Birds are meant to fly.
When a mom-bird lays her eggs, she does so in a softly-lined nest. As her little ones crack through their shells they are met with a feathered world, padded to ease them into the maturing process. Mom feeds, nurtures and notes their growth. And then, at the appropriate time, she makes changes because she knows her offspring can’t stay in the nest forever.
Sarah Bessy, author of Out of Sorts writes, “When I was preparing to leave home, my mother used to joke about ‘putting prickles in the nest.’ She had read somewhere that when the time comes for baby birds to learn to fly, the mother birds put sticks or thorns in their nests. By making the nest uncomfortable, the mother bird is actually giving her babies a gift: the gift of flight and growth. Discomfort causes the baby birds to embrace their fundamental self as one who takes wing.”
…embrace their fundamental self as one who takes wing.
We have been fortunate to have all of our sons live within an hour of our home since they moved out over the last few years. However, last Friday our youngest son and his wife drove off with their little red car packed to the roof. They have moved to Ontario – four provinces away.
Watching them pull away flooded me with emotion. As the one left behind, it’s difficult to see beyond the losses. We’ll miss their presence at our monthly family celebrations, and I’ll grieve not working alongside Eric at Food for the Hungry. We won’t share dinners or spontaneous outings or get to hug them nearly as often.
But as they waved, I also felt excitement for them. The grand adventure of being young and heading into a new season, establishing a home, entering a Master’s degree program for Eric and new work for Riley, is exhilarating. I’m genuinely happy for them.
And, nothing will ever be the same.
That sounds a bit melodramatic because I know that’s true of every day we are given. I’m always older tomorrow, a bit more experienced in something, even when the days are ordinary and regular.
Then big transitions hit and the implications of decisions made by others land squarely in my lap. Of course I don’t want my kids to live far away. But I also don’t want them to stay close if it means missing something God is calling them to do.
Separation is hard. But I know in my core that my role is not to feather the nest to keep my babies in. My job is to free them, to bless them, and to celebrate winged flight. I know that.
But it doesn’t make it easy.
With love and gratitude,
Fast lane, here we come.
Recently my husband and I became card-carrying members of the Nexus club, the Canadian/US border’s version of a Disney Fast Pass.
Last week, we hopped in our car and headed south to catch a flight from Seattle to Minnesota to visit Bill’s mom. We calculated our travel time factoring in long weekend line ups, but with a knowing smile that we could now use the zip-on-through lane.
We left the house shortly after 7:00 a.m. and rounded the curve approaching the border, confidently taking the Nexus lane, passing by car after truck in the regular line up.
“Bill, it’s closed. There’s pylons up ahead.”
We shared an “are you kidding me?” look as our glee turned to humiliation. We were those people. But not on purpose. It was an honest mistake.
I rolled down my window and made eye contact with a 60-something woman in the white sedan beside us. “Would you mind letting us in the line, please?”
“No. Nexus doesn’t open until 8:00,” she replied.
“We didn’t realize that. This is our first time using the Nexus line,” I responded contritely.
“It’s every traveller’s responsibility to do research ahead of time and know the rules of Nexus,” she reprimanded sternly. “Back up.” With that she closed her window.
She was right, of course. It was our job to know the hours of operation of this new program, along with all of the other expectations.
And I don’t know what’s been happening in her life. Perhaps she is a border regular who sees people abusing the system and we were the last straw. Maybe she lost her job last month. For all I know, her dog could have bitten her right before she got in her car.
It’s also true that she has no idea the hamster wheel I’ve felt on these last couple of weeks. Researching Nexus specifics—when I already knew the general border hours—didn’t make my top ten things to do. It never crossed my mind.
But none of that matters because we tend to judge others on their actions and ourselves on our intentions. I know that. I teach that.
Yet, she got under my skin.
I confessed to Bill that I wouldn’t be sad if she got pulled in for questioning. He raised an eyebrow and I knew I needed an attitude adjustment. So what was going on that kept me from brushing off her unwillingness to make space for us?
Grace. There was no grace.
We weren’t trying to buck the system or budge into line to save time. We made an error and when I dared to reach out, I wasn’t only refused help, I felt shamed by a lecture dripping with condescension and superiority.
It’s been a good reminder to me that all of my interactions with people matter, and that I want to be one extending grace, not condemnation. I only hope that the line-lady encounters people who are willing to model kindness to her when she needs a break.
With love and gratitude,
For women and girls in Cambodia, a menstrual period can put a full stop to life for a whole week every month. This young entrepreneur is changing that in her community.
Sreilak missed a week of school. Again.
She’s not alone. Each month, young women around the world are absent from educational opportunities because they can’t afford feminine hygiene products.
They can’t leave home during their menstrual period.
But a group of young women in Cambodia are changing this reality.
On my recent trip to Tasiem Village in Cambodia, I met Kim Houy Hor, the original seamstress for the recently established re-usable sanitary napkin business.
This is a first on so many levels.
This business grew out of the first Savings and Loans group established for youth and it’s an entrepreneurial endeavour run by young women, serving women. But the firsts don’t end there.
Twenty-seven young women each contributed $12.50 to become stakeholders in the business, which has already seen a net profit of over $300, an unimaginable amount of money in a materially impoverished area. The young women have purchased sewing machines and stocked their shelves with products needed to manufacture the re-usable pads.
Their enthusiasm and passion has been contagious.
The elders got on board when they saw benefits for the entire community— reliable employment and income; increased population stability; and young women attending school regularly.
Leaders pooled resources and constructed a building to house the sewing machines and materials, creating unity and a sense of village pride over the young women’s accomplishments.
Production of the sanitary pads began in April of 2017.
Each hand-made, fabric carrying bag contains two pad holders and six cloth liners. The liners are made of thick, soft fabric and have a moisture barrier sewn into them to prevent leaks. These products are sold with two Ziplocs as well, which girls can carry used pads in. They’ve thought of everything!
And imagine a year’s worth of feminine hygiene products costing $2.50 per year or less. These packages are sold for $5.oo and last at least two years.
But income generation and affordability are just two measure of success for this project. Kim Houy Hor and Food for the Hungry staff beamed as they spoke of how these napkins reduce waste and are therefore good for the environment.
They shared how the kits are proving to be an open door to discussing women’s health issues in their community and beyond.
And they proudly noted that this product is chemical free, offering a healthy and safe alternative that doesn’t have to be purchased monthly.
But perhaps the most glowing report is that young women are free to attend school, participate in activities, and learn practical skills for future employment.
It’s already clear that Kim Houy Hor is an excellent seamstress. I would say her marketing ability is growing as well. As I held the cloth bag and examined the pads she asked with a wide smile, “How many would you like to buy?”
The Word Guild Is Pleased To Announce
The 30th Annual 2018 Word Awards Short List
Honouring the Best of Canadian Christian Writing from 2017
TORONTO, ON — (CANADIAN CHRISTIAN NEWS SERVICE) — Canada’s best writers who speak into Canadian culture with a Christian worldview will be honoured and celebrated on the evening of Friday, June 15, 2018...
CHRISTIAN – NON-FICTION
· Shelaine Strom; But Pain Crept In (In the Midst Publishing)
· Paul Boge; Hannah’s Hope. A Mully Children’s Rescue Story (Castle Quay)
· Earnest Nullmeyer; How I Triumphed Over Multiple Traumas With a Smile on My Face, Sparkle in My Eyes (Castle Quay)
In Cambodia, those living with disabilities can struggle to earn a living. This group in Boeng Mealea has banded together to create an amazing new opportunity.
In July of 2016, my husband and I had the privilege of attending the first-ever meeting of the Savings and Loans group for people living with disabilities in Boeng Mealea, Cambodia.
And this past October (2017) I got to go back. What a difference 18 months can make!
At the heart of this transformation is relationship, trust, and education.
In the months between my visits, Cambodian Food for the Hungry (FH) staff came alongside group members, getting to know them and their desires. Staff encouraged dreaming and assisted in envisioning a hopeful future, something foreign to those living with disabilities.
This is no small feat in a country where having a disability often results in isolation, loneliness, and extreme material poverty.
Most people in Cambodia are Buddhist and believe in Karma—adopting an attitude that bad behaviour in a past life accounts for a disability in the present life. There is little room for empathy, understanding, or getting past the impairment. People are seen as their issue, not as valued human beings. People with disabilities are often seen as cursed and worthless, leaving them extremely vulnerable.
This worldview can also encourage discrimination and lack of regard for individuals living with disabilities and contributes to the ongoing cycle of despair and disparity.
Savings and Loans group meetings can happen in homes, under trees, or anywhere that is most convenient for the participants.
In Cambodia, education is extremely difficult to access for people living with disabilities. Cost is certainly a prohibitive factor, but practical realities of accessibility create insurmountable barriers. While the law states that buildings need to be readily reachable by all, little is done to ensure or enforce this, rendering those with physical limitations unable to get into educational facilities.
Access denied. Opportunities withheld. Vulnerability increased.
And it’s this exposure to risk that makes these people ideal candidates to work with Food for the Hungry, the organization who intentionally seeks to walk with the world’s most vulnerable through initiatives like Savings and Loans groups.
FH Savings and Loans groups are so much bigger than financial transactions. To lay the groundwork for their formation, FH staff worked with the community members living with disabilities to build trust and shared a vision for how working together, and keeping their money local, could benefit them.
Loan sharks are rampant in Cambodia, preying on vulnerable people in crisis, charging exorbitant interest rates, recalling loans on a whim, and adding stress and fear to those already experiencing extreme material poverty. And yet, many turn to these ill-motivated individuals because they see no alternative.
And that’s the power of a local Savings and Loans structure where neighbours pool resources, collectively make decisions on loans, hold each other accountable and, perhaps most meaningfully, support and cheer one another on.
Group meetings provide participants with a safe place to save money, take out loans, pitch ideas, troubleshoot difficulties, and receive support and encouragement from their peers.
Practically speaking, FH staff provided training in financial literacy, savings strategies, and small business management. The group received a secure lockbox, ledger, and accounting books with instruction on how to use them.
And the change began.
Each member contributed as much as they were able to the savings box—perhaps only a few cents at a time. Deposits were entered into the ledger by the designated bookkeeper, checked by another member, and witnessed by everyone sitting around on the mat at meetings.
While funds grew, brainstorming for how their collective savings would be leveraged continued.
Ideas shared, research conducted, a plan birthed. The Savings and Loans group for people living with disabilities was ready to put their learning, strategizing, and vision into practice.
Joy and pride washed over me as I met with the group again.
We shared time together discussing their road to becoming entrepreneurs. And then they gave me a tour of their store—the first of its kind.
So what happened between my visits? The Savings and Loan group met weekly with Food for the Hungry staff for learning, envisaging, and soon strategizing.
In the end, they decided on a grocery store and secured rental space for $25 a month. They sourced suppliers, stocked the shelves, and opened the doors. The business slowly grew but some of the stakeholders recognized an opportunity to reduce costs and therefore increase profit.
A piece of land on a busy highway located near a popular temple, right across from a school, became available for $35 per year. The lack of a building didn’t squelch their enthusiasm. The team banded together, contributing materials and labour as able, and constructed their own grocery store. Offering school supplies in addition to household necessities has been a stroke of marketing genius.
One hurdle the initiative needed to clear came with staffing.
Initially, the group hired someone from outside their cluster to run the store. It didn’t work out because “she didn’t smile.” So, they came together and assessed skills and abilities within their own.
Tok was voted in as the salesperson and since he’s taken over, sales have skyrocketed. He is warm, inviting, helpful, and perhaps most significant, invested. He takes pride and ownership of the store and his passion is contagious.
And what does Tok have to say about this opportunity? He told me he loves his job—the people he meets and being able to do purposeful work. He also said his wife has a new respect for him and “no longer fights him.” She is proud that he has a job and that people now look up to him.
The new store isn’t just a livelihood to these people living with disabilities.
This is a life-changing opportunity to hold their heads high and know that they are contributing to society, providing for their families, building friendships in community, and having fun in the process.
For more stories like this one, visit: http://blog.fhcanada.org
If you click on the link below, you'll find an article I wrote recently for Hope Notes, Food for the Hungry's magazine.
With love and gratitude,
I Saw it In His Smile
Clip 1. His little legs teeter and wobble as he makes his way across the grass. He pauses, regains balance, and resumes his mission toward the gravel. He loves rocks.
As he approaches the edge of the lawn, he stops but keeps looking at his goal. His left arm shoots up, palm open. He wants me to hold his hand while he transitions to the pavement.
Clip 2. This week I had day-surgery to remove two large kidney stones. As the general anesthetic wore off, the nurse kindly stated, “Okay, it’s time to get you up walking” and then proceeded to give me instructions on how to do so.
“Scoot your bottom to the side of the bed and drop your legs over the edge. Now sit there for a few minutes until you get your bearings.”
I followed orders. When the spinning room slowed to an agreeable pace, I told her I was ready to carry on. “Okay. Stand slowly and hold my arm. When you’re upright, hold onto the IV pole for balance. I’ll walk right beside you to the bathroom. Let me know if you’re feeling dizzy or light-headed.”
And off we went at a blistering snail’s pace, with me relearning how to walk again, after 50 years.
Clip 3. Our grandson is not quite 18-months old and explores his ever-increasing world, eager to try new things, and makes clear when he can do it all. by. himself. I admire his tenacity to keep getting up after lawn divots trip him, to persist with poking the squirming noodle until it’s on his fork, and climbing into the dry tub fully dressed to remind me of his love for baths. He’s becoming his own little person.
And, he also knows when to ask for –and receive – help.
My spirit is wired toward independence and toughing it out alone. Thankfully, God and life have continued to teach me the power of giving and receiving help. There is healing in community where one assists another by providing meals, phoning to encourage, praying faithfully.
But it’s difficult to support one another if we aren’t willing to be open and vulnerable about our need.
How might you reach your hand out today to negotiate a bumpy lawn’s edge, or post-anesthetic daze?
With love and gratitude,
We missed her birthday.
For the last ten years, I have met fairly consistently with a small group of women for book studies, prayer support and social outings.
In February, I set up a coffee date for the three of us to meet on the 19th. We sat around the table, shared our hearts, laughed and left knowing better how to pray for one another.
A few hours later I got a text from one of the women sharing that she’d just been reminded that it was the other woman’s birthday. On the 19th. That day.
We didn’t just miss her birthday. We were together and we didn’t acknowledge it at all! We blew it.
It feels like there was plenty of room for our friend to be offended.
I now know that she did not leave our February date brewing and pouting over our misfire. Rather, she said she chose to accept things as they were and give thanks for the chance to be with us on her special day!
When we recognized the error of our ways and apologized profusely, she admitted that she was surprised during lunch that we weren’t acknowledging her birthday (a new version of “surprise party,” I guess), which I appreciated. She didn’t deny her feelings and sugar coat the reality, and she also didn’t attempt to “make” us feel worse. Just honesty, authenticity and grace.
The experience reminded me of a sermon our pastor recently preached on giving up our right to be offended.
Pastor Craig shared an illustration from Andy Stanley by placing three music stands on the stage. The left one held a sign saying, “Expectations,” the right, “Experience,” and the middle a placard with “Believe the best” on one side and “Assume the worst” on the other.
He explained that when our experiences with others don’t line up with our expectations, we have a critical choice to make. When your friends don’t even say happy birthday, a decision is required.
Will I believe the best or assume the worst? (I do appreciate Stanley’s proviso that we continue to believe the best until it’s unwise or unsafe to do so.)
Fortunately for us, our friend chose to believe the best. She knows that we love her, that we had no ill intent, and that we simply forgot her birthday. We’ve apologized, talked it through, laughed heartily and… set reminders in our phones for next year.
It’s been a bold reminder how every day I get to choose: to be offended, or not to be (and extend grace). Having so recently been a recipient of extravagant grace, I hope I can offer the same to others.
With love and gratitude,
Take good care of yourself.
I wonder how many times I heard that phrase as I hacked and coughed my way into 2018.
I suspect people were hoping I would rest, drink lots of fluids, slow the pace of life, and maybe eat some homemade chicken noodle soup, all reasonable responses to being sick. All ways to take good care.
But what about when I’m not sick? Is there room for this sentiment in everyday life?
I believe it’s now called self-care and it is actually big business. Do a Google search of the term and you’ll be flooded with sites like: “45 Simple Self-Care Practices for a Healthy Body, Mind, and Soul”; “Coping and Self-care” and a roster of products designed to pamper oneself beyond comprehension.
I suspect there are many good tips to be found in such a search and I’m certainly not opposed to a hot, relaxing bath on a cold winter night. But is that the answer to self-care? Is it really about pampering, treating, and escaping?
Recently I bumped into an article by Brianna Wiest with a fresh take on this topic. She proposes:
Self-care is often a very unbeautiful thing …. It is often doing the ugliest thing that you have to do, like sweat through another workout or tell a toxic friend you don’t want to see them anymore or get a second job so you can have a savings account or figure out a way to accept yourself so that you’re not constantly exhausted from trying to be everything, all the time and then needing to take deliberate, mandated breaks from living to do basic things like drop some oil into a bath and read Marie Claire and turn your phone off for the day.”
She continues with a definition that resonates deeply with me. “True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.”
Building a life you don’t need to regularly escape from. Making the choice to build that life.
Perhaps this sentiment strikes a chord with me because of my passion for living with healthy boundaries. There is similarity between self-care and living a life with boundaries in that both include choices I have: to say yes or no; to speak the truth in love or avoid conflict; to build quiet space into each day or run wildly from dawn to dusk.
I do get to choose. Not everything, of course, because “life happens,” but I have to take responsibility for who I am and how I live.
So I ask, am I building a life with enough margin to accommodate the daily “unexpecteds” or will a surprise meeting derail me? Do I intentionally set aside time for quiet reflection, prayer, and reading or is the treadmill moving too quickly?
Is the treadmill moving at all? Have I built regular exercise into my routine along with healthy eating habits? Do I foster meaningful relationships, cultivate community and share joys and burdens with others? Are play and fun a habit?
As I generated this list of self check-in questions, I recognize how six weeks of sickness has thrown me off course in some areas which, in the name of “taking good care of myself,” is reasonable. However, the choice to get back on track is now mine.
And it’s hard work!
But it’s worth establishing that life from which I didn’t need or want to escape. My sore muscles, from the gym, remind me that strength can, and will return. Re-connecting with friends – now that fear of spreading “the plague” is gone – nourishes my soul.
I’m grateful that the author of this blog took time to sit and write. It’s been a timely reminder for me to take up my life and, by God’s grace, live it fully.
With love and gratitude,
My apologies for disappearing without warning or explanation.
If I had to pick one word to account for my absence it would be January. If I could have two words, I'd add February.
These two months have been full of sickness, including a cough that rearranged ribs and threatened to expel a lung. While it's not completely gone, it is far less violent now, for which I am thankful.
Perhaps the cough rattled my brain and killed off some creative cells. Whatever the case, I felt dry and unable to write anything that resembled content worthy of a readership.
Today I sit at my desk watching snow softly accumulate. Our grandson is napping down the hall and I realize that I'm ready to be back. The world is beginning to share analogies again and the longing to sit quietly and create returns.
So, thanks for your patience through the silent void. I hope to see you here again next week.
With love and gratitude,
In The Midst