Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Meaning of it All

Tomorrow is my birthday and for some reason this year I find myself in a bit of a mid-thirties crisis. For the last couple of days I have bounced back and forth from being depressed to being manic about the state of my life.

I think the issue is that I expected more from myself. As a teen I was told over and over that I had unlimited potential, that I could do anything I put my mind and effort into...and I believed it. I also believed that I had unlimited time to accomplish my feats of greatness. I was going to be a journalist, travel the world covering stories of global significance. After I was done with all the travel I was going to write books - scads of books on a multitude of topics. I was going to win awards and go on lecture tours. I was going to be intelligent, confident and fabulous.

That was my plan. My reality was that I never found my footing in university and did not complete my Arts degree. Instead of travelling around the world I met and married Mr. Awesome when I was 21 and by the time I was 24 I was a mom. For the past ten years I have been a mom. That`s it. A mom. And not always a very good one.

The last month has been a tough one in our house. Cabin fever combined with a few changes in our home has created a lot of stress and has triggered chaos with our oldest son. I have mentioned before that he has Asperger`s Syndrome (on the Autism Spectrum of Disorders) and for him it means that he has trouble in social situations and with risk assessment. Recently he has been very combative and anxious about everything...which has resulted in more than a few less than stellar parenting moments on my part.

So this morning when he was having his twentieth melt down of the day I had a melt down of my own. I think disappointment in my lack of accomplishments mixed with my feelings of inadequacy as a parent and the result was a torrent of tears over the kitchen sink. I had just finished yelling at everyone and sending all of the kids to their rooms and was feeling pretty crumby about it. So as I stood their sobbing I suddenly felt two little arms wrap around my waist.

It was Gavin, my son with Asperger`s Syndrome. The boy who was never supposed to be able to have or express empathy, who would never be able to understand nor express emotions appropriately. It was this boy who saw his mom crying and came over to offer comfort.

`I can see that you are sad, Mom. Don`t be sad because I love you.`

That`s what he said. He saw an emotion, interpreted it correctly and offered an appropriate response. He empathized.

So I may not be an award winning author or world traveller but I am a mom. And maybe my greatness is not meant to be something that the world can measure by university degrees and credentials, maybe my greatness is meant to be raising this boy (and his two incredible siblings) to be a compassionate, generous and brilliant adult.

Maybe my greatness is being just a mom. That`s it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Inspired to Finish

Inspire - to serve as the enticing cause, to urge or or encourage, to fill with revolutionary ideas

Folks who really know me know that I am very easily inspired. I read Anne of Green Gables and wanted to be a red headed orphan, I watched 'Rudy' and I wanted to play football for Notre Dame, I have a thought and I immediately write a story synopsis. Some days I can have a new 'inspiration' every two minutes...just ask my husband.

But being 'inspired' to start something isn't enough.

I am a fan of having lofty dreams, of allowing the world around me to stir my emotions and compel me into action but I have come to understand the value of reason, planning and follow through when added to these emotional surges. The Bible says that 'faith without works is dead' and I must say that I think the same could be said for inspiration without dedication.

I am an enthusiastic starter. I can hype myself into all kinds of excitement at the beginning of a project but once that emotional high wears off I often become bored and restless. When things stop being fun I have a hard time motivating myself to completion. I'm not sure why I have this tendency but its there, its annoying and I must change it.

People set a lot of value on being/getting inspired to start something but true inspiration is the inspiration to finish something, to see something to completion because that is the inspiration of growth and maturity...that is the inspiration that is a gift.

In an effort to be a grown up about things I am making a pledge to myself and the three other people who read this blog...I will finish what I have started. So next time you see me don't ask me "what's new lately?" ask me what I've finished lately.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Practicing Motherhood

Doctors, dentists and lawyers have a 'practice.' Mothers are expected to practicing, just be. How is that fair?

You are born and spend the next five years being taught how to be a person. You are taught to walk, talk and eat with utensils. You learn how to share, to look both ways before crossing the street and that recycling is a good thing for the earth. Then you go to school.

You spend the next twelve years learning how to think. You learn to read and write so you can update your Facebook status and read your friends' Facebook statuses. You learn the basics of math so you can buy a slurpee and not get short changed. You learn about science, history and social studies so you can blow stuff up, learn about other people who blew stuff up and how the world felt after their stuff was blown up. Then off you go to higher learning.

You go to university, college, become an apprentice and spend the next four to twelve years of your life learning a skill or trade that will allow you the privilege of being called 'grown-up' and the responsibility of paying the bills. And then you think, "Let's start a family," and suddenly you ARE a mother.

There is no school for mothers. There is no apprenticeship. You don't get to sit back for four years and learn the ins and outs of motherhood and then under supervision try it out for a few weeks to see if your cut out for it. There is no competency test (though we all know there should be!). You don't get to practice being a mother, you just are.

That is why it drives me crazy to see strong, beautiful, loving women walk around in a cloud of worry and guilt over how they are raising their children. We all want the best for our kids. We want to give them the tools they need to be successful, productive adults. We want them to be happy, kind and compassionate. So we do our best. We try and succeed. And sometimes we try and fail.

So why is it when we succeed we say, "Whew! What a lucky break!" and when we fail we beat ourselves up and carry the failure around our necks like a monument to our short comings? We need to give ourselves a break and re frame how we look at motherhood.

Let's stop BEING mothers and start PRACTICING motherhood.

Motherhood is a skill like any other in a lot of ways. We need to give ourselves permission to do our best and keep striving for better. To forgive ourselves when we make mistakes. To understand that you don't need to be a great mother to raise a great just need to be a good mother.

A woman (and mother) whom I greatly respect told me that recently. "You don't need to be a great mother to raise a great just need to be a good mother." It was an IGIM ('I got it' moment) for me. I exhaled. I stopped trying to be a great mother and began practicing motherhood.

And the more I practice the better I'll be.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love Day

Today is Valentine's Day. The day where once a year everyone goes crazy for pink and red hearts, stuffed animals and roses. This is the day you celebrate being part of a twosome by being worried that your lover will forget to love you properly. And if you are not part of a twosome you depress yourself by pondering your aloneness while you eat copious amounts of heart shaped chocolate. Happy Valentine's?

Or you take a healthier approach to this day and you broaden your scope of love.

I have never been a fan of Valentine's Day. It felt like a day when a lot of people were left feeling out of the loop. It seemed that for this one day if you were not part of a couple you were no one and to me that has never been an okay message to send. Not even for one day.

So the first year I was with my husband I told him in no uncertain terms that I do not expect nor want any type of love fest on Valentine's Day. I do not need a grand gesture of love on February 14 because he loves me in a million small ways every day of the year. He went along with that, partly because he agreed with me and partly because it got him off the hook. Our ban on Valentine's Day lasted about three years and then I caved. I fell in love with a new man and everything changed.

The first Valentine's Day after our first son was born we celebrated Family Love Day. It wasn't anything we did intentionally, we were just so taken with this kid and this family love that Valentine's Day became something totally different for us. That first year when Gavin was 11 months old we celebrated the day with an extra long group cuddle in our bed, pancakes for breakfast and all the hugs and kisses G-man could handle. This tradition has carried on now for nine years. Every year we treat Valentine's Day like an anniversary for our family, a day when we love each other on purpose.

This year as we prepared for today I began to think about what this day means for our kids now and what it could mean to them in the future. Right now they are all pretty young and they see Family Love Day as a day to get some chocolate and a little gift. A day when we make a point of saying 'I love you' to each other and spend time just being together. Its not about being a couple, its about being a family.

It is our hope that as our kids get older they will continue to see February 14 as a day to love the people who are important to them instead of focusing on and seeking out romantic love. We hope that we are teaching them to be content with themselves just the way God made them. That they are enough and whole and complete on their own and that when the time is right God will help them to find another whole and complete person to make a life with...if that's what they desire.

And I'll say the same to you.

Today and every day, you are perfect and complete. You have gifts and talents and abilities that make you the treasure that you are. You are love and goodness and kindness. You are everything you need to be and everyday you are become more. Celebrate that. Celebrate you.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Be Not a Victim.

I've spent the last few days thinking about what to write today. Coming off of last week where I had a clear direction and my mind was in sync with my heart and the words just came. Today I am tired. My mind is slow and foggy. And my kid is having a bad day at school. I could probably fill this post with my Monday complaints but I am sure you don't want to hear it. In fact, I don't want to hear it from myself.

Sigh. Sip the Coffee.


The thing of it is that we all have struggles, no matter what day of the week it is. We all have moments where our attitude is kind of sucky, where someone is a jerk to us, where we make a bad decision and the consequences are tough to deal with. No one's life is harder or more stressful than anyone else's life. It just is what it is.

The difference is how we choose to deal with the tough times.

It is so easy to be all "Life is good" and "Bless God" when things are going your way. When your bank account is full, your house is clean and all your appliances work. When your kids are healthy, you've had a good night's rest and your spouse is being considerate. That is when staying positive is a cake walk. But have a health scare, a financial crisis or a conflict in a relationship and then let's see your reaction.

I believe it comes down one choice. To be a victim or not to be a victim. That is the question.

The victim throws a tantrum, screams at God, wallows and pitches a tent in the middle of the crisis and stays there waiting for someone else to rescue them. The victim has no sense of their own power. No inkling that they are strong enough to come through and survive. They need a revelation of who they are and what they are capable of. Everyone could use a hand of support in a rough time but no one should rely solely on the strength of another person to survive.

When you decide not to be a victim of circumstance you give yourself permission to be smart and strong and capable. You take power from the situation and put it back in your own hands. You say to God, "I can do it if You show me how." You become responsible for your own future. And very best of all, you decide to move past the crisis and keep living.

Today, on this foggy minded distracted Monday I want to let you know that you can. You Can. You can rise above. You are strong enough to walk through the storm. You are more than what is happening around you, to you. You are a Survivor. A Thriver.

I just thought you should know.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Person of Influence?

Today has been a tiring yet exceptional day. I spent most of today at a conference listening Dr. Robert Brooks. He is a parent, educator and psychologist and he is passionate about promoting the mental and emotional well being of children. This morning he spoke to 2300 school division staff (I was a volunteer at that session) and this evening he spoke to a much smaller crowd of parents.

He spoke of empathy, 'charismatic' adults and self evaluation. He challenged us. He questioned us. He gave us a lot to think about. But the thing that has stuck with me is the question, "if asked, what words would your kids use to describe you?"

That one kind of hurts to think about. I know what words I would hope they would use but I am also truthful enough with myself to know that hope and reality sometimes do not meet. But this question combined with this theme of people of influence got me thinking.

Am I a person of influence?

I want to be. I would like to think that there are some people whose lives I have impacted in a positive way. Someone who would say that they are a better person for knowing me. And most of all I hope that I am a charismatic adult to my own children. Now, I'm not fishing for compliments here, I am truly wondering how I would be described. What kind of lasting impressions have I made? And are those the impressions I meant to make?

I know what I want to communicate through my words and actions. I have a pretty clear idea of the person I hope to be. Am I succeeding in making those hopes my reality? Sometimes yes but often times no. But I continue to try, to do better, to be more. And I think that is the key.

All of the people whom I have written about this week are just people. Real flawed human beings. They all taught me some extraordinary lessons about self worth, faith, determination and purpose. But they all also made it clear that no one is perfect, that they were still learning and growing too. That lesson of perpetual growth is one I really appreciate in this stage of my life. I revel in the fact that this Nichole, who I am today is not as good as it gets. Tomorrow I will be a better person as long as I am not afraid to face my short comings and work on improving them.

So at the end of this ramble I'm going to ask you, are you a person of influence? Are you the person you want to be?

If not, its not too late. Keep learning, keep growing.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

People of Influence - Todd Petkau

There are a lot of things I don't know. I don't know how to juggle, knit or whistle. I don't know how to pick a lock, fold napkins into swans or drive a stick shift. I don't know how an airplane fights gravity and achieves flight. But I do know that God created me on purpose for a purpose.

I know beyond reason, beyond a shadow of a doubt that God loves me, He knows me and He has an incredible destiny for me. I know this so well because every Friday night for four years I was told this in one way or another. I was shown verses in the Bible that prove God's intention for me. And I have seen and felt His grace everyday.

And the person who spent every Friday night drilling this into my head, into my heart? Todd Petkau.

Pastor Todd Petkau was a cliche and an anomaly all wrapped up in one youth pastor package.

He was friendly, tried to be hip and had a strange affinity for the colours teal and purple. He ran the youth department with energy and intensity and wasn't afraid to try the big thing, the thing that would blow the socks off the students and make the church administration cringe. He was passionate about helping youth make a connection with God and an impact on their world. He 'got' us.

He instinctively knew that the only and best way to keep youth from following their peers into negative life choices is to show them the truth of who they are. So week after week Todd always brought the message back around to the one truth that God created each one of us. He knows our hearts and our dreams. He has given us each gifts and ability so that we may change the world and reach the lost.

He realized the importance of empowering young people to take part in their own present and future. It wasn't his youth group it was our youth group. Now, he didn't just throw us into the middle of ministry and say 'have at it.' He was constantly teaching us, training us and showing us the way. We went on countless ministry retreats where he taught us how to be peer leaders, the ins and outs of pulling off a successful event and most importantly, that there is a purpose to all we do.He gave us leadership and direction but we planned the events, we organized the praise and worship, we ran the drama team. We, the youth, did it all.

I would love to say we were always successful but we weren't. I wasn't. I was at the helm of at least one major flop on a Friday night. I didn't give the team I was leading enough time to prepare for the night. I knew things were not going to go well before the evening started and I told Todd as much. He just said, "Go with it. Do what you can."

It was horribly embarrassing for me. My name was literally all over this event and we bombed in a massive way. And not only in front of our regular attenders but in front of the 50 or so youth Todd had invited from other churches. At the end of the night I was exhausted, humiliated and crushed. I thought for sure Todd was never going to trust me to lead anything again. So I wasn't surprised when Todd asked me to have a chat with him before I went home.

He calmly asked me what went wrong, gave me time to take responsibility for my short comings and then he pulled out a pen and paper and said, "Here's what you do next time." Instead of reaming me out for messing up a youth event he taught me how to prepare a timeline and how to delegate more things. And he gave me another chance.

Todd taught me a lot about who I am and the kind of person I want to be. It was more than just his words, it was how he lived his life. He was an open book with us. There was no question he would not answer - and I mean NO question. It didn't matter if we asked him about the fruit of the spirit or masturbation, he'd answer. Honestly, Biblically and Openly.

Thank you Todd for being real, for believing that a bunch of teenagers can be world changers and for showing us our true identity in Christ.

The purpose of our Youth Ministry is "To minister to young people, meeting them where they are at, winning, building and equipping them through a number of Bible based programs, with the goal of developing them to be all they can be in Christ."
-Todd Petkau, 1992

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

People of Influence - Craig Kennedy

So its 1990, NKOTB were competing with Vanilla Ice for air play, Dances With Wolves was the critics choice in films but Edward Scissorhands had stolen the hearts teen everywhere. My closet was full of Andre Agassi t-shirts, denim overalls and scrunchies. I was 14 and entering grade nine.

I very clearly remember my first day of ninth grade. I was nervous. It was only the third time in my private school career that I was going to have a male teacher...and let's face it the first two male teachers didn't work out so well (one left due to his inability to control a classroom full of 12 year-olds, I have apologized to him since, the other...well...let's just say culture and language were just two of the many struggles he had).

Anyway, I was nervous. I remember entering the classroom, stuffing my over packed canvas backpack into my locker and finding my seat. I barely had a chance to say hello to my friends when a booming voice broke through the chatter.

"Ladies and Gentlemen."

We looked around to see who this guy was talking to. Ladies and Gentlemen? There were no adults in the classroom with us. Then we realized, he was talking to us.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, let's stand for opening exercises."

We stood. We sang O Canada and said The Lord's Prayer, all the while each of us were making our assessments of the new guy. He was tall, he had very long arms and very long hands. He stood like an athlete, on the balls of his feet, ready for action. He wore a tie with ducks on it. Ducks?

Yes, ducks. We would soon learn that Mr. Kennedy had three absolutes in his life - Basketball, Ducks Unlimited and Respect...not necessarily in that order.

He was a basketball coach at heart and everything we needed to know about life could be taught on the basketball court, or so he said. Nearly every lesson had a basketball analogy attached to it and if you didn't love basketball before you met him you did after or you shut up about it. And his favourite team was the Bulls. Nope that's not it, it was the Knicks. Just kidding, Mr. was the Boston Celtics.

I'm not sure about the whole Ducks Unlimited thing other than I knew more about the conservation of wetlands than I ever wanted to thanks to Mr. Kennedy. And that navy blue duck tie he wore on day one wasn't the only duck prop he had.

And finally, Respect. That grade nine year I learned the definition of respect. Respect for others, respect for authority and most importantly respect for myself. I cannot remember even one time when Mr. Kennedy didn't call me 'Miss Bilcowski.' It set the bar for respect in his classroom. He expected us to respect him enough to be punctual and prepared and he expected us to respect ourselves enough to strive for excellence in every area of our lives.

He was our teacher when necessary but he preferred to be our coach. Showing us the way and then watching us succeed on our own. Playing along side us until we caught the ball and ran with it. He showed us the power of focus and meditating, the necessity of organization and that mistakes are forgivable as long as they are not chronically repeated (if they were you were quickly awarded membership to the 'Book in the Head' club).

He knew that we were capable of more than we thought. He knew that there was a bit of greatness on the inside of each of us and he did whatever it took to prod, shake up and inspire us to grab hold of that greatness and make something of it.

I think about Mr. Kennedy and his lessons all the time. I hope to pass on a tradition of respect and strength to my own children. And I strive to be a coach. And I hope that my own children will experience the tough love of a Mr. Kennedy at least once in their lives.

Thanks Mr. Kennedy, Coach Kennedy...I wouldn't have wanted to learn those lessons any other way.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

People of Influence - Russ Schroeder

As I have said, I grew up going to church. My earliest memories include being dressed up as a sheep for the Christmas concert, earning badges in Pioneer Girls and hoping week after week that I was well behaved enough to win the "Quiet Seat Prize" at Sunday School.

I had many great teachers through the years. But none compare to Russ Schroeder.

I was seven years old when I first walked into Russ' classroom. Back then he was Mr. Schroeder and I was the new kid in class. I felt nervous and awkward because for the first time in my life I wasn't in a class taught by my aunt and filled with my cousins. I was alone. With strangers. And the teacher was a guy with a purple puppet.

It didn't take long for Russ, uh, I mean, Mr. Schroeder to win me over. Week after week he would lead us in games and singing. He used puppets and props and anything else he could get his hands on to illustrate his point. He never spoke down to us just at our level.He never raised his voice at the rowdy group of kids in his class. In fact, the louder we got the quieter he would talk. It would take him seconds to have us calmed and intensely interested in what he was saying.He was like magic!

And what he was saying, what he was teaching was life changing. It was from him that I first learned about being a good steward of the gifts God has given you, about faith and hope and the substance of God's never failing love. I can remember clearly teachings he did, the props he used and the words he said. I can remember countless times in my life when I was despairing and Mr. Schroeder's voice would come out of no where reminding me that God is always with me and that He loves me like I am the only person in the world.

As I grew Russ and his wife Carol remained people of influence in my life. I babysat their children and then when I became an adult we volunteered on the same team together at church. Carol has been to my baby shower's and I have attended both of their kids' high school graduation ceremonies. And now their kids teach my kids Sunday School.

I see Russ & Carol nearly every Sunday in church and there isn't one Sunday when I don't say a silent prayer of thanks that I know them, was taught by them and inspired by them. I know that my faith journey would not have been the same if I hadn't spent those years in Mr. Schroeder's class.

Thank you Russ for knowing God and for showing a whole generation of Sunday School kids the way to Him!