They Say that an Elephant Never Forgets

September 22 was National Elephant Appreciation Day.  A day to celebrate the gentle giants whose demeanor seems oh so wise.  Even the young ones seem to possess some great intellect as they slowly plod along in their wrinkled skin and tough, calloused exteriors.  They say that an elephant never forgets.  Scientific American says it’s true… elephants have amazing recall abilities… and it somehow provides them with the impressive ability to survive late into their eighties.  Many researchers also report on an elephant’s remarkable sense of empathy, and their unusual respect for fallen members of their herd. Elephant families are matriarchal in nature and elder females are known to support younger mothers; often mentoring them in parenting skills or participating in funeral rituals for young calves that have died.  Many scientists speak of elephant graveyards and the animal’s peculiar behaviour surrounding the death of aged loved ones.Elephantneverforgets

They say that an elephant never forgets.  Sometimes we forget.  We giggle at “senior moments” and “getting old and forgetful”… but for over half a million people living with dementia in Canada, memory is no laughing matter.  As of 2016, the combined health-care system and out-of-pocket caregiver costs are estimated at $10.4 billion per year. By 2031, this figure is expected to increase by 60 per cent, to $16.6 billion (via Alzheimer Society of Canada).  In 2013, Bob Barker, famous Price is Right host and elephant advocate, provided $1 million of his own earnings to transfer three of the Toronto Zoo’s elderly elephants to a sanctuary in California.  I remember the controversy and outrage.  He felt they needed to live out their remaining senior years in freedom.  And so I muse:  The comparison between senior elephant and senior human healthcare somehow seems unbalanced.

For many of us in this so-called “sandwich generation“, we are torn between providing for our young children, and caring for our aging parents.  I have so many mixed emotions about this topic… I know the system is wrong.  Yet, I am just as guilty at neglecting seniors as the next.  I grow impatient in the check out line as elderly patrons struggle to push the buttons on the debit machine.  I get annoyed when that slow driver at the stop sign has taken way too long to decide to turn.  I’m a little sickened when the little old lady on the subway smells slightly of used towels and moth balls… or worse.  I don’t have time to explain how to do this seemingly easy task, yet again.  I dread the conversations where I have to pretend that I haven’t heard that same story a hundred times.  Still, I am saddened by the fact that so many seniors spend their days lonely and alone.  I am angry with myself that I don’t take time to listen and be patient.  I am disheartened when a person who once had so much dignity and grace,  has lost the ability to care for themselves.

My dear mother-in-law would have celebrated her birthday last week.  We lost her earlier this year when she was taken home to Heaven.  Yet, to some extent, we lost her  many years before that, as her dementia claimed not only her mind, but eventually her body.  They say that an elephant never forgets.  Grandma sometimes forgot.  She forgot where she put her purse.  She forgot to turn off the water in the sink.  She forgot the words.  She never forgot her beloved, though… her husband and full time caregiver who so desperately misses her that it makes my heart ache.

We know we are to honour our parents and care for the widowed, the poor, and our neighbours (Matthew 19, Leviticus 19:32).  Many of you are devoted caregivers and serve others so faithfully!  I applaud you.  It is a very special person, gifted by God, who can serve our senior population with patience, love and honour.  Don’t ever stop using that gift! elderly Personally, I struggle with it.  I used to say that I “didn’t do people”.  And I certainly didn’t do “old” people!  The animals I worked with somehow seemed less threatening than humans.  However, I soon learned that every animal came with “a people”.  I’ve had to learn that helping creatures also meant helping the people that came along with them.  Why do you think so many nursing homes have special animal days?  Perhaps our churches could learn a little bit about non-judgmental, unconditional love, and unending patience from those companion animals.  They say that an elephant never forgets.

In preparing for this post (and my apologies if it seems a little everywhere… I read a lot and have lots to muse about in this emotional topic!) I read a touching post from the Global Sanctuary for Elephants blog.  In it, the author states that through watching the elephants, she has learned that “….death is part of life to be honored and even revered as one of the most sacred elements of life. …”  How much more should we, as believers, honour those who have served so faithfully?  Should we not be providing sanctuary to those who have done their work diligently and have run the good race?  Sanctuary.  By definition, it is a place of refuge and safety.  Oh, I pray my home and my church is such a place for the widows and the orphans.  A place to rest.  A place to be comforted.  A place to feel safe.

They say that an elephant never forgets.  They say that elephants have the capacity to recognize themselves and others.  Even years later.  They say that elephants will mourn the bones of lost elephants when they come upon their so-called “elephant graveyards”.  As I grow, and mature and age, will I still recognize myself as a daughter of the King? Prized as one who is sustained by the great I AM, even into my old age and grey hairs? (Isaiah 46).   Will I remember to honour the old, tired bones of the seniors in my community and give them the respect and comfort they, too, deserve as fellow beloveds?

HeSustains

I pray, like the mighty elephant, that I too, will never forget.

 

 

 

Epic Felting Fail

Life is back into full swing here, and the lazy days of summer are dwindling away.  Unfortunately for me, that means less time for leisurely activities like crafting.  Before all that disappears though, I wanted to share with you one of my big crafting tragedies.  My epic fail.  My fibre flop.  My defeated disaster.  Perhaps it will encourage you.  If not, well, I might just make it to a Pinterest fail compilation, for “I nailed it”  — not.FELTFAIL

If you are a Pinterest junkie like me, you will know how easily one can be swayed by the allure of beautiful craft pieces, created by highly skilled individuals displaying their wares.  Or perhaps Instagram is your game… and a perfectly plated dish is drool worthy for you.  Maybe you play it old school and appreciate a fine, handmade quilt tucked away in some quaint antique store; or a fashionista who spends hours finding that perfect accent for your well coordinated outfit.  We are such fickle creatures, aren’t we?  We love to create, and often spend our entire lifetimes perfecting our work.

Which brings me back to my fail.  I recently discovered the delicate art of dry felting.  It involves stabbing raw or “roving” wool with a fine needle until it becomes “felted” or matted together.  By layering colours and textures, detailed works of art can become so lifelike, it is difficult to tell what’s real and what’s not… and the pieces are so adorably cute! I first featured some felting artistry at mittonmusings here.  So, eager to try something new, I found a little felting kit at my local craft store and attempted a rather wonky llama.  He’s not bad, but he doesn’t quite stand.  His little legs are not very sturdy.  Okay for a beginner, I suppose.  More recently, I attempted a petite pig with inspiration from a felting book I was pleased to discover down in the States.  It did not go as well.FELTBOOK

The book’s directions had me lay out all the various parts, and following the preliminary instructions for a “dog body” shape, my cute little piglet should have come together beautifully.  My wool was a little too pink — more candy floss shade — but I was going to blend in some browns and whites to make him him look more realistic.  I could do this, right? Several hours later, after stabbing away at my little foam block and folding and fluffing wool… I had all my shapes ready.

Well… my cotton candied porker was not too well proportioned … and he ended up looking like a sausage shaped cat with lopsided legs.  I attempted to give him a whimsical expression… but my features were too thick and my cat-pig ended up all drag-queen-gone-bad.  Epic fail.  My beloveds tried to encourage me with kind words… but we all managed a laugh as Mr. Pig joined Wonky Llama in my misfit menagerie of sad looking felted friends.  I am afraid it is back to the drawing board for me.Shapes all laid out...things so far so good...

What about you, my friend?  Ever attempt a “creation”?  Are you a fine artist? A crafter?  Are you a fabulous cook, or can you rebuild a car from scratch?  I would love to hear from you!

Alas, my fellow beginners… there is always a lesson in our trials!  Are you encouraged, as I am, that the Bible tells us God doesn’t make mistakes (unlike us!).  It says that God created…  and it was good.  I will say it again:  He doesn’t make mistakes.  No epic fails.  No beginner blunders.  Everything was perfect.  Just as He designed.  We recently visited the Creation Museum near Cincinnati, Ohio.  It was a helpful reminder in simply appreciating the vast diversity we have in this created world — from the tiniest creepy crawly to the towering dinosaur of yesteryear.  As a scientist, I can appreciate the subtle and profound differences in a world of creatures.  And I continue to be amazed as the various disciplines peel back the layers of this place that God called “good”.  Oh, my friends… We’ve barely scratched the surface!

But do you want to know what is even cooler than that?! He created us!  You and I were created in the image of the Almighty! He breathed life into dirt and “felted” us together — delicately weaving our personalities, our gifts, our talents, and our passions into something spectacular!  You have been perfectly crafted by the most talented artist of all!

So take heart.  If your llamas are a little wobbly, and your piggies are not quite pudgy… fear not.  Humans have to keep practicing.  God doesn’t.GODPRACTICE

 

 

 

 

How to Stay Motivated (When you just want to eat chocolate covered almonds)

Okay, so here it is the middle of September, back to school has happened and the kick-offs are all around us.  Get involved! Join this! We need volunteers for this! We want to serve this year!  *Sigh*  I don’t know about you, but today I just wanna crawl back into a hole and eat my secret stash of chocolate covered almonds.  The whole bag.  By myself.  I’m supposed to start teaching Sunday School this week.  Our study group begins again.  We want to serve others and engage with family this year.  The kids will soon be starting lessons and clubs and the minivan will be put into overdrive as workshops start up again for me.  It’s usually a time when my organizational skills flourish and I get all excited for new beginnings… but I just ain’t feeling it.  Can I get an amen?  Anyone else struggling with feeling motivated?  Are you a leader and trying to recruit some volunteers but get the same five people for every ministry?  Or are you like me and feeling like the apostle Paul in Romans 7?  You want to do the things you know you should do, but you just don’t do them.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, as they say.

Okie dokie then.  Shall we muse together on how to start that spiritual flame under our unmotivated, ummm, slightly “fleshy” behinds and move forward?  Are you with me?  It will be no easy task, my friends… chocolate covered almonds have a big pull for me…

eatchocalmonds

Did you know that if you google motivation, there are almost    940 000 000 results?!  Obviously we are not alone here.  This is a big issue… and “how to stay awake” is in the top 5.  Maybe people are simply just tired.  Our flesh is weak.  Literally.  Highly motivated people quickly burn out if we don’t get proper rest.  Late nights and too many chocolate covered almonds don’t make for good servants.  We know this.  However, it’s a good place to start.  A strung out new mom who is caring for a colicky newborn might not be the best one to ask to head up the children’s ministry.  Just sayin’.  So our number 1 must be:  take care of the physical you.  Rest well.

My number 2 is:  pray about it.  Life is hard sometimes.  Only God knows our future and our past.  He has given you the gifts to move forward, and can heal the hurts from before.  Tell Him your frustrations.  Ask others to surround you with prayers as well.  If need be, seek Godly wisdom and prayers from professionals who might need to help in practical ways you cannot provide for yourself alone.  Those prayers may also be the catalyst in sending others your way!  Who knows, maybe someone is praying about how to serve you!  This intimacy with God often gives us clarity and focus.  Perhaps you will add some quiet meditation or praise and worship music to re-align your focus on “things above” versus the many distractions we have “here below.”  I often end up praying about what to blog about — because my thoughts are not always the ones that need to be said… and it often surprises me the direction that my muses take!

One of my biggest obstacles is being overwhelmed with the task at hand.  I look at the space around me and think, nope, too big, not worth the effort, where are my almonds?  Oh man, I struggle with this one.  I am task oriented, so if the task is too big, I can’t wrap my brain around it and quickly become unmotivated.  This is where I have to heed the words a very wise friend once told me… just do the next thing.  Say you want to live simply and clear the clutter.  Thinking about the whole house might be overwhelming.  Start with one drawer, or one closet, and then… do the next thing.  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

planpurpose

That leads to the next big one… the plan. This is not new either, I am just reminding you (and me) that you have to plan for things to happen.  My husband and I often converse about this one… he hopes things will just fall into place, that his romantic gestures will sweep me off my feet and date night will spontaneously happen due to some great alignment of the universe.  But he knows that if he sets it up on the calendar, I am more likely to carve out that time with him to work on our relationship.  Some of us need this more than others.  Many volunteers quickly abandon their posts if there is no set plan.  Don’t forget that plans include your materials!  Some folks are overwhelmed with a disorganized, unkempt space.  Many are willing to cook at the pancake breakfast fundraiser… but if the kitchen is a disaster and there are no clean spatulas, it might be a no-go.

I Corinthians 15:58 reminds us that nothing we do is in vain.  The smallest efforts can lead to great things with God’s help.  However, I do think He wants us to set a distinct purpose behind our efforts.  Ever have your kids ask WHY?  Why do I have to go to school? Why do I have to clean my room?  Why do we have to go to church?  Why is the sky blue?  If we don’t know why we are doing something, then it often loses its lustre and we become frustrated with the effort it takes.  Or it is simply not needed.  Do you run a program just because there has always been one?  Is it necessary?  There is a story about a new housewife who always trimmed the ends off her roast before cooking it.  One day she asked her grandmother: why?  Was it some ancient technique for a fine Sunday dinner?  Her grandmother replied that it was the only way a large roast would fit in her small roasting pan.  Yup, sometimes it’s helpful to know the purpose behind the plan.

Occasionally, we get motivated by an event/learning experience.  If you are new to mittonmusings, you will quickly discover that I am always up for learning something new.  I am eager to draw information from others.  To glean insight from another perspective or someone else’s life experience.  I had the privilege of sitting under some very learned people this summer… and was able to fill my brain with a tonne of things to spark my musings.  Our little blips of time on this planet are not enough to cover all that is possible.  God’s great big world is full of opportunities!

Having said that, it is a good reminder to me (and you!) to never take anyone for granted.  Don’t be afraid to ask someone to help directly — but don’t leave them there all alone!  A servant who gives of their time should never be ignored.  Encourage those around you who have accomplished even the smallest task.  It is a big motivator in taking the next bite of the proverbial elephant. motivatehearts Our youngest son was often overwhelmed with anxieties when attempting new tasks.  We knew that slow (and often painfully time consuming!) encouragement to “just do the next thing” allowed him to overcome his fears and often flourish at the task at hand.   By learning things and being encouraged by others, we often strengthen our own efforts, and can focus in on the real purposes behind our motivations.

Above all, our motivation should continue to guide us forward towards Heaven.  Matthew 6 tells us that no matter what we do, no matter what the goal is, or what steps we take to get there, the motivation we have is always based on where our hearts are.  The treasures at the end of the journey will be reflections of where our hearts were at the beginning.  Want to motivate others?  Encourage their hearts.  Want to motivate yourself?  Spend some time letting God change you from within.  Oh… and a few chocolate covered almonds can’t hurt._Store up treasures in Heaven, for where your treasure is your heart will be also_

 

 

 

 

Back to School Blues

By the time this post comes out, many of you will have sent off your beloveds back to school.  Perhaps it is the first day of kindergarten for you.  Or perhaps you’ve moved them in to their first dorm room at college or university.  For many others of you, your kids are grown up and are sending off children of their own.  The first day of school, for me, evokes such happy memories… I loved (and still love!) school.  Shiny new shoes and backpacks, sharpened pencils all in a row… it’s a new beginning, a new chance to learn and grow and flourish.  I giggle as I think about this because my boys usually scuff up their new shoes a bit and grab whatever writing implement they see in the drawer for their first day.   No great anticipation there.  It’s nice to know that we are made so diversely, eh?

backtoschoolshoes

Photo by: Jiayan Chui

Okay… let’s pretend everyone is excited about learning and growing… and then go a little deeper.  For many of us, sending our kids off to school is a scary new chapter.  It means they have reached an age where independence is beginning… and their dependence on us, is diminishing.  When our first born was getting ready for school, we researched the options.  Should we use public education?  Private, montessori… homeschool?  Did you know there was even something called unschooling?   I have heard all the arguments against public education and the benefits of this or that.  Feel free to add your personal experiences to the comments… However, no matter what venue of education one chooses, there must always be a day when we must let them go.  For some it comes earlier than others.  But it always comes.

I am not sure why, but the story of the prodigal son has been popping up all over my journey this summer… I have heard it spoken on about seven times in various sermons and talks throughout the last few months.  Obviously God is asking me to look at it!  To be honest, it’s a mystery as to why this particular parable has been so popular, but I mention it because perhaps we are to look at it together.  To be linked coincidentally here on the internet through a story about letting our sons and daughters go.  Some of you I know personally.  Many of you are dear to my heart, and I know your children like my own.  Other readers are strangers to me.  Perhaps you have connected with mittonmusings for a completely different reason.  A fellow blogger looking for followers.  Yet, my hope and prayer is that God has connected you to this particular post because He wants you to learn, along with me, that it is okay to let those so near and dear to our hearts go on their own way.  I am sure that the father in the story of Luke 15 was a complete basket case on the day that his youngest set out for a foreign land with a stack of money in his back pocket.  I am sure his mother was even worse!  “Will he go to synagogue?”  “Will he drink too much and get caught up with the wrong crowd?” “Will he spend his money wisely and invest properly?” “Will he learn all the wrong philosophies and be exposed to false teachings?” “Will I have to pay half his student loans from our retirement fund?””Will he eat properly ?”  Yup, I am sure his Jewish bubbe had plenty to fear.

I have to be honest with you.  I shed very few tears when my children went off to school.  I proudly packed their bags and handed over the reigns to their teachers.  Was it easy?  No.  Our youngest son screamed, bawled and ran off down the hallway for the first two months years of kindergarten.  Our eldest daughter struggled to complete her first year and find her niche at University (away from home).  The other two have had ups and downs with teachers and peers.  We’ve had to juggle family activities with four kids in four different schools.  We’ve had to balance tolerance and diversity with our faith based values. Prov22 We’ve also learned to love and share with others who don’t always see the world the way we do.   Anxieties, competitions, goals and mighty accomplishments have been a part of our school careers.   I have quickly learned (and have instilled in our beloveds!) that teachers are just people too.  They have good days and bad days like the rest of us.  So if you are just starting your school life… please, please, please… be involved.  Go to school council meetings, go to the interviews, get to know the staff and your kids friends.  Be the house that invites them home for lunches and after school snacks.  Claim the promise in Proverbs 22:6.  You have trained and prepared them for this… now let them go.

I guess I have to caveat the “let them go” statement… with the fact that although the father in the story granted his son’s wishes and let him go off to a foreign land, he certainly didn’t forget him!  He kept a watchful eye on the road for his journey back.  He was there to celebrate his return… and to love him despite his failures.  Back to school is a mixed bundle of emotions:  we are proud and excited, and worried and anxious.  The great wide world is full of the allure of the grandiose and the independence our children crave.  And wise parents must trust that the Almighty has a plan for their children.  He knows them so much better than even we do.  So, there will be no back to school blues at our house.  No tears or anxious peeking through the classroom windows.  There will only be new shoes, and packed lunches, and bank loans for student expenses.  And a mom and dad keeping watchful eyes on some kids who were trained to the best of our abilities to return home.  The rest… is up to God.Back to School