Come spring!

Come spring, come spring,

Let flowers sing!

Let no more melancholy winter reign,

With its thousand reasons to complain.

No more introspection in the dark

Be rather joyous as the lark!

Burst outside the walls your soul restricting

Let yourself fly on winds uplifting.

A hillside of flowers catches my eye

I hurry toward them on feet light and lithe.

Tiny crocuses shake in the breeze

Delighted to see them I drop to my knees

Translucent petals tremble and sigh

But lift their glowing faces to the sky.

Despite the February frost,

Let not one day of sunshine be lost!

Come spring!

Lucy Maud Montgomery: A Wounded Healer

Yesterday my sister sent me a rather devastating article about one of my childhood, and adulthood really, heroines, Lucy Maud Montgomery , the author of the Anne of Green Gables series, and many other books. I learned that she and her husband suffered from an ongoing addiction to medical drugs they were initially given for anxiety. These bromides and barbiturates turned out to be highly addictive and draining, and greatly altered their lives for the worse.

I felt cut to the heart by this news…not in the sense of now despising a former hero, because I believe like Dr. Gabor Maté that drug addiction is the attempt to heal persistent wounds, and not a sign of being lazy or evil. He writes:

[…A]ddiction is neither a choice nor a disease, but originates in a human being’s desperate attempt to solve a problem: the problem of emotional pain, of overwhelming stress, of lost connection, of loss of control, of a deep discomfort with the self. In short, it is a forlorn attempt to solve the problem of human pain. Hence my mantra: “The question is not why the addiction, but why the pain.”

Learning of Montgomery’s destructive addiction, I was upset, rather, the way I would be if I discovered that my own grandma had secretly suffered deeply and didn’t have the support she needed to heal in a healthy way. Montgomery suffered so much…losing her mother at a very young age, being abandoned by her father to live with old relatives, being taken lightly as a writer simply because she was a woman and having to take one of her publishers to court for years to receive her proper royalties, losing her best friend Freda to death, having a difficult marriage with a very depressed and at times physically abusive husband, and losing a child to stillbirth, like me.

Unlike me, she did not have the vast amounts of affection, support, spiritual and psychological help it takes to heal from such blows. I wish she could have had professional counselling (which is worth every penny!), a loving group of baby-loss moms to help her through it all, so she would know it was ok to talk about her beloved baby, instead of keeping silent, and a spiritual advisor who could have helped her escape when her husband became violent, instead of thinking it was her duty to stay.

Reading about her pain, I wanted to transport through time and wrap Montgomery in my arms, and tell her that despite all her suffering, she had made the world, my world, incredibly more beautiful. That I, and many others, couldn’t imagine life without her.

I had to think of Henri Nouen’s book The Wounded Healer, in which he describes the transformative power of suffering, and the surprising degree to which the wounded person can be a source of healing for others. Maybe it is that through patient suffering, while continuing to find the beautiful in life, that we give others hope. It is such a high price! Certainly the writings of Montgomery have always brought me hope, and a renewed sense of awe at the fragile preciousness of life and love, the importance of beauty, friendship and imagination.

So, sorrowful as I am, I take some solace in praying for Montgomery, and hoping with all my heart that she is now at peace, and finding Heaven just as thrillingly rich and beautiful as her great heart and mind imagined it would be.

In imagination she sailed over storied seas that wash the distant shining shores of “faëry lands forlorn,” where lost Atlantis and Elysium lie, with the evening star for pilot, to the land of Heart’s Desire. And she was richer in those dreams than in realities; for things seen pass away, but things that are unseen are eternal.” L.M. Montgomery

Cereal Bathing

Since Christmas I’ve been floating in

periodic luxury…

the bath bombs my husband gave me from Lush–

enormous sparkling balls of colour

which fill our bedroom with exotic perfumes.

When you drop them in the water,

they careen around like drunken tennis balls,

spewing a fuzzy stream of technicolor bubbles.

The first one was coffee-scented,

and I had to laugh,

lying there in a giant creamy latté.

Another resembled a golden peach,

and out of its centre came floating

–unexpected up to my face–

a perfect little dried flower,

all pointy and crimson.

Why all this sweet madness of sparkling bubbles

from my often-away, hard-working husband?

They are a silent embrace from afar,

a wordless thank you for all you do,

an affirmation of my body’s goodness,

even, or maybe especially, when it’s exhausted.

So tonight, feeling frazzled and snappy

from too many sibling squabbles

and the sneaky migration of mismatched socks

all over the living room floor,

I threw in a big orange bath-bomb,

and read a delicious chapter of Before Green Gables

while the tub filled up.

Finally, I slid into this frothy carrot soup

and imagined I was floating in the sea,

bobbing up and down near the shore

with seagulls gliding high above the waves.

But…the tiny bubbles popping near my ears

made it sound like I was bathing

in a giant bowl of Rice Crispies instead.

At least, for once, with the toddler asleep,

no one was trying to steal my cereal!

Our New Book about Pregnancy, Birth, and Beyond

The last time I posted was over a month ago, a photo on Christmas Eve of my precocious four year old waiting in the stairway for Santa…fast asleep! After all the festivities, we’ve been busy getting back into the new homeschool year and working on various projects.

Besides being busy with my seven kids, here are three main reasons I’ve been absent from my blog:

1. I’ve been working really hard on my next poetry book, Velvet Flame, which I hope will come out later this year! 🙂

2. My friend Bonnie Way and I just finished our new e-book on pregnancy, birthing and early baby days, including mama self-care and the need for mom buddies, and it will be on sale in the Ultimate Bundles Women’s Wellness Bundle starting today!!

3. And in case you had any delusions of grandeur about me…the third reason I haven’t posted anything this year is that I lost my iPad under my bed for a month. A whole month. Yup. It had slipped down by the wall and was hiding behind my husband’s guitar case and some ferocious dust bunnies in a conniving attempt to prevent me from blogging….

But back to our new book, Beginner’s Guide to Growing Baby! 🙂 There are so many pregnancy books out there, and sometimes reading them can be stressful…so what makes ours different?

Rather than being by a one step-removed professional, it’s written by real moms in the trenches of family life–vets in a way–because between us both we have experienced 13 pregnancies and births. So we have had lots of chances to struggle, make mistakes and learn better ways to manage, and want to share them with you.

These short, easy to read chapters represent the best advice we would honestly share with you if you came over for coffee…what worked for us, what was hard, and what helped, every step of the way. We are sharing the stories of our families with you, and encourage you to be the hero of your own story. Rest in what feels right; Mama knows best, for each baby.

Beginners Guide to Growing Baby is full of practical tips and tricks on surviving nausea, exhaustion and huge emotions, pregnancy-safe cures for colds and flu, how to get enough fibre, how to prevent or minimize tearing at birth, and how to adjust to early days of breastfeeding, including what to do if you get mastitis. Bonnie is also an avid researcher of natural remedies, and as an herbalist’s daughter, I’ve used many of them effectively myself, so we write about quite a few. We have experienced births with doctors, midwives, in the hospital and at home, so you can read about many possibilities. We hope learning about different options will empower you to make informed choices about what works for you and your baby.

May our stories of pregnancy, birthing, and early days of parenthood help give you courage on your journey to motherhood! We want you to know you’re not alone, but part of a huge sisterhood, here not to compare and compete, but to care for each other and cheer each other on.

If you’d like to check out the Women’s Wellness bundle this week (as it is only for sale from Feb. 5th-10th), and see all the e-books on health, diet, exercise, online courses on mama self-care, mental and emotional health, and many other resources it includes, here’s the link: Women’s Wellness Bundle.

 

This Christmas Give Hope

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What does it mean to give a meaningful present? One that is a true expression of our love… can we truly take our hearts and wrap them in shiny paper, and give them in a way that affirms the worth of the recipient, the very value in their existence? This is a great challenge.

When I was shopping recently for my kids, seeing so many rows upon rows of plastic nonsense toys in the huge box stores left me feeling empty. All this abundance seemed a bit pointless, when so much of it was soon to be destined for the dump. It’s not that I hate toys. I still have stuffed animals and doll house furniture from when I was a kid, not to mention my stamp collection and books.

I think what bothered me was all these unnecessary things being consumed so voraciously, when so many other children in the world don’t even have a bed, or clean water, or a home to call their own. No one has given them gifts to affirm the very worth of their existence. Perhaps they don’t even have parents to kiss them goodnight and tell them how much they are loved. But instead of simply being grinchy and depressed by this, I wanted to do something, even if it was something tiny.

So I found a way to take some of these little broken pieces of my heart, wrap them with love, and send them overseas. The kids and I did it together, because it is so important that they learn to give, and not just to expect gifts from life. They will be happier this way; moreover, they will be more truly human. What did we do then? I usually hate spending money but this was my absolute favourite shopping of this year! We visited charity websites like Doctors Without Borders and the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

We read about the impoverished and displaced people they help, and chose the gifts that spoke most to our hearts, like a sturdy tent to shelter a homeless family, blankets and mats to sleep on, and a water filter to provide clean water and help prevent disease. Another that tugged my heart strings was a Kangaroo Care Wrap that can double the chances of survival for a premie baby, by keeping her skin to skin and close to her mother’s heart. Having lost a full term baby girl five years ago, the idea of being able to help another baby survive was irresistible. For a mere $15, I could reach across the ocean and give a baby a chance at life, and a mother freedom from the tragedy of loss. My kids were really excited, too. They felt true joy at doing something so good for others.

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Another wonderful charity is Chalice, which sponsors poor children, helps their parents learn to plan their finances carefully, and gives them support and tools with which to earn a more stable livelihood. So if you want to empower families in need to become more independent by giving gifts like livestock, seeds, farming tools, a sewing machine or bicycle, etc, this might be a great charity for you.

I hope you’ve found inspiration in the great work that many people are doing around the world. If there’s anyone left on your list this Christmas Eve, consider giving them a gift that truly affirms their humanity and your own. The charities will send a nice e-card describing the important gift that was given in your loved one’s name.

Remember, we are not mere consumers! We are not robots who can run on money and possessions alone. We are all, each and everyone of every race and background, children of God who are strengthened by loving each other more deeply. This is what the Incarnation is about. The God who loves us all so tenderly that he wanted to affirm our intrinsic worth and erase all fear or doubt of our worthiness of being loved from our minds. He wrapped his divine heart in the frail paper of humanity and came to live among us, as a shepherd smelling of his sheep. He brought all the light and glory and splendour and magic of Heaven down to earth, to share it with us through his creation, if we would only reach out our hands to touch his and embrace this precious gift of life.

I hope you can find him this Christmas. In all the organizational Olympics of preparing your home for Christmas, may you see God at each turn…in the smiling face of your children and guests, in the beautiful colours of your Christmas meal, in the sparkling colours of lights on your tree…but also in moments of loneliness, sadness or rejection, and in the poor faces of humanity across the world, who need affirmation that they, too, are truly beautiful and loved.

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God bless you all this Christmas, and as my favourite radio man Archishop Fulton Sheen used to say, “God love you!”

My Aunt’s Nativity: An Advent Reflection

This afternoon while the toddler was sleeping, my eldest daughter set up our nativity set. It is a beautiful porcelain one given to us by my sweet Auntie Shirley, who is a retired interior decorator with an eye for beauty. We are very honoured to have her nativity.

Going to her home as a child and having Christmas dinner with all the cousins was for me the essence of cozy family closeness. Being there laughing and singing with everyone gave me a warmth that stays with me today, and makes me want my home to be such an open, welcoming place as my Auntie Shirley and Uncle Bill’s was.

I hope everyone has a joyful place to be this Christmas, and that they know how loved they are, just as they are, by the God who became small enough to put his tiny hand in ours, even though his heart contains the entire universe. Sometimes it is hard to comprehend that we are loved unconditionally. We feel it’s impossible–that nothing in life is free–but in this case we are wrong. We don’t have to earn the love that preceded our existence.

“I’ve been alive forever,” my little son told me the other day with conviction. “Always and always.” “Well, you’ve always existed in God’s heart; he always had the plan to make you.”

It is hard for us to comprehend this kind of generosity…only as parents can we imagine it a little, knowing how much we love our kids, even before they are born. I think it’s partly why God came to us as a poor, tiny baby, smelling of hay and breathed on by donkeys–so we wouldn’t be afraid of loving him, and even harder, wouldn’t be afraid of letting him love us, just as we are.

Rather than a call to apathy, this love is a call to greatness, for can anything inspire us more to want to grow better, than the firm conviction that we are already loved, exactly as we are? It is mercy and not harshness that helps us live and love well. It takes great strength to love others while also helping them to grow. May we finish this year living with mercy, strength and love, and may we be helped to do so by the sweet God who loves us even when we fail.

To Life!

Christmas is coming and there’s a lot of emphasis on being happy in this season of joy. But life with all it’s challenges continues in December like in any month, with extra business on top of it, so here’s a poem for anyone out there who’s had a bad day recently. You’re not alone!

Sometimes the best way to feel better is to allow yourself to feel crummy for a little while instead of fighting it. For me, writing poetry helps me indulge in my melancholy mood and then let it go, rather than having sadness trapped inside.

To Life!

Oh, life!

Oh, imperfect messiness!

Oh, easily screwed up days,

repeated mistakes

and ever unchanging weaknesses…

Wounds that hide and reappear

like dolphins under water

surfacing for breath,

seeking light and healing

and disappearing again.

Am I am I am I

ever going to grow?

Going to stop failing,

stop falling,

stop saying bitter things–

crouching under a shield of sarcasm

feeling so small

I have to pretend

I’m invulnerable.

Not likely.

But, oh! God bless me

and help me never give up trying.

Each day let me not be crushed

by insecurity.

I am scuffed up and tiny

but thus you have made me

and love me through it all.

Amen.

Amen to life!

Because I may be a fool

but even a fool can live life

and love.