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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Possibilities

   In 2010, I decided to focus on gratitude.  I shared the quote on Facebook:  "A heart of gratitude is the doorway into God's presence".  

  Since then I've often thought of those words and how they inspired me that year, and do still... focusing on a theme or word can be a powerful thing.  I was sitting in church this morning feeling encouraged and inspired, as I thought about the new year, and all the possibilities.

  "Possibilities!"  What a good word to focus on!  I had actually shared this word with a young patient recently in my rounds as a chaplain.  Sometimes I feel I wander around the hospital with platters of hope in a hope-hungry world.  What a privilege!  This young patient is an over-comer, and needed to get beyond the confines of her illness and see the possibilities.

  Today I decided to give that gift to myself.  Or to anyone else who is looking for encouragement.  It is easy to get stuck in the struggles of life.  I have had a number of things weigh me down this last season, and it is easy to become weary and focus on the worry...

  I read a funny editorial in our local paper, The Morning Star, this week about 2013 - there was no looking forward here... just a satirical look at what could go wrong in a year with 13 in it.  It made me smile.

  But rather than worry for what could go wrong, can I choose to look forward with anticipation to all that is good... to all that can be?  The possibilities are endless if I let my mind go.  For me it is art projects and cleaning out of cupboards and simplifying... it is anticipating the joy of the little people in my life - my grandchildren, and the great anticipation of two more...it is spending time with people I love, making memories, relishing conversations, making the most of each moment.

  It is spending more time in God's creation and the wonder of growing things... and perhaps some travel and exploration thrown in.

  And I let my mind go way fast-forward and dream of dancing at my grandchildren's weddings.  Perhaps I should start practicing now?  A dance lesson or two wouldn't hurt...

  Possibilities start with hope, and are energized by dreams.  It is good to dream, to be inspired, to plan for all that could be.  God is a God of possibilities and hope..."Jesus himself said: "Jesus said to them, "With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." -Matthew 19:26

  A new year helps us to move forward, to look forward to all there is.  We can learn from our past, but also set aside the things that drag us down.  I loved listening to this poem, read to us this morning in our church by Alfred Tennyson... ring in the new, he cries... a new year full of possibilities.

A New Year's Poem

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow;
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rimes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)

Friday, December 21, 2012

I'll Be Home for Christmas

   You hear it played in the malls, over the airwaves, on the Christmas CD... "I'll be home for Christmas!"  For years, I couldn't sing that song without sadness... we all long to be with our loved ones at Christmas time. It is the ideal, the stuff of Christmas movies and Christmas cards...

  The year all our five children came home with assorted spouses and loved ones, I was so excited!  It was the first time in our married life they had all gathered under one roof, and I went crazy with preparations.  I believe I hung 17 stockings that year and planned and shopped and was full of joyful anticipation.  I'm thinking I'm not unlike most mothers out there... we love our children, and we love to be with them...

  Today I had a very joyful moment when I heard my son was "home" for Christmas.  No, he is not in Canada, and I miss him and his wife... but he had been abroad, far away from the home he has in the southern states, and when I heard he had arrived safely from the Middle East, I heaved a contented sigh... knowing he was safe, and happy to be with his wife... and soon to be first child!!

  There is a melancholy that can come with the holidays... it triggers memories and longings.  For some - and I know many, this will be a first Christmas without their loved one.  I think of saying good-bye this year to Dene and Gerda and I miss them still.  A dear friend lost her husband this year, and there is an empty chair at their family gatherings.  Home for Christmas?  Not on earth this year.

  But I often think of Dene (and we talked often), and I know she longed for her heavenly home.  She would say she is "home" for Christmas this year... but I also ache for the family who miss her, who miss her presence, her wisdom, her joy of life.

  Years ago, just months after I was widowed, in November, I happened to be in a mall and I heard the song.."I'll be home for Christmas..."  I choked up, I panicked, I ran...the words were just too painful at that point of my life.  The reality was that I would experience my first Christmas as a widow, my children without a father, and that was just plain hard.  Yes, we survived... and I worked hard to make that Christmas as gentle and peaceful and loving as possible.

  So this year, as we also remember those who grieve... and there are many... give them an extra hug.  Make the phone call, send an e-mail, invite them for dinner...

  And we also have the comfort to know of those for whom heaven is a reality this year, they have truly gone "home" for Christmas.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Peace on Earth?

   My day started off with a little accident yesterday... a very little accident.  I had just fixed my bowl of porridge with cinnamon and apples and honey, and it was sitting on the counter.  I went into the cupboard above it, and crash, down plunked a large spice jar, right into the porridge.  What a mess... but salvageable.   I actually imagined those big white roly-poly  men on that paper towel commercial and wondered if they were going to appear to clean up after me, but I did the job myself... and ate what was left of my porridge.

  If only life were so simple.....
 
  I had been pondering that little event, and how life does not go smoothly... and how do we find peace in the midst of it all...

  And then, I, with so many others, were deluged yesterday, December 14, with messages on Facebook of the unspeakable tragedy, of senseless murder of innocent children, the perpetrator scarcely an adult himself.  Social media has its good points.  It seemed that as the news spread, there was an uprising of prayer and uniting of  kindred spirits who joined hearts to pray, to send their support emotionally, to rise up against such incredible evil.

  My heart cried for them all... for the families who lost, for the families whose children were spared, but part of such horror, for the teachers who must have felt so helpless, and for the family of the young man who went on this rampage.  Why seems to be the question of the day... why, why, why?

  I work with sadness.  I hear lots of questions.  Most of which will never hit the media as did yesterday's tragic events.  And days like yesterday, tears wash over any traces of joy... and you really wonder about peace on earth.

  And yet, the angels promised... didn't they?  I keep thinking back to that first Christmas... and in spite of all the promises, life was not so simple.  Jesus and his parents fled Bethlehem for their lives - and King Herod went on a murderous rampage of innocent children.  Oh, how I hear the mothers crying for their children.  Oh Lord, have mercy!!

  As I dig deep for answers, for comfort, for peace, the only answer I seem to get is that there is a bigger picture. That God loves us, and weeps with us.  That He can give me peace in my heart, even in the messiness of life.  And sometimes it is really ok to ask why, to weep with those who weep, to embrace those who hurt.

  Peace on Earth?  Perhaps it is more about peace in my heart.  Peace that we can share and pass on and strive for, peace that battles the darkness, that reigns over injustice, peace that frees the oppressed, and overcomes the oppressor.  Perhaps it isn't the idyllic picture of snow and Christmas lights and everyone getting along... no, it is more of an action word, an intention to live peaceably in a broken world.  An everyday word that goes beyond Christmas and December but for every day of our lives.
 

 


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Love with Skin On

   The other day I hugged my oldest grandson who is 3 - and he hugged me back... tightly!  "This is a really tight hug, Grandma", he told me, and I agreed.  And we both said how much we like tight hugs.... so sweet.

  There is nothing like the embrace of someone you love dearly.  Just this week we listened to a Christmas story at a party we attended, where a little grandchild sought to find the perfect gift for her beloved grandpa.  "All I need is love", he kept telling her... and on Christmas Day after he had joyfully received her precious gift, he enveloped her in a big hug... and they both had to agree... the best gifts are wrapped in love, often wrapped with a hug.  It doesn't cost anything.  And it can be shared...

  This morning I felt compelled to bring two quilts to the hospital where I work as the chaplain.  These lovely hand-made quilts were created by friends of mine, and given to me to hand out when I felt the need arose.  So this morning, as I entered into work I prayed that I would find the right recipients... there was an older gentleman who has been there a long time, and I thought of him.  He is hard to understand and I don't know his story.  So it seemed fitting... just as I was walking in, I met him going out for some fresh air.  My timing, or God's??    I asked him if he would like a quilt, and it seemed the answer was yes... I wrapped him in it, tucked in the edges into his wheelchair and I said "Merry Christmas!!  Made with love for you! He seemed so pleased, and I thought... how blessed am I to have such a moment.

  The second quilt was easy to give away... also to someone who has stayed at the hospital many many weeks.  This patient and I have been thinking of words to give strength to our days... a few weeks ago it was believe, then courage, and last week we talked about trust, radical trust.  "Today, your word is comfort,"  I said, and here is a comforter to wrap yourself in love!  It is so beautiful to see light come into people's eyes when they know they are loved, are cared for and thought of... so I thank those who help me provide such tangible gifts of love... a very real reminder of God's love and comfort.

  As we contemplate the first Christmas, I also thought of how the birth of Jesus was also a tangible gift of love... love with skin on.  No, it wasn't just God loves you from the sky, but it was a personal God becoming man like us...love that is real, that belongs to our history, our present and our future.  Of course, on this 12th day of the 12th month of 2012, we don't always "feel" God... and I know that sometimes He seems distant.

  And yet... we have these reminders of His love for us.  And today, I was so excited to be part of those reminders... to be love with skin on... to wrap someone in a quilt, to say God wants to wrap you in his love.  Just like a big tight hug.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Joy to my World - a Christmas Gift

  As we near the end of the first week of advent, I've been pondering the gifts of Christmas:  hope, joy, love, peace... all gifts we long for in an imperfect world.  A couple of blogs ago I wrote of beauty as an antidote for suffering, and it came to me that there is more than one antidote..

  Yesterday our house was filled with joy.  It was Grandpa and Grandma day, and my hubby was able to be home to share in the joy.  Our littlest grandson, who is almost 19 months amused and entertained us, first with his guitar playing and singing (you had to be here), and then we brought out the Christmas tree...

  He was soooo excited!  Following his grandpa everywhere he "helped".  We played peekaboo between the branches, and he had great fun with the wrapping for a while... trying to decorate the tree with it, wrapping his stuffie with it, draping himself with it... it kept him entertained for quite a while.

  What a gift laughter is.  It is truly an antidote to pain, to the heaviness of life. There have been many studies of laughter... and joy having therapeutic benefits to our health, and healing. Of course this isn't new... King Solomon wrote about it saying: "A happy heart is like a good medicine and a cheerful mind works healing."   (Proverbs 17:22).  

  But it is a good reminder... to receive this gift of joy, to see it in the simple things... to seek it out and practice it in the everyday.  We were talking together the other day at the Art Center where I hang out, about how often children laugh... and it is often, and how we lose this gift as adults.  So today, I choose to rekindle joy, to practice laughter, to smile more often.  A lovely gift, indeed, and priceless.  


Two of my favourite men... my hubby and youngest grand-baby... who bring joy to my life.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Silent Night

   I woke up to the sound of sirens.  It happens often; we live on a hill, and the sounds of sirens often echo in the valley below.  It seems to happen regularly in the wee hours of the morning; and I start the day with a prayer as I wonder who might be hurting, who might be frightened, for the paramedics who rush in to help.

  Sometimes I drift off, but usually I am half awake until the radio alarm jars my half-dreaming, and mercifully my hubby reaches to turn it off.  I'm not quite ready for the days news and love to nestle in and enjoy the quiet.

  Most of our lives are not quiet.  The TV blares, and sounds of cell phones, and chatter and traffic and machines of all descriptions color our days.

  And I think about that much loved Christmas Carol, Silent Night, and wonder - was it really so quiet?  If you listen in your head, you can hear the donkey's braying and the sheep bleating, and if your senses are really tuned, the barnyard smells drift in.  Perhaps a rooster crows in the distance.  The sound of large groups of people gathering, taxes to be paid and a bustling unsettled community there to do Caesar Augustus' bidding.

  And then you hear it, the mother's gasps of pain, the baby's cry.  A Saviour is born.  It is romantic to us, looking back from the twenty-first century, etched on ornaments, painted on cards, sold in a million varieties, the nativity how ever you want it!

  But I think it was far from romantic that night.  It was sweat and tears and noise and smells, and in the middle of all of it... unspeakable joy.  So full of joy that the heavens opened and angels sang!  Hardly silent, I think!!

  So where is the silence?  In this waiting for Christmas, this beginning of Advent Season, I long, more than ever for the stillness of my heart.  To stop, to listen, to rest.  I was reading a devotional this morning by Rob Descotes from Psalm 46:10, which says  "Be still... and know that I am God."  I've been thinking about that all day... Descotes suggests that these words were given as a command in the midst of chaos, of war... and God was reminding them that He was in control...

   And I thought... how appropriate.  In the middle of the chaos of the First Christmas there was a far greater plan... and in my life, in all of life, there is a bigger plan.  God says to me... Be still...there is holy silence in the midst of all the noise and distractions.

  So, "Silent Night"... as we enter into this which can be the busiest of seasons, full of noise and hustle and expectations and spending, and overindulging... I just want to stop.  To savor the silence, to be grateful for all the gifts life brings, to be thankful for a God who sends a little baby to be human, just like us, so that we can be known and loved by a God who cares.  I quiet my heart... and listen.





 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Drinking in Beauty

It was a beautiful weekend, a beautiful last few days.  A gift in November, really!  I often associate this month with grays, the drab undergarments of the winter to come.

  And I was surprised by beauty.

   The sun shone.  It cast bright shadows on the lake and hills, creating warmth and light.  And I was captivated by it, and drank it in.  

  This picture was taken coming home to Vernon from Kelowna on Sunday afternoon.  My little camera does not do it justice.  The moon hung low and heavy and you could see it's details against the deep winter-blue sky.  It made you want to reach out and touch it, it felt so close, and yet so many millions of miles away.  

    So much is beautiful.  And it is a gift.  All around us, in everything, in everywhere, in everyone, there is beauty to be found.

  It drew me to the word antidote.  Wikipedia defines it this way: "An antidote is a substance which can counteract a form of poisoning."  To drink in or take in beauty - what a beautiful antidote to weariness that so often overtakes us... for some it is deep sorrow or challenges, for others just life itself, with all it's challenges.

  We are so easily "poisoned" by the heaviness of life.  It is real.   I had someone ask me the other day if I believed God could exist in a world of such sorrow.  These are the difficult questions of people in pain.  I have come to believe that God doesn't cause pain and sorrow, but He is present in our suffering.  We live in a broken world.  And He gives us a powerful antidote - beauty, creation, love...  to drink in, to ease the weariness, to bring joy.    We just have to open our eyes and our hearts to see it.

 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

No, it's Not Made in China...

   I often hear this comment at the Art Center where I hang out... 'It's not made in China".  The hours spent in the creative process of making a piece of art is many.  Each pottery piece I make is handled several times, in the shaping and forming, in the cleaning, in the preparation for firing, in the glazing, and finally ... holding my breath for a good result... in the glazing kiln.

  This isn't a factory, there isn't mass production (although some artists are amazing in their output!), it is mostly a labour of love and joy.

  As I write this piece I look at my own little creations which will be going into our annual Art Show and Sale, and there is a little piece of myself in each one...


  I'm not in it to make money.  I am happy if I am able to recoup enough to pay for my art habit, for clay and studio hours.  It is not so for some of my artist friends.  Many of them rely on this income to help them live, to help with daily expenses.  I feel for them.

  In our economy it is so easy to run to Walmart or a Dollar Store and get what we need for next to nothing. We don't want to think of the cost of labour, or working conditions overseas - and indeed that is a political discussion.  And all of us really have too much stuff anyway.  Our thriving thrift stores are testament to that.

  So what's my point?  There isn't one really... but if you are spending Christmas money this year, think about a local artist, one who has lovingly produced and created pieces of art, and recognize that the price you pay is probably a good bargain for all the hours that went into it.  It is one of a kind, not mass produced.

  There are some beautiful things to be had and treasured.  Or consider the gift of art lessons or music.  These are gifts that feed the soul.  Thoughts for today...

 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Patience

  Patience is my word for today.

  It is not my favourite word.

  Years ago, when I was dating my first husband -  no, it was pre-dating - I was quite interested in him at the very young age of 14.   During that time, I went with our youth group where he told his story... or in some circles it would be called giving his testimony.    He talked about patience that night.  How he had asked God for patience, and some very difficult things had happened.  And God was teaching him through that.  It made an impression on me, well in fact I married him a few years later!  But I also decided then and there that asking for patience was not one prayer I really wanted to pray.

  I really think God has a sense of humor.  Whether I prayed for it or not, I have had a lot to learn, and have found myself many times in a place of waiting; of practicing patience.  Yesterday when we were reading our daily reading by Henry Nouwen, these words startled me: "The word patience comes from the Latin verb patior which means "to suffer."  Waiting patiently is suffering through the present moment, tasting it to the full, and  letting the seeds that are sown in the ground on which we stand grow into strong plants. "

  Nouwen teaches that patience is not passive.  He says, "Waiting patiently is not like waiting for the bus to come, the rain to stop, or the sun to rise.  It is an active waiting in which we live the present moment to the full in order to find there the signs of the One we are waiting for."

  We are coming up to the Advent Season.  It is a joyful season, but advent means to wait.  To wait for a Saviour.  As if the whole earth were groaning, waiting for relief from suffering.  I know many can relate as we listen to the news each night of bombs falling in the Gaza strip and in Israel.  I pray for my friends there.  We relate when we hear of tragedies all over the world.  We relate when we know loved ones in our own circles who struggle with grief or pain or difficult times.

  It reminds me of a cryptic saying I heard "Life is hard, and then you die."  Life can be hard.  This is true. But there is also hope to hang on to, that I refuse to let go of.  And even, in what seems to us the very worst, saying good-bye is saying hello.  To a new life, a free life, a life with God, a life without pain.  That is the ultimate hope.

  But in the meantime, we live here, in what often seems the mess.  There cannot be life without suffering.  I see it every day in my work.  And yet, there is also joy to be found.  Profound joy.  Joy in the moments, joy in shared smiles, in meaningful conversation, in the beauty all around us.

  I was thinking of a verse I've read from time to time, and now I just read it in "The Message" a lovely paraphrase of the Bible.  It says: "There's more to come:  We continue to shout our praise even when we're hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.  In alert expectancy such as this, we're never left feeling shortchanged.  Quite the contrary - we can't round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!"   Isn't that lovely?  

  It brings up more words to live by... gratitude, expectancy... but they can be words for another day.  I'm still not sure asking for patience is a favored prayer I pray readily, but patience can be practiced, and lived with, and accepted, and there is the hope of what is to come.  Like the seeds of plant, buried in the dark cold earth, often dormant for months, there is the hope of spring, of life, of things to come.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Powerful Words

   I recently visited a colleague`s office and before I left she told me to take a piece of paper with a word on it.  It was "my word" of the day... and it said "Creativity".  I loved it.  I thought about that word many times that day, and it inspired me.

 Earlier this year I was privileged to be on a prayer list for a young woman who was critically ill in the Vancouver area.  In their communications, her parents shared that they chose a word for each day - a word that kept them going.  Words like peace, and courage and determination, and hope.  (This young lady pulled through and is doing well today!)

  I have started to use this in my work and in my personal life.  It becomes a focus, rather than thinking about the dreary weather (hey, I know it is November), or the challenges at hand.

  I was thinking about the word Believe earlier this week.  We were in attendance at a wonderful celebration of our friends who were celebrating his life and his health after five years post-transplant.  It was wonderful!  I remember visiting him in hospital, and how fragile life seemed.  `During that time, I had found this decorative plaque - a simple cut-out of the word, Believe - and we gave it to him and his wife, as they sojourned in the hospital.

  At the party, all these years later, there it was... this word sitting on their mantle, adorned with autumn leaves.  Believe - a beautiful statement of faith, of hope, of hanging on.

  This week as I visited a patient with incredible challenges I said... I have a word for you.  Believe!  I printed it out for her to see... I could see she wanted to hang on to that word.  I visited another gentleman, deeply discouraged with lack of mobility after a health crisis.  Reading was difficult.  Try to imagine the word ``Believe`` emblazoned on your hospital curtain.   He looked, we both looked... and imagined.  His eyes brightened.  Just hang on to that for today... one step at a time.  It was a lovely moment, and hope had returned to the room.

  There are so many words... I am so inspired.  Hope, Endurance, Peace, Joy, Comfort.  One of my favourite verses in the Bible is full of words..  ``but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness``.... (Galatians 5:22)  Words to live by.  Words to think on.  Powerful words that encourage and give us hope.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Imprints

   I was walking outside the other day, and noticed on the sidewalk these lovely dark imprints of leaves - images left on the hard surface even though the leaf had blown away.  I wished I had my camera - I wanted to capture the delicate images, the traces of leaves now dead and discarded, probably washed away.

  It made me think of imprints, of images that are left behind.  I play with that daily, in my art work.  I love to imprint images into clay.  The fragile imprint of the leaf leaves a design I can't seem to replicate on my own.  And I love the effect, especially when I rub under-glaze into them and rub it off, and the leaf comes alive on the pottery.


  People can be like that.  Imprints on our lives.  I think of the imprint a mother or father leaves and how that influences our lives.  I've been thinking a lot of my mom - who turns 80 tomorrow (Friday, November 16) - so happy birthday, mom!  And I think of the positive imprint she has on my life, of a positive attitude, of loving people, of creativity, of hard work.  Thank you, mom!

  There are others too... I often think of my friend Dene Steven, who insisted last year that she would come to my art display at Artsolutely (Vernon Art Center), last year, even though she was weak. She died only a few weeks later.   She was such a good friend, and I miss her wisdom, friendship and advice.  She has left a lasting imprint on me..

  Imprints are not always positive.  We were talking today, about children, children who are neglected or not loved, or abandoned and how it affects their whole lives.  They need a lot of healing.  My heart often aches for those who have such sad stories.

  It also inspires me... how do I live my life?  To leave a lasting imprint, one that is positive and loving and beautiful.  And it also begs the thought of God, my creator who also leaves His imprint on us, on all creation. And it is beautiful.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Unsolicited Gifts... and a Solicitation

   My mail box is full these days.  I have received a number of sets of Christmas cards, all marked with various organizations hoping I'll return their kindness with a monetary gift.  I have more return labels than I will EVER use, some lovely notepads and even a gift bag.

   All unsolicited.  Very nice really, but it also annoys me if I am honest.  I didn't ask for this stuff, and I really don't want to feel guilty for not sending the money they hope to receive in return.  In fact, I'm quite suspicious if I do, the gifts will come even more often and freely  And I question the use of charities monies... how much is spent for these fund-raising efforts, gifts and return labels and seeds and who knows what else... and being sent to complete strangers.  When I send money, I really want it to go to the recipient.  Period!

  I believe in giving.  I want to give wisely.  I choose my charities carefully.  And I appreciate when they are open and honest about their finances and where the money goes.  I guess you could say, I want bang for my buck, I want to know that giving makes a difference.

  So because I hate to throw anything away, I will probably use those Christmas cards... not my choice, but they are sitting here.  Or I'll donate them to my local mission, perhaps someone can use them.  My grandsons can play with the return labels... great sticker material!

  On that note, I would like to share about an organization that IS dear to my heart.  New Hope started more than 15 years ago now, and has been faithfully supporting and providing services to widows, widowers and their families through drop-ins, retreats, their website, and many other ways.  They rarely ask for money, and I know they struggle financially, just to keep the little office open, and to pay for their part-time secretary.

  This weekend (Saturday, November 17th), they are holding their annual fund-raiser here in Vernon.  It is a lovely little concert featuring Celtic and country music by Abe and Mary Doerksen, and puppetry by Cindy.  There will be a silent auction and lovely desserts and Christmas baking to buy.  It is being held at the Vernon Christian Fellowship Church at 4507 29th Street. Everyone is welcome!

  But you don't have to attend to give... there is information on their web-site, and it is a little organization that keeps on going and giving and loving, and I want to love it back.  So if you are able, or have been helped by New Hope in the past, or know of someone who could use their services... look them up!  And I thank you. And yes, that was the solicitation!!
www.newhope-grief.org

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Quitting with Grace

  I have a little bookmark that is entitled "Don't Quit".  It contains a lovely poem about not giving up, and I have always believed that, embraced it.

  I also have a slogan in my head (might be from my days of watching Robert Schuller), that says (my translation), when tough times come, the tough get going...

  So last week, when I was trying to juggle all my duties and activities and work and play and family and school, the balls started dropping.  I literally felt like everything was falling apart, I could no longer do it all... and I quit.  Not everything, mind you!  But I dropped the school piece, and let it go.  For now, anyway.

  I listened to some wise counsel.  I took a deep breath.  I reevaluated what was truly important.

  We live on a crazy planet.  Go, go, go.  Some days, I just want to stop.  As we come up to the Christmas Season we ramp it up.  To-do lists abound.  One of the biggest challenges is to par that list.  To take a deep breath.  To gaze out my window (as I'm doing now) and watch the morning sun crest over the orchards colored in their autumn splendor.  To go for a walk.  To be still and pray.

  God, quiet my heart.  I think of those words from one of my favourite psalms... "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10).  To be still is a lesson I think I'll be learning for the rest of my life.  For it is in those moments of stillness that I find the energy and strength for the rest of my life.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Stormy Weather

   Just over a week ago I prepared a service on the topic of stormy weather - and where we find shelter.  Part of my job as chaplain is to hold services at the hospital and memorial services at the extended care facility adjacent to the hospital.

  So I was thinking about the time of year, and storms, and I looked for scripture and songs around that theme as I was looking for words of comfort and hope for these dear people, mostly geriatric, that have entered my life.

  Yesterday as I held the memorial service, these words seemed so applicable for this season -and for me!  I thought of those I love, and our lives, and it seemed that life has been a bit stormy of late for a many.  When tossed about by the waves, it is so easy to focus on them!!

  So it was so good again to be drawn into the words of that old hymn, A Shelter in the Time of Storm.  We don't sing it too often in church anymore!  But these words are so true, so comforting, so reassuring...

The Lord’s our Rock, in Him we hide,
A Shelter in the time of storm;
Secure whatever ill betide,
A Shelter in the time of storm.

Refrain:  Oh, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land,
A weary land, a weary land;
Oh, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land,
A Shelter in the time of storm.

A shade by day, defense by night,
A Shelter in the time of storm;
No fears alarm, no foes afright,
A Shelter in the time of storm.

The raging storms may round us beat,
A Shelter in the time of storm
We’ll never leave our safe retreat,
A Shelter in the time of storm.

O Rock divine, O Refuge dear,
A Shelter in the time of storm;
Be Thou our Helper ever near,
A Shelter in the time of storm.
Vernon J. Charlesworth (ca. 1880) 

A dear friend sent me this verse yesterday, translated in the Message.  I love this paraphrase - God's words come alive!  “When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end – “ (Isaiah 43:2 MSG)

  I've thought about all those who are affected by the great storm Sandy on the east coast.  I've watched pictures where they are literally hanging on.  Yes, hanging on... and it is a good lesson to hang on to Jesus... to reach out and hold on.  Storms come... and go.  So changing focus... from the waves to the Creator, who promises to never leave or forsake us, and He is a safe place in stormy weather.







Thursday, October 25, 2012

The blackberries didn't get the memo

  We were out in the garden yesterday doing last bits of clean up.  It was cold and blustery and I had witnessed a few snow flakes the day before.

  And then I saw the blackberries.  Apparently, they didn't get the memo.  Not only was there fresh ripe fruit, but they are loaded...this in spite of a couple of frosts, lots of cold nights, and certainly a whole lot of neglect.

  So I brought in a branch.  They don't ripen like a tomato, but I thought they were rather lovely.  And needed some warmth.

 
 We enjoyed the ripe ones for breakfast.  On October 25th.  Not bad!!

  Reminds me of some people I know.  Two especially in our close family circle who are fighting cancer.  Who are taking chemotherapy.  It doesn't really matter what season it is.  They are both determined, and giving up isn't part of their vocabulary.

  Yes, there are seasons of life.  I know that all so well.  But I see the parallel.. While there is life to live, it is lived with determination.  With zest.  My mom is one of those people.  This week she is helping an "elderly" lady move.  She cooked us dinner last night, just because it was her turn.  She determines not only to live, but to live fully, in spite of personal storms, bleak forecasts and often a tired body that isn't always cooperating.

  So I look at my blackberries and I think about mom.  Today is a gift.  There are blackberries on the vine.  There is a life to live...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

JOY

  This post is a memo to self.  Practice Joy!

  Life can get serious.  A wise friend told me years ago.."You are a burden bearer - you will need to find places to play, to live joyfully".  Her words echo to me now and then when life gets heavy, or perhaps it would be more correct to say, when I let life overwhelm me and I forget.

  I don't think I'm alone in this struggle.  Lately when I look at the challenges in my own life, people I deeply care about who are sick, a large family and circle of friends we love and want to stay connected with, meaningful work that takes time and energy, and the challenges of school... all can make a "heavy" life.  How do I lighten the load?

  Some of it is choice, and there are other things that I have no control of.  It hit me the other day that I needed to practice more "living in the moment"... just taking the task or moment at hand, and letting everything else go.  To turn off the mind that wants to race to the "to do" list, or the "what if" pile... and just enjoy this moment.  I am convinced that we spend so much of our time analyzing and regretting the past and planning and fretting about an unknown future, that we forget to really live.  To breathe.  

  So I did.  Just take a deep breath.  Feels good....

  "This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!"  I've heard those words so many times and it would be a good practice to recall them daily.  Today is good because I'm alive.  I am breathing.  I have family to love.  I have food to eat, and shelter over my head.  I live in a beautiful place.  

  The old proverb, translated, says it well:  "A joyful heart helps healing, but a broken spirit dries up the bones".  Proverbs 17:22 CEB  

   One of the places I play and find joy is at my local Art Center.  As I create bits of pottery, I find joy in the creation, and in a place of creativity.  But here too, I can get serious.  As I concentrated on putting on handles the other day, someone encouraged me to lighten up.  Enjoy the moment!  Relax the intensity, I thought... it's just a handle!  (And they snapped my picture to prove it... thanks, Laurel!)



 So I'm reminded again to live well... to laugh often.  To gather pleasure in the moments.  This is not to deny suffering or pain in myself, or others.  But to balance life with joy.  Joy that is a gift from God, a gift I receive with gladness today.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Last Fruits

   I visited my garden today.  It has been neglected of late.  My laundry pile, a full e-mail box, and the odd cob-web all speak of a busy season.  But I thought I'd see if there was any surprises... and there was!

  I came in the house with three beautiful zuchinnis and a lovely bowl of big blackberries.  I picked a few leeks that refused to grow tall and will pretend they are onion greens.  They are simmering on the stove with a pot of rice.  Not bad for October 16.  There are still kale and swiss chard and a few green tomatoes... and I said to myself - I really need a date with my garden.

  These last fruits are lovely gifts.  They brought me a lot of pleasure today.  And it got me to thinking...  we often think about the first fruits.  About good beginnings.  The biblical custom of bring first fruits was in gratefulness to God for the coming harvest.

  But what about the last fruits?  When I see my garden ebbing, the sunflowers which brought so much sunshine to my yard now broken and sagging, the vines withered and yellowed, I feel sad.  It is the end of a season.

  But end of seasons are part of life.  We live in a culture where we worship new, and young, and unblemished.  We discard anything old and broken; we are a replacement society, and have forgotten how to repair and mend and take care of.

We are afraid of growing old.  In worshiping the young, we forget to honor the old.  And our elders can be intimidated by this brash way of thinking.  It is hard to keep up with the internet and Facebook and twitter, and just this past week we finally figured out how to play music in the car on our i-pod.  Welcome to the 21st century - about 12 years late!! Our ever-changing language can be foreign to our elders - with i-this and e-that, and my grandchildren will soon be far more knowledgeable with technology than myself.  I know it is true.

  So do we see the last fruits?  The wisdom garnered, the years of learning, the gifts that are there, sometimes hidden, but we just need to look.  Do we treasure our elders, embrace our own aging, and value what is truly important?  The relationships that last, the moments we share, the conversations, the hugs?

  For those are the true treasures - the last fruits.  And when I taste the sweetness of those blackberries I will think on these things.

 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pulsating with Life

   I haven't blogged for a while.  Life happens!  This time of year it always seems to come to a head... extra preserving, garden clean-up, little trips to family before the snow flies... I've started a new course, and it calls my name.  If I get behind I'll be in trouble.

  And I've been spending a little extra time with two of our grandsons.  Delightful, really.  Today was filled with blowing bubbles, examining rocks, watching Grandpa paint, helping Grandma cut up apples.  We made alphabet soup.  We read lots of books, and had a wagon ride.  A busy, happy day.

  In the midst of it all, I went over to inspect my neighbours house.  I am really not the inspecting kind; and I envy those who seem to have show-room homes, with everything in it's place and no dust to be found.  Not me... usually there is some art in progress, books in the middle of being read (we love books), and just signs of living everywhere.  I try to keep up, but I sometimes wonder if dust and cobwebs lurk when I'm least expecting them, and make a daily appearance just to make me look bad...

  So you might wonder why I was inspecting this immaculate house.  The owners are away, and I had been asked to inspect it after the tenants left... so this has been happening this week, and I inspected a very clean house (thanks in part to some cleaning ladies I had recommended!), and I said to my neighbour.. I feel funny doing this when my house is so, well... lived in.

  And she looked at me, and said, "But your house is always pulsating with life!"

  It was a good perspective.  I looked at my house with new eyes.  It was filled with the giggles of my grandsons, and cheerios on the floor, and the smell of turkey soup.  People live here!  Our thanksgiving dinner was rich with produce and turkey and more importantly family and love.  Our friend has come to stay for a couple of months and evenings are often filled with cups of tea and rich conversations.  Pumpkins and home-grown squash tumble on the front steps and you will be greeted by a chalk drawing on the side-walk, compliments of little E and me.

  And I know I'm late... but I have a lot to be thankful for.

 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Saturday with Morrie - and Hank.

  We are back home again after a quick little road trip to Alberta.  We try to get there about twice a year to visit my husband's father, Hank, who is in extended care there.

  This year, we combined it with a little trip with my parents.  Dad had wanted to take in "Tuesdays with Morrie", a play based on the well-known book, being held in the tiny community of Rosebud, just outside of Calgary.

  Rosebud is a unique very tiny community, truly a bud if you want to picture it, in a large Alberta rosebush.  Quaint, full of history, restored, and ready to meet the tourist, this community of 100 residents houses a theatre company and school which produces quality productions, and also is a big part of the Passion Play, held in Drumheller every July.

  The draw for us, despite the price, was the subject.  We had all read the book, and very much enjoyed the play which was well done.  Tuesdays with Morrie is the story of a professor who has ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), who dying,  and his weekly encounters with a former student turned journalist, and the author of the book, Mitch Albom.

  It is a story about dying, but much more than that, it is a story about living, about relationships, about what is really important in life.  Morrie is a good teacher.  The importance of hugs, of touch, the acceptance of tears, the art of listening, all topics covered in this prof's most important lessons.

  The play seemed to take on new significance for us as well as we visited Steve's dad.  It is very difficult, at times, to parachute into someone's life every few months and re-establish connection.  Phone calls are not possible, or highly difficult, since Hank had a stroke 21 years ago which affected his speech.  When you are miles away, you cannot visit frequently.

  But as I observed father and son, there was communication with the eyes, the strong grip of the hands...

  I've thought about it.  Being there.  That was what was important.  Sometimes words are just not necessary, and the time for them has past.

  I see that in the hospital where I work...I visit those who cannot speak, and wonder about their lives... they are someone's father, or mother, and they hold stories they cannot tell.  And yet they have so much to teach me.  Do I take time to listen?

  We tend, in our society, to avoid the dying,  We tuck our seniors into extended care facilities and walk away into our busy lives.  It is part of our culture.  It is sad I think.  We miss so much... I was so impressed again, as we visited Steve's dad,  the amazing care of the nurses and care-aids who really become family to many of these dear folks.  They know Hank, his day to day habits, his routines.  They spoke to him with respect and humor and dignity.  One said "He's one of our favourites!"

  Sometimes distance keeps us from doing what we really want to do.  But I came away with new eyes to see those in my world that I can touch, that I interact with, those in my community whose families might be miles away.  And again, I'm inspired to make each day count, to live well, for life is short, and precious.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Wounded Healer

   Every once in a while, my husband turns to me and says "you should really blog about this!"  He had been reading Henri Nouwen again in his book "Home Tonight", which is a reflection of the story of the prodigal son.

  Nouwen, in this book, reflects on the famous Rembrandt painting, "The Prodigal Son", and he says "I stand in awe at the place where Rembrandt brought me.  He led me from the kneeling disheveled young son to the standing, bent-over old father, from the place of being blessed to the place of blessing.  As I look at my own aging hands, I know that they have been given to me to stretch out toward all who suffer, to rest upon the shoulders of all who come, and to offer the blessing that emerges from the immensity of God's love."  (The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Henri J.M. Nouwen, Doubleday, New York, p. 129)

  When I gaze on this picture, my first thought is of our Heavenly Father, and his loving, compassionate touch on our lives - loving and accepting us as we are, where we are.  He is the one who blesses, who heals, who forgives...

  I also see Him through the faces of my friends.... those who know me and love me, and listen and care.  I experienced this again yesterday as I met with two of them for a time of reflection and prayer.

  There are times where I just want to move on to the "healer" part... but get stuck in the muck of the "wounded".  Lately I have experienced much pain due to a shoulder injury that just won't heal.  After another sleepless night, I ponder these things.  I think about the man with the withered arm whom Jesus healed.  I want to insert myself into that Gospel story and reach out to Jesus... "pick me, pick me!!"

  And yet I know that even in pain, there is so much to learn.  Oh yes, I joke I am a slow learner.  But in visiting the sick, I too know what it means to have chronic pain.  I understand the sleepless nights.  I know the frustration of not being well.  And I know the blessing of receiving the love and care of friends.

  And being blessed, even in this place of weakness, I too can have compassion and empathy for others.  I love the phrase, the wounded healer (another title of Nouwen's many books).  I think of the famous line "by His stripes we are healed", and Jesus is our ultimate model, as He allowed himself to suffer on our behalf.  So again, I kneel at his feet, as in this beautiful picture, and want to rest in His presence, to experience His touch, His healing.

  And I pray that I too can aspire to bless others, as I have been blessed.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Finding Jesus in Vancouver

  As I quoted on a Face-book status a couple of days ago, I really am not an adventurous person, and often wish I was.  You will not find me leaping out of airplanes, or zipping down a zip-line. or hurtling down a mountain wearing sticks (oh, yes,... skis).  I tend to be careful, and I think out my steps, and I love feeling safe.  I've had my share of adrenalin in my life and it is not my favourite drug.

  Flying is a necessary evil, at times, and I will get on an airplane, fortified with the knowledge that people do it every day, they claim it is safe, it gets me from A to B in good time, and I try to not think about how far I am off the ground.  I also practice a lot of deep breathing...

  I am also not a city girl, so flying to Vancouver the other night, and figuring out transit was somewhat daunting.  I had tried to get a ride, but it didn't work out, and I understand... I am a big girl and people are busy...so I steeled myself for adventure and off I went, praying all the way for God to help me.

  As is my style, it was a bit of an adventure!  The flight was fairly uneventful, for which I was thankful, and Vancouver beautiful in the falling dusk.  I had to ask a couple of people how to get to the sky-train, and I managed that as well, thankful my little suitcase was on wheels.

  I've always loved to people-watch, and city trains are interesting places... but I was more concerned about where I would get off.  I asked one young girl who looked fairly safe where the Cambie station was - and that I had been told to disembark there because I was going to UBC (University of BC) ... she looked rather confused herself - and told me there was no such thing... I looked at the map - no Cambie station.  But then a rather handsome young couple with two little ones (reminding me of my own kids) overheard me, and told me, you really want to get off at Broadway...they seemed so confident, and I relaxed, and just before they got off they smiled at me and said... "yours is the next stop!".

  So off I got, and entered into the city.  I quickly spied the 99 bus, and thought great... and got in a line.  Maybe I should ask, a little voice told me, so I asked the gal in front of me... is the bus to UBC?  Oh no, she said... that one is across the street!

  Another line up - another wait, and there was the 99 going in the right direction - it was dark now, and I was glad to be on the bus.  I had not been on the bus a minute, when I realized there was a fighting match just in front of me, push and shove, and lots of shouting.  The lady beside me said... they've been at it for a while... The woman in the fight looked at me, and said - you saw that didn't you??  I just wanted to disappear...but the bus stopped, security appeared after some delays, and things calmed down...

  Are we really heading to UBC?  I asked another young girl...  It seemed a rather long ride... Just one more stop, she smiled at me... and then, there we were, and off I got, relieved, and somewhat turned around.  I had been checking my little phone for help, but when I am unsettled, I just can't seem to make it work.  This is very difficult for my children to understand, who simply see technology as an extension of themselves, and it comes so easy for them.  And honestly I did try, and will continue to practice my technology skills.  But sometimes, really, it just easier to ask...

  And so, again feeling somewhat lost, I asked a young man for directions.  He had the build of my son, and seemed safe, and he was so kind.  "Let me walk you to the intersection", he said, and I'll show you the way... lovely.  And so, in the dark, I walked the rest of the way to my dorm.  Once there, I had to figure out how to get into my room.  And, just as I entered, a girl came to my rescue.  Did I look distressed?  She knew the ropes, helped me to decode this box to get my room key, and I found my way, finally, to my room.  Exhausted and somewhat emotional, but really, very fine.

  I've thought about this little adventure of mine... for some, this would be no sweat, a fun adventure.  But I also remembered that I had asked Jesus to accompany me.  And all of a sudden I began to recognize Him, as He appeared in the faces of strangers... kind, gentle people, that helped me all the way.  I was never alone.

  Such a good lesson for me... to see Jesus in the face of others, to feel His love and protection, to know He cared about the journey as well as the destination.

  My husband just found this quote by Julien of Norwich, which I thought was so appropriate.  "If there be anywhere on earth a lover of God is always safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me.  But this was shown:  that in falling and rising again, we are always kept in the same precious love."

 

Monday, September 10, 2012

For the love of Art..and all Created things

   My hubby and I were at the Annual Art Walk yesterday, held annually in Winfield, just a half hour from our home.  I am always amazed by this show... hundreds of art pieces by many talented artists from our surrounding community, it is a feast for the eyes.  Painting, sculpture, glass-work, clay, photography, fabric arts... it was all there.

   I actually felt overwhelmed - it was so much to take in.  I was so inspired by the colors, the textures, the imaginations, the labour of love and time and creativity.  Dabbling in art myself, I can appreciate the time, and even the vulnerability that goes into each piece - and then is displayed to be enjoyed, critiqued, and sometimes even purchased.  There are very few wealthy artists.  Most of them create for the love of it.

  I have come to believe there is something deep in me, really in all of us, that has a desire to create.  I know the periods in my life where I did not have time to pursue the creative side of me, I was restless and something was missing.  When I am able to tap into that creative part of me, there is a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.  That is not to say I am always happy with my creations!  Far from it!

  But there is something amazing about the process... becoming lost in my work, which I believe is very spiritual.  After all, God is the ultimate Creator, who says that we are created in His image... it is hard to fathom.  And if we are created in His image, I believe there is something in each of us that has that desire to create... perhaps not art as we think of it, but the vastness of creation encompasses so many things... from creating food, to landscapes, to creating beauty in a home, and the list goes on and on...

  As we drove home yesterday, in the Okanagan sunshine, I continued to drink in the beauty.  Kalamalka Lake was shimmering and full of light, the rolling hills and surrounding valleys full of texture and colour.  It is easy to become inspired.  Last night I picked a sunflower for our table; it is like picking a piece of sunshine and bringing it inside.  I can't imagine a world without colour, without shape, without texture.

  The earth sings,
      The trees dance in the wind
         The leaves sway and bow
The intricacy and detailed design
    Of all created things
        Speak to us of love,
            given lavishly, abundantly,
The ultimate gifts of a Creator God
   Who indwells in us
       and allows us to reflect back
          His perfect gifts.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Back to School!

   I visited Staples yesterday.  I know this is odd, but there is something about wandering down the aisles and seeing all that fresh paper, and pens and markers and other school supplies that is just inspiring.  What will that paper hold?  How will that ink be used?  Lovely possibilities...

  I reminded myself that I have a closet full of paper, all bought on sale of course, and more than enough pens.  And the last two years of school at Carey I did not print one hard copy of any essays written - all written and sent electronically.  Amazing, really...

  So in a few days, I'm back to school.  It was fun to graduate last year but I know I have so much more to learn.  A lifetime, really, but right now, it is just a course at a time.  This fall I will be studying those ancient manuscripts - The Old Testament.  I have been reading through it this summer - as fast as I can - but it is easy to get bogged down.  The stories are fascinating, but I get mired in the genealogies, and the laws are sometimes baffling.  It should be a great course..

  It is wonderful to be able to study on line.  There are so many possibilities open to the adult learner in our culture.  But personal contact is important too... so next week, I'm off to Vancouver to meet professors and get orientated and begin my learning.  Wondering if I should bring an Okanagan apple for the teacher??

  When I think of it, really, we are all students.  Students of life, each day a learning experience.  My teachers are vast... my little grandsons teach me about wonder and simplicity.  My garden teaches me about abundance, and I see the great artistry of God in each leaf, vegetable, and even the great variety of insects that live there... I am a student in my work place, and the people I see regularly teach me so much about life, and about dying, and about what is truly important.

  So I feel blessed to enter school again... I might not be riding a big yellow bus, or carry a heavy back pack, but when I see the children walking by my house loaded with books and possibilities, I can relate!  It's that time of year!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Blackberries

  There is a blackberry bush in my back yard.  It is a mess of vines, really, untamed, and full of blossoms and fruit this year.  We tried to organize it on a bit of home-made trellis, but it has wrapped itself around the neighbour's bordering bushes and wanders down the rocks, in spite of my tidying it up now and then.

  I planted the bush rather nostalgically.  I grew up in the Fraser Valley, where wild blackberries grow in abandon, and every year we picked them.  Free is always good!  It was a prickly adventurous affair, with sweet results.

 Andy, my first husband, and the father of my children, loved blackberries.  They always make me think of him.  Every year, almost without fail, he would go off seeking the wild berries, and bring me a bucket or two.  Then my job began, and I juiced them and made our annual batch of blackberry jelly, a staple in our house.  I'd mix the blackberry juice with apple juice and it was a lovely blend.

  He has been gone, to his heavenly home, seventeen years this September, and this time of year always brings those memories to my mind.  Good memories.

  And so, because I love blackberries, and my children do too, I planted a blackberry bush a few years ago.  It seemed fitting, and being a rather thrifty Mennonite at times, I simply could not bring myself to pay over $30 a flat for Okanagan blackberries, the going rate here...  Last year we thought our little bush had died.  After a rough winter, only a stick or two remained, and I was pleased and delighted with it's revival this year!

  So now the tradition continues.  No, maybe my blackberry bush is not wild, and I did buy the thorn-less variety!  But hand in hand with my little grandson, we have picked blackberries together in the last couple of weeks.  And I hope his memories too will be sweet as we carry on traditions from the past and create new traditions for our future generation.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Making Peace with my "To Do" List..

  Ahhh... it feels good to sit down after a busy day.  Writing is therapy for me, a delight to sit here, and look out on my beautiful view of Davison Orchard and the surrounding countryside, to write, and I have an ice-cold glass of lime water going...

  I was thinking about my "to-do" list this morning... it was long.  This, after all is "my day off", a day I use each week to catch up with myself and all the things I have to do.  Trouble is, it is all the things I have to do that usually takes over...

  I had visions of a tidied garden, new plants, a clean house, fresh baking, tomato sauce made, and a big pot of chili, shopping, oh, yes, I forgot the laundry... there was a pile of that too.  In fact there still is - a pile of laundry.  I just didn't get to it...and there is still the bills to pay, and the office is a mess.  I think I'll just close the door...

  I can be ruled by my lists.  My urgency to put all things right in my world, to achieve, achieve, achieve... and it made me remember following the Benedictine way, which I did closely a couple of years ago for a class assignment.  Oh the Benedictines believe in hard work, but it is tempered.

  In their lifestyle, there is room for prayer, for quiet, for play, for rest... how often I forget those elements.  It was good to take a break this morning and talk about it with a dear friend.  Coffee at our local MacDonalds, outside, in the fresh air, enjoying each other's company.

  It was good.  Life is about friends, about family, about, well -  living!  It is not about a perfect house, or how much I accomplished, or whether all the laundry got done, or every weed is pulled in my garden.  I have to keep telling myself that.  Sometimes, it is just good to be, to sit quietly and reflect, to take time for a walk or just smell some flowers.

  I often tell myself it is good to count the things I did, not the things that did not get done... most of them can wait.  And to count the important things, like a conversation with a friend, or loved one, or a word of kindness, or even those kindnesses to myself like a refreshing nap. So I'm taking a deep breath... and just going to sit for a while...

 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Eagle Eyes

   The picture on my Facebook Timeline currently is a lovely scenic shot taken off of Galliano Island, where we vacationed this past May.  One of the things we enjoyed was watching the eagles fly back and forth to the little island right across from us.  Quite often an eagle would perch on a tree there and sit for hours.

  The day our daughter came to visit, I pointed this out to her, but alas the eagle did not make an appearance that day, and my daughter teased me, wondering if I was seeing things... so I posted the picture with the eagle on Facebook, but really, you need eagle eyes to see the bird!!  However it is there, I promise!

  This past weekend, we had so much fun visiting the Vancouver zoo with my three children and spouses and 2 grandsons and the animals put on a wonderful show.  We saw three eagles too... majestic, watching us warily from the protection of their cage, safe in their perch.  I felt sorry for them, not soaring up in the skies, but realized they were probably rescued birds, perhaps could not even fly anymore.

Eagles are special to our family - when my first husband Andy, my children's dad, was dying, his favourite verse of comfort were from the words of the ancient prophet Isaiah who says "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles..."  It was amazing how many cards we received at that time with that very verse in-scripted, and I spotted an eagle very close to us just hours after he died.

   I think of God's amazing care and love for us, that he can use majestic birds as these to remind us of his love and protection.  And it came to me too, this week, of God's eyes, amazing eyes that see all things.  They are eyes of compassion and love.

  Unlike an eagle, I often don't see things clearly... what would I do without my reading glasses???... I also am aware of the parallel... I often don't see life clearly either.  We don't see the whole picture.  In one of my favourite passages of scripture the apostle Paul says: "Now we see only a dim likeness of things.  It is as if we were seeing them in a mirror.  But someday we will see clearly.  We will see face to face.  What I know now is not complete.  But someday I will know completely, just as God knows me completely"  (NIRV)

  We live in a mystery - an incompleteness.  An awe of God and all He has created for us to enjoy.  But there is also a comfort in my unknowing, in my dim vision, that He is a God who sees, who loves, who cares.

   (you will need a magnifying glass to spot the eagle... but he is there, I promise! - off of Galliano Island, taken May 2012)


Thursday, August 23, 2012

She had a more important appointment.

  I had planned to get up there all week.  It was a busy week, with other appointments, interruptions, needs - and I didn't make it... until today.

  But it was too late.  Or was it?  She too had an appointment.  And it was far more important than mine.  An appointment that freed her from all her earthly cares, that lifted her out of the body that weighed her down, and set wings to her feet, and joy to her lips, and light to her eyes.

  It is never easy to say good-bye.  In fact I have a policy where I just don't say good-bye.  Too formal, too final.  No, rather I embrace "See you later!".  Years ago I read Elizabeth Marshall's book where she talks about the life with husband Peter Marshall, the great preacher in the beginning of the last century.  His last words to her on this earth were "See you in the morning!"... how sweet is that!

  Yes, there is that hope, that we see again, and are reunited with those we love.  And we only imagine their grand reunion with those who have gone on before... quite a party, I imagine!

  Reminds me of the song by David Guetta:
  "I can only imagine... what it will be like
  When I walk by Your side
  Surrounded by your glory, what will my heart feel
  Will I dance for You, Jesus, or in awe of you be still?...
  I can only imagine..."

It is hard to imagine, really...

  So, see you later, my friend!  I will imagine your heart filled with joy unspeakable, your mind with peace overflowing, and picture you dancing with the angels.  Peace, my friend, until we meet again.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Assumptions

   I do not like this word - assumptions.

   I see so much of life lived this way - my own, and in others.  What I assume about others, what I think they think about me, what I hear people think about others, what we even think about ourselves..

  What I said, what I meant, what someone heard - the same source, but with many different meanings.  Sometimes it is difficult to sort out the truth.

  I was misquoted recently, what I said was not interpreted as what I meant.  Is it a big deal?  Perhaps not.  I often think of the God I love, who looks at my heart.  He sees what is good and bad, and He loves me still... He knows my desires and my thoughts and my intentions.

  But it got me to thinking... how often we assume things about others, because of our own frame of reference, or because of something someone said, and really it is not the truth at all... when my hubby and I have conversations about life this often comes up.  Is this an assumption?  Is it based on truth?

  So often, we really don't know... and I think the best response is to remember the command Jesus gave - to love others as we love ourselves.  To truly love means to suspend my point of view, or even my understanding, to love graciously.  To listen and to be thoughtful, and to truly try to understand.

  This is a life-long lesson, I think.  But one I think about often.  To live my life with an open heart, with open hands, with listening ears, to love as Jesus loved.  Lofty goals.  Probably unattainable on earth.  But good to aspire to!!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Hope in a Jar

  Sometimes canning can be therapeutic.  I don't do a lot of it, but every year my Mennonite roots kick in and I feel compelled to preserve the bounty all around me.

  There is nothing like a jar of peaches in the dead of winter, reminding us of  warm August days.  Peaches are so flavorful and juicy... funny I was thinking yesterday of all the descriptive words we use - "she is such a peach", or wasn't that "peachy"!  Must be a sweet thing I think...!

  I have seen a lot of sadness lately.     To say it doesn't affect me is a lie.  Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am in a place where often sadness gathers... and I think of when we too were in hospital with our own heartache and pain, and so thankful for the caregivers and visitors and those who cheered us on - who brought us hope.

  So as I slowly, peach by peach, peeled each one, this morning, and placed them in their jars, I thought about how it was like putting hope into tomorrow.  Saving some goodness for the future.  Something to look forward to!

  Sometimes, in the midst of life's tragedies, it helps to be acquainted with the mundane, to tackle the ordinary, to remind ourselves that life goes on... and yet I am mindful - always - of people who grieve in my community, in my world... of those who have huge challenges to overcome.

  Perhaps many of us are inundated with the sad news of the world - we hear it on the news daily, it is hard to escape it.  And I have to remind myself, that the majority is just fine, and the world keeps turning, and God keeps loving in the midst of it all.

  And He sends the goodness of peaches and many other things that remind us of the goodness of life - which for today, was preserved in a jar.  It's all about hope...

 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pain

  Pain was on my mind today.

  I see a lot of pain.  Physical pain, emotional pain, mental and spiritual.  Pain colors your world.  It becomes hard to function.  I see it when I visit in the hospital.  But I see it many other places as well..

  I know this for myself.  I have experienced a lot of body pain since a fall earlier in the spring, and have been working to get a handle on it.  I've seen the doctor, been to physio, and am trying all kinds of new exercises to work it out...

  Sometimes I am thankful for pain.  It keeps me in touch.  I become more careful in taking care of the body God has given me, but more than that, it gives me emotional awareness to what others might be feeling.

  When I see someone who is depressed, or irritated, or even angry, or shut down, I am more in tune with the fact there may be reasons why.  At times we are so quick to judge.

  There are many who suffer with silent pain, with chronic pain.  They look well; they function at a certain level, but they are hurting.  And it is hard to talk about pain.  Certainly most people do not want pity, and don't want to come across as feeling sorry for themselves, or worse yet, a hypochondriac.

  Those in pain need dignity and understanding.  There are times when my heart aches for others  - and I long to take away their pain.  I have seen raw grief, and have felt physically the hurt - it is so deep.  One of the hard things of life is that there are things we simply can not fix.

  What we can offer is hope.  Hope and understanding, and care and compassion.  A listening ear.  We live in a broken world where there is hurting people.  I am glad the God I serve is the God of all comfort... although I've also learned to run to him with my honest feelings - which can include frustration and despair at times.

 I read part of Psalm 23 today with some of the patients I see:  "Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil... for You are with Me".  That is what I hang on to, and pass on... God is with us, even in our pain.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Truth and Wisdom

  There are two things I often pray for.  That I would know truth, and know wisdom.  That I would live life reflecting these attributes.

  As I was thinking of this today, I realized I wanted more... the third thing I would pray for is love.  True love that is unconditional.

  All of these attributes, I believe, are unattainable at their perfect level here on earth...but are things we can pray for and desire, and hopefully live reflecting their pure qualities.

  I used to see truth as very black and white.  Certainly it is absolute, but I have seen how it can be abused... Truth can be seen as opinion, and interpretation, of living life as we have learned it and believe it should be.  It reminds me of a conversation... what she said, what I thought she said, what she really meant... where is the truth in that?

  When I read the scripture, the Holy pages; I sometimes get discouraged at the vast differences of opinion, and strong opinion about how they are interpreted.  There is the funny story that Tony Compolo tells of denominational differences, where he says, in regards to baptism, "they do it their way... but we do it "God's way""!!  (not a direct quote).  It seems many of us are convinced we do it "God's way"... really?????

  Are we not a product of our culture, of our upbringing, of the church where we hung our hat?  We think we have a corner on the truth, but do we really listen to what God is saying to us?  These have been hard questions for me..

  I've come to the place where I don't think we really know what God's way is at all.  His way is so above us, so vast, that can it really be understood?  The way He showed love to Nicodemus in John 3, and responded to the woman at the well of Samaria... touching people where they were at; very differently for each specific situation, not according to a formula...

  How do I respond to Jesus?  How can I learn from Him?  These are questions I ask.  Because the more I study, the more I realize I don't know anything at all...

  Perhaps to become wise is to become empty, and to ask God to fill the empty spaces of the heart.  I love that scripture where it encourages us to ask for wisdom, for He will give it!  But I am also reminded of the verses that tell us that every attribute is nothing without the gift of love.

  On the first day of my classes at Carey Theological, our gentle professor told us that we needed to find space to listen, even when what we heard might not always fit our theological box.  He cupped his hands, and we followed his lead, and then spread his fingers apart and showed us how we needed to sift through all we heard and learned.  Some of it we would hold in our hands, and the rest we would let go.

  It seemed so respectful, and I have often thought about that picture.  To listen, to have an open heart to what God is saying to me, and what I don't understand, I can let go with love.  Not judgement, but love.

  So today, again, I asked for the gifts of truth and wisdom...and love.  And I am grateful for all He is teaching me.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Finding Serenity in a not-so-perfect Garden

  Bugs and heat and perhaps even a little neglect have taken over in the garden.  After a cold, wet start, many of the plants are now drooping in the hot sun and looking rather parched.  I find this time of year difficult in the garden; many of the plants have stopped blooming; some have gone to seed, some of the brilliance has definitely waned.  The petunias died altogether; I guess they didn't like the combination, or perhaps the sweet williams were a little too pushy and I didn't make enough room for co-existence...

  A master gardener I am not.  I am a happy novice, experimenting, trying this and that; each year a new experience with the constant variables of weather, soil, and time I have to spend.  I probably could use a lot of advice and spend a whole lot more money...

  At this time of year one has to finally accept what is.  I can't roll back the months to spring and replant or reseed.  I can clean out, prune, and just enjoy the produce of the present.  And truly I am.  The kale has been hardy, although somewhat holey due to bugs and we have enjoyed it in shakes, in stir-fries, in omelets... as well as the swiss chard and lettuce.  I have a lovely bunch of beet greens with baby beets ready to steam up for supper tonight... yum.  The raspberries have been so lovely and I am very sad, as always this time of year, to see their season end.  But the blackberries have tinges of red and are promising a lovely harvest...
The tomatoes might be lacking, but I know I can always go to our local farm and pick what I need for the winter months.

  I always find the garden a teacher to me... how like life it is.  When we reach the late summers of our lives and the autumns we can't go back.  The time for yesterday is gone, and we live with what is... Perhaps it is a time to be thankful, rather than wishing for the "what if's", or "if only's"... Hindsight is only useful when we can learn from it and move on.

  I read in a pamphlet the other day of a woman who was very sick and she was asked what she would like to pray for... Her response was thankfulness for the health she had.  That really hit me.  So often it is easy to complain about the health I don't have, or the limitations, instead of being filled with gratefulness for all the gifts I DO have...

  No my garden is not perfect... nor is my life.  But I do feel overwhelmed by gratefulness for all the gifts I do have... health, family, wonderful friends, a deep faith.  Serenity to accept the not-so-perfect, and see the beauty... this is the lesson of the garden for today.



 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Why Olympics? - Through the eyes of a 17 year old.

  It was 1976, and it was the year of the Olympics, held that year in our own country, in Montreal... I was 18, young, idealistic, and questioning.

  I also had been introduced to Seventeen Magazine, and it opened my eyes to the world... I lived in a small village, was a pastor's kid, watched TV very rarely.  My world had walls, and reading such magazines opened my eyes to other opinions, lifestyles.  The new intern who came to help at our little church was newly married, and his wife had stacks of the magazines.  I was hooked..

  During those years Seventeen had an opinion column, and since I loved to write, I decided to submit a piece on "Why Olympics?".

  I was thrilled when I learned I would be published, and the little piece appeared 40 years ago.. (why does that make me feel so old???), in July.  My idealism took a bit of a hit when they edited the piece rather harshly, and I wondered if it was completely my opinion any more... and they had my age wrong.

  Still... heady stuff back then, and I even earned $100 for it.  I still have the receipt, found it this morning with the article, and some not so favorable mail I received in response.

  That is one thing about opinions... they can change.

  Today I love the Olympics, although some of my concerns remain the same.  With large networks and instant television and internet, and social media, we can almost feel we are there.

  They create a sense of pride - I remember watching the opening of the Vancouver games in Phoenix Arizona, and feeling proud of the country I love.

  The Olympics encourage excellence in athletes and a goal to work for.  When I was a teen, I hated sports.  I lived in a culture - perhaps some of it was small town - where if you were not good in sports you were not welcome to participate.  I felt awkward and avoided gym whenever I could.  My physical education teacher did not help.

  Today, I am glad to see the emphasis has changed to exercising for health.  I am not an athlete, but I know the importance of exercise and take it pretty seriously.

  So go Canada go... I'll be watching.  And when I'm not, I might just get up off that couch and go for a walk!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Late Bloomer

On my morning walk, we often climb these stairs that overlook Okanagan Lake.  I usually pause partly up, and stretch.. it is a good excuse to catch my breath!

  In front of my stretching post is this tree, and I've wondered about it the last few months... it was completely barren, not a leaf in sight.  The tree did not look unhealthy, but certainly seemed naked in the heat of summer.

  Until two days ago, when I spotted three new buds... beautiful, green, fresh.

  I have no idea what kind of tree this is but it fascinated me.  A late bloomer, that is for sure!

  I thought of hope.  Hope is like faith... believing in the unseen, even when the odds seem impossible.  That something beautiful can come when things are barren, but there was life there all along.

  Sometimes I feel like a bit of a late-bloomer... going back to school in my fifties; thinking about new directions in my life. Out of dark places in my life has burst new hope for life, for possibilities, for work God has for me.  It is exciting, but sometimes I doubt the process, and even myself.  ... and then God plants a tree in my path, and again I see that hope and faith were there all along... I just had to believe!