Saturday, August 25, 2018

Mothers and Fathers are Important

“Dorothy is the name of my surrogate mother,” she says to me as I finish telling my story and sharing my song about the place that is so special to me and about my maternal grandmother. 
“Oh, did you know her name means ‘gift from God’?” 

“Oh, that’s cool. She is definitely that to me.”

The lovely woman speaking to me currently lives in a women’s shelter for reasons I don’t fully know. 

I sit in a circle of women. All of us come to the circle with our stories. I have the guitar and I am there to “entertain” them that night. I knew as I was preparing to go there that I would end up in tears at some point. I did not know that the tears would be once again brought on by the topic of my mother. 


She has been absent from my life since 1982. Why do I still have tears? Why did I feel the need to dedicate my album to her? Why did her decision to leave have such a great impact on my life and why do I continue to feel the aftershocks? 

The women ask me questions about if I remember her and how I felt when she died. This was not what I planned to talk about. They ask if I ever wrote a song for her.. “well, yes, but it was on the piano and I haven’t sung it in a very long time.. I can try.” 

I fumble around on the guitar and between the awkward chord changes and the breaks in my voice from raw emotion, I manage to share the song. When I finish, one of them pipes up right away, “Do you have this recorded? People need to hear this! It would resonate with so many.. what you described in your song is what I longed to feel from my mother.. and she was there, but we were never close.”

Mother, I’d like to talk with you, to laugh with you, to cry with you,
To talk of things that make you smile,
To know you as a friend and as your child, 
Are your arms open for me at all? Will you sing me to sleep?

Later on I say, “I continue to be amazed at how important mothers and fathers are. I recently had something go down with my father that made me realize how much I still want his approval and how important his voice is to me. I realized that I could have all the success in the world, but if I lose touch with my father I will not feel satisfied.” 

I also recently had a beautiful conversation with my stepmom that made me realize how important her voice is too. She came along after our family had been without a mother figure for eight years. We had a family system that seemed to be working fine. Haha.. it looked kind of like this:
My father and brother had pretty strong personalities and made the decisions. They fought every once in a while. I chose pretty early on I guess that I better survive by not feeling anything, so I was very emotionally disconnected. Everything was “fine”, or “oh sure, doesn’t matter..”. 

Except in the food department. This makes me laugh. I think maybe my body had to find one area of control.. one little way that it could rebel and not go with the flow. So, I literally could not swallow certain foods. Mashed potatoes.. gag reflex. Collard greens.. gag reflex. I tried. I really did want to be a good girl and clean my plate, but I literally could not swallow that food. This created many dinner time battles that my brother and I remember quite vividly, and I know were a great source of frustration for my dad. 

So, along comes my stepmom who was ready to fully embrace motherhood. She saw some of these unhealthy patterns and slowly tried to introduce some new ones. I saw her as the villain. She rocked the boat. I didn’t know she was fighting for me to find my voice. I thought that any opinion that went against my dad’s was a scary one. She told me she would ask me where I wanted to eat for lunch, and I would shrug. So, she would narrow it down to three choices and patiently wait for me to finally make a decision. I don’t remember this process. I now greatly appreciate hearing what she did for me.

I’m still trying to find my voice. I still have a hard time making decisions, but I am getting much better at it. I am very thankful that I have family and friends who are cheering me on as I become more of a human being (complete with feelings and opinions.. what?!!). I’m now becoming so self aware that I need to take a lot of naps.. haha. As my friend Stacy said the other day, “taking notice is exhausting”. Yep. 

Mothers and fathers are important. If you are a parent, please make effort to be very present for your children. Sometimes that means you have to care for yourself first (put on your own oxygen mask before assisting another). If you are a child (which we all are, obviously), please take notice of your story and see how it has shaped you and see if there are areas that need attention. 

And, as my Dorothy trees sing to me, may you find your own song that tells you “of a Love that will never let you go”. 
Visit me here to find out how you can listen to my Dorothy song:

Monday, January 1, 2018

Fly Like a Really Smart Eagle

Uh oh.. this is the year I turn 40! How did that happen? Makes sense though.. my kids are getting old enough to drive and such so I guess I get to start feeling ancient.

Something happened the other day that I think is an important message for me to carry into the new year. I'm deciding to use this lesson to make my manifesto for 2018.

I was driving Josiah to school (he happened to be the only kid in the car that morning). We saw an eagle up ahead on the road trying to pick up a roadkill rabbit. A truck was approaching him in that lane and we saw the eagle struggle to pick up his prize and get out of the way. He realized he couldn't fly off while holding on to the rabbit, so he dropped it, and flew off to safety.

Josiah piped up, "They lied to me, Mom! I watched a documentary that said eagles will die when they choose prey that's too heavy for them. Their talons lock onto it and they can't get up."

I said, "Hmm.. well, I guess that was a really smart eagle."

We researched it later and found out that the talon locking thing is actually false. They are sometimes seen in the water clinging to a salmon and "rowing" to shore with their wings, but that's not because they can't let go. It's because they know the value of that salmon.

The lesson for me is: sometimes I come upon something in life that looks like a good prize. It may have landed right in front of me and therefore I think it's provision that I need to accept. However, sometimes I pick up these "provisions" and they end up being too heavy for me. They drag me down instead of giving me life.

This year, I hope that I can let go of the things that keep me from flying. I also hope that I'll know which things are like that really good salmon and are worth clinging to and looking rather awkward as I bring them to the shore. The really convenient thing is, that since I live by the sea, I often wake to the sound of the eagles crying, and I often see them soaring over me. I don't think I'll be able to escape the reminders: "Ashley, choose to be a really smart eagle."

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

It's A Colorful Life

Wow.. I haven't blogged since January.. here's a post I started to write two nights ago.

I think blogging became scary and I had to retreat to my private journal where I didn't have to worry about others reading my thoughts. Plus, when you write something and hit "publish" it makes it feel final.. like you've got it figured out.. and there's a lot that I don't have figured out.

Tonight, the tide is out.. way out.. and the moon is full (probably why I'm still awake and typing). Eva and I just had a wonderful "romp" on the beach with our dog Koda. When they saw the huge expanse of sand before them, both the dog and the child had to run free. And I walked steadily behind them, stopping to stare at the moon a few times.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. I decided to read a little something to the kids after dinner tonight. It brought about some honest conversation and some honest prayers. Honesty is always a great place to start. It can be messy. They ask questions I don't know how to answer, but I feel like I am doing my job when I teach them that it is ok.. and the most important really.. to be honest with God, and others, and ourselves.

I still have a hard time with that. The truth gets blurred by my intense desire to make people happy. I can start to think that doing what someone else wants is actually what I want.. but really I just forgot what I wanted because what they wanted became so much more important. You know? I am (slowly, but surely) getting better at listening to myself though, and that seems to be making me a much healthier person.

I've had three disturbing dreams in the last week, and that's not normal for me.

Some precious friends of mine got some really bad news today and we are grieving. It was something specific that I talked to God about. I said, "You know her.. hasn't she had enough pain in her story? Please, have mercy..".  And yet, we did not get the answer we asked for. That door is closed. And somehow these darling people still have to get up and do life.

Last week, I sat with a group of what I would call powerful people (those who have been down difficult paths, and have managed to stay soft, honest, and loving). We had a beautiful discussion on faith and emotions. The leader of the discussion brought up the story of when the disciples were in the boat with Jesus and he was sleeping while the boat was being rocked by a storm. He was sleeping! They said, "Don't you care?" As he told the story, I had a fresh wave of emotion hit me for situations in my life that have felt like God is sleeping and doesn't care to calm the storm.
And yet, there's still something comforting about knowing He's with me in the boat. I tell my kids that there's a lot that I don't understand about God or His ways, but I can't deny that I have felt His love carrying me and comforting me through so many different seasons of life. And, a lot of times, when I can't feel that love directly from Him, it comes through the people around me.

I have a lot of unresolved issues. There's quite a bit of stuff that I still feel angry or confused about. I'm living in the tension between the "it is not yet," and "it will be". I might have to write another blog about dissonance (in music, dissonance happens when a chord is unresolved) and why that will be the theme of the album I am working on.
And, speaking of my album, when I was venting to my producer/friend about some of the hard things going on.. he said "You have a colorful life, Ashley. It is a good one. Mine is too, and I wouldn't trade it for anything."  So, here's to colorful lives?!!  I'm really not a fan of darkness, but here's an interesting quote to end with that seems appropriate (and lo, and behold, it's from one of my childhood heroes- which suits this blog because its all about my life journey):

"Without black, no color has any depth. But if you mix black with everything, suddenly there's shadow- no, not just shadow, but fullness. You've got to be willing to mix black into your palette if you want to create something real."  Amy Grant

Makes me think of what Jesus said in John 10:10- "I came to give you life, and life in its fullness." He didn't say life in all its happiness or perfection.

Thanks for reading, my friend.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Honesty is Such a Lonely Word

Honesty? Haha! 

Honestly, I feel like a broken record. 

I have been writing about the same theme since at least 1996.. back when I got one of my first songs “downloaded” to me during Mrs. Sweigart’s American History class. I always found it so hard to stay awake in that class, so it’s kind of a miracle that I actually wrote the lyrics down. I was probably in a dream like state and maybe that’s how the song came to me. 

Faces. Masks. Behind our guards we hide and hope no one will ever ask. 
Reality. Pain. Frozen smiles and empty eyes that tell of silent shame. 
When will we learn to remove the veil? To empty our black hearts and be free?
Oh, it’s cold in the bottom of this empty well, but still we choose to hide inside ourselves. 

I was terrified of people being fake. I think I was terrified that if I didn’t know how to be real with people that I would turn out like my mother. Isolated and dying on the inside. And then, dying for real. 

The truth is, it isn’t safe to be honest with everyone. I sure have learned the lesson of “casting my pearls before swine.”

However, sometimes you find people you can trust. And sometimes, those people help you realize it is ok to say what’s really on your heart. And then, you realize that maybe it would be a good idea to tell God exactly how you feel.. since God actually knows you better than the people you are staring at and He really enjoys honesty too. 

In 2010, I was doing some counselling with a beautiful person with whom I felt very safe. I borrowed a book from her shelf, “Till we Have Faces” by C.S. Lewis. It moved me. And, the other day, I had this moment that took me right back to that book. 

I was sitting at a round table with four other women. I guess you could say the five of us are on a journey together. It’s pretty brutal. Honest. Messy. Admitting our weaknesses. Sharing our fears and our dreams. It was while one of these dear ones was sharing that I got a big smile on my face and thought “that was a ‘till we have faces’ moment.”  She said how she used to go for drives and just yell the f-bomb at God. I had this strange (well, maybe not strange.. more like refreshing) feeling as I felt like the smile on my face was also on God’s face. In those moments of crazy rage.. she was being real.. and I think maybe He said, “now, finally.. here’s something I can work with.”

And here are the words that came to mind from the book:

“When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech
which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”

I love that line: “the babble that we think we mean”. Good intentions. We say what we think we’re supposed to say. We say stuff to try to muster up some faith or courage that we might not actually possess yet. When it would be a whole lot more helpful if we just stopped and listened to what is actually going on inside and spoke from that place. 

Something is happening in me lately. I don’t know exactly what it is, but I feel like I am being awakened to a whole bigger picture.. uh.. like finding out that God is way cooler than I thought He was.. like that verse says about being able to comprehend the “breadth and length and height and depth” (Ephesians 3). I’m finding out that He is EVERYWHERE and He is loving on EVERYONE. He just keeps showing up: in support groups, in the trees, in the skies, in the words of friends, in songs I hear, in books I read.., etc.. 

Tonight, when I was starting to write all this out, an old song by an old friend came to mind (which is another small miracle because I haven't heard this song in years). The dear soul who wrote this song, Keith Naylor, went home to Glory around this time last year. I listened to this song tonight and I’m so grateful for these words which really describe what is going on for me lately, and I cherish the memories of how Keith lived and loved. 

The Face of God  by Keith Naylor
I see the trees they’re growing in the forest, I feel the wind on my face
I see the clouds they’re painting a picture, and I see the face of God

Won’t you look up and see oh life all around you
won’t you open your eyes to the world
Won’t you free your mind from the chains that bind you
And see the face of God

I see a woman slowly dying I see her husband sing her songs
and I see a rose gently lying on her casket
and I see the pain of God

I see a young boy no longer living
I see his mother cry out
and I see a pain that seems to go on forever
And I see the tears of God 

Won’t you look up and see oh life all around you
won’t you open your eyes to the world
Won’t you free your mind from the pain that binds you
And see the face of God

I see the ocean waves as they’re crashing 
I taste the saltwater breeze 
and I see a setting sun build an ocean sidewalk
And I see the face of God

Won’t you look up and see oh life all around you
won’t you open your eyes to the world
Won’t you free your mind from the pain that binds you

And see the face of God

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Different Kind of War

Lest we forget.

Today is Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans Day in America. We are pausing from our work and taking a day to reflect on the men and women who lost their lives in war, those who fought bravely and are still here with their memories, and those who are serving in dangerous or maybe just far off places defending the innocent or keeping the peace.

I am also pausing today and reflecting on the war. The battles that so many are fighting daily in the pursuit of health, or maybe just in the pursuit of some sort of peace. Specifically, the war on mental illness and addiction.

I think of those I know of who lost their lives to suicide or addiction:
my mother, my friend, my friend's brother, my new friend's son, another friend's son, and the friend of a friend back in my high school days (I went to his funeral even though I didn't know him. The pain of suicide was so near to my heart that I wanted to support his family and friends, and attend for my own grief journey as well), and this week a young man in our community died due to drunk driving. 

I think of my courageous friends who battled or are still battling various forms of mental illness/addictions (and forgive me if you notice I am mentioning you and my brief description of your journey may not be entirely accurate and I can't do it justice in just a few words):

*The woman who suffered sexual abuse as a child, battled marijuana addiction in her teen and young adult years, and as a wife and mother still faces extreme anxiety attacks from time to time. She is a gifted counsellor who offers compassion, wisdom, insightful prayers, and hope to many who are in need of support. 

*The man who fought such extreme anxiety in his young adult years that he was house bound for about a year (even going to the mailbox was no small feat). He now courageously bears his soul through his music and brings healing to others through his vulnerability on stage and in the studio. 

*The friend of mine who probably feels defeated right now. Pregnant again. Living separate from her children. Trying to just get up every morning and put one foot in front of the other. Trying to believe that God can heal her and allow her to enjoy a good life with her kids. 

*The young woman who has experienced all kinds of trauma, who has good dreams and plans for her life, but all the voices in her head are so loud they make the everyday chores of life unbearable and she just wants to run and numb the pain. 

*The man who is burdened with regret over choices he's made that have isolated him from his family and friends. He gets up and goes to work each day to provide for the practical needs of his family, and opens the bottle every night to provide for the various needs of himself. 

These are the soldiers I am thinking of today.

The struggle to live a healthy life is real.

I'm not going to hide the fact that I am in the trenches right now. A few weeks ago I was wondering if I needed to start taking some sort of happy pills. So far, I am doing alright without them, but it's only because I am surrounded by wonderful people who are in the trenches along side me (I say that with full awareness that friends aren't always enough and the need for medication is nothing to be ashamed of, and may yet be in my future). There are days when I have no tears, but then friends show up and cry for me. There are days when I have lots of tears, and friends hand me tissues and listen and pray (and laugh with me as I awkwardly wipe my nose with this stupid piercing in the way! Thanks to Wanda for my new hashtag #notagoodseasonoflifeforanosering).

Here's the deal: I just turned 38. My mom took her life a month before she turned 38. For whatever reasons, she came to the point of giving up on life before she got to be 38. And for various reasons, I find myself having to fight very hard for a healthy life at the age of 38.

I think the main difference between my mom at almost 38 and me at 38, is that she chose isolation and I've chosen community. My mom inadvertently taught me a very important lesson: don't try to make it through life on your own. Having a pretty face, a nice house, and the ability to throw a great party is not really going to satisfy you.

Why am I sharing all this? And why am I doing all of this? Someone told me yesterday that the work I do on myself right now is like an inheritance I can give my children. So, even if I decide I don't really care enough about myself to have a great life, I am now more aware that the work I am doing isn't just about me. Similar to the soldiers who fought (or are still fighting) against evil regimes, I have to keep the bigger picture in mind. This is about peace in the present, but it is also about laying a good foundation for future generations.

I will leave you, fellow soldiers, with a song written by my good, ole pal, Matthew Perryman Jones. This came on while I was driving home yesterday after doing some soul-searching with my counsellor and my support group. I like to hit "shuffle" on my phone and see what songs pop up. This song was so fitting and I marvelled at how well God knows me and how He is fighting for me too, and I had to drive a little further down the road just to take it all in.

Homage for the Suffering
"Here's to you when the rain hits too hard, when the battles that you fight just leave you scarred.. when you're tired to the bone and you've got no strength to move on.."

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Musical Grandmothers

Mimi and Mama Dot.

My dad's mom and my mom's mom. They are pretty much polar opposites.

We call Mimi the whirlwind and Mama Dot the slow poke. Mimi is very loud and kinda rough around the edges. Mama Dot would have probably felt right at home having tea with the Queen. Mimi is known for waking us up by slamming kitchen cupboards, banging pots and pans, and serving up a nice, hot breakfast. Mama Dot usually slept in and let Daddy Bob make the breakfast (more like brunch). She would always tell me to go "freshen up" and tie my hair back before we sat down to eat. She had these hilarious, lovely slippers with a bit of a heel and puffy fur on the top of them. So fancy. It still makes me laugh to think of wearing any kind of heel when you are in your pyjamas. I think Mimi had some more practical slippers. I remember her white running shoes more vividly so I think she wore those more often. Makes sense.. she hit the ground running every day.

They both gave me the gift of music.

Mimi with "My Bonnie lies over the Ocean", "In the Good ole Summertime", and "Just a closer walk with Thee." To name a few. Oh and let's not forget her scary lullabies that we're not sure why she sang to us. "One night I went walking in the cemetery.. skin and bones." Hmm.. such happy thoughts to accompany you into dreamland.

Mama Dot with "Somewhere over the Rainbow", "Too-ra-loora-loora" and the last song I ever heard her sing before she left this world.. "Lord, make us instruments of your peace..". I still remember how her operatic voice rang out on the words "where there is sadness, joy!" I'm glad my brother and I were both there that day to receive her blessing.

Mimi sings everywhere and whistles too. In the kitchen, at the piano, on the porch swing, in the garden, entertaining others at the old folks' home, family gatherings.. you name it, music is present. I really hope that I will get to sing with her at least one more time before she passes on. The last time we sat at her piano together was so magical. I love her rendition of "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine..", and she was probably the one who taught me harmony. I always hear her alto part on "Amazing Grace".

Mama Dot sang in the church choir, at bedtimes, and maybe not quite as often as Mimi. Her voice and style matched her hair and makeup. Perfection. Although.. there was this one bedtime routine we had that allowed me to see her silly, spontaneous side. I feel pretty special about that.  She would carry me down the hallway, dancing and singing "a doot, a doot, a dootily-dootily doot..". Then she would tuck me in and kiss the "sugar spot" at the back of my neck.

Last week in Kindermusik, I watched two grandmothers have a blast with their granddaughters. They were willing to roll around on the ground with them as pigs in the mud, sing aloud even though at times quite off key, and joyfully and sweetly encourage the little girls to try new things and express themselves. They made me think of my grandmothers. It was beautiful to behold.

My grandmothers obviously played a big part in making music an everyday household item for me, and for that I am so thankful. I imagine I will get to be a playful, musical grandmother one day. I know I have definitely been that kind of mother. The kids and I have made up all kinds of songs on a range of subjects: potty training, socks, our pets (for example, a beautiful ukulele song Talia wrote for our dog), and Eva and I recently wrote a catchy one about a chicken on a farm. I am sure Mimi and Mama Dot would be happy to know that their legacy lives on.

"Blessed are those who spoil and snuggle, hug and hope, pray and pamper, boast and brag, for they shall be called grandmothers."
-Author Unknown

Monday, October 17, 2016

Oh Good Grief

Grief is a bitch. Please, pardon my language, but she is, and I will tell you why.
She is unpredictable, exhausting, interruptive, rude, messy, and she thinks the world revolves around her.  She does not give a flying flip about your schedule or your priorities. You can try to ignore her, but she will just silently stare at you from the corner and wreak havoc on your life in her passive- aggressive way. Then, maybe one day you decide to address her, and she comes out swinging and knocks you flat on your back.

I was working on a post all last week, but nothing was flowing right. I've been writing a letter to my mother in honour of her birthday which was this past Thursday. I told myself that I would post something to somehow consecrate that day and make it special. Life happened (and keeps happening) and her birthday came and went. I wasn't able to pause life and give that day the attention that I wanted to. I was really caught off guard at all the emotions that surfaced (predominantly anger), and even some sickness and crazy stiffness in my muscles that I think are probably related.

How do you know when to give in to your feelings and when to fight them? People say, "oh, listen to your body and let it tell you what you need." Well, if I listened to my body, I would be staying in bed a whole lot more, the kids would be eating junk food and constantly staring at screens, our animals would be dead (well, the kids actually feed the cats so they might survive), I wouldn't have a job, and I would be too isolated to experience the love of my community through the coffee dates, prayers, tears, hugs, music, and texts. And so, I guess it's back to that annoying concept of "balance". Collapse when you can.. get up and fight when you have to??

One of my dear, very wise friends is going through some grief of her own. She is good at reminding me to recognize what is going on in the present and grieve for what is there, instead of rushing forward to how you are going to fix everything or how it's all going to be ok in the end. Even as a little girl I was an optimist.  One of my dad's favourite memories is of me raking leaves and singing "the sun will come out tomorrow..".  I think in Christian circles especially, we try to rush through the suffering and death part and get to the celebration of the Resurrection. Jesus was called "a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief" (or another version says "familiar with pain"). Familiar with pain? Not cool. Even He had to go through the agony of Gethsemane, the floggings, and the cross. I can so relate to His question in the garden, "will you take this cup from me?" I'm like, "Beam me up, Scotty. Get me out of this mess!".  For whatever reason, I am not being rescued from the mess this time. Can't go under it, can't go around it, have to go through it.

I was going to keep this short and bittersweet, but the words just kept spilling out. I will close with this beautiful quote that my friend shared the other day. I think this is an example of Good Grief.

“Someday you will be faced with the reality of loss. And as life goes on, days rolling into nights, it will become clear that you never really stop missing someone special who’s gone, you just learn to live around the gaping hole of their absence. When you lose someone you can’t imagine living without, your heart breaks wide open, and the bad news is you never completely get over the loss. You will never forget them. However, in a backwards way, this is also the good news. They will live on in the warmth of your broken heart that doesn’t fully heal back up, and you will continue to grow and experience life, even with your wound. It’s like badly breaking an ankle that never heals perfectly, and that still hurts when you dance, but you dance anyway with a slight limp, and this limp just adds to the depth of your performance and the authenticity of your character. The people you lose remain a part of you. Remember them and always cherish the good moments spent with them.” Christopher Walken