Posted in focus on faith

Perfect Timing

Sitting outside Jasmine’s hospital room early Monday morning I waited for the text from Christine that says, “We are awake. Breakfast?” That is the cue for me to go to the cafeteria and order “The Albertan” for Christine and a pancake for Jasmine.

But it had been several days since Jasmine had eaten anything at all. She wasn’t drinking much either so everything was being administered through her IV. Frankly, She had been through a week of intense suffering and the day before, Sunday, had been the worst.

When I left them Sunday night I was so broken-hearted I thought my chest would explode. Watching that precious girl battling strep and pneumonia without the benefit of any white blood cells was horrific. I lost count of the number of IV bags and needles as the medical staff tried to stop her plummeting blood pressure, reduce the fever, dull the pain and fight the infections.

Monday morning I was emotionally raw.

I opened my Bible as I waited and looked to Psalm 91 where God had met me in other crises. I found nothing. So I turned to the traditional favourite, Psalm 23. Nothing.

So I began to leaf forward, looking for anything previously underlined. My eyes fell on some green lines beneath these words in Psalm 27:

Wait for the Lord: be courageous and let your heart be strong. Wait for the Lord. 

It grabbed my attention. No one likes waiting but it’s bearable when the outcome we await is good news. So I read it again and then noticed the words just above and found the promise I desperately needed in verse 13:

I am certain that I will see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living.

After all the suffering I had witnessed in the previous days, this was good news. I clung to this promise and, lacking note paper, I removed the cardboard thingy (I lost my nouns years ago) from my coffee cup and wrote it out.

Moments later I got the text. I stepped into the hospital room and could see instantly that Jasmine, while still very sick, had turned a corner and was headed back toward the “land of the living.”

This does not happen to me often but at key moments during my life God has met me through His Word and given me promises moments before life confirms their truth. He knows. He cares.

Posted in focus on faith

No Matter What

July 3, 2013. A typical day. Gram in her apron taking a break with her little helper, 7 year old Jasmine.

It’s easy to believe in a good outcome when signs indicate victory.

I’m a hockey fan. I get very tense when my team plays and the score is tight. However, if we get a three-goal lead I relax a little because winning seems more likely. (does the word pessimist come to mind?)

However, if my team is down a goal in the third, I am definitely a glass-half-empty person. I lose hope.

Two weeks ago, I felt like victory was within our grasp in regards to Jasmine’s leukaemia battle. She had made it through her second round of chemo, we were officially halfway toward the cure, she was feeling good, and we were celebrating.

Then the other shoe dropped.

I got my second bad cold since her diagnosis two months ago. My first cold kept me from seeing Jasmine for three weeks. My current virus has barred me for a week and it’s far from over.

Meanwhile, Jasmine took a turn for the worse. She is fighting a bacterial infection, a mysterious cough, a reactionary rash, headache, nausea, loss of appetite and all at a time when she has no white blood cells to fight for her.

Oct 14, 2016. One of the times Jasmine traveled with me to a women’s event.

Once again, my heart was gripped with fear.

Jasmine’s my first grandchild. Her arrival ushered me into a season that completely caught me by surprise. I was 50 and not yet an empty nester when Jasmine was born. Our youngest son was still at home and I had not had the opportunity to “long for” a new season of nurturing. Frankly, I was looking forward to a reprieve!

So when I saw that tiny little face as she was pulled/pushed into my world, I was astonished at my reaction. My heart burst wide open. It was love at first sight. A rare and beautiful gift.

Jasmine has been a huge part of my everyday life. She lives nearby so it’s easy to be together and we enjoy many of the same things.

Still smiling in the midst of suffering.

It was a long and stressful week as I waited for news from a distance.

Early Saturday morning I drove east into the rising sun to attend a women’s conference. I fished out my sunglasses, pulled down the visor and squinted into the glare. It was glorious, as most sunrises are.

And suddenly it occurred to me that the sun does not rise. Nor set. Sunrise and sunset are misnomers. The sun never moves. It sits in place in the heavens while the earth moves toward it or away from it.

It’s an exact replica of the relationship between God and His creation. God, like the sun, is in His heaven. Never moving. We, like the planets, move around Him. Sometimes tilting toward Him and sometimes shying away.

All last week I tilted toward darkness, afraid and alone.

As of today, nothing has changed in Jasmine’s condition. But I have. I am tilting toward the light.

Today’s early morning reading in John 20 caught my attention because in a few verses Jesus said “Peace to you” three times to His disciples. Something twigged in my brain. I looked up “peace” in the concordance at the back of my Bible and found it.

John 14: 27.

Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful.

That great big God spoke personally to me. About my pain. He cares. He knows. I can trust Him.

 

 

Posted in focus on faith, life lessons

It’s the Little Things

my new look

In my LBL (life before leukaemia) I made my bed every day. I know that doesn’t qualify me for sainthood or even the Good Housekeeping Seal of Excellence but it always helped me start my day regardless of whether I slept well or poorly. It drew a definitive line between Day and Night. Work and Rest.

Another aspect of my LBL was “Tuesday with the Littles.” Every Tuesday, My smallest granddaughters, aged two and five, would arrive at 11 a.m. and leave at 5 p.m. We started with homemade quesadillas and juice and then met some friends at a playground. We would come home for another Grammy-approved snack of cookies or ice cream and hot chocolate with at least two marshmallows. The day would end with a 30-minute romp in the outdoor hot tub. I sent them home with a Fruit-to-GO (only given when jacket was zipped and feet in boots!) and collapsed, hoping the supper fairy would soon arrive (a.k.a. Gerry) and save the day.

We managed to squeeze in one Tuesday after Jasmine’s leukaemia diagnosis and the first thing the little girls noticed was my unmade bed. So they made it. Because they knew it was important to Grammy. I am tearing up as I type this.

It’s the little things.

Helping people through crisis and loss is always hard because we never know what to do, what to say, whether to call or leave them undisturbed. Most people are at a loss for how to respond to a friend who is dealing with tragic circumstances.

What I know from being on both ends (helper and helpless) is that it’s the little things. It’s the thousand tiny kindnesses spread out over time that bring comfort, encouragement, and a smile (through tears).

  • Barb’s gourmet garlicky chicken soup delivered to my door when a wicked head cold separated me from hospitalized Jasmine for almost three weeks.
  • Denise and/or Audrey, my neighbourhood snow angels, shovelling my driveway and sidewalk.
  • Shannon bringing over a cheery yellow flowering plant and staying for tea.
  • Judy and Sue meeting me for supper at my fav Thai restaurant and picking up the bill.
  • Lorraine taking me to her natural habitat (the mall) and laughing with me as we tried on hats.
  • Two tiny girls tugging and pulling and climbing to make a king-sized bed fit for a queen.

The little things become big things in crisis.

Thank you to all of you — there are so many kind acts, words, gifts, prayers not mentioned here — who are holding us up during this leukaemia battle. Jasmine, her parents, her brother and the rest of our family are grateful beyond expressing.

Follow Jasmine’s Journey or join Jasmine’s Army on Facebook for updates.

Posted in focus on faith

The dreaded phone call

Jasmine’s impromptu birthday bash the day before starting her chemo. We shaved our heads to raise money for a wig made from her own hair. It was touching and traumatic.

Everybody gets a terrifying phone call at least once in their life. If you haven’t, you will.

Seven days ago, our granddaughter Jasmine and I were snuggled together on the couch watching Netflix when my cell buzzed. It was her mom, Christine, sobbing: “The blood clinic called. Jasmine is critical. We have go to Children’s Hospital immediately.”

Two hours later we got the diagnosis: Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. (photos and details here)

I was in shock for days. In fact I still have not cried much. But I wake up in the night. And “Jasmine has leukaemia” runs on an endless loop in my head. And fear grips me. I cannot imagine my world without Jasmine in it. She lives four doors down. She has traveled to women’s events with me. We bake and shop and work and paint and garden and hit playgrounds and do projects together every other day. She’s my mini-me only so much better!

So where is God in all this? I think He is trying to send me a message because I hear the same thing everywhere….

First: My pastor/husband Gerry preached from Psalm 91 three days after Jasmine’s diagnosis. The one who lives under the protection of the Most High dwells in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.

“Do you trust Me?” He asked.

“I am so afraid!” I replied.

Second: Reading a mystery novel for diversion after waking up at two a.m. last night: “But he’s frozen with fear….When that fear is replaced by faith he’ll be the soloist.” I looked up, “You’re kidding!”

Third: I called Air Canada’s Aeroplan this morning to cancel a flight I booked the day before Jasmine got the diagnosis. A soft spoken woman named Zena took my call and asked how she could help. “I booked a flight to Texas on January 16 but the next day we were told that our granddaughter has leuk….sob!” I couldn’t continue.

“That’s ok. Take your time. I understand,” Zena said.

“Leukaemia” I managed to say between sobs and apologies.

Zena interrupted my apologies with, “You must have faith! I will say a prayer for you that you will have faith!”

And then she shocked me further, “My daughter had leukaemia when she was four. We went through a very hard time. But she is well! She is 32! I know what you are going through. You must have faith!”

I was floored. I told Zena she was the angel God had sent to me today. She added, “I wasn’t supposed to come in to work today, but I did, and you called me…” she paused.

“And that’s God!” I finished for her, “and He used you!”

Yes,” Zena agreed. “He wants you to have faith.”

God’s Word, a mystery novel, and an angel named Zena — Trust. Believe. Have faith.

Choosing to trust God with Jasmine’s future will be a one-yes-at-a-time journey for me. Fear is dogging my tracks but God is showering me with assurances that He is good, that He’s got this, and that I can trust Him.

In his sermon Gerry quoted Ps 91:2 “My God, in whom I trust” and said, “You need to say it out loud. Let God hear you say you can trust Him.”

Here I go: My God, in whom I trust! 

You can follow Jasmine’s Journey here.

 

Posted in focus on faith, life lessons

Caring for Aging Parents; a chance to give back

My 11-year-old grandson and I were watching a “magic” trick in a shop for magicians in Calgary last month when my cell rang. It was Gerry calling from the other side of the country. He was in the airport headed home but was quite emotional.

“It’s mom,” he said. “She’s in the hospital. Again. She’s not doing well.”

We decided to leave early the next morning to make the seven-hour drive to Saskatoon to visit Gerry’s 91-year-old recently widowed mom and to meet with his four brothers to discuss her care.

Now, a month later, grandmama is much improved and working hard at adjusting to a new assisted living home. We spent Mother’s Day weekend there and were so impressed with her strength of will and mental clarity in spite of physical fragility due to age and the emotional challenges of dealing with the loss of independence.

So many people my age are caring for their aging parents including my friend Kathy Howard. Today is the launch day for her newest book30 Days of Hope When Caring for Aging Parents

Struggling to navigate the parent/child role reversal? Kathy Howard’s new book, 30 Days of Hope When Caring for Aging Parents, explores God’s Word to find hope and encouragement for the wide range of physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual challenges the adult child caregiver may experience. Each of the 30 devotions – which can also serve as a guide for a daily quiet time – includes a Scripture passage, a real-life illustration, biblical commentary/application, and questions for reflection.

 

From Kathy…What Do We Do Now?

My parents needed help long before I realized it. Their need snuck up on me. Since they had always been so independent, strong, and capable, it took a while for my perception of them to catch up with reality.

Then I felt as if I was already behind. That I had to run to catch up. I missed that initial step, the first small decision of many decisions to come. I fell into the deep end. When I came up for air my first thought was “what do we do now?!” You may have that same feeling – overwhelmed with decisions for someone who used to have all the answers.

As we care for our aging parents, we face a constant barrage of decisions, some small and some huge. My friend Karen and her siblings are just beginning the caregiving journey with their parents. Karen’s mom and dad live in a large, multi-level house on more than an acre of land. The family worries about their physical ability to care for the property as well as their safety carrying out the required tasks. In recent months, Karen’s dad has fallen more than once.

Their first big decision looms – when and how should the children talk to the parents about moving somewhere safer and more manageable? Karen isn’t sure how to proceed, but she is sure about where to find the answer. “I pray for God’s wisdom to know when the time will be right to talk to them about a move. God knows when that should be.”

Wouldn’t it be great if our aging parents came with an instruction manual? But, no guidebook exists to tell us “when this happens, then you do this…” The only practical training most of us receive may be on the job, but we do have access to a vast storehouse of divine wisdom.

By definition, wisdom is the ability to choose and act rightly in specific situations. God wants to guide us along a wise path. He desires for us to do the right thing, to make good decisions for ourselves and our parents. Therefore, He does not hide His wisdom from us, but gives generously to all who asks (James 1:5).

The search for true wisdom is really a search for its Source, God Himself (Proverbs 2:6). Let us begin there. In God’s presence, in His revealed Word. The Bible provides the framework of discernment we need for all life’s situations. There we find principles for godly living, guidelines for relationships, and insight that shapes our attitudes and behavior.

Through the guidance of His Spirit and godly counsel of fellow believers, God will use what we have diligently treasured in our hearts and minds to walk us through specific circumstances. As we follow God’s direction we will begin to experience the cumulative effect of godly wisdom. Yesterday’s wise decisions set us on a good path, guarding our course for today’s wise choices. The exercise of godly wisdom today will keep us on God’s good path paving the way into a wise tomorrow.

The Bible describes the discovery of wisdom as a treasure hunt (Proverbs 2:4). Wisdom comes to light as we diligently seek it in God’s Word and in His presence. Let us look for wisdom like silver; search for it like precious treasure. Let us call out to the Author of wisdom and ask Him to grant what He longs to give.

Personal Reflection:

Do you pray and read God’s Word with determined anticipation of receiving His wisdom and guidance? What are some ways you can purposefully hunt for God’s wisdom?

 Kathy Howard calls herself a “confused southerner.” Raised in Louisiana, she moved with her engineer husband around the U.S. and Canada. She says “pop” instead of “Coke” and “you guys” as often as “y’all.” But she’s still a southern girl at heart! Kathy encourages women to live an unshakeable faith by standing firm on our rock-solid God no matter life’s circumstances. Kathy, the author of eight books, including the new daily devotional “30 Days of Hope When Caring for Aging Parents,” has a Master’s in Christian Education. She is passionate about Bible study and discipleship and loves sharing at women’s events and retreats. Kathy is also a regular contributor to Crosswalk.com, Hello Mornings, Arise Daily, and more. Kathy and her “mostly retired” husband live in the Dallas/Ft Worth area near family. They have three married children, four grandsons, and three dogs – one of them on purpose. She provides free discipleship resources and blogs regularly at www.KathyHoward.org. Kathy also connects with women at Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in focus on faith, life lessons

Embracing Your Thorn

I have a thorn in my flesh. Literally. A few months ago I stabbed myself in the left hand. It was not a cry for help. It was an accident.

I was trying to cut through some heavy strapping with a pair of sharp fabric scissors. The scissors slipped and I drove the tip into the meaty section between my left thumb and forefinger.

I removed the blade and saw a hole about the diameter of the blunt end of a chopstick. Blood poured out and I deduced I might need medical help.

Two hours and three stitches later, I was back in business, probably playing with matches.

About two weeks later I was quite annoyed that the stitches were still there and the flesh around them was tender and inflamed. I showed my daughter, the nurse.

“Why haven’t you had them removed?” Good question!

“I thought they would melt or dissolve or something.”

Back to the doc. Stitches removed. I thought.

Now, months later I am dealing with the constant annoyance of what feels like a thorn in the old wound site. I suspect there is a tiny piece of stitching wire embedded there. It sends a little stab of pain whenever I grip or grab something with my left hand.

I find myself picking at, scraping and worrying the surface of that buried thorn to no avail. It’s as firmly there as ever. I need professional help to have it extricated.

Segue to my pastor’s sermon last Sunday…still with me? He talked about the passage where Paul writes to the church in Corinth and says: I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

My pastor a.k.a. Gerry (my husband) was talking about the value of being weak. Yup, value. He said that most people regard weakness as a negative. As something to eradicate, to improve, to overcome. In God’s economy, maybe not?

Gerry also noted how surprising it was that even though Paul “pleaded” with God to remove his thorn, God said no. Paul was surely one of God’s favourite guys since he did so much to take the good news around the world but yet God refused to remove Paul’s thorn. Kinda strange?

So Gerry asked us to consider why. Why did God tell Paul, and the rest of us, that instead of removing our thorns (weaknesses), we must rely on His grace and His power? Then Gerry asked a question I had never before thought of.

He didn’t ask if we had a thorn, because he knows we all do…have weaknesses, that is. My biggie is crippling fear. It has shaped my life. It was the catalyst for my decade in spiritual dryness. What’s yours? Here are a few more of mine to get you thinking: Critical spirit? Vanity? Pride? Self-righteousness? Judgment? Competitiveness? Narcicism? Introversion?

He didn’t ask if we had asked God to remove our thorn because he knows we’ve all done that countless times. “God, give me courage!” was almost my mantra!

He didn’t even ask if we had accepted our thorn because he knows some of us have and some of us are constantly picking at it without much success.

He asked, “Have you embraced your thorn?”

“What? Embrace my…fear? I hate my fear! It limits me, humiliates me, locks me up, makes me a quitter, causes panic and anxiety.” I wrestled with Gerry’s question.

“Have you ever considered that the God who knit you together in your mother’s womb created you with a thorn, a weakness, on purpose? Is it possible that He gave you that weakness so that you would need Him, you would come to Him, you would rely on Him? How else do you make sense of Paul’s words: For when I am weak, then I am strong.?

I had never considered that. So how do I embrace my thorn?

This post is part of that process; once I press publish I will have done an important first step — admit it: tell others, quit trying to hide it, fake it, pretend it isn’t there while picking away at it in secret.

Next time I am afraid I will (try to) accept my fear (embrace my thorn) and immediately call out to God for grace and power: “I’m scared to death but what would You have me do/say/be in this moment?”

Then, I will (try to) act in courage, a God-given courage that I do not possess on my own, and trust Him for the outcome. I call that following God one yes at a time.

Come to think of it, I may just leave that stitch in my hand. How about you? Are you embracing your thorn or still picking at it? Scroll down to join the conversation with your comment.

Posted in life lessons

Warren’s Wisdom

Warren doesn’t send Christmas cards. But he calls everyone who sends him one. After missing three of his calls, I called him back last night. Within minutes I had grabbed my shopping list pencil and I was scribbling (not doodling) on the narrow pad on my kitchen island.

Warren is 20 years older than me and I get the senior’s discount…get my drift? I started taking notes when he said “You have to cultivate a positive attitude.” This was after he’d said that since his wife died, with no one to bounce ideas off, there was a tendency to become negative.

“So what do you do to stay positive?” I asked, pencil poised. I’ve known Warren for 40+ years and I knew he would have specifics. I first met Warren and his wife Irene the year I taught school in their little prairie town. I was lonely and missing the guy in the photo, who lived elsewhere and wasn’t my husband yet. They welcomed me into their heart and home and even after I moved away, the friendship continued.

I wrote (1) beside the next thing he said: “I try to appreciate even the simple nice things throughout my day.”

“Like?”

“Like the pleasant person who handled my groceries and spoke to me, or the stranger who smiled at me as I passed them on the street,” he offered. “Basically, any interaction that’s nice is positive.”

“What else?”

(2) “I try to bless the lives of others…99 percent of the time they will bless you back!” He laughed, “I know that sounds self-serving but that’s not why I do it. If I compliment a friend on the nice color she’s wearing, her smile back at me is a positive. Simple things like that.”

(3) “It’s important to have something to contribute,” Warren continued without prompting. He told me how he tries to have a positive input in peoples’ lives, especially those that can’t pay him back. “These things can be done anonymously or in the background since you’re not doing it for thanks or recognition.”

Then he told me that he reads his wife’s journal entry for that calendar date every day as part of his morning devotional. Irene kept a journal for the 50 years they were married and he has enjoyed walking down memory lane with her since she’s been gone. However, it does bring up some regrets…”I could have been better husband…a better father….”

“I don’t think Irene wanted you to be anything other than what you were,” I offered, remembering how she adored him openly.

“Yes,” he replied, “I keep one special Valentine’s Card she gave me where she wrote how very much she loved and appreciated me. I read that quite often.”

(4) “Staying positive also means you have to deal with your regrets!” Warren said, still unaware I had jotted a #4 and was scrawling on my grocery list pad. “I have talked to my kids about it and they have reassured me that neither of us was perfect!” We both laughed. “You have to live in the present moment, not the past,” he said.

(5) “I think its important to have a community of carers around you,” Warren added. He mentioned that his neighbours watch out for him. If his window blinds stay closed he gets a call to see if he’s okay.

(6) “You realize at this age, that life could end any day!” Warren said with another laugh. “So you’re grateful for every new day.”

I was no longer prompting him, just note taking as he mused.

(7) “You have to do something every day. In the summer I play sports six days a week…volleyball, pickle ball, tennis, slo pitch…I’m in the best shape of my life!”

(8) “Oh yeah,” Warren added with a chuckle, “I try to avoid the grumpy old men.” He explained after I asked that he doesn’t like to spend much time with negative complainers other than to try to brighten their day with a kind word or deed.

(9) “And I don’t have a cell phone,” Warren declared. After further talking I discovered that his main reason was because he did not want or need a connection with a world full of bad news. “In some cases, ignorance is bliss,” he said, “as long as I have my ball glove or racquet, I’m okay!”

(10) After telling me about his plan to go through a lifetime of photos and albums and reduce it to one album for each of his children, he said ” Having projects is probably good for the mind and the body. It keeps you thinking and moving.”

(11) “I appreciate the negatives as much or more than the positives.” This jolted me and I had to ask why. “Because you learn more about yourself and you grow as a person through hard times and suffering. They make a greater impact on me spiritually and mentally.”

(12) He was quick to add, “But I don’t think about the negatives before going to bed!” This needed no explaining. If you want a good night’s sleep it helps to be at peace in your mind.

(13) The last thing Warren said gave me hope. As a relatively young senior I have sometimes wondered if I’m done, washed up, out of sync, unneeded…. But to hear a man in his 80’s roundly declare “There are still things to learn at this stage of life! And you will keep on learning until the end of your life…if you want to learn.”

Thanks Warren.

 

 

Posted in focus on faith, minimal moments, need a laugh?

How was 2017?

Perhaps Hobbits live in northern Greece? This door is waist high.

Happy New Year gentle reader! Have you had a chance to look back over the last 12 months and reflect on all that was? Or wasn’t?

Nah? Me neither. I’m more of a doer than a contemplator; I seldom take time for deep reflection. Of course, because we all admire what we’re not, I wish I were that type of person so I would have deep insights to share. But I’m not. And I don’t.

For the rest of you who are just like me and you don’t set aside time for all that hard thinking, let’s take a mo right now and look back over 2017.

How is your health? Go ahead and take your pulse, in case there’s any doubt you survived the dawning of another year. Did you get through the year with all your parts intact? Nothing removed that you think you still need? Or something removed in the nick of time so you can hang around this planet a while longer? I had my first root canal and I truly don’t know why people use that as a measure of how BAD something can be…”I’d rather have a ROOT CANAL than host my relatives for Christmas!” In fact, the specialist who did my root canal hummed through the 20-minute procedure while earning enough to pay off his Porsche! It was fast, painless (except for the wallet), and simple. If your health is good, then 2017 was good to you.

How is your relationship with God? Did you move closer to Him or further away? Did you hear from Him…about anything? In my first time through Freedom Session with a group of my peers, I dealt with some issues, made some apologies, came out of denial about a couple things (Yikes! I found out why they call it “denial.” It should be called blindness), and enjoyed the love and acceptance of God in a wonderful way. I am now facilitating another Freedom Session group in my home and dealing with my fear in practical ways. If you moved God-ward too then 2017 was good to you.

How is your primary relationship going? In my case, that’s my husband. In yours, it might be a spouse, parent, partner, child, best friend, or…? How are you getting on? Friendly? With kindness? Mutually enjoying time together? Helping each other? Sharing some laughs? Supporting one another through tough times? Committed? Contented? Challenged by the relationship to be the best YOU you can be? If your “first” relationship is still your best then 2017 has been good to you.

How is your family? Is everyone still speaking to everyone? Don’t laugh (or cry). You know as well as I do that the people we love the most can become the ones we most resent. A chilling silence can fall over a relationship so quickly it’s shocking. And once you stop talking, neither person wants to be the one to break the silence. This happened to me with one of my beloved family when I allowed resentment to build up and a gulf formed between us. Thankfully, we both made an effort to bridge the gap, make our apologies, and renew the relationship. I have too many friends who come from fractured families where people have stopped talking and they no longer see one another. If your family is intact and people are still attempting to communicate then 2017 has been a good year.

And finally, because I am a minimalist, I must ask, how is your junk? I am pretty sure no teen boys read this blog so there won’t be any insane laughter… By junk I mean the stuff that goes into landfills. Do you have more or less junk than last year? if you are in the first half of your life you are still in the accumulative phase; you are still acquiring. Building up your kingdom. Padding your castle. If you are on the downward slope, like moi, you are merging and purging, slashing and burning, tossing and recycling. Just yesterday I hauled 10 boxes, yes TEN, out of my tiny office! All of the magazines, newspapers, scrapbooks, book drafts, speaking notes, completed bible studies and never-to-be-read-again books are now gone! I am going through my junk and asking myself, “Who will have to deal with this once I’m gone and will they appreciate it?” The answer is, my kids, and they will NOT want to read my old journals, look through my scrapbooks, or peruse the first draft and multiple edits of my published books. So I finish with this, if you have less junk than last year, then 2017 was a good year.

If you want a deeper reflection on the New Year visit my friend who pastors two small churches in Watrous SK and be blessed. It was that post that inspired me to connect with you today. I pray that 2018 will truly be a good year for you. Focus on the things that matter most — your relationship with God and your besties. Enjoy your health while you have it; nurture your body with real food and moderate exercise. But keep your junk to a minimum!

Posted in focus on faith

One Good Reason…

Finding Tim Knapp was akin to finding a child I had given up at birth decades ago. I felt an uncanny level of connection when we met, via email, five years ago. Tim’s mother had seen me in an interview on 100 Huntley St. in which I talked about my lengthy season of spiritual dryness. She emailed me with a link to her son Tim’s blog.

When I finally clicked in, I found a soul mate. A fellow struggler. An overcomer. A gutsy, honest, back-from-the-grave Christ follower who didn’t have it all figured out. Yet. Or ever. Like me, he was tired of glibness, formulas and pat answers. But he wasn’t tired of Jesus.

I emailed Tim, introduced myself and said, keep writing! After you read Tim’s soon-to-be released book Dry Bones: a crisis of faith, you’ll understand why.

Tim got off to a great start in life. When he was a teen, he had to be up early to deliver newspapers. “Every morning as I crept down the hall before sunrise, I would find my father on his knees. With elbows on the couch and his face buried in his hands, he physically and spiritually pressed into a place of communion with the Lord. His consistent pursuit of the Father modeled for me a life of grateful surrender. I didn’t realize it at the time but each morning as I tiptoed past my kneeling father a little bit of Jesus rubbed off on me.”

But, as we all know, many runners start the race and only one takes home the prize. Typically we read the winner’s books and gobble up their secret(s) in three keys or seven habits or 12 steps or 50 ways and believe them when they assure us, “if I can win, you can too!”

The truth is a few of us “can” but lots of us “can’t”, not to mention those of us who won’t even try because we already tried and failed and are dragging along too much baggage, or barricaded behind walls of self protection, or paralyzed by fear.

So what about the rest of us? The ones who start the race and come in third or 25th or dead last? The ones who stumble and fall and are not able to get up and continue running? What we need is one good reason to keep running. We know the odds are against us so we need encouragement to stay the course, or to get back up, rejoin the race, and finish well.

Dry Bones holds that one good reason and that encouragement. A runner who was sidelined by some unfamiliar terrain, tripped up by fellow runners he thought were on the same team, and flattened by unexpected storms writes it. Thanks to a pursuing God, a loving family that never lost faith in him, and fellow runners who refused to leave him in the ditch, Tim found one good reason to get back on track.

“Before my journey into disillusionment my lifelong desire was to be used of God in ministry. That’s was my hunger, my heart’s cry. And I won’t lie…I wanted to be the guy up front. I wanted to be a ‘man of faith and power’ that everybody looks to with wonder and respect. I wanted to be a powerful leader who slayed giants and commanded armies. I wanted to be a David. God had other ideas.”

Tim reveals that his journey through wilderness had a refining, redemptive, and re-directing purpose. He discovered that while he tried, and failed, to become a David, God was calling him to be a Jonathan. That was his real purpose. That was his one good reason. His role as a Jonathan is to find disillusioned “Davids” and help restore them.

The world could use a lot more Jonathans! I have a few Jonathans in my life and without them, I could not have accomplished anything. They pray, they encourage, they come alongside when needed, they love, they support, they meet me when I am in hiding and lead me out, they are a friend in good times and bad, they have influence and put in a good word for me, and so much more.

Dry Bones is the best book I have ever read on spiritual wilderness, including mine. It has forehead slapping insights that made we wish I had thought of that, the main one being Tim’s unpacking of the true meaning of disillusionment. He starts by differentiating between disillusionment and discouragement. As a 10-year veteran of spiritual wilderness (while married to a minister) I greatly appreciated this differentiation. “Disillusionment is something deeper. Stronger. More sinister. [It] does not let up. It does not yield to reason and it does not respond to social media memes. Disillusionment cannot be outwaited or outwilled.” Amen!

Tim discovered three precursors to disillusionment, two of which I had never thought of: hunger, illusionment, and adversity. Hunger is “a deeply rooted desire for purpose and significance.” Yup! I certainly had that! Adversity is “the experience of a setback.” Oh yeah! Been there, done that, still have the stretch marks. But illusionment? Besides the fact that it’s not a word in the English lexicon, what is that exactly? Are you saying God was, is, an illusion?

Tim’s dissection of the word disillusioned holds profound insights. It means “to be dis-illusioned, to be delivered from an illusion.” Tim explains that in order for one to be delivered from an illusion, one first has to have an illusion. What is an illusion? In short, it is a lie. “God is not the illusion people fall for…. It is in the development of our understanding about God and ourselves that illusions begin to form.” In other words it is not God that is the lie but it is my understanding of Him and His ways that is flawed.

Tim illustrates this concept with the very illusion (he calls them mirages) I once held so dearly; the illusion that knocked me out of the race and mired me in sand for many years: “If I serve God faithfully I will not suffer.” That was a lie (illusion) I believed, so when adversity struck and I suffered, I became disillusioned. “Help! I’ve lost my faith!” I cried to my pastor husband from my wilderness position. Speaking a powerful truth I did not understand for years, he was agreeing in principle with Tim Knapp when he replied, “You haven’t lost your faith, you’re finding it.” In other words, I needed to shake of the illusions and lies I believed and find the real God and base my life on His truth.

Tim is honest, transparent, and real. His writing is beautiful, words laser-focused to convey exact intent. Tim’s willingness to share his failures, fears, and flaws make him, his God, and His truth so accessible to all of us, not just the “best” runners. His humility sprinkled with humour will keep you reading and hi-liting and tweeting and sharing. Maybe, like I did, you will discover your inner Jonathan, and the one good reason you needed to get you going again.

(the above excerpt is the Foreword I was honoured to write for Tim’s upcoming book Dry Bones.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in focus on faith

Christmas Tips from a Reformed Scrooge

I used to hate Christmas. I know, you’re not supposed to say, “hate.” As a matter of fact I never allowed my kids to say it. How about strong dislike! Definitely seasonal dread. Not at all what it is intended to be.

Why did I dread Christmas? I was caving to culture-pressure; concerned about costs; and leaving Christ mostly out of the process. Those three factors added up to some miserable Noels!

Now if you were to ask my kids or even my husband, they would say that our Christmases were wonderful! Lots of gifts. Decorations. The annual tree-chopping with a frosty tailgate picnic to follow. Mounds of goodies. Parties. Family gatherings. A turkey the size of a Volkswagen. The family/friends hockey game. Games, Poppycock. Movies.

So what was my problem? I wasted a lot of energy on “creating” the ideal Christmas; I worried a lot about the cost of it all; and frankly, I didn’t trust or even consult the Birthday Boy for most of it!

Thankfully, that was then and this is now.

What’s changed? I have. And, to be fair, circumstances are also different. I’m older. My kids are launched and have kids of their own. Christmas for grandparents is far less stressful than Christmas for parents. The last thing I want to do is toss pearls from this lofty height and add to the seasonal guilt already weighing some of you down.

But may I encourage you?

If you dread Christmas, even just a little, stop a minute and pray. Right now. A simple cry-of-the-heart prayer. Something like, “Christmas is coming again, God. HELP!”

That’s a good place to start – with Him. It was His big idea after all.

Then brew your fav hot drink, grab a pen and paper, and jot down whatever comes to mind as you think ahead to Christmas.

You might write:

Shop for gifts,

Order gifts online, Crochet afghan for sister,

Make cookies for the cookie exchange,

Book photographer for annual family pix, Coordinate clothes for photo shoot,

Shop for clothes,

Make jellies for co-workers,

Chop tree,

Hang lights,

Decorate house,

Send Christmas photo-cards,

Host office party,

Sing in Christmas cantata,

and much much more.

GIVE IT TO HIM:

Once your list is done, put your pen down, put your hands on the list, close your eyes and ask God for guidance as you consider everything beneath your hands. Visualize His hands over your hands and, as much as possible, give it all over to Him.

Open your eyes. If your drink is still hot, have another sip.

GET RID OF IT:

Now look at the list again and cross off anything that is inspired by ego, competition, or social media bragging rights. Good-bye afghan, jellies, office party!

Years ago I removed “chop tree.” I dragged home the little artificial tree from my Sunday School class – stuffed it in the trunk of my Honda on Dec 21, lugged it into my living room, plugged it in and grinned like Scrooge. I bought a vastly reduced Christmas tree in the after-Christmas sales a few weeks later.

I also stopped risking life and limb and frostbitten digits “hanging lights.” My neighbor stopped the very next year, giving me the credit and thanking me for freeing him from something he only did to compete with me.

GIVE IT AWAY:

Take stock of what’s left. What can you delegate? I can give “cookie baking” to our 11-year-old granddaughter who loves to bake. “Shopping” went to my husband who thinks he’s Santa anyway. This made our kids very happy because Dad always buys them what they want; I would buy them what I could afford! Not nearly the same!

GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK!

Once your list is shortened and you have carved out a smidgen of margin, consider using some of that time to play a game with your kids, take a snowy walk under the stars (God’s light display!), decorate some gingerbread and use it as an excuse to meet a neighbor, or simply take a nap!

Christmas doesn’t stress me out any more. I do less and let others do more. I stay away from social media so I won’t be tempted to compete. I make sure my neighbors know the real me so they don’t judge me by my light display, or lack thereof. I play more. Laugh more. Rest more. Buy fewer gifts and give more money away. And I focus more on Jesus!

May your Christmas be simpler, better, and something you can look forward to this year, and always. Merry Christmas!