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A Culture in Need of Substance

Those that know me, know that I detest the culture that we live in — a culture that celebrates superficial success in relation to that which has substance. It’s not hard to find examples of this. A simple trip to the grocery store ensures that while you’re going through the check-out, you can catch up on the latest celebrity gossip. The VERY important who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Miley Cyrus VMA's

  • Who’s lost and/or gained weight.
  • Who’s leaving who for someone else.
  • Who’s got the best and/or worst bikini body.
  • Who’s wearing what.
  • What you should and/or shouldn’t wear.
  • What products will make you happy.
  • What pushed [insert generic celebrity name here] over the edge.
  • When [insert generic celebrity name here] found out he and/or she cheated.
  • When [insert generic celebrity name here] found out she was pregnant.
  • Why the relationship ended.
  • Why he/she cheated.
  • Why she wanted a baby.
  • How-to look younger.
  • How-to look thinner.
  • How-to dress for your body type.
  • How to…

While I won’t deny that I enjoy looking at some of the Best-Dressed photographs, I do find myself annoyed that there is very little substance represented in these magazines. Why? Because it perpetuates several bad things.

1. It breeds insecurity

While these magazines harshly criticize those that are supposed to be the most beautiful people on the planet, they also set an unrealistic standard for us regular women to follow. Further to this, the extreme emphasis on how we are supposed to look perpetuates feelings of inadequacy about our external appearance.

2. It makes us judgemental

If magazines have the right to criticize celebrities, aren’t we entitled to as well? And aren’t we entitled to criticize those around us? The truth is, if magazines were evaluating individuals about their stances on issues like poverty, human trafficking, climate change, or some other global problem, I might find merit in their evaluation and criticism. Instead, they assail female celebrities for wearing the wrong shorts – socks combination, or celebrate when someone goes off the deep-end (see Britney Spears’ 2007 fiasco). And when we read and see what’s happening in Hollywood, we feel entitled to assail that girl in the mall, or a coworker, or our ex’s new girlfriend.

Why aren’t we scrutinizing over things that matter?

3. It skews reality

What we view in magazines is a strategically marketed end result that is designed to achieve a specific purpose. Since it his highly marketed, edited, polished, etc., it’s not a true reflection of reality.

4.  It distracts us

There are SO many more important issues in the world that we should be thinking about instead of fretting over whether we reach a ridiculous standard of beauty, or celebrating the fact that someone else’s life is a complete train-wreck, making us feel better about ourselves.

5. It makes us superficial

I don’t think I need to elaborate on this point. If you still don’t know why it makes us superficial [and why that’s not a good thing], you have missed the whole point of this post. Sad day for you, and a sad day for me.

***After writing this post, I came across a fantastic article “written” by CNN.com’s Managing Editor, Meredith Artley, which has nicely solidified my point.***

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Unwanted Weeds

I am not much of a gardener, but I do enjoy beautiful spaces, so over the last few summers, I have invested bits of time here and there to making the two small plots of dirt in our backyard functional and aesthetically pleasing. Due to being in my 8th and 9th months of pregnancy last year, I had a very hard time maintaining plots; consequently, they were in pretty rough shape this year.

As I have been trying to repair much of what had gotten out of control, I couldn’t help but reflect on how much life mirrors a garden. Weeds, like the unwanted things or situations in our life, are very persistent. While some aspects of my life are flourishing, aromatic, and pleasant, other areas are barren, confused, and directionless.

Since picking, pulling, and pruning allows me to work in silence, I have been able to reflect, identifying the areas that have stifled growth. I blame most of this on time. Time that was not spent being more aware of the state of my garden. Time not spent investing in relationships, or practicing self care. Time spent pursuing  arenas that proved to be futile, but at the same time, necessary in order for me to grow.

When I came to realize much of my garden was barren, I determined that it’s because I wasn’t investing in life-giving things. I wasn’t connecting with God, writing, doing art, reading, working out, connecting with people – friends or simple acquaintances – or any of the other things that bring me to life. But, rather than focus on so many of the things I passively allowed to choke the life out of my garden, I am going to focus on the areas that bring me life, as well as the practices I have put in place to enable my garden to flourish:

  • I have installed a composter (figuratively and literally) to assist me in digesting all of the scraps, allowing them to harvest my garden.

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  • I have said goodbye to a career that was leading nowhere.
  • I have said hello to a position with a non-profit that affords me the opportunity to serve sexually exploited women.
  • I have made efforts to cultivate healthy friendships with like-minded individuals.
  • I have started running again.
  • I have allowed myself the opportunity to reflect, write, and be transparent with myself. (This is the biggest one.)

What’s interesting about gardening is that unless you observe the growth of a weed from its inception, you’re not often able to identify it as a weed (at least I wasn’t), and this is the same with life. Unless we take the time to acknowledge where the roots of our problems, insecurities, and unwanted things have been established, it’s hard to identify it as a choking hazard until it’s much too late. Thankfully, I can see what areas I allowed to suffocate my personal growth, and am now better equipped to pinpoint pursuits that could restrict me again. I can identify my weeds as they try to weave themselves amongst my flowers.

I know I am not the only one that has battled unwanted weeds, so I ask you to consider what weeds you have passively allowed to take over your life. What is stifling your growth?

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To the teenage girls I saw at the park yesterday…

Dear teenage girls I saw at the children’s park yesterday,

As I was pushing my infant daughter on the swings yesterday, I found myself thankful for many things, including the fact that she doesn’t fully understand language yet. Based on your vast repertoire of crude jokes about the female anatomy, the shortness of your shorts, the quick flip of your hair, and the constant need of attention from the boys you were with, I can only come to one conclusion: you are insecure. The reason I know this to be true is because I was the same way.

As I listened and observed, I was affirmed (yet again) that it’s tough for girls out there. And since I was a girl once, I thought I would share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. (Truth-be-told, this post could easily be called “A letter to 13-year-old me.”)

1. What you’re feeling is valid.

I say “valid” because you have reason to feel insecure. Let me explain. There is a multi-billion dollar industry targeted at you, telling you that you’re not good enough the way you are. So if you’re feeling inadequate, fat, not pretty, or undesirable, it’s because you are constantly being sold the message that in order for you to be adequate, skinny, pretty, and desirable, you must change yourself. That’s deceitful marketing that preys on the vulnerable. That’s garbage.

You are infinitely more valuable than the sum of your parts and how they look, and the most attractive quality a girl can possess is one of confidence in who she is as a person.

2. Get to know yourself.

This is a tough one. Life is one long journey of discovering who you are as a person. Since change and discovery are two of life’s guarantees, I encourage you to start being cognizant of the things that bring you to life. So much of our time as women (and maybe men too, although I have no insight to offer here) is spent focusing on the areas we perceive are weak. While it may be important to be aware of your weaknesses, it’s most important to know your strengths.

A great way to discover your strengths is to try new things. Cultivate your interests. It’s okay to fail at something. No one is great at everything, all the time.

3. Volunteer!

It’s amazing how much a person can learn about themselves when they branch out to serve the community, an organization, or another person. Not only do you become more self-aware, you develop a broader societal perspective. That perspective makes you more interesting. Why? Because you become less concerned about yourself. Seriously, people who exclusively talk, think, and fret about themselves really aren’t that interesting, are they? It’s been my experience that self-absorbed people have the tendency to become isolated from others because they’re too busy saying “I..me…my…” that they miss what else is going on around them, be it globally or in their backyard.

4. You don’t need to try so hard.

This is an important point. Don’t waste your energy trying to be something you’re not. Why? Because you are okay just the way you are, and investing your energy in loving yourself will serve you far better than trying to be something or someone else. The world is hard enough on you, you needn’t be hard on yourself.

5. Your life has value, meaning, and a purpose.

Sometime after high school, I developed a strong faith in God, specifically Jesus Christ. By getting to know Him, I got to know myself. My talents. My passions. My purpose. The life He lived showed me that actions do have consequences, and words hold meaning. To be clear, I am not talking specifically about “sin.” While I know sin exists, that’s not the purpose of this point. My point is that it’s easy for us to get caught up in the trivial things life has to offer, such as: entertainment, money, wasting time…

Even if you’re not a person who has put your faith in Jesus, understanding that the life you live impacts people, society, the earth, etc. is a very important thing to learn. Why? Because that understanding [hopefully] fuels you to be intentional, to be purposeful. The decisions you make DO matter. You’re not simply a passive character in an elaborate story. You’re a contributor. How you contribute, though, is up to you.

The sad reality is that there are a lot of adults that could benefit from this advice, and if you can start practicing and believing in these points now, you’ll do better in the long-run.

365 days of growth, figuratively and literally.

I’ve heard it said that the days of a stay-at-home mom pass slowly, while the years and months pass quickly. I couldn’t agree more. Today is our daughter’s very first birthday, and I have found myself reflecting a great deal about the last year; more specifically, about what I was feeling and experiencing minute-by-minute, 365 days ago. The day we met our daughter.

Since my birth story was a very empowering one for me, I took the liberty of writing a letter to our baby girl, highlighting the details of her arrival into this world. Since today is her birthday, I thought it appropriate to share a portion of her story here.

At 9:12 am, (after 3 or 4 more contractions), you arrived. Janna “caught” you and said, “Brandi, reach down and pull up your baby.” I don’t know if words can describe that moment. Even now as I write about it, I am in awe. I pulled you up onto my chest, sat back on my heels, and studied perfection in my arms – your squinty eyes, full lips, pink cheeks, dark hair, micro-sized fingernails, and shivering little body were absolutely miraculous. Your cry was scared and your gaze foggy. Within seconds of us meeting, Sharyne covered us with a warm blanket, and you and I cuddled for the very first time. Now sitting on the floor, I leaned back into your father’s arms, and we both marvelled at you. We didn’t know if you were a girl or a boy, we simply knew that you were perfect. Once you were calm and no longer shivering, I lifted the blanket to discover you were a girl. Amazing! From that moment onward, I could tell that your tiny little hand held your father’s heart.

While your dad and I got acquainted with you, Grandma Sherry called Papa Zane, and Nana and Grandad. In fact, I am told that your Papa Zane got to hear your very first cry (I didn’t notice because I was busy being enamoured with you).

In addition to us getting acquainted with each other, the next four hours consisted of you and I getting assessed by the midwives: you were weighed (8 pounds 2.5 ounces!) and measured (21” long); your reflexes were tested (they were perfect!). After you were weighed, measured and tested, your dad dressed you. The only articles of clothing we purchased before you were born were 3 kimonos, one of which was to bring you home in. I watched your dad as he delicately pulled your fragile arms through each yellow sleeve, and was careful to not tie the bows too tight. He had never dressed a baby before; it was a special thing for me to observe. After you were dressed, he held you against his chest. In unison, everyone in the room said, “awww.” Your tiny body resting against your father’s broad frame was a sight to see. In that moment, I realized love for him in a new way. 

Now at the other end of a full year, it’s incredible to reflect on the growth experienced by our whole family. She’s grown 10″, tripled her birth weight, and has reached developmental milestones well beyond her age (she’s super smart, but I am not biased or anything). And while I’ve learned that I am STILL short-tempered and super impatient when I’m extremely sleep deprived, I do think I am growing into a more well-rounded, gracious person. As for my husband’s growth, it’s as if the softer side of his personality has become personified with the arrival of a girl.

Happy first birthday, baby girl. I look forward to many more “firsts” with you, including how you shape and contribute to our little family.

Keep Your Chin Up

Keep your chin up. Those are not uncommon words to hear from my dad. Throughout my life, I have heard them over and over, finding much comfort in them. As a child, I usually heard those four words following a situation. Either I had made a poor decision, or I was hurt, or I was just really sad.

I recall being at boarding school for exactly 10 days when I had to call home to tell my parents that I was being suspended for smoking. Perspiring, I dialled their telephone number, while praying that my mom would answer. Mom might cry, but dad would yell. I simply couldn’t handle disappointment that would rear its ugly head through yelling.

Dad picked up. He sounded happy. “What’s up?” he asked. Oh dear.

“Well, I am in a little bit of trouble…” my voice shaked as I explained the situation. He grunted, “What the heck are you doing smoking!?” (It was almost a yell.) I burst into tears, blubbering something about being “sorry.” He then offered me kindness and words of encouragement. And just before I passed the phone to the Dean of Women, he said, “Keep your chin up.”

A couple of years ago, I received a voicemail from my dad. This time his voice shook. I was in the process of miscarrying Alex and I’s first baby, and my mom had informed my dad about the situation. Through just a few sentences, I could sense his confusion, concern, and condolences. As he was concluding his 23-second long message, I heard him say, “Keep your chin up.” Yet again, those words provided me strength from the strongest man I know.

More recently, since the birth of Alex and I’s daughter, I have heard that phrase many times. Weary and sleep deprived at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, I received a phone call from my dad, wanting to check in on his two-month-old granddaughter (and daughter too, I suspect). While we didn’t know the prognosis yet, we did know that she didn’t have meningitis, and that we were in the best possible facility to treat an infant battling infection. Sensing my exhaustion, doubt, and sadness, he says, “Keep your chin up.” In that moment, my chin stayed up, but it quivered. It quivered out of gratitude, knowing that there was strength and support behind the words he brought me.

While I could write many, many stories about keeping my chin upI will leave it at those three. That being said, I do want to convey my appreciation to the man that has uplifted me with those words so many times. I have come to find solace in them and in him.

And dad, if you’re reading this, I hope that I can someday return the strength and encouragement you’ve given me, providing you with comfort, confidence, and consolation. Happy Father’s Day.

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Be present.

Since making the transition from a career-minded woman to being a stay at home mom, I have found myself attempting to reconcile and validate how I spend my time. Each day, for better or worse, is a little bit like the movie Groundhog Day. You know, the film about how every day is the same. Trivial and the same. Further to trying to validate my time, I have tried to stay connected to the outside world – cabin fever has set in more than a time or two! When trying to get my daughter to sleep, for example, I often find myself checking Facebook, reading online news, or pinning on Pinterest.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with trying to feel validated or staying connected, I often wonder if I am missing something. Why can’t I just be present in the moment? As I was lying next to my 10-month old daughter tonight, trying to help her get to sleep for thousandth time (slight exaggeration for emphasis purposes), I found myself feeling resentful. But then my emotional angst halted when I had the epiphany that someday I will tell my daughter stories about how I had to make her feel secure when entering dreamland by lying near her for hours on end. And when I thought about these stories, I realized how short-lived this Groundhog Day existence truly is. I also considered what type of a character I want to be in this story, realizing that I want to remember the details of these intimate and special moments.

Ultimately, I decided I want to be present. Present in the small, mundane moments. Moments that if viewed correctly, can be deeply profound (if I let them).

So tonight as my daughter finally drifted into dreamland, I was taken by how her breath changed when she entered a deeper sleep, inhaling and exhaling faster. I noticed that when her face became completely relaxed, her bottom lip becomes like the shape of a W because her teeth aren’t big enough to push her lips out. I smiled when her tiny hand, once clenching the fold in the bed sheet, slowly slid to her side, opening palm up as if ready to catch dreams. I appreciated that her little foot was partially sticking out the bottom of her blanket, catching a glimpse of her teeny toes. I silently giggled as I noticed that her legs have dropped to either side of her body, making the shape of frogs’ legs. And after some time (when I think she’s asleep), I attempt to leave, only to have her roll over and grab the collar of my shirt and nuzzle her head into my neck. Tiredly I sigh, but when I breath in, my nose is tickled by her strawberry blond hair that’s getting longer with age, and I’m reminded of that delicious “baby” smell. Then I think, “What’s another 15-20 minutes of just being present?”

Today I am glad that I was present. I hope to be again tomorrow.

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