Being Oma

“If I’d known grandchildren were this much fun, I’d have had them first,” the bumper sticker quips.

I first saw that message when I had young children and couldn’t imagine how grand-parenting could be any better than raising our own children day by day. I loved having our babies. Once I’d made the decision that raising them was my life’s work, I gave little thought to what my life would entail after they’d grown and gone. I was honoured when someone once commented to me, “You put maximum effort into mothering.” I couldn’t imagine anything else could come close to that fulfillment.

“I know why I love my children, but why do you love them?” my daughter once asked. It was the same question I had asked years ago.

Redeeming the Past

In a sense, becoming Oma allows me to learn from the past and change some of my ways. Just as I was tumbling out of the turbulent years with teens, and moping over the child-rearing years with a “gone forever” sadness, along came grand-parenting. Our first were twin girls, which was double excitement — I love two-for-one deals. And these were little girls, something that had been in short supply in our own family.

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Tori & Abby, age 2

It was affirming, too, to find our children had come full circle and begun raising their children, in many ways, the way they, themselves, were raised.

Rejoicing in the Present

Instead of lamenting the loss of my youth, being Oma allows me to rejoice in the present. In fact, I find their assumption that I am old, quite amusing.

“Becoming a grandmother is wonderful. One moment you’re just a mother, the next you are all-wise and prehistoric,” says Pam Brown.

Although I live at a great distance from some of my grandkids, the photos, the videos, the funny sayings — these keep us close. As grandparents, we’re free of the daily responsibility for them; free to simply exult in the freshness of new life. There is nothing more precious than holding their trusting, tiny hands as we walk together, or feeling those small, soft arms fling themselves around my neck in eager greeting when we arrive for a visit. Because tragedy has forced me to glimpse the brevity of life, the moments of wonder we share at its marvels are more prized than they were with my own children.

grand kiddos

The girls have a new brother — John.

“Our children accept us for ourselves, without rebuke or effort to change us, as no one in our entire lives has ever done, not our parents, siblings, spouses, friends — and hardly ever our own grown children.” writes author Ruth Goode.

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And another brother, James.

And now we have a new grandson, born last week. He is our first Canadian grandchild, and the first to carry on the family name.

Fresh Felix

Baby Felix, three days old

Hope for the Future

Grandchildren are more than just fun. As I become more aware of my own limitations, the terrors of this old world increasingly oppress. But when I’m with my grandchildren, I’m reminded of the great good God has given in this life: There is still beauty, music, and good parenting. There is still truth and joy.

And there is still love.

“Children’s children are the crown of old men…” Proverbs 17:6

 

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Taking Dad for Granted

In Hillbilly Elegy: a Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, author J.D. Vance recounts his older sister’s remorse on the death of their grandfather. She regretted having taken advantage of the Papaw who stepped in to raise them in the absence of their father and the instability of their drug-addicted mother. Conditioned by their shaky beginnings to feel they couldn’t really rely on people, she sobbed over having unquestioningly accepted Papaw’s help and generosity but beyond that, not paying him much attention.

“To this day,” Vance writes, “being able to ‘take advantage’ of someone is the measure in my mind of having a parent.”

This month would have marked my dad’s 89th birthday. It’s been more than four months since he died, but years since we lost him due to advanced Parkinson’s. Of all that could be said of Dad, Vance’s definition of being a father is the most apt. My brothers and sister and I were able to “take advantage” of our dad because he was always there.  He was always there with my mom — an indivisible unit for 66 years that gave us a rock-solid home, something I only learned in later years that not everyone has.

He was always there in the church, faithfully attending, serving, giving and supporting in many ways.

He was a strong, authoritative presence in our home. One Sunday afternoon, my sister was trying to nap and our brothers were roughhousing in the next room. Annoyed by the noise level, she got up, seized a pair of my dad’s Florsheim shoes and clunked them down the hall until the imminent threat of Dad’s intervention quieted them. Dad’s was an authority I sometimes resented, but which I now realize set the stage for me to have an understanding and trust in God’s rule and reign in my life.

He was always there on the land that was so important to him.

We always had a secure home base to come home to. We knew where to find him. His work as a farmer allowed him to be present in our home at times of day when many dads would have been in the workplace.

He was always there for advice on financial matters, gained through years of experience as a farmer and businessman. I clearly remember a phone call he took one winter evening from someone trying to get him to invest in diamonds.

“I never invest in something I don’t understand,” Dad responded, ending the call. It wasn’t direct teaching, but it was a lesson that stuck with me.

Early in our marriage, my husband and I contemplated buying a franchise business, but first we asked my dad’s counsel. We received a detailed, reasoned, three-page reply in Dad’s distinctive handwriting.20170306_133316_1488833198077_resized

Children are excellent observers, but poor interpreters. As a child, though I feared my dad’s impatience and volatile temper, I still longed for his attention and approval. Neither seemed to ever come and I found it impossible to be content with that. Later, as a young mom, with a home and children of my own, I used to rack my brain trying to come up with an appropriate Christmas gift for Dad. One year, the idea of giving him a gift of words occurred to me. I could write him a letter telling him all that he meant to me and all he’d given me. But frankly, my underlying resentment made it a struggle to come up with anything meaningful. If I said he taught me by example to be a reader, my mind conjured negative memories of him, buried behind a newspaper ,completely oblivious to us kids (until, that is, we raised a ruckus.) I feared he’d see through my attempt, that I was merely putting a good face on a bad record.

Eventually, though, I came up with a page-and-a-half list, from character traits more caught than taught, to happy memories like the soup and crackers-with-garlic-sausage snack we’d have arriving home after a long trip.

The next time he saw me, Dad thanked me for the letter. “It’s nice to know I did something right.” I was surprised at this acknowledgement that he recognized his inadequacy as a father. “If you’re wondering about what to get me next Christmas, another letter would be great.”

He had no idea I felt I’d been scraping the barrel to scrounge up even that one. Yet the next year, I came up with more.

“You expected respect and it prepared me for a lifetime of reverencing God,” I wrote.

“‘Don’t close any doors’ you told me with regard to education when I was contemplating quitting high school.”

And the following year, I found more dad-things to write him thanks for. It got so that I could say these things in person, too.

Just a few years ago, dad overcame his Parkinson’s-weakened voice just long enough to tell me something unusual for him. While I was growing up, he had always opposed my use of make-up or hair colour. (I recall puzzling over the term “hussy.”) And he never complimented my appearance, lest it lead to conceit. But a few summers ago, my 80+-year-old father commented on my new blonde hair colour, saying I looked, “very beautiful!” Now, at 50-something, “very beautiful” was a bit of a stretch. It would have been easy to roll my eyes and reply, “You’re about four decades too late. I needed to hear that when I was 14!” But during that particularly low point in my life it was salve to my wounded soul. Instead of an acidic response, I recognized his words as a gracious gift from him and also from God to encourage me.

When Dad died last fall, I realized all of my bitterness toward him had long since passed away, leaving a genuine contentment and gratefulness toward him. Having children of my own who weren’t always thrilled with my parenting went a long way toward making me compassionate and forgiving towards a dad who didn’t always know how to father. Significantly, I credited the exercise of writing those letters as a turning point for me. They forced me to gain a more accurate interpretation of my dad’s life and fathering than I’d been able to see as a child.

And when I read Hillbilly Elegy, I realized my dad was a great dad. He was a dad I could, and did, take for granted.

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The close of the letter shown above — now a precious assurance.

 

 

 

 

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Breaking Up with Perfect: A Book Review

Have you noticed the pressure “mommy blogs” and other media have put on young mothers? Co-sleeping, baby-wearing, child-led feeding, enviro-friendly toys and gear, providing a magical childhood — all of it raises an impossible bar for motherhood. The list doesn’t stop there either: women are to be politically savvy, dress for success, be a financial whiz, save the earth, run marathons, get organized, raise creative and culturally-sensitive children, be community minded. And that’s not even including the ever-changing (weekly, it seems!) rules for nutrition where last decade’s healthy meal is condemned as abusively unwholesome.

So when I was offered Amy Carroll’s book, Breaking Up With Perfect: Kiss Perfection Goodbye and Embrace the Joy God Has in Store for You to review, it was young women I had in mind. With the perspective of age and a different stage of life, it was easy for me to see how younger women could benefit by gaining freedom from perfectionism’s tyranny.

What I wasn’t expecting was a window into my own soul.

Carroll introduces us to two not-so-hypothetical women: The Good Girl with her list of how to gain God’s and everyone else’s approval, and The Never Good Enough Girl who also has a list. Hers is laden with self-pity and resentment. Both are a list of lies, the author explains.

In the four parts of the book, Carroll unfolds how to break up with wrong beliefs, skewed values, selfish actions, and instead, live freely and love deeply. The lies we believe, she contends, can be replaced by God’s truth.

She starts with our belief about God. Do we think of Him as a tough taskmaster? A distant, disinterested observer? Our beliefs about God, it is said, are the most important thing about us. I was relieved to find the author addressing this critical foundation for our motives and goals. “Seeing ourselves correctly as both loved and sinful is key to ending our love affair with Perfect.” (page 52) I was even more surprised that a modern book for women went against the current self-esteem craze by recommending selflessness. “Only when I choose to be nothing will I find my everything.” (page 54) Bravo!

Throughout the book, Carroll humbly offers highly personal examples of how she learned the lessons she shares. In chapter five, she emphasizes the truth, “God created me for connecting, not collecting,” with the story of her meeting an Ecuadorian woman who lived under a plastic roof, on a dirt floor and without indoor plumbing. Asked what her greatest need was, the woman said, “My greatest need is to be able to teach my children about Jesus so they will follow the Lord all the days of their lives.” Perhaps it’s a unique pitfall of modern life in Western culture that allows us to carry illusions of perfection.

Eventually, I began to wonder if the author’s use of the term Perfect didn’t just boil down to pride. Isn’t God the Perfect that we actually crave? And yes. Carroll eventually arrives there. “Do you hear the nasty elements we’ve talked about in other chapters — the Good Girl List and a self-crafted image? What looked good on the outside was rotted with pride and vanity on the inside.” (page 157) “It’s not just an ‘issue’ or problem to be a perfectionist. It’s actually sin…True perfection belongs only to God, and when we try to create it ourselves, we’re pushing God out of His rightful spot.”
She offers a solution:  Repentance. “God is beckoning us to lay down all our try-harder ways, lift our gaze, and look to Him.”

There are practical steps to take in gaining freedom. Some are iffy: “Repeat after me: I wasn’t made to pursue Perfect. I’m most amazing when I’m pursuing Jesus.” Some are sound: “Start a journal where you record truths about God’s character as you read.”

Breaking Up with Perfect is a book that could be expanded into a Bible study for women of any age by using the “Going Deeper” section at the end and supplementing with cross-references.

Amy Carroll’s book isn’t the fluff I thought it would be. It prompted me to renew my desire to find my worth and contentment in God alone, to keep my focus on Jesus and through Him, to love others more faithfully.

I have a copy of this book to give away! Enter the draw (to be picked at random by my son Timo on October 19, 2016) in one of two ways:

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Introducing “Lifelines” and Albertan Novelist Eleanor Bertin

Debbie Hill, a poet, long-time friend and former college classmate from Creative Communications, Red River College, Winnipeg, interviewed me with some incisive questions.

Kites Without Strings

Already he was wishing he hadn’t accepted Anna’s invitation to this last evening gathering of the season. A pod of neighbours was huddled around the crackling blaze by the time he got there. The circle widened affably to receive them and they settled into their lawn chairs, stretching feet to the fire. – Eleanor Bertin*

If you’re closed-minded, too close to the light or the line of fire, or even haunted by JohnMilton’s Paradise Lost, expect to feel uncomfortable but not necessarily in a negative way. Eleanor Bertin’sfirst novel Lifelines (Word Alive Press, 2016)nudges the reader to look inward, to dust off the brain cells, plus think about mortality and his/her purpose on Earth.

eleanor-bertin-photo-by-alyssa-krahn-alyssa-raeanne-photography Eleanor Bertin is a new novelist based in central Alberta. Photo by Alyssa Krahn, Alyssa Raeanne Photography.

On the surface, it’s a home-spun heart-warming yarn threaded with Anna Fawcett’s unflinching morals…

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What Do You Get When You Fall In Love?

Someone interviewed young children about falling in love and getting married. “God has it all planned who you’re going to marry. You just get to find out who you’re stuck with,” a little girl responded. I guess she’d never heard any of the “soul-mate” gibberish that’s out there. She was closer to the truth than most of us like to admit.

I fell in love forty years ago or so. It may have been his light gray eyes or maybe his excellent facial bone structure. (In my teenage maturity, I was mightily concerned about bone structure, which I figured was an indication of how well a man would age.) Whatever it was, one brief conversation with the guy was enough to keep my thoughts occupied with love and marriage fantasies for many months.

Six years later, I was married, but not to that man. This weekend, my husband and I will celebrate 35 years of wedded bungling and bliss. Beginning with incompatible personality types, we have made most of the common mistakes, committed plenty of the “don’ts” of marriage and seen our share of selfishness. And that’s just the stuff that came from inside ourselves.

On top of that, we’ve endured the external pressures of incompatibility of backgrounds, financial straits, job losses, failed businesses, illnesses, depression, the birth of a child with a disability (80% divorce rate) and the death of a child (80% divorce rate).

How are we still married? Time was, I would have answered that with a 5-step plan. Now, I’m more apt to say, “I really don’t know. It’s almost a miracle!” It surely has had nothing to do with being “soul-mates” (whatever that means) since feelings of intimate fellowship are about as lasting as a chocolate high.

What I do know is that when tough times have hit, commitment has been the glue that helped keep us together. What I mean by commitment is an underlying sense of the permanence of what we pledged on our wedding day. Monsieur explains it as an awareness that the covenant of marriage is an obligation to something bigger than either of us. Divorce has never been an option. We were stuck with each other. And being stuck, we knew the only way to find peace and harmony again was to try to work things out.

Married for the first time in her late 50’s, author and speaker Nancy DeMoss Wohlgemuth quickly began to recognize there is a malevolent spiritual power seeking to destroy marriage. Just seven weeks after her wedding, she “recognized the serpent’s subtle but nefarious influence” in her relationship with her husband. I recognized the same tendencies she describes in my own marriage : Continue reading

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The Medal She Deserves

I’m often asked what gave me the idea for my new novel, Lifelines. My answer inevitably reveals that one of the characters, Anna Fawcett, is largely modelled after my mother. Yes, she really is that wonderful!

Some years ago, Chatelaine, a Canadian women’s magazine, published a cover article called “Women We Love.” It featured the achievements of about twelve Canadian women of all ages. On the cover was one of them – Margaret Trudeau, and how she has coped with and overcome bipolar disorder (two failed marriages) and there were others who had been advocates and fundraisers for one non-profit organization or another. One young actress with a young baby had visited Africa and nursed a malnourished African baby, thereby becoming an advocate for breastfeeding. I realize the magazine couldn’t begin to formally recognize all of the hidden and obscure women who have made an impact on the world and so were limited to those whose accomplishments were well-known. But I had my own “Woman I Love” to honour.

Dear Chatelaine;

I read with anticipation your piece on “Women We Love” only to be disappointed to find not one tribute to a wife and mother. How narrow your focus was, heaping accolades only upon those women whose achievements are overt, public or materially measurable . What a sad commentary on our feminine culture to discover, after all, that only certain choices in a woman’s life are valid worthy pursuits. In fact, the message seemed to be that only those pursuits which are not traditionally feminine are worthy of honour.

Let me tell of a woman I love. My mother, Anne Krahn, never went beyond high school, yet instilled in her children a love of poetry, grammar, history, nature and classical music. She knew nothing of “save the earth” environmentalism yet frugally recycled and reused for decades before it was fashionable.

Mom never sculpted but on the impressionable clay of children’s minds and hearts, never created great works of art except for the flowers and food that went to bereaved and suffering neighbours.

No speaker’s bureau ever recruited my mother yet she is the best motivational speaker we know. Through the years, family, friends and near-strangers have called to hear her encouragement. Her patient listening and wise, loving counsel have sustained many and I’m pretty sure, saved at least one life.

In 60 years she has never earned an income yet she leaves a priceless legacy of encouragement and unconditional love. Living all those years in a small Manitoba community, primarily caring for her husband and family appears insignificant by your standards but four children and their spouses, 17 grandchildren, 7 great grandchildren and many relatives, friends and neighbours know differently.

Her husband with tears calls her his treasure, her family blesses her and the community honours her. Her daughters and granddaughters aspire to be like her.

There is no adequate temporal reward for a lifetime of integrity, love, joy, peace, faith, humour, patience, humility and self-control. If there were, many would give it to my mom.

Photo of Mom

A very happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

(Details on Lifelines here: http://www.eleanorbertinauthor.com )

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Angry!

For such an affectionate, good-natured little boy he can sure get a mad on!

http://www.indigopixies.com/  (not my grandson)

My two-year-old grandson’s eyebrows slammed down onto eyes narrowed to mean slits. Face darkened with rage, his usually-smiling mouth tightened. He struggled in his mother’s arms, fierce and ferocious, yelling, “NO! I WON’T!!”

We were on vacation, visiting our beloved grandchildren last month when the memorable scene took place in their family’s living room.

The sheer force of will in one scrawny little body was astounding. And hilarious. I don’t think I’m inaccurate to say none of our seven children defied us outright like that. They tended more towards passive resistance or sneaky “apparent” compliance, which carried with it problems of its own. So this in-your-face toddler fury was a new thing to me and a sight to behold!  But a little alarming too. After all, if that temper weren’t dealt with, what might it look like at 16, or 25?

My daughter spoke into his ear, then left him and headed for the kitchen.Whatever she said to him, less than a minute later he bounced up, scampered after her and said in happy tones, “I changed my attitude!” And he really had. What followed was his usual friendly, cheerful obedience.

Oh, to be able to “Presto! Change-o!” like that!

I was reminded of that scene a couple of days after we’d returned home.

Three weeks before, we’d left the snow behind and enjoyed lovely spring weather for more than a week in Texas. We spent time as guests in 5 homes, some old, some new, but all were equipped with finished walls and real closets. All had counter-tops and cupboards and smooth, unsplintered floors.

On the way  home, we headed north again, returning to the land of winter-white. Most difficult for me, we came back to all the features of our ongoing renovation that the above contrasts reveal. I looked around, seeing the unfinished, the inadequate, the inconvenient, the unhidden-by-closet-doors… and despaired.

My pattern of depression is to allow negative thoughts (“realism,” I call it in those moments) to take over my mind and then feed the monster. Thoughts rush forward as fodder for the joy-devourer –

Not one room of my house is completely finished, after almost 13 years! It will never be finished! 

No other woman I know has to live in these conditions. Am I such an unworthy wife?

I don’t think I can stand this anymore.

And just to be sure I’m down for the count, I borrow from the past to make comparisons to young parents we visited.

I’m even a failure as a mother.

For hours, I rejected every prompt from God’s Spirit to be content and thankful.

“NO! I WON’T!!” my mind shouted. And suddenly I pictured myself as God saw me: my spirit scrunched up, fierce and ferocious, self-pitying, angry and tight.

It wasn’t Presto, Change-o. It took about a day and a half before I recognized what the Enemy of my soul was doing to me. But the memory of my grandson’s tantrum and his speedy recovery shamed me into a quicker restoration than would have happened years ago.

I prayed. I confessed my ugly ungratefulness. I repented. And I was free!

He changed my attitude!”

What a relief it was to return to a state of contentment, my spirit lighter and filled with joy.

“I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to … abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

 

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