Sunday, December 31, 2006

Ho, Ho, Holy Night

This was the Christmas that I stopped wanting my kids to grow up. Instead of wishing they'd get easier to manage (visions of them wiping up their own spills dance through my head), I saw everything they did as precious: G. hula dancing her way through the nursery school Christmas concert, K. in crown and bathrobe boldly announcing Caesar's census in the church pageant, and their squeals of delight as packages were torn open, over toothbrushes and ghetto-blasters alike.

Last week I caught them rearranging the nativity set. A tall, slender Father Christmas was standing with the little shepherds. But K. had placed a small plaque with the words "Peace on Earth, Goodwill towards Men" in front of the jolly red figurine. I overheard him telling G., "That's so he'll read it and know that all these people aren't here to visit him."

Longing to see K. stand in awe over how God got in the manger rather than how the elf got up the chimney, when he was 5 years old I snuffed out his Santafication almost before it began.

For whatever reason, perhaps the joy the oh-so-real Twinkle the Tooth Fairy's visits have brought to our home since then, or the way ideals relax with child #2, or the fact that my girl loves fantasy almost as much as her brother loves scientific explanations, I couldn't bring myself to de-elf G.

After we decorated the tree G. said, "We need presents under it. When Santa comes down the chimney....(look of horror spreads across little face)...WE DON'T HAVE A CHIMNEY!" I told her, "You'll still get lots of presents. Santa doesn't need a chimney. He's like the tooth fairy." (No lies there.)

Leading up to Christmas G. had me playing: "You sleep and I'll be Santa filling your stocking." About as many times, she got me playing: "You be baby Jesus sleeping in the manger and I'll be Mary tucking you in." (I enthusiastically encourage all games that require me to sleep.) The magic of Santa didn't overshadowed the miracle.

Just like G.'s hula didn't distract me from "the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay." It pointed me right back to him, with a heart full of gratitude.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

He's God and I'm staff and that comforts me

Last New Year's Eve I said a bold prayer. It just got answered.

On December 31 I reflected on where God had taken me in 2005. Easter '05 marked the end of 10 years of dry ink, 10 years of not even being able to journal, let alone create poetry or stories. (The notable exception being my 125 page thesis on apocalyptic literature. But writing Hebrew transliterations doesn't require the creative powers of the soul; that was primarily a cerebral stretching exercise.)

From whence the creativity and courage sprang at that particular moment I cannot be certain (a miracle of new life perhaps), but the week after Easter I mailed 3 articles to the MB Herald and queried my first profile for Christian Current, a story about FLN. The Herald chose to print one, and I've been in every Christian Current since August '05.

I've always had a longing to belong. It's the reason I lived in the College dorm when my parents' free "B and B" was 15 minutes away, and the reason I joined our church within months of finding it, at a time when church membership is no longer fashionable. As a freelance writer, I have the sense that while editors like my work, they don't quite trust me enough to call me one of their own.

So, last New Year's Eve my prayer was that God would continue to bless my career so that by the time Gemma enters grade one (Fall '08), either the MB Herald, Christian Current, or FLN would ask me to be a permanent staff writer.

10 days later I had an email from FLN.

They liked the stories I had written about them in Christian Current and wondered if I would write press releases for them. On a contract basis, not as staff. "We want to keep you at arm's length for now." A three month contract turned into a year. Working from home turned into sharing an office and eating too many Mennonite honey cookies at coffeebreak.

Today I learned that I will need to shift my schedule a little to accomodate monthly Tuesday morning staff meetings. After all, that's the place permanent part-time staff people belong! (And Gemma's not anywhere close to entering grade one.) When the department director said, "We want to commit to you, invest in you, and think in terms of years, not months, of working together," I was so happy, I actually "tee hee hee hee-d" right in front of my supervisors.

Maybe it wasn't such a bold prayer after all. Maybe God knew where I belonged all along.

And FLN is just a small part of a beautiful plan.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Why carolling meant more to me

Good news: I am no longer afraid of old ladies.

When I worked at a bookstore I must confess I did not serve them well. I cringed when they called me "dear" or patted my hand. When I saw them hunch or tremor, or heard their voices squeak, I felt cold fear, thinking about becoming one of them one day.

The time I spent with my Oma in the hospital before her death helped me see the beauty in age. But it was just last Sunday that I knew I had licked the fear.

Every Christmas our church goes carolling at a nursing home. And every year I dreaded the time after the songs were done when we were supposed to greet the residents. I was uncomfortable just looking them in the eyes.

This year I looked at the women who sang along with us and those who tried to sing but couldn't, and thought, "She was once a 3 year old girl who sang 'away in a manger,' and jabbed her little brother with her elbows as she did the actions."

I had the sense that the residents who didn't recognize their family or respond to their name could still hear Jesus' voice. And I could almost see the angels.

I'm hoping our feeble imitation of the angels we have heard on high renewed some happy childhood Christmas memories for those beautiful souls. Not that I'm throwing out my anti-wrinkle creams anytime soon, but I do believe I'll still be fabulous at 80.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The stop sign on the bus goes round and round in my head

If you're curious, I survived my overloaded week. I took time for my kids, kept up with my housework, even made it to the gym twice, and got all my assigments in on time, without losing any hair. I finished the first draft of my Harry Lehotsky story at midnight on Saturday after over 30 hours of work and congratulated myself for holding it together all week.

Then on Sunday I cracked. I yelled at my kids, overreacted to everything, and cried like a baby.

Confession time: This morning I drove past a school bus that had stopped in the parking lane. I wasn't thumbing my nose at the traffic laws. I wasn't late or in a hurry. I wasn't talking on my cell phone or changing the radio station or trying to spell "flatulence" backwards.

I just forgot to stop.

It bothered me all morning at work. What's wierd is that I felt worse for passing the bus than I did for yelling at my kids. I can accept the fact that I'm selfish, angry and rude, but I can't accept the fact that I make honest goofs. I think it's because I know my ability to cope with anger and stress will continue to grow, but I have no control over silly mistakes....or their consequences.

I've left the coffee pot on all day before - what if the next time I do it burns down my house? What if, the next time I unintentionally say something stupid, it costs me a friend, a job, or my reputation? What if I don't see a 3 year old step behind my car and I back over her?

Deep down I believe that God is in control. He determines the length of our lives. He's the one who gave me my house, my friends, and my job in the first place. But it's still hard to accept that I am so weak and fallible....and to offer myself the same forgiveness that He's already given.

God's grace is enough, not just for the times I cross His limits, but also for the times when I realize my own.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

You are finally home

I know, I know. I should be working, not blogging. But as I've researched Harry Lehotsky's life and watched his Final Words video played at his funeral (go to to watch) it got me thinking about my own funeral and I felt like telling someone about it.

I'm thinking, what a great idea. I'm definitely the type that would tape myself so I could speak at my own funeral. I can't imagine being at the last big event of my life and not talking! But what would my background music be?

Rev. Lehotsky's video was set to the song that goes, "Carry your candle. Run to the darkness. Seek out the helpless, confused and torn. Hold out your candle for all to see it. Take your candle, go light your world." Which fits his life to a tee.

I've always thought I'd like the Big Daddy Weave song "Neighborhoods" at my funeral:

Cause you know one day I will fly to my mansion in the sky
And I'll have no regrets when I leave this place for good
When I say my last farewell, oh, please don't forget to tell them
That I'm not really dead I'm just changing neighborhoods

I imagine people getting up and grooving to the beat, celebrating my life and my arrival with Jesus in one giant celebratory bootyshake. (Like that funeral scene on Ally McBeal that still makes me want to pee myself laughing everytime I think about it.) But my family is so Mennonite, you could fill their pants with caffeinated ferrets and they stand perfectly still, so that's probably not going to happen.

Last week I read Ted Dekker's novel The Martyr's Song, about a Bosnian priest tortured by a group of bitter soldiers during WW II. As he slips closer to death he slides between our world and the spiritual kingdom, where he hears Jesus and all the children in heaven singing this song:

Sing, O child of Zion; Shout, O child of mine;
Rejoice with all your heart and soul and mind.
Every tear you cried dried in the palm of my hand;
Every lonely hour was by my side.
Every loved one lost, every river crossed,
Every moment, every hour was pointing to this day,
Longing for this day...You are finally home

Wow, that's beautiful. The moment before my Oma passed away 8 years ago my mom says her eyes shot wide open. I don't know what she saw, but I'm thinking she heard the song too. Or maybe Jesus wrote a special one, just for her.

I feel so blessed to get to know Harry Lehotsky through his video, his writings, and his friends. I wish I had had the chance to meet him while he was alive. But then again, the pastor who fought for the West End isn't really dead - he just changed neighbourhoods.

Like Harry said at the end of his video, "I'm thankful for where I'm going and I just pray that I get to see many more of you again. I guess that's what it all comes down to. Not just to goodbyes, but to see you again. And bless each one of you as you find your way there."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Cover Shot

I'm certifiably crazy...or at least I will be by the end of the week!

This week I have 2 stories due for Christian Week, a doctor's appointment, a birthday party, a meeting...the list goes on. And to top it off I just accepted a 2500 word assignment - a cover story on Rev. Harry Lehotsky's courage in life and death for Beyond Ordinary Living magazine.

My very first feature story!

I would say this is a God-sized project, but then I'm not sure whether God endorses self-inflicted insanity. Never mind, I know God wants Harry's fight for inner city hope and justice to live on even more than I do.

The question is: where does God want to take Angeline?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

My inner child dries her tears and breaks a sweat

Some people need a shot of courage to step on a plane or to step up to the mic. It took all the guts I had to...walk into a gym.

I realize that sounds pathetic, but for whatever reason the first time I made it as far as the lobby, saw all the women in workout wear turn and look at me, ran back to my car and cried. I wanted to use my coupon for one free month membership, but I was having flashbacks of high school gym class.

My inner Mennonite was fighting with my inner child. Not a pretty scene.

Here's a snapshot from my teenage athletic career. The gym teacher is handing out awards for agility and sportsmanship. At the end of the presentation he calls me to the front of the class, shakes my hand and gives me a cracked ping pong ball for having the worst hand-eye coordination he has ever seen. (Of course that was nothing compared to the names he called the overweight boy with the bottle rim glasses. I shudder.)

But my inner Mennonite didn't give up. I called Curves, explained my phobia of exercising in public and made an appointment to meet with them. I was so afraid I would sit down backwards on the equipment or something and look goofy. Seriously, as they were showing me how to use the machines I felt like the fans were sucking me towards the exit. (I'm the reason they call it "resistance training.") It took all my concentration not to cry.

I'm guessing that's how some people feel about walking into a church. What if I laugh when I'm supposed to look serious? What if I sing when I'm supposed to listen? Or stand when I'm supposed to sit? What if everyone stares at what I'm wearing?

High school snapshot #2: I'm playing basketball. Someone passes me the ball and I actually catch the thing! I start dribbling towards the hoop. I have a clear path and no one can stop me. I think, "I can't succeed at this. That would completely mess up who I think I am." So I trip myself and land face down with my string of plastic beads caught in my mouth. My team groans, the bleachers roar and order is restored to the universe.

On the wall at Curves there's a stencil that reads It's not who we are that holds us back, but who we think we're not.

I've done a complete workout by myself three times this week. The moisture on my face was 100% sweat, 0% tears. No one stared at or criticized me. In fact, last time I ran into a friend and we did the circuit together. I feel more energetic and I'm checking my hips and thighs in the mirror with expectation. I'm actually starting to wish I could afford to join after my free month is over!

If there's something you've been thinking of trying, like taking a course, changing jobs, visiting a church, or dating a farmer, don't let who you think you're not hold you back. You might be pleasantly surprised.

You might even meet a friend.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

the clothes make the man

"If anyone is in Christ he (she) is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17.)

I love the concept behind Tim Allen's movie The Santa Clause. A not so cool dad puts on a Santa suit and he BECOMES Santa. From that day on he can't stop his beard from growing, his hair from whitening or his belly from bulging. (Or obnoxious elves from ringing the doorbell.)

He doesn't understand everything he's signed up for, but that doesn't change the facts: one decision has completely transformed his life, inside and out.

It's not just a costume; it's an identity.

Some days I feel like I'm just "putting on" my faith. Sure I can tell you how to find peace with God, just as soon as I stop yelling at my kids, fuming about my husband, and worrying about my bank statement! I have to admit: I've met the Peacemaker, but I don't always feel the peace.

The Bible says "Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus" and I'm thinking putting on Jesus is like wearing Tim Allen's Santa suit. The moment I decided to invite Jesus to control my life he gave me a new identity and he began transforming me into my destiny.

That means even when I feel like I'm still too messed up to be of any good, and I wonder why God would want to be seen with me, he's not giving up on me.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A makeover story

I have always loved makeovers, long before The Learning Channel and Life Network made them popular entertainment. I wore out the pages of my teen magazine's "Win a New Look contest" issue. I studied the "before" and "after" pictures, imagining with each haircut I got that I would walk into school a "new me," never to be teased again.

Of course, that never happened. Still, part of me believes the fairy tale.

I'm not a fan of the new "extreme makeovers" that involve multiple surgeries and megabucks. I'm more fascinated by the magic a well-trained eye can create with just a few highlights and the right shade of lipgloss.

I used to think the more I became like Jesus the more colour would drain out of my personality. Afterall don't we refer to obscene language and bizarre behaviour as "colourful?" Who wants to be good if it means dreaming in pastels?

I had a wild experience with God this week. One night I was feeling so blah that I thought, "I better stay home because in this state I'm going to just be a big drain on my friends." But I went out anyway.

While we were talking I prayed that Jesus' love would reach others through my words, tone of voice, facial expression, and touch. When everyone got up for food I walked up to a friend, who started to say something like, "How was your day?" and then burst into tears. She said it was the way I looked at her - she could feel the way I cared.

And I hadn't even felt up to leaving the house.

God took my tired face, added a little of his sparkle to my eyes and gave me a mini-makeover. All I had to do was ask.

If a God like that doesn't inspire me to dream in dazzling colour, I don't know what will!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

There's my G!

There are gifts and then there are Gifts.

A midsize car with sunroof and heated leather seats would fall into the "capital G" category.

My car had one tire firmly planted in Buggy heaven, and my parents just upgraded to a brand new 4 door truck, so they gave me their car. And it's quite the car.

I'm not into parading around in status symbols. I feel really weird planting my tattered jeans on those leather seats and waving at neighbours with my holey mittens as I drive by in my gleaming gold car.

I couldn't afford it, can't earn it, don't deserve it.

Kind of like God's Gift of Grace.

My friend Deb (the one who got my through my second pregnancy in one piece) came into town this week, so I gave her a ride in my new car. As she played with all the cool buttons, we talked about how Gifts of that magnitude can be humbling to accept. When we don't earn something it doesn't fit with our sense of what's fair or sensible (in a good way, of course!).

Deb and I drove to our favorite coffee shop. When I handed the clerk my "buy 1o drinks get one free" punchcard, she crossed out 4 squares.

I was confused. I questioned. I argued (with that signature "puzzled" expression people find so cute on me plastered across my face).

Until the lunacy of it hit me: I'm asking for fairness. She didn't make a mistake - she's giving me a gift!

G. is learning to print her name, so whenever we're driving around she'll scan the passing signs and yell, "There's my G!"

How would life be different if we all kept our eyes peeled for signs of God's overwhelming Grace? And then shared them with others with a jubilant, "That's my G!!!"?

If you want to share your answer with me, you'll have to call my cell. I'll be out reading a novel in the driveway with my seat warmers set on high.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Somewhere between the dead squirrel and the angry tai chi master I felt the love

We went to our first Autism Society parent support group meeting this week.

Their regular meeting room smelled like a squirrel died in the heating duct (I took their word for it), so we set up 30 chairs in the hallway. We faced each other knee to knee and yelled from one end of the corridor to the other.

"Hi, I'm Bonnie and I have an autistic son."
All: "Hi, Bonnie!"
Bonnie: "What? I can't hear you at this end!"

It only took a few minutes for the Tai Chi and American Sign Language groups next door to kick us into a photocoping room.

As we dragged our chairs around the building everyone kept saying, "It's not usually like this," so I had to ask, "Does that mean Bonnie is normally serious?"


People came from so many different situations. There were foster parents, grandparents, newly diagnosed parents, parents caring for nonverbal adults or precocious toddlers, linked by the shared experience of being different. Speaking a common language. Walking together in the fog called Autism. (Okay, I'm getting carried away, it's not like we sang Kumbaya or anything.)

But by the end of the evening other parents were offering to drop off resources and giving me their number in case I ever needed a shoulder. That kind of support works for me.

I hope one day soon I'll feel strong enough to be a support to them too.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I'm all ears

I bring a story on tape to supper every night. His name is K. and he didn't come with a pause button or volume control. It can be difficult for his little sister G. to get a word in. Sometimes when that happens she'll turn red, pound her fists on the table and yell:

"You're not nisselling!"

It's hard to keep a straight face in the presence of such unbelievable cuteness.

I know God is worlds more patient than a 4 year old, but I wonder if he sometimes feels the same way about me. I'm giving him my sad stories, but am I taking time to listen?

I've been dealing with fatigue the last few weeks. Not sure whether I need a doctor, a counselor or a Palm Springs vacation. (But if anyone wants to buy me a plane ticket, I'll take that as a sign from heaven!)

I remember one day this summer asking God, "What do you see when you look at me?"

In my mind I heard, "You are a daisy."

What?? I knew I hadn't made that up because it made no sense to me.

When I asked him "Why?" he answered, "On the outside, your petals are fragile. Sometimes they blow off easily. But no matter how many times life cuts you down you always grow back."

Wow. I could sure use an encouragement like that right now. Meet me here, God, in the middle of my weakness.

Your child is nisselling.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

my writing life

I love my job.

It's exciting to think about all the different experiences I've had in the last few months. I've acted in a movie, wiped tables at a soup kitchen, talked to grammy nominee Fresh I.E., met leaders from the Billy Graham association, attended a Fetal Alcohol parent support group, and learned about everything from music therapy to international Christmas celebrations!

Then I get to come home and play with words. I whitle and sculpt other people's words into a picture, and then I introduce my new friends to the world.

The greatest compliment I have received is, "You captured the spirit of what we're trying to do."

Monday, October 23, 2006

a spiritual birthday party

I was at that outreach event tonight and it was incredible. If I could have pressed a pause button I would have, because it felt like my whole life was made for that moment.

After all the music and the message were over, the preacher called people to come forward if they wanted to invite Jesus into their lives. The thought crossed my mind that maybe no one would respond and it would be an awkward moment for the preacher and then we'd all go home.

That's not what happened. What happened was: hundreds of people in that arena came forward and asked Jesus to cleanse them and give them a new life.

And I got to be part of someone's new beginning.

I was paired up with a single mother in her 50s. We prayed together, asking God for forgiveness, declaring her belief in Jesus' death, and inviting him into her life. Then I put my hand on her shoulder and asked God to give her hope, joy and power, and to show her that he is close to her. When we opened our eyes she was crying.

"Are those happy tears?" I asked.

She laughed. "Yes."

I gave her a hug and we parted ways, but neither one of us will forget this night.

It was out of this world.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

fishers of what?

I'm going to be a counsellor at an outreach event. I'm excited but I must be nervous too because I had the goofiest dream.

When the preacher called people to come forward if they wanted to commit their lives to Jesus, instead of praying with another person I was counselling....a talking pet fish.

I realized something was awry when he started asking me to pray for freedom from his sexual addiction to mating with every fish in the tank. It was then that it dawned on me: I'm not supposed to counsel the opposite sex!

So I went to talk to the preacher, but he told me I'd missed the boat. There were no females (of any species) left for me to pray with.

Apparently I took Jesus' command to "fish for souls" a little too literally.

But if you have any pets seeking spiritual healing, feel free to give me a call.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

What's a girl like me doing in a place like that?

What was I doing at an Irish pub staring into the eyes of a man 1/2 my age while the rest of my family sat in church this morning?

I was an extra in a feature film, Among Thieves, a conspiracy theory/human interest story about the war in Iraq and the meaning of truth.

I was there to observe the shoot and interview the producer for Christian Week. But he was too busy to chat. No matter, being on camera was way more fun anyway!

I'm just not sure what my pastor will say when he sees me holding that beer on the big screen!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Queen G.

Did I mention I have a daughter?

G. is 4 1/2. When she grows up, she says she wants to be queen of the mermaids. Any kind of queen will do actually, as long as she can dance with the king, ride horses and wear sparkly dresses. What can I expect, having named her after the actress who played Cinderella opposite Richard Chamberlain in The Slipper and the Rose?

I was shocked when the doctor told me, "It's a girl!" With 2 younger brothers and a son, I felt like, "Really? They come in that brand?"

Her name means "jewel queen." She was so beautiful - round cheeks, button nose, big blue eyes with long eyelashes, and curly brown hair - I couldn't stop looking at her.

But I didn't get much time to just sit and look when I got home from the hospital; I nursed her on the go. The only way 2 year old K. would let me sit still was if I read him stories, which worked well, except that he had to wake me up between pages.

Now that K. is in school I have some time to focus on G. I cheer her across the monkey bars. We have long conversations with Polly Pocket. We attend royal balls in the living room and try on every necklace at Reitmans.

Sometimes she even brings out the princess in me.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

a shrink for the price of a trim

I sit down in my therapist's chair. She puts her hand on my shoulder and says, "Whenever you're ready to talk, I'm listening." I tell her about my work deadlines, my loneliness, my son's disability and my misunderstandings with my husband.

And then she trims my bangs.

I doubt she has any psychology training, but my hairdresser has a gift for listening.

Like any good therapist, Sherry tells me to take care of myself, that I'm stronger than I think and that God is with me. She hugs me. She prays for me. And she's not afraid to tell me when I'm sabotaging my life.

Last night my hair went a little shorter and our session went a little longer. After laughing and crying in her chair for 45 minutes, I walked out with a new look, and a new outlook.

Not bad for $22.50 plus tip and taxes.

Friday, September 15, 2006

whatever this life brings

"I pray that God would fill your heart with dreams.
And that faith gives you the courage to dare to do great things.
I'm here for you whatever this life brings,
So let my love give you roots and help you find your wings.

It's not living if you don't reach for the sky.
I'll have tears as you take off,
But I'll cheer as you fly."

(from "Find Your Wings" by Mark Harris)

I've had this song in my head today.

K.'s principal called this afternoon to say he'd had his first ever explosive outburst at school. As I biked to school to bring him home early, I wondered, "Will I ever have the chance to cheer as he flies?"

Will he have friends? Finish college? Keep a job? Get married? Support a family? Some days I'm not sure. (I'm guessing moms picking size 7 underwear off the floor around the world wonder the same thing.)

Do I just need to redefine what it means to "fly?"

I cheered this week when he read a whole picture book. I cheered today when he used words instead of slamming doors to tell me he needed time alone.

I know that what K. needs more than anything, when life becomes too much for him, when others judge him, is to know that I am here for him, whatever this life brings.

I want to keep reaching for the sky, regardless of how strong K.'s wings may grow.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

invisible disabilities need ramps too

If you were about to tell me about a herb, drug, diet, book, therapy, prayer, or parenting strategy that works wonders for Autism Spectrum Disorders, please don't.

I think I've heard them all.

Even if I haven't, I don't appreciate unsolicited advice. I'm guessing that most people who have ever struggled to conform, physically or emotionally, know how I'm feeling. Smokers don't need to be told about the patch. People who are overweight don't want to hear how your cousin lost 50 pounds by eating fruit. It just ain't that simple.

The insinuation is that, because I haven't tried whatever they're recommending, my son's behaviour is my fault.

Since I haven't had the guts to tell anyone this in person I'll say it here:

1. I cannot possibly try every treatment at once so give me a break!

2. I have a team of specialists (occupational therapists, social workers, pediatricians, psychiatrists, pharmacists, psychologists and resource teachers) who know K. and are already giving me all the expert advice I need.

3. Most disabilities just aren't erasable.

I was interviewing an occupational therapist yesterday for a story on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. She says that when someone has a physical disability we try to change the environment, not the person. We build ramps or install elevators for people in wheelchairs. We don't scold them for not trying harder to climb the stairs. But when someone has an invisible disability, such as Autism, Fetal Alcohol, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or ADHD we tell them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and choose to behave appropriately.

That, she says, is comparable to "pushing someone in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs."

People of every stripe need grace, patience and understanding. It takes time to learn and grow. And sometimes it takes a specially adapted environment in order to succeed.

That's what I'm trying to do in my parenting. I'm learning to prevent K.'s blow-ups by predicting which situations he won't be able to handle. Since the post office incident, I haven't taken him to the store without a plan, an escape vehicle, snacks, and clearly spelled out expectations. When he does get explosive, instead of restraining or punishing him, I'm teaching him to calm himself with books, music, and television.

That's the scoop on how I am trying to help K. In case you thought I just wasn't been strict enough, or reading enough parenting books, or feeding him the right herbs.

Sorry for being defensive.

Be patient with me. I'm still growing too.

under the stars

I'm convinced camping was invented by women.

I'm not fond on sleeping on rocks or going days without showering, but I figure anything that gets men doing all the cooking, dishes, and childcare is worth it!

We went camping for the first time in years on the Labour Day weekend. We brought K.'s telescope and looked at the big dipper, Jupiter, and the craters in the moon. We sat around the campfire telling folktales and we buried each other at the beach.

It felt so normal. No psychological assessments, no medication trials, no calls from the teacher. We were just another family enjoying each other's company.

I'm holding onto those memories.

Monday, August 21, 2006

My ugly collection

I have an ugly collection, and I'm guessing I'm not the only one.

I collect hurtful comments that others have given me.

Unlike other ugly collections, such as troll dolls and farmer's caps, my collection isn't hidden away on a rec room shelf.

I carry it with me everywhere.

There's the "All you ever do is take, take, take" comment that still makes it difficult to ask friends for help when I need it, the "I'd like to give your kids a good spanking" comments that make me nervous about parenting in public, and the "You dress like a man/clown/slut/lesbian/pregnant lady" (not all at the same time, of course) comments that sent me into the junior high washroom weeping and give me butterflies about wearing new clothes to this very day.

Why would I want to carry around such ugly souvenirs? I'm not sure, but for whatever reason, it takes guts to let them go.

The Bible says "Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about what happens to you" (1 Peter 5:7).

Since I began experiencing God he has removed a few pieces from my collection. I remember being criticized after singing in the front of the church. Years later I asked Jesus to show me where he was in that moment. (I knew he was there somewhere, because he promised in Hebrews 13:5 that he would never leave me.) God gave me a picture of Jesus at the back of the church grinning as he gave me a standing ovation. Now instead of the sting of criticism, that memory has a glow.

Now that's something worth collecting.


Blogging feels a little like that dream where you're standing in front of the class in your underwear. Except you can't tell who's looking at you.

As a journalist I try to picture my "typical reader" and write as if I'm talking directly to him or her. When I write for Christian Week that reader is the average hardworking, family-oriented churchgoer, curious about what's happening in other local churches and charities.

Who should I picture when writing a blog?

Anyone from my boss to my mother to the prankster who stuck maxi pads to my grade 8 locker door can read this. (btw If you are reading this, confession can be very freeing.)

And I'm not writing about a soup kitchen or worship movement, I'm spilling my own guts. This takes a lot of soul searching. Am I being honest about my shortcomings? (If I'm not my friends will be honest for me in the comments they post!) On the other hand, am I extending myself the same grace that I would if I was writing about someone else? And am I sharing things that will encourage those who read it or am I just making myself vulnerable for the fun of it?

I'm not so narcissistic as to think anyone other than my close friends WILL read my blog, but it's possible that just about anybody could.

My mask is off. What will they see?

Friday, August 18, 2006

The good news is I'm in a book. The bad news is I'm reliving it.

As a teenager I had three genetic tests to make sure I would not give my children fragile X syndrome, the mental disability my brothers have. To have the "normal" family of my dreams.

The tests showed I didn't carry fragile X. So God gave me a son with Aspergers instead. Isn't it ironic? (And yes, Alanis Morissette, it did rain on my wedding day!)

Today my kids and I biked to the drugstore postal outlet to pick up my book. Well, actually the whole book isn't mine, just pages 268-271. My essay, "Growing Up Unique: an only sibling of 2 fragile X affected boys discovers she's normal" was published in X Stories: The Personal Side of fragile X syndrome.

My essay describes the loneliness, confusion and pressure I experienced growing up with disabled brothers, and how their meltdowns embarrassed me.

As we were waiting in line behind an elderly couple with the wrong postal codes, K. had a meltdown.

I had to hold him in my arms with his legs around my waist to stop him from rolling on the floor kicking the woman behind me. And he was making a lot of noise. (I would have taken him to the car, but we came on bike.)

Meanwhile 4 year old G. was peeling stickers and sticking them onto a greeting card but my third and fourth arms (!) were too tired to stop her. I offered to pay for the card but was informed I'd have to wait in another line-up.

No one in the building wanted me to do that.

I felt the customers' judgmental stares. People can't see K. has a disability so I'm sure they thought I was incompetent. Or worse.

I was mortified. And it felt like deja vu.

Some days I think my experience as a sister made me a more compassionate parent for K. Other days my life feels like a cruel joke. Today I have no answers.

No wise words about God. No great doings for God. Today I just want to climb onto God's lap, like the drawing in one of my children's bedtime stories.

I'm proud of my brothers and I love my kids, but right now I want to go hide under a quilt.

Maybe I'll bring my book.

Monday, August 14, 2006

digging deeper

I have a Masters degree in B.S.

I suspect whoever named the program "Biblical Studies" had a wicked sense of humour.

Why not "Biblical Literature and Theology" (BLT)? (Athough people might assume we're crusty.) Or "Biblical Origins of Factual Faith Orthodoxy" (BOFFO)?

At least they didn't call it "Biblical Ministry."

While I admit I did my share of "shovelling" to bring term papers up to word length, B.S. is a completely inaccurate title for what I discovered.

I learned that the Bible is a collection of poems, letters and stories written in three languages by hundreds of people (all of them messed up humans like me) over thousands of years in several different nations. Yet they're all about the same God, a God unlike any found in other ancient religious writings.

One of the most interesting things I studied was Ugaritic, the language of Baal stories found at an archaeological dig in Ras Shamra, Syria. In Baal religion, the gods were selfish, horny, and pretty whimpy. Baal worshippers had to perform annual parades, multiple sacrifices and sexual rituals in hopes that Baal would be able to keep all of creation from falling apart.

Not that Baal cared either way. People were just his pawns. He would never sacrifice anything for his creatures.

The God of the Bible created people for the sole purpose of loving them and sacrificed his own Son to save them. Makes me think the Bible was created by someone and about someone with a little more imagination than the rest of us.

I know I will never "master" the Bible, but that kind of God makes me want to keep digging.

The view from the bathroom floor

Last night K. got sick all over the bathroom floor and the OUTSIDE of the toilet.

And I didn't really mind.

As a parent of a child who is neurologically wired differently, I have so many unusual challenges that it's nice to have a normal one for a change.

Every mother can relate to wading ankle deep through bodily fluids at all hours of the night. I don't get as many "I know what you mean" chuckles when I talk about how K. tried to tip his bunk-bed because he was frustrated that the edge of his worksheet was curling off the table.

Another parent of a challenging child I interviewed for my Christian Week (Manitoba edition) Health and Heart column told me, "God gave us the children we have for a reason and we are stronger for it."

I confess, most days I feel anything BUT strong. My prayers consist of "Help me!" and "If it's like this now, God, how will we manage when he's a teenager?"

But then I remember how the Old Ange would make sure all her candle-holders were equidistant before company came. She would never have been able to laugh at a pond of puke.

And I realize, "Maybe I'm stronger than I thought."

Sunday, August 13, 2006

My Little Professor

My son was born 7 years ago today. Following 24 hours of painful back labour, when K. Schellenberg entered the world he was facing an unusual direction.

He still is.

In Kindergarten, when other children were bringing toy trucks for Show and Tell, K. brought diagrams of the digestive system. (He was dying to share his joy about discovering the function of the villi in the small intestine.) When his classmates walked single file to music class, K. swung his arms like windmills while singing at the top of his lungs. On a good day. On bad days he'd run out the front door and as far down the street as he could get.

We suspected Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but that didn't quite cover it. This spring, at the end of grade one, a psychiatrist diagnosed him with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), a mild social skills delay on the Autism Spectrum. But he suspects in a couple years it will become clear that K. had Aspergers (another step on the Autism Spectrum).

Kids with Aspergers are sometimes called "Little Professors." They tend to fixate on an area of interest till they become articulate and engaging walking encyclopedias on the topic. When he was 5, K. would stop our neighbours on the sidewalk to explain how the chloroplasts in their flowers' leaves made glucose. No joke. That was his "photosynthesis phase." He's since moved on to physics. This week, when I asked him to tell me his favorite things, he answered, "friction."

Which means, while raising a son with social challenges wasn't the direction I expected, life is never dull.

And I know I don't face it alone.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

What's so new about Ange?

What's so new about Ange?

The old Ange would panic when the tank approached E because she was too shy to tell the attendant "fill er up."

The old Ange would cry on her way home from every party because she was sure she said something stupid.

It sucked to be the old Ange.

The New Ange earned her name when she started really saying stupid things and being the first to laugh at them. Instead of being afraid of bad things happening, they were really happening (like her husband being laid off) but she faced them with a confidence and peace she'd never had before.

The New Ange wasn't too shy to preach a sermon to a church of 300 people she didn't know or to tell her life story on TV.

The reasons for the sorry state of Old Ange are many and I'm sure some of them will show in future posts.

The rebirth of the New Ange is all about God.

A friend recommended I go to a prayer meeting. I grew up in the church and earned a Seminary degree so I knew all about prayer meetings. But this wasn't your usual "Bless my hamster and fix Granny's ingrown toenail" kind of prayer meeting. The woman praying for me actually asked Jesus to do the talking and Jesus actually did. It blew my little religion of "believe-this" and "do-that" checklists right out of the water. (Good thing, because it was starting to get soggy.)

What I'd heard all my life finally made sense: Christianity isn't just a religion, it's a relationship with a living, loving, personal God. The God who speaks. Experiencing his voice, his presence with me is what gives me the power to speak up and risk rejection or conflict. Jesus offers my spirit joy and confidence.

And to that I say: "fill 'er up!"