☕️ Facing Hard Things

A Saturday Caesura

A new week began like most weeks do. The previous week with all of its ups downs and all arounds was, for better or worse, done. So here was this new week and you were grateful for the fresh scent of it, for the whiffs of promise wafting by on the first minutes and hours.

And then SLAM BANG BAM, you were flattened by a Very Hard Thing. Maybe you knew it was lurking in the shadows but hoped that ignoring it would make it go away. Maybe you saw it coming, but your last battle with a Hard Thing left you worn out and ill-equipped for this new Thing. Or maybe it wasn’t really a new Thing, just an old one returned to reclaim ground. Or conquer more ground. Maybe you didn’t suspect that this Very Hard Thing would ever exist in your life. And yet there you were, flat on your face, gut-wrenched, drenched in fear and despair. There were other emotions, too, but separating them from the messy mass enough to name them was an exercise for a calm and ordered mind, which of course, yours was not.

Too many people I know have been bowled over by Hard Things recently. While outwardly, hands, feet, whole bodies continued to propel through the Necessary Things, internal chaos churned and choked out hope and joy and purpose. Hard Things are…well, hard, even though their appearance, their weapons, their power are different for each of us.

I can’t tell others how to face their Hard Things, but I do know that Hard Things can be toppled over and stripped of their strength by prayer. I know this can sound like a pat answer dripping with “Christian-eze” and religious platitudes, but my lived experience keeps bringing me back to prayerful surrender to the God who knows All Things, has faced Very Very Hard Things on my behalf, and invites me to trust and rest in him for Every Thing.

It was through prayer that the Hard Thing of my week was replaced by a gentle and generous grace. Inner chaos settled into a quiet fatigue, then restful peace, and finally, gratitude and growth. Do I feel victorious? No, not really. But I do feel loved and seen and known and sustained. Sola Gratia.

📝 Mid-winter Musings

And the final issue of Jots & Doodles for the year!

December has been exhausting. The reasons why are varied and don’t need to be itemized here. But now it is Christmas Eve and I’m thinking of how exhausted Mary must have been — young, very pregnant, travel-weary, away from family and the familiarity of home. Sometimes I forget the reality of her situation when I read the too-familiar Christmas story and look at pristine nativity scenes. But really — could God have chosen a less glamorous, less noble, less god-like way to enter into the human story? What divine thinking process ended with this particular girl, in this particular town, in this particular stable, on this particular night?

I’ve been pondering the idea that God has ideas. He is a thinker. The psalmist speaks of God’s thoughts as being vast and profound (Ps. 139:17; 92:5). Sometimes I forget this aspect of God when I’m asking him to “do things,” but his do-ing is never separate from his thinking. I explore these ideas a bit in the poem, “Divine Ideas,” found in the center of this month’s Jots & Doodles. I’m still exploring the profound implications of a God who is full of ideas…

The first piece in Jots & Doodles is a list rather than a poem. Over the past few months I’m been trying to notice and name goodness, and this piece gleans from a daily practice of paying attention. It is an incomplete list and always will be, but I won’t stop adding to it.

One of my favourite Christmas carols is “O Come, O Come Immanuel,” in part because of its haunting melody. The plea that resonates throughout the lyrics is one of Israel longing for the Messiah, but the call for us to rejoice because Immanuel will yet come seems to miss the point of calling him Immanuel. I find it interesting that a song we typically sing at Christmas doesn’t actually mention the significant moment where Immanuel did in fact come. So of course, I pondered this for a while…and wrote a poem about it.

Even though the month has left me weary, I am also filled with gratitude for God’s presence with us, for his thoughts beyond my understanding, and for his goodness so evident in every day. Grace upon grace.

You can find Jots & Doodles Volume 1 Issue 12 here, or by clicking on the Jots & Doodles page in the main menu.

📝 Rhythms of Place

It’s Jots & Doodles drop day! Issue 11, with a focus on some of the nuances of place is now available on the Jots & Doodles page.

In many ways this issue is an extension of my last blog post. I’ve been trying to write a poem every day this month (with moderate success), and as is often the case, my poetry is anchored in the realities of the place where I live. One of the realities right now is truncated daylight; I drive to work in darkness, and I have to bring a headlamp for my after-supper run/walk outings. The first two poems come from thoughts and noticings while I’ve been out-and-about in these darker times of winter. They speak to place because even in the global experience of the moon’s presence, there is a particularity to how moonlight shapes the mood of night in any given place. Even though people around the world walk paths and roadways, my feet know the paths of this place best. When I notice the moon or a leaf or an animal track or a sound, I am never bored while walking the same routes time and time again. To know a place is to go on daily noticing walks. Running, skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, biking, or driving are good, too. It’s the noticing, the paying attention, that makes the difference.

Living in a particular place comes with its routines, whether they are of our own making as is reflected in “Saturday,” or those associated with the rhythms of life around us. As a child, I remember waking up most mornings to the sound of graders grumbling to life in the highway maintenance yard just up the road from our house. We’ve lived where those rhythms have included loons and boats and dogs and traffic, but here, it is trains. Whether they bring delight or displeasure, these rhythms cannot be separated from the places where we live. I choose to let them be reminders of where I belong.

So, I’m grateful to be here in this house by the marsh, in this small town on the prairies, in this region that leans more north than south, with winds that come from the west more than the east, and with more dark in winter when I am more likely to notice the glow of the moon. I’m grateful for the things God has taught me here.

☕️ 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.

☀️ All Things

A Sunday Doxology

Praise God for all things.

All things, God?

Barren trees with branches blown

down haphazard on dirty snow?

Skies of grey upon grey upon grey?

Leftovers for lunch and supper

and supper again?

Renovation dust populating

every. single. surface?

Cold hands, dry skin, tired eyes?

Relentless wind

and unanswered prayer?

It’s easy to praise you for every

blessing that feels like a blessing —

retune my heart to praise you

for all the things that don’t.

☕️ On Gratitude Calendars

A Saturday Caesura

Rain and grey defines this day. The few leaves left on the trees appear tired and waterlogged. Fall is fading towards a some sort of finale while winter lurks backstage. The drippy chill has not hampered the chickadees and blue jays cavorting outside my window, however. They appear delighted and energetic, as if rain is a thing of joy. The calendar may remind us to set aside this weekend for giving thanks, but my feathered neighbours remind me that gratitude can be written into every calendar day. Consider the past week:

Monday: reading through some brilliant-funny-wistful pieces my grade 12 students wrote about “the stories we wear” brings to mind a pair of hiking boots that have played a supporting role in many stories and adventures over the past 40 years. Gratitude for the miles and memories I’ve hiked in those boots spills over into gratitude for the man who encouraged me to buy them, then married me so we could continue to tromp through life together.

Tuesday: it is the season for glorious sunrise vistas from my classroom window. I turn off the lights and sit and absorb the rich colour, the majesty, the fading brilliance. I breathe it in and then breathe it out in gratitude throughout the day as students pull my attention away from windows and sun and clouds to books and assignments and forgotten pencils.

Wednesday: my evening walk or run is sometimes not much more than a forced routine I go through because I know my body needs the movement, the catharsis. But today I come home out of breath from both exercise and wonder, amazed at how the same routes and kilometres can contain such nuanced beauty that no two days look, smell, sound exactly the same.

Tiredness seeps in on Thursday. Lack of sleep, too many to-dos, the ongoing challenges of teaching in a pandemic restricted environment evoke a sense of weariness that clings to me all day. But weariness does not excuse me from being grateful: for the student who has a cup of hot tea waiting for me when I return from the photocopier, for the bowl of thick chowder for supper, made with fresh corn gifted from a friend’s garden, for a good rest at night.

Friday: just the thought of teaching a double-block of my most challenging non-academic class on the day before a long weekend puts me into survival mode. So I am not only grateful, but also pleasantly surprised when this rag-tag, rough-and-tumble group of mostly boys (only two girls — quiet, dependable) completely usurps my plan to have them listen to an audio-book version of the novel we are studying in favour of three of them, self-appointed, taking turns reading aloud to the rest of the class. Sixteen-year-old boys who would much rather talk about trucks, fishing gear (yes, one student brought his rod and tackle box – not sure why), quads, dirt-bikes, hunting, farming, skateboards, food, and all manner of shenanigans characteristic of such boys are actually reading a book together — without me. I watch and listen and breathe gratitude for what feels like a miracle.

Our calendars don’t come with the particulars of thankfulness neatly typed into the allotted box for each day, but if we look closely, if we have the right heart-posture, we can see all the ways that minutes and hours and events and landscapes and people point us towards a grateful response to the Ancient of Days, the God who cannot be contained in boxes –calendar or otherwise.

☀️ Togetherness

A Sunday Doxology

How do I express gratitude enough

to You, the Joiner of two-into-one,

for the gift of a life-companion who

loves You,

loves Your word,

loves Your world,

and graciously loves me, too.

Thank you for shared laughter

and tears,

for iron-sharpening-iron

and peace-finding, problem-solving

commitment and forgiveness

and days and years

and months and minutes

of companionship,

of fellowship so precious.

Grace upon grace.

Thankfulness

Thankfulness requires a disciplined heart.

When surrounded by abundance and fulfilled desires along with a scarcity of loss, conflict, and discomfort, it takes discipline to choose thankfulness over self-satisfaction and complacency.

When living in the midst of discouragement, exhaustion, uncertainty, and the weighty presence of grief or loneliness, it takes discipline to choose thankfulness over despair and discontent.

Whatever one’s feelings about the historical roots of Thanksgiving Day 🇨🇦, and however the day has devolved into little more than Turkey Day, we need to be grateful. Simple as that.

We need to choose thankfulness as a daily heart posture.

We need gratitude, not as a way of ignoring pain and the ugliness of the world, but as a way through, as a sight-line towards hope and peace and grace.

🌿 Resting in Peace

~for Justin

When peace like a river attendeth my way

Oh what joyful delight flowed the day you were born

When sorrows like sea billows roll

And then. That day flooded with deep, deepest despair.

Whatever my lot, You have taught me to say,

And today. Your birthday. With waves of emotion leaving me worn,

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

but oh so grateful for all the days we could share.

#JDC#33

#30daysofpoetry #day11

*”It Is Well With My Soul” lyrics by Horatio Spafford.