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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Inadequate

  In our culture, we are taught to be strong, to conquer, to achieve.  


  As a woman, we often carry the mantle of over-achievement, multi-tasking, mega-management... to be all, to do all, to have it all together.  We expect it of ourselves, our perception is that others expect it of us.


  I was going to write about something else today... but my inadequacy kept tugging at my heart.  In many ways it has been an exciting week, but also a stretching and exhausting week. I have felt overwhelmed at times.  I know I am not alone - this season of pre-Christmas brings it's own frenzy of extra tasks, expectations, long to-do lists.  I have been preparing for Artsolutely (which I hope to write about later this week), as well as preparing for my new volunteer part-time position at the hospital.


  Today I was at the hospital for a tea, where they said good-bye to John Franson, long-time chaplain, retiring after ten years.  He has set a high standard for chaplaincy and has won respect among clergy, doctors, nurses and administration.  He is a humble, kind, and wise man, and I know that his quiet presence at the hospital will be sorely missed.


  In the last number of weeks I have been training for this job, and this week I begin my new position as resident-Chaplain for the Vernon Jubilee Hospital.  I feel inadequate.  But I was thinking today, perhaps that is a very good place to be.  I know I need the prayers of my friends and family to take on this task, but more than that, I know that I simply cannot do this by myself.  It is one of those moments where you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is only through God's strength that I can be present, that I can listen, that I can care for others.  


  It is also an exciting place to be, to see doors opening after a season of suffering, of difficulty, of intense self-growth.  It gives me hope, hope I pray spills out to others.  That God is truly never finished with us, that there is always so much more to learn.  But with that also comes a quietness, knowing that it is not about "doing" as it is about "being"...trusting God to use us in the very place we find ourselves.


  One of my fellow students posted Steve Bell's song "Kindness" today, and I found it very meaningful.  I hope you will too...

"Christ has no body here but ours
No hands no feet here on earth but ours 
Ours are the eyes through which he looks
On this world with kindness

Ours are the hands through which he works
Ours are the feet on which he moves
Ours are the voices through which he speaks
To this world with kindness

Through our touch, our smile, our listening ear
Embodied in us, Jesus is living here
Let us go now, inspirited 
Into this world with kindness"

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Season of Advent

 'Tis a Season of Love... of Joy, of Hope, of Peace.

  It is a season of waiting.

  Advent has come to mean so much more to me.

  I was thankful today to set aside the hustle and bustle of the holidays (which seem to come so early, at least commercially), and focus on the gift of Emmanuel, which means God with us.

  Our thoughts today centered on Jesus, who had everything and gave everything, to become poor, to be born in a stable, to share His love, so that we might have hope, and love, and joy, and peace.

  When I think of waiting, I think of longing, of anticipation, of expectation. Traditionally the four candles on the Advent Wreath stand for Love, Joy, Hope and Peace.  I ponder these gifts for they are things we long for in this life, often illusive, out of reach.

  We fill the longings with so many things, with busyness, with food, with stuff.  Is there room to quiet my heart and search for, and wait for the truth of Christmas?   Is there room in my heart this year for the Christ child, room to receive this gift for me?  It is an awesome thought, to think that the Creator of the Universe stoops down to be with us, to love us with the gift of his Son.  I am so very grateful.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Count down, count my breaths

  It is almost the end of November.  I, with many, many others (mostly women, I think) everywhere, start the countdown until Christmas, until December.  To some it is madness, with extra recitals, concerts, baking, school events, church productions, shopping, and most of all, thinking, thinking.  It takes planning to make a Christmas!

  This year I am definitely feeling the crunch.  My new job (working as Chaplain at our local hospital) begins officially on December 1st, directly colliding with the opening of Artsolutely, a wonderful Art Show and Christmas shopping event that I am part of for the second year in a row.  Deadlines loom everywhere, Christmas is spilling out of boxes and bins, my art has taken over my office/studio, with lists and bits and pieces.  Throw a husband and a new business into the mix, and it all seems a little insane.

  Of course, all of this busyness, (and we are empty-nesters) - and it seems less chaotic than the crazy years not so long ago, of having three little ones at home, plus taking in foster children.  It was a huge production back then to make Christmas the best ever... I think being a mom of toddlers and babies is one of the most time-consuming, all-consuming jobs in the world - rewarding and fun, but exhausting just the same.  I remember that when I was in the midst of it, I vowed never to forget it, and I haven't.  Kudos out there to moms everywhere!

  Which is why I am taking Saturday off.  I'm hoping to attend a retreat of quietness, to still my heart, to ponder the real meaning of Christmas, to reflect on what is really important.  I'm hoping my mind can be still and really listen for those hours.  I am grateful for those who provide these times of reflection and excited about attending.

  Whatever we do, it is vastly important to take care of ourselves this time of year.  Perhaps I am more aware of this than ever, given my health this past year.  Each day is a gift.  When I start counting down the days, or counting up the presents, or chores, or events, I am trying to slow down... and take a very deep breath.

  I read recently that a really good breath, one that you breath deeply in, right down to your belly, and let out again, very slowly, actually changes the pH in your system, helping your body become more alkaline.  Breathing is good.  Breathing slowly, deeply, breathing in good thoughts, filling ourselves with love and light; all gifts from the Creator.  Breathing out the tension.  Knowing that it is each moment that counts; like the crazy lunch I had today with mom and dad in the midst of a crazy day - boxes stacked all around, Christmas decorations and art in every corner, but we created space at the table, and enjoyed good conversation, good soup.  Those are the moments that truly count.

 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Living One Day at a Time, Livin' to be 100


When I was a teenager, there was a strong movement of last-days theology.  We sang with great enthusiasm "The King is Coming", and "I Wish We'd all been Ready"... and the movie "Thief in the Night" came out, and I remember watching that on the old reels (yes that really dates me), at one of our New Year's Eve Church family celebrations.  Yes, Christ's coming was just around the corner, and we never knew if this year would be the one...

  I still believe in the return of Christ, but I have struggled with the strong emphasis of last-days theology that permeated our churches, our religious culture at the time.  It colored my growing up years to the point that I didn't think I would get married, have children, and I didn't plan well for an education.  Everything seemed well, so temporary.  

  And here we are, almost in 2012, and I am a mother, a grandmother.  Who would have thought?  I have often remembered a conversation I had with a very wise friend, who said to me "We should live each day as if it were our last, and at the same time live our days as if we will reach 100.".  This thought has never left me.  Our lives are uncertain, we don't know what tomorrow brings, but we also need to live and plan and be present to the lives we have been given.

  We live in the tension of paradox; living between the ideal and the realistic, between the seen and the unseen, between what is temporal and what is eternal.  I love Stormie Omaritian's title of her book "Just Enough Light for the Step I'm On", because that is so true - we really don't know what tomorrow brings.

  And yet, I am confident that I have relationship with a God who holds all of the tomorrows in His hands.  So I choose to keep moving forward, even at age 53, to embrace new opportunities, to try new things, to live life well.  I'm learning so much in these new "college" years of mine, stretching and growing.  I know that these years of life can be the most productive of all.

  I saw a story in the news recently about a 98 year old man who just recently had graduated from college - amazing!  It is good to be in a place of learning, and one is never to old to give it a whirl.  My dad received a diploma at age 65, his fifth graduation.  It was quite inspiring.

  Each day is a gift.  In the face of loss - I also hold life loosely - there is no time for grudges, or regrets.  "I love you" are words I want to speak often, to value those around me, to cherish the moments.  To live each day as if it was my last, to live it well ....to live my life as if I'll reach 100 - to me that is inspiration.

  

Friday, November 18, 2011

Safe

   We were having a family dinner the other night, and my little grandson, Little E was happily pushing around his fire truck, complete with great siren sounds he was producing at the same time.  About that time, the fire alarm in our house went off, emitting ear-piercing sounds that startled little six-month old R, poor little guy.  At first Little E took it into his stride, but as the adults paced around trying to turn the fool thing off (very false alarm), both little boys were definitely traumatized.


  I picked up little E and snuggled him to me and told him it was fine, there was no real fire.  After all we had his fire trucks in case of a real emergency!  He clung to me for a while in the safety of grandma, and after the crisis passed, he said "But we're safe, right Grandma?"  "Yes, honey, very safe..."  How I love this little boy.


 After writing about "entitlement" earlier this week, and coming to the place where I know that God doesn't owe me anything, I have also had the overwhelming sense of His love, His care.   It really is amazing - don't we sing about Amazing Grace? - that the God that created the whole universe loves and cares for me personally?  


  There are countless verses of scripture that speak of safety and how He watches over us.  No, there are somethings I don't understand, and when one is in the midst of suffering, there are no pat easy answers.  What I do know that God does not abandon us, although at times He seems mysterious and far away.  God with us, which is what Emmanuel means, is a promise I rest in.


  A verse I have been pondering over the last few weeks is expressed in such a beautiful way in Peterson's translation of the scripture in "The Message".  It says, simply: "God is a Safe Place to be".  (verse 8).  Reminds me of that picture of a mom - a grandma - holding a child.  The child might not understand the complexities of life, but can completely, wholly rest in the security of those arms.  And in the midst of life, that is lovely thought to dwell on.


  Psalm 91 is the great psalm on the safety of God, and I particularly love this verse: "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart." (vs 4 - NIV).  Again it shows the heart of a mother who shields and protects.   I picture this bird in the midst of the storm - for it seems there will be storms - and the hiding place of a mother's breast, safe and secure.  It is a trust in something, Someone so much bigger than I, who sees the bigger picture.  I can rest in that, perfectly safe.

 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Entitlement

 I had an epiphany of sorts this spring when I realized how incredibly upset I was with how life was going.  I was overwhelmed by sadness and anger and it took me a while to process it all.  Part of my healing was the realization that I had a problem with entitlement.  


  As I wrote out page after page after page in my journal, often none of it too happy, although I was trying very hard, it came to me that I felt I really didn't deserve these difficulties.  However absurd this thinking,  it was deep in my subconscious. I felt I had paid my dues when my first husband died.  I was well acquainted with grief and suffering.  But the events in our family circle of 2010 and into 2011 were overwhelming at times, affecting our health, our family circle, our economics, and at times I just didn't understand what was going on.


  I don't think I am a complainer by nature, but with this new realization, I realized how we buy into North American Culture, and our faith is also driven by the thinking that if I do A plus B, if I live a good life, if I eat right, if I care for my neighbor, if I am a "good Christian",  - the list is endless, then somehow I am immune.  We live our lives in search of the "good life", our striving takes up energy and we we don't do well when dreams crumble and it doesn't turn out as we thought.  There is a whole segment of faith that is absorbed by this thought - the health and wealth gospel - which (although I don't want to offend anyone) has begun to nauseate me.  Who of any of us can claim we own health or wealth?  Most often, it is completely out of our hands.


  I often think of the ratio of the rich and the poor in a global sense.  We are wealthy in so many ways, and don't even realize it.  We (and I speak generally) are easily offended when our rights are violated, when we don't receive what we think we deserve.  We use up much of the world's resources while our brothers and sisters in Third World countries live on so much less.  Are we really entitled?  Or are we blessed to live here, and do we need to become more aware of the pain and suffering of those less fortunate?


  When I think of all those who are protesting these days, in cities across the world, one has to stop and ponder.  Some of the protesters are articulate and make very fine points.  The very rich ARE often corrupt - but not always.  Many of the protesters are also caught up, I believe, in thinking they are entitled... they are angry and feel their rights are violated.


    Obviously, it is complicated.  Perhaps it is better broken down into simple facts.  God does not owe me anything.  Every breath I breathe is a gift from Him.  The joy I feel, the delight in His creation, the gratefulness for His provision - these are all gifts.  As my heart has changed from frustration, and the futility of that, I realize that gratitude for life itself is a healing balm.  Although painful at times, the lessons I have learned through deep waters have been the richest yet.  God has not abandoned me.


Like Job, I can say: 


"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." Job 1:21

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Immunity

  Today is Sunday, but I'm resting at home... well, resting in my computer room anyway!  I'm hoping that I'm in the last hurrahs of this autumn cold which has taken over my sinuses, filled my head with stuffiness, and caused me to feel like a drip a great deal of the time.  Certainly I've had colds where I have felt worse, but it is an annoyance just the same...

  Two words have been floating around my consciousness as of late... one I have sat with for a very long time - the word is entitlement.  The other is immunity.  In my thinking they are related, but might be worth at least two posts, if my wakeful moments last night are any indication!

  Obviously I was not immune to this cold.  I tried valiantly to stop it, to prevent it's entry into my system, but was unsuccessful.  More than ever, it is important for me to be well.  My mom, going through chemotherapy cannot be exposed to a cold.  She is taking some amazing medications that help her with her immune system, but the chemotherapy and other cancer drugs put her at great risk.

  But I am not immune.  Mostly, I think, it is because I am alive.  A good thing!!  Immunity is a treasured sought after entity, you just think about the show "Survivor", and how the contestants fight for immunity; it is the precious ticket to avoid pain, hardship, suffering.

  I think most of us, especially in our North American culture don't realize how immune we are - immune to the suffering of the world.  We sit in our sheltered warm houses and the reality, the suffering of much of the world is far from our minds.  I was thinking about that yesterday as we sat for a coffee at Blenz.  One of the coffees we enjoyed was free - thanks to a coupon, and we just sat there in the coziness of the shop, out of the wind and rain, sipping our drinks.  No talking was necessary.

  I pondered on what a gift it was - just to sit there.  I thought of those in hospital who can't leave - I've visited many of them lately there; those with chronic conditions that wait day upon day, week upon week, for release - either from this life, or from a hospital ward which offers no fresh outside air.  There are many who would only dream of sitting in a coffee shop, a world far removed from their present reality.

  My prayer is that I can offer fresh air, a ray of hope, some sunshine to those who are sick as I start my work at the hospital.  But underneath that is my own awareness of my own humanity.  Because I AM human, I am not immune to sickness, to sorrow.

  One of my mottos this year, was to live well, to be well!  It is not a bad goal, and I believe we need to take care of ourselves, to be aware, to live life as healthily as possible.  But once in a while I realize I also need a reality check, to know that I am really in God's hands, no matter how I am feeling.  I am not in control - He is... and I can rest in that.

  So along with the oregano, salt-gargling, vitamin C and other remedies I can think of, today I will also think about prayer and rest and trust - because it is God alone who is the Great Healer of the amazing bodies we live in, and I can trust in that truth.

 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Symbols of Remembrance

  I've noticed recently a new bloom on the clematis plant I planted in memory of my nephew Chris.  This beautiful flower has braved the November frosts and was shuddering in the wind today when I snapped it's picture.  It is one of the symbols I remember Chris by - a happy, loving, outgoing, hard-working seventeen year old with huge ambitions, his life ended oh too soon.  We miss him.

  Remembrance Day triggers thoughts, reminders of remembrance.  This was brought much closer to home when just days after Chris died last year, a grandmother I knew in our church lost her beloved grandson, a soldier, in the Afghanistan conflict.  It is one thing to listen to stories on TV, in the news, in our papers, but it is another thing altogether to sit with a granny who is grieving as we pour over her collection of pictures of this beloved son, and grandson, and see all the newspaper clippings saved.  The sorrow is real, palatable, and the red poppy we wear each November takes new meaning.   

  One of the good stories that happened out of those weeks of sorrow last year, was the mountain of food that was donated on the day of Chris's funeral to feed over 1000 people who attended his funeral.  As an outpouring of support we not only had enough to feed over 1000 people, but we were able to donate two van loads of food to the Salvation Army that evening to feed the hungry, and another truck load of sandwiches went to the East Side of Vancouver.  We packaged up fruit and vegetables and one of the things I brought home to Vernon was celery - a large quantity of vegetables had been donated by a local grocer who knew my brother's family.  It was amazing.

  With that celery, I made cream of celery soup.... I love soup - another symbol to me, of comfort, of warmth, something easily made, easily given.  Some of that celery soup made it's way to this grandma whom I visited.  It was a powerful moment for me, something tangible and real, that connected us, in our common loss.

  It is not uncommon for those who grieve to have a symbol that becomes a comforting reminder, a symbol of remembrance.   A yellow rose, an eagle, became powerful symbols of remembrance for myself and my children.  I wrote about the yellow rose in September.

  As I wear my poppy this week, I will also think of the grandmothers, the moms and dads, the family circles that mourn and remember. I will be thankful for the freedom I have, the country I live in.

 I am also mindful this week for the fresh grief of those who grieve in Armstrong; four young people, gone so soon.  It is a solemn time.  I gaze at my flower, blowing in the harsh November wind; reminding me that life is frail, but not without hope.  My prayers are with all who grieve.


A flower in memory of Chris Friesen.  

 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What's not to love in November?

   What is not to love in November?  Well, actually... I can think of a few little things!

   It's civic election time.  Like in any election, my commute is now littered with election signs, struck haphazardly on lawns and anywhere they can be planted - sometimes multiple signs of the same person in a single location.  I have never understood this phenomena.  A sign has never influenced me, hopefully a thoughtful voter, to be swayed in one direction or another.

   In my mind, they just created a big eyesore, a mess.  I love beauty, and nature, perhaps I might be more influenced if the signs enhanced the landscape, add some flowers perhaps?  Well, maybe not...  if nothing else it will remind me to my civic duty, to vote on November 19.

   I don't love the dark evenings, the short days, the grey skies.

   But there is always something to love...even in November.   Today I had a wonderful morning with my mom, sewing and creating - those indoor projects are welcomed on these cooler days, giving us a chance to visit and talk, with a cup of tea at hand, soup simmering on the stove... this afternoon my hubby and I tackled a mountain of fallen leaves.  For those of you who know our yard, and the two little trees that struggle to grow here, you will know it wasn't our yard!     Within an hour and a half we had filled twenty large lawn bags, our cheeks were warm with raking and piling and we just enjoyed hanging out together.  Moments like that are treasures I think... enjoying the moments with those that you love...

  Speaking of things to love, I absolutely LOVE the bum warmers in my little VW... oh so toasty this time of year.  I have had some difficulty adjusting to driving the standard, but the bum warmers are definitely winning me over... how thankful am I.  The other day it was a very frosty morning and we went out to warm our little car and someone had scraped all the frost off for us!  We strongly suspect the "downstairs people" - it was a lovely kind thing to do which brightened our morning.

  So many things to love, to be thankful for... so with the inspiration of the Mitford books (Jan Karon), this is my little list for November.

 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Finding Treasures in the Darkness

   November turned over it's leaf this week and I realized again this has not been one of my favourite months - if I was to color the months, as I am apt to do in my mind, November would certainly be grey.


  I've been grateful so far that the days have been laced with sunshine; trees are still stunning everywhere we look, and I have especially enjoyed studying the patterns on leaves this year.  I picked up a dozen of them yesterday, in Polson Park, still frozen with the frost, and brought them into the art center to preserve their images on clay.  It is a lovely process.


  Perhaps for me it is the descent of darkness that November brings; tonight we turn our clocks back and the long dark evenings begin.  For some winter is delightful; in my case I have never had a love affair with the snow - I positively hate driving in it, and my pigeon toed feet allow for the awkwardest skiing you ever saw, so I gave that up altogether.  In fact, if someone would ask me, my favourite wintertime sport is reading a book by the fire.


  Which is not together unappealing at all, but does nothing for the exercise I am told I need daily!  So there is need to be creative to exercise in winter, to get the fresh air while the light is out.


  I was pondering how to embrace this season, a season which is not my favourite.  I thought about that verse from Isaiah which says: 


"I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name."


  Amazing things are created in the dark.  When I think about the gift of life itself; a unborn baby, cradled in the dark of the mother's womb and growing before it's very being is discovered - what a treasure.  It is a time of waiting, of nurturing, of longing.  


  Life all around us is represented in death.  A leaf dies to nourish the ground that cradles the seeds of tomorrow.  Those seeds need time in the dark before they can break into the light.  


  Even this past year as we have struggled with the darker sides of life, with illness, with loss, I see how these deep experiences bring forth light and life... in time.  As I embrace new seasons and experiences in my life, I also see how God has taught me lessons and prepared me in a way that I could have only learned in the dark.


  So as the seasons turn, as winter comes, as darkness falls, I will settle in, and wait - ever so patiently for spring to come.  But to be present to right now, to embrace this season, as a cozy comforter warms me at night, to see God's cover of comfort and safety that is present for us all, when we find ourselves... in the dark.






  

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cancer

   I spent part of the last two days sitting in the Cancer Clinic here at Vernon Jubilee Hospital in Vernon, while my mom received treatment for cancer.  She has chronic lymphatic leukemia and has lived with this disease for the last thirteen years.

 When I was growing up cancer was not a common phenomenon, at least not in my world.  It now affects so many of us, and has become part of the fabric of our lives... and we are not willing participants.  Cancer rocked my world 16 years ago when my husband Andy was diagnosed with advanced melanoma.    We were surprised by the diagnosis and did everything we could to save his life - and in the end he just wanted to go to heaven and be released from the pain.  And that is what happened.

  A couple of years later mom was diagnosed with cancer.  She has responded well to treatment, although there have been some very rough patches.  In 2000, I found a small mole that was new to me and had it diagnosed.  It is a terrifying thing to hear a doctor tell you that you have melanoma when your husband has died from the same disease.  I struggled emotionally with that for a long time.  But it was caught very early and surgery was successful; I never had any further treatment, and am diligent to have my doctor check any moles.  Others in our wider family circle also live with cancer every day; each one with a different story and different challenges.

  I have not found it easy to accept cancer as a part of our lives.  Today as I sat in the cancer clinic I was touched by the variety of ages, and the cheerfulness, yes, the cheerfulness, of patients and staff alike.  The staff are amazing and caring and respectful, and it is a comfortable place to be.  Mom did well today, and we are grateful she continues to respond well to chemotherapy.  It is not an easy thing - chemotherapy... a choice no one wants to make.

  I'm struck by those who choose it; who choose any form of treatment... it is a choice to take a risk, so that they can live well again.  There are countless opinions and cures and ideas; it is not an easy road to find out the right path of treatment.  I remember well the emotional struggle of that decision for Andy; praying for wisdom to make the right decision when everything was on the line.  It takes a lot of courage!  We tried a number of remedies, and finally also chemotherapy.  It was not an easy choice.

  As insidious as this disease is, is does not have to quench the spirit!  Mom is definitely not defined by her cancer!   I have struggled with the language around it which I have used myself - fighting cancer, battling cancer - perhaps it should be changed to "living with cancer"... an unwelcome visitor that one must deal with in the midst of the rest of life.

  I'm proud of my mom for carrying on with her life - she walks every day she can - in spite of how she feels.  She is determined.  She does things for others.  She helps my dad with his medical needs.  She continues to create quilting projects.  Life goes on...

  Years ago, when Andy was so sick, we were given the following poem which I have used many times since, but it remains so true...


Cancer is so limited…
      It cannot cripple love,
      It cannot shatter hope,
      It cannot corrode faith
      It cannot destroy peace,
      It cannot kill friendship
            It cannot suppress memories,
       It cannot silence courage,
      It cannot invade the soul,
      It cannot steal eternal life,
      It cannot conquer the spirit.