A Family Moment

ImageIt was a family moment I will never forget. Our family formed a line with our arms encircling each other, and with our individual medals hanging around our neck we smiled broadly into the camera. Click.

When my youngest child was three I started jogging. Up until this point I had never enjoyed running.  Although I had spent a good portion of my high school involved in sports, I had hated the running that training for sports fitness mandated. But at this stage of my life I needed an inexpensive form of exercise that could be done within a short time span. I also needed the break from the household, and as I have always love the outdoors, I thought running would be a positive and easy addition to my life.

So, I started running. And honestly, at the beginning I hated almost every step of it. I’d wait until my hubby came home from work, and while supper was cooking in the oven, I’d don my running shoes and hit the road.

And I decided to bring along company. My seven-year-old daughter was alway up for an adventure, so I strapped on her safety helmut and she peddled her little pink bike beside me as I plodded along. As we neared the end of the run I turned to my little girl for some support. Between gasps I told her that I needed her to talk to me.  Why? Because at this point of the run I was beginning to hurt, and I needed her to talk to me to take my mind off the pain and tiredness my body felt.

I will never forgot her response. In her 7-year-old wisdom she queried: “Mom, if it hurts to keep running, why don’t you just stop?”

I laughed so hard I did have to stop.  How could I explain to my blonde hair blue-eyed child concepts like perseverance, determination, delayed gratification? How can you put into words the joy and reward that follows pain, endurance and training?  How do explain the value of physical health and fitness?

Sometimes when words don’t work, you just model and live it, and hope that in the future they understand.

In the years that followed I did turn into a runner.  In honesty, I did more jogging than running and now a-days, I call my self a plodder. I’m not fast, but I treasure the time I spend in the outdoors. I love the rhythm of my body falling into the running stride, and I love how it clears my mind. Even after all these years I still don’t think of it as easy; my body still hurts and although I know and experience the rewards of running at times it still hurts.

I couldn’t explain to my 7-year-old daughter why I needed to keep running even though it was uncomfortable in that moment. But in the years that followed she and her siblings saw me lace up my runners and head out the door. And they saw me come home from a run, drenched in sweat and smiling widely.  I would often declare as I stepped through the door “I’m alive!”. My family witness how physical activity enriched my life.  Not only did I talk about it, I lived it.

My husband and I have always tired to teach and live out our values. We really believe that as parents we must teach our children. But we also realized that some of life’s lessons are not taught; but rather caught. It is true: Monkey see, monkey do!

It’s been 15 years since that first run with my daughter. And this spring we participated in our first family run! It was this very daughter who inspired, encouraged and organized our family of six to sign up for the running event. Three of us ran the 10 km circuit, and three ran the half-marathon.  And each of us received a medal for placing either first, second or third in our age category!! That was rewarding, but the most gratifying part of the event was that we did it together. What started out as a solo run with my daughter peddling alongside me, cumulated into a weekend event of family fun – commemorated with individual medals!

I am filled with the satisfaction of knowing that my family has experienced some of the joy that I have had with running. Somewhere along the way – I was able to pass onto my kids a value that they embraced. What started out as a weekly routine toward fitness was slowly passed on to my family. And now we share a family value and experience that we will never forget. In fact, there is already talk of upping the ante; full marathon before this mom turns 50?

Blind spots and marital satisfaction

CLEARITI was in a fender bender. Granted, it happened years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday! In my minds eye I can see the whole event:

Pulling onto a main road I remember looking both ways before crossing the road and merging into the north bound lane. Suddenly, out of no where, a car appeared and as I entered the lane, I side-swiped the approaching car’s rear panel. Immediately both cars pulled to the side of the road. Trembling, I faced the driver of the car I had just dented. After settling the issue that no one was hurt I confessed that I did not see him. His response is forever impressed in my mind: “Your car must have a blind spot”.

Really? I had just hit him. I was clearly at fault yet his response was incredibly gracious. He blamed the accident to a situational attribute (a problem with the situation) as opposed to my driving skills (a problem with the driver). He could have blamed the accident on my personal attributes, deeming me a bad driver because I was not watching the traffic around me. The large scrape on the side of his car was clear witness to my mistake. Yet the context that he set it in made all the difference.

Situational attributions vs. Personal attribution

Researchers Thomas Bradbury and Frank Fincham (1992) studied attributions (the explanation for events) and marriage satisfaction. Their research showed that spouses who attribute their partner’s mistakes to situational factors were in happier marriages than those that blame their spouse’s faults on personal attributes. Quite simply, if you choose to attribute some of your spouse’s faults or mistakes to the situations that your spouse is in, you are in a better marriage or will have a better marriage.

Your perspective gives your spouse the benefit of the doubt and can contribute to a happier marriage. Let’s explore this a bit more practically. Let’s say that my husband is waiting for me and it is already five minutes past the time that we were suppose to leave the house. (I would be lying if I said this was merely hypothetical – as if it has never happened before!) As he’s waiting, he has two choices. He can see my lateness as a personal attribute, or as a situational attribute.

Personal attribution of me being late would sound like this: “Doris is always late. She never watches the time. She doesn’t care that I am waiting for her. She is selfish and self-centered”. My lateness is explain by my spouse by my selfish character.

Situational attribution of me being late would sound like this: “Doris is late. She probably got caught up in her work and didn’t notice the time slipping by. She is really busy and I know that she always is a bit pushed for time.” My lateness is explained by my busy schedule.

Either way, he is waiting for me – but the mind-frame in which he waits will make all the difference. His state of mind will also be very evident to me when I do arrive, albeit late. If my husband is attributing my tardiness to a selfish character flaw, his greeting to me will be very different than if he is attributing my lateness to a full schedule.

Here’s the part of the study by Bradbury and Fincham that gets interesting. The context in which you frame your spouse’s behavior sets the stage for how couples problem-solve. If your explanation of your spouses behavior is negative it makes it hard to problem solve and this results is lower marital satisfaction. Conversely, if you don’t go to “negative town”, your spouse will not feel defensive which increases chances to problem solve. This leads to martial satisfaction! 

This just makes sense. Going back to my husband waiting for me… How can we problem-solve selfishness? Can’t be done! Compare this with how we can problem-solve a busy schedule. Now there is a chance for solutions! And a chance for a happier marriage.

So give your spouse the benefit of the doubt. Next time you are disappointed in your spouse or frustrated with him/her take a moment and see the situational attributions that surround the event. Instead of feeling critical about your spouse, see what role the situation plays in your frustrations or disappointment. Then look for solutions or compromises to what you think would benefit your relationship. It will make a huge difference not only in this one situation, it might be the beginning of a better marriage.

Back to the fender bender story. A week later I was once again in that same fateful spot. My confidence in my driving ability was still shaken so I thought I would try to figure out why I had hit that car. Positioning my car in the exact same location I watched the northbound traffic. Indeed, for a brief second, a span of a quick glance, the approaching car was hidden from my view. The gracious man was right – my car did have a blind spot!

Research:

Bradbury, T.N. & Fincham, F.D. (1992). Attributions and behavior in marital interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 63(4).

picture file:http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Operations/Traffic/Signs/signs.htm

Seeing Green

20060210075705_img_0270Don’t look around. Just stare straight at these words and try to remember all the green objects around you. No peeking. Got your list? Now look and count all the objects around you that are categorically green. Didn’t notice how many green things were around you before, did you…

This is a simple test which proves a simple point: You will not necessarily see the things that you are not looking for. Conversely, you will see the things that you are looking for.  It is called ‘The Green Test’ and it was presented to me by one of my colleagues 1. The main point I pull from it is that if I am actively looking for something I will see more of it! Here’s a real life example. Have you had the experience of shopping for a new vehicle and then you become aware of how many of those cars are on the road? When we bought a silver car manufactured by a particular automobile industry, I was amazed by how many other similar brands of cars we passed in the following week. Obviously many people decided that week to buy that same car, right? Uhm…

Now, take this principle and apply it to your close relationships. If you are looking for the things that irritate you – you will find them. If you have recently been offended by someone, chances are you will continue to feel this offense in various forms in the next while and you will continually feel offended and hurt. Conversely, if you are actively looking for the good characteristics in your relationships – you will also find these attributes.  And if you are focusing on a particular thing that you really appreciate in your relationships chances are you will see them more often than you realized before.

At one particular juncture in my marriage I became keenly aware of how hard my husband worked. I often say that my hubby doesn’t have a lazy bone in his body and I can clearly remember the time in our marriage when I recognized the amount of energy he gave to tasks. Because this was the ‘green’ I started looking for, my whole perception of him shifted.  I saw his work ethic expressed in all types of ways; how he got the day going immediately after the morning alarm clock woke him up, how his dishes ended up in the dishwasher and his clothes rarely were left lying around. I saw how he gave full effort not only to his career but also to his volunteer efforts. I saw how the family benefited by his high level of intensity. Had he changed? Nope.  I noticed things that I had taken for granted or just never recognized. I did ‘The Green Test’.

Now, I can just as easily point out that the green test can also bring out negative aspects. My husband could count the times I hit snooze button before I tumble out of bed and he could focus on my pile of cloths or the plethora of coffee cups scattered around the house. Green is neutral in itself; what it represents provides the response on how you ‘color’ it.

Look around! What ‘green’ are you going to see today? As we start the New Year I would heartily wish you all the best in choosing to focus on the attributes that will enrich your relationships. This might mean focusing on the good characteristics that you might have taken for granted in this last while. Or, it could mean recognizing some patterns of behavior that are destructive to your relationships. There are many hues of green and you will be amazed by how much you will see once you start looking for it.

Need some help focusing on the ‘green’ around you? Check out this advice:

Philippians 4:8 (NIV) 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

1. Neal Black. I have learned a lot from this man. He and his wife have co-spoken with my husband and I at FamilyLife events. Check out more interesting stuff from him http://powertochange.com/blogposts/author/nblack/

picture from: http://www.parconline.biz/photoart/index.php?showimage=49

 

Read all about it!

Headline:

The youngest Born has left for university and thus it is official: Will and Doris Born are empty-nesters!

So… they have also left the nest and moved straight into a senior’s complex!

 

Extra, Extra! Read all about it!

We have decided that the next stage of our lives will be focused on me earning a Masters of Arts in Counseling Psychology. We have moved to Vancouver and as of September Will is the property manager of a not-for-profit organization that provides low-income housing for seniors. This job also includes housing and we are renting an apartment in the complex. As it is part of the job to be on-call for most days and nights in the week, the rent is a quarter of the cost of typical Vancouver housing. We also are living on a major transit route (bus/skytrain) which brings me to within a block of my school in downtown Vancouver.

The next two/three years will be designated to studying full-time in order to develop skills enabling me to practice as a therapist and psycho-educational speaker. My hubby is looking at his new position as a ‘working sabbatical’ as this job will be very different from the work he has been involved with in the past 25 years!

Behind the Story:

We are excited about the changes in our lives. For me it is a dream come true and Will is looking forward to the whole Vancouver experience. But it is also a bit of a weird thing to do. And living in a senior complex is not the weird part I’m talking about! For me the weird part is that all these changes have evolved around me. How many women in their mid-forties get to do what I am? Perhaps applying for a huge student loan isn’t really on any mid-life person’s wish list, but I have had a number of women look me in the eye and state that I am living their dream. I am blessed to have a husband that is willing to leave the comforts and familiarity of home and regular job and move.. for my dreams and aspirations. That is a lot to ask.

Especially for a woman. Now don’t get too excited about the last comment, but honestly, if I had a dollar for every person that asked “what will Will do?” when they heard about our plans, I probably wouldn’t have had to apply for that student loan. Will and I came up with a pat answer that turned more into a private joke between the two of us. When the inevitable question came up about how our plans would affect Will, we would answer: “He’s going to move to Vancouver and find a job”.

But God was before us all the way. Our Heavenly Father knew exactly what both his son and daughter needed at this juncture of our lives and he has blessed us both. Our new home is amazing, Will’s job is an absolute gift from God and I get more training to do what I feel called to do. I’ve don’t believed that God would bless one spouse at the expense of another, and God has proved this.

By the way, living in a senior’s complex has many benefits. We are constantly called ‘young folks’ and we always win the footrace to the elevator. Seriously, I am looking forward to learning not only from my studies but also from the beautiful people around me. And I am constantly learning life-lessons from my husband as we both strive to follow God – where ever that takes us! Empty nest, seniors complex or even downtown Vancouver.

Angels and Perfection

I asked her: “Do you think there is a heaven?” She tilted her head forward, and smiled. “Yes” she answered without any hesitation. “At one time I didn’t think so… but now I am sure of it”.

Silence hung in the room. I still couldn’t believe I was having this conversation; that I was witnessing the last days of my friend’s life. The room in the hospice was filled with flowers and the desk in the room was crammed with framed pictures of her beloved family. Surrounded by love, color and beauty I was still reeling in a haze of disbelief. It had all happened so quickly. Her diagnosis and moving into hospice, followed by a phone call to me that led to booking flights and a couple hours after writing my final exam, I boarded a plane to be with her. In the following days we talked, laughed and cried as we remembered, grieved together and even talked of plans for the future of her young children. Now it was time to talk about spiritual things because once the body and its place in the physical world draws to an end, the reality of the divine becomes even more poignant.

“How about angels… have you seen any?” I asked. She smiled again, and with encumbered movement she nodded her head and concentrated so she could talk. “I’ve been seeing them for a while.” “What?!” I gasped. “You’ve been seeing angels and you’ve waited until now to tell me?” This was my friend who I had shared many secrets with during high school. She had witnessed every stage of my life even living in South Africa with my family, and I had lived with her family. Throughout the years we kept in touch, sometimes closely and other times not hearing from each other for longer periods of time. In these past couple of years she had also returned to university, and we even shared this experience. I could talk with her about any stage of life, and she would know what I was talking about. In some ways she was closer to me than a sister. But the fact that she never told me about the angels, that was hard to believe.  

“Well, tell me about them. What do they look like?” I knew I was pushing her, but I also realized that she was having a mentally clear moment, and I wanted to make the most of our dwindling time together. After a contemplative respite she responded slowly and carefully. “Doris, it is really hard to describe. They are… well… they just are. They’re here, there and all around.” A few more moments past, and I have to admit I was looking over my shoulder and around the room hoping that I could catch a glimpse of what was so familiar to her. She continued on and with her eyes closed she gave me the best description she could. “They are like lights, or bodies of energy. I see them out of the corner of my eye; its like if I look straight at them, I can’t see them.” She smiled again, and opening her eyes she continued. “They looked liked crushed ice and they are all kinds of colors. There is blue, yellow, green, orange and…” Her voice trailed off as her hand motioned around the room as if to point them out to me.

Closing her eyes again she leaned her head back against her pillow while I tried to imagine what she was seeing. As the moments passed I even began wondering if maybe the hospice drugs were messing with her brain, giving her ‘angel’ moments. I broke the silence and started talking with my friend, even though I thought she had once again fallen asleep. “I can’t believe you haven’t talked about the angel until now!” I rambled on for a bit, and then was completely surprised when she opened her eyes, and struggled to sit up in bed. It was clear that our conversation wasn’t over.

“It’s not about the angels,” she said with an urgency that surprised me. “Sure, they are beautiful, but what amazes me is the perfection. Everything feels perfect.” Her words came clearer and stronger than ever as she continued. “Everything is perfect. There is so many things that I meant to do, that I didn’t get done, but none of those things matter now.” I could tell that she was completely cognizant as she listed off a bunch of things that I knew she had wanted to accomplish. After her brief list, she went on. “Even though I didn’t do these things, and there are many other things I should have done, it doesn’t matter. I don’t feel like I am going to be reprimanded; I’m not going to get scolded. I feel like everything is perfect. Everything is… perfect.” She took a deep breath and as she once again laid her head back against her pillow she concluded our talk. “The angels are beautiful, but what I am amazed at is the feeling of perfection”.

This was my last clear conversation with my friend. A couple of days later she passed away. In looking back at our conversation I realize that not only was she truly seeing angels, I believe that she was also walking with Jesus. Her emphasis on the feeling of perfection reminded me of 1 John 3

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! …  Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

I wonder if Jesus had already appeared to her, and because as she saw him, she became like him. Jesus was the only one who made it through life being perfect. He was perfection. And through his death on the cross, he is able to give us perfection. When God looks at me, he looks at me through his son Jesus Christ’s atonement, and as a result he sees perfection. That is the splendor of being a child of God.

I am sad that my friend died; she was too young and it is heart rendering that her children will grow up without her presence. She will be missed. But I am amazed that she ended her life not only seeing angels, but also in the presence of Jesus and feeling the reality of his perfection. 

standing in line


I was standing in line to greet my father. At that time he was a missionary in Africa and had made the special flight back to Canada to attend a family funeral. His return visit had been anticipated by his extended family, so when he entered the church his siblings and friends quickly surrounded him and formed a line in which to greet him. My sisters and I were not as quick-footed as the entourage and as a result we were left to wait our turn near the end of the procession that weaved its way through the empty pews. I stood in line for my father attention.

As one of six children, I spent many hours in line. We had one washroom, and I waited in line for the bathroom. I also waited in line for the good night kiss, for spankings and occasionally I had to wait in line for a word of praise or recognition. My father is an industrious man and although he was busy throughout my childhood, he was never too occupied to give love and attention; I just had to wait in line for it sometimes. He was a great dad, but he was only one man, and often everyone wanted a piece of him.

I grew up in a family surrounded by love, yet squeezed in amongst 5 sisters that could rival anyone for attention based on beauty, personality and intelligence; there was an element of the survival of the fittest. Competition could be fierce as we all contended for our father’s attention.

My father can narrate stories, has a great sense of humor and he can debate a formidable point in any argument. He usually has a twinkle in his eye as he speaks, which often leads to an ambiguous undertone in most conversations; it leaves one wondering if he is joking or not. And, as soon as the conversation lends itself, he will broach the topic of God. His love for God is the only thing that surpasses his love for his wife, family and ministry. His life is an example of grace and a portrayal of God’s faithfulness.

When I was a teen, I signed up for a mission’s trip that took me away from home for the summer. During this time there was a postal strike and because this was the pre-email and pre-cell era, there would be very little contact until my return home a couple of months later. As part of our goodbye, I clearly remember my dad pointing me toward God. In recognizing that I would battle homesickness, he said: “At any moment you can close your eyes and through the presence of Christ we can be right beside you”. He went on to explain that by me walking in Christ and my parents also walking in Christ we could walk side by side even though the distance between us spanned many miles. He concluded by directing me into a moment-by-moment walk with Jesus Christ.

This lesson became a life walk. Shortly after my parents entered their missionary lifework, I left home. I have lived most of my adult life without their physical presence. My father was unable to attend my wedding, and my parents missed my children’s births and have not been able to attend most baby dedications, baptisms and graduations. We’ve missed them during these celebratory occasions but when we are together there are great times of ‘catching up’ and joy. Sometimes we just have to wait to celebrate.

That day at the funeral, I waited in line along with all the other people to greet my father. I received a hug, a moment of my father’s attention, but I realized with a heart-penetrating sear that I needed more, much more. Turning to my Heavenly Father I cried for the attention that every child desires, the recognition that arises from the very soul.

How grateful I am that my earthly father recognized and directed my needs to my Heavenly Father. There is never a line up for my Heavenly Father; there is no waiting for his attention. God is omnipresent and omniscient. He sees every tear that falls and he understands everything, even the sort of pain that tears can’t express. He witnesses every victory and recognizes the times of elation that no one else can notice. He celebrates every occasion and sustains through every tragedy. He knows me intimately and he understands instantly.

My heavenly Father know me thoroughly, he searches my thoughts and intentions. He knows what I need, what I dream for and what I fear. I am never alone and my Heavenly Father witnesses my life giving guidance and provision for each day.

With my heavenly Father there is no waiting in line.

After 10 years… it’s done!

Yesterday I wrote my final, final undergraduate exam. It was the completion of a long term project that started 10 years ago when I began my post secondary education in 2002.  After seven years of homeschooling my children through their early years of elementary school, I enlisted them in public school and I enrolled at the local university college. It was a long journey from then to now and the realities of family responsibilities and limited funds occasionally inhibited my scholastic goals.

I enjoyed the years that were filled with family-orientated activity, yet I was able to take enough college courses to satiate my love for learning. Then, two years ago, I started taking a full course load and commuting 96 km to a university where I worked to complete my degree. Yesterday was my last day and as I took the familiar drive to the university I was listening to my Bible on CD and in Ephesians I contemplated the point that God has a specific call on everyone’s life.

Ephesians 4:11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Now, I know it doesn’t say “some to be students”, but the truth is that God calls and sets out directions for each person, and they are different for different people.This has been very obvious in my case; not many women my age are back at university!  

I know that I am an anomaly. If I had a dollar for every person who has said to me “I’m glad it is you, I have no desire to go back to university” I would have a substantially smaller student loan. For others, the idea of me pursuing post-secondary education was met with responses that ranged on a continuum with ‘unpractical’ at one end, to ‘down-right-selfish’ at the other end. But I also had encouragement throughout the past decade.

Particularly I am grateful for the instruction from a dear friend who gave me guidance in truth at a pivotal time. At about the 3 year mark I almost quit. In fact I had quit. My schooling was causing too many problems and costing too much money, so I didn’t take any classes for two terms. I felt a part of me disappear and although I continually brought this before the Lord I couldn’t get the desire for more schooling out of my heart and head. Erroneously I believed that God was asking me to give up my schooling. You know… the old kill-joy, traditional subservient view that if you like something too much it must be wrong; especially if it costs money and time that could be devoted to others (especially your kids and husband).  Then, in a conversation with this friend I heard the truth. After a tearful conversation in which I had just confessed that I was struggling with giving up my dream of further education, she said bluntly: “Doris, go back to school.” I did. And my kids and husband were in total agreement and support!

Now I know that this has all been part of the process of being faithful to who God has called me to be.  As I graduate, I will be surrounded with some fellow graduates who were in elementary school when I started! But, I won’t think about that. I know I am an anomaly. But I also know that I am doing what God has called me to do. He gave some to be this and some to be that. I am so grateful with the opportunity to be what he gave me these past ten years!