Saturday, February 27, 2016

You Can Go Home Again. A Story of Financial Heartbreak and Success.

*I am writing about some of our past hardships for those who are struggling. By putting mine in context, I feel that people can maybe learn from both our mistakes and our accomplishments? Ideally...And remember this is in Canada...I do realize that 600 a month is A LOT of money in other countries...context is everything.*

It took me quite awhile to come home to myself. I always had great intuition and I loved myself but I didn't understand some of my impairments and abilities within context. I spent my early twenties struggling to create HOME. Our finances were a mess, we were so poor that we made 600 dollars a month. Yes, you heard right. SIX hundred dollars a month for a family of four (at the time.) We lived in subsidized housing that was included in our job. Four hundred went to pay our living cost and we were lucky that it included utilities- an ideal situation. We would have not had a home if we hadn't been provided that little shack with our job. We had 200 dollars for all of our other needs. Needless to say, spending quite a few years like this put us heavily in debt. Our debt wasn't on cars, vacations, or jewellery. Our debt was for FOOD, basic clothes for the kids and a few necessities like the cheapest toilet paper and shampoo. Once I took more toilet paper than I needed to use at the moment... home from a restroom... because I did not want to hit up my parents again. We took out a VISA so we could eat and looking back, I actually don't know how we were approved? When that VISA ran out, we went to the food bank, ate at group functions whenever we could so our children could get some balanced meals, and showed up at our parent's houses near mealtimes. It wasn't because we were lazy but because we had already consumed what little we had. We tried not to be over the top about it, but it was a desperate time and we tried not to mention it because we did not want to be burdens. We also received a lot of flack for our early marriage and we didn't want people to think we were failing. Call it pride but some of this gumption of ours to make it despite the odds, pulled us through to where we are today. Sometimes a little pride is what is needed. Poverty is a humbling experience on it's own. Each human being has an innate right to dignity and we fought hard for ours.

We asked for help at the church once and we were shamed. We were also asked to give a lot of our time in exchange which was impossible with three tiny people under the age of four at home. Needless to say it was another strike that brought us closer to not needing the church anymore. Looking back I am glad it happened. We had no other choice but to dig ourselves out from our own messes. It was a tough lesson. The other side of it was learning to accept help and ask for it. We received some surprises because we asked. Our current house only happened because we took a chance and asked our boss if we could get a discount because my husband worked for the company. We asked five different banks and only one would take us with conditions. We barely made it in to our home, but persistence and determination paid off. We will always be thankful to my husband's boss at the time because if the asking price had been higher, we would have never had our home.

It broke our hearts to give up many goals, dreams and wishes. We spent some evenings crying and holidays re grouping. We stopped my husband's school mid term (and mine online) because we knew we couldn't sustain our budget. We learned we could achieve wisdom through free books and sources and other people instead of higher education (the book Dumbing Us Down helped with this thought process.) We quit a higher paying job because my husband never saw our kids. We made paradoxical choices and found ways to live that we would have not naturally chosen. Today, we own most of our dreams and they look very different from what we would have thought.

I feel we have paid our dues. We spent at least eight years of our marriage in poverty. The kind of broke that if someone had a birthday, we either re -gifted something we loved or we didn't go. This is okay once in awhile, but several years in a row made it tough on the soul when our kids were receiving brand new gifts from others. We knew what we looked like, but we still tried to give when we could. It was the type of desperation that found us often searching the couches for milk money. There were a few times when our hands came out empty and I wept because I had two tiny children asking for milk. We did ask for help when we most needed it, but if we had asked each time we needed it, we would have been asking all the time. We wanted to not only make our own way and not be burdens on society, but also feed our own children sometimes. It was a fine line. Sometimes we asked for too much and sometimes too little.

My husband took extra jobs where he could. I barely saw him. He put many dreams on hold and decided to get his carpentry ticket so we could make more money eventually. It was a sacrifice for all of us. Looking back, I am relieved we made that decision. He may not work at the job of his dreams, but he gradually became amazing at carpentry. Carpentry school was fairly cheap and trade codes need to be taught hands on. This enabled us to make our starter home into a custom home and it also enabled us, years later, to earn a wage that covers all of our costs.

Is it a job that suits his ENFP personality? Sometimes. He suits relational jobs, humorous or philosophical vocations...his deepest passions belong within the thinking/ relational realm. But you know what? It took us a few years, and a deep depression for him working through being at a job he did not love, but years later, we are on the other side and grateful we chose this. He has learned that his passions can still be fed during his free time. We found a way to earn what we need, cut back on our spending and work hours, so that he can also enjoy free time and life at home (thank you Mr. Money Moustache ) Does my husband love his job? On some days yes, but the more important factor is he no longer hates it. He no longer has to medicate to be in his life but that medication was crucial for awhile. He has come to a place of acceptance where he realized that it doesn't matter where he works, as long as he can make the best of it and meet our basic needs and have plenty of time in after hours to do what he desires. Right now we are benefiting from an amazing construction team that meets some of his socializing and philosophical needs with good discussions at work breaks. Not what one would think of when pondering construction crews but it's a great situation for him on many days.
At the same time it is important to tell your stories and embrace some madness!

In my early twenties I wore my sister's and cousin's hand me down clothes (they are a decade younger than me.) I did not buy a new outfit of my own until 2009. Even then, it was a birthday gift. My beautiful cousins would often make gifts out of their clothing and once, my twenty year old cousin bought me more than a hundred dollars worth of clothes. I was 28 at the time and so humbled and happy. Anything we owned was given to us or made out of boxes. I made so many furnishings in our home from crates, pieces of wood and cardboard. Truthfully, I loved making something out of nothing. I loved my creativity and the challenge of making something homey for free. That taught me thrift and my budgeting skills slowly blossomed out of my ignorance from yesterdays. My children had a lot of toys due to our multiple family connections which was a relief but it didn't match what they were eating. Some weeks we lived off of cheerios three times a day. We were just grateful we had that. It was tough. Yet so beautiful too.

I didn't get Internet until 2009. I spent my first few sessions in tears trying to figure out how to type. It is almost a foreign concept to me now that we managed to live that long without a computer or device in the home. Some of it was beautiful without the distractions but I think the lack of it heavily contributed to my depression and anxiety.

After learning the ways around the net, I spent hours hashing out my existence, my depression, my anxiety and my differences. I put a lot out there and found a second home in some blogging connections I will be forever grateful to. I found myself slowly by writing. I found out I had Asperger's syndrome. I have been to therapy for over eleven years, once a month.

I made sure that I was putting in the work to make myself the best version of me, for my family and for myself. I researched ways to budget online and self taught the tricks we have today. Considering I have Dyscalculia this took many tears of frustration. I see most numbers switched so 53 is 35, I can not memorize math facts, and I still use my fingers to do basic equations like five plus four. Math is messed up for me. I still take two hours per week to do my budget. I go over the budget at least seven times plugging the numbers into the calculator. Out of six tries I come out with different numbers, until finally, at the 7th or 8th try my numbers match. My brain buzzes for awhile and it takes a couple hours to stop seeing numbers floating in my mind, but I feel proud that I can work with my impairments. Despite a legitimate disability, I am ABLE with my own tricks, extra time and determination to do what I believe I need to do. But it didn't happen overnight and I would have never believed years ago when I was failing math, that I would be the one to make the financial decisions and not only get us out of a debt mire, but to actually help us thrive.

When our kids were younger, at christmas we asked for necessities. We never asked for wants. If I received a piece of jewellery or something expensive I would almost always ask to exchange it for a gift card to somewhere where I could buy needs for the family. If someone wanted to give us a gift I would strongly hint at grocery cards or subway meals. Nice shampoos, make up, accessories...those were all luxuries. While I knew there was an importance in self esteem and I did make sure I could always buy cheap eyeliner, I had to learn what I could live without. Turns out there are is a lot we can live without when we have a change in circumstances or live under a certain budget line. For a mother under twenty five this had some depressing elements.

I wanted to feel young sometimes. I wanted to be able to go out and not feel guilty. I wanted to look good, young and energetic...and I wanted to be able to give my kids more. Looking back, I can honestly say that we did give our kids a lot for what we had. We also learned about scrimping, thinking up creative ways to get by, and how to keep dignity and a marriage in tact while struggling with almost every aspect of life.

I would NOT go back because those were the toughest years of my life. I also struggled with health and didn't know myself. I had post partum depression and I was also dealing with poverty. During this time people thought they would give me advice, but I was already down in the deepest place and their advice was simply a foot stomping my face into the mud. Words were the difference between hope and devastation to me. Too often people assumed they knew our context and chose the wrong words. Maybe they thought they were acting out of kindness to "better" me? Most of it was judgement. They did not understand the circumstances which is why I can forgive but unfortunately I will never forget those moments that I literally hung between desperation for hope and complete darkness and someone chose to push me. My husband says that to forget is to not forgive...because if you forget there is nothing to forgive at all...I suppose this is so.

The beauty in some of that mire was that we kept dreaming, we found hope in unexpected places and we crawled out of the mire and found ourselves in tact. For a special occasion once we decided to splurge and eat out. We budgeted it carefully and when we were done our meal, the server came out and said,"Rusty took care of it for you." Rusty was my old high school chum that I had not talked to in over a year. I went home and cried because not only did we get to eat out with our kids, but we also were able to buy some extra groceries that week. The kindness of a high school buddy was unexpected.

There were many instances when kindness took care of us. When we were at our end and someone would come along with unexpected aid. Then there were times when no one showed up...for months...and we would make our own way as best as we could. We needed those times too. However, if we would have had them longer than we did I think they would have broken us. Too much poverty and struggle easily leads to despair in the strongest of people. We were one of the lucky ones. On the flip side, I am grateful I experienced some of what we did.

I know we will struggle again in different ways. I struggle with health every day and know what it is like to sometimes despair. I also know the dangers of hope. I used to believe hope was the answer but instead of making me feel better, it layered my despair in grief, perfection, striving, guilt and living in the future. I learned the key to my survival was in a moment. Moment by moment.

Survival is in a song played over and over. Sometimes idealism is what gets us through life. I have had to learn, that everywhere I look, THERE IS a place to come home to...even if it is within myself. If I remind myself to open my eyes, I can see the beauty in a blade of grass swaying in the wind or the bubbly sound of alive bliss in my child's laugh.

I have known despair. I have known what carrying the world on my shoulders is like. I have also known depression...deep, gut wrenching, mind destroying depression. Chills run up my spine when I get flashbacks of the thoughts I used to have. Not of destroying someone else or even having others destroy me, but the images I saw flash in front of my eyes. I never could watch horror shows as I am too sensitive but my brain played horror shows for me. I witnessed the worst news reel of human history flashing through my mind as I rocked my newborn to sleep. The weight of history and future moments rested on little lashed eye lids.

I have known what it is like to be hungry (not starving luckily) and to feel that raw heartburn for days. I would still give up 3/4 of my portion to my kids but I ravenously ate my portion. I have known what it is like to wish for food or to start seeing food opportunities even though I did not love the taste of food. Food at that time was a necessity- carbs and sugar felt the best because I felt full for the first time in awhile. I would walk out of my way to friends in hopes that someone would offer my kids something. They would not realize it was the only food my children had eaten besides cereal all day because our food bank options were full of worms. I remember being desperate enough to consider the worms but not quite enough to risk it...and I wasn't even starving compared to most.

We put the house that we loved on the market three times. It never sold. We tried renting it out so we could move back in with my parents but no one rented instead we fought to keep what we had. We put all of our money into our mortgage and basic bills and even when our wage was higher, we did not have much extra.

Imagination was also key to my survival. I have a practical side and an idealistic side. I leaned into my idealism and imagination during these years. I often pretended we were better off than we were. My inner imaginings mimicked Sara Crewe in the Little Princess. That book shaped me when I was little and stuck with me as I aged. Imagination was my coping mechanism. I lived within books, movies, people, films, beauty, art, music...I found bliss through the beauty of creativity, magic and imagination.

Those I loved did their part to keep our family out of the deep end, but I also owe a lot to myself, and my husband to his self. Our collective inner wisdom and attitude...that voice that whispered. "Kid, don't sell that dream so soon." Brave, naive, sweet grit was what got us through clinging to each other despite all the odds. We did almost break up, twice. It's not easy when a marriage is a string and weights are added in succession. I think we owe a lot of our marriage factor to my tenacity and his dedication. My husband agrees. I forced us to read marriage books, attend therapy, and hold hands during fights. I was brutally honest and when he felt he hated me or I felt no feelings for him, we would still intentionally find ways to see the beauty. He supplied for our basic needs working harder than anyone I have known, and I held up the home front by using less than we needed and keeping our family tethered together. He developed physical muscles and I developed new cognitive pathways to work around some of my disabilities and impairments. I also taught him about some of his impairments and he finally was diagnosed with ADD. At first this almost broke him, this realization that he was different in his thinking pattern, but after some time, it made him a healthier version of himself with understanding.

Within all this context, let me say that I know we were not beyond hope. I know there are many worse circumstances than what we had. I have been to the mountains of Nicaragua and experienced heartbreaking, beyond hope, poverty. I witnessed starvation and disease, abuse and neglect. When I came back from that trip I never took for granted things like toilet paper, food, or warmth. It stuck with me. But our form of poverty for North America, struggling in minus 30 weather celsius, and having to buy winter coats and boots was a legitimate struggle. Sometimes I convinced my wonderful mother to buy my kids their needs. Sometimes she just showed up with what we needed. Other times it was my grandma. It was a consistently humbling process. At moments I would frequent thrift stores and would tear up victoriously when I found the right size for my children. They would wear their outfits too big or too small if needed but a perfect fit was nice. If a minor cost came up like fixing a luxury item like our washing machine, it would drive us to desperation. We were lucky because my husband's parents offered to cover the initial cost (having newborns, chronic illness and six months of freezing cold made it very hard for me to think of hand washing all our clothes.) His parents allowed us to pay them back over three months. That saved us. I think, in that moment, I would may have given up. A broken down appliance can do that when a family is already breaking.

We are fourteen years into our marriage. There are many more desperate and beautiful moments within our story. Some are my private treasures or fragmented shards of glass to keep for myself. The parts I have shared with you just give some glimpses. My point in sharing, is to say, that after fourteen years, we are finally at a good place. We have been at a good place for almost three years now (lol I guess we struggled for more than eight years but the first eight were the toughest.) We have a home full of stuff we love. We are now able to buy wants at Christmas, clothe our children, take them to their appointments without worrying about fuel money every time (although we still budget our fuel), and eat nourishing food.

Nourishing food is a luxury. It's an unfortunate fact but it's true. I didn't want to live off of Mac and Cheese or cereal but those items filled our bellies at what we could afford. Nourishing food should be a basic human right, but even with a home garden, it isn't always possible with the best of intents. For a few years we felt lucky that our bellies stayed semi full. Sometimes, you have to choose what isn't the best in life's contextual circumstances. Now, I am beyond exuberant every month when we come home after our Costco cart was overflowing at the till. We get to snack on veggies and fruits. Now, I am able to decorate my home with some store bought choices, even though I still try to buy at thrift first. I am careful with our budget because of our history but I also allow us to splurge on the stuff we love because finally we can.

I also know, if we go back to that place again in our future, we will be okay. I don't want to go back, but I have learned how to work with less, and I know we could manage again. At times, I have noticed that people look at our house full of stuff and think we are beyond rich. The truth is- we are rich, but not completely in a money way. We are still considered slightly under the poverty line but we have learned to live within our means, without debt, and we have enough to get by. Our house is full because of hard work, sacrifices and our own creativity. We may have a library and beautiful rooms but we worked over hours to build our own dreams. Our home is also full of other's gifts and love.

Sometimes having a choice- is a luxury. We were lucky that most of the time we had that luxury.  We were taught perspective and the power of it. We had to learn between needs and wants. We also learned that sometimes a want has to out power a need because life needs a little beauty...but this was the exception and not the rule.

We have made a home out of a place we never thought we could belong. Our standard starter home looks completely different inside and it often awes strangers who walk in. Many people tell me that it is a place of welcome, magic and creativity. We have infused ourselves into our surroundings. We have also made a home of ourselves. This did not come easily and I have no compunction saying that I am proud of us. I learned I was Autistic. I learned about my autoimmune diseases. I learned about Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia. I accepted what I couldn't change about myself, and worked around what I could. I learned that there is immense beauty and pain living a disabled and ABLED life. I have both and I LOVE who I am. My husband has learned how to work around his edgy ADD and embrace his ENFP needs. He has learned boundaries and compassion for himself.

We had to learn our own ways and each person will have unique lessons, challenges and victories. Some people need to stay in school, some really don't. Regardless, in most cases- you can do it. You can go without for short periods but do not go without creativity and imagination. You can choose the hard choices. You can give up and by giving up you may have a whole new door open up to you...You can also choose what victories are important and strive towards all that is good.

No one will come rescue you. Some people will help, but you are the main protagonist in your story. You have to rescue yourself by making some very tough sacrifices. It is possible that you can go home again to your deepest soul even if your outer world is in chaos. It's also possible that if you are struggling now, you may not later. Regardless of the situation, there are moments of beauty to be had when we train our eyes to look. It's not easy.

If you have never been in that place, know that your words and stories matter. A story like mine will be hopeful to some, depressing to others, but it's authentic in what it is.

If I can besiege you to keep one thing, please keep your eyes open for the smallest of lights. There are 'light' moments everywhere. Keep perspective in what is needed but also hold on to imagination. Know yourself to become your future.

I hope each one of you, despite circumstances, can find a home within.

 *"Clouds as mean as you've ever seen and a bird that knows your tune. And a little voice inside of you whispers, "Kid don't sell your dreams so soon." Everywhere you look there's a heart and a hand to hold on to, Everywhere you look there's a face of somebody that needs you... Cuz how do you know where you are going if you don't know where you've been? Everybody eventually says that they are as lost as you, so everybody shout it together, "hey don't sell your dreams so soon!" When you're lost out there and you are all alone, a light is waiting to carry you home. Everywhere you look."

If you are looking for practical tips on money and debt, read this blog and his top rated articles- Using his ideas we got out of debt: Mr. Money Moustache 
*I love this song in it's original form and it's new one. I am not going to assess the new Fuller House. I agree with the critics on many points but also find some of it comforting, but the song has been uplifting to me the last few days being sick and has helped me in the past. It's happy and idealistic. Sometimes I need my media to reflect sad reality but more often than not I want something with a snappy, happy ending. I want the laughs, the charm and the magic. I want loads of nostalgia with nods to the past to honour the now. I believe in bliss despite the odds and milestones...which I why I DID tear up at part in the new Fuller House's first episode and it gets better mid way through and finds it's groove. "It is no small thing to celebrate a life." Even a fake one, on T.V., that was part of the greater lives around.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Belief? Christianity, Upbringing, and Questioning. I just had to let it go.

"All of a sudden you are forced to look at a thing you believe more than anything and ask yourself when was the last time I actually took a step back from this and asked myself if this central truth is even true?"- Elizabeth Gilbert

Quite often in society, we like to think that we are stepping back from the crowd, when in actuality, deeper truths have not been assessed. We refuse to face those nitty gritty" truths" that feel integral to our being yet we pressure others to question theirs? When is the last time you have asked yourself the tough questions? When you have bravely faced your truths and dissected them from all angles? 

For instance- Belief. Belief is probably one of the most powerful forces on earth. Everyone believes in something. No one actually changes their mind from someone posting a sign that "Jesus Saves" on their front lawn, unless they were already on that journey. Belief is not an easy thing to dismantle. People often mistake that they are addressing their belief when they are simply surrounding themselves with like minded individuals and "stretching" themselves by occasionally listening to a person outside of their religious institution (like a baptist listening to evangelical. Stretching?)

I get it. I was there in my own way. It is mostly fear. No one wants to admit that their belief is wrong. It's everyone else that is wrong. "It's a relationship not a religion." "It's not a judgement - it's a truth." "I love you enough to negate your personal journey because I am willing to make you mad and not treat you as a human being because I care so you don't burn in hell. My instructions come from God so I am free to treat you the way I believe because I have that right from God." 

To think outside of the faith one has grown up in takes incredible guts and differing opportunities. Why is it that some Christians only want their kids to go to a christian college? Because they don't want them to be tempted or lose their faith. If that is the case, it was not a strong foundation to begin with. Why are the humanities and sciences looked down upon in religious circles? Growing up I was told it was because both these sectors were against God and will go to great lengths to disprove my God and make me feel less then others. I was allowed to listen to "christian scientists" in school or Creationists but the only time I was taught differing perspectives was when it was in the light of wrongdoing and how to argue with them. 

In reality, most Social Sciences and Sciences are simply relating years of study and research. Most are trying to better the world. Some believe in God, some don't. Most did not go into their fields to disprove God but to prove that the world can live up to it's potential if we simply pay attention. It is true, that most Christians who take a higher up position in this field, lose their faith, but not because it was a sinful environment, but because they finally were taught differences, the other side, and were respectfully left to hash belief out and think for themselves. They were no longer surrounded by the same people, who go to the same churches and schools and get taught the same things. I always find it funny that the outreach groups have the same social groups that go to their churches. They are preaching and validating their own belief to their own crowds. When they find someone who will listen it is usually from the same foundations or faith stances.

It is fine to believe. Humanity has a hard time functioning without some belief. However, belief has given us the biggest wars, judgement, poverty and terror. On the flip side, it has also given us aid, improvement, compassion, enrichment and peace. It depends on the version being served. 

Recently, we received an email speaking about a person we really liked. The letter said she was, "coming back to the Lord after 35 years of prayer from the family." It was stated she was asking for forgiveness for "turning her back from the Lord." If it can be said in a public email, I can share it here. This mentality is heartbreaking. We were surprised that this woman, who was so confident in her being and choices before, is now apologizing for 35 years of her existence and differences. The "pain" she caused by choosing differently. Before her turn about, she was one of the kindest and most compassionate, non judgmental family member. Now of course, she is on a mission. It is fine for her to embrace a new faith. We are celebrating that she seems genuinely happy. She has gone through massive changes and most people turn to some sort of faith if the incentives are right. The faith isn't the problem. What is the problem is the mentality behind them. That "prayer" is thought of as the  cause of this turn of events when in actuality it is human nature. She is going back to her roots after a traumatic experience and after finding euphoric new love with another believer.

My husband and I grew up immersed in varied versions of this form of faith. His was missional orientated and mine was evangelical. I went to a private K- 12 Christian School. I lived the documentary Jesus Camp. In fact, I could not finish Jesus Camp because it brought back the manipulative experiences I had. I wanted to throw up. It is mind control when you take a group of young kids and only teach them YOUR way, the Bible, how to argue against anyone who does not believe in the Bible and teach them that anyone else who is not Christian is wrong or sinful or wayward. This teaches them to dishonour people and dismiss integral differences. This bleeds into disrespect. Most of these children have a tough time accepting people who are different later...people who smoke, who swear, who have different brain wiring, or who embrace different religions. 

I find it interesting how often the complaint from Christians is that the world is against belief. Any difference or anger at forceful implications is thought to be "persecution" of Christians. My post could be thought of us persecution because I am presenting my story. I have actually found, in general, stepping out of my upbringing, that the world is actually quite compassionate, kind and generous of belief. It is not, however, tolerant of manipulative belief or intolerant stances. The Christianity I grew up with thought it was so loving while destroying the very essence of anyone who did not conform.

Luckily, not all forms of faith are like this. Many Christians are wonderful and compassionate. Part of the reason they are kind is not because they are naturally so, but because their code tells them they have to be kind to be a believer. The people who are genuine have questioned themselves, read differing literature, and decided what was right for them after other facts and differences have been presented in a non christian lens. I respect that. If one chooses Jesus after reading and studying other forms of belief and history and the human mind and science...that is a genuine choice. It is also a beautiful way of Being. However, there is only so far a relationship can go when a person believes they are right on everything and justified BY GOD and validated by their infallible bible to carry out their lives at the expense of others.

I was indoctrinated with it all. Luckily, my parents were pretty balanced Christians. I was taught some perspective away from my school. Truthfully, I loved my school. I loved being a Christian although some things were deeply questioned in my mind or ignored. I loved feeling safe and secure away from the maddening crowd. But I lived in fear of hell and in fear of people who could convince me to turn away from my God. Until one day, my blessed aunt (ironic choice of words, no?:) gave me a pretty tame book that was slightly different than what I was used to hearing. And it rang more true than anything I had read before. Slowly, I was exposed to more with even stronger differences. I found different people. I found the Internet. I found myself. And I found that I had become the type of person I had feared becoming...and I found freedom.

We are used as the bad example in some extended family and friend instances. We are the ones who will be prayed for a change of heart until we die. And if we don't change to a certain way of believing before some of our family go to their grave, they will grieve that we are going to hell. They will believe that we have turned away from the "light of the world" and have been swallowed into darkness. We will be accused of "causing deep hurt and grief" because we chose to be different.

I have some form of belief. Belief is part of me but my hope is that it always changes, grows and tries out new perspectives. I am not afraid. It is such a relief not to be in fear of hell. I know others fear it enough FOR me.

I don't want to fight for belief or against belief. While I want to tell my story to help others who may be held back, because they are not given opportunities to see life a little differently, I FIRMLY believe that everyone has a right to belief, religion and perspective. However, religion should not be an expectation to making a good, well adjusted human being. I accept the moral foundations I was given by caring people but I do not accept the moral implications behind them. I accept the beauty in hope but not the manipulative, sometimes abusive, condescending or self righteous platitudes that often are "speaking out of a place of love." I accept other's versions of truth as THEIR own, but I also accept mine.

I memorized the entire bible growing up.  Often christian songs will pop into my head. Jesus was oddly both my best friend, parent and counsellor...basically he/ she was the constant voice in my head and the creator of all that went well in my life and the comforter when it didn't. Basically Jesus was a form of mental health for me. It took a few years of adjustment to realize I could still have beautiful support without that form of belief...from my inner self and the world around me. I was so indoctrinated I can argue for Christianity and "win." I was recently told by a grateful mother that she will never forget that I led her daughter to the Lord. I cringed. This little girl was four when I asked her if she had accepted Jesus. When she said she had not, I spoke about the horrors of hell. She accepted Jesus on the spot and never looked back. I wish I did not receive credit for that moment of manipulation and fear mongering. That said, I was also innocent myself at six and copying the adults who taught me. I have to give myself grace. I also have to believe that she hopefully grew into her own choices and embraced her faith out of more than fear or lack of differing perspectives.

I believe in innocence. I know many people upon reading this, will think I am out to destroy innocent belief. First, it is not innocent if it has been indoctrinated and a child was infused into ONE aspect of believing in every facet of their lives. That is like a cult. Second, innocence can be belief, but it's not innocence when any instruction one takes and anything good "is from the Lord" and anything heartbreaking or bad is "of the devil." Innocence is a belief in love and goodwill untarnished by fear and it's a lack of wrongdoing. It is a form of wrong doing to dismantle a person, pressure them to conform, and give sanctions if a certain type of outward being is not met or inward acceptance of Christ.

I love my Christian friends. We do disagree on many things, but the friends I have kept, put our relationship before the issues. They do not force me to pray before my meals. But if I am at their house I will respectfully listen while they pray. They do not judge me for living a life that looks different from theirs and I do not judge them for staying in church or quoting bible verses. I quote authors who are christian and sometimes bible verses do influence my writing. It was my upbringing and I don't hate it. I do, however, see the flaws and some deep abuse tendencies covered by smothering kindness in some aspects of my experience and in those surrounding me. And believe me, we are surrounded. Most of our town, family and friend circles around us are differing in most life stances from us. We definitely get our exposure to differences and questioning. The only validation we have found in our own choices has come from the internet and a few friends. I admit, sometimes for sanity, it is nice to be validated in your choices and in whom you are. It's why I love blogs by autistics...I need to know I am not alone and hear experiences that are similar to mine when I am the minority in most other cases. It's fine to have people who believe the same in our circles...but exposure to differing states is stretching and crucial for growth too.

Our version of respect is to kindly but firmly express our boundaries. We do not expect people to abandon or even question their faith for us. But we ask that the same level of respect is given to us. That our lives are not expected to be abandoned to "come back to the faith." Each person should question themselves regularly, but it is not my job to impose my belief on others. However, I am allowed to talk about my own journey and my own questions on my own spaces. Sending this blog to people who write emails presenting their faith would be unjustified and petty. It would be doing what they do to us and it doesn't feel good. We don't write letters about our form of faith yet we receive them from others. It's ironic, the level at which we are sometimes disregarded, while being labelled as the selfish ones for living our own lives. We try not to engage in dialogues that may insult yet at the same time we are unafraid to be authentic in ourselves. It's messy, imperfect, and crazy. At the same time, it is full of life, love and freedom. "People say I'm crazy, doing what I'm doing. Well, they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin. When I say that I'm ok well, they look at me kindda strange. 'Surely, you're not happy now- you no longer play the game?' People say I'm lazy, dreaming my life away. Well, they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me. When I tell them that I'm doing fine watching shadows on the wall, 'don't you miss the big time boy? you are no longer on the ball.' But I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round. I really love to watch them roll. No longer riding on the merry go round. I just had to let it go. Oh, people ask me questions, lost in confusion. Well, I tell them there's no problem, only solutions. Well, they shake their heads and look at me as if I lost my mind. I tell them there's no hurry, I'm just sitting here doing time. I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round. I really love to watch them roll. No longer riding on the merry go round. I just had to let it go."*

We have made mistakes. We will again. We have also made beautiful life giving moments. I am in debt to people who made me angry by challenging my version of Christianity. I am in debt to people who subtly asked me to question my stances. I condemned some of them to hell at the time and I didn't want to join them. Now I see how brave they were and authentic. Love is being yourself while allowing others to be their selves. It's respect. I felt respected by the people who made me so angry because while they asked me to consider, they also mentioned that if at the end of my considerations I choose the same path, they would respect that decision. Unbelief is still a form of belief...we all hold values or morals or stances we believe in. Some involve gods while others involve science or health or whatever, but belief is at the core of many good and horrid life moments.

I am not angry at my upbringing. There was a time I was angry. Anger is a legitimate stage when coming out of spiritual abuse and manipulation. Now I see the merit in many stances. I see the beauty but I also experienced the pain. It's bittersweet. I don't believe my way is the right way but I believe it is right for ME ( and only me) right now. I don't believe that our beliefs should be conformed to by  others or embraced. I question my beliefs regularly. Maybe this is part of being avid reader? I believe everyone has a right to question and should be exposed to differing perspectives. I believe because I am human. It's an inescapable fact, but belief can be questioned and balanced.

This is part of my story. I'm telling it for others who may need permission to tell their story. Yours WILL and has the right to be different. All I ask is that you acknowledge your own authenticity. I respect Christianity in its best form. I validate the choices of my friends who choose this stance even if I may disagree. I hope they also honour me the same way. 'I just had to let it go.'

'Belief is a beautiful armour that makes the heaviest sword'~ it can also be a bridge to compassion. Which one is it for you?
P.S. If my words have struck something in you - feel free to find resources in My Library page.

Song Choice: Belief~John Mayer (Love this song), Gimme Some Truth- John Lennon ("I'm sick and tired of hearing things from uptight , short sided, narrow minded hypo critics...all I want is the truth...Just gimme some truth."), *Watching the Wheels*(lyrics above)- John Lennon, Never Going Back Again- Fleetwood Mac ( I played this over and over after we decided church wasn't for us...LOL:)

Side Note: A great book about John Lennon is called "The Cynical Idealist." I could relate to many aspects even if some of his life was full of choices I may not make myself...there is still inspiration, wisdom and audacity there.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Valentines Day: 32 Life Moments to Love and a Marriage Reflection

Valentines day comes with mixed emotions for me. It used to be my favourite holiday as a teen. The cheesy mushiness of it mixed with pink and reds was my optimal experience. Plus, it involved happy, innocent crushes and wonderful gifts. I had a protected princess sort of experience in most of my teen hood...and whenever I didn't, I created imaginations in my mind. My inner character is sort of similar to Sara, the main character in the book 'A Little Princess' though I am not as kind. I often imagined the way I wanted life to go and if it was awful, I pretended most of it away. In sensory experiences, I made up a different scenario in my mind. Life was magical because I wished it to be in most regards.
As I grew up and have spent almost fourteen years in a marriage, I have realized that love comes in many stages. There have been Valentines that have broken my heart or when my husband and I had only feelings of apathy towards each other, but there have also been breathless highs full of euphoria and bliss together. 

We don't usually plan for Valentines anymore and if we do something, we usually throw it together last minute. Not because we don't celebrate love, but because, to us, love is in the ordinary, and we try to celebrate it every day.

There are many forms of love. Thus, I wanted to list a few of my loves to hopefully inspire lists of your own, to view life in gratitude, even if tomorrow is spent alone or unmarked. I am picking 32 simply because that is the amount of time I have been alive...I think...(I will have to call my mother.)

32 VALENTINES of LOVE: A List of Soulful Beauty

1. Spicy cinnamon topped on a latte or steamer in the form of a heart. Suck out the spice in life.

2. Books. Glossy covered, worn paperback, tattered and cornered. A symbol of wisdom.

3. Words. Saturating our being. I have a ebullience for eloquence. A dalliance everyday into the assemblage of dulcet lyricism. 

4. Petrichor. The smell of the earth after rain.

5. Garlic. A heady fragrance of vitality and bursting taste.

6. Colour. Aureolin, Azure, Lavender, Burgandy, Capri, Cerulean Blue, Chartreuse Yellow, Chocolate brown, Classic Rose, Ecru, Gray, Harvest Gold, Indigo, Jade, Magenta, Onyx, Razzmatazz, Saffron, Slate blue, Tea Green, Vanilla, Cinnamon red, and deep purple... the sex of the eyes.

7. Song. ' Here comes the Sun' through the Music. 'Footloose' and ' Fishin' in the Dark' these songs are 'Taking a chance on love' with ' Toxic' 'Fireworks.' 'I can't help Falling in Love' with 'Blue Skies' and ' 'Silly Love songs'. 'What a wonderful World' with an "Orange Coloured Sky' and a ' Total eclipse of the Heart'.' Please Don't stop the Music.' ' Enter Sandman.' With ' Sweet Dreams' the music of life echoes Journey's refrain; 'Don't stop believing.' (Yea I realized I am being completely cheesy making up sentences with song titles...I wish I could go on because I have at least a few hundred favourite songs. Songs change my essence while keeping my self grounded.)

8. Down filled blankets on top of Egyptian cotton sheets. Pure ecstasy.

9. Sounds of friendship. Laughter bubbling from the next table, quiet introspection of a comfortable union, chatty excitement, awkward new beginnings and the solace of wiping the tears.

10. Yugort oat muffins with peanut butter and jelly. Pickled preserves and deep rooted beets. Cheese and fruit. Salted dark chocolate. Light Curry and Basmati rice. Smoothies and salted popcorn.

11. The pop of kindling under the reds and oranges of fire. Add an Inglenook. (A cozy nook by the hearth.)

12. Muscles burning from a successful work out/ or making love. You pick.

13. The largest working organ in the body. Full of supple squishy reds and zipping neurones. (A healthy brain.)

14. Psychologists and self help articles or personality discoveries. Unlocking the keys to the brain and life in general.

15. Eye kohl. Even the name invokes mystery and enhancement.

16. Paper. Feathery, crumpled, fresh or stained with time.

17. Hands. Oh the things we can do.

18. Vitamin D. A substitute for sunshine. Loving those happy thoughts.

19. Water. Trickling, Susurrous, rippling, murmurous, labyrinthine,  effervescent, desultory, stagnant, fresh, twinkling, murky or dripping.

20. Laughter. At yourself is the best kind.

21. Creating. From the perfect sandwich to the Mona Lisa. Just do it.

22. Films. From Audrey exploring Rome on a Holiday to Robert Downey Jr. re- creating the moment in 'Only You'. From 'Singing in the Rain' to quippy lines in the 'Philadelphia Story'...'P.S I love you' and woah 'Pretty Woman' or 'Little Women' or perhaps 'Oceans Twelve' or 'Bourne'. Each weaves a tale of delight. 

23. Hope and Imagination. Because life CAN get better, even if it is just in your imagination. There is wonder. Spin in your own creations. Defy expectations. Defy gravity. Be who you need to be. Say what you need to say.

24. Chocolate melting on the tongue.

25. Children twirling in the moment.

26. Lists. Chore Lists and Gratitude Lists and Life Love Lists...and lists to make to break.

27. Pinterest. The world's collective creativity along with your own sparkling individuality. Pin to create. Pin to find yourself. Pin to feast your eyes starvingly upon the world's beauty or all that is good.

28. Sensuality.  "Are you captivated by the breeze from the subway; the luscious whipped cream on your latte, and the velvety texture of your favourite jacket? Sensuality is the ability to enjoy- even more, to luxuriate in- the tantalizing vibes from all of the senses."

29. Fabrics. Damask to Chenille to Wool to Plaid throws...delight in your cozy clothes or burrow into your blankets and pillows.

30. Innocence. Children laughing, savouring a simple moment with simple honesty, allowing the door to open to a moment of connective beauty. I am not speaking of chastity or purity but perhaps more of a childlike pondering of the world. Unlearn some of the crap you have taken in. 

31. Boundaries. The type from Henry Cloud's Necessary Endings. 

32. Weather. Drizzled rain, frosty cold, foggy melancholy, sunny bursts, and windy songs.

Bonus 33. Decor. Colour and dazzle the home or comfort and cocoon it. Surround yourself with only things you believe to be useful or beautiful. Do not care what others think of your home or decor but do what you love because your life and home should be a reflection of who you are, what makes you beautiful and happy, and infused with love.

My Husband is my first love. "Day after day, I must face a world of strangers, where I don’t belong, I’m not that strong. It’s nice to know that there’s someone I can turn to who will always care, you’re always there. When there's no getting over that rainbow. And my smallest of dreams won't come true. I can take all the madness the world has to give but I won't last a day without you...Touch me and I end up singing, troubles seem to up and disappear. Touch me with the love your bringing. I can't really lose when your near my look at you and I know that I can learn to live without the rest, I've found the best."*

My husband has helped carve out a home on this alien planet for me. He taught me that I should not be convincing anyone other than myself that I am fabulous. My compliments often sound like insults but he belly laughs anyway and I feel less alone. He doesn't often take offense because he knows often I do not mean offense. When it's 3 a.m. and my insomnia is out of hand and I start to feel panicky he hears my voice whimper, "Could you please hold me?" His snores stop and he re- adjusts his body to fit mine, tucking his arm around my chest and murmuring in my ear, "Go to sleep Baby. I'm here." It doesn't matter how tired he is or comfortable, he turns. We found love right where we are.

I watch those adorable smile crinkles deepen and hear his hearty laugh. The misunderstood places in my heart whoosh away with the sound of his voice. We are together yet separate on this journey but I could not have found a better travelling companion. I adore him even when I hate him. And I do hate him sometimes...part of being so passionate I suppose. No one else comes close. My husband is talented, wise, strong, peaceful, loving, gentle, kind, humorous, smart, genuine, and full of heart. If even a few see the beauty of his soul like I do, they would feel sunshine and gratitude. Happy Valentines Day my Love! ( Because tomorrow we will be busy even if it is just building our fireplace mantel and staying in our sweatpants:) Darling, I will love you way past seventy...hopefully we live a little longer.

To the rest of you matter how you spend your days, try to remember the ever green of your soul. That you are worthy of love because you exist. Life is short and long at once. Perhaps with the acknowledgement of love, ordinary moments and blissful imagination, we can make the short days longer and the long days more bearable. Happy Valentines. Find love right where you are.

Songs: Thinking out Loud- Ed Sheeran, *Won't last a Day without You- Keren Carpenter, Golden Leaves- Passenger, Once in a Lifetime- Michael Bolton

Side Note: As an early Valentines day surprise my husband travelled to the city and brought me home this!:

Monday, February 8, 2016

Roots: Grandma N: Fresh Springtime, Senses of Comfort and the Simple Life

*This is part three of my Roots series*

(First pic: Grandma and I. Second pic: Grandma's mom and I.)

Travelling in my mind to Grandma N's home, a province away, I am transported back to a time when worries were few. Fresh childhood smells like her house; rose petals, bread, warm carpet, bound books, and burnt metal from an electrical Westinghouse furnace. I would sit in front of that silver box in her kitchen, with a chair pulled up right in front, on cold nights in my slippers and PJs breathing in the furnace's dusty heat. Sometimes older basements contain that musty "old" odour but grandma's house has a freshness I can't seem to replicate. Maybe it was her many plants? A tradition I am now carrying. After years of unsuccessful attempts at keeping greens alive, eighty-two plants now thrive in our home. 

I was inspired by Grandma. She sent succulents in the mail. In front of my home sits a beautiful wild rose bush that she sent to me after my miscarriage. I can still remember opening the brown paper at the mail office and being slightly confused as wet dirt in a plastic bag came out with a thorny stem. Her note with her scrawled handwriting, quick remarks and looped signature warmed my heart. All I have to see is my Grandma's handwriting and I feel more grounded. When the wild rose blooms in the summer, I walk out my front door and breathe in memories. The fragrant rose begets my grandmother's bubbly laugh. Last summer when I was quite sick I would sit beside that rose bush and feel the comfort that happens to me each time I walk into grandma's house.

My Grandmother has never been old to me. Perhaps it's her spry energy that surpasses my own? I can only assume (after watering all her plants) that the two hours of lifting the watering pot and weeding out the nasties has kept her trim. Or maybe her youth comes from the fact that she sees movies like Star Wars or The Hunger Games before we do? Amidst the classics in her library are Lemony Snickets, Harry Potter, and all the new popular choices. I love talking with grandma because we can talk about all the current shows and books. We can nerd out on everything I am passionate about. She thinks I am quirky but secretly, I think that aspect of my persona I inherited from her.

Grandma is known for her blunt statements. She doesn't cushion her delivery but she also doesn't have any intention of hurting anyone. She simply tells it like she sees it, if she's asked. A trait I share. Upon seeing my husband's picture in the paper, my husband asked what she thought, and she unexpectedly remarked, "Wellllll, it's not your best picture." We cracked up. My husband came up to me later and whispered, "Now I know where you get it from and it's a brilliantly funny trait."

In her basement there is a red Radio Flyer wagon crammed and overflowing with Little Golden books in original mint condition. Her washer is a 1979 Inglis and the dryer's label is completely worn off. My Grandmother is modern but not encumbered by modernity. She may have a computer area upstairs but she also has a brown 1964 built in Moffet stove. I love that about her. How she seems to flow seamlessly between tradition and the current now. I can't place her in any time...she just IS. I obtain a great sense of BEING from Grandma.

My daughter noticed how Grandma often hoots at something I will say and chuckles, "Oh (insert my birth name here)." It's said in a endearing sort of way and I feel six again (but in a good way.) My children only get to see Grandma about once every year or two, but this statement has been memorable enough to stick in my twelve year old's heart.

On my children's birthday's Grandma often sends a classic book with a hand scrawled note or a bit of cash. At Christmas time the note was simply, "To P and K and children three. Grandma." The kids love spending time discussing the latest books with her or having her read a story. The last time she visited, she read them a book she often read to me as a child called, "Caps for Sale." In the same reading voice she used on me at night, when I lived with her as a child, she read to them. I was struck with nostalgia. I choked up and had to leave the room because I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the past and the present encompassed in Grandma's voice.

 (Caption: Grandma N and my daughter carrying on tradition. Below: Grandma reading in her basement with my three kids.)

Grandma N is trendy and a collector of beautiful things. She is a skilled garage sale enthusiast and has taught me to be thrifty. I can not pay over a certain amount for anything. She taught me how to make beautiful gifts out of re purposed items. Half of my house is furnished with vintage or thrift finds. She loved her crystal collections and tea cups. On many of my birthdays she would send me a very breakable crystal item bubble wrapped in the mail. It's always a delight to discover that these items were one of the many I took out to dust or admire in her Dinning Room cabinet. Washing dishes was a sacred event at Grandma's. Through her window one can gaze on lovely juniper, rose and fern arrangements and trees complete with fairy tale doors. Grandma is a gifted gardener and her yard is a stunning work of art in an unexpected place. I have memories of  washing dishes while the sudsy bubbles crept up my arms and my fingers caressed delicate flower shaped bowls, crystal china, and mismatched tea sets. Her eclectic collection dried in the rack and brightened the room with bold, creamy colours, birded coffee cups, and deep blue hues. My eldest son says blue reminds him of Grandma. Yes, deep calming blue and fun whimsical light blue all beget my Grandmother. After dinner I anticipated the dishes with great excitement because of the sensory appeal...something that doesn't happen in my own home.
(Caption: Above my three children in a part of grandma's garden. Below; A corner of blue in grandma's house.)
Her house is steeped in memories and sentimentality. There are so many artifacts in her house that I want and cherish. I have committed many of her items to memory because to me they are not just items...they are pieces of Grandma. Bits of her soul infused into aspects of home that carry her beauty and my childhood to me.

Grandma's husband died when my father was 17. Grandma birthed five children while serving as a pastor's wife. In those days that role demanded way more than it does today ( and that is saying a lot) and often she would have to come up with meals for company when she could barely feed her own kids. Grandma's meals are often distinctly Romanian. I can picture her cinnamon rolls, pies, meats, sausages and peroggies and borscht. They had an interesting life and I never tire of my father and his sibling's legendary stories.

I lived in Grandma's basement in my formative years while my dad tree planted. I had a little room in the corner with a hammock of stuffies above my head and a stack of books beside my bed. Grandma would often tuck me in and read to me story after story. She started my love affair with books.

(Caption: My sister and I with my cousin, grandma and brother)

After  my birth family  moved to the prairies, we made the trek through the Rockies during the summers. Recently, to the relief of her five children and to my horror she ripped out her speckled shag carpet. I loved that carpet. I asked for a corner of it when they tore it out. The carpet was cozy and warm, a luxury experience for the feet when we did not happen upon sewing needles first. Her carpet downstairs is soft velvet and the rec room boasts a sandpaper silk feel. The stairs gave an air bubble squeak that emanated feelings of homeyness. I was overwhelmed with pure delight with just the ordinary task of walking on that carpet. I have yet to visit her home with the new carpet but I am sure it will shock and sadden me a tad.

A few years ago, my daughter walked through Grandma's home and garden and declared the same things I have said since I was two: "I want to live here forever," "Oh I love this room," "Oh how beautiful." She sensed the mystical background that encompasses the property, she felt the memories press up against her and her little mind was already picking up the sacredness of tradition. The sensory experience grounds me but it also gives me courage to LIVE. No other place casts it's spell so effectively. If I could move this place next door to my home I would in a heartbeat.

(Caption: my daughter, mother, sister, husband and I with my cousin on the end...basically my other sister. I have a cousin on each side that is an only child and both of them practically grew up with us and my children call them aunties.)

Grandma N is in her seventies. She regularly gardens and she is more up to date on current trends then I am. She loves her life. She is spry, she is grey, and she is classy. Her style is distinct. I wish I could pull off that look so beautifully. She often wears turtle necks or button up collared shirts with fantastic jewelry. I can often hear her bracelets clink as she walks. I can visualize her strong yet soft fingers run down the chain on her neck as she adjusts the latest charm she is wearing or her patting her silver hair down gently as it stylishly curves around her chin. I can hear the soft fabrics of her clothes as she moves and sometimes the cracking of her knees from her years of gardening. Her jewelery choices are often classy gold or silver pieces chosen specifically for each outfit. When I was a child she often sewed me outfits for Christmas. I felt so special in all of them and I loved her button collection. I would often ask to look at her sewing stuff to see all the sparkles and shiny thimbles. She made a Paddington shirt with metal Paddington buttons for my brother and she often would sew little Barbie outfits for me. I have one beautiful silk blue cloak for a barbie with silver edging that she created. I felt like my Barbie's were so unique and stylish because of her contributions. We could not afford a lot of Barbie clothes when I was little and Grandma supplied me with a huge bag of outfits I adored.

When I asked each of my children to say what they think of when I mention Grandma N my eldest son replied with; "Tea, blue, roses and her laugh."  My youngest smiled and said, "Funny!"  My daughter replied, "You and your quirkiness. Her laugh is my favourite... sewing, books, fluffy carpets and trees." Grandma is like Springtime to me. She is fresh, vibrant and brings feelings of hope and creativity with her. I recall moments when I was little of sitting in her bathtub and studying the brown and pink tile patterns surrounded by bubbles. Afterwards, my three year old self would be wrapped snuggly in a towel and would be plopped in front of the warm fire in the living room. It was fantastic.
Grandma is young at heart and she passes on that youthful spirit to myself and my children. She is truly alive and gave me a head start in the embracing life department. She makes me feel like spring has sprung. "Every time I see her face I'm such a happy individual."

"Remember is a place from long ago.  Remember, filled with everything you know. Remember, when you're sad and feeling down. Remember life is just a memory. Remember close your eyes and you can see. Remember, think of all that life can be. Remember."*

 I simply have to visualize Grandma's laugh or home or hear her voice in my mind when I am feeling low and once again the beauty of the simple life becomes mine. What memories of yours bring youth and comfort?

Songs that remind me of Grandma N: *Remember by Harry Nilsson, Young at Heart- Michael Buble, You Make Me Feel So Young- Frank Sinatra, Give me the Simple Life- Steve Tyrell.