My Blind Spot of Shame: Admitting Your Mistakes

Admitting Your Mistakes: why sometimes it's hard--because we don't even notice them!

Do you have a difficult time admitting your mistakes? I do–and it’s not always a pride issue. Sometimes it’s because I have a definite blind spot.

On Fridays I like to run my columns–or my short pieces that sum up what I think about family, love, and society. Here’s a piece I wrote back in 2008 about the difficulties I have remembering appointments. Considering the school year is upon us, I thought many of you organization-minded mamas could relate!

Next time I go to the orthodontist’s office I will have to wear a paper bag over my head. I just forgot yet another of my daughter’s appointments.

It was easy to rationalize away the first one we missed. Keith had the girls that day, and we just didn’t share information in an appropriate way. In other words, I forgot to tell him. The second time, though, was entirely my fault, and I didn’t have a fallback excuse.

Feeling very badly, I promptly instituted a new fixture in our house: the calendar on the fridge. All our appointments were dutifully recorded, so that none could escape our notice.

However, the fridge door is not the most ideal place for a calendar that uses wipe off markers. People constantly rub against it as they stare, mouth gaping, into that appliance, in the process obliterating our appointments forever.

The third one I forgot, though, is still easily forgiven, because my mother’s best friend had died and we were rushing out of town for the funeral. How can an orthodontist compete with a funeral? In my moments of honesty, though, I admit that I would have forgotten anyway. It’s become a habit.

The strange thing is that I don’t forget anything else.

My dentist, doctor, and optometrist have nothing to complain about. I’m at every committee meeting, every family meeting, every church meeting. But when it comes to my daughter’s orthodontist, I have a blind spot. I just can’t seem to keep appointments in my head.

After the fiasco with the funeral we told Rebecca it was now her job to remember, since I was obviously not up to the task. She said she would. And she did remember, right after I yelled, in a panic, “Becca, when’s the orthodontist appointment!?!?!”. She checked her little yellow card, which she had helpfully stowed deep in her closet, so that she could find it if she ever had the urge to look for her old winter snowsuits. “Yesterday,” she meekly replied.

My husband once operated a full-time pediatric office, and I remember how we used to feel about those parents who continually missed visits. They’re scatter-brained, irresponsible, and pathetic excuses for mothers and fathers. And now I’ve joined their ranks. I feel like a slug, especially when I stare into my empty wallet and realize how much my lapses of memory are costing us. But we all have blind spots, don’t we?

And often our blind spots are exactly the things that bother us in other people.

I get so annoyed when people fail to show up to meetings I’ve called, but here I am doing the same thing. Similarly, I’m forever thinking critically of parents who feed their offspring junk, but to be honest, if my girls ask, “can we have chocolate before breakfast?”, my response is usually, “Is your father gone yet?”. And if the answer is in the affirmative, we all partake together, if just a little, because it’s common knowledge that the chocolate you eat before your day really begins doesn’t count.

Perhaps you have blind spots. You get mad because your spouse keeps the house in chaos, but every time your anniversary rolls around the significance of the date bypasses that part of your brain which reminds you to buy a card. Or your mother’s overindulgence of your children drives you crazy, but you fail to see how taking them to McDonald’s because you can’t be bothered to cook is proof that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Nobody likes admitting your mistakes.

It’s far more preferable to blame the rest of humanity for being worse than we are. Unfortunately, my orthodontist bills are making it harder and harder for me to do that. I have considered obtaining affidavits from my dentist and my doctor attesting to my exemplary record of attendance. (I did forget the time of a dentist appointment once, but I still had the date right, and that has to count for something.) I don’t think, however, that this will heal the breach. Only groveling is going to do it. I wonder where we keep the paper bags.

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Finances in Your Twenties: Don’t Waste the In-Between Years

Finances in Your Twenties--Don't waste these years, even if you're single!

Did you ignore finances in your twenties? Or did you meticulously budget?

If you chose the latter, you’re in a very small group, because most twenty-somethings don’t worry much about finances–especially if they’re still single. I remember speaking once at a women’s event, and a representative of a Christian financial company had sent a guy to come give a quick talk and a draw for a prize. He was only 22, but he was married, with a kid, and he had his finances in order. I was super-impressed.

So I wrote this column about him, and I thought I’d rerun it here today.

Let me give you the stories of two men. One we’ll call Jim. He married straight out of high school—rather an anomaly today. He didn’t go to college, but immediately took a job at a financial planning firm in Windsor. He became certified in investments, and worked his little butt off building his own client base. He looks about 12, but he always dresses impeccably in suits.

Jim’s first child was born two years ago, when he was about 20 or 21. Today his family is still doing quite well, despite the economic downturn. They’re saving up for a downpayment on a house, building their little nest egg at a time when most men his age are still living in their parents’ basement. At one point Jim would have been quite typical; today he sounds like a dinosaur.

Now let’s talk about Bob. When Bob was Jim’s age, marriage was the furthest thing from his mind. He concentrated on working as little as possible so that he could play as hard as possible. He took extended vacations to the Caribbean so he could scuba dive, renting apartments with other twenty-somethings. He lived a carefree life until well into his late thirties, working odd jobs, minimizing his income and maximizing his fun.

At 38, though, he met the woman of his dreams and settled down. They’ve since had three kids, and while both he and his wife are working, money is tight. They’re starting almost twenty years after Jim did, and neither of them used those in-between years to shore up any sort of nest egg.

Many people just don’t worry about saving when they’re single.

But in the long run they do themselves a disservice, because when they do marry (if they do), they’ve lost about a decade or so of good earning years and saving years.

Now 44, Bob is juggling saving for a house, putting money aside for his kids’ education, and contributing to a retirement savings plan. He’s in a really difficult bind, because time is no longer on his side. He has to put money into a retirement savings plan if he’s going to have anything at retirement, but he also has incredible family expenses right now, too.

One thing Jim teaches his financial clients is that if they save $2000 a year in a retirement account from ages 19-26, as he is planning to do, they can then afford to stop for a bit and save up for a house. If you wait like Bob did, though, and don’t start contributing until you’re in your late thirties, putting in $2000 a year until you’re 65, guess who has more money in the end? Jim does, even though he actually contributed far less. That money has more time to accumulate and grow! It’s starting early that makes all the difference.

If you’re in your twenties right now, even if you don’t have a family of your own, chances are one day you will.

And if you want the rest of your life to be much less stressful, squirrel away money for a house and retirement now, before you need it, to avoid feeling the crunch later.

I know cash is short when you’re in your twenties, but you don’t need a big-screen TV. You don’t need to eat out every night.

You don’t need all the latest gadgets. It may seem like responsibility is a long way off, but think instead of these years as the breather years. You don’t have any major expenses, so now is the time when saving is actually the easiest. Don’t just coast through life until responsibility hits. Act responsibly now, and you’ll be so much more comfortable in the end.

Is Marriage Worth It? Ending Marriage’s Bad Rap

Is marriage worth it? Why we shouldn't talk down marriage so much

Is marriage worth it?

That’s a question so many people ask today. All around them it seems like everyone is divorcing and married people are miserable. But is that actually true? I wrote a column a few years ago where I tried to end marriage’s bad rap, and I thought it was time to post it again.

If an alien were to peruse the magazines at the checkout counter, he or she would likely conclude that humans are all masochists: we’re inexplicably drawn to the institution of marriage even though we know our partners will cheat on us, denigrate us, and complain about our lack of bedroom prowess. Our kids, reading those same headlines, are likely to become disenchanted with the institution, too. Marriage is a pipe dream. The most we can hope for is a few years of happiness before it all falls apart.

After all, even beauty, that most prized possession, can’t keep a spouse in line. Tiger’s wife is beautiful. Sandra Bullock is beautiful. Jennifer Aniston is beautiful. But their husbands all ran around on them. And women aren’t that much better. Leanne Rimes, Jennifer Lopez, Heidi Klum–even Whoopi Goldberg!–have all been caught cheating.

The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and DivorceDisastrous relationships and celebrity seem to go hand in hand, of course, from as far back as Cleopatra. But today it’s not just celebrities whose marriages are failing. Many kids who have witnessed family breakdown firsthand. Those they know and love couldn’t make it work, so why should they expect to find lifelong companionship themselves?

Let me attempt to answer that question. Yes, marriage is hard. Yes, people can have affairs. But despite the epidemic of non-commitment in Hollywood, more than 50% of marriages do survive in the here and now—and the rate is higher for first-time marriages. Sure many marriages fail, but it’s not as if the institution is dead. In fact, Shaunti Feldhahn crunched the numbers in her book The Good News About Marriage and found that the divorce rate is closer to 30%. Things are not as bad as magazine covers make them out to be.

Thinking marriage is going to fail, though, can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If we figure marriage is doomed, we’re far less likely to look for someone that we can see ourselves growing old with, and far more likely to seek someone to be with right now. That can cause immense heartbreak, but also more seriously it can lead to pregnancies that hand us the hardest job in the world—parenthood—without a partner to shoulder the burdens and the joys with. When we don’t believe in long-term relationships, we often get too involved in short-term ones, even if these short-term ones have long-term consequences.

The problems with forsaking life-time commitment don’t just fall on those who have yet to say “I do”, though; they chase those who have already promised it. When people think that they can run if things aren’t going their way, they’re far less likely to work on problems. And if you feel like your commitment isn’t solid, you’re less likely to bring up problems, too. Your marriage can’t grow.

Case for MarriageYet problems don’t have to signal the end of a relationship.

In their book, A Case for Marriage, Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher reported on a five-year study of couples who rated their marriages as terrible. Those who divorced in that five-year span were less likely to be personally happy than those who stuck it out. But even more striking, 78% of couples who stayed in their marriages, even during the tough times, five years later rated those marriages as very good. In other words, if your marriage is in the toilet, it’s not necessarily time to flush it.

And so is marriage worth it? Well, you have to believe in marriage to see it work: it’s just too hard to keep a relationship together when one person has left the escape hatch open. Yes, people can cheat on you. Yes, they can betray you. Maybe you’ve already been married and you’ve experienced this firsthand. But it doesn’t mean that all potential spouses will forsake you. Most marriages still work. Marriage is worth it. And marriage is worth fighting for, because life is just too lonely without someone to walk through it with us.

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When Are You a Grown Up?

Grown UpWhen are you grown up? That’s a question I’ve always been mildly plagued by.

And so today, as I’m taking the summer a little bit more lightly (and catching up on some knitting!), I thought I’d rerun this column I wrote back in September of 2009 that takes a stab at answering that question.

I was not a happy teenager. I didn’t particularly like the high school scene, the ridiculous courses, the boring teachers, and the regimented schedule.

I used to dream of finally being a grown up and being allowed to make my own decisions.

I idolized adulthood.

Then I hit eighteen and nothing magical happened. Surely I’d feel like a grown up in university, though, right? Or maybe when I landed my first full-time job?

Nope.

Many of my friends seemed comfortable in their skin. They knew who they were, and they weren’t afraid of letting others know where they stood. But I was still waiting for some magical writing from heaven to appear and label me, once and for all, an adult, so that I could feel capable, mature, and competent, too.

Unfortunately the writing failed to materialize. And yet, sometime in the last few decades, I must have crossed an invisible line. It may not have been accompanied by thunderous applause, but I definitely passed from mini-me to fully-me. Even though I can’t define the precise mode of this miraculous transformation, I can tell you the results.

I knew I was a grown up when…

I knew I was a grown up when it came to men when I could stop asking, “Does he like me?”, and start asking, “Do I like him?” And when the answer was yes, I married him.

When it came to children, I knew I was a grown up when I stopped worrying what other people thought of my kids’ behaviour or development and just concentrated on being the best mom I could be.

I was a grown up, too, when I stopped pulling out the makeup and the mousse to impress other people, but just started doing it to make myself feel pretty. When I started prioritizing feeling good in my body, I felt like a grown up in it, too.

I was a grown up when I could calmly talk to a salesperson about what their establishment had done that was beyond the pale, instead of letting them walk all over me.

I was a grown up when I could invite people over for dinner and not worry about whether they’d like what I prepared. I’d just cook what I liked, and figured everybody else would make do.

I was a grown up when I called my mom for her advice, and not her approval.

I was a grown up when the fact that my father didn’t understand me became a cause for pity for him, rather than for angst, anger, or introspection on my behalf.

I was a grown up when I started letting myself dream dreams, instead of living out the dreams other people thought I should have.

I felt like a grown up when I acted like others were my equals, instead of feeling insecure around those who were of higher rank or status than I was.

I felt like a grown up when I could run into an acquaintance and have a conversation and not remember until the next day that I was supposed to be mad at them. I guess I don’t carry grudges the same way anymore.

And I knew I was a grown up when I stopped worrying about whether or not I was one.

I don’t have to wait for my life to start; I have to make my life what I want it to be. This is my life; it’s up to me to live it. After all, I am a grown up, even if it’s been a long time coming.

Are Children Worth It? When People Forego Parenting

Kids Are Worth It: What happens when society decides that remaining childless is better?

Are children worth it? That’s a question many adults are asking today, and as they look around at mortgage debt and popsicle mess and day care woes, many are deciding they’re not. I think kids ARE worth it–and if society doesn’t agree, we’re in trouble.

I talked about this back in a column in 2005, and I thought I’d rerun it now. I understand some women don’t have children, even though they desperately want to, because of infertility issues, and this column is definitely not directed at you. I know how painful that is. But more and more are choosing not to have kids, and I wanted to address that today.

I’m really not sure why I had children, except that I was supposed to. I wanted someone to love me, and I wanted to love in return, but I didn’t think about it much beyond that.

Fifty years ago, that would have been true for just about everybody. Today it’s not. More and more people are choosing to remain childless (and more are childless not by choice, but that’s another story). In Canada our birth rate now hovers around 1.6, far below the replacement level needed of 2.1. And it’s not because families are getting smaller; it’s because more people, even those in committed relationships, are choosing not to have families at all.

While for an individual couple this may be the best choice, for a society it certainly isn’t.

If we want Canada as a nation and a culture to survive, we need a higher birth rate. So why is it plummeting?

I read recently on Steve Janke’s blog the proposition that it’s because children no longer have value. Before you jump all over me, let me elaborate. At one point, Janke explained, children were your retirement savings plan and your health insurance. They took care of you if you were old or sick. Once the government stepped in into these roles, we didn’t “need” children in the same practical way we did before.

I would even go one step further and say that in those glorious “olden days” when people walked to school uphill both ways, children would have added economically to your household. They were expected to help on the farm or the business. Having children enabled you to have a larger house, a larger farm, and generally prosper more than you would have otherwise. Today it’s the opposite. Children don’t add; they subtract. We live in a child-centred world where it is us who are expected to work: we must drive our kids to lessons; sacrifice time to help them with homework; save a fortune for their education. When we have kids, we have more work, not less work.

And so I think there’s something else going on. If you’re a young adult surveying the parental scene, you see harried parents chronically short on cash because hockey costs so much this year. You see them tying themselves in knots because their toddler won’t sleep through the night, their seven-year-old can’t read, or their teenager has gotten into the wrong crowd. It looks like a recipe for an ulcer.

The one thing you can’t see is what’s going on inside those parents.

You don’t see what happens in the heart the first time you hold your baby. You can’t see what being a parent does to you; how it makes you love life so much more, care about the world so much more, or brings a richness to your life you never believed possible. I am not saying that non-parents can’t experience love; only that being a parent is a joy like no other, and cannot truly be comprehended until one experiences it.

There once were enough societal and economic pressures to have children that people tended to make that choice, and so they did experience that joy. Today, with those pressures gone, how many will decide not to procreate, and in so doing lose the joy that we only realize once we’ve already taken the plunge?

At one point parenthood was one of the experiences that we all had in common.

We had all gone through labour in some form or another, or stayed up all night with a child with croup, or kissed a boo-boo. Even if language or religion or culture or class separated us, we were all parents. When we lose these shared experiences we lose a shared culture. Parenting is hard work, and it requires more sacrifice today, perhaps, than it did a century ago. But it is still worth it. I know some will always choose to remain childless, and that’s okay. But I hope our country as a whole does not turn its back on parenthood. Babies are our future, and they really are irreplaceable.

After this column was out, I was interviewed on CBC radio and asked on a TV show to talk about why kids are worth it. You can see a little clip from that TV show here.

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Sometimes We All Need Someone to Save Us

Sometimes we ALL Need Someone to Save UsTo me, today is the holiest day of the year. Easter is the day of celebration; today is the sombre reflection of how much Christ paid so that we could be united with Him.

As I was thinking about what I wanted to share, this story that I wrote in a column last year kept coming back to me, and so I thought I would reprint it. Here’s why: way too often we think we can do life alone. We can just try harder, work harder, put in a little more effort, and we’ll reach our goals. But what if trying harder won’t get you anywhere? What if what we all need to do is be humble and admit that we need help? Sometimes we ALL need Someone to save us.

Christ died so that we wouldn’t have to do life alone. And today I want to tell you this funny story as a word picture that no matter where we are in life, it’s better to stop trying, and start grabbing His hand.

Apparently I value my life at twenty U.S. dollars.

At least, that’s what I tipped the Mexican guy who saved me from drowning last week.

My daughter and I were vacationing in Cozumel, eager for some wonderful snorkeling. And while two of our excursions were highly successful, on one particular day we decided to snorkel right off the beach in front of a popular restaurant. The reef was teeming with life, but unfortunately the current was surprisingly strong. We had no problem swimming out, but when we tried to swim back to the dock, we kept veering to the right.

Within a few minutes a Mexican guy had swum out to us with a flutterboard, but I refused it. I’m a good swimmer. I can tread water for hours. I’ve finished swims that were several kilometres long.

When the flutterboard was proffered, I was so embarrassed. “I should be able to do this,” I kept thinking. “Oh, come on, Sheila. This is ridiculous. Just swim harder.”

My daughter, who is a lifeguard, found it challenging, though she managed to reach the ladder. But though I got within about twenty feet of it, I couldn’t get any closer. All I was doing was standing still. So finally I reached out, grabbed that board, and was pulled in.

Looking back I’m not sure why I was so stubborn. I guess I just didn’t want to accept the fact that I needed help. I considered myself a competent, if not good, swimmer. If I took help, it was as if I would be admitting that I am not as in control as I think I am.

I wonder how often in my personal life I’ve done the same thing—I like to think of myself as in control, and accepting help is admitting weakness. None of us wants to think we are weak.

Often we’d rather have the frustration of butting our heads against a wall rather than give in to the fear of being vulnerable.

No wonder so many of us are spending our lives treading water. Maybe debt is piling up and we honestly have no idea how to create a budget. But mature people know how to stick to a budget! Admitting you have a problem is like saying you’re not mature. So the red ink keeps getting redder.

Or perhaps that pain is getting worse, but we don’t want to go to a doctor because we hate hospitals, and we’re too young to start falling apart. Maybe the principal keeps calling reporting more problems with a wayward child, but you don’t want to admit that something’s really wrong because it could reflect badly on choices you’ve made. And so you lash out at the messenger.

My husband and I speak at marriage conferences, and while I love sharing our failures and victories, the conferences always make me a little sad. There are two types of couples who go: those who can’t keep their hands off of each other, because they’re blissfully happy and want to make sure it stays that way, and those who are about to file for divorce and are giving it one last chance. I always wonder about the middle: those who have a few issues that a little help could easily remedy, but who don’t want to admit they may have problems. And so they wait until everything blows up.

We aren’t meant to walk through this life alone.

Certainly many of us just need to get more disciplined and try harder and we’d be more successful. But sometimes discipline won’t cut it. Sometimes you need help. And in that case, it’s far better to grab that flutterboard and let the hunky Mexican guy save you.

Does God Make a Difference in Marriage Part 2

Does God Make a Difference in MarriageDoes God make a difference in your marriage?

Last week I made some observations that often Christians act like God doesn’t really make a difference in our lives, and everything is ultimately up to us. We just don’t really have faith that God will actually move.

I see that in marriage, too, and I want to see how two different trends–though they may seem like they have nothing to do with each other–actually show that we have a long way to go with marriage.

1. Christians Divorce at the Same Rate as Non-Christians–Right?

You’ve heard that stat, haven’t you? In fact, it’s even worse than that. I’ve heard the stat that 50% of marriages end in divorce–but that it’s even higher in the Bible belt.

Do you believe it?

Chances are you do because Christians quote it all the time. We announce it from pews. We use it to fundraise for family organizations–Christian marriages need all the help they can get! We’re in dire straits, people!

Yet think it through logically. Do we believe that having God in your life should make a difference? Do we believe that God works in people’s lives? If we do, then how could it possibly be that our marriages are as bad as everyone else’s?

I started to wonder that recently and so I did an experiment. I looked through my church directory to see how many were divorced. It was closer to 10%.  Then I wondered–maybe that’s skewed, because once people divorce they stop going to church? So I thought back on the couples I knew in university. I wrote out a long list of all my university friends who had gotten married. And of all of them (we knew each other from the campus Christian group), only 2 had been divorced–a rate of about 5%.

I read a study recently that said that in marriages where couples pray together daily the divorce rate is more like 2%. I believe that. It makes sense to me. And I’ve read critiques of that study that found that our divorce rate was just as high because they really didn’t define “Christian”. Practically everyone claims to be a Christian, and so that’s pretty meaningless. We want to flesh out what the divorce rate is among those who honestly believe and try to live out their faith. I want to write a post looking at all the accurate studies, but I haven’t done that yet. I’ve actually been talking to a major magazine about writing it, and that’s why I’m not linking to studies here. I want to make sure they’re accurate first and do my homework.

But the main question I have is:

why is it that Christians were so quick to believe that stat that God doesn’t make a difference?

2. Does God Make a Difference in YOUR Marriage?

Maybe the reason we’re so quick to believe it is because in our own lives we still really struggle with marriage. It’s an area that has brought us a lot of hurt and grief over the years, and we haven’t felt the “victory” or the “oneness” or the “intimacy” we long for.

I have to tell you that the last few weeks I’ve been really burdened by the emails that get sent to me. I had to turn off the Messages feature on Facebook because I couldn’t keep up with them all. And I’ve got Reader Questions of the Week now scheduled through to the end of June! But I started to keep track everyday of all the problems I heard about–really, really big problems–and then at the end of the day I’d show them to my husband. And we’d pray over them and I’d let them go. It helped me to realize how I was beginning to be changed by what I do, and I’m praying more for strength to really make a difference.

But the simple fact is that many, many of you are really hurting, and my heart breaks for you. Many, many of you are wondering, if we’re Christians why does my husband play video games for 6 hours a day? Why can he not get over this porn addiction? Why do I have no patience for him? Why am I always so frustrated with him? Why can I not motivate myself to show him love anymore?

From speaking at marriage conferences and talking to couples and to counselors, I completely believe that God can make a difference in a marriage. If you run to Him and you’re humble and you’re open to correction about the things that you have done wrong, and not just open to God correcting your spouse, God can do amazing things.

Even if your spouse isn’t turning to God, God can still work in your marriage. It doesn’t mean your marriage will always be saved; but He can work.

Yet often I see couples where both claim Christ, and where both go to church, and where both would say that they believe, and yet they are getting nowhere.

I don’t believe the problem is that you don’t have God. I believe the problem is that God doesn’t have you. (Click to Tweet this quote)

God is not like a mechanic where you can take your broken marriage and He’ll fix it for you. He doesn’t work that way. He’s not a mechanic; He’s a potter who wants to mold you into something better. But He can’t mold something that is hard and brittle; He can only mold us when we’re pliable, when we are humble, when we are open to be molded.

God isn’t really interested in fixing your spouse nearly as much as He’s interested in having your heart. And if we are humble before Him, He can transform us, which can start to transform a marriage. If your spouse is also humble before Him, He is then free to do a beautiful and amazing work!

But we have to stop making excuses. We have to stop pointing fingers. And we have to do the work!

I’m really burdened by a relationship issue in my extended family, and it’s causing me to pray like I never have before. That’s the beauty of relationship issues; they drive us to God. My instinct is to get on the phone and try to force the issue and make it all better, but like Calm Healthy Sexy wrote in a post she linked up to Wifey Wednesday this week, we have to wait on God’s timing. She says:

The devotional book I’m reading, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, reminded me this week to “stop trying to work things out before their times have come.”  That idea really spoke to me; it made me realize that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do.  Even though I believe in God’s timing in my life, I haven’t been operating as if I believe in it at all.  I’ve acted as if everything depends on me, as if I just need to keep charging ahead and things will fall into place exactly as I’ve planned.  The only problem is, it’s not working.

We have to pray and then honestly walk in faith. We have to wrestle. We have to cry. And we have to believe.

Yesterday I took a day to fast and pray with a “blogging buddy” of mine from the other side of the continent. We prayed for each other all day and for ourselves and then at the end of the day we called each other and prayed on the phone together. We were both burdened by something similar and we needed God to lift that burden. But that meant also emptying ourselves and fighting for it. It meant giving God more of us, not just asking for more of Him.

If you believe in God, He should be making a difference in your marriage. If He’s not, the problem is likely not with God. It’s likely that He wants to bring you deeper, or bring your husband deeper. Of course you can do everything right and lean on God and your marriage may still not be saved, but even in that God wants you to lean and trust, because He does want to make a difference even in the brokenness. But maybe, instead of getting angry at our spouses and feeling defeated and feeling lost we need to throw ourselves more on God and get back to the only source that can bring real healing.

Do we believe God works, or not? I fear too often we really don’t, and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When Women Start Saying “No” to Church Activities

Saying No to Church Activities

On Fridays I usually publish some opinion pieces. I used to publish my columns, but I quit my weekly column a few weeks ago. I am, however, the female columnist for Faith Today, Canada’s largest Christian magazine, and I thought I’d publish my first column for them, about how overburdened many women are by church activities.

I hate it when someone from our church family dies.

I’m not talking about hating grief. Grief is a normal part of life. I’m talking about hating guilt.

And when someone I don’t know from our church passes away, I invariably receive that guilt-inducing phone call: Can you make sandwiches for the funeral?

I must have missed the Sunday School lesson when they taught girls how to make funeral sandwiches, because I don’t know where to start.

I don’t like tuna or salmon sandwiches to begin with; I’m more of a soup-for-lunch kind of gal. And I hate mustard. Sandwiches at funerals always have mustard.

But it’s not the fact that my palate doesn’t suit the typical church funerals that bothers me. It’s that I have no time. I understand that someone has to make the sandwiches, but does it have to be me?

Life is certainly busy, but I think one of the biggest sources of stress isn’t the amount of work on our plate; it’s that nagging feeling that one more straw is going to cause the whole thing to come crashing down.

And for many Christian women, church commitments feel like that final straw.

If I’m super-organized and super-energetic, it is possible to keep my house clean and to get all my work done and, hopefully, to head to the grocery store before we discover that all we have in the cupboards are tins of cranberry sauce and cream of mushroom soup.

But if an emergency–or a funeral–comes up, I’m in trouble. I have no margins in my life.

I don’t think I’m unusual. Most women are pulled in so many different directions that we’re seriously in danger of burning out. Even women who don’t work outside the home are busy. Their husbands may have shift work, or the kids are in activities, or they’re baby-sitting for grandkids. When most adults started working outside the home, it affected those inside the home, too. There’s more work to go around and fewer hands to do it.

Women have become busier, but church life hasn’t adapted to this new reality. It’s still expected that women will teach Sunday School, run the nursery, cook for the potlucks, and supply the funeral sandwiches. That’s what a church community is all about, right?

Now most churches do have a dedicated army of older women who have given selflessly over the years to create community. They’ve cooked more casseroles than President’s Choice, they’ve decorated for Christmas and Easter longer than I’ve been alive, and they’ve made church homey and inviting.  We couldn’t function without them.


Unfortunately, there aren’t very many of them left, and my generation isn’t exactly clamouring to fill their spots.  And so these ladies, who have given tirelessly for decades, have even more thrown at them. They “overfunction”, as Peter and Geri Scazzero, authors of The Emotionally Church Church say, filling in the gaps so that other people–including many of the men–can get away with underfunctioning. Churches tend to take advantage of those who consistently say yes, instead of telling them, “You’ve done enough.”

And this dysfunctional system can’t right itself until the over-functioning people start saying no.

Looking around, I think we’re just about at that point. Women are just too tired, and few men will willingly take on the jobs women have been doing in the background for years. If churches want to support the women in their midst, then, they will start adapting to the new reality.

We all still crave a vibrant community life, but let’s think outside the box about how to create it.

Host community events that don’t require work, but just let us put our feet up and relax. Hold more family games nights–after the dinner hour, so we don’t have to bring food. Invite women to simple scrapbooking and craft get-togethers where we can relax doing things we long to do–rather than organizing a big women’s day that requires a ton of volunteer hours.

Instead of focusing on church programming that adds “extras” onto our lives, incorporate things we already do. Host homework clubs on Saturday morning where parents can pool their knowledge, or host once-a-month freezer cooking days where parents can all gather together and cook meals to last a month. And, please, ask people to throw money into a pot to have the funeral catered, rather than requiring women to make sandwiches. I’d much rather give $20 than an hour of my time.

In other words, meet us where we’re at. And don’t expect me to buy any mustard.

UPDATE: I’m getting some push back in the comments, and I want to just state that I DO run a whole ministry in our church–I run our youth quizzing program which meets for two hours before the service every Sunday, and then has four out of town tournaments every year. So I am serving! I’m not saying we shouldn’t serve. What I’m saying is that many of the things we are asked to do aren’t necessary and don’t serve to build community, and maybe if we focused more on the real needs we’d be more effective. I don’t have room to say everything because I have a tight word count, but read in the comments for more thoughts!

It’s kind of ironic that I would write this, since I actually make a fair amount of my income speaking at women’s events. I know that the occasional “big” event is really helpful and necessary. But I still believe that what most women crave is fellowship, not teaching, and if we could design women’s retreats less around making crafts and more around letting women just talk, we’d get a lot further ahead (and need far fewer volunteer hours).

A New Chapter–And My Last Column

Sheila Knitting

Today is my last Reality Check column that I’m writing for newspapers.

I’ve been doing this for 11 1/2 years, but after a lot of prayer and thought I notified the papers that this would be my last week.

I’m just finding that my other writing responsibilities are expanding so fast, and a weekly deadline is a stress that is getting too hard to manage.

Another Reality Check cover 175I’m not going to stop writing, though, and I’m actually excited about what this opens up on the blog. On Fridays I’d like to start writing more contemplative/commentary pieces, rather than advice pieces. Just posts about what I’m thinking, or what God’s telling me, or what ticks me off in the news right now (sometimes we all need posts like that!). I guess basically the same sort of thing I wrote my columns about, except that I can be explicitly Christian if I want to be, and I don’t have to aim for just 600 words.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

Playing with Fire (do we treat adultery too cavalierly?) I’d love to run more where I’m just thinking out loud about current issues!

So I’m not going anywhere–I’m just not going to be in the paper anymore. I’m so glad that God gave me that opportunity to write in a bunch of local papers, but it has come time to move on.

In the meantime, if you’ve liked my columns, I do have a book with my absolute favourite ones since 2005 right here. You can also get the .pdf for just $2.99 (it’s on sale this week!)

Here’s my column:


The only constant in life is change. Some seasons of life, though, rush changes through even more than others, and I’m in the midst of one of those seasons. One daughter has left home; one is learning to drive. I have two book contracts due this year. And perimenopause is causing my hemoglobin levels to plummet faster than Rob Ford’s reputation. Call me unimpressed.

When I started writing this column my children were five and seven. We were just beginning our homeschooling journey. Today instead of my days being consumed with teaching math and reading great books out loud, I’m writing blog posts and planning speaking tours and trying to find time to write more books.

And so it is that after eleven and a half years, and six hundred columns, I’ve decided to concentrate on other things. My blog is taking so much of my attention that I find deadlines a little more intimidating than I did when the biggest thing on my plate was finishing a Science lesson with my daughters.

I type this with a heavy heart, because I have so enjoyed having this outlet for my thoughts. Whenever I felt ticked about something, I would always think, “I can write a column about that!” And I’d start planning it–while driving, while in the shower, while making dinner. It was wonderful to know that I’d be able to put my thoughts down on paper.

Being a local columnist was such a treat, too. I couldn’t go to the grocery store, or take my kids to swimming, or walk into church without someone mentioning last week’s column. People read what I wrote, and for that I am very humbled and very grateful.

I still have issues which I wish I could have explored more, or at least lended a little more eloquence. I am dreadfully worried about the institution of marriage, because I do think that it’s the bedrock of healthy children, healthy families, and a healthy society.

I am constantly frustrated by our entitlement culture, and by the way the government bends over backwards for those who have messed up, while leaving those who have done nothing wrong flailing. And I can’t think of a better example of government’s failing than with the foster care system. We give biological parents chance after chance, letting them collect welfare money, methadone treatments, and many other government programs, while their kids languish in care. Too few are adopted out, because parents are given “second chances”. And by the time the kids are taken away for good, they’re so scarred that adopting them is difficult. Why do parents get second chances while kids don’t even get first chances?

We will never have a healthy society until people bear the consequences of their actions. We are fostering too much irresponsibility, and not enough maturity and independence. And it scares me.

And so there is still much to say, and much work to do. I will just be doing it a different way. I’m in the middle of writing a book for Simon & Schuster called 9 Thoughts That Will Change Your Marriage. My blog, To Love, Honor and Vacuum (tolovehonorandvacuum.com), had 600,000 visits last month, and it’s growing all the time. I share my parenting and marriage thoughts there, and I do hope you will join me.

Most of all, though, I hope that over the last eleven and a half years I have written something that has made you love your family more, smile at strangers more, or consider faith again. If I have done that, then I will be happy indeed.

When Are You An Adult?

Every Friday my column appears in a bunch of papers in Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week let’s talk about what it means to be an adult. This week we’ve been talking about how to raise great kids, and my own daughters have chimed in with my 16-year-old explaining why she’s not dating in high school and my 19-year-old explaining why she didn’t rebel as a teen. I thought this was a good way to finish up the series.

When are you an adult.Canadians rejoiced loudly last week when we were victorious in Olympic hockey. Facebook was taken over for 48 hours by a constant barrage of “Way to Go, Canada!” while #WeAreWinter surged on Twitter.

In the midst of the revelry, though, an American story about freestyle skiing halfpipe gold medalist David Wise caught my attention.

Wise is 23-years-old, and has been married for several years to his wife Alexandra. They have a two-year-old daughter together. NBC reported on his win like this: “David Wise’s alternative lifestyle leads to Olympic gold.”

Being married with a child in your early twenties is now an “alternative lifestyle”, and the statistics actually bear this out.

According to Stats Canada, the average age of first marriage in Canada is now 29 for women and 31 for men.

Even more telling to me, though, was that NBC also added this line: “At such a young age, Wise has the lifestyle of an adult.”

The lifestyle of an adult when you’re 23 and–how shall I put this?–an adult! The fact that we can be so surprised that a 23-year-old is behaving like an adult makes me a little sad.

I was married at 21; when I was 23 I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, who is now studying in second year at university. I raised my kids while I was in my mid-twenties, and still in great shape to lug babies and strollers up flights of stairs in the subway system in Toronto. When Keith and I were first married we started saving like crazy. We budgeted well and managed to scrounge together enough for a small downpayment on a house when we were in our late twenties. It wasn’t a large house, and back then neither of us had very well paying jobs. But we figured out how to stretch our money, and we made it work.

When we announced our engagement back in 1991, many were a little incredulous. How can we be so sure when we’re that young? You need to live more, see more of the world, try more things before you settle down! In fact, “settling down” was portrayed as something bad, as if life ends once you make a commitment. Yet for me, that was more when life began. In fact, happiness studies show that satisfaction comes not from living a carefree lifestyle, but instead from finding meaning and belonging while also feeling productive. Maybe younger people have trouble “finding themselves” because they’re looking in the wrong place.

I’m not arguing that people should get married younger; most people, after all, really aren’t ready.

But maybe that’s the root of the problem: we are raising people to not be “adults” until they reach thirty.

That’s become the culturally accepted norm.

Instead of the teen years being the decade in which you grow up, it’s now the twenties. Is that healthy for a society?
I always believed you were an adult at eighteen, but for that to happen an 18-year-old has to be ready to launch into the adult world. That means they have to know how to maintain a household, including knowing how to cook and clean. They have to know how to manage money. They have to be employable (or at least in school to become employable). They have to be responsible. And few 18-year-olds can accomplish all that unless we as parents start raising them to be adults earlier.

I’m not sure we’re doing favours by extending childhood until people are thirty. Perhaps we’d all be better off if we expected people to act like adults once they were, actually, adults.

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