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Happiness, I’ve decided, isn’t really the goal of a marriage. Or relationship. Or whatever you call what you have.

I mean, it isn’t good or bad based on how happy he is or I am on any given marital day. Frankly, I’m a little suspicious of people who claim bliss, all the time. I wonder if they’re telling the truth, the ones who say we’ve never had a fight or he always does this or she never does that.

I once heard a friend say she’d never seen her parents fight. I used to wish my children could say that but, you know, no. Now, I wonder. Maybe they’ve seen us fight, but they’ve also seen us make up and forgive and stay together and grow. So there’s that.

I don’t know if happiness can be a goal in anything, really. I love being a mom but it doesn’t always make me happy. I love writing but, again, sometimes it’s more of a pain than a pleasure.

And I love being married, except when I don’t.

I think I have a good marriage. I can even say I have a happy marriage. But it’s two people, People, so there’s conflict at times, and goal adjustment, and give and take, and we all know that, don’t we.

In our marriage, my husband and I have experienced – individually and collectively – moments, days, and even seasons of unhappiness.

Friends, we have had times of such miserable-ness, I wondered if we could survive. The thing that made the difference, if you’d like to know, was honesty. I don’t mean honesty between us, although that is super important, too. I mean honesty out there, in the world. I mean the kind of honesty where we quit pretending we were perfect and all was just grand, thank you very much.

When we decided the struggle was not going to be our little secret, we got healthier. And when we got healthier, we got happier.

It could have been different. If one of us had decided it wasn’t worth it or gave up or got too tired, we might not have made it. It takes two, it’s true. And if your marriage hasn’t worked, I’m not judging and I’m truly sorry. But if you are in the midst of the struggle and you think there might be hope, I’d encourage you to talk about it. Talk out there, with someone you trust. Be as honest and as transparent as you have the courage to be.

I won’t lie to you; I was terrified. I was terrified when I told my husband I was going to talk to someone about our marriage, and I was terrified when I met that older woman that day for lunch, and I was terrified when I shared my heart with her. And honestly, she didn’t really help much. She was sweet and she listened, but she didn’t fix my life.

It was the experience of telling the truth that was the game changer. Our marriage didn’t automatically become beautiful and happy, but the way we dealt with our problems changed. It all became very real and urgent, and we just kind of quit covering for each other.

We aren’t perfect, now, and neither is our marriage. We don’t have all the answers and there are probably other people out there with better advice. But here’s mine.

Be honest. Tell the truth. Don’t fake it.

It worked for us.

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I’ve been the one who agreed to everything. Need a hand, a babysitter, a ride, some help, a Sunday School teacher, an organizer? Sure, I’m your girl. I mean, I used to be your girl.

I couldn’t say no to save my life, back in the day.

But I grumbled. I fussed because I was busy and tired and behind and late and oh my goodness, I could get grumpy.

There’s been some good stuff written and spoken, these past years. Lots of stuff about saying no and finding your passion and being true to yourself and how sometimes all those yeses are really about trying to seem like something special in the eyes of others. Stuff about wearing masks and taking off masks and letting go of expectation.

I read that stuff and listened to those words, and for a while I said no to almost everything. Which was kind of hard, but not actually as hard as you might think. It was a relief and I relished the space I gained.

But honestly, I think all my no’s made me a tiny bit lazy. I hid like a shy child, behind the folds of God’s apron, petulantly claiming that’s not my gift or that’s not my passion. Kind of sucking my thumb and pouting a little, and He was a patient mother when I needed him to be. But He nudged me out, finally, and gave me a little push because, He said, you can’t hide here forever.

I’m stepping out, now, somewhere on the road between the cowardly yeses that kept me feeling safe and busy, and the childishly justified playground of my no’s. I’m looking for the Holy Spirit intersection between being true to me and it’s not all about me. You know?

It’s a journey.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.

Psalm 84:5

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Today, September 9, is FASD Awareness Day. I was not aware of such a thing until a few days ago, when I cried on Facebook about the challenges of FASD (or whatever the acronym) and why no one seems to talk about prevention.

FASD. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Babies born brain-damaged because their mothers drank alcohol while pregnant.

According to FASworld.com, a Canadian organization dedicated to raising awareness of the social costs of FASD, nearly 30% of expectant mothers still drink alcohol while  pregnant, making Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders the most common, most expensive, yet most preventable of all mental disorders in the industrialized world.

Statistics are hard animals to tame, though. According to canfasd.ca,

There are currently no confirmed statistics on the number of people who have FASD in Canada. The most commonly cited estimate is 9.1 per 1,000 live births or roughly 1% of the population. This is an estimated rate extrapolated from studies conducted in the United States. Based on the currently accepted prevalence rate of 1%, the annual cost of FASD in Canada has been estimated at approximately $7.6 billion.

and,

FASD is recognized as a significant issue in Canada. It is currently the leading known cause of developmental disability in Canada and has life-long impacts. Governments are working to measure prevalence and to determine the most effective intervention and prevention programs. Every year, millions of dollars are spent in an attempt to improve outcomes for affected individuals and their families. However, we do not have a clear understanding of the most effective supports for the capacity required to deliver cost-effective, accessible and sustainable prevention, intervention and diagnostic services.

It’s a huge problem. According to johnhoward.on.ca, some researchers estimate the rate of FASD to be ten times higher inside Canadian prisons than in the general population. Honestly, you only need to spend five minutes searching FASD online to learn how dire the situation is. Besides prisons, FASD children are filling our foster homes and our classrooms.

What you won’t find are prevention solutions. Because, as the quote above states, we do not have a clear understanding of the most effective supports for the capacity required to deliver cost-effective, accessible and sustainable prevention, intervention and diagnostic services.

Which means, basically, that this is a huge problem and no one knows what to do about it. Or maybe no one is brave enough to go there.

Here are a few thoughts from a not very politically correct, Jesus-loving, tired-of-the-bullshit foster parent.

If the only way to prevent FASD is to keep women from drinking (binge-drinking, especially) during pregnancy, then let’s talk about how to do that.

1. Involve the justice system. Make it illegal. An alcohol-abusing woman spending a few months incarcerated (or in a treatment program) is a much smaller price to pay than a life-time of caring for her FASD child. Harsh? Maybe, but if we are willing to take the child away from her after birth and put him into foster care, which is also harsh, we should care enough to intervene during the pregnancy.

2. Involve the church. Hello, church? Are we willing to take this on? Are there ways to channel women in need into homes willing to care? Are we willing to put dollars into this? Are we interested in thinking outside the box?

3. I don’t know. What do you think?

As a foster mom, I’m pretty sure almost all the kids I’ve had in my home have had FASD, although I don’t think any of them were officially diagnosed as such. If they were school-aged, they were diagnosed with ADHD and were on Ritalin. FASD is a hard diagnosis to make. The characteristics of the disorder become more pronounced the child gets older and he or she fails more of society’s expectations of acceptable behaviour.

The foster kids I’ve loved have stolen from me, screamed obscenities at me, and spit in my face. They’ve also hugged me and said they loved me. Sometimes they’ve done all these things within one hour. When a new child comes into my home I’m on guard, watching for signs. I’m evaluating behaviours and trying to decide whether the two-year old’s tantrums are normal or symptomatic. I’m wondering if there will come a time when this child will become unmanageable. It’s heart-breaking and gut-wrenching, because it’s not his fault he takes things that don’t belong to him and it’s not her fault she struggles to get along with the kids at school. These kids have to deal with so much more than normal kids and there is no cure and very little hope.

We are failing these kids. We are SO failing them and we are failing their moms.

It’s FASD Awareness Day. Awareness is great, but we need more than that, because honestly, we don’t have enough fingers to plug all the holes this tragic, preventable condition is creating.

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I’m wondering lately if my children are “rooted” because it seems like something parents should do for their kids, and I don’t know if I did it, really.

I’m wondering what it means, even, to be rooted. I’m thinking it has to do with giving the wee ones a sense of security, a feeling of family and tradition, a foundation of … something? Faith? Self-esteem? Confidence? Education?

I’ve been to the conferences, the ones that talk about giving our kids roots, and I think these might be some of the things they mean. I was at a homeschool conference once that was titled Roots and Wings: Giving Them Roots So They Can Fly. Which is a cool thing to say until you realize that it’s impossible. Roots and wings don’t go together.

They are two different things, you see. If you are rooted, you can’t fly. But I get the point of the conference, and I I’ve probably wished for both of these things for my own kids. Maybe I’d say roots and harvest, or something else besides wings, or maybe it’s just the nerdy word geek in me, making a fuss about nothing.

Honestly, though, I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit.

And you know what? You know what really brings rootedness? Rain.

You can create the sweetest garden with the highest fence to keep out the deer and the best organic compost available and you can plant with the highest quality heirloom seeds, but without rain it’s just… unrealized.

I planted some flowers this spring. I cleaned the old, used up dirt out of my pots and I went to the greenhouse and bought the most expensive dirt they had and I planted those little baby geraniums and moss roses and a few snap dragons because my youngest son loves them the best. I snuggled them into the dirt and put them in the sun and I watered them with some pretend rain, and all those babies floated up and out of the dirt because there hadn’t been enough water on them yet to settle everything into place.

The dirt was too new and perfect and the plants weren’t rooted.

There are so many things kids need to grow up and thrive, but without a little rain, none of it will matter much. I want to keep my kids from drowning, that’s for sure. But trying to keep my kids from getting wet, it turns out, might be the worst thing I could do.

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He was baptized by his cousin John and his father was so pleased.

I love this story. I love that Jesus asked John to baptize him, and I love that John didn’t want to but did anyway. I love the after-glory of the Spirit coming down as a dove and the Father’s voice echoing through the land. It’s a holy family scene like no other in scripture. The ancient heavenly equivalent of high fives and whoop whoops.

The next part of the story has always been perplexing, though. In the midst of the celebrating, Jesus leaves. He heads out into the wilderness, led there by the Spirit it says, to be alone. To fast for forty days and nights? To be tempted? What?

I’ve never been to a baptism that ended this way.

I can relate to the being-proud-of-the-son part. I remember the baptisms of each of my three boys, and I was so proud. I was happy and pleased and joy-filled because of their decisions and what those decisions represented. High five. Whoop whoop.

But not once did I think, let’s get these boys out to the wilderness right now. Let’s leave them on their own and stress them and deny their bodies nourishment and let’s let the devil have his tempting way with them, and we’ll just see what happens.

Here’s the thing. It happened anyway.

There’s the celebration of a decision, and then there’s life, and that’s where the rubber meets the road. And the boys, each of them, has the road rash to prove it. So do I. So does anyone who not only makes the commitment but lives the journey.

I don’t know why Jesus did it the way he did, but I’m glad he did. I need the example. I need the reminder. Because the temptations are real.

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I google map my way to the daycare she’s been living in for the past month, and the women, the ones who’ve been taking care of her, are very sweet. The daycare is clean and friendly and the children are sitting at a table playing with freshly made play doh and it is nice, as far as daycares go. But still, you know, a daycare.

They tell me what they know about her. She’s potty trained, day and night, she’s language-delayed, she’s been on these meds for this problem. She’s so sweet, really, adds the tiny, bird-like worker with the hard-to-understand-accent, just as we are leaving.

My son grabs the small grocery bag half full of clothes they hand us, and she takes my hand like she’s been taking strangers’ hands her whole life, and we leave.

It’s late and we’re all tired and we still have a two-hour drive ahead of us, but the social worker hands me a clothing requisition and it’s obvious she needs some things, so we stop. I peek into her bag, and it’s a jumble this and that. A few summer tees and some shorts and a bunch of boy clothes that are way too big for her. No jammies at all, and one black sock.

It’s as quick a stop as I can manage at that store that has everything and I block out of my mind the questions of where those four-dollar shirts were made and by whom. I do the best I can to eyeball her size and I mentally add the purchases as I fill the cart, and she oohs and aahs over the Minnie Mouse skirt and the Strawberry Shortcake pj’s, and we choose colourful panties and those get squeals of delight, too.

I see them there, hanging on a hook beside the pretty panties. Packages of plain black socks all practical and economical but her eyes wander down the rack to the rainbow striped ones, and she looks at me and I grab two packages. Of course we can get twelve pair of rainbow socks.

I try to find runners but it’s a weird end-of-season time to shop and there is nothing in her size. The sparkly Dora shoes catch her eye and we try them on and I say, sure, and we head to the customer service desk, and the first thing the woman behind the counter says, after I hand her the clothing req and I start piling our purchases on the counter, is, shoes aren’t clothes.

She’s holding the pretty shoes and I must have looked confused because that’s how I look when it’s late and I’m tired and someone tries to tell me that shoes aren’t clothes. So she repeats herself, and I shake my head and smile and say, that’s okay, I’ll buy them separately.

I’ve said no to this little one many times since she took my hand a week ago. I’ve said no to cake for breakfast and I’ve said no to chocolate bars spied from the grocery store checkout line and I’ve said no to the bedtime tantrums, and I’ve found her more practical long-sleeved sweaters and hoodies and rubber boots to wear.

But a little girl who starts out with one black sock should have a pair of pretty shoes, I think.

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People get excited about things. The books they read, the shows they watch, the vacations they take, the ministries in which they are involved.

I get excited, convicted even, about things. Books, shows, bible verses, family stuff, home stuff, faith stuff.

I’ve noticed – when sharing my stuff with other people or when people share their stuff with me – the excitement doesn’t always transfer. Instead, I or they, depending on who is sharing and who is being shared with, might feel judgement or pressure or a vague sense of wow, that person is so much cooler than I.

Please don’t tell me I’m the only person who has struggled?

It took me a long time to figure this out, and I’m still pretty bad at it. I’m lame like that. The first time I really understood the challenge of being excited without portraying judgement was when I first started homeschooling. I’d been to conferences and read books and bought curriculum, and I WAS EXCITED. I remember talking with a friend about some of what I’d learned about homeschooling, and she said something negative (I don’t even remember what it was) and I realized she felt she had to justify to me her choice to send her kids to school. I actually didn’t realize this right away; I was initially just hurt and kind of confused (lame, remember?) but after I’d thought about it, I understood. And other comments people had made about school issues started making sense.

My response to my epiphany? Stop talking about homeschooling.

And that’s pretty much been my Go To response for everything that seems (to my skewed and insecure perception) to rub people the wrong way, since. Just stop talking about it.

I’ve been wondering how many other people have stopped talking about their passions and joy for the same reason? How many people don’t talk about their ministries or their hobbies or their goals or their experiences because they’ve been shut down in the past, maybe by me? This makes me sad.

I’m going to stop being so sensitive. Honestly, I’m so much better than I used to be. I’m going to stop thinking another person’s success is an arrow pointing out my failure. I’m going to stop feeling judged by your cool experience or the passion you are brave enough to follow. I’m going to surrender my false feelings of not enough, and I’m going to congratulate you as often as I can for your beautiful gifts, whatever they are. I’m going to celebrate your convictions, and share mine with joy.

Life is way more fun that way.

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