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Welcome to my blog! Of course if we were visiting in person, I'd have the teapot out and we could sit and chat.
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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Mercy - a prayer for the New Year

This will be my last post for 2015.  As I was pondering the commencement of a new year, I thought about what I wold like to focus on this coming year.

I'm not going to list resolutions.  Most of the time they fail.  Earlier this year I bought one of those devices that track your steps.  I was so excited.  Then I became discouraged.  The little watch like monitor was not very kind, and I found myself short of the goal - many days.  I will even admit that there were days I paced the hall and ran up and down the stairs a few times just to say "So there!".

When I lost the thing, my husband laughed and said my guilt was gone.  So now I try to stay as active as I can - and don't worry about numbers.  For others it might work much better!

A few years ago I thought about a theme for the year, and I chose gratitude.  That was a positive spiritual exercise I would like to repeat.  When I was thinking about what word I should choose to dwell on the word "mercy" came to mind.

I have a funny story about mercy.  Years ago when my parents were vacationing at a family cabin in 108 Mile House, in the interior of BC, they had a dog trail them as they were walking home.  Definitely not "dog people" they tried to shew the dog away.  But she would not give up and clung to them in an unusual fashion.  "Mercy!" my mom kept saying, but this little dog had found them and wouldn't leave.

When their vacation was done, and all attempts to find an owner failed, they ended up taking the dog home.  And Mercy - yes, they named her Mercy, became their beloved dog for the next number of years.

My two girls, a long time ago!  Mercy is the dog on the right, a dog loved by the whole family.

Mercy is a beautiful gift.  Mom and Dad showed mercy to a helpless dog, and she gave us the gift of love and companionship for many years.

Mercy is a word used often in scriptures, describing God as a God of mercy, a God of compassion.  I draw great comfort from that.  

So as we close the chapter on 2015, and enter into 2016, I love to do it with a prayer.  Here is a wonderful one-line prayer from Jude, my prayer for each of us this year. 

"May mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance."    (Jude 1:2 NRSV)





Tuesday, December 29, 2015

When the New Year Comes without You

It was twenty years ago that I faced my first year without my husband, a first for me and my children.  I remember it well, and I remember being surprised at the depth of emotion that welled within me.

I realized in my head that it was just the next day in the calendar, but walking into an uncertain future; my heart wasn't so sure.  The new year felt daunting and frightening.

I remember well the evening, New Years Eve of 1995.  We were at my parents, my grandmother still alive; and they were singing songs.  I couldn't sing for my sadness, and was an observer.  Grandma, who rarely was able to communicate fully anymore knew all the words.  Music can do that for people.  And I remember she had whispered, why not me?  At 91, she was quite ready for heaven.

And indeed, the following June, close to her birthday, she slipped away.

And the years too have slipped away, one after another, as they are apt to do.

Two years ago I experienced the first Christmas without my mom, and I think of her every day.  This time of year is especially tender, for she entered fully into the Christmas spirit, and we celebrated together.  Every New Years she would make "New Year's Cookies", a deep-fried Mennonite fritter, and just thinking of that brings smells to my nose and a taste to my tongue that is unique to this time of year.

This year, 2015, we said good-bye to several of my hubby's family, all within months of each other.  Brother Larry died in March after fighting cancer with all his might, our first Christmas without him.  And then their dad died, and an uncle.  A generation now gone.  A new year without them.

There are days when we feel young.  And then there are days, when the waitress slaps down the menu, seniors menu's conveniently placed on top, and we realize we are becoming the elders.

A New Year is always full of promise.  For us our little grandchildren hold the promise of tomorrow, with their bright and sunny faces.

I am always reminded, especially this time of year, for those who grieve.  For many, this is a first... a first Christmas, a New Year without someone who was deeply loved and who is dearly missed.  And as the sun sets on 2015, and will rise again, some will feel pangs of sadness.

And yet a New Year always comes with a gift of hope.  There is hope of spring, hope of new possibilities, hope of good things to come.  We hold on to the promise we will see our loved ones again.  We can trust in the promise that joy comes after mourning.

I'm always reluctant to say "Happy New Year".  Like "Merry Christmas" it can have a false jolliness that is not always genuine or felt.  These words run off our tongues like the rote greetings they are, and I sometimes long for old greetings like "Peace and Grace be yours", or "God be with you".  True beautiful words of comfort, more easily written than said.

And so, as we enter this New Year, peace and grace be yours, and if you are mourning, may you be comforted.




Sunday, December 20, 2015

They say "Merry Christmas"

I wrote this simple poem three years ago when I was searching for a poem to share at a Christmas service at the hospital.

We say "Merry Christmas" so easily, it has been on my tongue and spoken dozens of times in the past days.  But I know all too well that the "Merry" can be a painful word for those who are very sick, for those who are grieving, for those who are lonely, for those who long for connection, for those whose families struggle.

This is the truth of it.  We long for the perfect picture, the happy feelings, and want to be on the perfect Christmas card, feeling joyful and peaceful.

Here is the poem, and please feel free to pass it on if it strikes a chord with you.  And may your Christmas be gentle, filled with hope,  knowing you are loved.

They say “Merry Christmas”
but not all is so bright
somewhere there are soldiers in terrible plight
somewhere there is a child who is hungry and cold
Who doesn't know Christmas the way it is told.
There are those who are grieving someone who has died
And the empty space in their hearts cannot be denied
Oh they say “Merry Christmas”
but not all are well,
For those who are sick, in body and soul
Christmas can definitely take a great toll.
And yet, if you think to that first Christmas morn
Not all was that merry before Christ was born.
Mary and Joseph a long journey to take
A baby was coming, much was at stake
No room to be found, no comforts of home
The Christ child was born in the midst of a barn
The mystery of Christmas, that God would be man
Could Mary and Joseph really understand?
We look back to that Christmas with awe and with wonder
And like Mary, we stop and we ponder
Perhaps the true Christmas begins in the heart
Not always merry, but where hope finds its start
There is hope in the Christ child,
And faith, peace and love
May the true spirit of Christmas

Touch us from above.   

–Grace Wulff 
written December 24 2011


These beautiful snow-covered branches greeted me near the hospital parking lot as I went to work this week.   God's gift - a beautiful Christmas greeting for all who walked by that morning.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Ode to Joy on a not-so Silent Night

I grew up listening to classical music, and "Ode to Joy" is the final movement of Beethoven's final symphony, Symphony No. 9.

It is a triumphant piece of music, the most amazing part being that Beethoven wrote it without being able to hear the actual music, other than in his own head, for he was stone-deaf at that time.

Years later, Henry van Dyke wrote the words to the familiar hymn "Joyful, Joyful, we Adore Thee", (1907), setting it to the famous melody "Ode to Joy".

The words are ageless, and powerful.  Verse four says:

Mortals join the mighty chorus
which the morning stars began;
Father-love is reigning o'er us,
brother-love binds man to man. (don't you just resonate with that?)
Ever singing, march we onward,
victors in the midst of strife
joyful music lifts us sunward
in the triumph song of life.

Oh yes.  Music that gives us hope, marches us toward victory, ever knowing that there is a Father loving us,
and we are bound, one to another in love... powerful, indeed.

In the midst of this joyful sound, I also thought of the favourite carol, Silent Night.  I wrote a blog some years ago, that was one of my most read pieces.  It talks about the not-so Silent Night.

Therein is the paradox - in the midst of a broken world, terror threats, both now and then, people yearning for hope, for a promise of a better life, joy breaks forth as the skies open with angels singing - joyful songs of peace.  I'm not too sure the night was silent on that occasion!

Do the angels sing today? As I pondered that thought, I was reminded of the amazing gift of music and how it touches a deep place in the soul.  Yesterday I witnessed a miracle - in a hospital ward, with patients with advanced dementia.   We were singing Christmas carols with them.  One precious lady tried to dance in her wheelchair, her eyes as bright as the sun, and two others whom I was told rarely spoke, were singing, full-on singing.  Another dear man, tears rolling down his cheeks, his heart moved by the music.

Oh yes, joyful music lifts us sunward, joyful sounds even in the darkest of places.  That is the gift of Christmas.  On a not-so Silent night, joy came, and hope in the form of a tiny baby, God among us, Emmanuel.



Saturday, December 12, 2015

Joy with an Exclamation Mark

I have a hard time writing the word joy... without an exclamation mark!

It just seems to belong - a word with exuberance, with deep emotion, a heart full of happiness and peace and love... this would equal joy in my thoughts.


Of course, joy can be elusive.

Especially at this time of year, and I know this well, as I work at a hospital.  Depression is common and debilitating.  Illness, loss of health, tragedy weigh heavily, and seem even more difficult around the Christmas season.

 I've experienced it myself. And wanting to be authentic and honest, joy is not always felt.  Although it is the desire of my and many a heart.

I remember well a Christmas in 1995, and I, a new widow with three teenagers had an aching heart.  And I could not sing the words that year "Joy to the World."  They stuck in my throat.

Shortly after Christmas, I remember asking a Hospice worker if I would ever be happy again.  For I was certain I wouldn't, that was the depth of my sadness.  And she assured me, yes... but it would take time, and that I needed to embrace my grief, as it was.

And so I did, one day at a time, choosing to live, choosing to love.

Two Christmases later my children pulled out some old slides and wanted a picture slide show.  My heart sank, for I knew for certain I would start to cry - and that bothered me... and them.  But to my surprise, as we rolled through our memories, beautiful pictures, I was able to laugh and smile as I remembered.  It was a moment of joy for me!  And a lovely discovery that grief would not always grip my heart.

Joy can come in the moments.  Life is a fabric of sorrow and joy, good times and bad, the sweet with the bitter.  If I've learned anything is that there can be wonderful moments, like rays of sunshine in the clouds that draw you to joy.

I've been drawn to the Christmas words this year... hope, peace, joy.  It was the angels who were exuberant that night in Bethlehem, shouting joy from the heavens.  Their joy, contagious for the shepherds, who were terrified at first, then found courage to go looking for a miracle!

To me, that is the miracle - finding joy in the darkest of places.  This is the message of faith, the hope that joy will come.  With an exclamation!




Saturday, December 5, 2015

Peace on Earth

When I started posting Advent Thoughts on my Face Book Page Grace Notes Thoughts and Prayers, this week, I didn't fully understand how sitting with these beautiful advent words would affect my own preparations for Christmas.

The ancient prophet Jeremiah said "When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and delight." (15:16)  When we sit with a word, or phrase, it can become alive, it can be like spiritual food!  And if you are not on Face Book, and want the daily thoughts on advent, let me know, I'll try to find a way to send them to you.

I've thought a lot about hope this week, how it turns our hearts toward eternity, how it strengthens our faith in things unseen, how a seed of hope can be planted in the darkest of places.

And now we turn to Peace, in this second week of Advent.

To be truthful, this word has troubled me this last week.  We use this word almost flippantly, and we see it often this time of year, on our Christmas Cards, on our decorations, in our media feed.

And in truth, we long for it.

But we know, in the images we see, and the news reports we read, that we are far from peace in this troubled world.  We still are shaken with the terrorism in Paris, and this week in California.  And often what doesn't even make the news are the atrocities in Nigeria, and Beirut and other countries, where violence almost seems a way of life.

The fact is, we become afraid.  We become protective.  And sometimes I am conflicted, because even as we so recently took solemn silence to remember our soldiers on Remembrance Day, and are so grateful for their sacrifice and for our freedom, the fact of the matter is that I absolutely HATE war.

In truth, I am at heart a pacifist, and I come by it honestly, with my Mennonite Heritage.  But I have always despised hurting another, and have a hard time even comprehending what would cause human beings to destroy other human beings.

When I was a young mother, I hated guns so much I banned my children from playing with them.  But kids are creative and before I knew it the Lego blocks became guns and the childhood games had begun.

Is there violence in our hearts?

When I look, deep inside, I see those tendencies to self-preserve, to protect.  I can become jealous or angry, or even rude.

So peace becomes a choice, a way of life.  As that beautiful song says "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me".

I love the greeting "Peace to You", I like it far better than "How are You?, but it seems awkward and archaic.  Perhaps I'll work on that this week.

As we enter this Advent week of Peace, it is my prayer.  May Peace reign in our hearts.   Peace to you, my friend.