Pain and Gain: A Canoe Story

What can a canoe portage teach us about New Year’s resolutions?

it was a muggy August day. Above us, grey rain clouds had blocked out the sun and left us to the sticky heat and the mosquitos.  We’d spent the weekend with a troop of teens, camped on a tiny island in the middle of Mud Turtle lake. Now my cousin Starr and I, the two female chaperones, pulled our canoe up on the far shore for the return trip.  But first, we had to make the one kilometre portage to the next lake.  Across that lake was where our vehicles–where civilization–was.

We were eight canoes, and the strong young men had enough to carry without the extra burden of our canoe.  I looked at Starr. “I’ll carry it.”

We’d portaged it halfway on the trip into Mud Turtle before one of the guys had taken pity on us. This time I wanted to go the distance. Our guides had coached us how to arrange our backpack as a platform the canoe could rest on. I’d prepared my pack for that purpose. So I shouldered my hiking pack and Starr helped me lift the canoe. They were cheap, fibre glass canoes–heavy to carry and hard to steer.  I staggered a little as my backpack bit into my shoulders.  Behind me, Starr hefted her pack, plus my extra baggage.  We started walking.

I forged ahead like a beetle, the canoe on top of me like a shell.  The point of the canoe shoved through the undergrowth as my feet navigated the narrow, climbing trail. I had already been sweating, now it poured down my back.  One of the guys passed me with his canoe over his head like it weighed nothing.

“Are you okay?” Starr asked behind me. The pots and pans she carried rattled together.

“Yeah,” I gasped.

A third of the way down the trail I stumbled.  Off balance, I dropped the canoe into the short bushes beside the trial. I groaned and rubbed at my shoulders.  My brother came alongside. “Do you want me to take it?”


He helped me pick it up, and I began to walk again.

My shoulders were in agony.  The backpack was carrying the full weigh of the canoe, and transferring it through the straps into my tender flesh. I balanced the canoe with upraised arms, but they were turning to mush.

Two-thirds across, I heard my little brother’s voice.  “I can take it the rest of the way.”

But I was almost there, and I knew it.  “No!” I grunted, “If you take in now I’ll have all the pain and none of the reward.”

So I carried that canoe until I finally saw the silver water of Brereton Lake.  The path turned into a steep descent toward the water. Finally, I dropped the canoe. I’d done it.

All Pain, No Gain

My back was stiff and sore for days, and my shoulders were purple with bruises.  But that’s not what I remember. It’s that phrase: “I’ll have all the pain and none of the reward.”  Whatever pain-stricken, divine inspiration it came from, it stuck with me.

“It hurts. I’m tired,” I say in the fifth mile of my 10K.  “No, you’re too close!” If I quit, I get all the pain and none of the reward. Same thing goes with other challenges. Like at my job, I’ve went through a few season mistakes and lost confidence as I strained to learn and pushed myself too far. “Quit” came to mind. But I’d already had so much stress, and learned so much. If I quit, I’d get no reward. Eventually I overcame my challenges, and gained new influence and skill because of it.

Learn What Kind of Pain it is

Pain is a warning sign. It can’t be denied that if you are in pain, be it mental or physical, you are ‘red lining’. You’re nearing full capacity, and it may be time to back off.

Part of learning to run has been learning to discern what is just stiffness that will pass, and what is the early onset of an injury. For instance, I find that in the first couple miles my legs will be vaguely sore and I’m tempted to say, “This sucks. This hurts.” But by now I know that it will pass as the runner’s high takes over.

I’ve made some mistakes, such as running with a lung virus or pushing myself too hard on a pre-work run, and being sick during my shift. I ran with patellofemoral syndrome much longer than necessary, because I didn’t know something was actually wrong and that it could be fixed easily enough. A coach might have prevented much of this.

So I’m not telling you to be reckless.  But if you resolved to get in shape this year, and you’ve been hitting the gym, you are probably in the ‘all pain, no gain’ stage. Well suck it up, buttercup. If you don’t, you’ll have gone through all that pain for nothing. Give it a few weeks, and it will get better. Two weeks isn’t that long in the scope of things. And then you’ll also have increased flexibility, strength, weight-loss and mental sharpness. Do you really want to succeed? There is no magic bullet. You have to put in the time and endure the pain.

Is the pain worth the gain? Then don’t drop the canoe.

The Trouble With Romantic Comedies… Or This One, Anyway.

I watched a horrible movie this weekend. It was a romantic comedy.

Formulaic as they are, I enjoy a good rom-com. Last weekend I watched Hitch, starring Will Smith. It was good enough to watch twice—witty, well made, even if predictable.

Not so this movie.

It started out alright. Nerdy but cute Rachel is in law school. Her study partner is the handsome nice guy, Discount Tom Cruise, or Dex as they call him. She falls for him, but doesn’t have the guts to say anything, so he up and dates her best friend, Darcy who is an over-the-top extravert and treats them both like garbage. Nevertheless, Discount Tom Cruise and Loudmouth get engaged.

Rachel is crestfallen. See, she still is crushing on Dex. So, one night, with a healthy shot of liquid courage, she blurts out that she had a crush on him in college and Dex wonders why she never said so. More drinks, and things get steamy. Seems Discount Tom Cruise kinda had a thing for her too, and now combined with pre-wedding cold feet, he’s beginning to rethink things.

You don’t have to be a literature major figure out what happens.

The story perpetuates the idea that somewhere out there is ‘the one’, and you must do anything to be with them. Anything.

On the surface there is some nobility to this: sacrificial love, which braves all danger for the beloved. Jesus Christ is a model of sacrificial love, and he is my example for life. Sacrificial love is, in my opinion, the highest of loves—putting aside yourself for the one you love.

But the movie I’ve mentioned twists this noble idea. Dex and Rachel think they just might be meant for each other so they decide to go behind Darcy’s back and ‘figure what this thing is’—read, have an affair. Rachel knows this is wrong, but her friend assures her that sometimes “Good people do bad things”. In the eyes of the writers, betraying Darcy is justifiable because she’s an awful person, and Dex’s and Rachel’s love is ‘true love’.

And we, the viewers, are manipulated into rooting for them as they display flagrant disregard for Darcy’s feelings and their own integrity. All is fair in love and war, the movie seems to say, and when we find out that Darcy, too, has been cheating, it seems we are supposed to conclude that everything is now fair.

It is this lack of integrity that bothers me the most. I will suspend disbelief and say that Dex and Rachel really do love each other. Fine. Now, say ten years down the road things aren’t going so hot. Say Rachel meets some really nice, good looking guy, and things just feel right, and she wants to figure out ‘what this thing is’. Exactly why wouldn’t she cheat on Dex? Why does Rachel think she can trust Dex when he is cheating on his fiancé to be with her?

And Dex, though he’s in love with Rachel, doesn’t have the spine to break it off with Darcy. Neither of them have the guts to come clean until they’re caught. If they display such cowardice now, will they have the courage to deal with the heavy issues of life together?

Character, more than looks, more than personality, more than how they ‘make you feel’ is what counts. Love conquers much, but not all. Whatever crappy self you bring to the relationship won’t disappear with ‘true love’s first kiss’.

Which leads me to:

You know the scene.

“Oh Jack, I love you.”
“I can’t live without you, Frieda”.
Kiss, kiss. More kissing. Rain begins to fall. People walk around them. Kissing. Kissing. Still kissing. That’s how Hitch ended, and I liked that movie.

Rom-coms would have us believe that love is expressed with your lips, or in bed. And it is—but only to a point.

Love is commitment. You commit, and you stand by your commitment. Show me the happy couple two years later, when one spouse has just come home from working a twelve hour shift, cold, exhausted, and the other greets them at the door with a kiss. I like that kiss better. Show me one of the two lying in bed, a bowl beside them, while the other scrubs the vomit off the bathroom floor. Show me them listening to each other and trying to work out a conflict without vindictiveness. Show me one, heart broken by the other, and still standing by them. Show me the couple, married twenty-five years, going for a walk holding hands. Show me them surrounded by a few healthy, happy kids. Show me them, eighty years old, still side by side.

Why don’t they show those parts?

In the end, I’m not bashing romantic comedies. By all means, watch them. I will. But remember that they don’t show the whole story. That when the couple is kissing and the credits are rolling, it is just the beginning. How the couple falls in love is fun to watch, but how they stay in love is more important.

If a movie was made of their last days together, would we still want to watch?

An excellent article on a similar subject is Terri Brady’s “Finding a Character to Marry”.  Also check out parts, 2, 3 and 0.

For Trade: One Head

I’m getting a little sick of this brain of mine. Actually, I’m thinking of trading it in. My thoughts and my troubles are getting tiresome, and if I could just swap my head for another one I could get a little relief. Besides, I’ve noticed that other people seem a little sick of their heads too. Perhaps they’d like to trade.

Would you like this head?


Let me tell you about it.

Processing speed runs at average to slightly above average, with excellent information retention capacity through the audio and visual receptors. Expect to learn concepts quickly, and memorize easily. Short-term memory is a little shabby, but this can be counteracted with the use of lists and calendars.

You will inherit a highly active imagination, as well as some ability to translate this into written stories. This comes with the added benefit of never being alone, as the head is generally occupied by anywhere from two to several thousand tenants, all vying for attention and occasionally doing and saying rather nasty things. These characters are likely to get out of hand, so keep the gates well monitored, but there are one or two in there that I call my friends. I trust you will enjoy their company.

The brain comes fitted with a musical ear. Unfortunately, this musical ear is stuck ‘on’ right now, and the files must be corrupted as it keeps playing the same songs over and over again. But, if you get tired of those ones, the musical ear comes with a ‘mix’ function that can add harmonies and countermelodies.

Because of a compulsion to gain more and more knowledge, the brain is rather cluttered. If this becomes bothersome, simply take the brain off its steady diet of books, articles and audios, and it should soon become empty. It works for me every time.

You may enjoy my many wonderful memories of my family and friends, though you are unlikely to see them much as you will be far too busy. When you do meet them, they probably won’t know you that well any more. Make sure to unload on them about how your week was. That will catch them right up.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that you would be required to work as a retail clerk part time as well as in the role of a pharmaceutical manufacturing operator full time. Fortunately for you, this brain actually likes these jobs and is quite passable at them. You will also be expected to peg off the remaining things on my to-do list for the month and maintain this blog.

Mechanical difficulties may include: spinning mind, overload, fatigue, negativity, depression, and chronic overthinking. I should also mention that the brain is rather disillusioned with its church and volunteer work right now. It might be a drag, but keep it up anyway. A little more sleep, and much more worship and meditation will help.

Do what you can to maintain some semblance of order in the financial and fitness departments. The brain is equipped with a rather limited capacity for each, and no athletic ability whatsoever. Perhaps on your body it will perform better.  See photo for physical attributes of said head.

Interested? Feel free to post adds for the head you’re looking to get rid of in the comment section, and if I see anything of interest I’ll contact you.

Seriously, though, I tend to think that my life and my troubles are the worst, and that no one understands (and I know others think this as well). If we would listen to each other, I bet we’d find that “everybody’s got a story that would break your heart” (Amanda Marshall). And what we want is someone to listen, empathize, and tell us it’s going to be okay. Please do post ‘adds’ for your head below. I promise to listen.

I bet, though, that I’ll go running back to my old, familiar, messed up head.

Exit Interview: The Nanomath

Well, I’m done.

Yesterday I looked down and saw that my word count had reached 50,000.  I validated my novel on the NaNoWriMo site and it was official.  I win.

I feel like I should be more excited about this.  Truth was, I knew I would do it.  About two days in I knew I would do it, which takes a lot of the glory out of it.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m happy, I’m proud. I’m just not elated.

Plus, I’m still writing.  50,000 words brought me to the point just before the point before the climax, if that makes sense, so of course I have to keep going.  Coupled with the fact that this morning I killed a character…

I had to do it!  I’m sorry!

So, to recap the whole thing and maybe to make it all sound grand, here are three of the best things about NaNo.

1.  Getting immersed in a new story.

Just for a month I had nothing else to write.  I could focus on my characters, my world, my plot, and just getting it out there.  I didn’t have to worry about editing or censorship (though I did edit and censor).  I really got to love my characters, or at least some of them.  Hence, why I feel bad for killing one off.

2. I get a new story.

A new, full length, first draft is like a heap of playdough that I now get to mould into something awesome.

3. Pushing myself and blasting past boundaries.

I’ve never ever written 50,000 words in a month.  And now I know that it’s actually not that hard.

And then, lest you think it was one giant picnic, three of the worst things about NaNo.

1. Editing and censorship.

This novel covered ground that I’d never written before, and sometimes it was confusing.  For the sake of the story the characters had to do and say things that I wouldn’t do or say.  That challenge was not to appear to be condoning them so much as just saying ‘this is what this person is like’.

2. So called “writers block”

Getting in the bulldozer and writing crap until I busted through the block wasn’t fun, but it needed to be done.

3. Getting tired of coffee.

I drank so much coffee while writing that, after a while, I didn’t feel like drinking it, but I did, which made it worse… and now I’d probably go through all kinds of withdrawal if I quit.

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo?  Got any stories, lessons, or hardships to share?


The Backhanded Cure for Low Self-Esteem

This is what happens to me when I walk through a mall: I observe another woman’s effortless elegance, hour-glass figure, or the handsome dude she’s with, and feel like a pitiful excuse for a human being. I might have felt like a million bucks when I left home, but once I saw what she was wearing… jig’s up.

And so I take the next left into the clothing store, or the makeup counter, and spend money I shouldn’t–or I medicate with a Pumpkin Spice Latte (no need for a spoonful of sugar to make that medicine go down). This insidious form of low self-esteem, called comparison, lurks at every corner of the mall.

I say to myself: “There must be something wrong with me. If I was beautiful like she was, I’d have a man.” Or, “It’s bad genes that keep me fat.” Or I just medicate with a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

That would be a lack of pride, right? I don’t feel proud of myself, so I lack self-esteem.

Edward T. Welch has a different take:

“Low self-esteem usually means that I think too highly of myself. I’m too self-involved, I feel I deserve better than what I have. The reason I feel bad about myself is because I aspire to something more. I want just a few minutes of greatness. I am a peasant who wants to be king When you are in the grips of low self-esteem, it’s painful, and it certainly doesn’t feel like pride. But I believe that this is the dark, quieter side of pride—thwarted pride” (1).

That’s a head-scratcher. Let me get this straight: low self-esteem equals thinking too highly of myself?


But it actually makes sense. Welch said “I feel I deserve better than what I have”—as if the hand I was dealt by the Creator is beneath me. I’m too good to be single. I’m too good for acne. I’m too good to be fat. I should have been given a better hand!

I’ve always believed that if someone was truly great at cards, they could win with whatever they were dealt. The glory was in winning against the odds, not with a stacked hand. We root for underdogs—just watch any sports movie Hollywood puts out.

Reason number one to stop bemoaning my life: if it’s bad, all the more impressive when I win. I must make the best of it.

And the biggest reason: God gave me this life and its set of circumstances. How prideful of me to say he was wrong!

“Yeah, you’re Creator and omniscient, but you should have given me a better face.” Tear, sob, sip of PSL.

Stop it, you big baby! (Talking to myself, here—or the person beside you). Put on your big-girl panties and get to work.

I’m not preaching fatalism, here. I’m saying play the hand you’re dealt, and play it well. It wasn’t given to you at random, but for a particular mission. If you don’t believe there is a creator, that doesn’t exempt you. What makes you so good that chance should have dealt you a better hand? Make good on it.

Get your focus in the right place—not on yourself, not on the other person’s stuff, but on the face of Jesus Christ. “And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”

Let’s work on this together, shall we?


(1). Edward T. Welch, as quoted in Confidence of a Champion by Tim Marks.

I’m Not Good at Waiting: A Guilt-Ridden Confession

I hate to wait. Hate it.

And I don’t mean waiting in line, or for the microwave to finish. Actually, due to my Twitter app, Facebook app, WordPress app, and Kindle app, I can pass my line-waiting time in productive bliss. It’s the unproductive waiting I abhor.

And that is what my day was all about. Lemme ‘splain.

When I arrived at work I was given a coating assignment, but the coating pan was awaiting a post-cleaning swab so I had to wait. It was eight. The swab was scheduled for ten. I accomplished every small job I could think of, which took fifteen minutes. After waiting, and deliberating, it was decided that my two coworkers and I would make a suspension. But, just as we were ready to begin, it was discovered that one of our mixers was broken.

A mechanic was summoned. There was nothing else to do. Everything was set up. The instructions were read and reread. So we waited for his arrival, and we waited as he tinkered.

The mixer was pronounced serviceable, but the supervisor required consulting. I waited for the supervisor to be consulted.

Seems I would have made as much progress if I’d stayed home.

Ah, but what else could you do but wait? You may ask.

I have no idea. I asked my coach if I could do something. I tried to spur my coworkers along. Nothing worked. I was guilt-stricken, because I was raised to work hard and waiting doesn’t constitute of working hard unless one has a Kindle app to read furiously on. I felt like a slacker, because I was being paid good money to stand there.

Maybe I should have tried harder. Maybe I could have, I dunno, swept the floor or something.

Or, maybe, I just needed to wait, and when the time came, be faithful with my work.

I liken this to my life as a whole. I work hard—I set goals, I read, I write, I network. Yet things don’t seem to change. So I work harder! I obsess over what I’m doing wrong. I feel guilty.

But what If I need to wait? What if I need to be still? What if, by my very attempts at busyness, I miss the point?

Perhaps I need to be diligent in my work, and wait, trusting that my Heavenly Father shall work all things out in his time?

Do I have to?

Channing Tatum and Living While We’re Young

Channing Tatum, when asked about stripping as an 18-year-old, said “If you’re gonna do something stupid… do it when you’re young, don’t do it later in life. I went ahead and made sure I did every stupid thing from the time that I was born until about like twenty-three years old and then I started dialing it back” (1).

When I heard this, my gut reaction was “wrong!”

Perhaps I’m just bitter because I’m a boring person who’s done nothing exciting all my twenty-three years and now, according to the esteemed Mr. Tatum, must start dialing it back.


The extent of my crazy exploits is taking a Mini Cooper S down a busy highway at 100 miles an hour. That’s it. I hit my rebellious stage really late—about twenty. I had my first drink at twenty (For American readers, legal drinking age in Canada is 18). Thereabouts I started cussing and I had an epistemological crisis in which I questioned everything I believed and if my parents may have led me astray. I’m kinda still in that rebellious stage, but it’s the tamest rebellious stage you’ve ever seen. I have not one drunk party story or crazy ex-boyfriend to my name. Heck, I’m kinda a ‘good girl’.

So I might not be qualified to have an opinion here, but after giving it some thought, I decided that Channing’s got a point. When we’re young, the stakes aren’t quite as high. We can recover faster. We don’t have the same family responsibilities, and we have less to lose (like money, houses and status).

Youth is the time to take risks, have adventures, and explore our identity and purpose in life.

To his credit, Channing used his ‘humble’ beginning as a launching point for a very successful acting career. All disagreements about morality aside, that’s admirable.

Here’s where I challenge his theory:

Youth is too precious to waste. Think about it. It’s the prime of life. Your energy levels are higher than they’ll ever be. Your mental faculties are as sharp as they’ll ever be. Young people can adapt faster and learn faster. Young people love to innovate, and try new things. They’re less jaded and beaten down by life’s hardships. And, like I said, with lower responsibilities, if what you try fails, you’ve lost far less.

This is the perfect opportunity to attempt great things. This is the time to devote yourself to a mission: whether it’s a business, a non-profit, a church, a project, art or education, even starting a family.

We’ve already wasted so much time—on Facebook, on shopping, on sleeping, on pure hedonism. And me too! I’m preaching to me, here!

In the last couple years I’ve tried to take more chances, work harder and discipline myself more because I don’t want to look back and say “I wish I’d done that”. I’ve had some great experiences already, and I’ve made headway in finding a path for my life. I hope that as I become braver, less selfish, and gain wisdom, I can do great things with my life.

No age is too late to begin on a path of significance, but I believe its best to start when you’re young.

Note: Neither young people shouldn’t rush forward in arrogance, but should take council from people older and wiser (more on that in “The Art of Mess-making”). I know myself, and I tend to go to extremes with my ideas, which my older friends have been kind enough to temper before I could do too much damage. Books and audios have also been very helpful for me.

Anyone care to agree or disagree on this one? Older readers, I’d love to hear what you think.

(1). “’Magic Mike’ Unscripted: Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum.”
September 16, 2012. Moviefone. <;.

Comment Section Wars: 3 Ways to Rise Above

Deborah Tannen calls it “argument culture”: a “pervasive warlike atmosphere that makes us approach anything as if it were a verbal fight” (1). I call it “comment section wars”, and I am not immune to it.

I recently read a blog article, written by a Christian brother, defending the contribution of Christianity to science. He had some good points but his tone was, unfortunately, caustic.

You can imagine the shouting match that followed in the comment section.

I scanned through pages and pages of comments, Christian versus Atheist—some well reasoned, others showing high levels of cognitive dissonance, and many containing offensive stereotypes. No one was convincing anything of anything, and the more I read, the more my ire rose. I’m angry about this because a debate like that is so futile, but people keep on starting them as if they’d help. Instead, these arguments only breed greater animosity between parties, fueling the stereotypes they hold of each other.

But, I do believe that ideas should be discussed, shared, and refined by interaction with others. Social media is one of the most convenient ways to do so, and I’ve already been blessed by my online interactions. So, if we’re going to get into comment section debates, lets do it right. Here are three ways to be more effective in a online debates.

1. Lay aside your ego.

Is this about winning, or about discussing ideas? If it’s about winning, you’re probably in trouble.

Why? “You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? Well, suppose you triumph over the other man and shoot his argument full of holes and prove that he is non compos mentis. Then what? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior. You have hurt his pride. He will resent your triumph” (2).

If you don’t care if the person walks away hating you, then fine. But I guarantee this: You have lost your chance to influence them.

2. Remember that they are ‘a mother’s son’.

Online it’s more difficult to see, but the person on the other side of the debate is just as human as you. Like you they have dearly held beliefs, which they hold for more reasons than “they’re an ass.”

Give them the benefit of the doubt. They may have put research and considerable reasoning behind their beliefs. They may have experiences under their belt that have led to their conclusions.

Even if they don’t, and their reasoning is flimsy and poorly put together, they are still a human with hopes, feelings and desires, and they deserve respect.

3. Seek first to understand.

On the most pragmatic level, how do intend to demolish their argument if you don’t understand it?

But seriously, the greatest respect you can give your opponent is to hear them out and fully understand their position—as in, you could repeat the heart of their argument back to them. As in real, empathic listening: understanding their frame of reference and how they feel (3). This may require getting them to explain more, rephrasing what they say back to them to see if you understand (“What I hear you say is X. Is that correct?”). You’ll need to pay attention to what they’re feeling and, at times, reflect it back (“I can see this frustrates you”).

Empathy doesn’t mean agreement. It’s not caving, it’s understanding (3). Once your opponent feels truly understood, they are more likely to hear you out.

I love how available information is these days—blogs, YouTube, Twitter. I enjoy the interaction with fellow authors and readers on those sites. But these mediums of communication can’t be used to their full potential if we’re using them to fight.

I recently chastised a fellow member of a Facebook writing group in a comment section. I don’t recommend that. As soon as they’d replied, I was sorry I’d started it. But, in a show of good character, instead of getting angry they asked me what I found offensive about what they’d said. By that time I’d recovered my good judgment and did my best to reply both truthfully and civilly. We ended the debate (as best I know) in good standing with each other, each having learned something.

Following the three things won’t guarantee that your debate ends in agreement, but we will, at least, end the debate with a good conscience, having not hindered the progress of our beliefs. Perhaps an encounter with a respectful, caring individual will go a long ways toward the changing of their mind.


(1) Muehlhoff, Tim and Todd V. Lewis. Authentic Communication: Christian Speech Engaging Culture. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Academic, 2010.

(2) Carnegie, Dale. How to Win Friends and Influence People. Special Aniversary Edition. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1936.

(3) Covey, Stephen R. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Free Press, 1984.


Aunt Win’s Last Lesson for Me: a Tribute

She lives in my memory as a tiny lady with bright eyes behind her glasses, and lines around her mouth that said she spent more time smiling than frowning. Her body was slight to gauntness, but spry and active, as was her mind. She never married or had children, but I, along with dozens across Manitoba, am ‘her kid’—through her teaching, her love, and her giving.

Her life was one of courage and adventure from the beginning. In 1913, Aunt Win’s parents struck out from Staffordshire, England, to Canada in hopes of getting a good start to their family. Her dad had heard that the Canadian government wanted to bring settlers into northern Manitoba. They found themselves in the rocky, bush country of Grahamdale, near Lake Winnipeg. They had nothing of their own, except for the things provided by the government—a couple horses and cattle, and a bit of money.

With those small resources, they hewed a farmstead out of the trees, and coaxed wheat out of the stony soil. It took ingenuity to get by. To make a bit of cash, her mother took up baking for the large population of bachelors in the area, and baked bread every day but Sunday.

Aunt Win was born in the sixth year of their life in Canada.

But in 1921, life took a heartbreaking turn. Her father became very sick with Typhoid fever. Though his wife and a friend managed to convince the weekly train to take him to Winnipeg in the unheated baggage car, he succumbed to his illness. Seven months later, their second child, Sam, was born.

In 1924, Win’s mother took her two small children and moved south to Dugald. There she married a man who was renting a farm there. They all worked hard to make ends meet. Young Win fed the hens, gathered eggs and carried firewood. She was very young when she learned how to knit socks and scarves for the family.

She recounted the story to me of the first cake she baked—a white cake in a round pan. She served it at mealtime. When her brother, Will, tasted it he fell off his chair! When everyone rushed to see what was the matter, he pretended it was because the cake was so awful.

She told me about having no winter coat to wear to school until a neighbor lady altered a large coat and gave it to her. Win was very pleased to get to wear this new coat, with its fur collar and side-belt.

In Win’s teen years the family lived at a farm near My hometown. She went to school at the Beatrice school until she began taking correspondence courses in the latter grades. She loved her studies (except for history), and she loved the idea of being a teacher. She even turned the side of an old car radiator into a blackboard, and used it to teach her little sister, Sylvia, numbers, letter and arithmetic.

In her teens, Win was working to support her family. This made her studies difficult. But she was determined to be a teacher. So she saved up her money, got a job as a housekeeper in Winnipeg, and enrolled in a business course. Tenacity paid off. When the business college needed a teacher, she was ready and jumped at the chance.

Win taught at the business college for six years before becoming a teacher under the regular Department of Education. She then began teaching High School in Morris. That first day at Morris school—meeting the teachers and her new students–was a highlight. She was finally where she wanted to be.

Aunt Win loved to help her students learn. At the end of the year, when she saw those who had struggled hard to get their grades succeed, it was worth the time and energy. It pleased her to hand out report cards and think about how much she was able to teach them. She emphasized that “those were great days.”

She really missed her students when she retired in 1984. Win wasn’t ready to retire, but the school told her that she was getting to that age, so she would just have to get used to it. Instead of teaching school, she began teaching Sunday school.

Aunt Win was my Sunday school teacher. I confess I don’t remember much of what she taught, but I do remember how we got to do crafts. We would make things of wood, paper, cloth, bottles, paint, paper mache—pretty much anything. I learned a lot about painting, gluing, and woodwork from her.

I also remember her generosity. She loved to give gifts to ‘her kids’—the many children she got to teach over the years. She would buy ice cream for all the kids at church. If she came over to our place, it was often with a treat. She would give us Easter and Christmas cards (with a five-dollar bill for each of us). She would go out of her way to come to our place to hear us recite our Bible memory verses. She helped me with my writing in my junior high years—reading my essays and giving me editing feedback. If we biked over, she was ready to give us cookies and tell stories.

Aunt Win died this winter. I traveled over skating-rink roads back to my hometown so I could sing at her funeral. The picture at the front of the church was Aunt Win in middle age. It struck me as odd, because all my twenty-two years I had known her as an elderly woman. But the stories that were told were quintessentially her: adventure, fun with her nieces, nephews (like letting them drive her big, old car up and down the driveway until it overheated), great-nieces and great-nephews, generosity, love for people and her God.

Recently I was telling someone about being afraid to not get married—I didn’t want to be alone in my old age. Soon after I found the “Memoirs of Aunt Win”, which I wrote when I was fifteen, and from which the details of this article are taken. Many lessons can be drawn from her life-story, but I will point out one: she was unmarried, but she wasn’t alone. She had a family of brothers and sister, nephews and nieces, and their children who loved her dearly. They told stories about how they loved to visit her because it always meant fun adventures and good cookies, and how she cared about what was happening in their lives.

I see great possibility for myself in this, ‘cause I’d love to be the crazy, fun Aunty! Seriously, though, there will always be a demand for someone who cares, who pours themselves into others. Aunt Win was such a person.

My iPhone is Ruining My Life!

I’ve only owned an iPhone for three weeks and I’m already an addict. Case in point, last night I lay in bed for an hour, watching YouTube videos (and this after I professed to be exhausted). After an hour had passed, my mind got that gross feeling that you get from eating too much candy. Just… ick. All of it was time down the drain.

I bought the iPhone to assist me in in blogging, since keeping up with my social media was becoming too big of a chore without constant Internet access. To be fair, it’s accomplished most of that purpose. But I’ve found myself reading less from actual, quality books and writing less—two passions of mine.

My phone has wasted so much time!

Correction: I’ve wasted so much time—me, not the phone. I can’t make excuses. It’s my lack of discipline that has turned my iPhone against me. I used to scoff at the people who sat around on break playing games on their phone, and now here I am doing the equivalent.

I’ve become what I hate!

So, this morning I deleted the YouTube app. Then I made up for the hour of garbage by listening to a podcast by Ravi Zacharias and a LIFE Leadership audio.

The iPhone is a double-edged sword, a portal to all sorts of possibilities. It can be used for YouTube, mindless surfing, compulsive, narcissistic social media, or addictive gaming. On the other hand, it is a business in a small box: my one-touch access to my blog, social network, email, banking and communication. It is my “portable university,” which grants me access to experts on all topics (Ravi Zacharias, Mark Driscoll and the British History podcast among them). My phone may be the single most powerful tool I own, and I was just letting it slip away.

So, here’s my resolution to use my phone for my life-purpose, not for dissipation. After all, with a great phone comes great responsibility.

What one app, if you deleted it, would save you the most time?  Let me know in the comment section below.