Sunday, December 23, 2007
It means you get to celebrate the little things.
A month into the school year my son's grade 3 teacher said K. was 2 years behind in his understanding of math concepts and didn't seem to be progressing. So you can imagine our excitement this month when K. and his EA greeted us at the door and announced that he had learned to carry the one! Two days later he caught on to borrowing!
All of a sudden we started hearing that math was "fun" and "too easy!" So he moved from adding and subtracting 2 digit numbers to working with thousands! All in one week. What a wonderful Christmas present.
A friend dropped in, and as we shared our good news, she looked around at our Christmas decorations.
"Why does your family of 4 have 5 stockings?"
"Well because one is for the hamster of course!" K. answered. "But he'll have to share it with Hamish X."
"Who is Hamish X?" she asked through her giggles.
Hamish X is our fish, named after a fictional boy-robot who saves orphans from cheese pirates and aliens, I explained. What else would you name a fish?
And as we stood in the doorway laughing about math success, hamster stockings, and fish named Hamish, I realized I have a very interesting life.
And I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
We met on the way to a Mennonite Brethren youth convention - Banff '89. He sat down with me and my friends in a food court in Saskatchewan. He had charisma. A month later we were on the same bus from MBCI to a youth conference in Winkler. (I took any opportunity to get out of Niverville!) When we said goodbye he asked for my number but I never expected to hear from him again.
He called me that afternoon. To say the words every girl dreams of hearing: 'My mom says we're related!' We laughed ourselves silly.
He called every week or two from then on (at 11:00 PM to my parents' chagrin). He listened to my sob stories. He offered to go after the boys who hurt me. And he always made me laugh. He called me Angel. I called him "my favorite coincidence." If you define coincidence as something only God could orchestrate.
The summer after my first year of College I moved into the city and got my first job pumping soft ice cream. (It smells better than gasoline.) Tim's house was within biking distance and (on the rare night he didn't have a date) he and I would lie on the basement floor listening to Nirvana or lie on the grassy hill of the Roblin overpass listening to traffic.
I felt weird going to the wedding. After all the church was full of people he'd gone to med school or church with over the past few years - people he saw every day. And there was the long lost "Angel" who had never even met his bride.
When I walked in he saw me across the room and came over, hugged me and said, "Welcome to...my wedding. You look gorgeous!"
That night I woke up crying at 4 AM. Not just about losing touch with Tim for so many years but other friends I've lost. The friends who cared about me for no reason. Not because they had to work with me, not because I was in their Bible study, not because we were related. And definitely not because I had it all together.
Kindred spirits. Like Wanda. Wanda happened to give me a ride to another youth retreat (Man I miss those rock concert-slumber party-getaways) when I was 14. We happened (another "coincidence") to be placed in the same room for night. We both loved writing poetry, talking theology, and her brother. Even though we were 4 years apart we stuck together like glue for the rest of the school year, till she moved away.
Wanda really, really listened to me. She laughed at all my jokes even when I wasn't trying. Wanda doesn't do Facebook or email or letters. I haven't seen her since I went to Calgary 6 years ago and I don't even have her phone number. Now I'm crying again.
As I lay in bed crying after the wedding I savoured the memory of Tim's brotherly welcome - the way his eyes lit up when he saw me again for the first time. And I heard God whisper, "That's how I look at you...but not quite. Remember the way Tim looked at his new wife with tears in his eyes after they said, 'I do'?"
"Now you're closer. That's what you'll see in my eyes when we meet face to face."
Monday, November 05, 2007
It sounds crazy, not exactly a sleigh full of jolly "ho ho hos," but trust me - it fits.
I've never liked death. (I don't suppose I'm unique on that point.) The first person I lost was my grandpa who passed away ten years ago. Even though he called me "Angie" and always asked me how my flute lessons were going (I play clarinet), I felt an emotional attachment to him and didn't want to accept that he was gone.
A few months after his funeral I had a dream. In my dream Grandpa met me at a Burger King (actually he usually took me to Dairy Queen but who's picky in their sleep?). After we'd laughed and talked over our burgers he told me, "I have to go back to the grave now." It sounds bluntly morbid, but in my dream it finally felt alright. God was telling me it was okay to let him go. And in my sleep that night, I said goodbye.
But I still struggle with the concept of death. On one hand people talk about it as a part of life; on the other hand it's a destruction of one of God's precious creations. Yes, because Jesus came back to life, I can look forward to a new pain-free, grief-free (cellulite-free?) body after I die, but God put me on earth for a purpose and I don't want to go anywhere till I've fulfilled it! (I'm not sure I've even figured out what it is yet!)
This tension comes out especially when talking with my kids:
"Put your seatbelt back on. I don't want you flying out the window."
"But then I'd go to heaven."
"I don't want you to go to heaven yet!"
And then other times it goes the other way, when I have to convince them not to be so scared of death because heaven will be great. I'm confused. They're confused.
My column was inspired by two old friends I talked to recently. One is dying of ALS, the other lost her husband three years ago to a brain tumor. And you know what they talked about?
So I just had to dig deeper. How could people whose bodies or marriages were torn apart by a terminal illness be joyful?
You'll just have to pick up a copy of Christian Week Manitoba to find out!
But here's where the Christmas story fits in. Jesus was born to walk in our shoes, fall under our burdens, cry our tears, and die. No one else knows how we feel the way he does. He'll never abandon us, even in death. In fact, death just brings us closer to the Saviour we love. That's why my friend could talk about peace like a blanket wrapped around her in a hospital room. Or laughing as they planned their own funeral.
I'm not there yet. But the more I get to know Jesus (preparing to teach a course on the Book of Revelation helps), the less I'm afraid of leaving what I know behind.
To face what he knows already.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
K. is very attached to things: things that sparkle, things that feel neat, things he's made.
"They all have memories," he says.
"So do I," I think. "I remember when I could see my floor."
Here is an inventory of his collections: feathers, shells, bottle caps, rocks, dinosaurs, books, drawings, trucks, Legos, helicopters, beads, motorcycles, snow globes, stuffed animals, marbles, photos, leaves, and fossils/bones. Oh, and he recently informed me of the existence of "a broken things collection." He chose not to disclose its location.
I used to vacuum lint before it hit the floor. Now I have to spend a hour clearing a path first. I've tried shelves, Rubbermaids, drawers, and decorative boxes to try to contain the collections. But K. prefers them spread across the tables, beds and carpet so they're always visible. I keep trying to throw stuff into the closet, but he wants to keep the closet floor empty so he can hide in there and play his toy guitar.
I give up. If I didn't want things to get complicated I shouldn't have gotten kids, pets, or....a life.
Pray with me for his future wife...a saintly patient future wife.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
As some of you may know, I can get a tad needy at times. It's no wonder. Caring for a son with special needs, a daughter with an attitude, a husband with health concerns, a home, a yard, and a dirty little hamster, while starting a writing and teaching career isn't exactly a walk in the park. (It's more like a run through waste-deep water, over slippery rocks, dodging sharks and piranas, all while cooking dinner.)
But as a caregiver, I love to give. So I don't want to be needy with my friends, I want to give them encouragement, support, hugs, and the occassional cheesy joke.
That's where my professionals come in. Like Paris Hilton and her team of hair-stylists and dog-walkers, Ange the superstar homemaker needs her support team. I get to be super needy with them so that I can keep giving everywhere else.
This week we met with our social worker to plan our family goals. (Nathan's kind of like our fairy godmother. We name our wishes; he helps us make them happen. But don't tell him I called him that.)
Here are some of the goals we came up with:
1. To have more fun as a family, with more activities at home and more outings.
2. For Ange to relax and and have more time to herself for important tasks such as shoe shopping, biking, and sushi dates with Deborah.
3. For Tony and Ange to parent more as a team instead of tag-teaming.
4. To combat parental fatique. (I fear this will mean giving up some 11:00 PM episodes of CSI.)
5. To improve the family's bedtime routine.
6. To crank up the romance.
Not a bad list, huh? More fun than your typical New Year's Eve "lose weight, save money, drink less, and declutter the filing cabinet" list, anyway. No, the Schellenbergs are going to eat more, spend more and let the messes lie - all in the name of fatigue-busting, team-building, stress-reducing family and marital FUN. Ha!
And in the process of implementing these goals, I suspect we will realize we made most of the changes on our own without fairy godmother's wand. But it sure is nice to have the support people around to get us started in the right direction. (If only Brittney Spears was so lucky.)
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
I was on a "safe walk."
I had an appointment on Portage Ave. last night. It's wierd but I always walk faster and look behind me more when I'm downtown after dark.
(I once heard a transsexual on TV say the difference - going from walking down the street as a man to walking down the street as a woman - is that as a woman he/she felt like she had "dollar bills taped to her back." All of a sudden he/she had something people wanted to steal that she couldn't hide in her trunk - her body. Sounds wierd, but it resonated with me.)
I feel quite fine walking near my home after dark, even though I've never had a bad experience downtown, but my car and house have been vandalized in the suburbs. Illogicality aside, I'm obviously not alone in my core-area-paranioa.
Because when I arrived at my meeting I was handed a phone number for the Downtown Biz and told I should call "call for a Safe Walk." The person who answered the phone asked where I was and when I'd be leaving. When I left my meeting two men with walkie-talkies were waiting for me outside to walk me to my car.
It felt so different from my walk there. I was still a semi-attractive whimp with a purse. I was still downtown after dark. But who I was and where I was didn't seem so important...
...as who was walking beside me.
I walked a little taller. I smiled at the wild-looking people at the bus stop (who are probably more sane than I am but look intimidating). And I thought about all the things I'm facing this year - teaching College for the first time, praying that my kids' school won't close, helping an autistic child learn multiplication - and I realized I wasn't as scared as I was a few weeks ago.
I'm still the same sleep-deprived, over-emotional, neurotically-perfectionistic person. I've still got the same insanely-overwhelming life. But that doesn't feel so important anymore.
Because I know who's walking beside me.
Sunday, September 09, 2007
My husband, the wanna-be time management coach, says the act of writing things down on paper gets them out of your head, freeing up your brain for more important tasks (such as, say, baking him his favorite pie). So this spring I made a "God-list" of things I didn't think I could afford, to get them off my internal Greed button and into God's hands.
This week I found the list and it's very interesting:
Occupational Therapy for K. - I convinced an OT at the Autism Service to see K., (covered by Manitoba Health). We've had our second session (out of 5) and she is so helpful. An example: She gave us a wiggly seat cushion - K. now sits for meals instead of standing, wandering or tipping over.)
Speech Language Therapy - Will be covered by T.'s new health plan, whenever I find a therapist.
Summer Camp - This spring we got a letter from our caseworker saying K. qualified for a free one-on-one worker to accompany him if he attended camp. I found out Camp Assiniboia has a subsidy program. K. spent a wonderful week at day camp.
Swimming lessons - Both kids took lessons and both learned to float on their own this summer! The pool even gave K. private lessons for the same price as group lessons because of his diagnosis.
New windows - We found a renovation company that gave us an amazing quote. Our new windows are ordered and should hopefully be installed before the snow flies. (I'm even getting grilles - I love grilles!)
New bed - My brothers moved out of my parents home last year, leaving them with more beds than they needed.
RRSPs - I called a friend who works as a financial adviser and we found a way to swing a small monthly contribution. She may have even found us a cheaper life insurance.
Basement Bathroom - Okay, I still don't have my bathroom, but we did clean out some of the junk in the basement to make room.
I'm not saying this to brag or gloat. It wasn't an easy summer by any means. T. injured his back at the beginning of July and God still hasn't answered our prayers for healing. I spent the summer doing all the yardwork T. couldn't! We didn't get any holiday time and Tony wasn't up to doing much around the city either.
But this exercise just reaffirms in my mind that I have a heavenly Father who loves it when I trust him with my dreams. However small.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Then I turn it off and think, "I'm wasting my life!" I could have read a good book (say my Bible maybe) or had a meaningful conversation with my husband. Or maybe gotten to bed before midnight for a change.
Which brings me to another thing I'm ambivilent about: sleep. I crave it all day long as I yawn and caffeinate my way through my day. But in the evening I see the mess the kids have made and I keep doing "one more thing" to fix it. Then, when I'm finally satisfied that the kitchen doesn't smell like rotting salmon, and the kids will have clean underwear in the morning, and the hallway is clear of things (such as Lego) that will make me go bump in the night, I'm ready to unwind. First TV, then a book in bed. Or talking Tony to sleep. It's a ridiculous routine that does not foster health, happiness or relationship.
But I'm afraid I won't be able to fall asleep, afraid of the things I might think about if I stop moving. I preach the value of reflection, but some times (especially between 11 PM and 7 AM) it terrifies me.
Night is a lonely time - you can't pick up the phone and call someone and no one answers your emails. It's a time when you find out whether you really believe God will never leave you alone or whether they're just words.
Sometimes they're still just words. Words worth reflecting on.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
I dropped my kids off at a vacation Bible school at another church and K.'s teacher got it into her head that I was a heathen. (I said I was looking for a place to take the kids - I meant a summer program, she assumed I meant our first ever church service.) She tried to sell me on her church and get me to go to some seeker's Bible study across the city.
She actually asked K. right in front of me if he'd explained to me what the cross meant. K. wrinkled his nose at her and said, "Uh, she knows!" in an "are you crazy, lady?" tone of voice!
Yeah, I think they mentioned crosses somewhere in seminary. Or was that my 34 years of weekly Sunday school? It sounds so familiar...
It did feel kind of humorous. And I appreciated her concern for me. But on the other hand, it was a little icky.
Amy Johnson Frykholm, author of Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America, writes, "I found witnessing to be an objectifying experience. No matter in what way I articulated or failed to articulate a reasonable position for myself, my lack of belief turned me into an object....To open oneself to evangelism is to be willing to offer one's own views for critique by someone who has already judged them to be inadequate."
I get that. I didn't like feeling like someone's project - a broken soul in need of fixing. An opportunity for her to earn a gold star on her Sunday school chart and a round of applause at her next Bible study meeting.
I'm sure half of you think I'm a heretic ("You should know how important evangelism is!") and the other half a hypocrite ("You talk about your faith all the time!"). Well, my experience being mistaken for an atheist reinforced in my mind that there's talking faith and then there's talking faith. (And I'm sure I'm guilty of doing the wrong one.)
Maybe a few words on why Christians feel such an urgent (and sometimes obnoxious) need to share. For most of us it's like my friend whose son was cured of severe headaches by a change in diet. She tells everyone about the naturopath who discovered her son's allergy, in hopes of helping someone else. I can handle listening to pretty much any opinion when it comes with that kind of sincerity and compassion.
Other evangelizers are like the Tupperware consultant who throws Freezermates into every conversation (partly out of concern for the welfare of leftovers everywhere) but mostly because it's good for business. Fine for a hostess party, not so fun when it comes to my soul.
Here are some tips for respectful faith conversations:
Keep it natural. If you twitch and sweat whenever you bring up what you believe, chances are all they'll remember is the smell. People don't trust nervous-looking car salesmen, so they probably wouldn't trust a clammy Christian either. Ask yourself, are you talking because of some guilty need to meet a quota, or because God has done something in your life worth sharing? (And if he hasn't, where have you been all your life?)
Make sure the other person cares. If their eyes glaze over, they're not interested.
If you've been the victim of an awkward faith conversation (or monologue), thanks for being patient. After all, how many times have you gotten carried away talking about your exciting renovation project, disgusting injury, or the vacation that flopped?
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Or is it?
Now I lay me down
leaning on the bars
streaming through the tears
through the years
begging for forgiveness
from one who cannot speak
not knowing that face
in the morning he will climb over the bars
I will cry again
Loose sleep, lose hair, bow
free from but not for
Thursday, July 26, 2007
I was actually relieved when we got the autism diagnosis. Autism is more debilitating and less treatable, so why was I happy?
Because people take it seriously. People still have the impression (either conscious or subconsious) that ADHD stands for Adamantly Defiant, Hardly Disciplined.
Funny - 30 years ago psychiatrists were told autism was caused by "evil mothers."
This summer I've been taking my kids to every church daycamp I can find. It's a bitter-sweet experience: I get a break, but I also have to explain to stranger after stranger what's different about my child. I tell them about high-functioning autism, not ADHD.
But it's there nevertheless. When I have to say, "K., do you want a snack?" 7 times before he looks at me, that's the ADHD. When he responds like a parrot with "K., do you want a snack? K., do you want a snack?" that's the autism. When he runs up and down the hall, that's hyperactivity. When he throws his body into the wall at the end of it, that's sensory input seeking associated with autism.
Here's what I recommend for an ADHD parent's survival kit:
*tons of patience! ADHD is a disease of inefficiency. Homework, bedtime snack, and the walk to school will take 3 times as long as it should. When you want to scream, remember underneath that infuriating wandering turtle is the baby you watched as she slept.
*an open mind. Try medication, try removing food colouring from his diet, try different routines, tones of voice, and reward system. Most won't work, but don't give up.*thick skin. Strangers will walk by you and your adorable little whirling dervish, muttering, "There goes a posterchild for Ritalin," whether he's on it or not. And an equal number of strangers will tell you ADHD doesn't exist, Ritalin is really cocaine, and your child just needs a good spanking. Ignore them. Or ask if they'd like to babysit.
*a great resource teacher. School is tough. A resource teacher is your advocate, adviser, and support system leader. Mine believes in K. even when I doubt.
*faith that your child is doing the best they can. You may wonder why they can focus on video games for hours but can't look at their math sheet for more than 30 seconds at a time. Are you that different - How long can you watch movies compared to how long you can concentrate on filling out your tax forms? Their brain make-up makes it that much harder.
There's so little known about ADHD but if you want to watch a good documentary go to
Thursday, July 19, 2007
He visited youth rallies, mega churches and a Christian theme park. I think he would have gotten a better view of Christianity if he'd been to a prayer meeting. Not the "bless grandma and puppy" kind, but the ones where someone forgives, confesses and finds healing from anger, fear or addiction. Although I think he saw a smidge of that sense of community and emotional impact surrounded by weeping people as actors portrayed Jesus' crucifixion. Or maybe he was joking. Watch the clip and decide for yourself:
He admitted he was exploring Christianity because sometimes you have to "face your fears." Kelley's fear: Christians were out to change his world.
He discovered: Christians are more scared than scary. I'm not scared, just sad.
When Kelley asked Christians, "What do I need to know?" They told him, "Christians aren't stupid or backward." They never mentioned Jesus, prayer, Scripture, or the difference God had made in their lives. Here's a man who needs Jesus' peace and we're doing personal image management?!!
Jesus never said, "Go share the bad news." Why are we attacking culture when we could be using it to share God's transforming love? Kelley was most impressed by the church that made the movie, "Facing the Giants," film about courage and teamwork (rather than on the evils of wild living) because in his words, "Christians are better off building bridges than bombing them." Aren't we all!
The Christians Kelley interviewed (even the debate team) had spent so much time preaching to the converted they had no idea how to explain their faith outside a church. They spouted cliches, criticized Hollywood, and preached against pre-marital sex and swearing but never said WHY sex was worth saving or what it meant to have a "God-shaped hole in your heart." Frankly I was embarrassed to watch Christians from the lens an outsider and realize that we have never learned to hear ourselves from other points of view.
Kelley (and I) was impressed by the "XXXChurch" preacher who went to Porn conventions and handed out free Bibles with "Jesus loves porn stars" on the cover. He was disgusted with the Christian filmmakers who made their own boring, clean, low-budget, out-of-touch movies and refused to work on the set of a film that involved other lifestyles.
No kidding - Christians will never have an influence on culture if we isolate ourselves in subculture! We hide at Christian concerts, Christian bookstores, Christian colleges. (I'm pointing a finger at myself here since I work for all of the above!) Why aren't more smart, talented Christians in Hollywood, Harvard, and MTV where people will actually see them?
The Christians Kelley met were afraid of temptation, persecution, controversy, ridicule, losing the next generation to pop culture, declining church attendance, etc. They were defensive, threatened, timid. (I'd like to think Canadians Christians would be a little more gutsy and articulate but it could just be the deadly sin of pride talking...)
I'd like to ask Kelley's Christians: If we really are in a relationship with the Creator and Master of the universe, what do we have to be afraid of?
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Second, my friends returned from Ethiopia with their 8-month-old baby girl - for whom they've waited two years - to an airport full of pink balloons and cheering friends.
She's finally here!
It was one giant Kodak moment: Her 5 and 7 year old brothers waiting nervously at the bottom of the escalator and then glowing with pride as they rubbed her little head. The baby meeting grandpa for the first time and reaching out to stroke his cheek. The beaming grins on her parents' faces. The other children adopted from her orphanage who came to greet her. It wasn't just a part of Ethiopia touching Canada....
....It was a little of Up There come down here. We were easvesdropping on a heavenly moment - and not just because the brown-eyed bundle resembled an angel.
Because that's the kind of reception God gives each of us.
Birthdays are a reminder of my mortality. (I send out my love to the coffeeshop clerk who saw the photos of my kids in my wallet and told me I look too young to be a mother.) Another year of my life is behind me and I'm another year closer to heaven. And when I do pop up in God's presence he probably won't be holding pink balloons or a Kodak, but I do believe he will beam as he shouts:
She's finally here!
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Once again opposites attract: God just happens to be un-focusing me. And it's about time I joined him in his work.
For the past two years, I've been very focused on developing my writing skills and getting my name out there. When I was resting from my writing, my hobbies were blogging, emailing, trying to come up with an idea for a novel, and reading other people's writing.
I think it's time to diversify! So I've signed up for something that will do absolutely nothing to improve my skills or reputation as a writer. In fact I've registered for something that I'm sure to stink at.
All the creativity, grace and beauty in my body is confined to my finger tips on a laptop, clarinet, and the occasional frying pan. (I make a mean ham and cheese omelette.) Once you get my arms and hips involved in the creative process it's not a pretty sight.
(Although I must say I did master the achy-breaky-heart linedance of 1991. Seven friends and I performed it, wearing garbage bags covered with purple balloons, to the California Raisins "Heard it through the Grapevine," in front of 300 strangers my first week in colllege. And no, I wasn't inebriated. I was completely lucid, which makes it all the more sad.)
I'm looking forward to doing something where there's no pressure to succeed. I might even learn to laugh at myself.
All I'll have to do is listen to everyone else and join in!
Sunday, July 01, 2007
I walked K. around the school to deliver his homemade cards to each of the teachers who touched him in grade 2. It was hard (for me) not to cry as he said goodbye to his librarian and principal who are transferring, and his morning E.A., retiring after 22 years at his school. And as I watched the gym teacher crouch down to his eye level, put her arms around him and tell him how proud she is of him, I got choked up about the future.
The school board voted to review the school for closure. That means a year-long process of exploring options, making arguments (while desperately trying to discern the superintendent's political agenda!) and above all, maintaining a sense of security and cohesiveness in a school that feels like it's tottering on the edge of...we're not sure what. Closure? Change? A new specialization? An exodus? A revival that will outshine Sister Act?
If only I knew how to teach the students to sing "O happy day" while dancing hip hop...
As I wrote in "Losing Mrs. L.," K. already said goodbye to his afternoon E.A. in February. Without another one-on-one worker in the afternoon we feared how he would manage. Would he have meltdowns? Would he be able to concentrate on his own?
We were pleasantly surprised. He learned to be more independent and spent more time in the classroom instead of his "office." In all areas except math and social skills he's at grade level. And while K. occasionally says he misses Mrs. L. he hasn't gotten emotional about it since the week she left, which gives me hope that he'll get through the current (and perhaps future) goodbyes.
Sometimes I'm not so sure about his mother. She seems to be growing more resistant to change and more tired of goodbyes.
In the middle of goodbyes there was one hello: Pumpkin the hamster joined our family.
Friday, June 15, 2007
When the division threatened to close our children's school, we are the parents who choose to fight.
On May 29, the superintendent announced his recommendation to put our school up for review for possible closure in 2009. After that board meeting 40 parents rallied in the lobby. One week later 78 parents and community members met in the school library to divide into interest groups and plan our speeches for the next school board meeting.
The superintendent tied our fate to software predicting declining enrollment. So we decided to knock on doors and get the real numbers. With surveys and petitions in hand, for 2 nights 30 parents knocked on all 1076 doors in the catchment, asking how many children lived there and how important the school was to their family. 348 doors opened.
900 people signed the petition.
When we heard other parents on the playground said, "My child will be finished here by 2009, so it's not my problem" or "It's a done deal. They're going to close it anyway. It's not worth fighting" we pressed on.
A handful of keeners gathered around the school picnic table Saturday morning to pick up flyers for all 1076 boxes, inviting the neighbourhood to show their support by attending the Monday night board meeting. Saturday evening we stayed at Smitty's till 1/2 an hour after closing, to practice our speeches and pat each other on the back.
Monday: showtime! Fourteen speeches - more numbers: Our school is $35,000 cheaper per year to heat than the same sized school across the street. Our school has more parent initiated transfers than the other schools in our area. Many of the families who have moved in to the area since 2004 have children under 5. I was the first behind the mic, putting my personal story out there, to try and persuade the trustees small schools prevent children with special needs from falling through the cracks.
As we stood in the parking lot after the board meeting we basked in the joy of knowing we'd done the best we could for our kids. Even if they close the school we can be proud of our efforts: the professionalism of our research, our perseverance and our unity. In striving to save our school community, we actually strengthened it.
In one of many group email conversations the next day, one parent wrote: "I can't stop thinking about the amazing leadership and teamwork and how it all came together...I don't think I've ever experienced this at this level before!"
It just goes to prove there's strength in numbers.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
It's our neighbourhood school. The superintendent is recommending it for review for possible closure in spring 09. Before the trustees vote on the review on June 19, the parents get their say (June 11).
I've actually walked away from some writing assignments to devote myself to saving the school, by writing persuasive speeches, letters to the editor, etc. But the words don't come. Just the tears.
I don't want to give up. Those who have been through a review say schools that don't fight get closed everytime. It's just hard to think when it's so close to home. (Just down the block, actually).
And when we have so few answers. Like, why our school? Yes, it's small, but so are many other schools, and ours is the newest and cheapest facility to maintain. And registrations are way up for next year - the highest Kindergarten enrollment we've had in years. And what would happen to our children if they close Dr. Penner? We'd probably have to walk them twice as far, across a busy street, to a bigger school where no one knows their name.
You don't euthanize a healthy horse. You'd think the same would apply to a school.
If you pray, pray for our school. Something so full of life should not be condemned to die.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Apparently Heidi enjoyed talking with me too - so much that she found the courage to finally share her story in the media spotlight. (Comparatively, Christian Week is more of a night light.) I'm very happy for Candace's friends and family that the truth about Candace's disappearance and her faith is getting out there.
But what am I supposed to write now!
My brain keeps sending me the message, "Give Up!" (interspersed with "Go take a nap," "You need chocolate," and "Why are you wasting time blogging?) I was already stressed and stretch to my limit this week and now I have to start from scratch.
Anyway, I just wanted someone to know that no matter how my story looks in the July Christian Week Manitoba, I did not copy the Free Press. I may have the last story, but I did the first interview. So there!
Deep breath. "God, keep me calm and focused. Give me a unique focus for this story that will bring you glory, something the Free Press couldn't or wouldn't say."
Now to find that chocolate.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
This morning a delivery truck unloaded 25 square feet of church organ into my rec room. And all of heaven laughed a big snorty whooping laugh.
I took organ lessons for 8 years of my childhood. I practiced hymns and Beatles tunes (I was the first to play the "Jeremiah was a bullfrog - Guide me O Thou Great Jehovah" medley) for 1/2 an hour on weekdays, and then washed the tears from the keys every Saturday. For me the words "organ lessons" are right up there with "impacted wisdom teeth" and "Autopac claim centre." My anguished cries to the Almighty of "Why? Why do I have to play organ?" bounced off the stucco ceiling, only to be eternally lost in the golden shag beneath my pedals.
Then God gave me an Aspie son whose fixation happens to be organs.
K. walked to school alone for the first time today so I could wait for the truck. When I picked him up for lunch he grabbed my hand and literally dragged me all the way home. "Come on, I want to play my organ!" The irony is killing me.
This monster of a music machine is so worn out it's almost as noisy when you're not playing it. It's missing a key and the pedals sound like transmissions to another planet.
And my son thinks he's died and gone to heaven, or at least Disneyworld. Anyone know a good organ teacher? Maybe I still remember how to play "I believe in Yesterday."
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
It's my obituary.
Okay, not literally. But I'm very conscious of the legacy I'm leaving behind. Like Mandy Moore's character in the movie A Walk to Remember, I have a growing list of things I'd like to accomplish, experience, or become before I die. (I scribbled "going just one whole day without nasal allergies" off my list long ago - it seems that just ain't going to happen!)
This week I checked off two of them. First, I was asked to teach a Bible College course on Apocalyptic Literature (the area of my thesis research). Just call me "professor Ange."
And, I found out today that I won my first writing award, for a reflection I wrote in the MB Herald called "The sweet smell of simplicity" (see link). "She will be remembered as a writer, no - an award-winning writer!" I know I'm being silly, but sometimes a girl's gotta celebrate!
I can get carried away with the titles. When I'm dead will it matter to anyone whether I was a freelancer, a correspondent, or a columnist? Does anyone ask me my grade point average or words per minute at the grocery store? (They haven't, but next time you run into me at the meat counter and I'm not in a hurry, feel free.)
Just before someone does write my obituary, I'll be standing before God without a certificate, trophy, job title or congratulatory note to hide behind. I don't think he'll begrudge me my joy in the things I experienced on my list, but I know he will have more important things to ask me.
Like: Who am I to you? And who are you, without all of that? Did you graduate life with honours, or with honour?
Thursday, May 03, 2007
"Oprah believes there are many ways to heaven and that it is ridiculous to think that you could only get to heaven by believing in Jesus. For the Christian, I have a problem with a woman with that much power deceiving people to not follow Christ!"
"She has encouraged women to continue living in sin by hi-five’ing them when they said they didn’t want to marry their live in lovers. Who knows how many women that watch the show have been encouraged to do the same?"
"I encourage you to go to your research feeling positively recharged with confidence, motivation and hope after spending time with your Heavenly Father, not Oprah."
Which sort of miss the point, because I wrote in the review that I too don't agree with everything Oprah teaches. I just wanted Christians to build on the good she does and learn from her success.
I'm going to take another risk and say we can learn truth from Crime Scene Investigation.
The fact that I've actually seen CSI, let alone become addicted to all three series is shocking, since The Muppets Take Manhattan gave me nightmares. Please don't take this as an encouragement to watch - many episodes are too twisted and disturbing, and all of them aren't for everybody. However, I think the fact that I watch more action on TV is a good sign because it reflects a shift in my character. I'm not a weepy movie person anymore because instead of crying over my own life I've started taking action.
So here is some truth I see in CSI:
You can plot, purge and lie through your teeth, but you can't hide the evidence you leave. Wherever we go we leave things behind - hair, fingerprints and our mark on other people. Jesus said our heavenly Father sees what is done in secret. Some day we will have to account for what we've done. The great thing is we had access to the best Advocate available, but he'll only speak to the Judge for us if we're willing to plead guilty.
Evil actions always start with evil thoughts. What's really scary about CSI aren't the reenactments of the crime, but how like me the criminals are. Jesus said, "Anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement and anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell" because murder always starts with a thought. A jealous, vengeful, angry, superior, lustful, or greedy thought. Thoughts every one of us have had. When the Bible says, "Above all else, guard your heart" it's a life and death matter.
The Good outsmarts and outlasts and basically makes ground turkey out of the Bad. On CSI the good guys don't give up until they have solved the case, no matter how convoluted, and confronted the perpertrator with his responsibility. That's what I like about the Bible's book of Revelation: Good wins, Evil dies. It seems like the bad guys have the biggest guns and the longest knives, but in the end crime doesn't pay.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
One of the concepts she needs to learn is opposites. So when we're lying in bed we play the opposites game. I say "hot," she says "cold." I say "high," she says, "low."
But when I asked G. for the opposite of "late," she yelled: "Staying home!"
Touche'! Some days, between remembering snacks, finding car keys and throwing shoes on the right feet it seems a wonder we arrive at all! Then there's that 20 minute time warp between the front door and the car...
I've been thinking about God's timing lately. It was 5 years ago when I first asked my doctor why K. was so unusual and challenging to parent. After 1 1/2 years on a waiting list we saw a developmental pediatrician who put us on a 6 month waiting list for a child psychologist who couldn't tell us what was going on either.
Three years ago I wrote a prayer in my journal begging God to show us how to reach K. It wasn't until last spring, when I heard about Aspergers and asked for a specific assessment, that we received a diagnosis and relevant, helpful advice. I have no idea why it took years of painful misunderstandings.
And while we're on the subject: Why did God make his people wait so many years before he sent Jesus to earth? Why do some people only learn about God's love and forgiveness late in life after spending years of loneliness, addiction, anxiety or brokenness?
Some say God's perfect time is always right now. They believe if good things take too long coming it's because you've been wasting time waiting for a miracle and should start making better choices. If painful things happen, it's because someone evil used their freewill and you just happened to be in the way.
For me, a philosophy which gives bad, selfish or ignorant people (including myself) that much power over my destiny would make it hard to fall asleep at night. Our choices are important but they aren't everything, and we need a strength greater than our own to make good ones. And there is so much that is out of our control.
I like believing that whenever things happen it's God's timing. Challenges aren't blips, they're opportunities - to grow, to rely on him, to seek out and comfort others in the same situation. We might not figure out the reason for the pain, but there definitely is one. God's in control. Even when he asks me to wait.
Unlike the Schellenbergs, he's right on time.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
K. wanted to see it in his Bible, so I turned to the book of Philippians and showed him. "What does the letter say?" he wondered. I read the first few verses. "What's the rest? Keep reading!" So, long after he was supposed to be asleep, I read all four chapters of Philippians to my 7 year old.
When I got to the part that goes, "I consider everything to be nothing compared to knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. To know him is the best thing of all," K. said, "Ya!"
I read on: "I want to know Christ better. I want to know the power that raised him from the dead."
He cried out, "Yes!"
It reminded me of the stories I've heard from China or Vietnam where people hide in rice patties or warehouses all night long to hear someone read from the Bible. Like Paul and Silas so long ago, many people around the world risk their lives, their homes, and their freedom just to hear and share the words of Jesus, because they believe in their healing, transforming power.
They get it: Everything else is nothing compared to knowing him.
I don't know what kind of challenges, disappointments, or pain K. will face in his life because of his disability. I don't know if he'll get married, pass algebra, or drive a car. But seeing his eyes light up with excitement about the power of Jesus at work inside him I know, like the persecuted Christians in the rice patties, my son gets it too.
And everything else is nothing compared to that.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Last week we donated a sofa, chair and filing cabinet to Love 'n Care ministries, clothes to Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and we recycled piles of packaging and paperwork. I feel like someone added 100 square feet to my house, and I no longer have to bodysurf over boxes to reach the back of the storage closet! Bonus!
It felt so good, in fact, that I think I'm going to declutter on the inside too. There are a few things taking up space in my mind that need to go: indecision, jealousy, hopelessness, self-depreciation. I'm fed up with the way they've been crowding peace out.
I'm ready to start standing up to criticism and condescension by respecting my own dignity, privacy and reputation. Instead of only sharing the questions I'm still processing and the areas I need prayer, I'm going to let my friends see the strong advocate, coach and "prodder" that my children and interviewees (and any professional in a position to help Kieran) already know.
Four years ago my family faced changes and challenges that became the catalyst for the creation of a New - more confident and joyful - Ange. With Tony's job ending in 4 weeks, we're in that same situation again, and I am presented with another opportunity to re-examine, risk, and reflect.
I think I feel a Newer Ange coming on.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
I'm guessing the way I said that didn't leave you feeling very honoured or inspired to help me, did it? Then why do we approach God that way?
I was brought up in a church tradition that suffers from a mild allergy to miracles. Nothing life-threatening, mind you, just enough of a reaction to keep us from tasting certain blessings. I've been to many prayer meetings where I wondered why we were even bothering, the people praying seemed so convinced that God wasn't going to do anything anyway.
I think the reason for the "rash" of doubt is that we've all experienced times when we felt strongly that we should pray for a miracle, but we didn't get it. We dared to believe and then were disappointed. So we change our theological diet to exclude most of the New Testament: Jesus and his followers' works of wonder, healing, deliverance and transformation. We give up on God far too soon and we miss seeing all the wonderful things God is doing all around us right now.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
When my husband was finishing his second degree and I was cooped up in an 2 bedroom apartment with a newborn, I confessed to our pastor's wife my dream of owning a house. It was a long shot - we were still paying off student loans and not even close to saving up a down payment. I expected her to scold me for being selfish and materialistic. Instead, she told me to write a List of all my dreams and commit them to God.
A few months later we were in our house.
And I could tell a similar story about my piano, car, sofa, family vacation, seminary education, and most of the pants in my closet. All felt out of range, but became mine -through generous gifts, amazing sales, or determined saving - after I committed them to God. They're not just things, they're reminders of what can happen when I commit my dreams to the Dream-giver. They're souvenirs from a land called Trust.
This spring I'm starting another List. My husband's position at work is being eliminated in 6 weeks. God knows I'd love it if he would lead us to:
A job that gives T. joy, energy, and a sense of purpose.
A salary that pays the bills, plus enough to "splurge" on private occupational and speech therapy for K. Okay, and summer camp.
A workplace close to home so Tony can spend two more hours a day with those he loves, instead of Transit Tom.
A schedule that allows him to continue to be involved in church.
And time to install a basement bathroom. (That one's probably just a pipe dream.)
When he gets this job (I'm sounding more confident than I feel) instead of a lucky break, it will feel like an answer.
Because I dared to ask.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Mrs. L., his afternoon E.A. (educational assistant), found out Friday she's being transferred to another school. Budget cuts. Seniority issues.
I waited till this morning, crawled into K.'s loftbed with him, and tried to break the news gently.
Today was their last day together.
K. and Mrs. L. had a special bond. She was waiting in the wings in case he didn't make it through the Christmas concert. When he did, she met him back in the classroom with hugs, grinning and holding a gift wrapped box full of toy dinosaurs.
K. brought home a photo today of the two of them. In front of them, K. had spelled out "Mrs. L.," in Tinkertoys - backwards.
K. still cries that he misses the red car we used to drive and he begged me not to donate the ratty yellow sofa downstairs to charity, because "they had sooooo many memories."
It's going to take us a long time to get over losing Mrs. L.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
If someone were to write the script it might look like this:
Mom 1: My son needs his meds to cope with his anxiety attacks, but I'm really struggling with giving them to him because they make him suicidal. Last night he said he wanted to kill himself and me.
Mom 2: Just be happy your son can speak. Every time I tuck my daughter in I wish she could say 'I love you' but she's nonverbal. All I've ever heard her say is "Ahhhh."
Dad 1: Well, at least your daughter sleeps. Mine is awake from 3:00 - 6:00 singing showtunes.
Mom 2: Just be thankful she didn't nearly drown on the same day your EA and respite workers quit and your husband left you for the cable weathergirl with no income and a $4000 occupational therapy bill...
I just met another mother of an autistic child and as she was sharing her struggles I was thinking, "Wow, I wish we'd been diagnosed that early so we could have gotten all those therapies and supports she had."
And the Divine Director whispered, "psst, Ange...you've got the wrong script! Let me write you a new one."
Why can't we just admit that autism in all its forms is tough? Why can't we all agree that we wish all our children could speak, sleep, smile, live free of fear and medication, and play piano, tag, trivial pursuit, baseball, rock-paper-sissors or whatever, just like other kids?
Where is the empathy? We're shooting ourselves in the foot. What good is it if the only people who understand what you're going through are insanely jealous of your child's every accomplishment? Instead of locking arms, we're bolting the door on joy, gratitude and compassion.
Autism is a lonely, isolating condition. For the parents it doesn't have to be.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
When we were first married we belonged to a struggling little church of college students and retirees, in constant danger of losing its historic building. We held a rummage sale to try to raise money for the mortgage. I donated my grad dress, navy satin with pearls across the back, because I wanted to value God's people over my own sentiments. I thought it could bring in at least $50 for the church.
It was put on a rack of clothes labelled $1 each. By the time I found out it was gone.
I still wake up at night sometimes mourning that dress. I wish I could show Gemma Mommy's special dress. (I guess I didn't succeed in squelching sentimentality.) I lie awake imagining who bought the dress. Did they treasure it or have they thrown it out by now?
When Jesus saw a widow put a penny in the donation box he told his friends she'd given more than anyone else, because she gave all she had. But how much could a penny do? It couldn't send an aid worker to Africa or build an homeless shelter. It's not even enough to stock the temple with paperclips and post-its!
I need to know: If I sacrifice something of great value to me that does nothing to benefit the recipient, is it still generous? Or is it foolish?
Sunday, January 21, 2007
I don't have a lot of memories before age 12. The ones I do have are pretty insignificant: chasing cats around the farm, watching Oma's arthritic hands cut corn off the cob, designing colonial houses and Poloroids out of Lego, and being relegated to the role of "R2D2's girlfriend" in a playground reenaction of "Star Wars." Definitely not the wellspring of an epic memoir.
The MB Herald wants a 2 page spread about my childhood for an issue on "Disabilities" to be published this Easter. I can't remember much about my early feelings or interactions with my brothers, both of whom have Fragile X syndrome. Since my words seem to flow faster in blogger than they ever do in Microsoft Word I thought I'd do some processing here and see how far it gets me. (If I ever write a book, the publisher will receive their first ever manuscript made entirely of blog posts.)
This Christmas I watched the movie "Bed of Roses" in which Mary Stuart Masterson's character was raised by an absent foster dad. Because she was found in a train station at three months old she didn't even have a birthday. On Christmas Eve her boyfriend takes her to the first family gathering of her life and she freaks out. It feels "normal" and she knows she isn't normal enough to fit into it. I broke down in tears at my first Christmas gathering at my inlaws for exactly the same reason.
Even more than "happy," I've always longer for "normal." Normal isn't subjective, it's a very specific experience. It's the feeling you get when you're in a group of girls and everyone is laughing about how their little brothers do this or that, and you can laugh along, because your baby brother does exactly the same thing. Or when everyone is talking about their family trips to the movies or the campground and you can see "I've seen that one" or "remember the time I dropped my melty marshmallow on my pants?" It's "I get what you mean - I've been there - I'm one of you."
I'm lucky I have an Autism support group now with a "new normal." Where no one stares and clears their throat and changes the topic to precipitation levels when I say "my son tried to stab me with a pencil." Because the woman beside me was just threatened with a steak knife and the dad across the room was up all night with a screaming 10 year old and someone else can't get their daughter to eat bread just because it's square. I wish I had had a sibling support group as a child so I would have known whether there was a "new normal" for that.
I think it's a lie to say that I suffered because my brothers were disabled. I loved and accepted them. I wasn't afraid of their unusual behaviours or their wild tamtrums. I wasn't particularily embarrassed about them in public. Those are the struggles people expect to hear. That's what makes this story so difficult to write.
What made me feel different was that I was alone. And it's the reason I'm doing everything I can to get the support I need now.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
It's not really a category; I just made it up. It's one or two steps above a "Jonah day," a term I like from Anne of Green Gables. At least in an Ecclesiastes week no one gets swallowed whole.
Ecclesiastes is the book of the Bible that begins:
"Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! What do people get for all their hard work? ....Everything is so weary and tiresome! ....And in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now."
My work is sporadic: either I have three stories due all at once or nothing at all. I always go through a little slump of gloom once the frenzied panic is over. I've come to the place where I can give myself permission.
Usually I have the sense of accomplishment to keep me going. I've helped support my family, I've created something beautiful, and I've added to a legacy of stories that will survive me.
But this time I'm wondering if it's really all that. My Burma story was supposed to be a quick call to a missionary, write up the facts, hit "send" and you're done. Instead it was hours interviewing refugees, phone calls to pastors and foreign affairs representatives, emails for clarification, looking up news articles online, and presto: I've earned myself a whopping $1.50 an hour. How's that for supporting my family?
And leaving a legacy? I've learned it's okay for editors to change your words without running the changes by the writer, because "you know the material but they know their reader." I find it difficult when my stories come out; sometimes I'm afraid to look. They have my name on them, but they aren't really mine anymore.
It all feels a little meaningless. Like trying to catch the wind.
As I was typing out the verses from Ecclesiastes I had a funny thought: the writer says that future generations won't know what he's done, and yet here I am thousands of years later, wearing polyester and sitting in my Lazyboy, reading his words! The poor guy had no idea his writing would end up on gold leaf and bound in leather or send through fibre-optic cables from my nifty little laptop to yours!
They say writing is something you do for love, not for fame or money. Some days I pray for God to give me a passion for delivering flyers, because I think I'd be ahead financially.
But I know, even when the work is hard and the editors are chop happy (or like to smother everything in cheese), I won't stop writing. Because there are so many stories that need to be told.
That's where the love comes in. It's not just love for the act of writing (which many days I must admit involves more blood and sweat than drool). It's love for the stories: from the displaced people of Burma to the homeless individuals in Harry Lehotsky's neighbourhood - when I tell their stories they become my friends. And when you read them, my hope is that they become your friends too.
"The wise are often poor and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. Whatever you do, do well." Ecclesiastes 9.
Friday, January 12, 2007
It's kind of goofy, because I sat beside the phone all day Monday waiting for Foreign Affairs to call, confirming that Canada will welcome 2000 more Karen this year. Then I see that exact announcement on CBC that very night. Apparently, Foreign Affairs informed the CBC before they told Angeline Schellenberg. Where are their priorities? ;)
The best part is: now there will be even more people praying for the peace of Burma.
Saturday, January 06, 2007
What about Burma?
Burma (also known as Myanmar) is one of the most brutal, longest running, military dictatorships in the world. Which begs the question: why aren't they in the news?
I'm writing a story about Burmese refugees entering Canada. If I thought studying nearly 50 years of Harry Lehotsky's life in one week was complicated, try learning everything about 50 years of a country's history!
This is the first time I've had to phone Immigration Canada or Foreign Affairs for a story, or had to wonder whether a foreign consulate might read my work. It's the first time I've asked myself whether no one else has reported a piece of information because it's inaccurate, dangerous, or because no one cares.
The Karen are an ethnic group from Burma that have suffered beatings, rape, imprisonment, and forced labour. They've watched their homes and villages burn. They've hidden in the jungle for years, dodging landmines and contracting malaria only to reach a refugee camp and languish there for up for up to two decades. Canadian and US companies, including our CPP, still invest in Burma, to the benefit of the ruling military junta.
By the end of 2007, 100 Karen will live in our city. Let's give them a celebrity welcome. After all, unlike Britney Spears or Michael Jackson, they've earned the right to become household names. And their stories, though not sugary, are filled with strength, beauty, and grace.