourite place than buy anything at the hospital.  She cooperated through her swabs and xrays without a peep.  Finally she was diagnosed with strep throat and we left with a prescription, four hours after pulling into the parking lot.

As I helped her hop out of the van to go buy pizza, she squeezed me tight and sighed, "oh mama, thank you for a lovely outing!"

♡ ♡ ♡

It's always always always about perspective, isn't it?

What was a really challenging day for me was a chance for uninterrupted cuddles and one-on-one time for Vava.

Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, I hope you, too, can find something in it that's lovely.  A four-year-old can almost always help.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Grownups Have A Lot of Chores

I was cuddling Sam a few nights ago and he asked me if I was sad that I was a grownup, "because grownups have to do lots of chores?"

I laughed for a moment, then asked if he knew one of the great secrets of life.

"I know it," he said, "the secret of life is that life is challenging."

I love this kid.

When I was his age, I probably would have said that the secret of life is burying yourself in a stack of Judy Blumes. 

I don't know about you guys, but I'm feeling kind of tired by all the work there is to do. Dustbunnies and clutter and dirty dishes seem to build up endlessly. Everywhere. In my house. In my character. In my small corner of the world.

And yeah, I do still want to bury myself in a cozy place and just read til I'm a little old lady with enormous glasses and papery skin, but I'd miss out on a lot.

Because life is challenging. 

Life is challenging.

So every day I get up and feed six people and pack three lunches and dress the kids in clothes and snowsuits and put them on the bus and wash dishes and wipe the table and fold some clothes and make beds and vacuum and make lunch and sweep and feed the baby and put the kids down for naps and make snack and greet the big kids off the bus and unpack their backpacks and feelings and lunchboxes and read some stories and wash more dishes and start supper and get out the art supplies and feed the baby again and teach the kids how to set the table for the hundredth time and change bums and let someone help me cook and serve and eat supper and wash the dishes and make bedtime snacks and get the kids ready for bed and brush teeth and cuddle Kachi, and cuddle the big kids, and feed the baby and then tackle one area to declutter and

right about this time of night I start to think that maybe Sam isn't wrong, and being a grownup is synonymous with doing chores.  There's always something that needs doing.

And I guess the difference between maturity and immaturity is how I treat the to-do list.  Because kid Janelle only knew how good it was to ignore the list and lose herself in a good book; grownup Janelle knows how good it is to work hard. Not necessarily because it feels good to have dishpan hands, but because a clean kitchen is a great place to make food for my family. Because clean clothes and a full lunchbox are evidences of ordinary grace. Because uncluttered spaces nourish uncluttered thoughts and uncluttered hearts.  Because when I pour myself out for my family, I build something a whole lot richer than if I stayed in bed with some good books.

To sum it all up, Sam? You're right. Grownups do a lot of chores. And life is challenging.  But it's not sad.

The great secret of life is that it's worth it.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Lord Hear Our Prayer

"Lord, hear our prayer."

Today I saw that comment on facebook.  I don't often read public comment sections because they make me sad. (So much hate. So much misunderstanding.)  But I read a post from a blogger I follow and browsed through the comments.  Someone posted about an ache, a sadness in their heart, and a lady replied, "Lord, hear our prayer."

And I can't think of a kinder reply, a better reply, to the cry of sorrow.
No criticism.
No answers.
No advice.
Just those four words.

I want to be that kind of friend.  Because I know that sometimes I need someone like that - someone who puts their arms around me and just stands beside me as they take my burden and place it in God's hands.  Because sometimes we're just so weak and weary from the sorrow that we can't even lift it from our hearts to place it in His care on our own.
We need someone to stand with us and pray.

Lord, hear our prayer.
This sorrow.  This burden.  This ache.
I am here with my sister, my brother.
Hear our prayer.

Maybe it's something we can't articulate.  Maybe it's something that hurts too badly to put into words. Maybe it's something so tender, so private, we can't even speak of it.

It's okay.  We don't need to share details.  We can stand together, kneel together, be silent together, and just cry "Lord, hear our prayer."

My friend, I see you.
I see you trying so hard, fighting so much.
And I am praying with you.
I am praying with you.

Lord, hear our prayer.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Happy Christmas

I've never been one to achieve perfection. I'm always chubbier than I want to be, my house is always messier than I'd like, and the list of character-qualities I'm working on is always longer than the ones I've mastered.

So Christmas at our house was never going to be the magazine photo-op I always envision but fall short of.

We had already done a turkey last week when mom and dad were here, so today we threw tradition to the wind and just made exactly what we wanted.

We made stuffing because we love it, and grilled cheese sandwiches, and tomato soup. And we ate it by candlelight. The kids were entranced by the candles and actually ate their supper without anyone crying. Kachi distributed kisses and Sam resisted the urge to touch the flames and Vava only fell off her chair once. There was happy conversation and more than one I love you.

Kachi thanked God for supper sincerely and enthusiastically. Our hearts were glad and it was perfect.

It wasn't magazine-perfect. It wasn't pinterest-perfect. It wasn't even picture-perfect.

But it was just perfect.

Whatever yours looks like, I'm wishing you that kind of a perfect Christmas, friends.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

An Awful Lot Like Disappointment

Ahh, Christmas Eve.  We made it.  :)

Supper tonight was as crazy as you would imagine with two babies and two toddlers and two kindergarteners, all buzzing from a play date with their best friends, from Christmas baking, from the sight of half-hidden presents waiting.  Rob and Angele made a delectable ham with whipped mustard cream, and with it we had tabbouleh and rice.  I think I could happily live on tabbouleh and roasted ham! It was such a nice meal, as far as food goes ...

but as for enjoying it?  Well ... it was a doozy.

Vava, who had fallen asleep in the playdate chaos, was whiny and tearful and had to be coached and helped to each bite.  Tyler and Kachi couldn't sit still - couldn't even stand still, and jumped down from their chairs over and over again.  Grant was happy as long as he was held, and Sam, seeing Vava and Grant on laps, wanted to sit on a lap as well.    It was more than a bit of pandemonium.  Any notions of a merry Christmas dinner were well and truly dashed.

We gave up on our hopes of making it to the evening service at church.

And after the kids were tucked in bed, Patrick and I began to tackle the kitchen clean-up.

"How are you doing?" he asked, "I'm sorry we didn't get to spend Christmas Eve at church."

I think - I don't know, but I think - Joseph might have said something similar to Mary.  Something acknowledging that this didn't seem like the best way to bring God's Son into the world.  "I'm sorry we weren't at home for his birth," or "I wish you could have had more sleep after our weary journey," or maybe "I'm sorry I couldn't even find us a room in Bethlehem."

I think the very first Christmas Eve could have looked an awful lot like disappointment and loneliness.

Could have, except ...

He had come.

God's great gift, precious and perfect and the answer a million prayers, at last.  Here.  God with us.  He shall save His people from their sins.  The answer to the hopes and fears of all the years ...

And He was here!

So what matter a manger?  A golden cradle would have been no closer to matching His glory.  Would Mary fuss about losing sleep, when she was awake to bring the very Son of God into the world?  Their bodies could have enjoyed softer circumstances but their hearts must have burst from the joy and relief and weight of this unspeakable gift.

That first Christmas might have looked like disappointment, perhaps, but only on the outside.  Only to the briefest of glances.

God still sends His gifts to us in disguise.

I think normally I would have sighed a little bit and told Patrick I was sad that my plans had gone awry.  But Christmas grace fell on me light and beautiful as snow, and suddenly I could see all that we got to do.  Not what we didn't get to.  What we did.

We sat at the table with family.  Family, right here in Thunder Bay!
We had more than enough food, more than enough to drink.
We sat in our warm house in our warm clothes with our children in our arms.
We spilled fresh water when carrying glasses to the table, and didn't bat an eye to worry because it pours from our taps in abundance.
Neighbours and friends brought treats and gifts to our door.

Every one of these things, sheer gift from God's hands.

And before we fall asleep tonight, we get to close our eyes and lift our hearts and thank Him - that baby, who was born so long ago.  That best gift, Jesus, who came to our disappointment and pandemonium and stretched out His arms to love us right where we are. Mary's comfort and joy is our comfort and joy: Jesus.  He came to us.  God with us.

When Christmas is looking a little ragged, I pray He grants us grace to look at the glorious gifts He has given.  I pray He gives His peace to our hearts when children are crying and jumping off their chairs and running around.  I pray He turns our attention to His great gift as we open our small gifts.

And may our hearts be full with the glory of God with us.

Merriest of Christmases, friends!


We've been getting lots of Christmas love in the mail this week - cards and pictures and even, today, a gift from my Nana.  She wrote out her life story and my aunt had it bound and mailed it to us.

It is amazing to read her story in her own words, trying to imagine all the pain and joy hidden behind her brief sentences. It's 1am and I should be in bed because morning comes loud and demanding and all I want to do is keep on reading.

My nana is here, and my Grampie, and my own little mama, and her brothers and sisters and family friends who have nipped in and out of stories I heard all my life.  Here is the tale of my uncle drinking turpentine, my aunt getting hit by a car, my young grandmother fainting with fear when her aunt jumped out and scared her.

These are the stories that shape us.  My Nana's stories are my mom's stories are my stories are my children's stories.  We are all curious collections of those who came before us, those whose expressions and habits become inevitably our own.  Reading these is all the more fascinating for me because the stories of my beloved grandparents are the stories that help me make sense of me.  (I, too, hate when someone jumps out and scares me!)

The Christmas story
Is our story.

I read it and reread it and still it keeps unfolding new thoughts, new beauties, that echo loud in my heart.


I pray that you will open up the scriptures and let the Christmas story - Jesus' story, our story - fill you with its jewels.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Friday, December 23, 2016

With Us and For Us

Tonight, my friend's church had a Blue Christmas service.  This is how they described it: For many, Christmas can be a time of difficulty as they go through mourning while others are so cheerful.  The good news is that this pain is exactly why God sent His son to us.  To suffer with us and for us.  If you, or someone you know struggles during the holiday season, come join us for Blue Christmas.

How very tender it is to care for those who mourn and ache through the harsh juxtaposition of this bright season.

Before I met Patrick, I didn't love Christmas.  I felt particularly lonely at Christmastime, and dreamed about spending the holiday holed up somewhere with good books and good food, where I could at least be left alone in peace.  I wasn't mourning, but I was hurting, and the dullness in my heart clashed with the merriment of Christmas.

But the true Christmas story isn't all shimmer and song.  It holds the deepest of hope, yes, but that hope came cradled in a poor manger in a dark night.

The Christmas story is bloody with tragedy - Herod demanded the murder of all males two years old and younger, because he feared for his throne when he heard the King had been born.
Indescribable sorrow.

And it isn't without loneliness.  Joseph and Mary and Jesus fled to Egypt for refuge from the slaughter, leaving home and family far behind as long as Herod was in power.

And even fear. Foreshadows of the cross rippled across Mary's awareness, when the prophet Simon told her Jesus would be opposed, and a sword would pierce her own soul.

If you are heavy with sorrow at this season, friend, I pray that you will sink into this story and see all that Jesus came for.  He came to suffer with us and for us.  He didn't come to heal those who are well, but those who are sick.  He didn't come to comfort those who rejoice, but those who mourn.  Yes.  Immanuel, God with us.  God with us, always, but particularly in our suffering.

May He reach you in your loss, in your fear, in your tragedy.  May you find rest and peace and comfort in His presence as you grieve, as you suffer, as you ache.

God with us, friends.