Q: When is it Appropriate to Share Your Faith?

A: When they ask.

The other day I experienced THE WORST, most inappropriate example of proselytizing I have ever witnessed. (Evangelical pun not intended.)

I was sitting in a hospital waiting room, weeping over some bad news about my ill infant son, when someone I love decided to bring up the long and narrow path versus the short and wide path, and the importance of choosing the right one.

It kind of blows my mind that any human being would need to be told that this was the wrong moment to preach at another human being, but apparently it’s not that obvious to everyone in the world.

Knowing that Ben and I are Bible-believing, church-attending Christians ourselves, you might be surprised to learn just how often we are actually “witnessed” to. For being the wrong kind of Christian. For attending the wrong kind of church. For reading the wrong translation of the Bible. I swear to you, it is a fairly common occurrence. If you are not a person of faith, you might be surprised to find that you are not the only one who gets preached at. And still always jarring and slightly bewildering every time it happens.

Sometimes it comes from a stranger at the door in the middle of a busy afternoon. Sometimes it’s from a loved one during a carpool to an event.

The one thing all of these wildly terrible acts of “witnessing” have in common is problematic timing. That and a lack of respect for our own spiritual experiences and beliefs.

The thing is, Ben and I love talking theology. We appreciate having our beliefs questioned and tested in respectful dialogue. We enjoy being exposed to different ways of thinking. We would genuinely love to hear your perspective on religious matters.

But there is a time and a place for that stuff. And if you’re wondering when that time is, I’ll make it easy for you: I’ll initiate the conversation. I’ll ask you about your beliefs. (And tip number two: It’s NOT when I’m grieving my sick baby’s diagnosis.)

If you’re someone who is passionate about sharing your faith (and that’s awesome if you are – I’m so glad you’ve experienced such love and hope in your faith that you want to share it with others!) I think this is a good rule of thumb to live by: Share your faith (verbally) when someone asks about it.

(I’ve written about this subject before, from when I used to be a really active and vocal witness for Christ.)

Otherwise, please stick to sharing your faith by your actions and attitude.

“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save."

Show them the love of Jesus through your generosity and kindness. Be helpful. Volunteer. Listen. Smile. Hug when appropriate.

Show them the power of the cross by your courage. Stand up against meanness and injustice. Defend the weak and helpless.

And when someone inevitably asks you why you do the things you do, go ahead and tell them. The timing will be right, and they’ll actually be able to hear what you’re saying.

Instead of wanting to punch you in the ovaries.

**(Updated to clarify: I’m mostly referring to questions of salvation. By all means, if you feel you have words of comfort from your faith that are appropriate to the situation, consider sharing them. But please don’t try converting anyone during a sensitive time.)**

Infertility Was Just As Bad

A few times in these last weeks, I have thought, This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me.

Watching my baby suffer. Being apart from my three-year-old. Contemplating the possibility of watching my baby die in my arms.

I have sobbed the deepest, most desperate tears over this situation. It can’t possibly get any worse than this.

But then I remember: I have cried this hard and with this much agony and despair before.

Infertility was just as hard.

Contemplating my life without children was just as painful as contemplating my life without Felix. I wept over my nonexistent children with just as much grief as my very real, possibly-dying son who has a face and a name and a personality. (Of course, now there is the added pain of knowing my baby is suffering. Every experience brings its own unique type of pain.)

In fact, in some ways infertility was worse, because I felt so alone. I felt like no one could understand. I felt like I couldn’t fully share my grief – I felt ashamed of it. Because who cries over nonexistent children? How can you really be sad over the absence of people you’ve never met? It felt preposterous. Weeping every time I got my period was too embarrassing a picture to share. But I couldn’t help feeling intense grief.

But everyone can sympathize with the tragedy of a sick or dying baby. It’s universally heart-wrenching. Few things tug a human’s heart strings like a suffering child. I feel perfectly reasonable sobbing over my diseased infant son.

I never felt okay sobbing over an unwanted period.

I guess I bring this up in case you or someone you love is dealing with infertility, and are tempted (like me) to feel like you’re overreacting or that your problem isn’t as heart-crushing as mine. In my eyes, it totally is.

I also bring this up as a form of healing for my past self. I was justified in being that sad. I understand that now.

It’s okay, younger self. Infertility really is that heartbreaking. Your tears are completely appropriate.

* * *

Endnote:

There were moments after Lydia was born when my heart screamed out: The pain was WORTH IT! Thanks to my experience with infertility, I was able to have such a deep, deep appreciation for the gift I’d been given. Deeper, perhaps, than I would have had if I’d gotten a baby as soon as I’d wanted one. All that time of unrealized longing increased my joy when it was finally fulfilled. (I still wouldn’t wish it on anyone, though. Infertility is an EVIL that only God can redeem.)

Only in retrospect does pain have any meaning or value, I think.

I never would have believed it while I was in the depths of agony, though. I never would have believed that any good could come from that suffering.

Just like I don’t believe now that this pain will be worth it.

But maybe someday I will again.

Felix’s Condition and Treatment: An Explanation

Felix in hospital
For those who wanted a better understanding of Felix’s condition, and the treatment options we’re exploring, here’s a more detailed explanation. This is my understanding of it, from a totally non-medical perspective, so you’ll have to forgive me if some of the details are slightly off.

So as you know, Felix was diagnosed with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), which was caught via newborn screening.

SCID is a genetic disorder that Felix inherited from us — Ben and I, it turns out, are both carriers. SCID is actually unusually common among the Mennonite population, though I’d never heard of it before Felix was diagnosed.

There are 10-15 different kinds of SCID, and Felix has the most common and most serious kind — SCID ADA. A mutation in his chromosomes prevents his body from creating ADA (Adenosine deaminase), an enzyme required to make T-lymphocytes, which are needed to fight off infections. The initial blood test showed that he had almost no T-lymphocytes.

On other words, Felix has virtually no immune system. As a result, even bacteria, viruses and fungi that pose little problem to the rest of us can be deadly. Something as ordinarily harmless as the herpes simplex virus (i.e. cold sores) can kill him. If left untreated, babies with SCID don’t make it to their second birthdays as a result of frequent and serious infections.

That’s why for now, Felix is in isolation in the hospital, so that he can’t catch anything. He’s also being treated with antibiotics for the (so far mild) infections he did pick up in his bladder and lungs. He also needs to be on a really low dose of oxygen right now, because his breathing is slightly impaired from the infection. His eating has been affected as well, so that he may need a feeding tube if he doesn’t improve.

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Treatment Options

The most effective and long-term treatment for all forms of SCID is a bone marrow transplant (BMT). This treatment essentially involves taking the working immune system of a healthy person and transplanting it into the patient. The patient must first undergo chemotherapy to wipe out any of his original immune system and to “make room” for the new one.

By far, the most effective BMT involves a matched sibling. If the sibling is a match, a transplant typically has an 85% success rate. I have come into contact with two families who have experienced miracles thanks to sibling transplants. Lydia (along with me and Ben) was tested two weeks ago to see if she was a match. This was our greatest hope.

Unfortunately, we got the news on Wednesday that she’s not a match. (Ben and I weren’t even close.) We were devastated to get the news. Now we have to look at other options. Fortunately, there still are a few.

First, because Felix has ADA SCID, he can actually receive injections of the missing ADA enzyme. Now that we know a sibling BMT is not an option, we are pursuing that option immediately, and hoping he can start getting the treatment in the next week or two. Most patients begin to improve after a month or so as the immune system builds up, and we’re hoping to see his lungs and his eating improve enough that he won’t need oxygen or a feeding tube. If he gets healthy enough, we might actually be able to take him home in a few months!

However, ADA injections are generally only effective for a year or two, at which point they begin to wear off. So we still need to look into long-term solutions.

The first is a BMT from an unrelated matched donor. Because we’re Mennonite, we actually have a pretty good chance of finding such a donor — there are many in the bank, in large part because many Mennonite children have already been affected by SCID and their families tested. We’re more likely to find a match within our own ethnic group. Unfortunately, though, the success rate for BMT’s with unrelated donors is a lot lower — it has typically been more like 50-70%. (Our doctor pointed out, though, that these figures all come from children who were very sick at the time of the transplant. Felix is the first to have been caught before he was very sick. He has an enormous head start.)

The biggest problem with all BMT’s, but especially unrelated ones, is that the healthy new transplanted cells can attack the patient in what is called graph-versus-host disease.

So another option for SCID ADA patients is something called gene therapy. It’s a very new, cutting-edge, experimental kind of treatment that involves using the patient’s own bone marrow. It’s a modification of a BMT that attempts to avoid graph-versus-host disease: bone marrow is taken from the patient, the genes are corrected, and then transplanted back into the patient. This treatment is only being done in three places in the world: Los Angeles; London, England; and Milan, Italy.

Because it’s so new and experimental, it’s hard to say how successful it is, though I’m told the outcomes look good. The other advantage is that the cost of treatment would all be covered, since the researchers want more opportunities to try it.

So these are the options we’re considering. We have a few months to learn more about them and decide. Obviously, they’re all terrifying, as they all involve risking our child’s life. It’s difficult that we have to grapple with percentages of survival.

As of right this moment, though, we’re feeling hopeful. At least there are options. (Our feelings could be different by tomorrow).

And for now, Felix is still doing quite well. He’s a pretty content guy, sleeping a lot but with plenty of alert time, and he’s easy to soothe when something upsets him. He’s handling all of this stuff amazingly well.

And we’re just so grateful for the amazing people — doctors, nurses, family, and friends — supporting us through this all.

Community Will Save the World

hands

I once read a blog post by a Unitarian pastor who said she believed community would save the world.

I think she may be right.

In fact, I think this is just another way of saying what Jesus said: that the Church would do greater things than he did.

I’ve always been a little skeptical of this statement. I mean, really, Jesus: us? Greater things than you’ve done? Are you sure about that? Have you met us? We’re a lazy, selfish bunch.

Or at least that’s what I thought until tragedy hit out family.

The community that has enveloped us with love is saving us. And it looks and feels a lot like Jesus.

This community is sustaining us, as a family, on every level while we endure this hell.

For starters, there are the doctors.

Jesus cured people with a touch. This team of doctors and nurses who is treating Felix has cured countless children with life-threatening diseases. SCID, leukemia . . . they’ve saved children from certain death. It’s not instantaneous and it’s not perfect, but it’s very real healing. So it kind of reminds me of Jesus.

And then there are the friends, family members, acquaintances, charitable organizations, and taxpayers who are keeping us alive. Let me count a few of the ways.

  • Money has been pouring in from friends, family, and complete strangers so that we can focus on caring for Felix.
  • Our families are providing amazing care for Lydia while we’re preoccupied with Felix’ urgent care.
  • People are praying on our behalf when I can’t. Honestly, most days I can’t even pray. I’m just too worn out, too miserable, too hopeless. That’s why I keep asking you to do it for me – you who are closer to God. Maybe he’ll hear you. Literally hundreds of people – entire congregations, multitudes of blog readers, friends and family members scattered across the continent – are praying for us. If my Catholic friends are right, departed souls are even praying on our behalf. God’s got to listen, right? And just knowing that all these dear friends and strangers are begging for Felix’s healing helps me get through this.
  • Your tax money, fellow Ontarians, is also helping to keep him alive. We could never, ever in a million years afford this treatment, even with all the donations pouring in. Last week Felix received a $5000 vaccine that was paid for by OHIP. It’s only possibly because we’re pooling the money of thousands of people. The magic of community.

If I was on my own . . . I don’t think I’d make it in one piece, spiritually or otherwise. But community is keeping me together. It’s God’s Kingdom at work.

Some of the members of this community are consciously members of God’s Kingdom. Others are contributing without realizing it, but I think that counts, too. I believe that every heart that moves in line with God’s will is helping to build that Kingdom here on earth, helping to redeem it.

For some reason, I am learning that God prefers to do things collectively, in community; and he likes to do things the slow, complicated, mysterious way. Honestly, I often question his judgment on that (the quick, simple, painless way seems vastly superior to my way of thinking…), but I guess with him being the Great Benevolent Force Behind Everything and all I just have to trust that he knows best. I really wish he would consult me on these matters, but I guess I haven’t been around all that long and I can’t take it too personally.

So I’m trusting that God is using community to save us. I’m getting a glimpse of how he’s planning to carry out the redemption of all creation – through us. It’s insane and frustrating and messy and I kind of hate it most of the time, but it’s happening. And I guess I should be grateful that I get to witness it.

Image courtesy of mic wernej.

DIY Fabric Birthday Banner (Tutorial)

DIY fabric birthday banner tutorial

Yes, Lydia’s birthday was almost two months ago. I’ve been meaning to share a quick tutorial on how I made her fabric Happy Birthday banner ever since. But, you know. Harvesting and preserving and crippling back pain. But I’m finally back!

As I explained in my post about her handmade third birthday party, I wanted to create some quality, reusable items for celebrating birthdays through the years. For the banner in particular, I wanted something gender-neutral, timeless, and ageless, with the hopes that it would see many years of use with multiple children. This could even be used for an adult’s birthday!

I first spied this design on a friend’s Instagram feed and instantly wanted to make my own. It had everything I was looking for.

Only after I started making it, I discovered that the original designer was Marissa, an online friend who is a thousand times more talented than I am. The idea is totally hers. She did, however, give me her blessing in offering a tutorial on how I made it, since I figured it out on my own, just looking at her picture. (Also: if you’re interested in your own banner but don’t have the skills/time/equipment/desire to make one, I believe she is willing to take custom orders!)

It’s not at all difficult — it’s only time-consuming. if you sew at all, you could probably figure it out on your own. I am NOT a pro sewer and I managed this quite easily. For that reason, my instructions aren’t super detailed, allowing you to customize as you wish. I’m mostly offering sizes to guide you and help reduce guesswork, as well offering as a printable template for the letters.

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DIY Fabric Birthday Banner Tutorial

Note: Makes an 8-foot long banner, with extra length on each side for tying

Materials:

  • 10 ft extra-wide double-fold bias tape
  • 1 yard of white or off-white fabric (I used leftover ivory-coloured quilt backing. It was 44″ wide and I only used 16″ of it)
  • various printed fabric/quilting scraps for the letters. You’ll need 13 pieces, at least 4″x4″ each. Repeat patterns are fine!
  • thread: some white; some to match your bias tape; and some to match your scraps (if desired)
  • printable template for letters (download PDF here)
  • sewing gear: sewing machine; straight pins; sharp scissors; rotary cutter and self-healing mat (optional); serger (optional)

Instructions:

Begin by cutting the squares of white fabric: You’ll need 13 squares, 7″x8″ each. (Technically not squares but they will look like it when all is said and done.) A rotary cutter and self-healing mat would be IDEAL for this job, though I just used scissors. Absolute precision isn’t necessary here, since the rustic look adds to the charm (in my opinion).

Next, you want to finish the edges of the squares. There are a few ways you can do this, depending on your preference. Notice that you only have to do the sides and bottom; the top edge will go inside the bias tape and will be hidden.

I personally wasn’t overly concerned about how the back looked, and I have access to a serger, so I did it like this: I serged all four edges of each square, and then did a plain 1/4-inch hem around the sides and bottom with a straight/running stitch. Then I pressed the edges. They look like this from the back:

hemmed edges from back - fabric birthday banner tutorial

Alternatively, you could do a double-fold hem (there’s plenty of room), or cut the edges with pinking shears and hem.

Next, print out my HAPPY BIRTHDAY letter template on regular printer paper (or something sturdier if you prefer — it will make tracing easier). Note that some letters are used more than once (H, A, P, Y), so you can cut out just one of each of these to save time. (I already omitted the second P in the PDF). Cut out all the letters. You will be tracing around these.

birthday banner tutorial -- letter template

Now trace around your paper letters onto your printed fabric scraps. I just used pen and traced directly onto the right side of the fabric. Depending on how much a perfectionist you are, you can trace the letters onto the wrong side of the fabric; just remember to place your letters backwards so they will be the right way from the right side. (Make sense?) *Remember that if you only cut one paper H, A, P and Y, you still need two of each in fabric to get all 13 letters.*

Cut out your fabric letters. Again, a rotary cutter and mat would be helpful; I just used scissors. This was the most time-consuming step.

Now it’s time to applique the fabric letters onto the squares. Place the letter as close the the center as possible and pin (remembering that about half an inch from the top will be inside the bias tape). Again, absolute precision isn’t necessary. Since this isn’t a garment and won’t get much wear and tear, I wasn’t not too worried about them fraying a teeny bit, so I didn’t do anything to finish the letters except stitch them on with a straight running stitch, about 1/8-inch around each edge. Again: a little bit of imperfection adds to the rustic look.

appliqued letters - fabric happy birthday banner tutorial

Note: you can choose whether to use matching or contrasting colours of thread for this job, depending on whether you want the letters to pop more. I went with (roughly) matching thread, since my sewing isn’t the greatest. But I used white thread in the bobbin so that it wouldn’t show up in the back.

Once all the letters are sewn onto their squares, it’s time to attach them to the bias tape!

Leave about 6 inches of bias tape before beginning to attach the squares: you want some extra length for tying or pinning the banner to the wall.

At the 6-inch mark, insert the top of your first square between the fold of the bias tape and pin in place with a straight pin or two. (Make sure the fabric goes all the way in to touch the inner fold.) Leave half an inch of bias tape before inserting the next one and pinning it in place. Continue pinning the squares at half-inch intervals until all the letters for the word “HAPPY” are pinned in place.

Leave two inches between the “Y” from “HAPPY” and the “B” from “BIRTHDAY.” Then carry on with pinning the remaining squares at half-inch intervals.

You should have at least another 6 inches of bias tape dangling at the end. Trim so that there are about 6 inches remaining.

Now for the most satisfying step: Stitch along the entire length of the bias tape at about 1/4-inch from the bottom, using thread that matches your bias tape. You’re going to want to start at the “Y” end. Just one, long, glorious top stitch. It feels awesome. Remove pins one at a time as you come to them with the sewing machine.

Sewing letters to bias tape -- birthday banner tutorial

Finish the ends of the bias tape with a top stitch (or something fancier if you prefer).

You’re ready to hang your birthday banner wherever you please!

DIY fabric birthday banner tutorial

 

Sorry, Matt Walsh. You Don’t Get to Tell People How To Feel

Sorry, Matt Walsh. You don't get to tell people how to feel

I was a young teenager when I saw an episode of Touched by an Angel that addressed race. I remember the black male character saying, “You don’t know what it feels like to walk on a bus and see the women all hold their purses a little tighter.” And I remember thinking, Oh please. Racism is not a real problem anymore. Slavery had been long abolished, black people could vote and they even starred in TV shows like Family Matters which we watched every week. Obviously, racial equality had been achieved. The guy was just being sensitive.

That’s my first memory of my white privilege talking.

Years later I went to university to study literature. Let me tell you, in the humanities/art/social sciences, folks are kind of obsessed with talking about gender and race. It’s almost all they talk about anymore, and I got sick to death of it. It felt absurd, sitting around as a diverse student body and a diverse staff (in terms of gender, race, and sexual orientation) to talk about discrimination and inequality. Does nobody notice how many women and people of colour there are here? I constantly thought. The head of the department is a woman! Obviously equality has been achieved here. We are so past this; can we talk about something else now? Like whether this book is actually any good?

I thought anyone in the university who still thought racism and sexism were still problems was being ridiculously oversensitive. (And what about this institution’s prejudice against Christianity? I wondered.)

A lot of the things Matt Walsh writes about these days remind me of the ways I used to think and feel.

* * *

I’m not sure when things started to change – when I started to become aware of the realities of race, gender, class, and sexual inequality.

It was definitely after I left the academy — having that stuff shoved down my throat every day by upper-middle-class elites hadn’t been very helpful.

I think it started when I began actually listening to the voices of people from marginalized groups. I started to listen to the stories of gay and black folks, of immigrants and people with disabilities. This was all still through the easy, sanitary media of books, blogs and magazines, but still: I heard stories I had never encountered before. About exclusion and violence and systematic oppression. People really did seem to be suffering from injustice due to their sex, skin colour, or physical appearance. In Canada and the U.S.! They weren’t just making it up. People of privilege really do systematically ignore, silence, insult, and marginalize minority groups, often without realizing it. And I realized that I’m one of those privileged people, who never has to worry about my race or sexuality working against me.

I also started thinking differently when I learned that the Church is still the most racially segregated institution in North America. So just because my all-white church can hold hands and sing kumbaya, it doesn’t mean we’ve achieved reconciliation with the rest the world.

Yes, we have made a lot of progress towards equality since government-sanctioned slavery was abolished and women got the right to vote. But just because we’re not allowed to own people doesn’t mean everything’s okay.

How do I know? Because members of marginalized groups are still saying they’re being discriminated against. And I’m going to go ahead and believe them.

* * *

Earlier this week, Matt Walsh published a post entitled, “Sorry, but it’s your fault if you’re offended all the time.” He begins, “I truly believe that we are the most whiney, sensitive, thin-skinned, easily offended society in the history of the world.” He makes fun of the concept of “microaggressions,” and makes a number of declarations like, “If it wasn’t intended to offend you, then you shouldn’t be offended,” and “Being offended is a choice you make. Nobody is responsible for that choice but you.”

Then Walsh lampoons ethnic minorities and transgender people who share experiences of microaggression on the internet.

As a straight white person like Walsh, I will never know or completely understand the experiences of the people he’s mocking. But instead of calling them names (overly-sensitive, thin-skinned, etc) I think it might be more helpful to actually listen to what they’re saying.

And here’s where I especially disagree with him: the speaker’s intent is NOT the only thing that matters. You are still responsible for hurting someone if you speak out of ignorance.

Because here’s the thing. I also know what it’s like to be alienated and insulted without the speaker’s intent. You probably do, too.

For example.

When we were having a hard time getting pregnant, people said a lot of things that hurt me. They didn’t mean to. They just didn’t know.

Once, in a group setting, a friend shared about another couple that was spending a lot of money on repeated fertility treatment. Another friend spoke up, remarking, “I don’t know why they don’t just adopt. It’s selfish to keep spending money on fertility treatments when there are so many babies that need families.”

That wasn’t meant to hurt me – we weren’t even talking about me, and I wasn’t even undergoing treatment – but I wept the entire way home that afternoon. It wounded me so deeply not only that she didn’t understand, but that she didn’t care to understand the unique pain that comes from infertility.

It would have been nice if she could have tried to hear their experience from their perspective.

* * *

I agree and understand that it is difficult to say anything without offending anyone. It can get really tiring, always rethinking what you’re going to say so as not to hurt anyone. Especially those of us in positions of privilege, who have never had to think about race and sexuality being a disadvantage to anyone. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to be polite and sensitive at all times. It doesn’t mean we don’t need to apologize when we’ve unintentionally hurt someone’s feelings and try to learn from the experience.

I know I have and will continue to hurt people with my words, in part because my experience is incredibly limited. But instead of ridiculing and belittling people when they point it out, I want to actually hear their perspective, apologize, and try to be more sensitive next time.

And yes, part of maturing involves getting a tougher skin at times and not letting people’s words get to you. We don’t need to throw a tantrum every time someone says something that hurts our feelings. I agree with Walsh here, and am always trying to grow in that respect.

But at our core, we’re all dreadfully tender. We all ache to be loved and accepted. We all bleed at the slightest scratch if it hits the right spot. We just all have different tender spots. Haven’t we all been brought to our knees in agony by a glance, a word, a sneer, a phone call that never came? But instead of mocking people for their tenderness, we ought to try to be more gentle. Because we’ve all been there, haven’t we?

It’s easy and fun to make fun of people for being “sensitive” about things we’ve never had to deal with. Mockery shuts down the conversation quickly, so we never have to take responsibility for our ignorance.

But I’d rather go out of my way not to hurt my fellow bleeders. I owe it to them. And the best way to learn how to do this, I believe, is to listen. I’m going to try to keep my ears open and my judgey mouth shut as much as possible.

And definitely not tell them how they ought to feel.

Image courtesy of sciencesque.

Three (Simple) Ways We Care for Our Marriage

anniversary

This month Ben and I celebrated nine years of marriage. Nine years! Holy smokes . . . when did we get so old?

My husband and I are both super-not-romantic. We don’t buy each other gifts (for any occasion) or write love notes. He never gets me flowers and I really couldn’t care less.

I still don’t consider it a lot of “work” to be married. We’re friends. I enjoy his company. We like watching the same TV shows and have a lot of the same life goals. He likes my cooking, and I appreciate all the work he does around the house and yard. Sometimes we argue about housework, but overall, I feel we contribute equally so there’s not too much to get upset about.

Since having a kid, though, I do find we need to make a bit more of a conscious effort to stay connected, since our daughter is ALWAYS awake and ALWAYS around us. Sometimes we need to set special time aside to care for one another and just enjoy each other.

In honour of our anniversary, I thought I’d share a few of the simple ways we care for each other and our marriage.

Monthly Date Nights

I know, I know, I know. SO cliche.

We were never really into date nights before we had a kid because, well, we were already always doing things together. Having dinner, going for walks, watching movies. It seemed kind of pointless to label one of these nights “date night.”

But these days, we spend SO much of our shared energy on parenting. Our conversations are always being interrupted. We’re constantly answering questions, taking her to the potty mid-meal, telling her not to climb on the furniture, taking her off of furniture, etc. Weekdays, weekends. Morning, afternoon, evening, nighttime. ALL. THE. TIME.

So we make an effort to get a babysitter once a month (usually the first weekend) and just hang out together for an evening.

For special occasions (like birthdays) we’ll get dinner and/or a movie, but other times we’ll just get ice cream or go shopping together. Not even for sexy or fun things — I’m talking a new mop or underwear. (And by “underwear” I don’t mean lingerie. I mean a three-pack of cotton Hanes hipsters. Those are the best.)

Our goal is just to be together and have uninterrupted conversations. On the drive to the city we might talk about stuff we did before we met each other or chat about bigger purchases we want to make. Occasionally at our destination we sit across from each other and set formal goals together. Just something where we can relax and be ourselves, just the two of us. To remember that we’re a team and that we’re friends.

Stratford

Expressing Gratitude

This one we do a lot less consciously, and I have to credit Ben for starting it: we regularly take a moment to thank each other for the things we do.

Thanks for taking care of that.” That’s probably one of the most common sentences we say to each other, and it has enormous positive consequences for our marriage. I’ll say it when he takes out the recycling, when he plays a game with Lydia so I can write, or when he cleans up the kitchen after dinner by himself while I dash out to quilting. It’s become kind of automatic, though no less sincere. I just want him to know that what he’s doing is making my life better.

Likewise, he thanks me for making dinner or baking muffins, for organizing a social event or mopping the floor. He actually notices when I do that stuff and appreciates it. I love it. It makes all my work worthwhile.

As a woman who does mostly traditionally-female work (which has been historically undervalued), I appreciate that he constantly validates the work I do as important, challenging, meaningful, and life-enhancing.

He doesn’t have to get me flowers to tell me I’m special; he just has to let me know that he sees my work and it matters to him. That’s all I want, really.

And to occasionally hear that I look good, too.

Mutual Submission/Service

Neither of us is “boss” or “head of the household.” Neither of us “wears the pants” (although I really do love dresses and skirts.)

Instead, we both take seriously Paul’s injunction to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21) and to “use your freedom to serve one another in love” (Gal 5:13). We try to take Jesus as our example and use our power and freedom to serve one another. I try to put my husband’s needs before my own, and vice versa. (In fact, the same goes for Lydia. We are her servants. I know that sounds zany but it’s true. Sometimes we have to tell her she can’t have a snack because it’s almost supper or that she has to brush her teeth, but our job is to serve her. We pray that she will grow up following our example and serve those around her, too.)

Of course, this only works if both members are committed to putting the other person first. It falls apart if it’s only one person doing all the serving. I feel so blessed to have a partner who feels the same way I do.

Obviously, we suck at this most of the time. I hate giving him back rubs and he absolutely loathes putting Lydia to bed, even though I usually spend the whole day with her. We get grumpy when one person wants to use the computer at the same time as the other.

But we both see our roles to one another as that of a servant, and pray for the patience and positive attitude to actually fulfill that role. Overall, I think it works out quite nicely.

Our Backyard Chickens: A Tour

Our Backyard Chickens. A Tour of the Coop, Run, and Yard!

So as most of you know, after months of planning and building, we got our very own chickens last month. I thought I’d introduce you to our newest residents, and give you a quick tour of their home. Fun, right?

We took home four red sex-link hens from my parents’ flock one evening a few weeks ago (on my birthday, incidentally. What a great birthday present!). We chose the breed because they’re consistent layers and generally pretty calm and friendly. My parents have about a hundred free-range chickens that they let roam on the field, and they’ve been letting us have free eggs for the past several years. So they didn’t even make us pay for the chickens. They just let us have the hens instead of continuing to give us free eggs. Amazing, right? The hens are already about a year old, and have been laying steadily.

A few people have asked them what the chickens’ names are. We’ve chosen not to name them, since they are likely to end up in the soup pot in a couple of years when they’re done laying. (Sorry, dear vegan friends! Jut the facts). I just don’t think I could stomach eating a chicken I knew by name.

Why Raise Our Own Chickens?

I just want to say up front that we’re aware that we’re totally not saving any money by raising our own egg-laying hens. Even if we’d been paying my parents for the eggs, it would take a loooong time to recoup the cost of building the shed and run and paying for feed. (Raising your own poultry rarely results in much money-savings.)

We mostly wanted to raise our own chickens for the learning experience. We already had access to fresh, pastured eggs before, which is important to us; but we wanted the chance to do it ourselves. We aim to be as self-sufficient as possible, for reasons of food security and also simply for the joy and satisfaction of it. It feels amazing to eat food from your own back yard! And we really, really strive to only eat meat, eggs and milk from animals who have had the chance to live happy, healthy lives. We want to know where our food comes from. And this way, we know exactly where our eggs come from!

Anyway. On to the tour!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We converted a part of our shed into their coop, and added the run. (Ben built the shed himself a few years ago. He’s pretty handy.)

chicken coop: nesting boxes and roost

The first thing he did was construct a wire-fence wall inside the shed to section off about a third of the  building, and install a door. The rest of the shed will continue to be used for storage (gardening tools, bikes, etc). He then built a couple of nesting boxes out of scrap pine and a roost for them to sleep on (chickens prefer to sleep off the ground.) He also installed a window to let in sunlight and fresh air. Also, he cut a hole in the wall to give them outdoor access.

(Aside: don’t you just love Lydia’s gardening tools?)

nesting boxes front

Here are the nesting boxes from the front. Ben included a perch for the chickens to land on when they jump up to the nesting boxes.

nesting boxes

And here are the nesting boxes from the back.

I love how Ben included little doors on the backs of the nesting boxes so we can take out the eggs without walking into the coop. I don’t need to put on shoes to collect eggs! And he made them with the same welded-wire fencing, so that we can see whether there’s a hen sitting inside without disturbing her.

(As you can see, the bedding is quite messy. Ben had to add a strip of wood at the base of the doors to make the frame go up higher so it doesn’t come out so easily.)

I read a suggestion to line the bottom of the nesting boxes with shelf liner to ensure a soft landing for the eggs if the bedding all gets kicked aside; but the hens kicked that stuff out of there the first night they were here. So Ben put down squares of old carpet, and that seems to be working just dandy.

We’ve also included pine shavings for the bedding (Ben makes plenty in his shop), both in the nesting boxes and on the floor of the coop, since chickens like to scratch around before laying, and it provides a soft landing on the floor when they jump out.

backyard chicken egg

Yay eggs! (The purple one is a plastic Easter egg. Apparently chickens prefer laying in nests that already have eggs in them. So that one stays there.)

We had to make some adjustments to the roosts, since the chickens didn’t seem to like them at first, prefering to roost on the nesting box perch. (Which meant they would poop in the nesting boxes.) Ben lowered the nesting boxes (chickens prefer to roost on the highest available space) and made the roosts a little thinner, which they seem to find more comfortable.

Chickens roosting

(Roosting for the night at 8:15pm. Early to bed, early to rise. Aren’t they cute?)

But this gal still prefers to roost by the nesting boxes. Oh well.

hen roosting by nesting boxes

Anyway, moving on to outside!

We gave them a nice big run outside where they can scratch around in the dirt, take dust baths, and get some exercise, fresh air, and sunshine. You know, all those things chickens need but don’t get in factory farms.

backyard chickens

Ben constructed the run out of 1×1″ welded-wire fence, which is both stronger and (in my opinion) more attractive than chicken wire. It provides better protection against predators,  which can be a problem even in the suburbs. The top is covered with this fencing, too. We often see hawks in our trees and don’t want anyone nabbing our hens.

We quickly decided we wanted to keep the food and water outside as well. It keeps the coop cleaner and drier, and it means we don’t have to walk into the cramped coop to feed/water them. We’ll see what we do in winter.

food and water - back yeard chickens

We just set the feed and water containers on tree stumps to raise them up off the ground so they don’t get dirt kicked into them. The thrifted Pyrex bowl is where we dump messier treats, as well as crushed eggshell for calcium. We also toss kitchen scraps into the run, and the chickens usually take care of it within minutes.

We’ve also been experimenting with letting the chickens roam free on our yard for a few hours here and there. I like for them to get a chance to run around, nibble on fresh grass, and catch a few more bugs (especially grubs! Please eat the grubs, dear chickens!!). It’s also quite shady in their run; this would allow them to catch some more sun. They always head back inside for night, so we don’t have to worry about chasing them back inside.

free-range back yard chickens

The only two downfalls to free-ranging on the yard are (a) poop — they poop everywhere, and it’s pretty messy; and (b) they like to kick the bark chips out of my flower beds. That’s annoying. So we’ll probably limit it to once a week or so.

There you have it! Our first foray into raising farm animals!

Hope you enjoyed the tour! Do you raise chickens? Any tips for us newbies?

My Home Birth Story: Lydia Calliope

I’m over at Red and Honey today, sharing six reasons we’re choosing a home birth the second time around (as long as everything goes well, of course). So I thought I’d share Lydia’s birth story over here while I was at it. I first shared this story almost three years ago on my old blog, but I’m hoping to slowly transfer the few good posts over here to my permanent online home.

P.S. forgive the horrible quality of the photos. All we had at the time was a crappy point-and-shoot. And we never thought to take pictures during the labour. These pictures are the best I have.

Our home birth story

I woke up around 1:30AM on August 17th 2011, with my abdomen tightening painfully, the way it had done repeatedly a few days before. I was confused. It was still a week before my “due date,” and I had assumed my baby wouldn’t be coming for another few weeks, since most first babies take 41 weeks to incubate.

My stomach repeated this painful tightening a couple of times while I lay in bed, so that I had to sit up. This woke Ben up. I told him I thought I was having contractions, though it might not mean anything. It might be another bout of “false”€ labour, or it could be early labour which could last another twelve hours. I decided to go to the bathroom downstairs to see what happened.

It got worse. I told Ben to start timing them, which was easy for him since I felt better if I moaned through them. We decided to run a bath to see if that either sped things up or made them stop. I got into my bathing suit and got in. The water felt wonderful and soothing though the pains got stronger and longer. We decided to call my midwife.

She listened to me labour through another contraction and decided I should take some Tylenol and some Gravol to help me sleep, return to the tub, and call back in a few hours. Ben brought me the pills and I lay down on our couch but the pain just got worse until I was almost hysterical. We tried the birthing ball, I tried going on my hands and knees, but before I knew it I was vomiting violently and yelling, “Call her back, call her back!”€ While Ben was on the phone and I lay yelling in pain on the couch, I started to feel warm water leak out of me. “I’€™m leaking! This is for real!” I hollered (Up till then I was convinced I might still have a few days). Ben reported that my midwife was on her way, and suggested I get back in the tub.

Waiting for the midwife in the tub was a surreal experience. I would yell, “€œAnother one is coming!” so that Ben could time the contractions. I would bellow through the pain, and then everything would let up and I would lay there peacefully for several minutes.

“My baby is coming,”€ I would whisper. “€œI wonder if it’€™s a boy or a girl?”€ But before long I was yelling, “I want to push!”€ and I had to climb out to crouch on the floor with my butt in the air (I’d read that this was a good position if you have the urge to push before you’re ready.)

I don’t remember ever feeling scared; I was just intensely focused on making sure I did everything right. All my energy was centered on making it through the pain. I had to make it until my midwife showed up and told me what to do.

I surprised myself: I never thought I’€™d be so vocal in labour. I’m an introvert; I kind of assumed I would labour quietly. But I was bellowing like water buffalo; roaring like a lion. I have never made so much noise in my life. I filled the whole house with my voice.

My midwife found me an hour later slumped over the edge of my bathtub, moaning pitifully. I think she was a little shocked. She and Ben helped me to the futon we’€™d set up in our living room and she checked me. “The baby’€™s right there,” she said, sounding a little worried. I was relieved, and asked if that meant I could start pushing it out. She explained that she would need to call an ambulance and have paramedics standing by until her backup midwife showed up. “Don’€™t push yet,” she told me.

Being told not to push when you have the urge is like being told not to cough when you’ve got crumbs in your throat. It took all the willpower I could muster to keep from heaving that baby out of my body.

But her student showed up soon, and my midwife told me I could start pushing. I was relieved to see the student midwife –€“ she was a young woman whom I really liked. So with the next contraction, I pushed. It was a mix of the most satisfying and most horrifying work I’€™ve ever done.

The two women cheered me on: “€œYou’re doing so good! That’s exactly right! Give us another one just like that!” They encouraged me to try different positions: leaning against Ben, crouching on my hands and knees. I hollered and screamed despite what I’d heard about how you shouldn’€™t make noise when you push. The midwives didn’€™t seem to have a problem with it so I went with it.

Home birth story

Between contractions, I was blissing out. (If you’ve never gone through it, it’€™s important to remember this detail: at their worst, contractions only last about a minute long, and then you have three to five minutes of complete calm with no accompanying pain [unless you are experiencing back labour]. So really, only a small fraction of labour is spent in actual pain). I felt calm and peaceful and so, so grateful. “You guys are so awesome. Thanks so much. This is so great. You guys are the best,”€ I kept repeating. I couldn’€™t believe how much I had lucked out, having such a quick and easy birth, with the greatest midwives a woman could ask for, and a truly fantastic husband. I couldn’€™t stop telling everyone how amazing they were.

At some point the backup midwife showed up as well. She quietly worked in the background. I was told later that I pushed for about an hour when it finally came to forcing out the ridiculously massive head of my child. (I was later informed that her head was actually on the small size, along with the rest of her body).

When they put that monstrously huge baby on my chest I lost my mind.”€œIt’s a baby! Look at the baby!” I exclaimed frantically. It took me a moment to realize that the baby had a sex and that I didn’t yet know it. My midwife turned the baby to my husband who said, “€œIt’s . . . a girl?”€

I was euphoric. I had so wanted it to be a girl. I told everyone that her name was Lydia.

The rest of the story is a blur and not that interesting. She was weighed — 6 lbs 11 oz. I delivered the placenta, and I got stitched up, a process that was easily as horrible as everything that has preceded it, but at this point I was also elated and chatty. My mom arrived and came in to hold my hand while Ben helped to clean things up.

I was seriously in hysterics about how perfect everything was. The backup midwife’€™s job was to clean, examine, dress and wrap up Lydia while the other two fixed me up.

The women made sure I€™’d fed Lydia, I’d been to the bathroom, and was comfortable and safe before they quietly left me and my new baby to sleep, all cozy in my own living room. I was so, so proud. I fell asleep to the thought, “That was awesome.”

It was about five hours from when I first woke up until she finally made her exit. It hurt a lot, but it was also exciting and wonderful. From my perspective, everything went beautifully.  I announced to Ben that if every pregnancy and birth went like this one, I’d happily have eight more babies. We’ll see what God has in mind!

I Am Rich.

I Am RichImage courtesy of Sherman Mui

We got our income taxes done last week. We went in with our tax lady to go over the numbers and make sure everything was in order. (My husband is self-employed, and we just don’t have the skills to do taxes ourselves.)

Let me tell you, I was STUNNED by the final number — our last year’s income. It was staggeringly low. We fall way, way below the poverty line for our area. As in, guess a ridiculously low number for a family of two adults and one child, and then divide that by half. That was our last year’s income. (Ben had a lot of major expenses for his business — he built his own shop to work out of.)

I was surprised by the final number I saw because I don’t feel that poor.

A friend recently asked me whether I still considered myself poor (I will often refer to myself as poor in a somewhat facetious tone). And I told her that no, I don’t. (That was before I saw the numbers.)

True, our annual income is alarmingly low. But I am so rich in so many other resources that survival is not a daily struggle. There are people who may have similar (or even slightly higher) incomes than us who are still way worse off, because they don’t have access to the other resources we do.

Here are just a few of the resources I have access to that make me comparatively wealthy, despite what the income tax forms say.

Skills in Frugality

I was raised by frugal Mennonites. I learned early on in life how to care for a home. I was taught basic sewing skills. I learned how to cook from scratch — I grew up helping my mom bake bread, can tomatoes, and cut pasta. I knew how to make a roux for cream sauce before I knew what that was. I even know how to butcher a chicken and make smoked sausage from a freshly-slaughtered pig. These are handy skills when your income is low.

Likewise, my husband learned how to change his own oil, repair an engine, build a fence, and other valuable skills to help reduce costs.

My mom taught me how to find a bargain, how to scan a yard-sale, and what to look for in thrift stores. I also grew up wearing thrift store clothes and hand-me-downs, so I’m used to a certain level of thriftiness in my wardrobe.

My husband and I both also learned the important skills of money-management. We’re not amazing money-spenders, but we know how to avoid debt: we’ve never had a credit card bill or purchased a vehicle we couldn’t pay in full.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have grown up with these skills instilled in them at a young age.

Fluency in English

It’s easy to overlook the huge advantage we have in being fluent in English in North America. But English is not our parents’ first language, so it’s easier for Ben and I to recognize the advantage. We have seen firsthand (mostly through older relatives) what a disadvantage it is when folks can’t speak the language.

We can make our own doctor’s appointments and explain our symptoms. We can update our passports and set up savings accounts without (too much) trouble. We can call around and find the best insurance policy, or notify the sales clerk that they’ve overcharged us. And perhaps most importantly, we have easy access to unlimited information, thanks to our fluency in the national language.

Education

Not only are we fluent in the dominant language, but we both received a decent education. We can read, write, do basic math, and use the internet. I’m even somewhat fluent in academic discourse (having gone to graduate school), giving me access to a greater range of information.

It’s an enormous blessing to be able to read books on natural healing, budgeting, education/parenting, gardening, and the like. Our potential for learning is unlimited, since we got this strong foundation as children. Not everyone we know has received this enormous advantage.

And thanks to internet access, we can buy and sell used items cheaply online; we can watch music videos for free on Youtube (no need for satellite here!); we can renew library books online; etc. There are so many ways to save money with the internet!

Strong Family and Community Support

familyMy immediate family. Look at all those potential babysitters.

We live within a ten-minute drive from both sets of parents. Between the two of us, we probably have a hundred aunts, uncles, and cousins living within a half-hour radius of us. We hang out with my cousins on a nearly weekly basis, and know at least ten couples from our church whom we consider “close friends.”

You know what that means? That means free babysitting almost any time of the week if we need it. It means free home-cooked meals when we’re sick or have a new baby. It means we can swap books and share outgrown baby items and clothes so we don’t have to buy everything new. These are also people I can go to for ideas, suggestions, and emotional support.

And also, I get free eggs and garden produce from my parents.

Life is so much easier (and cheaper) when you have friends and family around you.

Universal Health Care

Our health care in Canada isn’t perfect. But at least I know that if I get in a car wreck, the only costs I have to worry about involve the vehicle(s). If my daughter breaks her arm, my only concern is her comfort as she heals. I’m also able to have a baby (wherever I want, with whomever I want attending) without paying a dime out of pocket. I never have to worry about crippling medical bills that will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Our Health

So far, Ben and I are enormously healthy. (Thanks in part, I’m sure, to our education and health care, above. We also have access to good food, good sanitation, nutrition information, and safe streets/jobs. Serious communicable diseases are rare.)

Thanks to our health, we can do things for ourselves. We can hang laundry, clean the house, run errands, etc, completely independently. We can do all these money-saving things because we’re physically able. I never want to overlook this advantage.

A Loving Maker

I tend to forget about this one (and I understand that it looks a little out of place in this list. But as a Christian blogger, I felt a little obligated to include it). I have to remind myself every so often that even if I had none of the above things, I still would be rich beyond compare because I know that I am loved by the one who made me. My personal value does not depend on my bank account, my skills, or my health, but rather depends wholly on the fact that God bestowed upon my unsurpassable worth when he made me, and assured me of his love when he died for me.

So you see, I’m really quite rich.

The income tax statement may not agree, but our wealth can’t be measured in numbers. I personally think riches primarily come from relationships, health, freedom, and access to information; but above all, the knowledge that I’m wholly and completely loved.

What am I forgetting? What else (besides money) makes you feel wealthy?

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