Category Archives: Family

We’ve found a place just when we’re leaving.

In some senses it’s a shame that we’re likely moving out of Manitoba just when we’re settling a bit. I guess at the moment I’m thinking mostly about the fact that we’ve found a place of our own to retreat to.

If we were staying in this fair province, we would probably make an annual pilgrimage to Falcon Lake and Falcon Trails Resort:

Kids on the dock
We all love it there.

Falcon Lake, 2012

Last week was the kids’ spring break. No school for a week. What do you do with three energetic young children in a small trailer in a transitional season (i.e. neither snow nor beach weather)? Dixie threw around a couple of options, all of which involved a lot of travelling and, ultimately, exhaustion. Then Dixie suggested a couple of nights at Falcon Lake. Agreed! And less than two hours away!

A year and a half ago we spent Thanksgiving weekend in a cabin on Falcon Lake (post and videos). It was an great weekend and has established itself in my mind as one of those few special memories that can’t be replicated. In fact, I worried a bit that this weekend, if it didn’t go well, would undo the memory of the first weekend there. That did not happen.

The weather forecasts leading up to this weekend were all over the map, starting with hot and sunny and moving to cool and rainy. We got the middle: cool and sunny. The weather was actually great for walks and much time spent on the dock.

Madeline’s favourite place:

Sitting on the Dock

Unfortunately, as early as our spring has been, the ice was not yet melted on Falcon Lake, so we did no canoeing this time. We were all disappointed. You can see the ice is almost right up to the dock. By the time we left, the ice was well beyond the crack in the ice above Madeline’s head. I imagine by Easter weekend it’ll be open water.

But we relaxed. And we hot-tubbed.

In the hot tub

And we played games.

Uno

And we threw lots of rocks at and onto the ice.

Rock throwing

And we went for walks along the lake.

Family Portrait

And we read. And we napped.

On Monday, we realized that we were so close to the Ontario border that it would be silly of us not to cross it. Madeline at first didn’t believe us that we were going to Ontario. She thought we were joking, that we were just going to a city called “Ontario”. Then we got to the “Welcome to Ontario” sign.

Quick trip to Ontario

We briefly considered driving to Kenora, which was just 45kms away, but we had no good reason to do so beyond being able to say that we went to Kenora. So we didn’t.

All in all it was a good, relaxing weekend.

(More pictures here.)

Supper Table Conversations: Laughter

Madeline: Luke started crying because I was making him laugh.

Luke: Well it hurts when I laugh.

Madeline: Luke, laughter is good medicine.

Me: They say laughter is the best medicine, Madeline. “It’s good for what ails ya,” as Opa used to say.

Madeline: What does “ails” mean?

Luke: Is it good for eczema?

Madeline: What does “ails” mean?

Me: No, but good question, Luke.

Madeline: What does “ails” mean?

Me: “Ails” means something that makes you sick or hurts you.

Madeline: Well, laughter ails Luke, so…

Me: Good point, Madeline. I guess laughter is the best medicine except for when laughter is the thing that is hurting you.

Dress up day and appropriate drinking

This week the kids spent some time at a friend’s house and made some masks. This morning they dressed up with clothing appropriate to their costumes. Madeline is a cat; Olivia is a bat; and Luke is a pumpkin.

Dressup

With lunch, they decided that they should drink something appropriate to the animals they were dressed as.

Madeline, being a cat, wanted milk.

Olivia, being a bat, wanted to drink something red like blood, so she chose cranberry juice.

Luke, being a pumpkin, wanted iced tea, which is brown and is therefore, in his own words, “worm poop juice”.

A first time for everything

On Sunday, Luke and I drove Madeline three hours north-west of us to Covenant Heights Bible Camp. It’s on Clear Lake in Riding Mountain National Park.

Here she is at her cabin:

Madeline's First Summer Camp

That was a bit of an emotional experience for me. I’m just leaving her there to fend for herself with (mostly) strangers for five days. She’s growing up.

Rather than drive the three hours back on the same day, Luke and I decided to pitch at tent for the night in the national park. We roasted some hot-dogs, played some badminton, played on the beach, and slept through a storm (or, in my case, laid awake). In the morning we went fishing. He caught his first fish!

This is him holding the fish (a Northern Pike/Jack) at a distance. He was a little nervous. It’s at Deep Bay on Clear Lake:

Luke's First Fish

I also caught two fish (not much for two hours of fishing). One of them broke the leader as I was trying to unhook it (I’m a bit skittish with the flipping and flopping and took a little long) and it swam off with the lure still in its mouth. That can’t be good, can it?

Anyway. Memories.

Eulogy (half of it, anyway)

After I posted this, Dixie pointed out that I hadn’t mentioned my dad’s death in this space. I suppose I assumed most people that read this are also Facebook friends, but that’s probably not the case. Dad died on Monday at age 76 after a long struggle with dementia. The funeral was today.

My brother Andrew and I both spoke as part of the eulogy. Andrew spoke first and gave a bit more of dad’s life story and was a bit more reflective than I was. How do you write a eulogy? What do you say? Mine ended up as a series of memories that painted a general picture of what dad was like.

Andrew and I decided to write our eulogies separately and compare notes later. When we did, we discovered that we had essentially written identical eulogies—we’d even independently thought it fit to compare dad to the cactus: prickly on the outside, soft on the inside, with beauty sprouting. So please forgive a little repetition.

It feels like I was, unfortunately, too young to really recount much of dad’s life when he was in the thick of his church-planting ministry, and my memory is poor at the best of times, containing only short, vague vignettes, moments frozen in time. These stream-of-consciousness memories and anecdotes are meant to paint a picture of who dad was.

I remember our church in the school in Holland, with bulletins and song lyrics always in green ink (his favourite) printed with dad’s stencil machine. I remember dad preaching and sounding he was angry. He was probably just excited about the message, but it made me nervous. I remember dad baptizing people who came to Christ through his ministry and being fascinated not so much by the act of baptism, but by the fact that dad walked into that little pool fully clothed in slacks and a button-up shirt. He seemed to carry a lot of authority in everything he did in the church.

I remember wrestling with him on the floor before bed.

Forgive me for saying this, but dad was the loudest nose-blower I’ve ever known. It sounded a bit like a trombone. It was our morning wake-up call.

I remember his obsession with pens and stationery, an obsession I inherited. I remember his love of Johnny Cash—the only “cool” music he listened to. We would listen to Johnny Cash’ greatest hits on roads trips. Dad wasn’t much of a singer, but he would always mimic Johnny’s train-whistle sounds at the appropriate moments during “Orange Blossom Special”. My brother and I both love Johnny Cash thanks to dad.

I remember that dad was always up out of bed before anyone else, and no matter what time I woke up, I could find him in his office studying or writing. No matter what he was doing, dad worked hard and did his best. In the 1990s when he couldn’t find work as a pastor, which was where his heart was, he worked odd jobs doing maintenance, pumping gas, and janitorial work. He was even diligent and hard working when he cleaned toilets. I never heard him complain.

I remember dad in his garden, turning the soil, pruning trees, caring for all green and colourful things. He seemed equally as strong and authoritative in the garden as he was at the pulpit.

I remember him bent over his cactuses with his camera, taking pictures of the beautiful flowers that would grow on them. Cactuses seemed to be his favourite plant. He would have two dozen or more little cactuses in individual pots, each growing its own unique flower.

The cactus: an appropriate symbol of dad, as Andrew noted. The beauty that flowered out of him included his commitment to truth and justice, as Andrew also said. His ministry reached out even to the spouse-abusing alcoholic, the drug addict and the suicidal student.

I remember one winter when I was visiting mom and dad. Mom woke me up in the middle of the night because dad had gone out to help a student friend of his, who was threatening himself with a box-cutter in front of his girlfriend’s dorm room. Dad must have been in his 60s at the time. They called dad because he was the only one who could calm this guy down. I followed dad at a distance and watched as he wrestled this student to the ground and took the box-cutter from him.

All of this may make dad seem like a terribly serious person, but he also had a great sense of humour—another beautiful flower in him. My wife always noted—and she’s right—that his laughter would light up an entire room. And if it was YOU who made him laugh, you’d feel like a million bucks. Sometimes when he got going, he couldn’t stop laughing.

There were certain stories he would always return to, like the time mom, dad, and I were camping and they both went to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Well, mom went and what she didn’t know was that dad had followed her to protect her, since the campground was dark and right along the highway. Mom thought he was still asleep in the tent. She got back to the tent just before dad did, and as she was zipping the tent door shut, dad was trying to zip the tent door up. Mom thought he was an intruder and started shouting at him and hit him so hard through the tent wall that he fell over. I remember that dad took a long time to get back to sleep that night, because he was laughing uncontrollably. That story would bring tears of laughter to his eyes every time he told it.

Dad was 35 when he married mom. He was 37 when Andrew was born and 42 when I was born. Years ago—maybe just around the time Andrew got married—I heard him tell mom that he didn’t think he’d ever see his grandchildren. I’m not sure what his health was like at the time, but perhaps for a diabetic that wasn’t an unrealistic expectation. He was 65 when his first grandchild was born. 5 more grandchildren followed. Contrary to his expectations, he met every single one of his grandchildren and loved them all dearly.

I feel like I could go on for quite some time with these little vignettes, but any other images I could share would likely be images deeply personal to me, but would seem ordinary to you.

The impression I get was that dad’s life was sometimes difficult, but he was faithful and made the most of his circumstances—another subject I remember him preaching on. Circumstances.

In a way, we said goodbye a long time ago, as the effects of his dementia became more pronounced, but today we say a final goodbye.

A Dutch childhood friend of mine, whose own father died of cancer two years ago, remarked that our dads are now enjoying a cup of coffee together in heaven, chatting in Dutch. I don’t know what happens between now and the resurrection, but I like that image. He was in much pain in the last couple of months, but he is no longer in pain now. Dad used to say, “Please be patient with me, God isn’t finished with me yet.” He’s getting closer now.

I love you, Dad. Enjoy your coffee.

As I finished the eulogy this morning, I wasn’t sure I could make it through. When the moment came, I thought I would make it through, but I broke down at the bit about his grandchildren.

It was a good funeral service, including a great message that managed to tie the elements of dad’s life, character as well as the gospel together.

More thoughts later.

What happens when Sunday is a snow day?

It’s May 1 and we couldn’t make it into the city for church because of a snow storm. IT’S MAY 1 AND WE COULDN’T MAKE IT INTO THE CITY FOR CHURCH BECAUSE OF A SNOW STORM!

It turned out to be a good day, in spite of the blustery weather. We decided to have a little church service of our own. I resisted Dixie’s suggestion that we sing some songs with the kids.

“Go get your guitar,” she said.

“What? What are we going to sing?”

“You have all those song sheets. Play some songs the kids will know from church.”

“No, that’s not gonna work. They’re not going to sing those songs.”

Instead, Dixie and our friend Amanda, who was also not able to get to her church, sang some kids songs with the kids. ‘Father Abraham,’ ‘This Little Light of Mine’, ‘Tutsy-Wutsy.’ I’m not sure that this was much better than trying to get the kids to sing the church songs. What’s the deal with these kids songs? Almost zero content. But the kids enjoyed doing the actions.

Madeline chose a couple of passages from Mark where Jesus heals blind people. She read them and then we asked a few questions. Then I read about Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to the disciples, including Thomas, the doubter. More discussion followed. Resurrection. New bodies.

The kids have all kinds of questions about death and heaven these days.

“When will Bestamore and Great Grandpa be alive again?” asked Olivia during the discussion.

“Will we still be a family in heaven?” wondered Luke later in the day.

Then a lunch of nachos, beef and cheese. Then the kids went off and played, while Dixie and I sat in the living room and read. We listened through all three of the Lord of the Rings film soundtracks. The kids got rowdy and fighty, so we separated them for individual quiet time. Blessed silence. Days should always be compartmentalized like this. More reading.

Then snack time and a game of Uno with the kiddos. Dishes.

High calorie day, folks: nachos, cheese and beef for lunch; crackers, cheese, and handfuls of Cadbury Mini Eggs for snack; and for supper, potatoes, pork & beans, and wieners washed down with a beer.

Showers for the oldest two kids. Bedtime. Opera selections on the stereo, writing this, reading…maybe a movie. Shadowlands.

A good day.

As a father…

In Ephesians 5:21 and following, Paul has some stuff to say about the family–his “instructions for Christian households”. It’s the passage about mutual love and submission between husband and wife. Usually we leave the discussion of love and submission in Ephesians there, but the Tim Perry raised a significant point for me (either in his essay here or in class lectures): that there’s no reason to quit the discussion with the end of the chapter. Instead, the discussion of love and submission carries on into the section addressed to children and slaves at the beginning of chapter 6. This has significant repercussions when one considers family and how it ought to function.

Yesterday and today were not stellar in terms family relations in this particular Vandersluys household. I’m pretty sure we’ve never had a perfect day, but these two days were especially bad: disobedient and ungrateful children, impatient and angry parents, irritable spouses. It was bad news all around. They are days that leave me wondering just how families ought to function. I’m sure we’re “normal”, but I’m not sure we’re “right”.

At any rate, I’ve been thinking today of Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:4: “And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (NRSV). The NIV tradition softens it a bit, removing the more overt connection to discipline or correction (NEB), which implies something other than instruction: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (TNIV).

Here’s my problem: I suspect that on most days I provoke one or more of my children either to exasperation or anger. I have no idea how to avoid this, because they will naturally rail against any form of discipline they receive from me. I recognize that Paul is not necessarily talking specifically about discipline/punishment but about instruction, but there is an element of discipline involved in this. I certainly cannot imagine how else a father would drive his child to anger.

John Stott’s commentary on this verse has been useful to me in understanding what Paul is on about, but it hasn’t reversed the reality that I fail on this account–by exasperating my children, by “raising them up in the Lord”–on a daily basis.  And the truth is, I’m not sure how to change this. Lord, have mercy.

Marriage Advice 2

I realized today that on that monumental date in a young-ish marriage–our 10th anniversary–I made no mention of our marriage or anniversary or anything of the kind. I forgive myself because at the time (in Canada) I was probably asleep and at the time (locally–that is, in England) I was on an adventure with my wife in Bath.

I also recalled writing, on our 8th anniversary, a post with 8 points of marital advice. I still stand by that advice. However, I want to highlight one point and add another very important one that I hadn’t mentioned there.

First, forgiveness. I can’t stress this enough. Forgive your spouse daily, because, quite frankly, you will probably need to be forgiven more often than your spouse. But also because without forgiveness bitterness takes route, and bitterness won’t take your marriage to good places.  I say it again: I can’t stress forgiveness enough.

Secondly, I neglected to mention one thing in my original marriage advice post: humility. Swallow that pride. Your pride is not worth your marriage. What am I talking about? I am not talking about swallowing your pride in terms of your basic worth as a human being created in the image of God. That is, I am not suggesting you swallow your pride and, for example, just accept spousal abuse.  I am suggesting, rather, that you swallow your pride in terms of disagreements and tensions with your spouse.

  • when you are angry about something don’t hang onto it no matter how right you are (“righteous pride”, perhaps?). This doesn’t mean that you have to say, “You’re right,” but that you have to be willing to communicate in a healthy way in spite of what you see as your clear “rightness”. Plus, even if you are right, your actions (verbal or otherwise) may not be.
  • When are angry about something and realize that you are wrong, admit it. Don’t stay angry or continue on a pretense of correctness simply because admitting that you are wrong is embarrassing. Same thing goes for when you’re angry and you realize that it’s a silly thing to be angry about.

Conversely, don’t get angry and defensive when your spouse critiques your character or criticizes you. They may be wrong and their comments may be unjustified. Then again, they may be right–or at the very least, they might be partially right. Whatever the case may be, anger and defensiveness closes the ears and shuts down your capacity to reason. When emotion takes the wheel in this context, it doesn’t take you down any better roads than bitterness will. If you get angry and/or defensive, you will not hear what you may well need to hear, even if it is only a grain of truth.

Two Sundays ago there was some tension in our home in the morning (not uncommon on Sundays), because my scheduled departure time in order to get to church more or less on time (“on time” is not an exact measurement at our church) was once again way overshot. Once we were in the van, Dixie made the comment, “I think you’re the angriest person in the family.”

I was incredulous. “What do you mean I’m the angriest!? On what basis do you make this assertion?!” But, for once, I managed to swallow my pride (perhaps after a period of time) and reflect on what she said, instead of rationalizing and arguing to restore my character in her mind (having written that, it seems even sillier). She had touched a nerve. I pride myself on my “even keel”–I take most things as they come and it generally takes quite a lot to make me angry.

Whether or not she is right about my anger ranking within the family, she was at least right in the sense that my “even-keeledness” seems be weaker at home. (I’ve mentioned before that having children, as much as it is a joy, delight and blessing, has also brought out a dark side in me that I had not previously been aware of.) And the truth is, I do lack patience at home, and of late I have been raising my voice more often. Dixie’s words, as much as they hurt my pride, brought me to reality.

So, swallow your pride, folks. Your spouse in many ways knows you better than you know yourself. At least, your spouse will see things in you that you are unable or unwilling to see. Insofar as marriage is a relationship for each other, one way your spouse is for you is by being honest about the things that he or she sees in you such that you can become a better person (and, I suggest, even vindictive criticism can be turned into something positive).

(I’d better write something more directly theological–though marriage is theological–lest this blog become Dear Abby.)

My quiver is full.

Psalm 127 stood out for me a couple of weeks ago, particularly this portion:

Children are a heritage from the LORD,
offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them. (127:3-5a, TNIV)

There are moments when I am overcome by the beauty of my children, the wonder of their existence–the brightness in their eyes, their smiles and laughter, their little growing bodies, their clever minds. In these moments I am sometimes brought even to tears because I am overwhelmed with love and pride and wonder and all sorts of things.

But the truth is, those moments are not the norm. Unfortunately and shamefully, I often behave and feel as if my children are a nuisance, getting in the way of the things I want to do, wasting my time, which could be used on things I find more fulfilling. Thankfully, I am quite self-aware in this respect–sometimes I even apologize to my children when I have said or done something wrong; often I feel terrible guilt and regret at the mistakes I have made (sometimes also to the point of tears).

Even with this awareness, however, some days it remains a struggle against my deep selfishness and bad priorities. Some days I set my selfishness aside and we will play hide and seek or tickle or a combination of both and we’ll run around the trailer laughing and screaming or we’ll go outside for an hour or two for an adventure. A couple of weeks ago I even made up a treasure hunt (“three drops of river water; three rotten tomatoes; a grey brick; etc.”). Other days, the victory against selfishness is much smaller and all I can manage is to lay down on the floor with them in passive, semi-attentiveness for a couple of minutes. Other days I manage to do nothing.

I realize that we live in an age of “helicopter parenting” and child psychology where we are almost guilted into doing everything to make our children well-adjusted, and I can’t help but wonder if this over-attentiveness may just make them maladjusted in a different way. Sometimes I imagine the world a century or two ago–did parents worry about spending enough “quality time” with their kids? Were the children or the parent-child relationship any worse off?

I don’t know. Yet I feel I can be a better parent–if only because some days the things which are not important in any imaginable way get priority over my children, and no matter how anti-helicopter-parenting you may be, that can’t be right.

The first half of this Psalm probably has some useful things to say about this as well (“Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain…”), but for now I focus on the second half.

May I gratefully receive and enjoy the blessing of my children.