Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Losing Lent

I began this season of Lent with lofty goals – 30 additional minutes of Bible-reading per day, and a dietary-makeover along the lines of the Daniel Plan. (A whole-person health plan created by Pastor Rick Warren and friends – check it out.) I was cutting out all caffeine and sugar, as well as doing a 10 day dairy and gluten detox. The first couple of days I was pretty grumpy without my morning coffee, but I was really enjoying all the fresh fruit smoothies. The extra Bible reading was good too – I had interesting reading plans by Nicky Gumbel and Eugene Peterson. After one week I was going strong.

Suddenly everything else fell away when I had to rush to emergency with my seven-year-old. He had an allergic reaction at school and needed adrenaline, antihistamines and steroids. The first couple of hours were tense and gut-wrenching. When he was stable the doctors told me that Jude would need to stay in the hospital for 24-48 hours. After he finished work, my husband came to stay with Jude so I could run home and pack an overnight bag with some clothes and things to keep us occupied.

When I left the hospital I had been caffeine, sugar and dairy-free for seven days, but now I was in crisis. It had been a few hours since the ambulance ride, where I watched my son’s oxygen mask kick in and the injection of adrenaline subside. My fear had created a massive rush of adrenaline of my own, now I was crashing and fading. I was exhausted. I needed to keep it together and not only stay awake, but stay brave and strong for my seven-year-old who could’ve died that day. I wanted a coffee.

I had a quick decision to make – do I continue on my elimination diet, trying to stay gluten & dairy-free while eating at the hospital cafeteria for the next few days, I’m sure I could find some carrot sticks, or do I call it a good seven days and leave it for now? My weak will was certainly leaning toward scrapping the whole thing, at least for a coffee, but I prayed “God, please sustain me. Let me know what to do.” I sensed Him saying “set it aside.”

I wearily, intentionally and gratefully went to Timmy’s to get a latté. Okay, I had a couple of Timbits too. But I didn’t have 12. I didn’t scarf down a box of donuts or buy a dozen chocolate bars. I decided not to throw the baby away with the bathwater. ‘Cause I’ve done it before. I’ve been at this juncture – one slip up and I abandon the whole thing. I plan to exercise, then miss two days in a row. Ah well, might as well forget exercising at all.  I promise to write in my journal every day. A few days go by and I toss the journal behind the bookshelf. Baby. Bathwater.

As I sipped on my coffee and thought about my decision to cease my detox and diet plan, I realized this had nothing to do with Lent. Yes, it was about God – I wanted to upgrade the temple He gave me and honour Him with my actions. But it wasn’t about Lent. The detox part was really about looking for hidden food allergies. Even the 30 minute Bible plan was something I committed to do for the month of March, starting four days before Lent. These changes to my behaviour were on the surface Lentish, they intersected and overlapped with Lent, but that’s not why I chose to do them.  I didn’t spend time with God in prayer about what to do for Lent, I just did what I was going to do anyway. What was the point in being Pharisaical about my plans when they weren’t even God-ordained? Was I just cleaning the outside of the cup?

 So I got my caffeine fix with a little less guilt, grateful for the setting aside. I even giggled a little when breakfast for my seven-year-old arrived in the morning, complete with a cup of coffee. (He was happy to let me have it. After a night on a lumpy cot with one eye open, I was happy for the kick start to the day.) The mostly sleepless night gave me ample time for prayer, and I had good Bible-reading time while Jude ate his breakfast.

But there was a nagging guilt, small, slightly tugging at the corners… why didn’t I trust that God would be my strength? Was I too quick to hear what I wanted from Him?  Was my will so weak? Did I go to Him in prayer right away, or worry first? I pondered all these things, and brought them before the Lord, wondering if I had just “lost” Lent. But maybe I had just found Lent in this self-examination. Of all the traditional disciplines of Lent, self-examination has probably been the hardest for me to embrace.

So now, as Jude and I are back at home, and I know that whatever I do or don’t do for Lent, I do it for God and with God. So I am spending time getting to know myself, asking myself the hard questions about my faith, my fears. And as I patiently, coaxingly wait for the answers, I am thankful that in almost losing Lent, God is helping me to find myself.  

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Matthew 23.25-26

"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Luke 11.9-10

Thursday, March 13, 2014


The dread. Every mother has it. Some have it stuffed so far below the surface that they rarely let themselves feel it. Some let it run wild, colouring every moment with worry. Some have found a nice balance of healthy fear and relaxed trust.
Every moment your kids are out of your sight there is some level of fear that something bad will happen to them. When they are at school, at a friend's house, at the park, at hockey practice. There is a split-second alarm when the phone rings. What if something happened to my child? Like the fear of the phone call in the middle of the night... What if... What if...
My call came on Tuesday. 
...It is my husband - the school just phoned him. His first words are "He is okay." Meant to calm my worry, my heart leaps into my throat as he explains, "They had to give Jude his epipen. He had a reaction but he is okay. Go to the school. The ambulance is on its way." My worst fear... anaphylaxis.
Should I go straight to the hospital? What if I miss the ambulance? I don't want him to ride in it alone...I know the terror of the throat closing, breathing thick and strained. I know the fear of the needle - the injection of the adrenaline. I know the power of the adrenaline - shaking, heart racing. Fear on top of fear. He is my son. Only seven. The thought of him going through this pierces my heart.
I race to the school, park my van behind the fire truck and run into the school. He is surrounded by medics and staff, seeming to all talk at once. "He was so pale." "It was an accident." "He asked for his epipen." "He was so brave." "We're taking him to the hospital." "He asked if he was going to die. “I’m sorry." I just want to take him in my arms and hold him forever.
In the ambulance they hook him up to a bunch of machines. They check his oxygen saturation level, blood pressure, temperature, other things I'm not sure about. As we hurry to the hospital, I try to swallow my panic, I remember the other ambulance trips... the last one with Jude was longer - two hours to a larger hospital when he was almost intubated to treat his extreme asthma attack. The first ride was with his older brother Sasha, as he struggled to breath after eating eggs at age two. I try to refocus, listen to the paramedic.
She explains that the reaction seems to be in his upper airway - he ingested particles of the peanut that triggered the anaphylaxis.  He needs the oxygen mask and Benadryl, but he is out of the initial danger of anaphylactic shock.  I explain his medical history – hives and vomiting when he accidentally eats eggs or dairy. His asthma. Eczema. No, he’s never eaten peanuts. Yes, he always carries his epipen, inhalers and Benadryl.  
We arrive at the hospital. Jude is calm - his heart has stopped the adrenaline-induced pounding. The oxygen mask is helping his breathing relax. He tells me he prayed. I promise him he is not going to die. 
We stay in the hospital overnight. He is okay. He gets a two doses of Prednisone and another prescription for when we are discharged. He needs to be medicated and monitored for 72 hours, as there is a chance of a second reaction.
Eventually I hear the whole story. One of his classmates had a puffed wheat square made with peanut butter in her lunch by accident. He didn’t touch the square, he wasn’t sitting near it. His throat started to close and he asked for his epipen. His face was pale and his eyes were glassy. As scary as this incident was, there are positives:
I am thankful that he has a healthy fear of his allergies. He knows he can die because of a peanut. (A would-be aunt neither of us had the pleasure to meet died of an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts.) But now he has survived a reaction, and knows he doesn’t have to die if he uses his auto-injector and gets to a hospital.
I am thankful that he knows the allergy protocol. The teachers said as soon as he began to react he stayed calm and asked for his epipen. He knows when to ask for his inhalers. He always wears his MedicAlert bracelet and asks about ingredients before he eats anything.
I am thankful that the school reacted quickly and correctly. They did not hesitate to administer the epipen, and they called 911 and my husband right away. They have a no-nut policy that they do their best to enforce.
I am thankful that this episode will bring about more awareness about allergies. It is something our family is all too familiar with, but there are lots of people who need to learn and keep learning about the dangers of food allergies.
But the dread is still there. His allergy is so severe that he doesn’t even need to touch a peanut to have a reaction. It is scary that what is healthy to some is deadly to him. Peanuts are a poison that parade as food. Same for me, same for Sasha. None of us know when our time on earth will end, but the three of us, and millions of other allergic individuals, know that our time could come disguised as dinner.
So I read labels, ask questions, pray, tell my kids to keep vigilant, trying to reduce the danger and the dread. And I ask you to do the same. To keep my dread down. And to keep Jude’s hopes up.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Turning Forty

So it’s official - I am 40. Time to celebrate? It’s hard to tell. Some people dread turning 40 – it seems like an ominous milestone, like the point of no return on the aging scale - not that we can ever turn back time - but maybe it is the point past pretending that we can. Certainly 40 seemed really old when I was 10. And 20. And 30, to be honest. It is interesting how we react as we reach these somewhat artificial landmarks of our birth (surely they are more significant to our mothers?!) and reflect on our journey-to-date. Did things turn out the way we expected or hoped?  As a highly academic high school student I, and probably everyone else who knew me, assumed I would go on to a post-secondary education to get a degree or two. Maybe a masters. We would’ve thought it was a pretty safe bet. Instead I enrolled and often dropped out of a number of classes at a few different schools. My experience with panic disorder was peaking as I attempted to further my education – no doubt the fluorescent lighting and the crowded campuses and classes didn’t help. But I still think about going back to school, and I probably will. (It’s nice to be able to control the crowds and lights with an on-line course.) When I was younger I assumed I’d be married and have kids – actually I always pictured myself with three boys, but still living in my parents’ home. I did end up with three boys, and I am very thankful that Paul & I have our own home.

The part about turning 40 that makes me sad isn’t so much about the years, it’s more about being a grown-up in general. Not that I usually feel like a grown-up. Every time I have to do something particularly adultish, like negotiate mortgage payments or navigate parent-teacher interviews, I feel like a fake, a timid child hiding behind the mask of a mature and capable woman. Surely if you are old enough to have kids and a car and a house and a real job you must be mature, stable, and sure of yourself? When would I outgrow panic and self-consciousness like I outgrew dolls and crayons? Did I miss the day I was supposed to become confident and competent, shedding my fears and doubts like last season’s fashions?  I was surprised to learn that most of us are much like insecure tweens, but with bigger clothes and bigger bills.

What I’m sad about as I turn 40 is anxiety. When I was younger and figuring out this diagnosis of “panic disorder” I was told that most children grow out of their anxiety. I clung to this fact like a life preserver in the raging tempest of my life. This was a ray of hope to me that pierced the terrifying darkness of my fears. And I was certain it was true – how on earth could I as an adult still have so many fears? Imagine a grown-up too scared to go on an elevator! Imagine an adult who freaked out and bolted out of the mall because she was claustrophobic. But yes, I can imagine exactly that. I slowly but surely became that adult. The specific phobias have morphed over the years but fear still has a firm grip on this 40-year-old, grown-up mother and wife.

I know now that millions of other adults are struggling with varying forms of anxiety, and that was somewhat comforting to learn, but it was a crushing blow to realize that it applied to me. The hope that freedom would come with maturity that was a lifeline through my teenage years… Just hang in there, you’ll grow out of it… turned out to be a lie. Truth is I grew more into it - I became accustomed to fear, I expected panic attacks. I absorbed all of this terror and dread into my personality, my self, my soul.

I mourn the hope of “growing out of“ anxiety. But I am learning that it is not so much about growing out of fear as it is growing into God. I thank Him for the forty years on this earth that He’s given me, including the anxiety, for that is part of the journey that brought me to where I am today, where I am supposed to be. But now I know that even though I feel fear it is not part of who I am. I am learning that my true identity is in Christ, not in anxiety. (see Ephesians) I yearn for the peace that passes all understanding. (Philippians 4.7) He can do infinitely more (and better!) than I can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3.20) – His miracles far surpass my teenage hopes. Even though I still struggle with anxiety, it does not define me. As I stumble along the path God has set before me, I am trying to cast my cares on Him (I Peter 5.7), trying to lean on Him (Proverbs 3.5). I don’t always get it right, but He does. I will continue to age and change, but He remains the same, (Hebrews 13.8) and that is worth celebrating.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Judah Hill Detour

Driving to town yesterday was so exciting! I was only doing routine errands, and nothing out of the ordinary happened, nevertheless I was almost giddy. We live 18 kilometres south of Peace River, the town where we work, shop & worship. The drive is about 16 kilometres over the flat prairie, then two steep and windy kilometres down Judah Hill into the valley. Last May there was a landslide – the hillside gave way and took a chunk of the highway with it. The road was closed. Now our only way to town was north by southeast – across to the village of Nampa and up to Peace River. Our 18 kilometre jaunt became a 90 kilometre round-trip. Fifteen minutes of relative solitude on the secondary highway became at least half an hour with traffic.

The timing was ironic  - for the almost eight years we’d lived out here on our acreage, Paul taught at and the boys went to school at the francophone school in Falher, 55 kilometres south of us, so they all had a daily 110 kilometre commute. (Before I had children I probably would have considered this child abuse, but my kids loved the bus ride.) In May Paul accepted a position at the Catholic school in Peace River, so we decided to switch everyone to that school system. What a joy to have a much shorter drive, we thought… it turned out to be almost as long.

It was a delight yesterday to turn left onto the highway, after nine months of the longer route to the right. My muscle memory kicked in - I know that road like the back of my hand. I have driven it in all weather conditions imaginable – whiteouts, floods, heat waves and wind storms. I remember driving back and forth to town, pregnant and studying Jewish history, and deciding that if we had another boy I’d like to name him Judah. I remember spinning out on the ice and going into the ditch, five-year-old Sasha squealing “Whee!” the whole time. I remember stopping as a herd of elk crossed the highway single file as I was on my way to the grocery store. In just less than eight years I've driven this route over a thousand times – encountering moose, deer, snowy owls, golden eagles, northern lights and bright canola fields. I am so grateful for this drive.

But as frustrating as it was to reroute the long way, I need to keep it in perspective. So it was a 45 kilometre drive… to what?

45 kilometres to school – my kids have the right to go to school, unlike other children in this world who are forced to work or otherwise denied education. We have the privilege to choose both French and Christian instruction.

45 kilometres to work – my husband has a good, stable job that he loves. While many folks are out of work or working in terrible conditions, we have plenty of opportunities for employment, even the option of government social services to aid us.

45 kilometres to shopping – even in a relatively small northern town I have the choice of four grocery stores that carry product from all over the world. While many people in this world are starving, I can eat mangoes, avocados and coconuts far from their country of origin. We have the option of gluten-free, nut-free, low-fat, oven-ready or take-out.

45 kilometres to church – we are free to attend the church of our choice and freely worship. In other parts of the world believers are persecuted - forced to sneak into secrets churches under the cover of night or even martyred for their faith. Our church has running water, heat and even a new roof. We are not afraid to go to church.

As I drive that 45 kilometres to town I need to keep my eyes peeled for moose, but I will likely not encounter any roadside bombs or snipers along the way. The relatively small amount of additional effort it takes for us to get to our places of work, worship, learning and shopping is nothing to the huge and dangerous effort it is for some of the world to access work, school, church, clean water and food.

So as much as I appreciate my short Judah Hill drive, I also thank God for the detour. We live in a land of plenty, a land of opportunity, a land of choice. And for that I am grateful.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Counting the Days

Health has not been the theme of my past year. Unfortunately I have experienced a lot of illness. Between migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, gastritis and some other undiagnosed issues, I spent much of the last year unwell.  Nausea and vomiting have left me weak and dehydrated. Migraines have sent me to solitary confinement with ice packs and ear plugs. Belching has made me sound ruder and more repellent than a drunken sailor. Bloating has left me with no clothes that fit and feeling six months pregnant. (Looking pregnant has been a mix of amusing and awkward – young people have discreetly wondered and asked someone else if I was pregnant, whereas adults have simply assumed and publicly congratulated me on my growing family. If you don’t know for sure I recommend saying nothing – explaining you are sick rather than expecting really dampens the atmosphere in the room. In those moments I genuinely wished I was expecting - even at almost forty – then I would know what was causing my symptoms and I would be looking forward to the resulting miracle. Morning sickness is preferable to mystery sickness.)

I have missed more work, church, meetings, kids’ activities and social events than I care to count. Do I dare to count? How many days have I missed in the past year?

Throwing up: 2-3 days/month = 1 month
Recovery/Dehydration: 2-3 days/month = 1 month
Migraine: 3-4 days/month = 1.5 months
Bloating: 7-8 days/month = 3 months
Nausea: 15 days/month = 6 months (Most of the days I was nauseated I had other symptoms, so let’s factor most of those out.)
Nausea only: 5/month = 2 months
Total: 8.5 months.
That’s about 255 sick days.

Of the 3.5 months remaining I was tired, really tired. It is hard for me to remember the last time I didn’t feel exhausted. Exhaustion is oppressive and depressive. In this disheartening and frustrating condition I have seen 5 doctors, had 4 invasive tests, and so many blood tests that the bruises on my arms sometimes haven’t healed before the next round. I think I have tried varying cocktails of 8 medications. Diagnosis? The theories have been numerous and mostly erroneous.

Why am I writing about this? I hope my motivation is not simply so someone will feel sorry for me. I am questioning and grappling with what is going on. All of these days add up to a lot of time to think about being sick. Time to ponder health and pose questions about illness. I haven’t been asking “Why, God, why?” but rather “What, God, what?” What is causing these symptoms? What is making my body feel so toxic? What can I do to feel better? What should I learn from this?

And I pray for healing – I pray for God to restore and renew my body, to remove the sickness, the fatigue, the depression. It is natural to cry out to God when we are broken and want Him to fix us. What surprises me is how this time had led to an outpouring of gratitude. As I hug the toilet and wait for the next wave of vomiting to begin I thank Him. I thank Him for things I otherwise might not:
            Thank You that this not happening because of cancer and chemo. 
Thank You for Gatorade and Gravol.
Thank You for clean running water and indoor plumbing.

As I lie in my bed in the dark, ice pack on head, I thank Him:
          Thank You that my kids are old enough to feed themselves.
          Thank You for my husband who can cook and clean
          Thank You that it is me who is ill, not my kids.

Eventually the vomiting ceases; the migraine subsides; the bloating decreases. But with it the gratitude dwindles… Just when I should be the most thankful for relief of symptoms and a reprieve from pain I seem to fall into a pattern of complaining, of feeling sorry for myself. I mourn the lost days and resent the pile of dishes, the loads of laundry, the unpaid bills that await my return to the everyday world. But instead of embracing the gift of recovery, instead of rejoicing in my ability to perform ordinary responsibilities, I resent the missed opportunities – all the activities, events and conversations that I could not join in.  The days spent entirely in bed. The days I could barely do anything for my kids. The days I barely talked to my husband. While I dwell on the lost fun, play, worship and work, I overlook the miracles right in front of my eyes - the sunrise, the birdsong, and the laughter of my children.

I don’t know why I find it harder to be positive when I am physically feeling better – I guess I get caught up in being behind. I neglect the present while I grieve the past. I practice grief instead of gratitude. When we find God when we are down and out, we casually cast Him aside when things are looking up. We call for Him in the pit, not on the plain.
Psalm 40.1-3. I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord
Sometimes I don’t wait patiently, but God always hears my cry. He lifts me out of the pit, and as I crawl around and adjust to the Light, He picks me up and steadies my wobbly legs. Now it is my part – I need to sing the new song – the hymn of praise.

Thank You, Father, for your healing, your salvation, your unfailing love. As You lift my spirit, help me lift my praise to You.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Traffic & Weather

"Oooh we belong together like traffic and weather, like traffic and weather"
 Fountains of Wayne

We can talk about these two subjects incessantly - with perfect strangers or the most intimate of friends - we love to talk, and especially complain, about traffic and weather.

I don’t have to contend with busy city traffic where I live, but I do spend a lot of time on the highway.  I admit I can be a bit of an impatient driver. Somehow I have justified my belief that the speed limit is a suggested guideline. So I often find myself frustrated when the vehicle in front of me is travelling below the speed limit for no apparent reason. The other day I was driving to town, following a car doing about eighty kilometres per hour, frequently braking and slowing down. The day was sunny, the roads were dry, and so I was grumbling under my breath that this guy should hurry up, or at least pick a speed and stick with it.  Then God showed me something so clearly I had to chuckle. He showed me how I was just like that car. On my faith journey through life, I frequently cruise along at a good pace, and then abruptly slow down. Usually I slow down because of fear – fear of the real challenges I will face on my life-road, or more often than not, completely imagined obstacles.  Or even worse than the car I was behind, I stop entirely. Or make a u-turn, totally disregarding God’s plan for me. Or I decide that God’s GPS must not be working and I veer off His road looking for an easier route.

I’m sure my friends, family and mentors notice my erratic life-driving, and question why I slow down so much, wander around the back roads and spin my wheels. Sometimes I simply put on the brakes, quit the engine, and lay my head on the steering wheel and cry. I forget that God is always in charge, and that He has a good plan for my life. I forget that my driving affects those people around me. What am I telling my kids about God when I give into fear, questioning my Sovereign Saviour? What do they learn from my inconsistent and often unpredictable faith journey?  What am I teaching them about other drivers? The way we handle ourselves on the road and react in traffic can be very much like the way we navigate our way through faith, life and community.

When it comes to weather, here in northern Alberta we tend to focus much of our complaining on the cold and snow. Sometimes it feels like winter begins in October and stays until the end of April. Then we have mosquito season, followed by a short glimpse of fall. But in truth we have unique seasons, in nature as in our lives. And each season has its own virtues. Its own purpose.  For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3.1

The cold and dark of winter can leave us tempted to stay in bed and pull the covers up over our heads. But when we venture out we see the beauty of hoar frost, sun dogs. Each one-of-a-kind snowflake reminds us that every one of God’s children is a unique creation. Even still we get to whining when it is too cold. And too hot. Too dark. Too bright. Too wet. Too dry. We, as the weather, go through transitions that can’t always be forecasted. Cold snaps break and we marvel at the warmth. Heat waves oppress and we are grateful for the refreshing rain. My hard heart has been warmed after a deep freeze. My fierce anger has been cooled by God’s grace. As the winds swirl snow across the prairie, the Holy Spirit has stirred life inside my soul. 

Just as the sun and the rain act in harmony to create the perfect environment for plants to grow and flourish, we need the right conditions in our soul to bear good fruit for God. And when we have those right conditions we will grow in the fruit of the Spirit, having built our house on the strongest foundation. So rather than complain when the winds and rain come, we can rejoice, knowing we serve the God who can still any storm. The Father that guides us on our journey through life. So bring on the traffic and weather – I will turn my complaints into praise for God, whatever the road conditions.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Referee Mom - my perspective

It can be difficulty to watch our kids take centre stage, or centre ice. We find ourselves holding our breathe as we hope for the right note, the right line, or the right pass. It’s not that we will be disappointed or less proud if our child makes a mistake, rather we are taking on their self-worth – hoping that their often fragile egos are untouched by embarrassment or shame. I have seen my kids shine in their public appearances, and I have seen them stumble. I watched the crowd cheer and laugh as one son hammed his way through a school play. I heard the congregation gasp in horror as another son dropped the cross the first time he served as crucifer in church.
Hockey life is no exception. We want our kids to do their best and have fun, but our human nature craves that they do well in the eyes of others.  That they don’t mess up. It can be difficult to rise above this desire of the flesh and accept mis-steps and mistakes. The first time I watched my now 11-year-old son Sasha play in net I was a basket case. I was so nervous for him – afraid the shots would be more than he could handle. Afraid of what his teammates would think if they didn’t win. Afraid of what the parents would say if he let in a soft one. I was fiercely protective of his self-worth – I wanted him to know deep in his soul that his best was enough, that I would always be proud of him. Thankfully he is blessed with a healthy self-confidence and a fun-loving spirit. He stays cool under pressure. Last season there was lots of pressure – his team was strong and they won the provincial final in their division. The boys were very determined to come out on top.  But some of the parents were over the top. Some took these games of nine and ten-year olds way too seriously. I tried to bite my tongue and send up prayers for patience and mercy as I listened to adults berate children. I just about bit my tongue clean off when one of the siblings in the crowd lamented to her mother, “Oh no, Sasha is in goal today.” I can’t fault her - she was simply a sponge soaking up her parents’ attitudes and voicing their criticisms. It was a harsh reminder of how we shape and affect the attitudes and beliefs of our kids for better or for worse.
If I thought being a goalie mom was a challenge, I was hardly prepared for the stress of being a referee mom. The first game my oldest son Finn reffed was probably harder for me than it was for him. I knew he was prepared – he completed the officiating clinic and tests, he had played hockey for years, he watched games, read the Hockey News, memorized stats and discussed the game with anyone who would listen. He was fully qualified and ready to go. But I knew how referees were treated – I wanted to put him into a bubble to deflect anything that could potentially hurt him. Even if he made all the best calls, someone would be upset. I’ve watched and cheered enough minor hockey and NHL games to know that even the most trained and eagle-eye officials are taunted, jeered and blamed for bad calls, non-calls, biases and blunders.
My son was reffing six and seven-year-olds, hardly NHLers… maybe the fans would be more forgiving? Sadly not. During that first game I was treated to a rant about the poor officiating from one of the player’s grandmas, a woman I went to church with no less! When I am a hockey mom I am easier to identify – sitting with the rest of the team parents cheering on the kids. As a referee mom I am camouflaged – it’s not like I wear a black and white striped jersey and shout “Great call! Way to go ref!” from the stands. So there is no filter from the complaints and criticism. I get to hear it all. It can be heart-breaking.
As a minor hockey parent I, along with all the other parents, am required to complete an online course, Respect in Sport. It teaches the importance of good sportsmanship as a player, parent and coach. We are told that in no uncertain terms that we are not to rebuke anyone in the game – not the players, not the coaches, not the referees. But all this positive teaching seems to fly out the window in the heat of competition. Apparently kind and caring neighbours and friends turn into armchair officials and seem to forget all the lip service to fun and encouragement. The refs become targets. Even 13-year-olds. Many coaches and parents bully and berate officials for their call of the game. And guess what their kids learn to do? And the cycle continues.
So what are we to do? Well, we are called to live out our faith in thought, word and deed. Love our neighbour as ourselves. Acting with integrity, compassion and honour in the arena isn’t always easy, but it goes a long way to model good behaviour to those around us. The game can get intense, and I have certainly got caught up in the competition before. I’ve said some things I regret. But I try to treat others the way I want to be treated. More importantly the way I want my kids to be treated.
Sometimes I find it hard to justify my love for the game, with all the fighting, the poor sportsmanship and just plain lousy behaviour, on and off the ice. But there are moments – when a teammate skates by Sasha and taps his pads after he lets in a weak goal. When a coach genuinely thanks Finn for reffing a good game.  The big grins after a hard-won game.  The support of respectful, encouraging and passionate parents, coaches, players and fans. We can teach our kids to be positive role-models and honourable people, who play their best, have fun, and know how to forgive. We want our kids to grow up to be kind and compassionate, not critical or cruel. So to you all hockey moms and dads, and grandmas and sisters too, let’s commit to supporting a generation of hockey fans that love each other as much as they love the game. That is when hockey will truly be the best game you can name.
Happy Hockey Day in Canada!