A Great Way to Start the Day #3

Clean, crisp, fresh air is one of my favorite ways to start the day.

Even five or ten minutes early in the morning can go a long way to invigorating me and getting my creativity flowing!

Those of you who can enjoy your morning walk sans winter boots or on a beach are very fortunate. However, no one can beat the amazing color of northern sky or the fresh, clean air.

#greatwaytostarttheday #northerncanada

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How to Kick Fear to the Curb and Take Your Life Back

Last summer, I saw a small snake curled up in the middle of my long, red dirt driveway that lead to our farm house nestled among rolling hills and towering poplar trees.

I brought my big one ton truck to an immediate halt and quickly backed out of the driveway without a moment’s hesitation. As I turned the truck around, I quickly locked the doors, just in case the hideous beast tried to crawl up my tire, open the truck door and chew my face off. I resolutely drove the thirty minutes back to town where I patiently sat in the local coffee shop, allowing the disgusting reptile ample time to slither from my driveway .

As you might have guessed, I am absolutely, completely and irrationally terrified of snakes.

I am not just terrified of snakes; I have a true phobia. Thinking back, I have come to the conclusion that two seemingly unrelated childhood events somehow fused in my subconscious mind to eventually become the basis of a totally irrational adult fear.

Would it surprise you to know that in part, my fear of snakes was derived from a poster I saw in a store when I was about four years old of Jaws coming out of the seat of a toilet? Let me tell you how my phobia of snakes and sitting on the toilet in the dark lead to my deep understanding of how fear can rule and even ruin our lives, but only if we give it the power to do so.

One hot summer day when I was about four or five years old, my mom and I went on a fun filled adventure to a local river in the Okanagan Valley with the rest of our family. Even in the shade it was blazing hot and I couldn’t wait to jump into the cool water as my mother zipped and clipped my lifejacket securely around my little body. I can still remember peaking excitedly over what seemed like a giant cliff as my aunt and uncles jumped into the slow moving river below. Satisfied that I was safe, my mother tossed me into the river and jumped in right after me. I giggled at the antics of my uncles as we floated down the river, laughing and splashing in the cool water. It was an idyllic afternoon and the perfect setting for a wonderful childhood memory.

Little did I know that a life altering event was about to take place.

When we eventually floated to a very shallow part of the river and the adults instructed me that we were getting out, I dutifully stood up and began to walk toward the shore. Likely it was the feeling of something brushing the skin of my leg that caused me to look down and see the large dead snake wrapped around one ankle.

Even thought that experience scared me, I don’t remember being terrified of snakes after that day. Looking back, I believe it took two more negative encounters with snakes before the fear really took up residence in my mind. The first one was probably that same summer. I was at the game farm with my big, fun family who love nothing more than to tease each other mercilessly. I was proudly sitting beside my mother on the hood of my grandpa’s big gold Lincoln as it ambled slowly through the park when we noticed people dispersing from around the snake pit in a hurried fashion.

The snake enclosure was basically a large round cement structure that was completely open at the top, allowing visitors to peer over the edge and view the reptiles below. Apparently, the rattle snakes had mounted a successful prison break and where at large in the park. I don’t remember being particularly concerned that there could be deadly snakes lurking under the park benches or hiding in the hotdog stand.

At least, I wasn’t afraid until my uncle playfully called out window to watch out for rattle snakes trying to crawl up the tires because they like to eat little girls.

ZINNNNNNG!

Neurons started firing in my child’s brain, connecting thoughts, ideas and pictures and suddenly an unconscious association was made between snakes being dangerous and their supernatural ability to crawl up tires. (I’m not really afraid that snakes can crawl up tires. I say it now because it is funny but this memory definitely played a big role in my fear).

The final chink in my inability to view snakes rationally was firmly mortared up several years later.

It was really all Darren Stevenson’s fault.

I was in grade two and it was recess time. Like most kids that age, I was having a great time running and playing with my classmates; until Darren Stevenson ruined it. He had a crush on me and in true 7 year old fashion, he tried to show his affection by terrorizing me; he caught a small snake and put it down the back of my jacket. I am sure the creature was only looking for way out when it wiggled into the arm of my coat.

ZINNNNNNNNG!

A full-on, true phobia was created in that instant as I screamed my head off while I frantically tried to disengage myself from my jacket. Just the thought of that little-girl-eating beast wiggling over my left arm –yes, I can remember which arm it was- gives me the willies and I have to squeeze my eyes shut to block out the terrifying memory.

Flash forward sixteen years. I am in university, working on a biology degree and my fear of snakes is growing every year. During my Vertebrate Biology course, I had to have someone tape pieces of paper over the pictures of the snakes so I could read the text around them. It was not long after that I started pulling the blankets back before I got into bed just to make sure a snake wasn’t curled up at the end of my bed, waiting to gnaw off my toes!

My self-induced pathology continued as jaws in the toilet from the poster I saw as a child, morphed into a snake in the toilet. I told myself that it was really ridiculous as I hovered over the toilet seat to pee but not even that acknowledgement could motivate me to change my ways.

Then one day while my husband was watching the TV series COPS, I happened to walk past the TV at the most inopportune moment. The segment was about a venomous snake that crawled up from the sewers of New York and came out an unsuspecting woman’s toilet.

“That can really happen?” I said in near hysteria.

My husband just shrugged, “Yeah, I guess so. Wouldn’t that just freak you out!”

“OH MY GOD!”

ZINNNNNNNG!!!

Now my fears were no longer irrational and totally unfounded. I had just been given verifiable proof that my fear that snakes could crawl out of toilets was real and true. This is pivotal to understanding fear so hold onto this thought while I describe my alarming decent into phobia madness.

It was no longer enough that I would check my bed once and get in. Now I would pull the blankets back, feel all around, pull them back up and minutes later, check again just in case a snake had made a nest at the bottom of my mattress in that short period of time. When my tiny bladder woke me up in the middle of the night, I now had to turn on the light so I could see that there wasn’t a snake in the bottom of the toilet before I would assume “the hover” position. And eventually, I had to watch the hole in the toilet the entire time in case a snake crawled out while I was in such a delicate and vulnerable position.

Luckily, as part of my requirements to graduate, I had to take some non-biology credits and I chose Psychology. During in one such class, my professor gave a lecture on how phobias are created and how to cover come them. He talked about how fear was survival mechanism implanted into caveman brains so when the bumbling oafs watched one of their cave mates get eaten by a Saber Tooth Tiger, they knew to be afraid; that fear kept them alive and ensured the survival of the species. The interesting thing about fear is that the more we avoid the thing we are afraid of, the worse our fear of that thing becomes. In psychology, this phenomenon is called reinforcement.

I listened intently as my professor described the two most common methods to overcome fear: one, simply force yourself to what you are terrified of or two, a radical and to my mind, horrifying practice called flooding. In simple terms, I’d be locked in a room full of snakes (think Indiana Jones) or someone would strap me to a chair and let snakes crawl all over me.

HELL NO!!!!

Just the mere thought of something that radical made my entire body shake uncontrollably and sweat like I’d just run the Boston Marathon in August!

And then he said something that was really interesting: Phobia’s really aren’t that big of a deal and they don’t generally require treatment, unless they are interfering with your life.

I had to admit to myself that in all honesty, my fear was becoming a bit of a problem. It’s not like it was inhibiting my ability to work or be a good mother or be at the top of my classes. To the outside world, I was a highly function woman. The term “Superwoman” had even been applied to me on more than one occasion, which was ironic considering that I obviously had my own Kryptonite; snakes.

To the outside world and to myself, I really was this strong, capable, superwoman who would put her nose to the grindstone and plow through any obstacle. However, at night Ms.Hyde would make her appearance as I began to rip my bed apart five or six times and nervously watch the bottom of the toilet for the slightest sign of a snake as I hovered delicately above. I didn’t like it that such contradictions existed within me.

It was time to make some changes.

There was absolutely no way that I was going subject myself to the flooding technique. My only other option was to force myself to do what I was afraid of. Armed with sheer determination that I would not be ruled by ridiculous fears, I got into bed that night without pulling the covers back to check for a snake and forced myself to slide my feet all the way to the bottom of the bed. You have no idea how hard that was for me to do! I was just as terrified as someone with a fear of heights, standing on a suspension bridge and peering one hundred feet below them at the nauseating abyss below.

I was sweating and terrified as my imagination ran wild. I tried to rationalize with myself as my mind screamed at me to get out of bed because at any second, I was going to feel something slither across my legs. I held onto my resolve as tightly as a cowboy on a raging bull in the qualifying round at the NFR. The ancient part of the brain I like to call the “lizard brain”, the part that was designed to keep humans alive, battled with my more evolved and logical brain.

It was a matter of willpower and mind over matter. I was stronger than this fear, I told myself. I stuck it out and fought with my Lizard Brain until I finally fell into an exhausted asleep. When my bladder woke me up a few hours later, I refused to turn on the light so I could check the toilet first. Once again, I was consumed by sheer terror but I refused to give in to my fear.

It took three agonizing days and I was exhausted by the end of it but I won! While I have not attempted to get over my fear of snakes in general, after those three days of battling my more irrational fears of snakes being in the bed and in the toilet, the fear completely disappeared and never came back. Ever.

While some of you may be thinking that my fear was ridiculous and there was no reason that it should have been so hard for me to get over it, fear is fear; it doesn’t matter if you are afraid of spiders or afraid of abandonment or afraid of heights or afraid of commitment. Fear can cause you to ruin your chance at a promotion, consume you with worries that don’t really exist, destroy opportunities or sabotage the best relationship of your life.

Fear isolates us from love and opportunities and prevents us from really living.

We can be so irrationally ruled by fear that we do truly ridiculous things. Sometimes we recognize that our behavior is not logical but we continue to act that way because it allows us to continue avoid our fear rather than face it. Other times we are too blinded by our fear to see the absurdity of our behavior.

The saying, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”, couldn’t be more true.

Fear often has deep roots in our childhood and we bring it forward into our adult lives. Sometimes it stays true to its original form and other times it morphs into something very different making it hard to recognize. However, its purpose is the same; to protect us. That doesn’t mean that it’s rational or that it’s a good thing because it comes from a very primitive part of our brains.

Many of us have even had our deepest fears confirmed; maybe you had a childhood fear of abandonment as a child and years later, your spouse leaves you for someone else. Or maybe you were always picked last for the sports teams in elementary school and you are repeatedly passed over for a promotion as an adult.

Whether or not your fear has bee confirmed by your experiences or not, if there is one thing I know for certain about fear it’s that you can’t run from it because every time you do, it gets worse. Running away may make you feel safe in that moment but you are only reinforcing that fear.

So do what you are afraid of, recognize that your fear is irrational and to force yourself to stop running.

Then you can sit back and watch your life transform!

A little video about life on the farm

The last few weeks have been super busy and life altering. I am looking forward to writing later this week about some of my experiences and things I’ve learned along this bumpy road called “Life”.

In the meantime, I made a short video to answer some of the questions I’ve received from my readers about life on the farm.

Sorry about the poor cinematography; it’s hard to expect much from free labor, especially when said laborer is ten years old!

My four year old daughter is a performer at heart and wasn’t very happy that the spotlight wasn’t on her. I hope you get as much of a chuckle out of her singing and chatter in the background as I did.

I hope you enjoy the view into my life and keep the questions coming!

Have a great week,

Jen

Why I Dance

Dance has always been a big part of my life; my mother says that I was born dancing. My earliest recollection of dancing on stage was to the song “Me and My Shadow” and we used top hats and canes. As I got older, dance became more than just pretty costumes and big year end productions. Melodies and lyrics began to move me and I danced to express myself or bring life to the words songs through movement.

Decades later, I still dance. I dance in the kitchen with the girls when our favorite song comes on the radio and I dance on a stage with a troupe of amazing women for charities that inspire us. Tomorrow is a big show for me, my fellow dancers and the charity we are supporting. I am dancing in two group numbers, a solo and duet that is very special to me.

When I set out on my journey to start The Life You Want, I decided to allow myself to be vulnerable and share my personal struggles, triumphs and joys and sorrows as I write about the things I’ve learned and the insights I’ve gained along the way so that we might all lead the life we want. In that vein, I would like to share with you why I am dancing tomorrow night….

dance1

When I danced in this show last year, it had been barely a month since losing two people I loved very much. This past year has been full of unfathomable pain and loss. I’ve had to navigate the ever changing terrain of grief without the woman I always turned to for love, acceptance and guidance.

This year I am dancing in a duet that means so much to me because it is a powerful representation of where I was and my struggle not to be crushed under the weight of the pain…

I’m sorry I’m really a mess right now

I’m trying my best to get it together somehow

I can’t stay this way

locked up in the pain that you left me

I’m unraveling looking for things that will never be

Tell me where love goes when it’s gone

Tell me where hearts go when they move on

Suddenly someone is no one

I’ve come undone….

-Haley Reinhart “Undone”

I’ve learned that grieving and self discovery are journeys that do not take linear paths; there’s a push and pull as we struggle to keep even a small piece of what we lost.

For me, dancing this year is about honoring the inner strength and fighting spirit that has carried me through so many trials and tribulations.

I honor my determination to face my pain rather than run from it, no matter how horrible it is.

I honor my innate goodness. My kind, loving heart, my gentle nature and my inner beauty.

In doing so, I want to remind all women that loving yourself is not egotistical; it’s necessary because that’s where our power comes from!

This week I challenge you to go out and do something that makes your heart sing and fills you with joy, energy and power. Honor all the good things about yourself and celebrate your own beauty.

If you’d like to know more about Ignite or the event, here is the link:

https://www.facebook.com/events/598035330308754/permalink/607593046019649/

Recognizng Your Own Worth; Why It’s the Most Important Thing You Can Do

Sometimes hearing your own voice screaming, you’re worth more than this, can be the hardest thing you will ever do.

A few nights ago, a friend of mine called, desperately reaching out of the dark vortex of pain that was enveloping him for a hand or comforting voice to anchor him back to reality. He was in the middle of a break up, pacing his apartment and drowning in that horrible anxiety that reaches up from your gut and feels like it’s crushing every organ as it insidiously winds its way through your body.

Almost a year ago to the day, I experienced that same horrific, smothering anxiety; the same indescribable pain that leaves you sobbing on the floor, unable to stand. I knew there was little I could do for him in that moment except listen; nothing will ease that terrible pain except time. Nothing.

How ironic to be here at this moment, I thought to myself. The memory of my pain resurfaced and I ached for my friend, knowing what the next hours, days and weeks would bring. There was something haunting yet strangely gripping about watching the same situation replay from the outside this time. I was reminded of the Sandra Bullock movie Lake House and how the hero was five years ahead, aware of everything that was about to replay in her time.

Why had life brought me back here? Was it to help my friend through the next dark days and share what I had learned or were there lessons that I still needed to learn?

I listened as he talked about how he suspected that she was cheating because she lacked desire for any kind of intimacy with him, made every excuse possible to not spend time with him and treated him with general indifference. In the same breath he would say that he loved her so much, he couldn’t stand the thought of living without her.

There must certainly be some truth to the saying love is blind because anyone reading this would wonder why he would want to stay in a relationship like that?

Finally, I gently asked, “Chris, do you know your worth?”

“What do you mean?” came the hesitant reply.

“I mean, you have value as a person and she does not see it. You deserve to be treated better than this; you matter Chris! You deserve a woman who can’t wait to come home to you. One who uses any reason possible to touch your arm in the kitchen, kiss your cheek when you are watching TV or snuggle close to you while she reads a book.”

Typical to someone who is in relationships with a partner who does not see his value, my friend went on to describe her good qualities like how nurturing and kind she is to his young son.

“That is a very important quality in a partner but you are side stepping that fact that she doesn’t cherish YOU. You are a good person, a great father and good provider. If you knew your own worth, you wouldn’t allow someone like her into your life because she is not good enough for you.”

When we don’t value ourselves, we place our own needs and desires last in the relationship.

I don’t know if Chris understood what I was talking about that night. Recognizing your value as a person and expecting people to treat you accordingly is a process that some of us struggle with for most of our lives.

We seem to have to get knocked in the head with the same lessons over and over again until we finally learn. If we are willing to examine and embrace situations as they come to us, we will find that life has a strange way of blowing away the fog of our illusions and leaving us naked and vulnerable in the reality of our truths. It may sometimes be as terrifying as it sounds but this is the place where learning and growing can flourish.

I will have to ask Chris sometime if he grew up as the caretaker of his family as I did. I was so busy protecting and caring for my family and friends that I often put my own needs and desires last; a trait not uncommon with givers. Sadly, this trait has been repeated in my adult relationships over and over again.

I am not suggesting that being nurturing, giving or protective are bad traits. However, the line between being a giver and being self depreciating is a fine one; it can be very self destructive if you cross it.

                                                                Givers have to have limits

                                                                   because takers don’t.

 

Understanding your limits or recognizing when you are simply being used, are all wrapped up in knowing your value. You will never fully acknowledge your value if you don’t allow yourself to fall in love with YOU.

Self love isn’t arrogant, narcissistic or egotistical; it is healthy and necessary.

I personally struggle to accept compliments gracefully. I feel uncomfortable and I want to brush them aside for fear of being conceited or arrogant. However, turning away from praise isn’t humility; it only serves to diminish your presence.

I believe that I am strong, intelligent, creative, kind and resilient so what does it say to someone when I downplay their compliments? It says that I don’t really believe those things about myself. I am a firm believer in the idea that what we think and say becomes our reality. Therefore, if we put out conflicting messages, we are going to bring things into our lives that we do not want.

I’ve said before that I believe we are like mirrors; whatever we project outward is reflected back to us. If we don’t have the love we want, it’s because we don’t love ourselves; it has to come from within if it’s going to come back. If we don’t have the respect we want, it’s because we don’t give ourselves the respect we deserve.

By this token, it is easy to understand that if someone doesn’t see your value, if they don’t treat you like you are the most precious thing on earth, it’s because you cannot attract what you do not nurture from within and radiate outward.

If we think of self love as the foundation for our mirror, we can see how it can be the root of everything we have or don’t have in our lives.

Have you connected the dots yet? I know it was only through writing this article that I was finally able to get it; I guess that means life brought me back because I still had something to learn.

 

Recognizing your value and loving yourself are intrinsically tied to manifestation.

 

If you don’t love yourself, you won’t see your value. If you don’t see your value, you won’t believe that you truly deserve what you want to bring into your life.

Wow, that’s huge.

This week I challenge you to give yourself the love and respect you deserve:

If someone pays you a compliment, feel grateful that they recognize how amazing you are. It’s better than not being appreciated!

Write down all the things you love about yourself and really embrace them. Remember, no conflicting messages.

Set the alarm on your phone for three times a day and say this affirmation:

 

                                               I am good

                                                I am kind

                                                I deserve to be loved

                                                I can trust myself and others

                                                I can forgive myself and others

                                                I am grateful to be me

 

As you begin to really love and respect yourself, the people who don’t see your value will be replaced by people who feel blessed to have you in their lives.

 

Warm wishes for a wonderful week!

Grief: How to Survive It

I was up early the day my whole world changed forever.

My boyfriend was in a triathlon race 1000 kilometers away and I felt wretched that I hadn’t been able to be there to cheer him on when he crossed the finish line. I had just started a new job and wasn’t able to take the time off to go with him. I loved this man more than I had ever loved anyone in my entire life and it felt so wrong not to be there for him. After all, he had always stood so steadfast beside me every time I needed him.

I looked at my empty coffee cup, yawned and stretched. I woke up at 5am to wish him good luck as he prepared for race day, wanting to show my love and support in some small way. Yes, it was definitely time for another caffeine infusion. I padded sleepily in the direction of the kitchen and made a latte as quietly as possible, hoping not to wake my sleeping children.

It was mid August and the sun was already shining brightly in the brilliant blue Northern sky. I took my frothy cup of coffee outside and settled my favorite chair on the porch. The birds were chirping and the leaves were rustling high up in the poplar trees as I picked up my phone and opened the special website where I could enter his race number and check his progress.

Suddenly my phone rang interrupting the peace of the morning. I knew with that deep, ancient intuition that is completely unexplainable that it was bad news. I picked up my phone and walked to the end of the porch, the offending device still ringing loudly. My stomach was upside down and I was shaking slightly when I slid my finger across the screen and put the phone to my ear.

“Hello?”

“Jenny,” my mother was sobbing on the other end, barely able to get the words out.

“What happened? Please tell me what happened!” I begged her but I already knew.

“Grandma,” the single word crashed into me like train and sent my world spinning.

“Noooooooooo,” I fell to the ground. The pain ripping through my body was suffocating.

I don’t remember much but I remember lying on the wooden planks of the porch, sobbing and praying: Please God, don’t take my grandmother. I don’t know if I can get through life without her.

She was the sweetest of souls and I loved her like a mother. My father was killed when I was two and my grandparents had filled a void that would have been a very deep chasm without the warmth and security of their love.

I know that I had to make phone calls to other family members but the only call I remember making was to my boyfriend. He wasn’t quite done the race so I had to leave a voice mail. I felt terrible that he was going to be full of excitement and then he was going to hear my awful, sobbing, incoherent message. I desperately needed him; I needed the security of his arms and the solace of his tender love.

A few days later, my grief multiplied to a magnitude that was almost unquantifiable.

It was the night before my precious grandmother’s funeral. We were all travel weary and I was beyond emotionally exhausted having cried for the majority of the grueling fourteen hour drive from one end of the province to the other. I was tucking the girls into bed when I glanced over and saw my boyfriend’s ipad on the hotel nightstand between their single beds. He had filled it with games and activities just for my youngest daughter but lately, the ipad had remained strangely out of sight. Considering my emotional state, I’ll never understand how my stupid sixth sense kicked in again and started screaming at me to pick it up.

I hesitated, second guessing myself. Finally, I reached out a shaky hand and sat down on the end of my daughter’s bed with it on my lap. I was already so grief stricken that I could hardly muster more than outrage at what I found. He swore that night and to this day that he never cheated; but he still ran. He left me broken and wracked with sorrow on the eve of the day I was expected to stand beside my grandfather and support him as he laid to rest his soul mate of 65 years.

In the space of a week, I lost another person whom I had loved with all my heart. It wasn’t death that took him from me; I think the only term that would describe it is…….fear. I lost him to his fears.

He didn’t just leave me that night. He kept running. A week later, he ran away for the weekend with a woman he had just met the day before. He stayed with her for the better part of the year.

The grief that followed shook me to my very core.

I wanted to just quit life. I wanted to crawl into my bed and never emerge. I didn’t want to talk to anyone; it was simply too much effort to listen to their kind, understanding words. I lost an alarming amount of weight for my frame because the sight of food sickened me; food is for the living and I was barely living.  

I have been through some struggles that would have crushed the average person but this was by far the most difficult journey of my entire life. Every day I would cry on my hour drive to and from work. When I walked through the front door, I would paste a smile on my face for the sake of my girls. Once they were in bed, I cried myself to sleep.

I tried to read books about grief and abandonment but my mind wouldn’t stay focused. I tried to talk it out with friends but every word they said felt like another brick was being thrown my chest; their words only seemed to cause me more anxiety. I tried to mediate but I just cried the entire time. Everything about life seemed to be more of a struggle than it ever had before.

The one thing I didn’t do was to try to run from the grief or put it in a box, lock it down and shove it to the back of my mind. Somehow, I knew that I had to allow the process.

The only way to survive the unbearable grief was to allow it to wash over me.

I had to allow myself the luxury of grieving; but that doesn’t mean I quit life. It means if I needed to crawl into bed and cry, I did. If I was making dinner and I suddenly sat down on the kitchen floor for a good cry and dinner was late, I didn’t beat myself up about it. If I needed to dance or break plates or run until I fell down, I allowed myself to do it.

Very slowly I started to replace my grief with gratitude; gratitude for my amazing little family, my loyal friends, my horses, the peace and serenity of my farm. I fell in love all over again with the things that had always made my soul sing like riding, dancing and running. Eventually I was able to read the books and find my center again.

I gathered my little daughters close and immersed myself in their unfailing, innocent love. We learned how to be a family, just the three of us. Our house filled with laughter and fun again. We danced in the kitchen, laughed when we got stuck in snow banks and viewed every day as grand adventure.

But that doesn’t mean the grief was gone.

People often say that life is a journey, not a destination. I learned that it’s the same for grief.

You never really get over losing someone you love. The loss becomes a permanent fixture in your being, almost like foreign DNA injected into your chromosomes. You learn to cope with it; some days you cope better than others.

I never want to experience that kind of debilitating pain again.

However, I did come out of it with a new appreciation for life; now I cherish every person and every moment because I never know what life will bring in the next minute, day or month.

Now my mantra has become:

Love without fear.

Live a life that matters.

Focus on the good and release the negative. 

The Number One Thing Everyone Should Have On Their Bucket List

It’s midnight and I am sitting on the porch with a teeny bit of caramel pecan ice cream and a cup of tea watching the lightening storm. Normally I love watching the magnificence of Mother Nature when she decides to hurl a good prairie storm my way. Lightening flashing across the wide open Northern Canadian sky can be a very awe inspiring experience.

Not tonight. Tonight I am watching it warily, like a prison guard watching a crafty inmate who likes to suddenly escape, causing mayhem and havoc before being shackled and wrestled into submission once again.

My ten-year old daughter is sitting beside me, nervously watching too. Every time the sky is illuminated by a particularly bright flash and immediately followed by a huge clap of thunder, she flinches.

“Wow, I felt that one shake the ground and come up through my toes,” I say as I glace her way. Even though she is fighting hard against it, her face scrunches slightly and her big green eyes fill with tears. I slide closer to her so I can tuck the blanket more tightly around us and put my arm around her slim shoulders. She’s worried about her best friend; her six year old Welsh-Arab pony named Bella.

I understand her worry; I am feeling it too. We are three girls living on a 160 acre farm, 30 minutes from town and are currently in the middle of a couple of severe forest fires ripping through the northern part of our province. Now is not a good time for a massive lightening storm, especially a dry one. We desperately need some rain to sooth the fury of Mother Nature’s wrath but that isn’t going to happen tonight.

BOOOOM!

“One, two, three, four,” she counts quietly. “Four. It’s only four kilometers away.” I pull her a little closer and gently kiss the top of her head.

“It’s more like a guideline than a hard fact,” I tease, trying to lighten the mood.

What would I do if we were given an emergency evacuation notice?, I think to myself.

I alone am responsible for two little girls, eight horses, a dog and two cats. Thirteen living souls are counting on me; thirteen to one ratio.

As the weight of that responsibility starts to press down on me, I resolutely shake off. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. I have to be real and make some kind of a plan in case the worst happens.

I stare unseeingly at the night sky as I mentally walk through each room. What would I take? What is irreplaceable?

I shake my head, somewhat surprised at the mental list I have complied: one week’s worth of clothes for each of us, pictures and photo albums, laptop and two external hard drives, the two tea cups that belonged to my grandmother and the blanket she made me when I was a baby.

Everything else is just stuff.

If the house burned to the ground, I might be hard pressed to remember half of what we lost. For the most part, it’s all just worthless stuff that clutters up my life.

I wrap my finger around a soft, dark curl just above my daughter’s ear and I know without a doubt that the only thing that isn’t replaceable is this little girl curled up in my arms. The expression a house isn’t a home without family, pops into my mind. I feel the truth of those words course through my body as surely as I feel the vibrations of the thunder.

It all boils down to family; that’s what matters most. My life would be an empty shell without my family.

If your house was on fire and suddenly a big blue genie appeared and said, “You can save your house and everything in it or you can save your family. You can’t have both. You have to choose.” I can’t imagine that anyone would choose their material possessions over their family. That’s a pretty simple conclusion.

However, here is observation that maybe isn’t as plainly obvious as the last: if we would all choose our families over material things, then why aren’t we doing that every day?

The most important thing in any human’s existence is its relationships with other humans. So why do they often take a back seat to everything else in our lives? Why do we treat the people we love with less kindness, respect and consideration than we give our co-workers or casual acquaintances?

When your time on this earth comes to its inevitable end, who will be there to hold your hand and kiss your cheek as you close your eyes for the last time? That vacation house, sports car, Coach purse or ATV that you worked so hard to get certainly won’t care when you are gone.

Making a bucket list is rather trendy and cool right now. However, I doubt that many people have “Making my family a priority” as item number one on their list.

This week I challenge you to evaluate all the people in your life and decide who are the most valuable and important. Are you making them a priority? Do you treat them better than all of the other less important people in your life? Do you love and care for them the way they deserve?

If you answered “No” to any of the above, then you have some work to do this week.

Your life will become so much richer and more meaningful if you do. That’s a promise.