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My last remaining aunt passed away yesterday (at the time of this writing). She was my mom’s youngest sister at 88, but her health wasn’t good. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it always is. This passing. This finality.

The past few years have reduced the family generation above me to nothing. My dad’s been gone for twenty-five years, and even though he came from a large family, all his siblings and their spouses are also deceased.

Marg – Mom (2), Erna (5), Mary (1) Beth (4), Kay (3)

My mom was the second-born of five. The eldest passed a number of years before Mom, the third in line was next, but Mom carried on quite happily until her 95thyear. She passed beginning of November 2017, then her next youngest sister went in December, and her youngest sib left us this January.

And that’s it. The older generation is no more.

My brother and I spoke of this recently. “Everybody’s dying,” he said. I agreed, and added that our generation is next in line. It’s a sobering thought.

Aging is a process best understood, unfortunately, when our time is nearly up! Most of us find a comfortable age and continue to “live there” as long as our bodies allow us to deceive ourselves. Suddenly we are old, and have no idea how it happened.

There are several ways to handle this issue of mortality:

— ignore it…but it won’t go away

— embrace it…but you will age more quickly (I aged a lot when Mom lived with us her last year)

— gain a balanced perspective…we were not made for this world only

To further explain the third option, this life is short, and for many people on this earth, very difficult. I’ve been blessed with love and “more-than-enough” my whole life, and yet I can find things to complain about. But the point is, this life is only a training ground, a weeding out, if you will, for eternity.

Three generations: daughter Wendy, me, Mom

We were made for Eden, but we goofed it up big-time. Then the One who created us had mercy and took our punishment for our sin by sending His only Son—that’s Jesus—so we could be free from the penalty for our failure. And now, IF we accept His unmerited gift of grace, we can look forward to eternity in heaven as a reward for accepting mercy. How cool is that?

Yes, the journey may be unfamiliar, even frightening, but the destination will be worth it all.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes.

There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,

for the old order of things has passed away.”

Revelation 21:4

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(Spoiler alert)

Every once in a while, I pull away from my genre fiction and read something literary. It’s a challenge, because I avoid dystopic stories if I can help it. The world is in enough trouble without pretending it’s worse. That’s my take.

I picked up All the Light We Cannot See at the local thrift store for $2 and started in on it. I will admit it took me weeks to finish; I kept putting it down and reading something easier. But the story pulled me back in every time I picked it up.

In a nutshell, it’s about a blind girl, Marie-Laure, and her father from Paris who go to live with his brother in a place called Saint-Malo during the war. Marie-Laure’s father, who works in a museum, carries with him a precious jewel that some people say is a curse. As long as the carrier keeps it, he or she will not die, but their loved ones will find trouble/death.

The other main character is Werner, who with his sister, Jutta, are orphans in Germany. Because of his innate skill with radios, Werner is enrolled in a Nazi technical school and eventually uses his training in locating hidden radios.

The story follows these two characters and those in their lives throughout the war, a dismal and dangerous existence. Chapters alternate between the two stories, and inevitably, they link for the space of a day or two.

This story is gripping, well-written, tight and moving, but not happily-ever-after. The problem I have with reading over 500 pages, only to have one of the characters blown up in one sentence, near the end, is one of great frustration and sadness. Do I wish I’d never read it? Possibly. It’s haunting, and that can be painful. But perhaps the reminder of what people experience in war and how it changes them—for better or for worse—is necessary from time to time.

This is a highly acclaimed book, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, so if that is incentive enough, give it a read.

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I started reading the book of Matthew on January 1, using the theme: with new eyes. I want to see God’s Word in a fresh way in 2019.

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Matthew 11:3 features John the Baptist’s question to Jesus: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” John had obeyed God, and was now sitting in a cold, dank jail cell, his earthly future bleak. Perhaps—and I’m speculating here—he’d expected something entirely different from the Messiah he had prophesied about. The Jewish traditions handed down through the centuries may have created another expectation in his mind.

Jesus’ reply to John’s messengers (verses 4-6) was curt. “Go back and report to John what you hear and see…Blessed is the man who does not fall away because of me.”

As I read the first few verses of chapter eleven, I was reminded of a podcast my husband and I listened to recently by Ron Hutchcraft. The idea was that if we live life with expectation, we sometimes miss the freshness of a brand-new message. But, if we live with expectancy, we can be open to God’s surprises.

How often do my limited expectations get in the way of experiencing the newness of living in God’s Kingdom? If I live in expectancy, I am watching for whatever God has in his creative mind.

So, one of my goals this year is to live in expectancy of all God has for me, in all areas of my life. That’s definitely more exciting than my own expectations.

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I assume some of you are overwhelmed by Christmas preparations and family visits and Christmas programs, so I want to share a poem I came across many years ago, one that encourages me every time I read it. It’s by Ruth Bell Graham…

God Rest You Merry

“God rest you merry, gentlemen…”
and in these pressured days
I, too, would seek to be so blessed
by Him, who still conveys
His merriment, along with rest.
So I would beg, on tired knees,
“God rest me merry,
please…”

A very Merry Christmas and a blessed 2019.

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Here we are for the sixth scene of my Christmas short story, The Christmas Sweater. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Chapter Two—Scene Six

Debbie stuck her head in the door about suppertime and asked, “Have you called Emily yet?” Snuffles wagged behind her.

“No,” I admitted. “I will.”

I’d been thinking of Emily’s invitation all day, as well as Debbie’s counsel that I’d be sorry if I didn’t go but never sorry if I did. Wouldn’t they both be surprised if I accepted.

She glanced at her wristwatch. “You have an hour to call before I get back and call her myself.” She seemed a bit nervous, which was out of character. I waited.

“Listen, Oh Friend of Mine. Mickey’s at work and I have to go to an Alzheimers meeting at the  Seniors’ Centre and they won’t let me take Steena inside. I know you don’t like animals in your house, but could she stay right here in the entry? Just for an hour or so? I’d leave her at home but she’s been really scared of being left lately. I think she’s going through separation anxiety. We took her to Regina with us last time and it seemed to throw her to see my folks again but in a new place.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Not only was she commanding me to phone my daughter, she was requesting that I babysit her dog. In my home.

“Or you could come to my place and sit with her,” she said, as if reading my mind, “but I know you want to call Emily so I thought this made more sense.”

Well, I was tired of everyone thinking I was a wimp. I’d show them all, shut them up for good. The thought took root so quickly it shocked even me, spontaneity not being my forte.

“Go ahead. I’ll look after Stumpy,” I said, and tried to keep from laughing at her incredulous expression.

“Thanks…I think,” she said, and told the dog to stay put. I doubted the mutt understood, but it sat and wagged as Debbie backed out quickly, probably expecting me to change my mind.

When she’d gone, I sat down on the entry steps and spoke to my guest. “Well hello, Stinky. Nice of you to come by. I have nothing to offer you but my presence.” Tentatively, I reached out and patted her head. Her hair felt so soft and silky to my touch that I couldn’t help scratching her ears. She leaned her head on my knees and closed her eyes, and I had to chuckle. That launched a bout of tail wagging that made me laugh for real.

“You are a strange little creature,” I said. “Now I have to clear up my supper and make an important phone call. You remember what Debbie said: stay put right here while I call. The rug is quite comfortable enough for you.” I gave her one more pat on the head and went back into the kitchen.

I forgot all about the dog while I washed my few dishes and considered what I’d say to Emily. I hung the dishtowel under the sink and rubbed lotion onto my hands. Sam used to joke about the amount of lotion I rubbed into my skin, but he liked the resulting softness.

The phone sat mocking me from its cradle near the table, and I decided there was no time like the present. I had Em on speed dial, I’m not sure why since I rarely initiated the calls, so I hit the button and waited, wandering back and forth through the house just like Sam used to do when he spoke on the phone. Emily answered after three rings.

“Hello? Mom?” She sounded surprised I was calling and I guess I couldn’t blame her since it didn’t happen often.

“Hi, honey. How was your day?”

“Good, yours?”

Enough small talk. I was on a mission here. “Listen, about your invitation to Paris, you know how I feel about the timing and all, but I’ve decided, after a good deal of interference and coercion from an unnamed source, that I’ll take you up on it.”

Her silence lasted so long I thought the line had gone dead. “What did you say?”

“I said I’ll come. Have you changed your mind? You said you needed to know by today.”

The silence stretched between us, and a giggle escaped me at the incongruity of the situation.

“Are you jerking my chain, Mom? Because I was serious about the offer. I mean, if you don’t want to come, just say so.”

“After all this emotional upheaval, you want me to change my mind again? Sorry, Em, but the decision is final. I’m going—we’re going—to Paris. In two weeks.” I must be crazy.

I wasn’t prepared for her scream, but it ripped through the phone lines and into my house with such clarity that Stocky came running and buried her head in my lap. I started to chuckle and then the situation overcame me and I was laughing. In the background I heard Emily say, “Mom, are you all right? Have you started drinking?”

Her words made me laugh harder and that’s how Debbie found us, Spookie and me, when she returned from her meeting. She looked as troubled as Emily sounded. I knew I was on an adrenaline high, but I hadn’t had this much fun since…since Sam died. My laughter faded, but the bubble of joy inside didn’t go away.

“Listen, Em,” I said when I’d caught my breath. “I have to go. I’m babysitting Debbie’s dog and we’ve frightened her and Debbie’s here now. Just tell your friend I’m in and we can talk another day soon. Good night, my dear.”

“Goodnight, Mom.” I heard the uncertainty in her voice just before I disconnected.

“Hey, Debbie, how was your meeting?” The look on her face made me want to start laughing all over again, but I was too tired. It was exhausting being this happy.

 

**I hope you’re enjoying The Christmas Sweater. Only two more scenes to go. Join us next Thursday, November 22, for the seventh installment.

 

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This is the fifth scene of my Christmas short story, The Christmas Sweater. Enjoy the story and the season.

 

Chapter Two—Scene Five

Monday morning came without me aware of the day or the time. Being so close to winter solstice, it seemed to be always semi-dark outside. The jangle of the doorbell and the dull pounding finally brought me out of my stupor. Was the world ending? No, but my world already had. It couldn’t get worse.

The pounding stopped and my phone rang. I reached for it reluctantly.

“Hello?”

“Oh, thank goodness you’re okay. Jeannie, what’s up? Are you sick or what?”

I shook my head to clear it. “No, I’m fine. Just slept in…So, you’re back. How was the weekend?”

She ignored my polite questions. “Jeannie, you’re always up at the same time every morning. Now tell me…no, just open the door. I’m coming over. I can’t believe we’re sitting here talking on the phone when we live next door. And if you don’t open up, I’m gonna get Mickey to pick the lock on your door. He knows how.” And she hung up.

I rolled out, threw the covers over the bed in a quick but completely unacceptable fashion, and pulled on a sweat suit and Sam’s shirt, realizing it needed washing again. I could hear my mother’s words in my mind: Jeannie,your first task upon rising is to make up your bed. AndA lady never, ever leaves the house in dirty clothes.Somehow the memory of her scolding was a link to sanity, albeit a flimsy link.

The doorbell rang as I was brushing my teeth. She’d have to wait. Pushy woman. I remembered her threat about Mickey picking the lock, and although I didn’t believe he’d ever agree to do it, the thought made me hurry.

When Debbie blew into my kitchen, she took a look at my puffy eyes and swollen face and wrapped me in a wordless hug. The only thing that can ever stop her tongue is compassion. She’s hard to resist. Like water eroding stone. Over time you succumb.

She pulled back and stared at me. “You haven’t been outside all weekend, have you?”

“Yes, I have,” I said in my defense. “I walked on Saturday.”

“It’s Monday. That’s two days ago. That’s a lot of alone time, Kiddo. So you sat here in the dark and brooded?”

I shrugged.

“No one came? No one called?”

“Well, it’s none of your business, but yes, someone did call.”

Her eyes looked a bit less severe and she turned to get the tea things. “Good. Who?”

Incredulous, I stared at her back.

“I know it’s not my business,” she answered with her head in the tea cabinet, “but I’m curious. Who called?”

Fighting Debbie was like trying to stop the wind. I sat in my chair at the table and accepted peppermint tea in my cup with the roses on it, while she sat in Sam’s chair with a double-double Earl Grey in a black mug. “My daughter Emily called from Vancouver. She’s planning to go to Paris for Christmas.” May as well get it all out right away instead of parrying the questions one by one.

Debbie’s eyes widened and she slapped the table so hard I spilled some of my tea. “Get outta town! Paris? Who’s she going with? Did she ask you?”

The questions kept coming until I held up my palm to stop them. “Yes, she asked. I declined.”

Her eyebrows disappeared under her curls. “What the heck? Are you crazy?”

I waited for her to understand. When her expression didn’t change, I leaned forward and explained. “Debbie, remember what time of year it is. It will soon be the anniversary of Sam’s death. I simply cannot go traipsing around that romantic city of Paris with my broken heart in full view of everyone.”

“No, of course not,” she said, and I leaned back in my chair, satisfied that I’d connected with her at last. But she had more to say. “No, you have no business going to Paris on the anniversary of your husband’s death. Your place is to sit here in the dark with no tangible sign of Christmas and weep. Or stay in bed till mid-morning because you spent all night feeling sorry for yourself.”

I stood up so fast I almost spilled the rest of our tea. “How dare you? You have no idea what I’ve experienced and yet you judge me!”

“Simmer down, Cinderella,” she said, as if the argument was over spilled tea instead of death and grieving. Her silly comment took the punch out of me and I sat while she grabbed a clean tea-towel and wiped up the tea.

“I’m not judging you, Jeannie, but I have to watch you suffer every day, and I’ve only been here a couple of weeks. If this is what you’ve been doing for a year, it’s time you changed your ways or one morning all I’ll find upon breaking into your tomb of a show home is a puddle of tears on the kitchen floor. How long do you have to make your decision?”

I rubbed my bleary eyes. “I’ve already made my decision. I told Emily to accept her friend’s offer and go.”

“You didn’t answer my question,” she said. “When’s the deadline?”

I blew out my breath forcefully. “Today. Debbie, I’m just not up to it.”

She sat back and pretended to write something on an imaginary paper with her finger. “Excuse number one: Jeannie’s not up to it. Next excuse?”

I rubbed at my forehead with my fingertips, trying to massage away the ache. “I can’t go so soon, It’s a bad time of year. I have to get through it.”

“What do you mean, a bad time of year? It’s the best time of year!”

“Used to be. Not anymore. Ever.”

“So you’re gonna let it spoil Christmas from now on?”

I felt a burning in the pit of my stomach as the words boiled up from deep inside. “It’s not my fault,” I shouted, my voice quavering like an old woman’s. “It’s Sam’s fault. He’s the one who up and died on me. At Christmas, for heaven’s sake! He ruined it all. My favourite time of year and now I’ll never be able to enjoy it again!” The sobs started their way up my throat. “I hate him for robbing me. For leaving me.”

I took my cup with the roses on it and threw it into the sink, shattering it. Grabbing the counter with both hands I wailed, loud and ugly and guttural, till I thought I’d turn inside out.

The whole time, Debbie stood behind me, running her hands up and down my arms, murmuring comforting words, praying out loud, waiting. When I’d used up all the tears and felt like an empty husk, she turned me around and hugged me and patted my back as if I were a child. Later, we sat side by side on the couch, fresh cups of tea on the coffee table in front of us, Debbie’s arm around my shoulder.

“You know he didn’t leave you on purpose, right?”

My voice came out in a squeak. “I didn’t know I was so angry.”

Debbie’s answering smile looked sad. “We never do. Anger is one of those emotions that evolves into a monster over time if we don’t face it. I could see it consuming you.”

I narrowed my swollen eyes at her. “You goaded me into this hysterical fit.”

“Goaded? No. I may have nudged a bit, but you were well on the way without me, honey. I knew you had to get it out.”

The tea felt like sweet healing going down. “How’d you know?” I asked.

“Been there.”

“What? When?” I stared at her now, focused for once on someone outside of myself.

She pursed her lips, set down her cup and pulled up her knees, hugging them. “I have cancer,” she said in a quiet voice. “It’s in remission now and hopefully it will stay that way. But one never knows.” She stared out through the frosted window in a more contemplative manner than I’d ever seen her.

“I was so angry at everyone and everything, but mostly at God. Mickey didn’t know what to do with me. He tried everything: counseling, pastoral visits, deacons, friends, but I pushed everyone away, groveling in my pain and fear…and anger.”

Tears slipped from my eyes. “As I’ve been doing.”

She shrugged and gave me a crooked grin.

I had to know. “What happened to change that?” I was holding onto the end of the rope she’d thrown me, hoping to be pulled out of the quagmire I’d been sinking in.

“I admitted the anger.” She looked at me again. “You can destroy yourself with anger. Pretending all’s well, or pretending you aren’t angry or afraid. When I finally admitted how I felt, it was like a dam burst and reality was released. I could name it and face it.”

I nodded, recalling the feeling of release after my outburst.

“And I knew it wasn’t God’s fault,” she continued. “He’d been there the whole time, arms reaching for me. I’d stepped out of his arms when my anger and fear took over. I’d avoided him.”

She cupped her hand on my cheek. “Honey, you gotta let him in. He’s the only one who can help you become whole again.”

On the tip of my tongue the words gathered. I’ll never be whole again.I bit them back and swallowed.

“Yes.”

Such a simple word, but the release overwhelmed me. Tears I’d thought spent poured down my cheeks, not the exhausting upheaval at the kitchen sink, but a sweet peace.

“Okay, listen up, sister.” Debbie leaned forward to look into my eyes and brought me back to reality in a hurry. “You have a decision to make sometime today. You may forfeit Paris and be sorry later, but if you go, you’ll never be sorry. And another thing. Maybe Emily needs you with her right now. She can’t bear to be here in this empty house with memories of her dad everywhere, but she doesn’t want to be alone either.”

I stared at her. She really was pushy.

On her way out the door, she looked back and said, “Promise me you’ll seriously consider this, for Emily’s sake as well as yours. I will follow up, you know.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” I said, more to get her out of my house than anything. I appreciated that she cared, but she hadn’t lost her husband. I couldn’t suddenly change my feelings because I had faced the truth, and I needed time to adjust.

 

**Come back for the sixth installment of The Christmas Sweater next Thursday, November 15. Until then, enjoy the season.

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“We are judged by how we finish, not how we start.”

How true. Some people are so worried about whether or not they’ll be able to finish a project that they hesitate to begin anything. I confess to being one of those. Partly, it’s because I tend to perfectionism. Please understand that perfectionism doesn’t mean that everything I do meets that high standard, but it’s what I wish I could attain. Through my life, I’ve had to make choices about where to spend my energy and focus, a fight against perfectionism. (Dusting the furniture was something that lost out!)

My husband is a starter. He loves to jump into a project and get it going. He doesn’t usually worry about finishing at that stage. I, on the other hand, am afraid to start something in case I won’t be able to finish it. The result: I talk myself out of a lot of things that might be good if I trusted myself. I have to say my husband and I have rubbed off on each other over the years. I’m more willing to try something, and he’s more intent on completing a project.

As a writer, I’ve learned that first words aren’t crucial at the outset. It’s the act of beginning that’s important. First words can be changed, edited, tweaked, or stricken from the record! They are only a starting point, a thought-bullet fired in a specific direction. The more important aspect is following through, completing a task to the best of our abilities.

We’re on a journey through this life, and our paths are not complete until our number is called. Let’s give each day our all, with the help of the God who created us do the things He has prepared in advance for us to do.

 

NOTE: For as long as I can remember, our household has regularly received The Furrow magazine, a farming publication published by Deere & Company. My favourite part of this magazine is the next-to-last page, titled fun & Philosophy, a collection of jokes, quotes from famous people, and capsule sermons. From these I’ve chosen a few as conversation starters for my blogspot. Thought-bullets.

 

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