☕️ Messes & Marvels

A Saturday Caesura

This morning I sat down and wrote some thoughts for this caesura. Thoughts about vulnerability and virus variants and stuck supertankers and murder and violence and other egregious acts against fellow human beings. I wrote a lot of words, but I don’t think they were very coherent. Sometimes I just need to dump everything on a page and let it sit there in a mess for a while. Someday when I will come back to the word-tangle, maybe there will be a clear line of thought that is worth unravelling.

So today’s caesura is not about those thoughts, but about some images from this week. Images like the tiny “hairs” lining the edges of a baby lupine leaf. The lupine is in my classroom at the moment, escaping the heat of the greenhouse until it’s warm enough outside to give it a more permanent home in my yard. I noticed the hairs because they caught the early morning light coming through the window and created a halo around each leaf frond. The glow drew me in for a closer look. Remarkable.

In true northern prairie fashion, it snowed on the day after the first day of spring and I don’t want to talk about how much it snowed or how horrible the roads were, but I do want to talk about how the snow is now melting drip by drip off the edge of the roof. Sometimes a few drops will drip in unison, other times in succession. They remind me of a hand-bell choir. I wonder what song they would make if each drop dripped a note on the scale. Would it be a lament for winter? Or an anthem for spring’s arrival?

The Christmas cactus I bought as a gift for a friend (that I never had a chance to see at Christmas because of Covid) still sits in my kitchen window. It bloomed this week. The brilliant pink blossom looked like an exotic bird from some distant tropical jungle, and even though Christmas came and went ages ago, this blossom was the best possible gift for this week. There are two more budding gifts and now I’m not sure my friend will ever see this particular plant.

Sometimes I need to leave my thoughts in a muddled mess of words on the pages of a notebook I can close and walk away from. And sometimes I need to leave all the messes of the world (beginning with my own heart) at the foot of the cross and focus on the small but extraordinary blessings each day contains. Often I can view the messes with more clarity and understanding when I filter them through the lens of God’s intended goodness for his creation.

☕️ Gifts

A Saturday Caesura

The first story I remember writing was about a cougar. At the time, I was positive that it was the greatest story ever written. I have only vague memories of what I actually wrote, but I can guarantee it was everything you would expect from an elementary school student: sentimental imaginings, clichéd descriptions, and gaping plot holes. I remember this particular story because writing it made me realize for the first time that the ideas and pictures in my head could become words on a page, that writing wasn’t just about copying letters or spelling words correctly or answering study questions in full sentences. I’ve not given much attention to story-making in the years since that failed masterpiece, but I’ve developed a love for story-finding among the bits and pieces and images of daily life.

The first picture I clearly remember drawing was of a poster-sized blue garbage can with big eyes, an open lid for its mouth, and “Feed Me” (or something similar) written on its belly. It won an anti-littering-on-the-playground contest which was monumental to my little-girl-self, not because of the prize (which I don’t even remember), but because I realized that I could draw and that I enjoyed drawing. At first I mostly drew animals. Okay… horses. But eventually a charcoal cat and a moose and mountain goats and even a cougar. Later, I realized that drawing people was somewhat similar to drawing animals; I just had to change the shapes and features and lines and proportions and perspectives — in other words, everything but the actual drawing techniques. Even later, I learned that artists call pencil crayons coloured pencils, and now I have a glorious array of them. They are still my favourite art tool.

Over the years writing and drawing have been relegated to the When I Have Time portion of the calendar. I regret this. I realize now that what I lacked was not time, but a proper understanding of the gift they are to me. For the past several years I have tried to be more faithful in using these gifts. I write and draw nearly every day, even if it is only for a few minutes – a quick sketch, a sentence or two. From this habit, comes a new project: a zine I’ve entitled Jots & Doodles, which combines inked images from my sketchbook with poems and reflections from my writing notebook.

Jots & Doodles Volume 1: Issues 1 & 2

As a gift to anyone who happens to stumble across this blog, I am making each issue of Jots & Doodles available as a PDF download. They can be printed on a single sheet of paper and folded into a booklet (see instructions below). They are the perfect size to tuck into a card or a pocket or an envelope, attach to a gift or pin on a bulletin board. If they bring you (or someone you know) some encouragement, I’d love to hear about it!

Gifts are only gifts if they are given.

Source: https://tellingcambridgetales.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/how-to-fold-a-zine/

Note: please notify me if there are any issues with the download links. Thank you.

☕️ Snippets

A Saturday Caesura

Some weeks happen all helter-skelter. Undone to-dos, interruptions, diversions, uh-ohs, and not-agains. Normal stuff occurring with abnormal frequency. Even the weather tried to squeeze all four seasons into a single week. Life seems more manageable when everything practices distancing, takes turns, behaves in orderly and predictable ways.

My thoughts were helter-skelter, too. None of the usual slow mulling and processing of an idea, an image. Just snippets of this and that — some that stuck and some that slid away.

Snippet: I was riding my bike on the indoor trainer upstairs. I look out the window, but the scenery doesn’t scroll by like it usually does when I cycle outdoors. The neighbour’s house just sits there. So do the barren trees, the snow, the fence, the street off to the left. It is boring. But that day I noticed that the snow was pockmarked with little indentations, like a scatter plot with a cluster under one tree and a spray of them in all directions from there. Each indentation was where a sparrow or a red poll sat to munch on a seed from the bird feeder. The word that came to mind when I saw all these mini-dining spots was feast. A feast spread across a yard-sized table. I lingered on the word feast — it felt rich and welcoming.

Snippet: Dean always does the supper dishes as I clean up and put food away. One evening, an evening when I had after-supper plans of my own, the kitchen sink clogged when Dean tried to drain the water. What followed was well over an hour of checking sections of drain, ramming first the small snake and then the big long unruly one through pipes with strange angles until finally the water flowed, drained, disappeared like it was supposed to. My plans? Forgotten. Neither of us could have done that job alone. Sometimes love and commitment looks like wrestling snakes and unclogging drains together.

Snippet: my writing and art have happened in snippets between the demands of teaching school, but each snippet of time has been soul-nourishing. After a season of questioning why I write or draw, I’ve started a project that seems like a perfect fit for my “jots & doodles” and it has renewed my vision for being a faithful steward of the abilities God has given. I’ll share more about this project next week!

Snippet: Because our annual teacher’s convention this week was virtual, I had a rare opportunity to go for a weekday lunchtime walk and on my walk I met a girl who was walking her puppy. Puppies are adorable. This puppy looked like he had a significant share of Jack Russell genes and had no concept of “stranger danger.” He was full-body wiggles and tongue-slapping smiles and isn’t-this-the-BEST-day-ever and can-I-be-your-BFF and isn’t-life-just-GLORIOUS! And I walked away feeling exactly all that but with the wiggles on the inside, smiles sans the tongue thing.

Snippet: I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Ps. 27:13

☕️ Hope is a thing with leaves

A Saturday Caesura

It’s been cold here lately. Cold enough that all school buses were cancelled one day, several buses refused to start on other days, and most days my truck tires thump thumped squarish for a few kilometres before they softened to round again. Cold enough that the number of layers I had to wear outside and the number of times I had to refill the bird feeder in a day were roughly the same. Cold enough to earn the ranking of Extreme Cold by those who are officially tasked with determining such rankings.

It is an extreme act of hope to think about gardens and flowers and seeds and greenery when it is February and bitterly cold and there is not a patch of rich brown earth visible anywhere. Thanks to the recently repaired greenhouse that is attached to the science wing of our school, the hopeful thinking has turned into hope-in-action for a few of us who are particularly fond of gardens and flowers and green growing things.

So, in the middle of the day, after teaching writing craft and grammar and literary analysis, after supervising my portion of the lunch break, after processing emails and recording attendance, I escape to the greenhouse, incubator of summer, oasis from the cold and the flurry of the day.

First, the planting: tomatoes, peppers, herbs, rudbeckia, lupin, soapwort, geranium. I hold the seeds, tiny shades of brown, in my hands and taste sun-warm sweetness, see splashes of blossoming colour. I smell moist soil, feel its earthy coarseness, watch as bitter winds shove pale drifts of snow against the glass window-walls.

Then, the watering — a careful and faithful misting done with far more anticipation than a simple daily routine usually merits. And then on a particularly cold day, there is sprouting and green and jubilation. A cadre of icicles clings outside, peering in and perhaps wishing they could have contributed to the party, while we possess the evidence of our planting and watering as if the resulting growth is our doing alone: “My tomatoes are up! Look at my herbs! My lupins!!”

But of course, every sprout is the miracle it has always been, and we are blessed to be part of nurturing a life we can in no way create.

This week’s lunch caesuras in the greenhouse have been devoted to transplanting — moving seedlings from tiny pots into bigger ones where they can grow deep and tall and strong. It is gentle work, this handling of tender shoots and tentative roots. One more step in the patient acting out of a hope for what can yet be in a month, two months, a summer, next year.

I return to class with dirt under my fingernails. The weak afternoon sun slants through the classroom windows, slips across the desks where even more tender shoots with tentative roots sit, ready, needing all my hope-in-action efforts, too.

☕️ Half Lives

A Saturday Caesura- with sorrow

I’m not particularly prone to use movies as tools to reflect on real life issues, but a couple of scenes from Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film, The Prestige, keep replaying in my mind as I attempt to process the recent exposures of notable Christian leaders and pastors who have been living duplicitous lives.

The movie tells the story of two up-and-coming magicians during the late 19th century. While it is ultimately a story of bitter rivalry and one upmanship, it is also a tale of duplicity. In the beginning scenes, the apprentice magicians, Angier and Borden, observe an older Chinese magician perform a seemingly impossible feat with a goldfish bowl full of water. Angier is baffled, but Borden recognizes the “method,” the secret: the Chinese man has pretended to be a doddering cripple both on and off the stage for years, a deception crucial to the success of his act.

The closing scenes reveal (spoiler alert) that Borden himself has a secret behind his most successful act, an impossible feat that requires a “double,” but which he never appears to use. The secret? Twin brothers living as one person. On and off stage. For years. Borden confesses, “We each had half of a full life.” Half lives that gave the illusion of a full life of success and fame on the stage but brought death and destruction off stage.

I’ve thought of this in light of the Ravi Zacharias story and other similar situations over the past months and years. I’m wondering if the core issue is not that these leaders have lived double lives, proclaiming Christ from their public platforms while desecrating God’s name in their private behaviours, but that they have actually lived half lives.

When an expert in the Hebrew scriptures asks Jesus to identify which commandment is the greatest, Jesus replies, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” All. Your whole life. No justifications. No false pretense. No duplicity. No half living. Only a wholly obedient and faithful love for God. “I have come, ” Jesus declares in the gospel of John, “that they may have life, and have it to the full.” No half lives are intended in God’s economy of mercy and grace and forgiveness and transformation.

Without full obedience to the first and greatest commandment, there can be no proper fulfillment of the second command to love our neighbour as ourselves. Without commitment to the first, our love for others becomes skewed, disordered, manipulative, abusive, self-serving — in essence, not love at all.

I grieve for the victims; they have not been loved according to God’s standard of love. I grieve for the families, friends, colleagues who have been betrayed and now face the accusing fingers of those who would also hold them responsible for not seeing through the act, for a measure of complicity in the harm of half-living. And in my grieving I am reminded of the Lord’s promise to King Solomon: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

We need humble repentance. We need healing. Oh, how we need to end the charades and live wholly for the God we say we love — on stage, behind pulpits, in bedrooms and living rooms and government offices and work rooms and shops and hallways and basements. If we claim to follow God, then it must be with all we are and wherever we are regardless of who we are.

Then maybe we can begin to truly love as we have first been loved.

☕️ Looking Up

A Saturday Caesura

I needed to stop and just look up today. My gaze has been pulled in many directions this week, sometimes dragging my heart with it, sometimes my feet, and most often, my already weary brain.

I try to avoid claiming that I am busy because I don’t like how it suggests that I am more important or useful or productive than someone “less busy.” But I will admit that there are times when I feel the need to stop and collect bits and pieces of myself scattered here and there across the days and weeks.

Reclaiming wholeness requires me to turn my gaze upward — not just to fully attend to the latest iteration of prairie sky, but to see beyond the distractions and demands of life to the steadfast Oneness of God.


The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Duet. 6:4-5


God does not exist in bits and pieces. He is not scattered, but fully and wholly and eternally present.

He doesn’t want my love and obedience in bits and pieces either. Give it all, he says, give it wholly. That’s where true wholeness is found.

☕️ When Words are More Than Just Words

A Saturday Caesura

What if words were more than sounds strung together, more than marks neatly divided into varying units on a page, more than a means to an end.

What if they became fully animate, took on substance and form like miniature people who could rally their synonyms and join hands and encircle you in a gentle embrace.

What if they invited all their like-minded relatives and pieced together a quilt of protection and comfort for just that moment when you most needed it.

Perhaps a few wise, discerning words would forge themselves in a sword capable of cutting through thickly matted lies, of slicing cords of fear and hacking away shackles of shame. They wouldn’t be fickle words, these defenders of truth, but words tried and tested, refined and strong.

Some words would be playful, like clowns, and dance and tickle and entertain. Gentle, warm words could soothe like a cup of hot tea on a cold day.

No doubt there would be those words bent towards dissention and malevolence. Rough, shabby and too arrogant to notice or care, they scold and scald — or snap, bite, slash and stab. Gaping wounds, deep scars, and wearied hearts are evidence that they’ve either passed by or still lurk, hungry, in the shadows.

Thankfully, more words come marching along, grim-faced and determined. They assemble a triage team and set to work bandaging, repairing, relieving, healing. Their work never ends and they never stop. They are faithful words.

Words are actions. They are causes with real effects. They carry weight far greater than nanograms of ink or graphite on a page. They may seem devoid of mass when they leave a person’s mouth, but they can slam into a life and completely destroy it, or they can huddle shoulder-to-shoulder and somehow form a solid foundation on which to stand when the ground is sinking sand. Words have strengh and power.

So when I think about words, as I have this week, I marvel that God chose to identify himself as the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” writes the apostle John. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” The incarnate Word is the epitomy of action.

Since we are created in the image of God, it seems to me that our ability to use words is embedded in that image. To speak and write words as if there is not a greater Word is to be but a sounding gong or clanging symbol — noise without meaning or purpose. If God can animate his Word in flesh and blood to show the depth of his love and commitment to the creation he spoke into existence, then my words, in his hands, can be an extension of the incarnation.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, (which often end up as words on a page), be pleasing in your sight (and in your ears), Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer, the Word of Life.

☕️ When Darkness is not Dark

A Saturday Caesura

The wind walloped us this week — not a politics and pandemic sort of walloping, but chaotic and destructive nonetheless. It tore tossed toppled tangled with a ferocity unusual even for our wind-prone prairies. Pictures of roofs stripped naked and semi-trucks flopped sideways populated our community social media pages. The power company’s online map lit up with outage symbols. Our community sat right under one of those symbols. Estimated time of repair stretched from one hour to three hours and stuck there as time moved on. We have an alternate heat source and use candles every day, so the only real inconvenience was not being able to complete some work for school because the internet was down. I probably welcomed the excuse more than I should have.

It took the repair crew five hours to restore power; until then it sure was dark outside. No streetlights. No blinding yard lights from our neighbours across the street. No squares of window-light. No horizon glow of a whole community living and doing all the things that light helps us do. I thought, this must be what a bird feels like when a blanket is put over its cage. Or what it feels like to be in a cocoon. Or a womb.

The darkness was palpable, but not in an eerie, foreboding way. It was a stillness even though the wind was still terrorizing the air outside. It was a turning off of the world and its demands and perplexities and absurdities. It was permission to pause. It was a nothingness in the midst of everythingness. It was oddly comforting. Calming.

We are created for light — literally, symbolically, spiritually — and I usually revel in its energy, yearn for sunrise each morning, look for glimmers of it in moments of grace and hope, but the stillness of those five hours of darkness brought a different level of healing to my harried heart. Light can, does, exist in darkness.

☕️ The Best, the Good… and the Ugly

A Saturday Caesura

Before Christmas, COVID-19 restrictions moved my students from our classroom to their homes for three weeks. We made the transition with resigned acceptance; for too many students extended time alone at home only leads to anxiety or depressive loneliness. To help curb the mental health issues that arose when we had to ‘go remote’ in the spring, I added a “What’s your best thing from today?” to our daily writing exercises. Every day for those three weeks we took time to look for goodness and joy and positive things even when we weren’t necessarily happy about our overall circumstances.

Just this week, our first week back in class, though not back in the classroom yet, a grade 12 student popped back in to our online video session after I had dismissed everyone to work on the day’s assignment. She shared with me that she found the daily focus on “Best Things” so helpful that she decided to extend the practice. She took an empty mason jar, dubbed it her “Best Things Jar” and has been using it to collect more Best Things, each neatly written on slips of paper.

Any guesses what this teacher’s Best Thing for that day was?

My frequent Noticing Walks, a (mostly) weekly writing habit of Saturday Caesuras and Sunday Doxologies, my daily time in prayer and Scripture are all meant to focus my attention, not only on Best Things, small blessings woven into the routines of daily life, but also on the Good Things of God, rich blessings etched with eternity in the human heart.

But noticing the good does not remove the ugliness from the world, or even from my own heart. And sometimes all that ugly looms large and ominous. It consumes.

So I’ve been pondering another aspect of noticing and paying attention: What do I need to overlook or ignore? This question is not meant to ensconce me in blinders, to box me firmly into a position of denial about the world or my heart, but it is a reminder that I do not need to wade into the ugliness or let it weigh me down with anger or swamp me under in despair. Instead, I can respond to the Ugly Things by following Christ’s commands to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind (best way to deal with my heart uglies) and love my neighbour (best way to respond to the world uglies).

If this first week of 2021 has taught me anything, it is that I need to pay attention to what I am giving attention to. I need to focus my noticing, set boundaries on what deserves or requires my attention, celebrate the Best Things, be deeply grateful for the Good Things, respond with love, prayer, and humility to the Ugly Things.

☕️ Thinkski

A Saturday Caesura: New Year’s Edition

Grey snow clouds smudge the horizon. Falling snow blurs the middle-ground and slowly whitens the foreground. I bundle up for a New Year’s Day “Thinkski.” Although I skied these trails yesterday, the new snow muffles my tracks, leaving them at best discernible parallel grooves, at worst, blown into oblivion by the wind or stamped out by snowmobiles. Maintaining my own trails is both an exercise in futility and an act of love for skiing. I reset the tracks more than I ever simply ski them nicely packed and smooth.

As I settle into a rhythmic swish-glide, I think about how this almost daily resetting feels so much like the past year where so many days required a reset of expectations as the world was blown over and apart by pandemic fears, racial violence, political divisiveness, and conspiracy theories. Many days felt like a beginning again, a re-finding of something we used to call Normal even though its exact configuration has always been so elusive that we keep renaming it The New Normal to accommodate all of its mutations. Ski, snow, blow, storm, reset, ski, thaw, snow, reset…

My eyes scan the snow ahead, looking for signs of the trail, but it is my feet that tell me whether I have found it or not. The foundation trail beneath the fallen and blown snow is firm and reassuring. This is the way, it says, ski here.

I think there is a foundational trail through the year ahead as well, just as there was one that brought me through last year and the year before that and the year before that… Choosing each day to orient to that foundation is most certainly an act of loving life and Lord and neighbour. “Stand at the crossroads and look,” said the Lord through Jeremiah, a prophet well acquainted with unrest & lament, “ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”

This is the way, God says, walk here. He is firm and reassuring, a faithful refuge, a steadfast guide.