- by Carolyn Bergen
There are some things I absolutely knew I would NOT do in my life. Astronaut. Brain Surgeon, Professional Race Car Driver. Radio Talk Show Host. Y'know...some things are just beyond a person's scope of imagination...it's not remotely possible, with skills I would never, ever have. Being these wasn't gonna happen for me.
Except one is. Tomorrow I'm gonna be a radio talk show host.
Now, to be clear, I'm on co-sharing duties, and doing it for exactly two Fridays while the regular talk show host, Dahlia Kurtz, is on vacation. So...it's not like I'm changing professions...but still. Something that wasn't even remotely on my bucket list of things to try is something I'm gonna do tomorrow. YIKES!!!!
Still shaking my head on it.
Hard to believe they asked me. See, I'm not a person who could ever be a radio talk show host. I've never even had the guts to call into a radio show. I just couldn't. Y'know how sometimes we know things about ourselves...we just know these things to be true, and we live out of them?
We stick ourselves into boxes of a smaller size because we determine who we are in a way that limits us. We tell ourselves stories about who we are and we live out of those stories. Sometimes those stories we tell ourselves make our stories too small.
After CJOB680 asked me to co-host these two shows, I found myself forced to re-examine why I "couldn't" be a talk show host. There were two main reasons:
I was sure I would have a sore throat that day (weeks away). I might be too busy. I might have to clip my fingernails or water the plants. But I have this rule that I'm not to say "no" because of fear...and I knew that everything I could come up with was only a flimsy and fear-covering excuse, not a valid reason to say no.
So I said yes.
I told Dahlia I wanted to make her proud. And sweet, dear friend and wonderful person that she is, she responded:
I heard someone say once somewhere that encouragement is fuel for the soul. Dahlia's words were very much for me that day, and these days leading up to tomorrow--the day I become a co-host of a radio show.
Look. You already make me proud. That's why I chose you to do it.
So...here's the deal. I'm sticking my neck out. I'm writing about this adventure I've signed up for before I've gone on the adventure. I have no idea how it is gonna go. I may fall flat on my face...and my first row living will look disastrous.
But here's the other deal. Dahlia, who works in radio full time (so theoretically she knows what she's talking about) says I'm ready.
And I know, no matter what:
So often, when people talk about exiting things things, they talk about them in retrospect, when they have triumphed. I want to proclaim, right here and right now, that I have triumphed in saying "yes" to something I find terrifying and that I feel unqualified for. I think life is best lived when the triumph isn't in winning, but in showing up and letting ourselves be seen. Being brave is the triumph.
The yes to new experiences, to being stretched, to learning something new, to trying on something I've never done before.
What sort of "yes" are you being challenged to? And how much do you live in the front row of your life?
Front row living can be humbling...those ladies have their undergarments showing in ways those third row ladies do not! But I wanna go through life feeling like the front row ladies, even if that means I get humbled sometimes.
Yikes! I'm talking myself into this by writing in this blog. I'm still scared, but I'm gonna do it. Tune in tomorrow on CJOB680 at 1:00 to listen in to Carolyn Bergen and Dr. Syras filling in for Dahlia Kurtze from 1-3 pm!
- by Lindsey Walsh
Our newest therapist, Lindsey Walsh, lets us in on his thoughts today...
I must confess: I’m a late bloomer.
A veeery late bloomer.
Winter wheat late.
Trick-or-Treating at American Thanksgiving late.
And yet, here I am, nearing the big Four-Oh and I find myself with both a calling and a bit of a specialty. The calling I’ve had for eight years now. That came about because someone I was volunteer-counselling with said, “You should really do the Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy”.
I’m not even sure I’d heard of such a being before. How do you fit everyone on the couch? I wondered.
My fellow volunteer basically summarized Marriage and Family Therapists as “Professionals who help people get their emotional needs met and to change the negative patterns that can get in the way of change, growth, and fulfillment.”
That sounded really neat to me, so, I followed my co-volunteer’s advice. I applied to the program with Aurora Family Therapy Centre at the U of W and I got in.
And here I am, seven years later, with a great deal of practice under my belt. I’ve worked with individuals of all ages, faiths, and many different backgrounds; straight, lesbian and gay couples; and lots and lots of parents with their children.
And lots of kids and either one or two parents.
And I absolutely love it. There really is nothing like helping people feel heard, understood and appreciated by their loved ones. And when I can help a child feel her or his mother’s, father’s, or other caregiver’s full, compassionate, curious, and courageous presence – well that’s just magical.
After all, when we know our loved ones are there for us, then we can really, really blossom. Then the world doesn’t seem like such a big, scary place. And when it is big and scary, at least we aren’t facing it alone.
So, that’s my calling: Marriage and Family Therapist. It’s what I put on my business cards. Along with being a dad and a hubby, it is perhaps the truest expression of why I’m here on Earth.
What do I love about this challenging work?
As a therapist, I get to:
What an amazing way to spend my work days.
But what about a specialty? Is there anything that I am a little more passionate about? Anything that I have a bit of an edge on?
I am committed to serving many different clients with many different needs. But, there is nothing I am more passionate about than helping caregivers nurture kids.
I love working with parents and other caregivers, helping them really tune into their kids, to soothe them, and help them overcome their struggles.
And sometimes people do deserve help, because it isn’t easy being a parent.
And it definitely is not easy being a child.
So, I’m here, you know, just in case you want some help making it a little easier to help you and your Junior Tribe Members listen to and share with each other.
How about you? What’s your calling? What do you get out of bed every morning to do? What carries you past that first cup of coffee? Do you have a specialty? Is there any one thing that you are just a little more passionate about and skilled at doing?
If not, maybe someday someone you love – or like me, a complete stranger – will give the best advice of your life. The advice that moves you from being a lovely person, to being a lovely person who has a career, or hobby, or whatever-it-is that you can call…
If you are interested in booking an appointment with Lindsey or another therapist at our office, please call 204 275 1045 or contact us via our webpage.
- by Carolyn Bergen
I have three Junior Tribe Members that don't live with me. On Monday, one of those JTM's came over for supper...we caught up as we ate our meal, made snickerdoodles together--one scooping cookie dough while the other rolled the balls in the cinnamon sugar--and then watched the final game of the Stanley Cup playoffs. I so enjoyed hearing his news and just hanging in the same space.
I visited the other two JTM's today that aren't under my roof. I went to the cemetery to visit them...or rather, where their ashes are buried. I brought them each a white rose, as I have for years...
I kinda liked it.
I was thinking about using it for today, but I have decided not. It doesn't fit
Today, June 18th, is the day when I remember my silent sons. It's the day I remember the year that I celebrated Mother's Day as a pregnant woman, anticipating being a mom. The year I went to the hospital thinking I would be told I was an over concerned first-time mom. The year they actually told me, instead, that it was bad, really bad. The year then I found out that I didn't have one, but two little ones whose lives hung in the balance. The year that I went on solid and utter bedrest to save these little ones, and it looked like we might beat the odds. I remember it was the year that we didn't beat the odds, and one morning they couldn't find the heartbeat of either baby. The year they were born silently.
It is not a crapiversary. There are those. But this is not one of them. This is a birthday.
I think the me I've become is wiser...Life happens. It isn't fair. There are times when nothing anyone says will make it better. When someone hurts, care for them. When something hurts, it's ok to cry. Y'know...obvious stuff that sometimes we forget to know.
I think the me I've become is one that understands pain and loss better than I did before. I'm kinder.
I think the me after being their mom, and losing them is braver. I have more courage. I know how to bounce back. There is a sense of:
So...this is a hard day, but a good one. It's not a crapiversary. It's a day when I celebrate two of my children that rarely get to be celebrated. It's a day when I surprisingly find myself grateful--for what having them being my children, and grieving their lives--has done in my life.
"If losing kids doesn't finish me off, nothin'will. So what the heck--lemme try it/say it/do it/live it!"
- by Sabrina Friesen
I really think ol' Johnny Cash was on to something there.
When I work with folks and we talk about love, I often
mention how good love is--you know, the kind that leaves us feeling full up and
just good right down to our toes, that kind of love is the kind that loves us in spite of ourselves. That is the kind
of love that feels safe and secure and just plain awesome. It's the kind of
love that we know won't go away, even if it gets a little distant or disappears
for a while.
Often, particularly working with couples, it seems that one or both partners feel that it's somehow faux pas to talk about the crummy parts of their partner. They often struggle to admit that there are things about their partner that they don't really like or enjoy.
You know, what I'm talking about, right?
Those hard-to-love parts like the defensiveness that is so often the first reaction to a simple question? Or the tendency of your person to shoot down a fun idea because it feels risky? Or how your spouse can be a bit controlling at home when work is extra chaotic?
Those are the parts I'm talking about.
Sometimes those parts are just so hard to handle and so we might just try and ignore them, and pretend that they didn't hurt our feelings, or drain us dry, or leave us annoyed . We try and back up from those hard-to-love parts and pretend they're not there. We do this not only with those we love, but sometimes even with ourselves.
But friends, when we ignore them then those defensive and crusty and hard-to-love parts don't get what they want, what they really, really want.
They stay locked up and lonely, and our crusty partner (or friend, or kid, or self) gets even crustier as they put pressure on themselves to show the "good" and hide the hard.
Being loved in spite of ourselves means that we get to all show up to the party. That our amazing and hard and creative and scared and everything-in-between parts get to be seen and known and loved. And that doesn't always mean liked. But it means that we can come out and our person (or our people, or ourselves) can still love us, and we can still feel safe and secure and good enough in spite of the ways we are not always awesome.
I have two kids, and it is simply factual that my eldest is definitely a kid who is easier to love. The ability to listen, tolerate frustration, and just be awesome comes naturally to him. He is my observer, and is the more cautious one of the two.
My youngest is the opposite. She takes waaaaaay more emotional energy and more work to stay connected to. She can be hard to love. She is feisty and fiery and intense.
Yet clearly I love them both
with a ferocious, protective, and intense mama-love.
I often think of what it means to love my kids in spite of themselves, particularly my youngest whose tantrum throwing and sassing skills are finely tuned, when this week I realized I was missing a huge part of that equation. As I was tucking my birthday girl in this week I was telling her how much I loved her just the way she is, and how much I love that she has big feelings.
Because I do.
Because her intensity, which is crazy ass hard, also makes her the most excitable, adventurous, energetic, intensely caring and super affectionate girl. She is my kid who dances in her underwear to Taylor Swift. She is the one who sings loudly. She is FULL of life. (In contrast, my safe and cautious eldest kid would be watching from the side.)
Though my youngest tests my patience and pushes every
one of my buttons some days, those qualities that make me sigh and sometimes
stomp and throw my hands up in exasperation are some of the same things that I
love most about her.
I love her for who she is in all of her intensity, and in spite of who she is in all her intensity because that makes her her.
Those things that are hard-to-love about us and those in our circles? I venture to guess that there are redeeming parts of those qualities.
The crazy cleaning
tendencies of one partner might also mean that life is really organized, and
easier knowing everything has a place. The part that nags is also the part that
remembers to bring snack and water to sports events, because it thinks of
everything. The seemingly 'boring' quality of a partners personality also might
make them an extremely safe person.
I wonder what it might look like if we were able to more honestly acknowledge the hard-to-love parts of ourselves, and let them be seen and acknowledged rather than hidden or compensated for. Can we love ourselves and others for who we are in this present moment, without needing to necessarily 'like' or enjoy the trickier parts?
After five years I still haven't grown to looooove a good tantrum, but I can tolerate the tantrum, and love the intensity and fire of the girl who is having one.
My hope as a mom, as a wife, and as a friend is that those in my circles will know that they are loved for who they are in their entirety. That doesn't always mean I'll like or know what to do with parts that are tricky, or that I won't be super annoyed when I have to drive to two stores to find the 'right kind' of yogurt drinks (hypothetically speaking, of course!), but when those hard-to-love parts do come out, my people know that I am not going anywhere.
Love really is a burning thing...it's warms and can burn...it's good and it's hard. Who do you get to love for and in spite of themselves today?
**The blog is blessed today by the thoughts of one of our favourite people...therapist Sabrina Friesen
- by Carolyn Bergen
When I was a kid, there was a time when I would race home from school so that I could watch the Brady Bunch on TV. She has three daughters, he has three sons and they marry--they children have squabbles, to be certain, but they were always lovingly and successfully resolved at the end of the 22 minute show. The boys relate well to their step mother, and the girls to their step father--again, there are disagreements and mild dustups--but fundamentally, the issues were "regular" growing up issues--not related to being a blended/step family.
I've been working with step-families/blended families for years in my counselling office. Let me tell you, the Brady Bunch was a television show in all its glorious fiction. Step families take multiple years to assimilate and form a new sort of family that has routines and cohesion--and there is generally deliberate work to accomplish this along the way, and the sailing is anything but smooth.
The Brady Bunch did us all a disservice in lulling us to be unaware of the complexities of combining what was two separate families into one household. Folks that think step families work like the Brady Bunch are Set. Up. To. Fail.
Often two-families-seeking-to-be-one come in to see me at their wit's end. Things aren't working--kids are hostile and resistant. Often the children are draining all the loving energy between the couple so that despite the couples best intentions at starting fresh with a loving marriage and family are dashed to smithereens. Discouragement sets in, and parents and step parents feel defeated. It is be ugly and painful to be a part of that sort of family dynamic.
I've also worked with many folks who have been a part of step families who come in for a variety of reasons in their lives and their family experience is a source of tremendous support and encouragement. They will tell me how incredibly supportive and encouraging a step parent was, or how their family changed for the better when their bio parent got married. These folks, who may be having difficulty bringing to them to the counselling office, turn to their positive step family experience as a resource in their lives--and drawing on their family experience of having a step parent, they are able to move forward. I notice that they call their step-parent "mom" or "dad" with a loving tone.
Little did I know that one day I would become a part of a step family. My Junior Tribe would more than double in size. I would be stepping into a situation that seemed potentially fraught with land mines, that would take years to develop and quite likely add extra layers of stress on a new marriage.
I, however, had an advantage in this new family dynamic that few others have the privilege to have. I get an inside perspective on step families that almost no one else gets. I've had meaningful and vulnerable and authentic conversations with folks for years, discovering the ins and outs of step families. I've read the literature on what works and doesn't work with stepfamilies, and how folks can navigate the tricky waters of step parenting--and watched folks develop trust slowly with each other with careful respect and understanding. (And FYI...the best quick read that I know of for step parenting is a chapter in Harriet Lerners: Marriage Rules--concise, clear and infinitely helpful, and consistent with current research on the topic)
My clients have taught me how to be a step parent. I want to thank them for the lessons I've learned that I've used to help other families--and now myself. I'm so not perfect, and I'm sure the Junior Tribe Members could point out with laser accuracy where the mistakes have been...but I know that I deliberately relate to my step children in light of all I have been taught.
It was my birthday this week...and all JTM's and girfriend and fiancé and us Senior Tribe Members walked to Boston Pizza. We laughed and joked over pizza with FIFA soccer in the background. We walked home, shared birthday cake, and played a fun game together (with NBA and hockey playoffs in the background). I received a card from each JTM that was respectful and affirming. We aren't perfect by any means, but I can just feel that we are on the right road...I have been taught well. That feels awesome.
Having watched and learned from families who learned by trial and error, and families who were warmly and wildly successful at creating something new when two families are joined in marriage, we decided that, to the best of our ability:
1. Our dating/engaged/married relationship moved at a rate that made sense for the kids, as well as us. He would check in with his, and I with mine about how they felt about things (when the other wasn't present) to get candid feedback on how they felt about their parent dating, and then later being engaged and getting married. We slowed things down if even one child needed some time.
2. We didn't assume any of the children would be OK with our relationship, or the sort of things that come out of that relationship. We asked for feedback from each child as our relationship progressed. For example, he would ask a JTM if the JTM was comfortable with me coming to watch his game. If the answer was "No", then I didn't go. I would work to remember to be grateful that the child was candid about his needs, and I would choose to believe that he was learning I was respectful of him by not going, and not making a big deal of it. If the answer was "Yes", I would go, but remain in the background...and then ask again the next time. Just because he said "yes" once, didn't mean it was yes from then on. Each child was in control of when his friends found out about the fact that their parent was dating. I went into this knowing that being sensitively tuned into the JTM's comfort with me, and then being generous about giving as much distance as the child requested is often the best way to show care to that child.
3. We sought to avoid disruption of regular routines and relationships. That meant that while we were dating, we often only visited after 9:00 pm when the youngest went to bed. After we married, I moved into his house so the youngest wouldn't have to move to reduce the disruption in his life. He is the primary parent to his kids, and I to mine--that doesn't change. He still tucks the youngest in every night at the same time, just like before...and it takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r--just like it did before.
4. I sought and seek to be a positive presence in the lives of his children, though not as a parent. I know the currency of the adolescent boys--I bake, make good meals, offer to help with homework, do a drop off or pick up, or review a resumé if requested. He did and does the same with mine. I relate to his JTM's in a similar manner as I would to good friends of my Junior Tribe Members when they have been over--friendly, welcoming, supportive, curious and appreciative but fully aware that I am not the parent. I'm finding out about their favourite movies and investing in watching them with them. I know more about some video games than I used to!
5. I realize that I am not a parent, and I have not earned the right to speak into the lives of his children in a way that implies I can assert my will/opinion/thoughts in a way that seems in any way judgemental of a child. I simply haven't known them that long, and to tell them what to do or how to do it would be presumptuous. Simply put, I don't have enough equity in the relationship bank to give advice or discipline or be corrective.
Tell me--do you like it when a neighbor tells you how to mow your lawn, or your new co-worker tells you why you haven't been promoted? It's simply not my place...influence in a child's life is earned slowly, over time...and at the child's pace. I expect that I won't have the right for years yet.
6. My main task with regards to the children, besides being a warm and supportive and helpful presence in their lives is to support their biological parent to be the best parent he can be. Sometimes, I'm around when "stuff" happens...I notice things and I might mention it to him privately later, if he is open to my observations. I have some distance, and so can sometimes see dynamics that he can't (and vice versa too!!)
7. I do help him parent his children...so, when his dad isn't home, I remind a JTM of the screen time that his father has said he can have, or let him know it is the time his dad told him to go to bed. It's like he's the lead singer in the parenting band for his kids...and I'm the Doo-Wop back up singer. Doo-wop singers are important but they don't set the tone--they are not the lead singers. I support the rules he has made if he isn't around, but he sets the stage, the rules, and determines the rhythm of parenting for his JTM's.
8. I seek to have far more positive "bids" in their lives than neutral or negative. It's not that I'm trying to buy their love, but I am conscious of how nice it is for them to have fresh baking for their lunches, or when one likes a particular supper I make. I like to visit with them and find about about their day--they are important in my life and I want to get to know them and be a positive presence in their lives. Their dad has earned the right to do the "heavy lifting" of discipline and correction...I have not.
9. We are now three distinct families...his, mine and ours. We live with that as a reality. On Mother's Day, he spent lunch alone with his JTM's, while I spent time with mine. Other times, we are together as one enlarged family. I check in with my JTM's about how they are experiencing things in this enlarged household so that we can deal with what comes up. They have told me that they won't feel comfortable about raising these matters in front of my new husband.
10. There is a family expectation of mutual respect collaboration--not unlike expectations at school or the team or anywhere else. That's it. They are not expected to love me--or even like me. Any of that stuff, as it comes, is a bonus (and it would be a welcomed, treasured bonus which I will cherish should I be fortunate enough to receive it--but I recognize it is not owed to me). JTM's did not sign up for this. Love cannot be demanded. Demanding love is not love at all. The literature suggests a paradoxical effect often happens...the more you demand to be loved as a parent, the less likely it is to happen...and the more you give space and respect and not have expectations, the possibility for love to develop increases.
11. We are both committed to reinforcing the JTM's relationship with their biological parent...to celebrating it, facilitating it, and supporting the JTM every possible way to love the other parent. For me, that means honouring her memory by having pictures of her up, and making sure that we are bringing her memory up regularly in conversation...and finding ways to honour her myself--to give the JTM's the ability to do the same if they so choose. I planted a planter pot full of red flowers and put it on the top step--red was her favourite color. I know this is trickier when the bio parent is divorced...it means drawing deep on one's love for the JTM to remember that every child longs and needs to love the bio parent--and to be patient and kind and loving to support that love for the bio parent, even when there are "grown up reasons" to be angry and vengeful. One of the greatest gifts a person can give to a step family is helping the children love both bio parents--that can be a gift that is only given at significant personal cost--but the investment is worth it.
12. We actually avoid the use of step-mother and step-father. I am simply Carolyn. And I like it that way--that's my name! :) I am married to their dad. We live in the same house. We belong to a new family that is made up of two families. But "step mother" is so fraught with baggage, we simply haven't used it. We use other language that works for us.
We are in the early stages of this yet. More mistakes will be made. We will become aware of how we need to tweak, refine, readjust, and recalibrate to make it work for the JTM's. This isn't easy for them...and I am so often humbled and awestruck at the efforts they make to make our new family work. JTM's want to love and be loved--in ways that work for all of us--including them. (Sometimes they make that a little hard to see on the surface, but it's there--it's always there). This new brood of enlarged JTM's brings me to tears with the efforts they make to include me, welcome me, and reach out in sometimes-barely-but-definitely-there ways.
I am grateful.
- by Carolyn Bergen
We know, as parents, from the moment we give birth to a child, that this precious being is only entrusted to us for a time.
I knew one day that my child would leave. I knew that in my head...but didn't ever think about facing the reality with my heart.
We raise our children with the intent of them learning and growing--to roll over, tie their own shoes, learn to read, make their own friends, bike around the block by themselves, drive a car on their own, all the time becoming their own person. Increasing their independence.
Parenting is loving our children enough to, very gradually, work ourselves out of a job. To have them not need us as parents, because we helped them to develop all the building blocks of being an adult on their own.
I'd always hoped that I would give my Junior Tribe Members (JTMs) sufficiently nourished and healthy roots that they would have the stability to develop strong and capable wings. In order for children to launch well, they need a solid sense of stability and groundedness in who they are and where they come from.
It is one thing to plan and parent and dream for decades about the launch.
It is quite another thing to actually launch a JTM.
It happened to me last week. He moved out.
This isn't for "while he is in school" for a semester. He's gone...lives in his own home (albeit a 15 minute drive away).
It's one thing to prepare a child to leave one day, and quite another to have that child actually leave.
It happened so suddenly. I knew it was at the end of the month, but the end of the month wasn't until Sunday. On Thursday, I was busy moving boxes and shifting this and that. He asked to play a game with us...and I was hung up on getting some of my own end-of-the-month tasks done early. I put him off on the game.
I shouldn't have. I'll be regretting that for a long time.
He got up for work on Friday and said he would be with friends at his new home that night, and with family the night after. He had been gradually moving stuff for two weeks, but he let me know he had just spent his last night at home with me.
And just like that, it was over. My little boy is all growed up. And moved away.
It just seemed like it snuck up so fast.
It reminded me of a passage I read about in Jojo Moyes book, Me Before You:
The thing you never understand about being a mother until you are one, is that it’s not the grown man, the galumphing, unshaven, stinking, opinionated offspring you see before you, with his parking tickets and unpolished shoes and complicated love life. You see all the people he has ever been, all rolled up into one. I looked at Will and I saw the baby I held in my arms, duly besotted, unable to believe that I had created another human being. I saw the toddler, reaching for my hand. The school boy, weeping tears of fury after being bullied by some other child. I saw the vulnerabilities, the love, the history...the small child as well as the man. All that love, all the history.
- by Carolyn Bergen
I have loved my Junior Tribe Members since before they were conceived. I have been their mother all of their lives. I have worked to provide a stable base and safe haven for them, particularly during times of transition--and our family has had periods of significant shifts. Their sense of security came first for me...and so getting "out there" was not a priority for years for me.
Same for him. I got to know him first when he called me wondering about how to help his JTM's after their mother's death. He worried about them, and wanted to do right by them.
I started a strong friendship with J literally the day I came home from dropping my youngest JTM off at college out west--right at the time I had time for a relationship.I didn't know then it would turn into love, but it did. A beautiful love that was strong and stable and was something we thought could make our kids' lives better.
We worked to be attuned to how each JTM was doing, and what that child needed to be able to move forward with a parent getting married (more about figuring out how to step parent in another post). When it came to JTM's, we had a few guidelines when planning the wedding:
They also had choices when it came to the vows.
The parents bear the responsibilitySome of them are of adult age, but when it comes to parent/child relationships, the parent always takes on the heavier load to make the relationship work. I went online and got some help, read samples and read comments from kids about what they liked at a ceremony.
JTM's. I want you to know that I dearly love your father. As you have so graciously shared your dad with me, so will I share the love I feel for him with all of you.
Together, we will learn much more about each other. I promise to be fair and to be honest, to be available for you as I am for your dad, and, over time, to earn your love, respect and deep friendship. I don’t want to replace your mom, but to make a place in your hearts that is for me alone. I will value my life with all of you. On this day when I marry your Dad, we become a family, together, with you, and I promise to love and support you as my own.
JTM's, do you promise to respect this marriage, and support the creation of this new family?
Carolyn's JTM's, are you willing to create space in your lives for a developing relationship with J, and J's JTM's are you willing to create space in your lives for a relationship with Carolyn? One that is respectful and honest, taking time to get to know each other, and letting them know how they can best relate to you? And there are going to now be many brothers in this family—you will be two families that will be also becoming one family. Will you work to be a cooperative member of this “becoming-one-family”?
... Do you promise to let them love you and care for you as well?
- by Carolyn Bergen
I respected him before I knew him, and liked him as a human being before I loved him as more.
He is someone I have fun with, am supported by, and challenges me. In him was a man I couldn't imagine being without. He is someone I want to invest in, and make his life better.
He understands that because our children are important, there are evenings when our relationship is temporarily put on the back burner because a child needs a concert to be heard, or a birthday to be celebrated, or a game to be watched, or simply a card game to be played--providing a safe haven for our kids is important--and he gets that. That is part of getting me...and I love him for that.
He inspires me to be a better version of myself. My heart slows when he enters the room, because when he's around, all is right with the world, and I relax. He is good to me, and good for me. He gets that I do crazy unusual stuff like weekly radio, regular writing for a blog, weekly Starbucks visit with a friend, and occasional teaching that can require hours of prep and a willing soul to hear me practice...he listens like its the only thing in the world he wants to do at that moment.
Our vows--not pulled from a book or website...uniquely ours. He wrote his. I wrote mine. We wrote, and edited, and edited again...fussed over them for several days a bit at a time, until they said what we wanted them to say. I've watched couples struggle through hard times and win--love wins. I've watched successful couples and seen what is their relationship "secret sauce". I've watched people live out their vows...being a couples therapist shaped my own vows.
We decided on some overlap...and some parts of it unique. What he needed to hear as promises from me is different than the promises I needed to hear from him.
What I said to him, as I committed my forever on this earth to him...
J, last summer when we first met for lunch to talk about our kids, we sat for hours longer than either of us realized…we shared stories of heartbreak and struggle, and our parenting celebrations and goofs. We simply enjoyed friendship in a way that caught us both by surprise. Then, as we started walking in the cool fall evenings, we listened much more to each other’s stories. We laughed a lot, even as we talked about so much hard stuff.
We clicked…in all sorts of ways--in a circumstance that was unusual. And it seemed that so often when we spent an evening together, it was one more opportunity to discover one more way we clicked.
J, there are many wonderful things about you, but perhaps one of the most lovely qualities is the way you have gently and thoughtfully made it possible for me, who’s been hurt before, to move forward our relationship.
Long before there was a “we”, I heard stories of your loving faithfulness to Car, and how the two of you worked to make your marriage work. Then, as we did become a “we”, you were so sensitive and reassuring. You made space for who I was and am.
You celebrate my strengths, and believe in me.
I’ll never forget the early winter afternoon when you asked me not to be mad at you because you hadn’t just taken my car in for an oil change as a favor…you had also put winter tires on my vehicle. You said that if we got married, you wanted your future wife to be safe. And if we didn’t get married, you wanted me to always know that I was thought of and valued, and treasured.
You have created safety for me within our relationship, and I want to thank you for that....
You have taken deliberate and great care in thinking our relationship through in terms of our children. [wee bit of teariness here] Thank you for your concern and love for my Junior Tribe Members—you understand, maybe because of the tremendous love you have for your own children, how very important my JTM's are to me. I can be a better mother because of you.
[Sigh] Feels good to be married to this man.
[insert deep breath here]
J, because of who you are, and because of who you are to me, and because of how very much I love you, believe in us, and am committed to you--with God’s help, I now promise to:
Support and love you--today, tomorrow, and each day for the rest of our lives in all the circumstances life gives us. I’m going to make mistakes, and will be asking for your forgiveness. I promise to learn from those mistakes...
I commit myself to working with you on the very hard stuff of life. I want us to face our differences head on, struggling through them with integrity, trusting that those difficult conversations will lead to a richer and deeper relationship. I commit myself to inviting you to be open about things that are important to you, even if they are hard for me to hear.
I commit to celebrating and practicing a life of gratitude, joy and laughter with you. We laugh often and much. I believe that will give us resilience to handle the inevitable challenges that we will face in our lives together.
I want to learn from you about how better to be your partner. I commit to being a student of you, J, to discover what makes you tick, what is important to you, and how best to collaborate with you.
I commit to letting myself be known, letting you know who I authentically am. That requires a discipline of vulnerability which I believe God calls us all to. That won’t always be easy, but it’s the right thing to do.
I commit to us figuring out how to parent our children in a situation that they didn’t ask for, but have blessed us in. I want to help you be the best dad you can be, and I commit myself to being there for your sons in the way that fits each of them best.
I will be faithful to you and you alone. Together we faithfully place God as the author of our lives, and weave our story to be a part of the bigger one of His. We will write ourselves a better story together, than either of us could have alone.
You understand better than most what a forever love looks like, and how painful it is to follow that through to the end. I respect that profoundly. I commit myself to you as long as God gives us both breath.
- by Carolyn Bergen
*Adapted slightly from our wedding ceremony.
At a wedding we usually talk about the wedding bands being a perfect circle, with no beginning and no end. But we all know that these rings do have a beginning.
Rock is dug up from the earth.
Metal is liquefied in a furnace, then molded, and painstakingly polished.
Something beautiful is made out of hammering and heat.
Love is like that.
It's hot, dirty work.
It comes from humble beginnings, made by imperfect beings.
It's the process of making something beautiful where there was once nothing at all.
We have made something beautiful out of painful and difficult experiences…and we celebrated that with the exchange of rings that will continue to remind us of the promises we have made on our wedding day.*
Wedding rings are beautiful. They are round, without beginning or end. They are hardy and solid and yet precious...but they themselves are borne of struggle. The making of the ring occurred with considerable shaping, molding, and heat. They end up beautiful...but the process is anything but.
To find love in mid-life is a lot like that.
His marriage died when she did. Cancer is an ugly disease...and it does its best to wreak havoc on the entire family. Cancer threatens to hijack a family with fear and pain--physical and emotional.
It was in the hearing of his painful story that I came to know of his strength, and his gentleness, and his perseverance in struggle. It was in the hearing of his challenges and difficulties and his joys in the midst of all of that that I fell in love.
My marriage died a tumultuous tragic end--it's painful to watch a train wreck and be powerless to stop it, and then being left with the aftermath.
It was in the hearing of the ugliness of my story that he heard beauty of family love, of community support, and of wisdom gained in the school of a stressful life. He says it was in the hearing of my challenges and difficulties and my joys in the midst of that he fell in love.
Wearing this ring is sweeter for the struggles. Beauty arising from ashes.
- by Carolyn Bergen
Life took an incredibly sharp right turn for me this last winter when I met the man who is so special and so supportive and so loving and so kind I can't imagine spending my life without him.
He's one of those men who has loved and was loved well in the past...a long and painful tragedy ended his marriage. He was tried and tested, and I watched him love well for the long haul in difficult days. I admired him before I knew him, and respected him long before I loved him.
We focused on the marriage, not the wedding. But we did want the wedding to be a representative sort of launch...to match our values and our style.
We like to laugh and we like people to feel relaxed and comfortable. Folks grabbed beverages before the ceremony, which took place while casually seated around tables. There was no walking down the aisle...he and I just got up from our table near the front to join the ministers when it was time. It felt warm in the room. Not a lot of pomp and circumstance...but a whole lotta love.
Yeah, I'd never been to a sporty wedding either. But this was a wedding of two families, and we wanted our Junior Tribe Members (JTMs) to have a blast. One of my favourite places to be in all of life is sitting on the sidelines or in the bleachers cheering for the kids while visiting with friends.
We had a "basketball wedding"...instead of a dance, folks put on their sneakers and played ball...people of all ages and stages played volleyball, while the younger ones played basketball. There was a riotous game of Dutch Blitz in the middle. It fit us and ours.
And yeah, those pink sneakers? They came in handy. It is a little tricky playing volleyball in a wedding dress, but I can attest personally to the fact that it is indeed, very possible.
Weddings celebrate connection...between husband and wife, but also within a community. Very good friends--both pastors--officiated. There's something kinda wonderful about having good friends I've known for decades, and had coffee with just the week before, marry me and my husband.
I had coffee with a good friend yesterday. She chopped up veggies for the appetizers...that's a lot of chopping! Her favourite part of the wedding was the set up that occurred in the afternoon before the wedding. Friends of his and friends of mine working happily together setting up tables and chairs and tablecloths--introducing themselves to each other and enjoying the cheerful vibe.
As informal as the wedding was, there was no rehearsal...so the night before we had a rehearsalless dinner with his family and mine at our house...pleasant chaos with little children on the trampoline, a group of young adults in a big circle on the back lawn, and small groups of adults visiting inbetween visits to the kitchen.
I know when I am out of my league, and a big part of the fun of this wedding was accepting the help that was offered. I'm learning that when others offer, it's often because they love the opportunity to use their gifts. It was great to see people I love do what they do best, outta love for us:
I wanted the focus of the wedding to be on relationships, not "stuff". We deliberately kept things simple. A few daisies for centrepieces in borrowed vases. Supper was basic but delicious BarBQ. No string quartet or brass band. Lots of love, tho.
Love is simple, isn't it? Layered, nuanced, complicated to express, but ultimately, simple.
"Show up, be seen, live brave"™ is a concept from The Daring Way™. I'm showing up and living brave tomorrow by co-hosting a radio program...something I "know" I can't do. Wish me well?!
Another guest post...by Lindsey Jay Walsh...our newest therapist. What is your calling? He knows his! Book an appointment with him today!
Not getting washed away...reflections on grieving years later...