📝 Abundance

And just like that I’ve shifted from sitting in the quiet abundance of sky and clouds and mountains and trees to a proliferation of lesson plans and an overabundance of teenager-ness. I know that’s not a real word, but for now it seems to capture the broad array of behaviours, perspectives, and attitudes that bubbled and bumped into my classroom yesterday. It was an exhausting first day of school.

It is evening now and I sit again watching an endless river of clouds slowly ripple past the bedroom window. The sun spreads a warm blush across the horizon. The colour will fade to grey and eventually to night-black, but there is goodness here and it settles me, slows my mind, reminds me that I am surrounded by a grand generosity.

This month’s (one-day-late) issue of Jots & Doodles is a reflection on abundance and generosity. I choose doodles that emphasized clouds and sky because the prairie sky feels like a generous gift to me. Even when it is full of angry storm clouds or is an expressionless grey or a texture-less blue, I am drawn to its vastness and variableness.

I’m still processing many thoughts about generosity, particularly as it relates to God’s generous creation and character, but I’ve tried to capture snippets of my reflections on this topic through the brief “jots” included in this issue. Thinking about God’s generosity forces me to look at the world around me differently, to consider how I should live in response to it, and it definitely leaves me with questions that I need to keep pondering. Because sometimes life seems to fall short of the abundance that Jesus said he came to give. Sometimes I need to be reminded that I may be determining abundance and generosity by the wrong criteria.

And sometimes (all the time!) I just need to rest in the knowledge that God is enough and in his generous grace, I lack nothing. Nada. Nothing. Zilch.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. Psalm 23:1-2

You can view and print Issue 8 here, or go to the Jots & Doodles page from the main menu.

⛈ Rainfall Warning

A Sunday Reflection

Water pours from flat grey skies.

Although the land is parched and

oh so thirsty,

we grumble at the inconvenience

of wet upon wet upon wet.

I read in Isaiah’s book:

“You heavens above,

rain down my righteousness;

let the clouds shower it down,

let salvation spring up,

let righteousness flourish with it;

I, the LORD, have created it.”

Yet we grumble against any

inconvenient truths springing

from God’s righteousness

because our declarations of rightness

water our wishes just fine,

thank you very much.

For all our watering,

we remain soul-dry parched.

We thirst in the midst of

abundant, righteous rain.

☕️ Moments

A Saturday Caesura

I’ve not been very consistent with Saturday Caesura’s over the summer months, partly, I suppose, because as a teacher, the entire summer feels like a pause, a chance to slow down and breathe differently. The rhythms shift to something less structured, less demanding, and in that shift, my thoughts and words have floated along, loitering somewhere in the shallow backwaters away from the currents that are actually going somewhere. In short, I’ve felt unproductive.

I want to write something profound, something that has dug deep into my thoughts and soul and won’t let go until I’ve word-wrestled it onto paper, but I have only mundane thoughts — nothing that seems even remotely important in the grande scheme of the world and of life. How do I write faithfully without being trite? What if my words are as empty as they feel?

The reality is that my thoughts and words are often trite and empty because I can be so focused on productivity that I lose the value of rest and reflection and observation and lengthy pondering. Our propensity to equate success with productivity has actually robbed us of meaning, purpose, and relationship.

Last week I joined a few other hikers to attempt to summit two significant mountains in four days. Once we were up high enough to assess the first peak, we realized that it was not feasible within the time frame we had allotted. It was hard to walk away from that goal because something within us wanted to say that we had climbed both peaks. That would have been productive, successful, noteworthy.

What we did instead was climb the second mountain and spend the majority of the day wandering open alpine spaces with time to sit at the peak and simply revel in the expansive view. There was time to notice rocks and lichen and resilient alpine plants. There was time to pause and breathe differently. I didn’t leave that mountaintop with any profound thoughts or wizened words, but I did leave knowing that those moments mattered.

“All we have is this moment, but what we do with each of these slow, present moments will add up to something.” (Shawn Smucker*)

May you live this day, this week, knowing that each moment is a gift, whether it is one spent “getting things done” or spent resting, reflecting, healing, grieving, rejoicing, praying, learning, leaning…

*This quote is from Shawn’s August 5, 2021 newsletter. You can read more of his writing at shawnsmucker.com

📝 Joy

It’s midsummer and we’re on Heat Warning #110, or something like that. Our heat warning parameters are normal summer temperatures for some folk further south, but ‘normal’ has become a concept fraught with relativity and ambiguity and sweat. Apparently. So here we are, grateful that at least we have air conditioning in the truck if no where else.

It is also time for a midsummer issue of Jots & Doodles, a ‘bonus’ issue I’m squeezing in so I can meet my goal of 12 issues this year. As always, there is a bit of back story to both the jots and the doodles.

First, this issue includes actual doodles on the front cover, because what better way to introduce the theme of JOY! It includes doodles of enjoyable things (to me!) like fields and mountains, pebbles and flowers (of course!), and things that just are: sun, rain, wind. I find joy in these sometimes, but not always. I’m wondering if this wrestling with what gives us joy one day and not another, and what not only doesn’t give joy but actually snatches it away is part of what it means to be human.

A secondary theme (unintended) in this issue is daughters. The drawings within the zine are of three daughters — two are daughters of dear friends, one is my own daughter as a baby. I chose these drawings because I was thinking about how we express joy, and their facial expressions helped me explore some its nuances. Sometimes joy radiates from our faces, lights up our eyes, explodes into song or laughter or worship. But there are also times when joy is less about how we look or feel, but how we live. It is contentment and gladness and gratitude and wonder. It is also faith, comfort, and strength. It promotes peace and serves others. It is a fruit of the Spirit, evidence that he is at work in us regardless of circumstances. We are so easily derailed by circumstances, aren’t we? And then we choke on the words of the apostle James who tells us that we should “consider it pure joy” whenever life gets really bumpy and hard. Which, of course, is precisely why joy is a fruit of the Spirit. We may know what it is like to feel happy and glad, but the deep cultivating work of joy comes from surrender to what God is doing, not what we can manufacture from the bits and pieces of our lives.

The three little pieces I have written only scratch the surface of joy. So much more comes to mind even now as I write this. The first explores joy as wonder, the second, joy as contentment, and the third, joy as Jesus’ desire for us. God actually desires us to have his joy. I’m still letting that wrap itself around me because trying to wrap my head around it just leaves me in tears — it is a truth so profound and beautiful and … just… wow.

You can find the Joy issue here or by going to the Jots & Doodles page from the main menu. May it spark some joy in your life!

📝 Generations

For a portion of the semester with one of my grade 12 classes, we focus on how values and beliefs influence our decisions. We examine how this plays out for characters, relationships, and societies in literature, as well as evaluate our own beliefs and decisions. We also compare the differing values of various generations and the choices that have resulted. The Internet is full of data, much of it conflicting, about the core values of Traditionalists vs Boomers, Millennials vs Gen X or Y or Z, or whatever title is being attached to the most recent demographic; however, the data is less important to me than the conversations and questions that students have as they explore the generational profiles. One surprising thing always comes up: students are harshest in their judgement of the values and beliefs of their own generation. They inevitably look to their parents and grandparents as having better work ethics, morals, and empathy. They worry for their generation.

Unlike my students who are an emerging generation, I am an “inbetweener.” My parents are aging, my children are adults; I’m in between them both. This is hardly a new phenomenon; for all of human history, our roles and responsibilities change as we move through the generational cycles. My parents require more physical care than they did several years ago; my children require less physical care, but still need parental support.

I’ve taken some of my thoughts about generations and turned them into the next issue of Jots & Doodles. The art “doodles” in this issue is gleaned from some of my older work that has been tucked away in sketch books and journals but seemed to fit with this theme.

There are only two “jot” pieces this time because one of them took up more space than most “jots.” For the first one, I was thinking about generational cycles and since I was also doing laundry that day, the metaphor sort of stuck — and works to the degree that metaphors are both appropriate and limited. Maybe it will get us all thinking about the core value of love and how it can affect our ability to both give and receive from one another.

The second piece is about fences, which on first glance has nothing to do with generations. I did the pen & ink drawing years ago simply because I was drawn to the contrast between the old fence and the new one. I actually titled it, “Generations” at the time. My thinking about the two fences has evolved and shifted over time, but when I actually sat down to write about them it took me a while to understand what the key focus needed to be. Was it about aging and the need for the next generation to fill the gap? Was it about the ultimate failure of one generation and the success of the “new and better” ideas of the next? I finally realized that aging and failure and success will come for every generation even if our perspectives and purposes may differ in their focus. What will determine our impact on each other, our communities, and our world, is how our values and decisions stand the test of time. Legacies are the product of time.

You can find Issue 6 of Jots and Doodles here or on the Jots & Doodles page listed in the menu. As always, it is free to download, print, and share. Your feedback and thoughts on this topic are also welcome!

☕️ Lilies

A Saturday Caesura

Almost ten years ago, someone brought several potted lilies to our son’s funeral service. After everyone had gone home and the other bouquets of flowers had faded and withered, I planted the lilies beneath a cluster of trees in our backyard. It was an act of hope that they would survive the winter — that I would survive this loss.

Since then, the lilies have bloomed every year, and each year I have learned more about living with grief.

In preparation for this year’s Great Backyard Redo, I moved the lilies last spring — built a raised bed specifically for them, watched them bloom in early summer, and then worried that their roots would be too exposed to survive the deep freeze of winter.

I began looking for signs of life as soon as the snow melted this spring. For the longest time there was nothing. I started to consider that these lilies could actually die and the thought began stirring and renewing the grief that had brought them to us to begin with.

I began breathing again when they began poking up green.

They had survived another winter.

The lilies are now thick with golden blooms. The taller ones will soon add splashes of burgundy red and I’ll keep breathing in the beauty and breathing out gratitude that although death is inevitable and grief is inescapable, life is full of unfathomable generosity and goodness.

Pebbles in Pockets

I find them near rivers and streams and on mountain tops. They come in all sizes and shapes and colours and textures. Rocks are beautiful and they fascinate me. I’ve gotten better at not slipping so many of them into my pocket or backpack to bring home. I tell myself that I can pick up as many as I want, but I have to choose the best one, the most unique one, and leave the others behind. Mostly I obey this self-imposed rule.

At home, I have pebbles in jars and picture frames, trays and boxes. I treat them as the works of art that they are even though I know that their presence in the world is not purely aesthetic. Rocks can be quite problematic says the chipped windshield and the stony, unproductive field. A pebble in a shoe is an irritant; grief is a boulder lodged in a heart.

I decided some time ago that this month’s issue of Jots & Doodles would be on rocks, or stones, or pebbles – whatever word seems most appropriate. Now that the month is almost over, I finally have it ready. In metaphorical terms, it has been a rocky month and its been hard to find the time to work on the ‘doodles’ in particular.

The first written piece is a true story. I still have the rock in my classroom where it reminds me to keep myself grounded in truth — to live it, speak it, seek it always.

The second piece about rebuilding is a reflection on how I have to rebuild a small decorative wall I constructed years ago to hide the empty space under our front deck. I collected the flattest river rocks I could find, but they really aren’t very flat. Every year part of it gets knocked down. Every year, I rebuild it. As I rebuild, trying to find new ways to fit all the pieces together into a coherent whole, I think of the ways we have to work to maintain communities and families and relationships when our bumps and bulges don’t fit together like a manufactured brick or Lego wall would. We falter and fail, crumble and stumble because we are people and fitting together will always require a commitment to rebuild — to apologize, to forgive, to love.

The final piece comes from thinking about rocks and stones in the Bible. Just for the record, the Bible has much to say about rocks, both literally and figuratively. My brief poem mentions some literal ones, but the real focus is the image of Jesus as the Cornerstone, the one stone that ensures that all else is secure, stable, squared – a sure foundation upon which our faith is built.

You can find this issue of Jots & Doodles here.

☀️ Come

all who are weary and burdened,

which if we are honest,

is all of us:

fishermen and tax collectors,

doubters and zealots,

betrayed and betrayers,

women and children,

lame, blind, lost, bullied,

teachers, preachers, seekers,

carpenters, welders, garbage collectors,

doctors, mechanics, managers.

Regardless of skin colour,

earthly status or physical health,

or anything else —

the invitation is always, “Come.”

Come to me; listen and live,

follow and see what I, the Lord God,

have done…am doing…will yet do.

Come and find rest in me.

☕️ Destruction & Restoration: rethinking change

A Saturday Caesura

We (as in the friend-who-owns-a-backhoe), took out all the trees, dead and otherwise, from our backyard. This was a Hard Thing for me. The day before the Hoe of Destruction arrived, I wandered through the yard, noticing, touching, remembering…crying. Although I had already relocated my perennials and Justin’s lilies, most of what existed in the back yard was never planted by me, and I loved all these wild and wonderful green growing friends. They were so beautiful and so welcome, even as they always seemed to welcome me.

They are all gone now.

I know we needed to deal with the dead and dying trees, but I wasn’t prepared for losing everything else, too. So…I’ve been grieving this week.

But I’ve also been discovering.

I discovered shady hideaway places for the ferns. They seem to be enjoying their new homes beneath the remaining willows and tucked at the feet of a small copse of trees in the front yard. I enjoy the lacy sweep of their fronds uncurling in among the grasses and wild roses and honeysuckle. I envision more woodland shade-lovers adding texture and colour beneath these still standing, living trees.

I’ve also discovered the western sky. With no trees in the foreground, I can now watch sunsets from my deck or bedroom window rather than having to scuttle out to open spaces in the marsh to catch the full effect of the evening glow-show. I love the prairie sky as much as I love trees, so it’s felt like a fair-trade deal to exchange one for the other.

The yard itself is still a mild mess, but a Tractor of Restoration with tools like rototillers and harrows will do its thing and eventually there will be green grass and a new garden spot, which I am already “garden-scaping” in my mind. It’ll have space for the veggies I love to grow, but also nooks and crannies and islands where perennials can flash their colours and re-texturize the backyard view. We’ll re-instate the fire-pit (a necessity), add a clothesline (my wish) and an archery range (his wish) and some gravel by the sheds because it’s the practical thing to do.

I’m still adjusting, but I’m also realizing that a bare patch of ground is an invitation to possibility. Like many of us, I’m often most comfortable with what is. Even when what is isn’t really working all that well, it’s hard to accept that what could be might hold promise even though it requires change.

So, here’s me learning (once again) to let go of something I held dear and finding ways to embrace and appreciate change.