Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Transformations #23

Tonight I had the honour of presenting some of the awards at our school's Grade 8 Awards Night.  As the board chair I'm somewhat expected to attend, and it's my pleasure to be there.  It's delightful to see how far the kids at Holy Cross School are progressing, and the deep friendships they've made over the past 9 years in the school.  The board role is necessarily a hands-off one, and the rare moments like this when I get a glimpse of the camaraderie between the staff and students make the nitty gritty behind the scenes work very much worthwhile.

Watching these early teens walk stiffly up to the stage to receive their awards, arms pressed to their sides, and wearing fancy clothes that don't always fit their growing bodies properly, made me wonder if I was the same kind of awkward little 14 year old.

Looking back through my yearbook from then... apparently I was.

But my Grade 8 year was an unpleasant one.  My social awkwardness began to reach a crescendo and even my classmates who had never had an issue with me before that year began to pick on me.  I had no friends; none at all.  My best friend had moved away after Grade 6.  At recess I would sit under a tree and read my Bible, which evoked further teasing.  It was after that year that my parents pulled the plug on public education and sent me to a private Christian school where I made friends again.

This is difficult to write about, and me facing this in this way is my transforming moment for today.  Seeing all those kids at the school today made me realize what I had missed.  I found myself scanning the class groups for the lonely kid - the one nobody acknowledged - and couldn't spot any.  I thank God that in Holy Cross School, the friendship seems to have penetrated all levels, and I hope and pray that as these kids move on, they will continue to know true friendship and true Divine intimacy.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Transformations #22

Tomorrow is my last Toastmasters' meeting before the summer break.  It's been a hectic year, all told.  I completed my Competent Communicator certification, which means that I finished the ten speeches in the first speech manual they give.

There are umpteen other speech manuals I can choose from for my ascension through the Toastmaster certifications.  The next level will require another ten speeches.  Since it was such a busy year I was planning on waiting to start down that path once the meetings resume in the fall.

But today I pulled myself up with my bootstraps and prepared the first speech for that next level and will present it tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lion of Judah

I was reading through an old prayer journal tonight and found this excerpt, which I feel prompted to share with my readers:

Dec 6, 2005

The reading this morning is from Genesis 49, from the passage where each of the sons of Israel is prophecied over.  Of Judah it is said: "He crouches like a lion recumbent, the king of beasts - who would dare rouse him?"

Then I flipped the Liturgy of the Hours 1,874 pages to discover St. Eusebius of Caesarea's commentary on Isaiah.  He writes: "What does it mean to bear the good news but to preach to all nations, but first of all to cities of Judah, the coming of Christ on earth?"

We must not forget that our Christian faith is rooted in God's promise to the Jews.  After the diaspora, only the tribe of Judah reassembled in Israel.  They proved a mighty people, as the accounts of battles in Nehemiah and Maccabees attest.  Who, indeed, would dare to rouse that lion?

Eusebius' answer is clear: the evangelists and apostles.  They had been shown the Messiah; they knew the promise had been fulfilled.  So they took their shepherds' staves and poked the lion, prodding it out of its slumber, saying, "Behold the lamb of God!"

Perhaps that's what Scripture means when it refers to the lion and the lamb in rest together: it's not some hippie rendition of world peace, but a powerful metaphor of Israel accepting Christ.  It calls for a stiff-necked people to bow their heads and pray for God's blessing.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Transformations #21

Today's transformative moment will, for the time being, have to remain undisclosed.

But trust me, it's a good one.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Transformations #20

On Sunday I went on a bike ride with my whole family.

The last time we tried this was late last summer.  Our destination then was a local park, and as soon as we got there my second daughter, seven years old at the time, took off for the play structure and promptly proceeded to split her chin open by falling off the balance beam.  The rest of the kids weren't even off their bikes yet.

As a dad, I've learned that it's necessary to carry numerous things on one's person for the day-to-day needs of one's family.  I carry a tiny pair of fold-up scissors and a set of nail clippers in my pocket.  I also carry a small multi-tool with a flashlight.  And in my wallet are a few bandages.  Luckily my supply of bandages was fully stocked that day, so I was able to slap one on her chin and we all biked home, from where I drove her to the hospital to get stitches.  While they were patching her up, I watched them with a sort of detached fascination, admiring the skill behind the work the doctor was doing as he injected a numbing agent into the cut and started applying the stitches.  And then I passed out.  I - a guy who had seen his wife give birth five times - fainted.  It was terribly embarrassing.

That was nearly a year ago.  I hadn't been on a bike ride with my family since then.  The previous experience was a bit of a hump for me to get over.

We did have a fun outing.  My third daughter scraped her leg at the park, and that was the extent of the injuries incurred.

And, no, I didn't faint.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Transformations #19

When I was growing up, I used to go swimming all the time.  We took lessons at the public pool near Oungre, SK (can you believe it's on Google Streetview?).  In the change room there I recall talking back to a bully, who was nicknamed "Stu," by asking him if his last name was "Pid."  Ah, the wit of tweens.  Timeless stuff.  I also remember throwing up in that pool a different time after having eaten too much watermelon at the picnic which preceded our swimming.  At another pool near my hometown of Estevan, I responded to more bullies by punching the leader in the face and breaking his nose.  Not bad for a scrawny 13 year old.

My desire to swim seems to have decreased in inverse proportion to the size of my belly (embarrassment?) and my family (the logistical chaos).  But re-reading the above paragraph, it seems that I associate a lot of bad memories with swimming as well.  Racking my brain for good memories, I can recall flirting with a girl I liked by swimming under her and tipping her over.  It didn't work though; I ended up marrying somebody else.

This year our family took out a membership in a nearby YMCA and my wife has been taking the kids swimming nearly every week.  Yesterday (Saturday) I manned up and went with them for only the third time.

I don't particularly dislike swimming, but when holding either an infant or within arm's reach of a toddler the whole time, there's not a lot one can do to make it fun for oneself.  Yet it's so clearly fun for them that it feels rather crude for me to say that I don't have fun.  And my wife takes great delight in seeing me interact with our children in a way which reminds her of her own pleasant childhood memories.

Perhaps I can organize some family fun activity more in line with pleasant memories from my youth.  Food for thought... and possibly another post in this series.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Transformations #18

I have my wife to thank for today's Transformation post.  You'll recall that way back in #3 I announced a new practice - giving a quick prayer offering up my day before I even get out of bed.

Two days ago my wife was having a rough day, and as we cuddled up at bedtime I prayed with her, that she would find strength and hope.  It was a warm, intimate moment, and it brought her a lot of comfort. Last night we cuddled up at bedtime and were silent for a few moments, until she lifted her head and asked, "Aren't we going to pray?"

I felt guilty for not thinking of it first, and that guilt triggered some kind of weird response that made we want to pray even less (I'm kinda messed up that way; I know, but that's part of why I'm doing this whole Transformation initiative).  I manned up, took a deep breath, and led her in prayer again.  It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Transformations #17

Many of my readers know that I joined Toastmasters about a year ago.  I had always known of the organization, but being a fairly confident public speaker, never really felt the urge to go.  There was a point, however, where I came to realize that while I am good at giving speeches when I have ample time to prepare, I'm not so strong at speaking off the cuff.

Seeking to improve this skill, I sought out a local Toastmasters club - finding Manitoba Morning to be the most suitable for my schedule - and after trying out a couple of meetings as a guest, purchased a membership and joined formally.  I was amazed at how much I was able to improve in my impromptu speaking, and even in my prepared speeches.  In addition, I have also made improvements in another valuable skill: how to listen and provide constructive, practical feedback to other speakers.  And the flow of the meetings provides valuable experience which ties directly into my work on the board of directors for my kids' independent school.

My overall confidence has grown, I've made new friends, and I've stretched myself in ways I never thought possible.  I believe there isn't a person alive who would not benefit from a Toastmasters membership.  Find a club in your area and check out their meetings.  It can't hurt.

Last month our club held elections for the executive positions which are needed to run the club effectively and in accordance with Toastmasters International norms.  Several members approached me and asked if I'd be interested in running for President, or VP of Education.  I declined those invitations, as my schedule is already quite full with school board work, the music I do for church, and the administration of the schedule at our parish's Perpetual Adoration chapel.  I didn't want to take on any position which would require that I do any more work outside of the basic Toastmasters club setting.  At the last moment, I decided to put my name forward for Secretary, and won.  My term begins July 1.  I reasoned that this job would be OK for me as most of the Secretary's roles are within the meeting itself.

Right after the elections were finished, I learned that all executive members - and the Secretary is one - must attend a a 2-hour training session put on by the local Toastmasters district leadership.  Immediately I had a sense of regret.  I didn't realize this would happen!  I wouldn't have put my name forward if I had known that I would have to do a single iota of extra work outside the club setting.  And yet there I was, committed.

My training was tonight.  During the introductions, I got a laugh by introducing myself by saying that since I'm not very outgoing, I am the incoming Secretary for Manitoba Morning.  And being the keener that I am, I had downloaded the training material from the TI site and reviewed it prior to the training, so I didn't learn a whole lot tonight.  I was, in all honesty, a wee bit bored.  But my sense of foreboding faded somewhat, once the training was over.  I'm beginning to see what I can learn from this role and how it can help to continue to form me in other areas of my life.

I'm well out of my comfort zone though.  But I guess that's kinda the point.

Eighty-three to go.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Transformations #15 & 16

As I continue to press forward with this goal of 100 Transformations, I am finding that each day when I plan to post about one, I find my self planning ahead of time what I will do differently that day.  This is generally a positive enhancement.

Accordingly, yesterday I planned to work on a project I've had in my head for years - the completion of a wooden drawer for my custom-made home office desk - and to categorize it under "fun".  I do enjoy woodworking but seldom get a chance to whisk myself away to the garage on weekends due to the demands of my large family.  But a friend yesterday offered to take our three eldest children to the circus, and the younger two had their naps in the afternoon, giving me the perfect chance to work on this project.

In the last few months I've been able to cut & assemble the pieces.  Yesterday I stained the drawer, meaning all that's left now is to mount it on sliders.

This alone would have been sufficient for my "fun" category, as I did enjoy it and it does present a departure from what I normally do for fun.

But a second notch is worth recording.  In the evening we paid a visit to some friends who happen to live near the "Hi Neighbour" street festival happening in Winnipeg this weekend.  The husband was working, so it was three adults and eight children in a house never designed to hold that many people.  After about an hour there, we decided to go for a walk down to the festival.

As soon as we got everybody outside, it began to sprinkle.  Undeterred, we pressed on and arrived at the fair, fairly damp.  We purchased some tickets and went on a few rides, had some cotton candy and mini donuts, and ultimately stayed there for several hours, getting more and more wet.  Happily, I didn't go on any uncovered rides.  My wife, on the other hand, did, and made the observation that being whipped into the rain in a circular motion results in the accumulation of more water on one's self than would have happened had she merely stood and observed the ride in action.  All told, we had a great deal of fun, and arrived home after midnight.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Do You Agree?

A long time ago I had a cassette tape (a what?) containing songs from a Promise Keepers conference.  I've had one of the songs on my mind lately - called "Yes We All Agree."

The song is done in a monastic style, where a leader makes a statement or question, and the group gives a response in chorus.  The questions being asked are things like "Do you agree that he's holy?" or "Do you agree that by his precious blood we've been set free?" to which the response is "Yes, we all agree."  It's an attempt to forge some kind of unity from the diverse grouping of Christian men who would be attending the Promise Keepers rallies.

This was a laudable attempt, to be sure, but they failed to ask the one question which would signify that true unity had been achieved: "Do you agree that we've asked all the important questions?"  I can only imagine how muddled the choral response would be to that.

And in case there's any doubt about my stance: no, I don't agree that the song has asked all the important questions.

Transformations #14

Today wasn't really an extraordinary day, but I did receive the sacrament of reconciliation followed by gelato dessert with family and friends - it's a little tradition we in our faith community call "Confession and Coffee."

Any time I receive this sacrament I feel renewed spiritually.  And happily, I sin a lot, so I get to feel renewed a lot.  I know it may be difficult for my Protestant friends and family to understand why the Catholic Church believes in confession.  If you want to try to learn why, check this out.  Or this, which is a bit easier to read.

Tonight's confession was more difficult than usual.  I've been in a spiritual desert valley lately, with many factors contributing.  In fact, I'm coming out of one of the bleakest phases I've ever experienced.  To sit in front of the priest and name my sins when I am feeling as down as I am was an act of sheer will; my heart really wasn't in it.  I still feel like I'm tottering as I write this, as though the narrow streams of joy that have been trickling back into my life might suddenly be schlorped up by the parched sands around me, leaving me for dead once again.  But all I can do is go on, one day at a time, continuing to trust, persevering in faith, ever hopeful in the love I have been shown by the work of Christ on the cross.

But I know that the power of the sacrament is real, and this emboldens my joy.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Transformations #13

Last night as I tucked my three year old into bed, I had a rare moment between kids needing attention, so I sat her on my lap and read her a book.  This is something I don't do very often, and especially not at bedtime when everything is usually so chaotic.

After that book, she brought me another one.  I read that to her as well.

And another one.

I stopped her at the fourth one.  Then we cuddled for a few minutes, just daddy and daughter.  It was very nice. It warms my heart as I think about it even now