☀️ 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.

☕️ 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.

☕️ Adventures in Learning

A Saturday Caesura

Cold settled to the bottom of the sky this week, left glitter hanging in trees, spread a generous helping of white over autumn’s abandoned and decaying glory. The night the cold arrived, a stray kitten found a warm hideaway shelter, curled its baby tail around its pink baby nose and settled into that deep, world-abandoning sleep recognizable in babies of all shapes and sizes. In the early(ish) morning, the little kitten, a soft-grey tabby, went on an unplanned, very un-kitten-like adventure — to school.

The stowaway was not discovered until the student pulled into the school parking lot and heard something other than the usual purr of his truck engine. And so it was that kitty, smelling slightly of engine oil and still oblivious of the dangers of fan belts, found himself tucked into a flannel-lined jean jacket and smuggled into Room 210. Not that the secrecy part of the smuggling operation was particularly successful. The teacher, somewhat experienced with reading student body language and quite knowledgeable in techniques of interrogation, was quick to spy the bulging jacket, ferreted out an equally quick confession, and further declared that if kittens were going to attend English class, then she, as the teacher, would exercise her authority by being the first to cuddle it. Which she did. Of course.

And so it was that kitty found new warm shelters in various laps, explored an intriguing maze of legs (human and non-human), left tiny paw-prints on papers and desk tops, tapped a few Chromebook keys for good measure, and purred and purred and purred (and meowed), and then, oh glory of all glories, lapped up a dish of goodness made from three creamers smuggled (successfully) from the staff-room fridge, the contents mixed with a bit of water, and, once that was gone, munched on a generous scoop of tomato-basil flavoured tuna graciously donated from someone’s lunch. Oh, that all un-kitty-like adventures could result in such bounty, such an embarrassment of riches.

Any suspicions about how much school-work was actually done that class are probably warranted. Kittens are magnets and there is nothing in the high school English curriculum about magnets. Or kittens for that matter. Nothing. Nada. However, there is an entire general outcome related to collaboration and group work, and if one were to assess the class ability to collaborate based on their collective responsiveness to kitty’s frequent meowing and their ability to offer lap-space in an equitable manner without any squabbling, then it could be argued that, even in Grade 12, having a kitten in class is conducive to learning. And if the quality of learning was gauged by the full, round kitty-belly and the steady, rumbling purr, then the class certainly achieved a standard of excellence that day.

☕️ Living a Scroll

A Saturday Caesura

Last week I spent several days helping my mother-in-law move into a senior’s home. To use a common metaphor, she has entered a new chapter, one of the ones typically reserved for the final pages of life.

The book metaphor for life is a familiar one. The visual of turning a new page seems appropriate to describe new opportunities, especially if those opportunities signal hope for something better than previous pages. We end chapters and start new ones at graduation, marriage, the launch of a career, the birth of a child…the move to a senior’s home. The metaphor seems to serve us well, but I wonder if there is a better one.

Rather than compartmentalizing life into chapters or stages or pages, I’ve been envisioning it as a unified and continuous whole – a scroll, if you will. Although my mother-in-law’s circumstances have changed, she is still the person she was prior to this move. At almost 92, she embodies many experiences and roles and geographies that influence and shape who she is becoming. Yes, I think she is still becoming even at 92 – still learning, still being formed by her choices.

We all are, regardless of our ages.

The person I was before high school graduation is still very much a part of the person I am now as a wife, a mother, a teacher. The person I was before marriage informs the person I am in marriage. I am no less a mother to my adult children than I was when they were toddlers or teenagers. My responsibilities have shifted, to be sure, but motherhood is not relegated to some earlier chapter of my life.

The scroll metaphor challenges our desire for tidy endings. Pages have final words. Chapters have closing paragraphs. Stages of life should as well, shouldn’t they? But what if they don’t? Perhaps our need for closure on certain experiences leads us to peremptorily punctuate them with a definitive end-stop period, and in doing so we fail to recognize that God can use even hard, hurtful things to transform us, to aid us in both being and becoming.

On this weekend, the ninth anniversary of our son’s death, I know the heaviness of a grief that doesn’t have a definitive end in this lifetime. But I can’t compartmentalize it away in some previous chapter. It is written into my life, a scroll that continues to unroll and reveal that God has been at work in me from the moment I was born, from the moment my son was born.

Binding my life into a metaphorical codex encourages a form of survival-ism — a penchant for wishing a particular situation would just end, for adopting a ‘just-get-over-it-already’ mantra, for believing that things will be better when/if this or that happens. I just need to survive until then. If I’m tough and brave and courageous like the self-help gurus suggest, then I’ll make it to the next (and better) page or chapter. Maybe.

There are situations that need to end, we do have to move forward rather than cling to some things, sometimes life does improve when this or that happens, but rather than make those endings or beginnings the focus (and myself the mastermind behind them all), I want to see my behaviour patterns for what they are and recognize God’s relentless work to bring necessary change and growth.

He has begun a good work in me, but it is an ongoing one, a continuous whole that unrolls with each new mercy, with each day’s grace and goodness that never waver in the face of current circumstances, poor choices, or overwhelming emotions.

His steadfast love is writ large across this scroll, not merely footnoted on a page here or there.

Sola Gratia

☕️ The Spaces We Live In

A Saturday Caesura

The view from the hotel window captivates me only because of the constant movement: trucks and cars ad nauseam, gyrating cement trucks, a stout armoured car, convoys of b-train dump trucks, fluorescent green GFL garbage trucks, a Smart car, toy-like among the steady stream of freight-liners emblazoned with company slogans – CN We Deliver, FedEx The World on Time, Grimshaw Trucking Gateway to the North – a load of farm equipment, travel trailers and RVs in search of summer, an occasional motorcycle.

Beyond this ever-flowing tributary sits terminal, tower, and tarmac – the stuff of international airports – where roaring jet engines regularly overpower the thrum and rumble of the freeway below.

If we were in this hotel for holiday reasons, we would probably reconsider the choice to stay here.

The freeway and the airport are liminal spaces – those in-between places of transition between somewhere and somewhere else, between a starting point and a destination, between a beginning and an end. How much of my life has been spent in liminal places, I wonder.

Our hotel and others, each one a liminal space of its own, are queued up along the freeway to entice travellers of both land and air. In the foreground between hotel and northbound lanes is a ditch populated with bulrushes and surrounded by shelter-belt trees, still in their youth and in mixed stages of vitality. In the close middle-ground, a no-man’s land of sorts between the going-north and heading-south strips of asphalt. The far middle-ground between freeway and airport is plowed into furrows and fringed with self-seeded squatters – alphalfa and various grasses. These are the marginal places, the borderlands, the edges.

But they are far from empty.

In the foreground ditch lives at least one pair of mallard ducks, visible only when arriving or departing from some enclave deep in the bulrushes. Several male blackbirds, with or without red and yellow shoulder patches, and their nondescript brown female companions make the fledgling trees feel useful as perches and places for playful cavorting. Occasionally a few of the birds dart across the northbound lanes to the middle-ground meridian and back again, if for no other reason than to say they did it and survived.

A steady watchful presence patrols the close middle-ground. A hunter. A Swainson’s hawk scans for life in the meridian grasses that are deep enough to swallow him for the final foot of his plummeting dives. Sometimes he rises on wide wings with empty talons; other times he clutchs a furry morsel, incentive enough to continue this pattern all day. He is agile, soaring back and forth, high and low. With amazing dexterity, he can anchor himself to a singular space of sky in a stalled hover.

The far middle is far enough away to lack sensory detail, but there is a constant swirling animation of gulls settling and rising around the muddy shores of a large puddle sprawled across the dark plowed ground. I can imagine their gossiping chatter and mildly alarmed or offended squawking, but of course too much noise reverberates from the comings and goings of liminal space to actually hear them from my seat by the hotel window.

What is missing from that window view are permanent dwelling places. There are no houses – just hotels, hangers, terminals, and outlet stores. Even the birds living contentedly in the marginal spaces are seasonal visitors, here only for the warmer summer months. They have their own liminal spaces, the laneless migratory freeways of the sky.

And maybe the house, the home, we return to after our sojourn in the hotel too near a freeway and an airport, after a successful heart procedure, after a five hour drive – maybe this space where I now sit watching birds flit through the trees growing in the margins of field and marsh, maybe this isn’t the permanent dwelling place I perceive it to be…

When I sat long enough and paid close enough attention to what initially presented as a lack-luster view from a hotel window, I began to understand the uniqueness of the spaces we live in.

The in-between liminal spaces often feel confusing and disorienting, but without them I cannot grow, learn, change. Without them, I’m stuck.

I live in the mundane margins, part of the greater world, but certainly not the centre of it. And that is okay, because by God’s grace I have all I need to thrive here.

I appreciate the rootedness this house has provided for the past twenty years, but it is not an eternal dwelling, which is very different and far more desirable than any sense of worldly permanence.

Transitional, marginal, temporary though they be, there is goodness in these spaces where we live because God is present in them all.

☕️ And Who is My Neighbour?

A Saturday Caesura

I call these weekly reflections caesuras because I want to pay attention to the things that force me to pause, to ponder and examine my lived experience in the world. I want learn, to grow, to wonder. Many times these pauses are connected to something that ultimately brings comfort or encouragement. But not this time.

I’m still processing a conversation with a neighbour that happened earlier in the week — a neighbour with whom I have never had an actual conversation. Ever. And he and his wife have been our neighbours for several years. These facts alone make me pause…and squirm, and then start listing my justifications for being a neighbour-by-proximity-only. At the top of my list of justifications? They are aloof and don’t seem interested in anything more than a casual acknowledging wave across the fence. Even if this is an accurate observation, it was the neighbour who initiated and invited me into the conversation when I could just as easily have done the same.

We chatted about birds and golf and COVID — comfortable and relevant enough topics, but he made one comment that stuck in me and won’t let go. “I feel like maybe you don’t think very highly of me,” he said. My response at the time was something about not really knowing him, so it wouldn’t be fair to have an opinion one way or the other. He accepted that response (or appeared to), but the truth is that I have had an opinion, or at least a perception of our neighbours based on what little I see of them. And obviously, his perception of me somehow included an attitude of disapproval or superiority.

But how and why could he possibly come to such a conclusion?

He may simply have been looking for a form of acceptance. He knows that we are Christians and that my husband has been a pastor. He is a self-professed alcoholic and a “little rough” (his words, not mine). Does he assume disapproval from us based on our different lifestyles? By the same token, over the years have I attributed an aloofness to them that actually had its origins in me?

My husband and I think and talk a lot about the importance of ‘second commandment living’ — that practical working out of Jesus’ command to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Mt. 22:39). But if my actual next door neighbour doesn’t sense that love, it should make me pause and evaluate. And squirm. I should not be comfortable with this.

Months of a pandemic crisis and the recent weeks in a long and painful history of racism have exposed our collective willingness to truly love others as Jesus commanded (and exemplified) or to ensconce ourselves behind rights and justifications and self-protections. In this vortex of global and national issues that do indeed call me to a greater love, it was one particular comment from a particular neighbour that ultimately challenged and exposed me.

We need to do better. I need to do better. Here. In my neighbourhood. With real people with real needs who live across the fence, across the street, down the road.

If I can’t live love in the particularities of this place, can I honestly claim to be living out Jesus’ love in the broader context of the world?

🌿Shoulder Check

A raven flew past my kitchen window

and turned to look back over his shoulder

where another raven was gaining air

on his starboard wing.

Were they playing cops and robbers?

Racing madly to the river?

Competing for First-to-the-Food?

(Who knows what ravens do!)

It was the shoulder check that caught my eye;

I, too, have been casting backward glances

at all the ways our world was

but now

isn’t.

Windows vs Screens

Lately, I’ve thinking, not for the first time, about how much information is being disseminated through the Internet. The barrage is never-ending and beyond impossible to absorb, yet there is an unwritten, unspoken expectation that truly informed people connect with every allusion, tweet, subtweet, hot take, meme, sound-byte, pop-cultural historical political entertainment celebrity sports THING that virals across our screens.

It’s exhausting and increasingly meaningless.

The irony that I am posting this on a blog is not lost on me. I am aware that I contribute to the meaninglessness through my likes, ‘hearts’, comments, and posts. I may be but a drop in the vast ocean, but I’m still there.

But I’m also here. Sitting in my living room, looking out the window at a stand of trees readying themselves for winter. They anchor me to the real world in which I live.

A world that has seasons of growth and decay, of struggle and strain, of harvest and abundance. Seasons that exist in elongated rather than snap-chat time.

A world that requires the slow, often hard work of building and maintaining relationships with words and actions rather than clicks and emojis.

A world that doesn’t insist that I know everything about everything and everyone, but does invite me into knowledge and truth.

The window-view nourishes where the screen-view often numbs me.

I’m grateful for windows.

🌾 Rumble and Chug

In this prairie place where I live, old farm machinery testifies to the tenacity of generations beyond our ken. Forget regal statues and impressive monuments to mark history. Give us some rusted metal contraptions of various sizes, shapes, and purposes and we can find our roots entwined in there somewhere.

While the massive combines and specialized equipment of modern farming are impressive, what I am most fascinated with is the cockeyed arrangement of gears and chains and wheels and belts that somehow all worked together to make this old threshing machine rumble and chug and separate wheat from chaff.

That this unglamorous, boxy, metallic conglomeration even had a useful function seems unlikely. That its functioning depended completely on the contribution of even the tiniest gear cog speaks to both its ingenious design and its vulnerability.

The metaphors for living in family and community are not lost on me. As ungainly and disparate as our interconnectedness may seem at times, we need each other: a simple truth with all the complexity and intricacy of an old threshing machine. This, too, speaks to ingenious design and vulnerability.

But oh, the grain-like goodness we can thresh, the chaff we can winnow out, when we all cog and sprocket and pulley at the speed and rotation we were individually designed for.

Let’s rumble and chug, shall we?