Colouring outside the lines

Remember colouring books from when you were a child? The crisp white pages with pictures of everything from gingerbread houses and Santa claus to trucks and princess, all outlined in thick black ink. When we first started to colour as toddlers or preschoolers, we were mostly colouring over the drawings, with little attention to the lines or picking appropriate colours even! But as we got older, our colouring skills got better and we learned to stay within the lines, we learned to pick the “right” colours according to the real world. For some reason, purple trees ceased to exist around age 8 or 9! We learn how to fit inside the lines, what the expectations are for us and how to meet them.

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But along with the expectations for ourselves, we also learn to divide the world up: good drawings and bad drawings, we divide by gender and age and interests and yes, even race and class. We learn that everything and everyone should fit into a cookie cutter box in order to be “right” or “perfect.”

Well life isn’t perfect, is it?

When we don’t meet the expectations we’ve set for ourselves or our people, we feel like we’ve failed. I remember when I would work really hard on a picture from a colouring book and then, I’d make a “mistake” and some of my colouring would go outside the line. I have always had a hard time getting past what I saw as a glaring mistake on the paper. Usually I would end up crumpling the drawing up and throwing it away, rather than seeing the mistake in front of me. I always preferred that the “failure”, the imperfection in my eyes at least, to be hidden from me and everyone else. I couldn’t get past this imperfection. I still have a hard time with that today.

We’ve had a rough month, my family and I. And I’ve had to deal with a lot of failure and imperfections, in myself, my family, my choices, and the Canadian legal system which is ANYTHING but perfect. I hadn’t wanted to share anything about this online until it was completed in court… you simply never know who will stumble upon this blog and use things I’ve written against me!

We were going through a legal battle in order to have the right to relocate to Ottawa for employment purposes with our two oldest children. Their legal father was fighting me in court to prevent this move from taking place. Our legal counsel, and indeed everyone we talked to and all the research we had done, indicated that we would have no problems with being successful in this endeavour. The law was on our side, we had followed it to the letter, and we were good parents who had done nothing wrong… we fully expected success and had moved forward with plans based on this, incurring thousands of dollars in relocation costs, not to mention legal bills.

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T and I, outside Surrey Provincial Courthouse on day 1 of our trial, before everything went horribly wrong!

Unfortunately we were not successful for a whole hosts of reasons which I will not get into at this point in time. On September 8, the judgment was handed down that my 2 oldest children could not leave the Lower Mainland, leaving me in quite the quandry. My wife and daughter were in Ottawa and we had invested a significant amount of money to relocate our family there. Plus there was still the issue of a lack of employment here in BC for her, who had always been the primary breadwinner in our family! Initially we decided that we would continue to live separately, Momma T and Miss D in Ottawa while myself, Mr. T & H remained in BC as we were legally required to do, and then we would restart a relocation process in 9-12 months, if our situation had changed sufficiently to guarantee success. We had been advised that an appeal would be $25-$35K, had a low chance of success, and could result in us being required to pay the opposition’s court costs on top of our own! We chose not to appeal.

Further complicating matters, it seemed that I had a battle ahead to regain custodial guardianship of my children, of getting them back into my full time care, as they had always been and where it is in their best interest to live. I was being prevented from doing so by their father and had to pursue legal means to return them to me. To say that it was a stressful and difficult time would be an understatement.

On September 14, I was able to get them back into my care. It was an extremely difficult, emotional and stressful situation for all of us, and everyone who helped me and listened to me that week! (A huge thank you to all of you… and you know who you are!) And at that moment, after I had the kids back in my custody and I was holding them, still sobbing uncontrollably in the back seat of the car, everything became clear. My family needed to be reunited in BC. Work, housing… all of that would fall into place in the long run. But, for our children and our own mental health, we all needed to be together again, as a family. As the family we had been since T&H were 3 years old and Momma T moved to BC to be with us. We have been moving forward with our plans to reunite in Burnaby mid-October and we are all excitedly counting down the days to that reunification!

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The emotional rollercoaster of the last month has been extremely difficult… to put it mildly. The judgment really threw me for a loop. We have been working towards the Ottawa relocation for approximately 9 months and had been reassured at every step of the process that we had an open and shut case, that all the facts were in our favour, and that there was no reason to suspect we wouldn’t be successful. And so being unsuccessful hadn’t crossed my mind, except briefly once or twice, and certainly more throughout the actual trial when the judge showed significant bias against my side from the outset! Hearing that our relocation was denied simply shattered me to unrecognizable pieces and I broke down into a bitter, angry, and deeply wretched shell of a person. All I could see were the pieces of my life scattered on the floor in that judgment. I was so angry that my ex would be so vindictive that he would destroy my family, without so much as a conversation with me, and ultimately hurting our children deeply in the process, all out of fear of losing love. After the judgment came down, I felt caught with an impossible choice between my wife and daughter in Ottawa, and my two sons in BC. Hearing the words that we had lost, I couldn’t breathe and sobbed uncontrollably, filled with ugly blackness and anger, yelling “why?” at their father, and who knows what else I said?! My arms and legs weakened and I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t catch my breathe, and couldn’t understand how I ended up at this point in my life where everything was destroyed and unrecognizable. I don’t remember what I said, but I do know that I was angry and hateful. I didn’t understand why my counsel couldn’t tell me when the kids would be back in my care, but I suspect he was scared of me that day… I was a little over the top with craziness! I was eventually led out of the courtroom and home for the night. LaterĀ a good friend came over, bringing alcohol, Haagen Dazs ice cream, and distraction in the form of Settlers of Catan. I got very drunk, ate a lot, and won the game… it was a good distraction but I was still feeling raw with emotion.

There is nothing like almost losing everything that is most important to you in life to realize how important these things are to you, and really how lucky I am. And I am very lucky with great richness in my life.

Focus-on-the-goodSince that horrible weekend I’ve been trying to focus on the positives, which is difficult to do! Particularly when you are living in a spare bedroom of a friend, are being denied access to your children, have no income, and are living far away from your family! I was focusing on where I had failed, on the mistakes, on the imperfections in my life, and on how I was not measuring up to my own expectations. I was focusing on where my crayon had gone outside the lines and ruined the picture perfect drawing of my life.

So instead, I focus on the positive things, and on the things I can control. And I am learning to have faith, like Peter I am learning to trust in God and have faith that I will be supported as I take a risk and walk on the rough waters of my life. (Matthew 14:22-33) If I choose to stay in the boat, I’ll never walk on water.

There is much I have learned from this process. We have all been transformed by it, and transformation is sometimes a painful, raw, and emotional process. But without the storm, we cannot have the rainbow. And without the rainbow, we will never reach the pot of gold. So as strange as it may seem, I am going to give thanks for the opportunity for growth and learning I’ve had by losing this legal battle. I am choosing to focus on the rainbow and the pot of gold that is my family, rather than the storm I’ve left behind. Here’s to the next chapter!

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Ripping off bandaids

Do you rip a bandaid off or do you slowly peel it off? One gives a sharp searingĀ pain that burns on the surface, though it generally will go away quickly and leaves just the memory of the moment. The other typically hurts less but is drawn out over a longer time and may leave lingering pain.

Which do you do?

I’ve only got a few more days left in Vancouver and so I’ve been saying a lot of good-byes. And good-byes are hard to do.

It is like ripping off a bandaid because each time I walk away from another group, from another good-bye, it hurts deeply.

And I’ve been doing it over and over again in the past few weeks so it’s like pulling it off slowly over and over and over again, drawing out the pain over a longer time rather than just once.

Tomorrow is the last hoop I have to jump through before I can leave and then… then I will have my final good-bye to this city. The difficult part is that I am not holding the hoop and so it’s outside of my control whether or not I’ll be successful in jumping through it. I am grateful to all of you out there who are holding me and my family in prayers and hope and faith that this will work out for all of us. I know in my heart of hearts that it will. It is just stressing me out in the meantime!

Today has been a day of tears and emotions as I said good-bye to my church family. (And man, that minister just HAD to give a message with a theme of Road Trips eh? And close with “Til We Meet Again”!? Thanks Rev. Scott! It got my tears rolling.)

I looked around that sanctuary at all the faces in the congregation that I know and have grown to love over my past 10 years attending. I thought of the faces that are no longer sitting among us as they have passed on or moved on themselves to new situations or church communities. I listened to the beautiful pianist playing her beautiful music and her wonderful voice ringing out strong and clear. I looked at the symbols of our church and felt such warmth and community and love. I listened the message in the sermon, that I am not alone on this journey, that we ARE on a journey and have not yet reached our destination, and I felt comforted and surrounded by love and family. And I am grateful for the home that I found there and know that I will always have it with me, no matter where I travel in life. Thank you Northwood. And thank you to the women I have met and found communion with. Thank you.

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Tears are therapeutic and cleansing. They are helping me move on and out. They are helping me clean my soul. I saw this little meme the other day on Facebook and it spoke to me and seems appropriate to share here:

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It is okay to cry when bandaids are being ripped off, or even after they have been removed. It is okay to cry in moments of deep emotions and sorrow.

It is okay for me to cry as I say good-bye.