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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Holy Presence

  We have just completed the seven weeks of Easter.  This is the first year in my 54 years that I was even aware of seven weeks of remembering; in my own faith tradition we have not often observed the Church Calendar, and it was my dad, who has studied and taught from the Bible for most of his 80+ years who asked me why Easter was only a one day celebration after the long period of lent.  To my delight, I discovered we could celebrate for seven more weeks!!

  As I have become more familiar with the liturgical calendar and it's rhythms, I begin to understand the wisdom of those in the early church who marked these days so we would remember our roots.  So I have thought about that these last seven weeks as it seemed the whole world around me became awake and alive in the rebirth of spring - it seemed to me the earth, the creation of God, was celebrating Easter and rebirth, and the miracles of life, everywhere I looked.

  On Sunday, it was the Day of Pentecost.  Again, not a day we often pay any attention to, but an important day in the year of the church calendar, an important event that affects any Christian.  For those who are unfamiliar with Pentecost, the disciples waited together for this promise of Jesus - the coming of the Holy Spirit, which is described in the book of Acts.

  For it was Jesus who promised us the coming of the Holy Spirit, and I love how Catherine Marshall refers to him in her classic book "The Helper".

  It is amazing to me that a Holy God would choose to send His Son, and then a Holy presence, which is also called a Comforter.  "And I will ask the Father and He will give you another Comforter to be with you forever - the Spirit of Truth." (John 14)

  I think of my little grandsons and their little comforters - they love their blankets which they snuggle in and they fall asleep with - it is a picture of peace and safety and trust.

  When I was eight I remember asking the Holy Spirit to fill me... I didn't fully understand what that meant, but I knew I needed a presence other than I.. and I believe that this Holy Presence is available to all who just ask..

  As I have observed over the years, there has been a reaction to the Holy Spirit; for a while there was teaching "out there" which said you hadn't received the spirit unless you spoke in tongues or had other such confirmations, and there are others who have been repelled by over emotionalism or services with lots of commotion and disorder.

   Sometimes we miss the beauty of God's gifts.  As I have written about, we can be overwhelmed by differences of opinion, different denominational ways of doing things, react to teachings we don't understand, or our own bad experiences within the church.  Our humanness taints all of it.

  So as I sat in a church on Sunday, with the richness of an old church building and the deep organ sounds surrounding me singing the old hymns of the faith, I was filled with gratefulness that even though we don't always get it right, we can reach out to God and ask again for this beautiful gift of the Spirit - to fill us, to teach us Truth, to give us this comforting presence of God in us.  It is an awesome thought - not to be completely understood, but one to simply accept - a sweet presence of a God who loves and cares for us deeply and who has promised not to leave us.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Miracle of Babies and the Art of Letting Go

  On March 13, a date that is significant to me, I planted seeds.  Seeds of hope, seeds with life!  I had for the first time ever, harvested my own tomato seeds the year before and they were planted, along with watermelon, cucumber and various squash.  Steve, my hubby had purchased a mini-greenhouse for me, so I watched them carefully on my patio as they weathered the cold spring, and there were times where I thought that I would be throwing little pots of dirt away...

  Then finally... oh, so exciting... these little seeds sprouted.  It has been slow going - especially for the tomatoes.  I think I learned (and I am willing to listen to any advice out there), that I should have started them in the warmth of the indoors, greenhouse or not... So they had a rather slow start, but now have their secondary leaves and yesterday I transferred them to large pots.

And then last night we listened to the news and the local weather person said... "Cold night tonight!"... and I spent an hour making little tents out of plastic and hoping they would be warm enough.  And sure enough when I woke up this morning, the tomatoes were fine, but a fierce wind had knocked over the watermelon... which survived... and all my mothering instincts were quite alive and well.

  It made me think of life... my own children, and my grandchildren.  We love and nourish and protect, but there comes a time when we have to set them out into the world - where sometimes it is harsh and cold and windy.  Or this week, for example, my littlest grandson took his first tentative steps and I watched his parents let him go... knowing he would fall, for that is how he learns... but the great delight in this huge accomplishment.

  Life is full of that... nurturing, caring for, loving, but not hanging on to.  Not always easy.  It is much easier to be a controller (I really dislike the word control freak), because often people who control have the best motivations at heart.  But in order to thrive, my wee little plants need to harden in the big world of the garden, and yes, they are at risk to bugs, and disease, and even my lack of knowledge.

  And the miracle is that even though I might not do it all right, some of them will thrive and produce.  It never ceases to amaze me that a tiny seed can grow to a mighty plant.  Watching my rhubarb grow from a tiny growth in the ground to a large bush bearing huge stocks in less than a month is nothing short of a miracle.  (Anyone want rhubarb?).  I love implanting the leaves into clay and making dishes out of them - to me it is the imprint of God... who gives us life, and leaves His imprint on each one... it is said we are made in His likeness, and what could be more miraculous than that?

  I love the lessons of the garden.

watermelon babies.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Fleeting beauty of Lilacs... and Life.

The May air has been heavy with the scent of lilacs these past two weeks... it is a beautiful scent, strong to some, perhaps, but has an old-fashioned smell to it, that makes one think of grandmothers, and mothers, and spring and freshness.

  I am able to enjoy these lilacs without planting them, both my neighbours to my right, and to my left have planted them along the borders of our property, so I have the benefit of the beauty and smell and enjoy them each spring.

They are fleeting.  They come into their beauty, such as they are right at this moment, and all it will take is a rather hot day, or some rain, or a wind-storm, and their beauty will quickly fade into a memory, one that will have to last until next year when we do it all over again.

  As I was thinking about the beauty of lilacs and their short life, I was reminded this week of how life is like that.  Two women I know became widows this week.  Suddenly, without warning, life as they have known it has come to an abrupt halt.  Two men have left this earth... and I think about the legacy they leave behind... a fragrance if you will... of integrity, family values, faith in God, love for others.

  Life is short, it is fleeting.  We really don't like to think about it... I have been forced to think of it more, when faced with my own health crisis last year.  This past winter and spring I have had the opportunity to take a palliative care course which is all about caring for the dying and their families.  There is an avoidance out there of these topics - they are uncomfortable.  Our first assignment was to write our own obituary, and I did not enjoy it.  And yet, it is a good exercise to reflect on how I live my life, how I want to be remembered, will there be a lasting fragrance?

  And yet, today, I live in the dash, that dash between birth and death.  As I celebrate the beauty of the lilacs which spill over into my yard, I want to celebrate life, to live it to the full.  To breathe in the beauty, to open my eyes to all the wonders around me, to love my fellow man.  It is a good reminder to take time to smell the flowers, to celebrate life today, and to remember those who have gone on... leaving their fragrance behind.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Truth Matters - Love Wins

  I've written about opinions before, and lately I've been wrapping my mind around denominational differences within the church, and the vast amount of differing opinions out there in our churches, in our culture, within the human race.

  Faith in God is foundational for me; my faith in our Creator has sustained me through deep waters, and knowing and trusting and believing that there is a God who knows me, who loves me deeply, who is interested in my very life is more important to me than everything else.

  What often makes me sad is the vast differences we share; and out of that, the conclusions we reach about one another... I loved a quote by Tony Compolo I heard years ago, where he was describing denominational matters and he said - you can do it your way, but we do it (and he looks upwards)... God's way!  Not a direct quote, but how I remember it.

  It comes down to interpretation often, interpretation of the scriptures, which we all color with our own culture, the way we have been taught, the way our church leaders have taught us, the translations we use and it goes on and on...  I found the course I took a couple of years ago quite helpful where I read "How to read the Bible for all it's Worth" by Fee and Stuart quite helpful, because it helped me to take a step back in understanding the Scriptures and take more objective point of view.  It helped me to understand the culture in which the Bible was written, to understand the forms of writing it was written - a very practical guide.

  There will always be opinions and debates.  Some of us enjoy that process more than others.  For me, personally, I am a peacemaker at heart and always seem to long for peaceful resolution.  Which I honestly realize might not be possible this side of heaven.  But my daily prayer is "Lord, teach me YOUR truth, teach me YOUR wisdom"... for I know in my human state, I really can't and won't understand the full picture.

  In the end, Love will win.  The fact that God IS love is amazing.  He loves, and He commands us to love.  To love, even when I don't understand another, even when I disagree with another, even when I am different from another, is a command.  We are to be known for our love.  Love over judgement, love over hate, love over asserting myself.  I pray I do this well...and even there, I know I will fail.  And the amazing thing is that we can rest - rest in the love of God, Himself, who loves us as we are.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Vulnerability of Motherhood

   This weekend is all about mothers.  The great advertising campaign has almost wrapped up, and the flower prices are up.  Bouquets are everywhere and suggestions of the perfect gift for the perfect mom... it is one of the most hyped up days of the year.

  And it IS a good day...Anna Jarvis started the tradition in 1908, a memorial to her own mother, but she herself was disappointed by the over-commercialization of this holiday by the 1920's.

  I have often thought of it as a vulnerable day... one of those days where we want to create perfect memories with perfect mothers... but that, of course, is quite unattainable.  As I have grown and matured I realize more than ever that the perfection I desired as a young mom set me up for disappointment - disappointment in myself, and yes, even in my wonderful children.

  Not only do I deal with my own imperfection, and longings, and desires - have you heard that a mother is happiest when her children are happy? Motherhood is an investment - in the life of another, and with this is the deepest emotions of wonder and joy and protection and love.  It is very difficult to be objective as a mom.  It is difficult to let go.  But let go we must as we prepare our children to live their own lives, separate from our own.

  When it comes to Mother's Day, I am also very aware of those for whom this day is one of sadness, those who have the loss of a dream - those who cannot be mothers, but so very much want to be - those whose child has died, in the womb, or at any age, there cannot be anything much more painful.  There are mothers whose loved children are in trouble, on the streets, missing or incarcerated.  We don't think about their disenfranchised grief, but it is there, none the less.  There are those who are grieving their mothers who are in heaven, for some it seems far too soon...

  And yet, in the midst of all this honesty, it is a day to celebrate and be thankful!  We all have a mom; it is our passage here to earth, and I am grateful for life itself, and for the part my mother played in getting me here!  When I think of all the work it is to raise little ones (and I am reminded of that every day I see my lovely daughters with their toddler sons), I am thankful for all the work, and sacrifice, and love, and all the extras my mom invested in my life.

  Even now,  my mom is greatly admired by many as she bravely fights her cancer battle, and certainly that does NOT define her life... no, she would rather be defined by her steady faith in God, in her love for others shown by volunteering at the Mission, and hosting countless meals, and other social events.  She is the queen of "skinny pancakes", a favourite of my father's, and my children think it is the best meal ever and love to get an invitation - I believe that will happen this weekend as we celebrate together!!

  I'm thankful for my grandmothers, both who were loving and invested time and caring and listening and praying and warm hugs into my life.  I remember the sewing, of barbie dresses and doll blankets, and their special cooking that reminded me of grandma.

  I'm thankful for my daughters who also are investing in their little ones, and I want to cheer them on in this often thankless, demanding, exhausting job, but one that is also filled with so many rewards.  And the daughter who chooses to be a wonderful auntie, I see her investment in our family as well.

  Motherhood is not always biological, it is about nurturing others, about loving unconditionally, about being a listening ear, and providing a warm heart and a safe place to hang your hat.

  And so to all... including my own dear mother, I wish you moments of joy with those you love... in the end it is the people in our lives that we cherish and hold dear, and never want to take for granted.

  (this pic was taken on Mother's Day 9 years ago - three generations in the hills of Vernon - my mom, me, and my daughter, Leanne, who is now a mom herself!)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Red Coat

  We were talking about Schindler's List the other day, that epic movie by Steven Spielberg which tells the haunting story of Jews being rescued from certain annihilation during the dark days of the Holocaust.

  There is a startling scene in that movie - filmed in black and white - of a little girl in a red coat.  The color pierces the darkness and we are drawn to it, as we are drawn to light in the middle of darkness.  A symbol of hope, perhaps?

  In this Easter season following Easter (which we never talk about, but there it was, firmly on the church calender), I have often thought of the world bursting to life, as a celebration of the Resurrection.  

  The little watermelon seeds which were grey and dark have burst into green leaves, and the broken seed is but a remnant hanging on to the edge of a very fragile new leaf.  It is hard, even at this point to imagine, this tiny plant growing and bursting to hold a strong and heavy fruit, which promises visions of red sweetness... I can taste it already.

  The whole earth seems to burst forth in color this time of year... the hills around me are alive with the fresh green of spring, the brown twigs of trees seem suddenly dressed in soft new green clothes.  Blossoms of every color burst forth, yellows, pinks, lavenders, and the yellow sunflowers that come each spring are in full bloom.

  The darkness of winter is transformed into the joy and light of spring, it seems the whole earth is alive with resurrection - which brings hope, and light, and joy.

  I think about this sometimes when I walk into the hospital.  It can be a dark place; there are wards where people are not able to be outside for days; for weeks; trapped by their bodies, by their infirmities, some by their advancing age... one of my nurse friends the other day was describing her new scrubs - they were bright, loud and cheerful.  Some of the older school nurses might struggle with the new casual garb of nurses, but for all intensive purposes it is practical, and bright ... and happy!

  Really, it is not about clothes, but I often think about what I will wear on these visits.  I want to be bright and cheery while not drawing attraction to myself.  Sometimes a bright scarf will actually bring color into a room...but more than than, it is about bringing joy, a smile, a word of encouragement.

  It is a gift we all can give... and receive... to bring color into people's lives.  I think of those who have done it for me - given me hope when life was challenging and hard.  It was a gift that Schindler gave in one of the darkest periods of our planet - a gift of hope and a challenge to look ahead to better days.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Under the light of the Moon

  We spent the last two nights at a delightful Bed and Breakfast near Kimberly, BC.  It was nestled between scenes of snow-covered mountains, and an active little river that we could watch from our windows, or from the patio.

  It happened to be the time of a full moon, and each night, from our bed, the moon - which appears extra large this May - seemed to beam into our window and seemed almost magical.  We had just enjoyed the visiting of the deer - a little flock that grazed each evening in the field behind the house and then all lay down for an evening nap.  Now... is a group of deer a flock?

  Nope, I'm wrong... according to Wiki, they are a herd, or a mob.  They really didn't seem too "mobbish" to me, just intent on eating their supper and curiously looking at us, wondering what all the fuss was about.

  But, back to the moon... what is with our fascination with the moon?  I have always found it quite romantic and love to gaze at its beauty.  We love the Christmas Show, "It's a Wonderful Life" where George Bailey vows to "lasso the moon!" for Mary.   My hubby Steve and I have tried to re-enact the scene, but the moon remains mysterious and illusive, just beyond our reach.

  I have a lovely book about going for a walk with the moon - which is one of my grandson's favourite... "I took the moon for a walk last night... it followed behind like a still summer kite"... it is quite delightful.  (by Carolyn Curtis and Alison Jay).  The moon invokes our imaginations, the last report on its ingredients were reported by our little nephew who announced last summer that contrary to popular opinion the moon is NOT made of cheese... but of chocolate chip cookies...

  Perhaps what is most endearing about the moon is that it connects us all...  my son in S. Carolina will see the same moon as I, and the distance between us doesn't seem so great.  When his dad was dying, we would stare at the moon, night after night, on that warm September month in 1995 and imagine what heaven would be like. What is up there, beyond us, beyond our reach?  What will it look like?

  So as I stare at the moon, it draws me; it stirs my imagination, it comforts me.  And when you look up into it's big white face, you might think of me, and yes we are connected by it's beauty.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

For the birds

  I heard the birds at 5 am this morning - I'm not sure who was awake first, but I do love the sounds of singing birds and waking up to them.  Some of them have such joyful sounds.

  A few minutes later I heard a gaggle of geese fly by - honking away.  Do you ever wonder what they are saying?  But saying it they are, and rather loudly it seems to me; like they are communicating air traffic control signals or something else of equal importance.

  We feed the birds at our house; we have a bird feeder near the rose bushes at our front window, and one of my favourite things to do is just to watch... sometimes it seems as if they are having a party, and other times a hen fight; pecking over which gets the tastiest morsel.  We've had finches, and sparrows and chickadees.  I'm not that great at identifying them; my first husband Andy loved to do that and would pour over his bird book and carefully write down all the species he saw.  My daughter Karen inherited that bird book - she too loves the birds and has taken some amazing pictures over the years.  My son Steve has as well...

  Sometimes when I go for a walk I pass by a tree just full of bird song; it almost sounds like they are having an important committee meeting!

  This week I gave a little devotional about birds at one of the services I hold on one of the wards at the hospital.  There are passages from scripture which talk about God's great care for us - that He sees each sparrow; He knows when they fall, and how much more He cares for us... such comforting words.

  Birds have played a significant part in my own grief journey over the years.  I tell the story in my book about the eagle I saw the morning Andy died.... we had talked in the days preceding his death about his being released from pain, and he loved the verse from Isaiah 40 which says "They that  wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary" (Isaiah 40:31)

  The morning he died, I had to make the hour and a half trek to the funeral home to make arrangements, and as we were leaving North Bend (near Boston Bar where we lived), out of the sky flew an eagle, and flew very close to the car... it took my breath away, and I knew it was not a coincidence... I was convinced that day that God himself sent an eagle to comfort me.

  A similar experience occurred a few years ago, as I prayed for a friend who was dying.  I was at work, and all of a sudden heard a bird right outside my office window; it just seemed to tap against the wall and hover for a minute... it was quite strange, really, and I don't know if it was a wood pecker or what kind of bird.  But it made itself known and then flew away... I looked at the clock and noted the time... my mind was on my friend who was a hospice house.  Not an hour passed when I got the call - she had died - almost at exactly the time of the bird's visit.

  Now some might struggle with my story, but I've heard enough stories that are similar to this that I have come to strongly believe that God can use anything - and in my life he has used beautiful birds - to send a comforting message to me.  

  So when I hear the birds sing, it fills me with joy and I want to sing back.  They are part of the incredible creation all around which we enjoy each and every day.