Category Archives: Family

Abusive Relationships and the Church

I just listened to a MennoCast program where Val Hiebert and Jaymie Friesen were being interviewed. Jayme and Val coordinate an Abuse Response and Prevention program for Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba.

The two coordinators who bring a great deal of experience and expertise to their work talked about how every community, including every faith community, has people who have been abused either physically or sexually and are living in relationships that are violent and scary. Traditionally the church has not been a place where people can talk openly about this.

The podcast moderators asked Jaymie and Val what are the root causes of physical and sexual abuse in faith communities and they mentioned three things.

The first was the patriarchy that is still so prevalent in many churches where men are the ones primarily in positions of leadership and power and where God is referred to most frequently in male terms even though the Bible offers us rich mother images of God.

Jaymie and Val emphasized the importance of NOT conveying the message that men are bad or they are the problem but rather helping men realize a patriarchal system really doesn’t serve them well and keeps them small as men. They talked about the need to encourage men to become agents for changing patriarchal attitudes and systems.

Jaymie Friesen- photo from MCC Manitoba website

The second concern they cited is a religious culture that emphasizes faith as an arrival point rather than as a journey or pilgrimage. Faith communities lay out what you are to believe and if you don’t stick to that you are ousted from the community.

This makes people vulnerable to abuse because they don’t feel they can ask questions or be honest about relationships that don’t live up to the ideal set out by their church.

A third factor they talked about is the church’s obsession with a kind of purity culture and their fear of having open conversations about healthy sexuality with young people. 78% of kids in our faith communities are sexually active and the church isn’t accepting this reality.

They also mentioned the issue of pornography and said many churches are hesitant to talk about the fact that people have been socialized to watch the violent and abusive sexual activity available on the screen rather than participate in healthy sexual relationships themselves.

Image by Melva Medina about the church and violence towards women. I photographed it while on a visit to the Medina Gallery in Merida, Mexico.

The podcast provided lots of food for thought not only about how to prevent abuse but also offered suggestions and ideas for how restorative justice can bring healing but not necessarily forgiveness after incidents of abuse are reported.

Although the problem of abuse particularly in faith communities seems monumental and disturbing Jayme and Val say they find hope in the fact that more and more victims are finding their voices and speaking out about abuse. They also talked positively about programs that are being offered to help perpetrators of violence find the help they need to change their behaviour.

I encourage you to listen to the podcast yourself. This is an area where we all have a lot to learn. One in six women will experience abuse before the age of 18 and that includes women in faith communities. Those of us who participate in those communities have a responsibility to learn more and become agents of change.

Other posts………

Silent Prey

Laughing at the Suffering of Others

Violence in Christian Families

Tender and Troubling

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Good Bye Irene

My mother with four of her dear friends. Mom is second from the left. To her left is Lorraine, to her right Agnes and to the far right Irene.

I learned from Saturday’s Winnipeg Free Press that one of my mother’s dear friends, Irene Rempel had passed away. Irene and my mother and the other two women in the photo above were such good friends and got together regularly. They were a wonderful support to one another through the ups and downs of their lives. My mother passed away in 2013, Agnes in 2017, and now Irene is also gone.

Irene did many things for many people and was a treasure to both her church community and the community of Steinbach, but I remember two ways in which she was a particular gift to me and my family.

When I was in my early twenties my mother was diagnosed with cancer and almost died. She had to go to Winnipeg for radiation treatments and Irene was one of the women who often drove her there. She was also one of the women who regularly brought meals to my parents’ home during that difficult time.

In 1999 Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach staged a musical based on a story about five women in the book of Numbers in the Bible. It was called The Daughters of Z. I wrote the lyrics and text for it. The music was by the composer Craig Cassils. The production was directed by Shirley Bestvater.

Irene was in charge of the costumes and she created amazing outfits for all the members of the cast. Irene was a night owl at the best of times but I don’t think she got any sleep as she worked to design and create all those costumes for us before our first performance.

In this photo my youngest brother who always had a special place in Irene’s affections welcomes Irene to a family celebration

Irene was a terrific lady- always smiling and full of spunk. My sincere condolences to her family on her passing.

Other posts………

Grace Mennonite Church

Being A Friend

He Made Things Tick

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A Musical Family Man

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live­– Psalm 104:33

That verse from the Psalms was one assigned to me when I was asked to write a series of reflections for a devotional magazine called Rejoice which is published annually by my church denomination. I decided to connect it to some things I learned about my maternal grandfather Peter Schmidt whose life experiences inspired my novel Lost on the Prairie.

With my grandfather Peter Schmidt. Since my grandfather died when I was only seven I didn’t get to know him as well as I would have liked so I had to ask extended family members about him.

While I was writing the book, I contacted extended family members to learn more about Grandpa so I could better capture his personality in my story. One of the things I discovered was that grandpa loved music.

He was an excellent whistler and often whistled as he did work on his farm.  He and my grandmother regularly sang duets in their church and my mother remembers how proud she was when she became an accomplished enough pianist to accompany them on the piano. 

Grandpa liked to sing with his family when they travelled by car

Grandpa was known to croon the Bing Crosby tune Let Me Call You Sweetheart to my grandmother on occasion, especially when he wanted to win her approval for one of his projects or plans. When his family travelled by car, he led them in singalongs, often choosing African American spirituals which were favourites of his.

My Mom recalled that when his children were discouraged, her father would try to lighten their mood with the song Keep on the Sunny Side. Grandpa worked an extra job as a road grader so he could afford to buy an organ for my grandma.  When my mom was four, he purchased a piano so she could start taking lessons. 

Grandpa with his family

The Psalmist (v.33) talks about how music can be a way for us to express our love of God. For my grandfather music was not only for praising God but was also a way to share his faith, build relationships with his family and keep himself and others feeling positive. 

Other posts………

A Prayer for Journalists

Family Role Models

Lessons From A Writing Life

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Would I Consider MAID?

Would I consider MAID?  It’s something I’ve thought about as I watch my elders reach their final life phase and realize that time is approaching for me. 

Younger people seem startled by the suggestion I might consider medically assisted dying, but when discussing it with folks I know who are my age I find the majority would prefer to make their own decision about life’s end.  They’ve witnessed a parent’s or grandparent’s challenging experience and have no desire for something similar.  

My mother-in-law spent her last year dependent on caregivers for her most basic needs after a stroke. She told me it required more courage than any other life chapter. Knowing the challenges Mom had already faced in the past I was so sad for her. “Growing old is not for cowards,” she confided. 

Old Woman in Bed- by Australian artist Ron Mueck- photographed at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2015

Several family members in their 90s are currently enduring debilitating health challenges. They are people of strong religious faith and have shared their bewilderment and even anger with God for not allowing them to die.  Their peers are gone, and they are living in difficult circumstances, their ability to find joy and hope curtailed further by the pandemic.  What possible purpose might God still have for them?  

Traditionally religions have taught ending one’s own life is wrong, but some people of faith are asking thoughtful questions about that assumption.  Would a loving God really want us to endure unbearable suffering? Didn’t God give us the gift of choice? Some pastors are providing spiritual support to families during the MAID process. 

Recent medical advancements have made it possible to extend life to such a degree that current generations are perhaps the first to really have to consider just how long we want to take advantage of the health care system’s ability to keep us alive. 

Caring for the elderly can be challengingPhoto by Kampus Production on Pexels.com

Experience is teaching me that caring for older family members is challenging.  If at some point I am no longer independent I would grieve if my children were forced to make tough decisions about whether to steal important time away from relationships with partners, children, and grandchildren to tend to me. 

Researching long term care for seniors in my family has opened my eyes to the state of the facilities where many people spend their last years. To be honest, it would be tough to be institutionalized in even the nicest ones, but some places I’ve visited are truly deplorable and we should be ashamed that in a wealthy country like ours this is the way we treat our elders. 

Rather than spending time and energy trying to fight MAID legislation as some do, I’d suggest investing one’s resources in volunteering at a senior’s residence, advocating for pay and benefit advancements for nursing home workers who do one of society’s most challenging jobs and pressing politicians to increase funding for home care and other supports for the elderly.

I believe we should be able to make our own decisions about the end of life.  I know people nearing their hundredth birthday who despite some physical and social challenges still enjoy each day and find meaning and purpose in their routines and relationships and their connection to the natural world.  

My mother faced considerable health problems, but little pain, before she passed away. Even in her last days she connected meaningfully with loved ones and still appreciated music, flowers, and laughter. MAID would not have been a choice for her. 

I don’t know what my end-of-life experience will be or whether I will decide that MAID is the best decision at some point, but I am glad I live in a country where I have that choice. 

Other posts………

Life Lines

More

Heaven Meets Earth

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Filed under Family, Health, Retirement

70 Years

When I visited my Dad yesterday I reminded him that it was his wedding anniversary. If my Mom was still alive she and Dad would have been married for seventy years.

My parents cutting the cake at their 60th anniversary party

They did get to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary with a lovely party. Mom passed away just nine days after their 61st anniversary.

She and Dad filled the sixty-one years they had together with meaningful work, parenting, grandparenting, traveling the world, making friends, maintaining warm and supportive relationships with their parents and their siblings, serving their community and their church as volunteers in a myriad of ways, building two new homes, growing huge vegetable and flower gardens every year and maintaining a family cottage.

Mom and Dad were married May 31, 1952

Their family which started with two people now has twenty-nine people the twenty-ninth added just last week when their tenth great-grandchild was born.

Mom and Dad honoured the commitments they made in 1952 and left an important legacy as a result.

Other posts…….

Weddings in the 1950s Were Community Events

Chinese Thoughts on Marriage

Two Trees and a Marriage

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Visualizing Where They Are

On our trip to Saskatoon last weekend we got to see the school where our son is the vice-principal and next year will be the principal. He has been at the school for several years now but since it is in a small community a bit of a drive from the city of Saskatoon we had never had the opportunity to visit it.

Our son gave us a tour of the building. We saw his administrative office, the staffroom, the gym, the various classrooms and walked the halls of the school. We met teachers on the staff and some of the students.

I was so happy we could visit our son’s school because as a mother I like to visualize where my children are when I think about them. When they are traveling or are in some unknown place it is hard for me to do that and also harder for me to pray for them in a specific way and send my hopefully helpful and positive thoughts winging their way.

I like to visualize where my children are and last weekend I got to see the place where my older son spends many of his days.

My younger son just got a new job a few months ago and I realized while we were touring the school in Saskatchewan that I hadn’t visited our younger son’s new office here in Winnipeg yet. I have to do that soon.

Other posts……..

Pandemic Grandparenting

Paternity Leave- A Winning Scenario

Grateful for Mom’s Support

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It Was Bittersweet

In my most recent newspaper column, I reflected on how being nominated for two writing awards for my novel was bittersweet because both nominations were announced during the same week as Mothers Day.

You can read the article here or here.

Other posts……….

Two Lessons From My Mother

An Artist’s Date For My Mom

Missing My Mom

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Filed under Family, Lost on the Prairie

Celebrating Family Roles

Today is the international day of families. It is a day to celebrate your family. I don’t know where I’d be without mine. I am blessed to have many different family roles.

I’m a grandmother.

I’m a niece.

I’m a marriage partner.

I’m a mother.

I’m an aunt.

I’m a sister.

I’m a mother-in-law.

I’m a sister-in-law.

I’m a cousin.

I’m a great aunt.

I am still a daughter.

But I am no longer a daughter-in-law because my mother-in-law and father-in-law have passed away.

I am no longer a granddaughter because my grandparents have passed away.

And I guess that is the way it is in families. As you go through life you lose certain family roles but ……….you gain others.

Other posts………..

Dorothy Marie Peters

Anne Driedger

He Would Have Been 100

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Every Doorway Has A Story

Standing at the door of my grandparents’ home in Gnadenthal Manitoba in 1956. Grandpa and I are going out to feed the pigs.
With my sister in the doorway of the Baron Gautsch Guesthouse in Rovinj Croatia on a cycling trip in 2019
Standing in the doorway of a Buddhist Temple on High Island in Hong Kong with my husband and our two sons in 2004
With my mother in front of the door of our house on Dundurn Place in Winnipeg in 1954
In 2015 in the doorway of a St. Louis jazz club with friends from my Hong Kong days
By the back door of our house on Friesen Avenue in Steinbach in 1981
With my high school friend Ken in 2005 in the doorway of a thatched roof cottage on the Isle of Wight in England where Ken lives
With my grade four class in front of the doorway of the old Kornelson School in Steinbach in 1962

With my friends by the door of a historic house in Neubergthal Manitoba in 2016
With my friends Deb and Shirley Joy in front of the doorway of my parents home in Steinbach in 1973

Every doorway has a story. – Katherine Dunn

Other posts……..

The T-4’s Go Mennonite

Wedding Photos – A Different Perspective

Doors

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Filed under Family, Reflections

Kids of Career Moms Are Okay

I returned to teaching when I finished my maternity leave after the birth of my first son.

In 1979 when I went back to my teaching job after my first child was born I heard lots of critical comments about the fact that I wasn’t staying home with my son but returning to the classroom instead. The implication was that it was better for children if their mothers remained at home with them at least till they started school.

The disparaging comments I received about going back to work came from relatives, my school superintendent, fellow church members and even the parents of my students. A colleague bluntly told my husband our son wouldn’t ‘turn out’ (whatever that means) if he went to daycare instead of staying home with his mother.

With a class of my students in the 1980s

A recent article in the Toronto Globe and Mail cites a study led by Harvard Business School professor Kathleen McGinn, that assessed 100,000 adult children across 24 developed countries. It found that children raised by mothers who worked outside the home were just as happy as the children of stay-at-home mothers.

Women who had been raised by mothers with careers were more likely to be employed, earn higher wages and have jobs with more supervisory responsibilities. Men raised by career women devoted more time to helping their partners with childcare and other domestic responsibilities.

Laren Bazelon who has written a book about mothers with successful careers interviewed adult children of mothers who had worked outside the home while they were growing up. The majority spoke of their mothers with admiration and affection and said they had felt bonded with their mothers as children and close to them as adults. They said their mothers had been role models for them.

I don’t know what the statistics are for Canada but in the United States, 60% of people still think it is better for children if one parent stays home to raise them. I don’t agree.

Of course, early bonding with a parent is vital and that’s why we are so fortunate to live in Canada where parents have the right to paid leave to care for their newborns. I also know many parents can’t choose whether one parent stays home with their children because it isn’t financially feasible and it is not ideal for a parent to be working outside the home when they would rather be home with their children.

But…….. many parents love their jobs AND love their kids and shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about that.

A great many factors can impact whether children become happy, healthy, and responsible adults. Whether their mother works outside the home isn’t one of them.

Other posts……….

Should Women With Young Children Be Politicians?

Tully

Does a Female Finance Minister Make A Difference?

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Filed under Childhood, Family