Tag Archives: growth

Perspective through Sacrifice

I recently applied for a job where I was asked to provide a written response to the statement: Describe a major challenge in your life, and how you handled it. Four years ago I would have said that attending full time university while balancing my full-time job, or navigating the mental and emotional rollercoaster associated with a horrific workplace accident my father was involved in. This year, however, my answer is much different. And, quite frankly, my response was littered with more questions than answers.

To date, the greatest challenge I have encountered in life is parenting. I have two delightful daughters, ages one and three. Parenthood is a series of questions, dichotomies and either-ors. The challenge, of course, is that I am supposed to be the leader, developing character whilst instilling value, ethics and fortitude. With each question I engage in, I confront choices related to my own character and attitudes. On days where my tenacious three-year-old chooses to exercise her free will and continuously challenge my requests, will I have enough self control and discipline to remain calm, consistent and kind? After a night of multiple wake-ups due to my child’s illness, rendering me depleted and exhausted, will I choose to see how privileged I am to show love and meet the needs of a sad, sick baby? When I have thirty other tasks on my list of things to do, will I stop to read or paint or snuggle? When teaching the importance of manners and proper behaviour, will I practice patience and model respect? And when I fail, will have the courage to apologize? 

During those moments where I am faced with the opportunity to develop my own character, I do my best to remember that life’s greatest challenges provide perspective. In order to understand true joy, one must understand sorrow. Consistently my children provide me with perspective. Since becoming a parent, I have much deeper appreciation for sleep, silence and microwaved coffee. Since becoming a parent, I have become more self aware, gracious and generous. Since becoming a parent, I have an increased sense of gratitude for my own mother.

As a stay-at-home parent, I have a much richer perspective on both the day-to-day and long-term challenges and decisions my parents–especially my mother–were confronted with. Decisions that impacted her own personal aspirations and goals.

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My mom stayed home with my brother and I during our toddler years, choosing to go back to work when we were around ages 5 and 3. When it became clear that the commitment to community committees, coupled with work demands and the overall busyness of life was impacting our family negatively (I was sick all the time, for example), my mom made the hard decision to remove herself from all commitments outside of the home. (Thankfully, my father’s business made enough money that she could choose to quit her job and devote herself entirely to the family.)

As a kid, I know I took her presence in the home for granted. For every meal prepared, bandaid applied or hug needed, she was there. For every birthday party, figure skating competition and drama performance, she was there. I never doubted her attendance or support. I just knew she would be there, because that’s what my mom did. Consistently, she put her family’s interests over her own, choosing to intertwine her identity with ours.

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From my perspective as a kid, this transition seemed relatively effortless, but I know now that it was difficult for her. Not difficult in the sense that she didn’t want to be a part of our lives; rather, difficult because the balance of being involved in our lives and having our lives become her life is a very fickle one. Why fickle? Because kids don’t often make decisions based on how others will be impacted. I didn’t understand this until I became a mom.

Early in our teen years, it became evident that my brother and I needed a change of pace from the small town we grew up in. So at the age of 15, my brother left for boarding school. A year later, when my mom saw that the use of drugs and alcohol was my way of dealing with depression, she provided me the same option. She knew that I needed different opportunities and a fresh start. Consequently, 3 days shy of my 14th birthday, I left home.

DSC_0118Yet again, my mom (and dad) made an incredibly difficult decision for the betterment of my brother and I. For 15 years, she intertwined her life with ours, making herself physically present as well as emotionally and mentally available. For 15 years, she kept the home afloat while my dad worked incredibly long, hard hours. For 15 years, we were her priority. And even when she knew that us leaving meant tearing away much of her purpose, she did it anyway. She chose us over her.

When I consider all of the personal sacrifices my mother made on behalf of our family, I am filled with gratitude and thankfulness. Gratitude for her selflessness, and thankfulness for her choice to be present–truly present–in our lives.

And now, over 15 years later, my mom has completed her Bachelors in Social Work and has almost finished her Masters in Counseling. While I know going back to school later in life poses a different set of challenges than parenthood, I am so proud of
her. I am proud of her determination and perseverance. I am pr22763_240711597482_884837_noud of her desire to grow and not be stagnant. I am proud of her for
choosing her goals and her aspirations–she didn’t let them die, she simply put them aside.

Finally, Mom, if you are reading this, thank you for modeling courage to me: courage to set aside and modify your aspirations for awhile, and for the courage to pick them up again. You’re an inspiration to many. Happy Mothers’ Day.

 

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Society’s notion on beauty is a complicated one. And as I attempt to live a life of integrity and authenticity within my roles as amother and an egalitarian, I find it too easy to be hypocritical about this issue of beauty. Since SO much of a woman’s importance is placed on how she presents herself, it’s a tricky balance to model a healthy antithesis to society’s encouragement of narcissism and ostentation.

I have had the fortune of being privy to many beauty-related conversations girlfriends of mine have had with their daughters, most of whom are under the age of 7. Usually the conversation is in the context of the mom encouraging her daughter, emphasizing that her daughter is beautiful (inside and out), and that she doesn’t need to change herself. She’s been created perfect just the way she is. Inevitably, the conversation turns when the daughter inquires about why her mom changes her appearance.

Why do you wear make-up?

Why do you dye your hair?

Needless to say, this is the junction where modelling the healthy antithesis to vanity and narcissism would come in handy. (Thankfully my daughter isn’t of age to ask me that today; otherwise, I would have to concede that I am a hypocrite and that I buy into – figuratively and literally – a billion dollar industry that tells me I’m not okay…). I’ve heard many women chime in about what they would say if their child asked, and typically, the response is something like this.

It’s fun, and I like to play with colours [of eye shadow and lipstick].

Really, ladies? Really!? The MAIN reason you wear make-up and colour your greying roots is because it’s fun? I beg to differ. My suspicion is that the MAIN reason you wear make-up or colour your hair is because you feel self-conscious. After all, we’ve been bread to feel self-conscious and uncomfortable in our own skin UNLESS we do something to ‘fix’ it.

Don’t we do a disservice to our daughters (and sons) when we’re not honest about this? Don’t we do a disservice to ourselves? Our children are already being sold images and ideas about the expectations of genders, and for women, one of these expectations is to appear polished, presenting the ‘best’ physical version of yourself. Why can’t we tell them that? Why are we hesitant to be transparent with them about this reality? Perhaps if we talk openly about this, engaging in some hard conversations, (not to mention attempt to model what it’s like to truly be comfortable in our own skins), our daughters and sons will grow up with the ability to critically think about the images and ideas they’re being sold.

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And in the midst of those conversations, maybe we can move beyond the media’s depiction of beauty to talking about what it means to be whole and beautiful, not simply a shell and beautiful. We can talk about the beauty in:

  • Wisdom, sharing stories about our grandmothers.
  • A great sense of humour, and how laughter can brighten the darkest situations.
  • A genuine smile. One that reflects contentment and shines through your eyes, not simply your teeth.
  • A heart that is kind, choosing to see the best in people, even when they are at their worst.
  • Empathy and compassion, emphasizing that the world needs more examples of this.
  • The life Christ lived. Whether you believe in Jesus or not, observing His example and how he treated people encompasses all of the above points…

And maybe, just maybe, as we start having these conversations with our daughters and sons, we will think more critically too. We will remember that wisdom, humour, authenticity, kindness, empathy, compassion… are all more important than our shell. So while we still may choose to wear make-up or colour our hair, our value won’t be found in and through that.

Our antithesis will be the whole version of beautiful and how to share that with others.

Whole and Beautiful

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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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