$1.49 day … a walk down memory lane

Out of the blue, in the middle of getting ready for church this morning, a little ditty from my childhood burst into my head.  I opened my mouth and (will spare you the music) sang, “$1.49 day, Woodwards!  $1.49 day, Tuesday!”

500px-Woodwards_Logo.svgWoodward’s department store, one of the places in childhood where adventure could always be found.  My Mum loved the place.   Dad and Mum both worked for them shortly after their arrival as new emigrants to Canada from Scotland, and my parents were loyal until the doors closed forever.

My dad was paid every other Friday night, so on those evenings, after supper, the gang piled in the car and headed down to Woodward’s to buy groceries.  We hung onto the cart as Mum or Dad pushed it, generally making a nuisance of ourselves but loving having dad home after his week of traveling for work.  We were together, and it felt safe & warm, especially in Woodward’s.

Many a treat got thrown into that grocery cart, unknown to Mum until we got to the check out counter.  “Now how did that get in there?” she’d grin, and dad would just shrug his shoulders, ally to the end.  There were cream biscuits with jam at the center, and special “sweeties” imported from Scotland.   I’d look longingly with jealousy at the older teenage female clerk, a neighbor from up our street, who checked us out and filled the brown paper bags marked with the famous logo,  wishing I was old enough to do her job.  To me, a pre-teen, there was nothing more wonderful than being a check out clerk at Woodward’s on a Friday night!

After the groceries were placed in brown bags and these were placed in plastic bins that were sent out to the pick up area near the parking lot for collection later – a marvel now reproduced by one of our local grocery stores – the clan headed up to the top floor to check out the “bargain basement” …. yup, on the top floor … where we rummaged for treasures.  I still have a terrific bread knife I bought there when a young teen for only 19 cents.   I loved that department, trying to supervise my younger siblings as they hid between the racks of clothes, driving my mother to distraction.

It was $1.49 day that got our Scots blood pumping, tho.  Hearing that little ditty on the radio made my mother & I grin.  I remember being so jealous that she could go without us, as she only once (and it was a very special morning!) allowed me to stay home from school so I could go with her.  I still remember her purchasing a large bag of oranges, a fine china tea cup, or so many loaves of bread, each for $1.49.

Woodward’s gave me one of my first jobs … in the fabric & notions department.  I measured out miles of yardage for women.  Despite my best attempts, I never could get to be a bagger in the grocery department.   Instead I learned about selvages and different weights of yarns, found great buys on knitting patterns and made my Nana’s day when I could talk “shop” with her at her little house in the evening, over a cup of tea.

Contentment and gratitude for good memories of a dear gathering place, for that’s what Woodward’s was for us.  We rarely went through the doors without seeing someone we knew.   As a child, I remember going to the luncheon area and getting sandwiches cut into four little triangles.   What a marvelous treat.   Sometimes my Nana would take me for lunch there on a Saturday, and I in turn took my siblings, one at a time, for the thrill of being made to feel special, just like Nana made me feel special.

Economic “progress” brought with it the outlying malls and the demise of our family’s favorite store.   Woodward’s closed its doors forever in the 1990’s and with it came the end of an era.  In one of my memory albums I have a little paper bag from the store, alongside one of my mum’s treasures, her Woodward’s credit card.

We all need to walk down memory lane occasionally, and journal what was dear to us.  Maybe a ditty is inside your head, waiting to be sung!


the gift of innocence

For several wonderful days this past week, I was blessed to hear “Nana” when a wee one woke in the middle of the night, knowing my name was safe in her mouth.  Her grandpa and I just grinned at each other in the dark when she & her big sister found their way to our bed at the beach cottage, and snuggled in for giggles and whispers before the sun got up.  Both of us were recipients of spontaneous hugs from fat little arms being wrapped around our necks, and we just drank in all the sweet little kisses & “I love you’s”  …. our little ones felt safe and we treasured their innocence.

It would be so pleasant to live in a bubble, believing that all little ones felt safe with their family members, that their innocence would be fiercely protected by those that they trusted.  As one of our little ones got her first taste of a wave coming in towards her, she ran to us for rescue.   At that second I was made aware of too many little ones who have no one to run to for rescue, because the one that should be their hero is the one who is causing their fear.  Life is not safe, and a little one’s heart can be broken in seconds, and for thousands of precious poppets every day is a living hell.

Be kind today to the snarly teenager bagging your groceries, or his sullen colleague with piercings in multiple places on her beautiful face, to the raging driver in the other lane who cuts you off, to the neighbor who swears at your dog as you walk by … yes, they might all  just be having a bad day, but they might also have been precious little ones who were locked in dark closets, beaten in alcoholic rages or sexually violated by grown ups whose job it was to protect them.  Their emotional development may have frozen at that moment in time, and their wee hearts were shattered.   We can’t go back & change their stories, but perhaps our smile, a genuine “thank you” or “good morning, Sam” might melt one of the bricks in their walls this morning.

how a mother’s love alters a child’s brain

I was incredibly blessed to be born to a loving mother.  Not all of us were.

Far too many of you sought solace under blankets in closets, or were locked in basements, and were abused in unspeakable ways.  You suffered at the hands of sadist/alcoholic/mentally ill/this list goes on … mothers.  Well, they were women who gave birth to you, perhaps, but they were not “mum” …

Each one of us deserved to have been given a mother’s love, and the following article explains the impact of that love – or lack of – on our emotional development.


How a Mother’s Love Alters a Child’s Brain

By Joseph Castro –

Nurturing a child early in life may help him or her develop a larger hippocampus, the brain region important for learning, memory and stress responses, a new study shows.

Previous animal research showed that early maternal support has a positive effect on a young rat’s hippocampal growth, production of brain cells and ability to deal with stress. Studies in human children, on the other hand, found a connection between early social experiences and the volume of the amygdala, which helps regulate the processing and memory of emotional reactions. Numerous studies also have found that children raised in a nurturing environment typically do better in school and are more emotionally developed than their non-nurtured peers.

Brain images have now revealed that a mother’s love physically affects the volume of her child’s hippocampus. In the study, children of nurturing mothers had hippocampal volumes 10 percent larger than children whose mothers were not as nurturing. Research has suggested a link between a larger hippocampus and better memory.

“We can now say with confidence that the psychosocial environment has a material impact on the way the human brain develops,” said Dr. Joan Luby, the study’s lead researcher and a psychiatrist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo. “It puts a very strong wind behind the sail of the idea that early nurturing of children positively affects their development.”

The research is part of an ongoing project to track the development of children with early onset depression. As part of the project, Luby and her colleagues previously measured the maternal support that children — who were ages 3 to 6 and had either symptoms of depression, other psychiatric disorders or no mental health problems — received during a so-called “waiting task.”

The researchers placed mother and child in a room along with an attractively wrapped gift and a survey that the mother had to fill out. The children were told they could not open the present until five minutes had passed — basically until their mothers had finished the survey. A group of psychiatrists, who knew nothing about the children’s health or the parents’ temperaments, rated the amount of support the mothers gave to their children.

A mother who was very supportive, for example, would console her child, explaining that the child had only a few more minutes to wait and that she understands the situation was frustrating. “The task recapitulates what everyday life is like,” Luby told LiveScience, meaning that it gives researchers an idea of how much support the child receives at home.

Now, four years later, the researchers gave MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans to 92 children who underwent the waiting task. Compared with non-depressed children with high maternal support, non-depressed children with low support had 9.2 percent smaller hippocampal volumes, while depressed children with high and low support had 6.0 and 10.6 percent smaller volumes, respectively.

Though 95 percent of the parents in the study were the children’s biological mothers, the researchers say that the effects of nurturing on the brain are likely to be the same for any primary caregiver.

Luby and her team will continue following the children as they grow older, and plan to see how other brain regions are affected by parental nurturing during preschool years.

“It’s now clear that a caregiver’s nurturing is not only good for the development of the child, but it actually physically changes the brain,” Luby said.

The study was published online (Jan. 30 2011) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Re-blogged from

foster parents, the ones who mend little hearts

I started this morning by reading a post about an incredible woman named Sky.  This tiny little lady changes the lives of children every day, by simply being there.   Beautiful, young and a mother bear, protecting these wee cubs who have no protector.   And married to a man who cherishes her, who wrote the post to celebrate her!

Most days at work I learn about little ones who need to be out of their horror filled homes.   Little ones who are molested, beaten, starved, neglected, abandoned, burned with cigarettes …. precious children who get the brunt of an adult’s rage every day.   Until the law or children’s services gets involved, there is no mother bear to protect these children.

We need more Sky’s.   We need families like the Steigerwalt’s and the Epp’s, dear friends I know from the present and the past, who opened their hearts and homes to children no one wanted, only to have some of those children ripped away and given back to the mothers who abandoned them.     Fostering is painful.

These little ones bring their suitcases full of trauma along with them.   They have rarely known the quiet of sanctuary, the comfort of being held and rocked, of being protected.   They have to re-learn to trust because their trust has been shattered.

If you know a foster parent, call them today and affirm them.    If you are able to consider being a foster parent, like my sweet relative, Hannah, go for it with everything in you.



Sky – A Woman of Valor
By Jonathan C.

It started with an End. An end to all of the fun, that is.

We had been having a grand time at the restaurant, but I said it was time to go, and one of my children disagreed with that assessment. It could have been PTSD; it could have been Reactive Attachment Disorder; it could have been any number of traumas associated with being bounced through six homes in four years; and it definitely could have been your basic four-year-old temper tantrum….but the effect was the same.

My apologies to the kind Chick-fil-A cow; I hope your tail feels better in the morning.

My apologies to the other patrons; I hope you had plenty to talk about after we left.

We did make it to the car. Car seat, infant and diaper bag in one hand, writhing, shoeless four-year-old in the other, four and five year old trailing behind and ultimately fighting over which seat in the van was most awesome that night. That’s when a kind woman flagged me down to say, “You are a saint!”

I’m not ungrateful. Far from it. It was a true kindness from a stranger, and sometimes those are the best kind. But what came into my mind at that moment was my wife, who had been taking advantage of the brief child-free hour to stop at a store and a consignment sale to purchase things for the children in our care.

She doesn’t get anonymous cheers from strangers. She doesn’t have people offer to keep an eye on the baby while she chases down the errant child. I’m not exactly sure what she would have to do to elicit a “good job” in the grocery store. It would probably involve CPR and/or a tracheotomy, although even then someone would undoubtedly think, “That woman spends way too much time watching Grey’s Anatomy.”

She hears things like this:

“You must have your hands full!” (Falls short of encouraging. More of a statement-of-fact.)

“Are you a nanny?” (An acknowledgement of the different races represented in our family, designed to elicit a longer conversation about why our family looks like it does, but only as long as it takes to check out.)

“Are you a day care?” (Do day care workers regularly peel off four of their charges and go to the store?)

Far from a random selection, these were comments given to my wife earlier that same day. The kids were not acting up, but calmly following her as she completed the day’s errands, and yet she received scant more than innocuous observations about the number and/or color of our children.

For three years, my wife has been a stay-at-home mom to over 20 foster children under the age of six, one adoptive son, two soon-to-be daughters, and a soon-to-be son. She has been raged against, spat upon, hit, kicked, scratched, insulted, and ignored. She is isolated by circumstances, by confidentiality agreements, and by her fierce protection of her children’s dignity.

Faced with crippling tragedy, she speaks resurrection to our children. With a passion that rivals the best of gospel preachers, this 4-foot-8 suburban white woman will decry complacency, hopelessness and fear, guiding our children into a vision of healing, restoration and wholeness. She has wept tears of sorrow, pain, anger, frustration, loss, despair and exhaustion. She has raged against injustice, inefficiency, bureaucracy, and cruelty.

She has celebrated victories and rejoiced over seemingly insignificant progress, like a cloud the size of a hand that will surely bring relief to the drought.

And yet, she waits. Most of our children have gone to parents or relatives, never to be heard from again. Those that remain have much to grieve, and the object of their grief and anger is as distant as the chance of reconciliation.

As foster parents, the comment we hear most often is, “I couldn’t do what you guys do. I wouldn’t want to give the children up. It would hurt too much.” And while this statement neglects the unique and peculiar joy that our vocation brings, and leaves unacknowledged the inescapable fact that the work must be done anyway. The truth of the sentiment is much deeper than people realize. It hurts to say goodbye over and over again. It hurts to leave a job feeling unfinished. It hurts to live daily with the aftermath of neglect, abuse and trauma in children. And yes, it even hurts to be punched in the face by a three-year-old.

It hurts when she loves well. And that is what makes her a woman of valor. If you should see a short, dark-haired suburban white woman navigating her children of many colors through a public place, do me a favor.

Celebrate her.


Jonathan and Sky live in the Southeast corner of the United States. They have been foster parents for three years, caring for over 20 children. They have one adopted son and are in the process of adopting three more children. There are over 400,000 children in foster care in the U.S. 100,000 children are waiting to be adopted, which leaves 300,000 children that just need a safe place to lay their heads and hopefully find some healing. If you are interested in foster care, contact your local DFCS office or any number of private agencies.

Isn’t it encouraging to see a man celebrate his wife like this? Thanks to Jonathan for capturing the true spirit of Proverbs 31.

quit loving them to death: a re-blog by Neil Schori

Neil Schori has written a great article about enabling those that we love.   We are literally loving them to death, as we make excuses for dysfunctional and very hurtful behaviors.   I know that Neil would love for you to pass this on:

QUIT loving them to death!

I’ve counseled people for over 10 years for just about every kind of problem under the sun. I’ve helped people with broken marriages, eating disorders, cutting, and just about every kind of addiction there is today. There is one problem that makes me more upset than just about any other. And it isn’t even the issue that is presented to me to “fix.” It is the issue BEHIND the issue. It is enabling.

Enabling can be done in a marriage when the unfaithful spouse has excuses made for him by the very wife that he betrayed. Usually it sounds like this: “Bob wants to be faithful to me. He just has an unusually high sex drive. And his dad was the same way. I’m pretty sure it’s genetic. Men aren’t good at being monogamous, anyway.”

Enabling can also be done in a relationship that has been broken by domestic violence. It may sound like this: “Adam is a good man. He only hits me when his boss stresses him out at work. He’s been doing much better recently. He brought me flowers yesterday. He really loves me!”

QUIT loving them to death!

Enabling is often done in the context of substance abuse, too. Many times, the addict’s loved ones are afraid that the addict will never talk with them again if they refuse to buy them alcohol at the store. They are afraid that the addict will become abusive to them if they tell them it is time to get help. They feel bad when they refuse to give the addict money when they are asked because just maybe…this time…they really will use it to buy formula and diapers for the baby.

While all of those scenarios are hypothetical, there’s a good chance that you see your own family in that mix. If you are playing the role of enabler…please pay attention now! You are digging their grave today. You must quit loving them to death.

I know it feels like you’re doing the right thing…but you’re not. What you are doing only feels right, now. Soon, you will be filled with regret and will be asking all of the “what ifs.” There is nothing loving and kind…nothing right and good…about not confronting the wrong behaviors of the ones we love.

Imagine for a moment what you would do if you saw your 3 year old walking over to the stove top that you had just turned on. Would you get in her way? But what if she cried loudly and told you that she “really wanted to play with the stove!!”? Would you allow her to walk by you and melt her skin to the burner? Of course not. Because there would be nothing loving about your choice to let her do what she wanted to do.

If you are struggling with any of these issues today, I want to encourage you to stop enabling behaviors in your loved ones that are leading them straight to their early deaths. Choose to get them help, today. Get help for yourself, while you’re at it! And don’t waiver. Prepare yourself to hear about how bad you are being to them and that if you really loved them that you never would do this to them. Calmly respond like this: “I love you enough to tell you the truth, and I’m ok with you hating me for the rest of your life because of it.”

Then take a deep breath and walk away while you have a good cry. After you’ve released your tears, you will soon begin to sense a deep satisfaction that you truly did the right thing…no matter the personal cost.

Pastor Neil Schori

the difference a little 9 year old girl has made

Never doubt that you can make a difference.  This little girl inspired me when I first heard of her, and then her life was tragically taken.   Her dream lived on, and now thousands have fresh water out of 100 wells, all because of a little girl named Rachel.

Rachel’s Gift. One Year Later.


Monday, on the one year anniversary of Rachel’s death, our staff took her mom and grandparents to Ethiopia to visit some of the 60,000 people Rachel helped. Watch the video:

 Rachel’s story.

Tekloini Assefa stood in the middle of a huge crowd, surrounded by Ethiopian priests, mothers, and children. Rachel Beckwith’s mom, Samantha, Rachel’s grandparents, and others in our group sat listening. We had all flown halfway around the world just two days earlier to visit some of the 149 communities Rachel helped in the north of Ethiopia.

Samantha Beckwith
“Samantha, your little girl is an inspiration to us all. We have heavy hearts imagining what it was like to lose Rachel due to such horrific circumstances. It is something no parent ever wants to contemplate, let alone live through. Even more remarkable is that Rachel developed such a big heart from such a young age — that she understood and felt the pain of others on the other side of the world. To give up her birthday presents so that other children can improve their lives, is the most beautiful gift a person can give.”

A little over a year ago, Rachel was your average nine-year-old. She loved Taylor Swift and had a secret crush on Justin Bieber, although she’d never admit it. She had a loving family and a heart that wanted to solve every problem she saw in this world. Once, she cut off all her hair and donated it to make wigs for kids who had cancer. So when she sat in church one day and heard Scott Harrison from charity: water give a talk about how kids her age in Africa didn’t have clean water to drink, she immediately decided to help.

With her mom’s encouragement, she created a fundraising page on, telling her family and friends that she didn’t want presents for her ninth birthday. Instead, she asked them to donate $9, as she was turning 9. Rachel wanted kids like her to have clean water to drink.

She had a big goal: to raise $300 and give 15 people clean drinking water. She fell a little short, raising $220, and told her mom that she’d try harder next year.

A month later, Rachel was in a tragic car accident on highway I-90 near Seattle, Washington. A trailer had jack-knifed into a logging truck, sending logs tumbling down the freeway. More than a dozen cars were caught in the pile-up, and the trailer smashed into the back of Rachel’s car.

She was the only person critically injured, and on July 23rd, 2011, she was taken off life support.

When the news spread about Rachel’s story and her birthday wish, people all around the world began to donate on her page. Some gave $9, some $19, leaving comments like “This is the rest of my month’s salary…..” A month later, 30,000 people had given more than $1.2 million.

All of us at charity: water were blown away by the generosity. The comments and notes that were left on Rachel’s page caused many tears in the coming months, and Rachel’s story continues to inspire us today.

Last year, we sent 100% of the money from Rachel’s campaign to our partners in Tigray, Ethiopia, and they began to construct water projects for people in need. We made a promise to Rachel’s mom that one day she’d come with us to Ethiopia to meet some of the people Rachel’s wish had helped.

Monday, we fulfilled that promise.


On the one-year anniversary of Rachel’s death, we woke up early, at 5:30 A.M. We piled into Land Rovers and began the two-hour drive to Bahra village in the north of Ethiopia. We heard the community had planned both a memorial service in Rachel’s honor and a celebration of her life.

We didn’t know it then, but honor would become the theme of our entire day.

First, we visited a church. The priests there knew all about our arrival, and they knew Rachel’s story. They told us they had been up since midnight, praying that God would keep Rachel’s soul in peace. A photo of Rachel stood on the ledge, surrounded by candles. We paused, listening to the priests recite their prayers, singing ancient Ethiopian hymns over Samantha and her parents.

From the church, we walked to a new well nearby that was funded by Rachel’s donations. We cut the ribbon and watched water splash into bright yellow jerry cans. This water didn’t have dirt or leeches in it, and it didn’t carry deadly disease. It wasn’t far away from people’s homes, and they didn’t have to walk for hours to find it. It was right there, in their village, and it was crystal clear. To prove it, Samantha took a long drink.

The children wrote notes about Rachel, and handed them one by one to Samantha. A famous priest read a poem he wrote especially for the occasion, and then the village gave gifts to Rachel’s family. A mother from the village made a speech and said Rachel’s story would be a lesson to their children. She said that all the mothers in her village were praying for Samantha. Another community sectioned off a plot of land and called it Rachel’s Park. They invited Samantha and her grandparents each to plant a tree in Rachel’s memory.


Near the well, our local partners, Relief Society of Tigray (REST), commissioned a marble sign. It read “Rachel’s great dream, kindness and vision of a better world will live with and among us forever.”

Her photo was nested in the marble, a permanent fixture in Bahra village. It will serve as a reminder to all the mothers who draw water from this well that a mother’s tragic loss and a child’s dream brought clean water to their village.

60,000 people in over 100 villages will drink clean water because of Rachel’s wish.

Rachel’s mom, Samantha, continues to fundraise in Rachel’s honor.
Visit her current fundraising campaign to donate.

— the charity: water team