Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas Enjoyed

        Well, the family Christmas went off without a hitch. Well done, us! Or I should say, well done, God. I did pray that there would be a minimum of tense moments, a good measure of sobriety, great food and lots of laughs. And all prayers were answered. My brothers and sisters-in-law cooked up a fantastic turkey dinner, with all the family favourites included: green bean casserole, Caesar salad and stuffing! I had been given many forms of dessert, so they sat on the table all day and we ate those before the sit down deal.
          My father always stews when that many people converge on his home. He wants things to be simple. He frets when we move furniture, and drag out old treasures from drawers. He'd rather have paper plates on knees. But somehow this Christmas, with most of us there, the dining room and Mom's treasured China beckoned. If Mom could see me from the Lord's side, she would have laughed as I rampaged through the house looking for the quilted pad to protect that pricey table top. I exhausted all possible nooks and crannies and settled for a bed quilt to do the job under the white linen cloth. All plates and crystal in place, I went to the front closet to look for something and there in plain view sat the table pad. I set about dismantling and resetting before my dad could wander in and say again, "It's too much trouble. Let's just forget it. Who's going to put all this back?"

As we gathered around the table and prayed together, I rejoiced. Even though my mom is no longer with us, beloved family graced our table. My sweet nephew, a cancer survivor, and avid outdoorsman talked of his upcoming, outdoor camping trip. My youngest brother Tim, a master of anecdote told many stories that kept us laughing. Sweet sister Kathy, a dedicated Christmas celebrator wore a string of lights necklace that blinked. All things seemed festive. In the evening, in the midst of a frantic cleanup, my sweet Aunt Leona and cousin Karen arrived for a short visit. Way too short. We had to hit the road for the two hour drive home.
         So Christmas was enjoyed. God is good. He is the God of families. He places us in the midst of such interesting people and asks us to love unconditionally. This year was easy, this year was good.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Truth

A shortened, devotional version of this story appears Christmas Eve on the PCC Website. No less true.

        In late fall, the year I was in second grade, a disturbing rumour surfaced at St. Anne's Elementary School. Few things could upset the apple cart the way this did. Pam, from grade five, the street "wise-apple", told me that what I heard was actual fact. Cathy and Patty from across the street were skeptical. Martha just cried. I was tempted to believe it, but needed to go to the people I trusted most in the world for confirmation. That Saturday, determined to set this to rest, I approached my dad as he was giving his '62 Ford Falcon a thorough waxing. "Dad," I said, "The girls at school are telling me something mean. I need to know if it's true." My lower lip trembled as I spilled out my concern. He slowly stopped what he was doing, looked into my eyes and confirmed the worst. "Yep, it's true. Santa Claus isn't real. We pretend. It's just a fun game we play. Your mom and I put the gifts under the tree. Santa Claus is a tradition, something to make believe in for little kids. But you're a big girl now, and I know that you want the truth. That guy couldn't fit down our chimney, right?." I knew that was logical, so I nodded, sucked back tears to show my Dad that I was a "big girl." My dad's instructions were clear. "Now, don't go telling your little brothers. Let them have some fun with this for a couple of years." 
         Well that helped. With that, I felt a new found power, the power of a secret and started to skip down the driveway. I had another thought, stopped abruptly, turned around and went back. "Dad, is it the same for the Easter Bunny?" "Yes," he said, "and the Tooth Fairy too." Well, I kept that secret until almost dinner time. When my dad came in, there were my two little brothers bawling their eyes out. Dad was not too pleased. Mom neither. But it was the truth, and I thought they should know.

        Finding out that there was no Santa Claus got me thinking. For one thing, it cleared up what I had always wondered about...why did Santa Claus, who was a virtual stranger give me gifts, but my parents, who loved me, did not? Now I knew. That was a relief. And more importantly, with Santa out of the way, my heart opened more fully to hearing about the Christ Child.

        Attending Catholic school, I heard all about the baby Jesus. Christmas was a time of great celebration. Mrs. Duke would sing "O Holy Night" from the choir loft accompanied by her daughter on violin. In our church, there was a life sized Nativity scene. My favourite part was a little angel that would nod its head if a nickel was placed in the slot in its hands. I loved that and took more than a few nickels to make the angel nod. My parents always took us to church, determined to make good Catholics out of us. Even then, I knew that Jesus was real. A real and living God.

        As things ramped up to the big day, we could hardly contain our excitement as we anticipated opening presents, going to Grandma's and seeing the cousins. I was really hoping for a Barbie doll and could picture it wrapped and under the tree. But something was nagging at my young spirit. Amidst the decorating of the tree, the baking of the cookies and the traditional family car ride to see all the lights, I sensed more and more that Jesus was the focus in all this, or should have been. I didn't tell my parents or anyone else what I was thinking, but I felt sad a lot that Christmas, thinking that not enough attention was being paid to the Saviour.

        On Christmas Eve, we had the usual problem settling down to sleep. I made myself stay awake, as I had something important to do. I waited until my brothers were asleep, and then dozed fitfully until I saw the light go off under my parents' bedroom door. I waited a full five minutes and crept out into the living room. The tree lights were safely unplugged, but the streetlights, streaming in from the window were reflected in the shiny tinsel and glass ornaments on the tree. I found my way to the television set and knelt down in front of it. On the top, my mother had set out the nativity scene, complete with a glittering star I had made in Kindergarten. I picked up the little ceramic baby Jesus and started to cry. "It's you, it's you, it's you. It's not Santa, it's nobody else. It's only about you. It's all about you." That was the first time I felt the presence of God. The Holy Spirit was drawing me to Jesus, the Truth.

        I would like to say I grew up and followed him all my days, but sadly, I cannot. Through all my wayward teenage years into young adulthood, no matter what, I knew that Jesus was real. I gave my heart fully to him when I was 23, and I'll never forget that night in front of the television. It was a Christmas of revelation, a Christmas of Truth.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What To Do?

            Have you ever been in such a quandary that you don't know which way to go? I'm in one right now. My decision will be life changing. My usual approach to a situation like this goes as follows: Google. Read many articles. Talk to anyone who will listen. Bore my friends silly. Interview someone who has gone through the same sort of dilemma. Make a pros and cons list. Lay awake at night and stew. Try to get my husband to make the decision for me. And do all this at high speed.

             Usually when the decision has been made, I realize that slowing down would have been the wisest course. Shutting up would have been good too. Talking less and praying more would have netted better results all round. 

            This time, I started out on my usual course. But today, I've decided to wait. Just be quiet and wait. I'm setting the whole thing on the shelf, contrary to any approach I've used in the past. This is not a decision that has a deadline (except the one I imposed on myself.) This decision affects no one but me, so I can wait. Wait, I will.

              And I will pray and expect God to send the answer. The scripture says,
" If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do." James 1:6-8

So today, I wait. That's what I'll do.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


          Today I love my living room. Our little scoliosis tree, purchased years ago when my son was a toddler, still stands. Strung with brilliant white-blue lights, it barely holds the heavy blue ornaments and plastic snowflakes. The homemade star on the top tilts backwards, hanging on for dear life, not knowing it if can resist gravity until it is carefully taken down and stored for next year.  The green wires of the light strand are thick and undulating, clearly visible in the twisted branches. Too bad the lights can't rest there, hidden in foliage, as if it were a naturally occurring phenomena. I suppose lights on trees are to mimic beads of moisture catching sunlight.  But I like the tree none the less.  It peers out the window at the blue spruce on the lawn, drenched with real Christmas rain.

          On the mantle is the green, plastic, cedar garland that we used at our wedding. I like taking it out of the box, white ribbons still entwined with the odd coral coloured dried flower...a tickle to the memories of a vowday those many years ago.  There is a glass vase filled with precious-to-me, old ornaments. Striped and glittered, some scratched, they hung on Grandma's tree way back in the 40's. Relegated to the curb, I snatched them readily, fragile though they are.  There is the standard poinsettia on the hearth, a hand carved Santa reading a long list of familiar names and a red twisted candle I found deep in the bottom of my father's sideboard.

         Before long, it will be time to hide away these meager treasures. Covered in tissue in dusty boxes they’ll rest till next year to be reclaimed again. But for today, I’ll light a fire and watch the flames dance in their shininess and remember.

Grandma's old Christmas ornaments

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Annual Christmas Letter

Just for fun....News from up country....

       Well, one and all, it is that time of year again when we like to sit down and catch you up with all the adventures of the past year. It has been a doozy. What, with Grandma “going away” for a bit and that unfortunate incident regarding Cousin Alphonse, we have had our hands full.

        In January, just to start off the New Year right, we once again started a weight loss campaign. I only have 75 pounds left to lose compared to last year’s 81! My dear hubby of course has his own battles, but is confident this year to cut down on the beer consumption and lose some of that belly! Little Martha and Mattie were enrolled in Tai Kwon Do as we had heard that young kids respond well to the discipline of it. Too bad about the kick to the head and the subsequent hospital stay for wee Mattie, but the doctor says she should regain use of her left eye eventually.

        To celebrate Valentine’s day, Hubby and I left the kids with Grandma, which as you know, turned out to be the beginning of the end for her. But it was a romantic stay at Gwen’s Hideaway up on Route 40 just the same. We find it’s always good to renew the romance, if you know what I mean.

         March Break saw the kids home from school for a couple of weeks. We baked cookies and ate cookies and watched a whole slew of movies. It rained continuously, but that didn’t dampen our spirits at all, as dear cousin Alphonse was visiting and likes to play indoor soccer. The twins just loved that until the “Big Break” as we have started to call it. It’s all fine now. We got a line of credit to pay for the contractor to restore the ceiling and fix the pipe. The smell is nearly gone.

        April and May were pretty non-eventful, except that Hubby got his hours cut at work. That’s okay, with my second job, we’re making out fine and may even be able to put an extra payment on Grandma’s dentist bill. Things always seem to work out, don’t they?

         June brought the most vicious humidity. We wore wet tea towels around our necks and took turns sitting in front of the fan. The kids were so looking forward to the end of school and good news - both the twins will be “moved on” to the next grade. No need for repeating. We surely breathed a sigh of relief, especially with Mattie’s left eye and all.

         This summer was a blast. Our friends, the Garbotts, lent us their trailer up at River Bend Park and did we live it up. Hubby got all but laid off his job and spent a lot of time up there with Mr. Garbott, also out of a job. But those two daddies did a great time of looking after all those children. They swam in the river, (the leeches aren’t too bad if the weather is cool), they barbecued cat fish caught in the river and they taught the kids how to sing the funniest songs. Martha drew many pictures of those two Dads sitting on the deck of the trailer just relaxing, snoring on the foldable lawn chairs. Jeannie and I would come up on weekends to give the men a much needed break, then we were off again to our jobs. As summer came to an end, we were sad to pack up all our belongings and get ready for school. But the town had its traditional end-of-summer fireworks display and we ood and awed with the best of them.

         This fall brought only good things. The twins are now in baton twirling club and we are thrilled as the equipment is so inexpensive and the lessons almost free. We are encouraging them to practice outside now as they are strong throwers. Who knew? The weather has been divine - the fall colours brilliant and we have had many bonfires as we’ve cut down that row of rotted trees at the back of the property. Did you know, our neighbors have two rottweilers back there? Well, that was a surprise to us. They watch us all the time now. It’s a little unnerving, but it’s the drool that bothers me.

          November came and went without much new, except that Hubby was finally hired back at the plant. What a relief. I quit my third job. Well, it was not such a big deal anyway. Cleaning the mayor’s horse stall was a somewhat peaceful job, away from all the noise in town.

           Which brings us once again to the end of the year….Happy to report I lost 27 pounds this year. Well, I gained a bit back, but hey - every little bit helps. Hubby is just so excited about Christmas. He loves to give and give. He has something wonderful planned for those kids and Grandma too, if we can spring her for the day. 

           So dear ones, have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year. We love you lots and hope you can drop by for some Christmas cheer if you’re in the area. Please call though. You never know what Grandma might be up to.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Heart on the Key

It's a bit of a bleak day today, cloudy, breezy and there's snow on my car. Soon I'll need to bundle up and make the Saturday errands, doing all those tasks the weekdays make no time provision for. As I've gotten older, I've lost my fondness for the winter months and today my heart is elsewhere.....

Key River Remembered

For months on end I've envisioned a boat time
Sunlicked, bare-armed, leaning on gunnels dreamed.
Bleak imaginings not once could enter my mind
As weedbeds and riverholes by me streamed.

Fantasies of sleepy bass, pickerel and black green pike
In lily beds, creakfaces, searching from far below
Hiding and peering, remain for lure surface strike
Baitwaiting, concealed in the dark, streamlined flow.

But daydark is long, so long this month December
Sweeping white billows, flakes, piles belie summer ever.
Mind's eye returns to north Key River remembered
The sun, the waves, the breezes, the soul's endeavor.

For soon skies will change, bright green to emerge
Hungry fish to find within full leafy spurge.

The Key River can be entered right at Highway 69, just before you encounter the French River. There's about an hour's boat ride (depending on the horsepower of course), to the open waters of Georgian Bay. We fished against high rising rock faces and in weed-filled channels and beaver ponds. On every occasion, we marvelled at the beauty of this place.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Finding the Ahhhhh

Yesterday I fled to the shopping mall
I parked at the back against the wall.
My hat blew off, I tripped and fell.
My arm was bleeding and started to swell.

But I had gifts to buy and wrap
I had fallen into the purchasing trap.
Will I get the gifts I could afford?
I am so stressed, please help me Lord.

Wait – is this what Christmas is about?
Squeals and deals and getting burned out?
Forgive me Lord for forgetting today
That your love is what I need to display.

Not gifts, nor treats nor a perfect house
Not foods to delight my guests and spouse!
But a gentle, peaceful, joyful face
That shows your love and sweetness and grace!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Life on a Quilt

         This picture cracks me up. My friend and I were trying to be very artsy, taking photos of her beautiful baby girl from every angle. This shot was taken by accident and of course is out of focus. But it's hilarious to me. With those beautiful blue eyes, baby seems to be saying, "Somebody help me! I can't keep my balance down here. I don't know what you're doing, but help me!" 

         She sees life from the quilt on the floor, as we tower above her and make all her decisions - where she will lie, when she will eat, when her diaper will be changed, what she will play with. She coos at us, she whines at us, she glows, she glowers. But we are the decision makers. We love her so much. Our perspective is from above and we see what she can't. We stop her when she tries to maneuver to the top of the stairs and drag her back to the centre of the quilt by her tiny feet. We try to distract her with bright round toys and momentarily she is pleased. When she gets bored, she tries to escape again...into the parts of the room that are not so safe, not so baby-proof. She's looking and looking, hungry to experience something new, not so satisfied with life on the quilt. But when she looks into the eyes of her mother, the eyes she knows best, she smiles that gummy grin from ear to ear.

             Are we not like that? Psalm 16:5-6 says,
       "LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made  my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. " 

           There have been times when dissatisfaction has crept into my soul. I've wanted to reach outside the boundaries God has set for me. But these places are unsafe. Other times, I've questioned the timing of God's provision and like the Israelites, I complain about the wilderness. What a more peaceful existence I would lead, if I'd just be content on my "quilt!" If only I'd let God be God and submit to his ways, which are so much higher than mine! For He is good, only good, and He always sees the big picture. The goal here is to look into His eyes, trust Him as a little child, and be grateful for all His grace and provision.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Blessing of Friends

                Can anyone aptly describe the blessing of girlfriends? Or should I say, "women friends?" For many years I have been blessed beyond measure with friends of character and compassion. Twelve years ago, when we moved to Ontario from British Columbia, we were routinely saying good-bye to many people who we'd grown to love as family over the years. One friend told her husband that they would have to get an excellent long distance plan so that we could keep in close contact. He jokingly asked what he'd get out of it, and she said, "You'll get to stay married." We laughed, but knew the truth. We had encouraged each other on many occasions to count our blessings, love our husbands and kids and pray, pray, pray. I love that about the women of God that have graced my life. We pray for each other.

              The best friends honestly and sometimes brutally encourage you to be the best you can be, to walk in the destiny God has. In the past few years, I have been privileged to know friends who have encouraged me to face fears, step out and move in what God has called me to do. Even when I can't see the big picture, there are steps to take, and friends will give me a gentle shove when I need it.

              Life can be harsh. Friends and I have seen each other through the death of children and parents, divorce, bankruptcy, wayward kids and just plain fury. One friend called me just hours after she had found her son in his bed; he had passed away from a heroin overdose. What comfort is there to offer in that situation? I told her that she had just experienced the very worst day of her life, that it wouldn't ever be as bad as that and she was strangely comforted. We wept together and called on God.

             Twenty-five years ago, one of my dearest and oldest friends saw her baby boy become irreparably damaged from viral encephalitis and still cares for all his needs today. I admire her more than she could ever know. Her mother's heart beats for her children. She is a woman of passion and has learned the secret of being content. I've gleaned much from watching her patience and faithfulness.

              And what would life have held without my two single mother friends, as we navigated the loneliness raising kids on our own for years? We learned from each other. 
I've so appreciated friends with children just a few years older than mine, so that when I call frustrated or bamboozled, they can give their wisdom that usually starts with, "It's just a stage. It will pass."

              We have laughed together. We've shared stories of embarrassing moments and victories over food, gossip and addictions. Where would I be without those precious women who have listened without speaking, spoken boldly when invited, and most certainly have taken me by the hand to the throne room of God? I hope I never have to find out. Today, let's appreciate our friends.

Thank you Lord for those you have put in my path.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Light Up the Sky

When I heard this on Life 100.3, I couldn't wait to get home to Youtube and find out all about it. The band is called, "The Afters," and their video deserves a look.

A number of the band members experienced some pretty heavy tragedies for such young guys, and the song comes out of that. Encouraging, I'd say.
Sunset on Christian Island

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What Now, Lord?

              Have you ever had one of those days where you've been completely blindsided? Well, yesterday I had one. I went to the Write! Toronto conference with the Word Guild. I enjoyed their writers' conference so much in June, that I could hardly wait to get to this "mini" version. I signed up for a three-part workshop entitled, "Fictionalizing Your Story: Components of a Short Story." I had written a short piece for our writer's group about a woman's struggle with a painful marriage and the first thing one of our writers asked me was, "Is that true?" And I had to admit it was a true story. I often have difficulty with plotlines so real life stories are easier for me to tell. I had ideas that this workshop would spur on my imagination, enlarge my setting, better tell the story. Little did I know that I was going to get a dose of real life that knocked me on my rear!
            Tynedale Intercultural Ministries visited the conference to encourage writers to tell stories of refugees who are now living in Toronto. There is a writing contest to capture the "newness" a refugee experiences in making a life here in Canada away from their countries of origin. We were introduced to "Matthew," a gentle Christian man from Iran, who had been imprisoned, tortured and nearly executed because of his faith. As he read his carefully prepared story, his voice broke more than once and I was horrified at what he experienced. And all because he spoke out in favour of Christianity to a Muslim society. I couldn't stop crying as he shared a detailed account of his death sentence, his supposed final hours of life and the horror of standing on a stool with a noose around his neck, his head in a hood. How can this be? How can this happen? What a sheltered life I lead. What a life of privilege and freedom!
           We were then introduced to Maria from Zimbabwe and Leo from Liberia. They led a panel discussion without revealing their horrors. It was important to them that if we are to write their stories, even through fictional means, that we had to get the word out that they are people of dreams, accomplishments and responsibility. Many people have a stereotypical view that refugees want to take from Canada and give nothing. Matthew was happy to report that he had paid back every cent he had been lent and is proud and thankful to pay Canadian taxes to a country that he now calls his own. All three panelists were educated, accomplished, energetic contributors who deserve our respect. They also wanted us to let people know that being a refugee is not their identity.
           My question to them was, "If we write fictionalized accounts of refugee stories, will this bring any dishonour to you? Would this diminish what you went through? After all, there are plenty of real stories to tell." They didn't think it would. Some people will read fiction more readily than factual accounts. All they cared about, was that people become aware of what is going on in other countries and the plight of those who come to Canada with nothing, having given up everything they know for the safety and freedoms we enjoy.
          It was an eye-opener to me. I can't help but wonder what I was doing there. I'm grateful to have had the experience. And I'll pray for these three people of hope and courage.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Confession Time

     We would never preach about the evils of television. It is just a box with wires coming out of it. There is a wide variety of programming to choose from, if you pay for the BIG packages from your service provider. If you are the kind of person who can choose wisely and discriminately, you can be trusted to own one of these things. But hubby and I had moved well beyond that stage. He worked evenings and is a night owl. I worked days and came home from work exhausted. Dr. Phil and I would enjoy dinner about 5:00pm. I might have a quick visit with Dr.Oz, but he freaks me out a little. A quick glance at the news seemed depressing, so I'd flip channels. At first we had the movie channels. Lots to choose from there to fill time until some of my most watched shows started on the networks at 8:00pm. Being a teacher, I'd do some marking, keeping company with the guys from Mythbusters and Wings Over Canada. Never got into the home and garden shows much, but I did enjoy Extreme Makeover. I could be counted on to cry on cue when they moved that bus at the end of every episode. The HD channel, Oasis was enjoyable for the sheer beauty of the subject matter. 

       Once in awhile, I'd puff and sigh, haul rear out of chair and do a chore, but the TV was always on in the background. I spent most of my evenings alone, so it was "company." I'd plug my ears and hum if I started to hear that familiar, persistent voice suggesting that enough was enough and I should hit the power button. It was just too easy to sit like a blob and escape reality watching the "reality shows." At about 10:30pm, I'd relinquish the remote and my husband's shift would take over.

       In early spring, I had a dream. I was on my way to my friend Anna's house in my blue truck. It was along a winding, narrow road with lakes of ice on each side. I was having great difficulty seeing the road ahead of me, because a 52" flatscreen Samsung was mounted to the hood of my truck in front of the windshield! I woke up shaking and convicted. I don't have a friend named Anna, but I know Anna means "favour and grace." And I couldn't get to it, because that television was in the way!

       Unbeknownst to me, my husband was hearing the same thing. He told me one night, that he had come to a decision. He felt we needed to cut off the satellite service. He was expecting a load of whining and arguing, but I shared my dream. We laughed and decided to get on with it. I called Bell and said, "Do it!" Little did we know that they don't flip the switch for thirty days, in hopes you'll change your mind!

       In that month, something else started to happen with greater and greater frequency. The TV ignition switch (or whatever it is) wouldn't work anymore. When we would try to turn it on, it didn't always work. Sometimes it would come right on and sometimes it would cut out after a few minutes. Hmmm. It gave one pause when trying to decide to watch or not. Hmmm again. This was a flatscreen with only one year's mileage on it.

       This helped me to wean myself off. I'd pick a little more carefully. But when that box worked, it still felt like "company." Human voices. In a weak moment, I confessed to my husband that I didn't want to cut it off, because I'd be "alone" all the time. And it hit me. I WAS physically alone anyway. Duh.

       So, on May 12th, a black screen was all that was left. The deed was done. And we didn't die. Something amazing started. We looked at each other more often. We talked more. And joy of joys, I rediscovered reading for the sheer pleasure of it. We still rent movies from time to time. And we have discovered that a few shows we like to watch can be viewed (albeit with much frustration) on the internet. It was a good choice, a great choice. Life together and with the Lord is markedly fuller!

Saturday, November 6, 2010


They say you are what you eat and that could never be more true than for squirrels - they are NUTS!!! I know it's fall and all, but the squirrels in our neighborhood are speeding out into traffic like bullets. Mindless of cars, or perhaps with a death wish, they seem to wait for vehicles before they cross. This week alone, I had to squeal on the brakes about half a dozen times for these bushy-tailed freaks as they try to make up their minds on whether to cross the street or not. They boot it to about the half way mark, turn around and head back to the curb, then change directions again and head once more for the tires of my car. Today I saw some road kill that was surely a squirrel...all that was left was the tail.

We have had ongoing battles with these "rats with bushy tails" ever since we have lived in this house. We've had red squirrels hiss at us when we've gone out to the driveway to get into our cars. They ate away at the wood under the eaves on one side of the house trying to nest in the attic. My husband chicken-wired the holes. We once had a squadron of grey and black ones strip all the bark off four cedar trees to make a squirrel condo at the top of our pine. I feared for the health of the cedars, called the Ministry of Natural Resources and was told that we could not kill them and we could not trap and relocate them. "So the squirrels have more authority around our property, than we do?" I queried. "Yes," I was blatantly informed. I was also told that squirrels do not strip cedar trees. I emailed the photos of the squirrels actually doing it and the resulting nest, but my call was never returned.

We borrowed a trap. I laced the thing with peanut butter. The squirrels could make themselves small, get in, get out with the peanut butter, without springing the trap, laughing and waving at me as I waited by the window. My husband got a nice slingshot. That scared a few of them off the "squirrel highway", the fence that separates our yard from the neighbour's. But the little scamps are still around. Well, it does give us something to watch outside! If nothing else, they are an annoying entertainment.

Monday, October 25, 2010


           When a woman is in labour, she has those moments when she wonders if the baby will ever come. In the last couple of weeks, I have felt like that woman, screaming out loud and wondering if this addition would ever be born. And then, there it was. Done. A new kitchen, a new bedroom and a larger, renovated bathroom. The house feels enormous. It isn't, but it feels that way. As the contractor and his assistant packed up on the final work day, I felt like weeping. I've come to appreciate these two young guys...younger than our son, like sons, in a way. We nearly drove them crazy with all our demands, but they remained gentlemanly and gracious through it all. These are hardworking guys...salt of the earth. I smile at their futures. They'll go far, these two.

             And we're delighted. Sleeping in the new bedroom takes some getting used to. It's so new, so pristine. At first I had trouble falling asleep in a blindless room. It was eerily quiet. The other floor had many noises, household things that turned on and off in the night. But this room is shut off from that, insulation thick and dense.

            The bathroom boasts a huge soaker tub. But one of my favourite features is a tube skylight above the tub. You can't see through it, but it does reflect the colour of the sky and lets in light, in an otherwise dark room.

And the kitchen, with it's "calabash" walls and "cotto flame" ceramic tile, is a dream. With a skylight and sliding glass doors, it's airy. We've been watching the squirrels and bunnies on the back lawn. It's like eating outside. And with new cabinets and a dishwasher, we're all set.
So the birthing part is over, we're adjusting to our new addition!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Heavenly Father

        I have a Father. He is so rich. He doesn’t just own land, but sky and sea as well. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” Psalm 24:1.
         My Father is generous, oh so generous. Look what He gives:
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” 1Peter 2:3.

         My Father loves me so much that he just wants to pour out his love and blessings on me. He has a plan for me and wants only good for me because HE IS GOOD.
God is all mercy and grace- not quick to anger, is rich in love. God is good to one and all; everything He does is suffused with grace.” Psalm 145:8-9

         Yes, I have a Father. I am not an orphan. Father loves me: He is only good. He is not like earthly dads. He is a perfect Father. He loves without reservation. He gives perfectly. I have no fear of harm. He wants only good, because He is good. 100%! I am not Fatherless.         
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!“ 1John 3:1

I have a Father... and you do too!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Grandma Annie

The silk lilies sit in the crystal vase, worn and dusty
They observe...
She shuffles in, aproned, with stockings rolled down like ankle doughnuts
To sit in her favourite place beside the good light
Where threads lie ready.

Grasping needle and white strands, calloused fingers
Guide to form designs.
Stacks of cross-stitched patches grow and wait.
No patterns to follow, she deftly weaves the needle's course.

Eyes, deeply wrinkled, still bright
Smile at filament motif - ideas tried and true.
Cobalt blue today, white tracks move along
Till all corners join together as one.

The quilt is ready. Soon to grace a
Granddaughter's room.
Only the warmth a Grandmother can bring.
Mine an expert maker of love blankets.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hope That Does Not Disappoint

Romans 12:12 - Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (NIV)

A couple of years ago, I was having a "down day". As I walked to my dad's house in the rain that Monday, I felt forlorn. Life, of late, had not been particularly kind. My mom had passed away several months earlier, and I was struggling to make sense of it all. At only 53 years of age, I was suddenly and irrevocably plunged into the world of bereavement. I hadn't had much experience with death, and now, here it was. It had moved into my heart with a vengeance, bringing along with it the thousands of niggling questions that I'd never had to think of before. Even though mom and I were both Christians, and I believed I'd see mom again, questions still arose. What was heaven like? What do people do there? Could my mother see me? Could Jesus give mom a message? Life would never be the same.
And that day, I had missed the bus, and the rain was drenching my sweater. As I passed the church, something caught my eye on the sidewalk: rain-soaked confetti -- coloured little dots catching the light on a gray, pebbled walkway. Clearly, someone had something to celebrate. There must have been a wedding that weekend, and in disregard for all requests from the pulpit, the confetti had flown at bride and groom. I could imagine their smiles -- a day of hope, a day of joy for two families coming together. A faint grin crossed my face as I thought of my own wedding day -- and more importantly, a wedding to come: the marriage feast of Jesus and His bride, the Church. It will be a time of rejoicing, unity, intimacy, and putting away of all tears. My heart was suddenly filled with hope. This grief would not last forever.
Life is sometimes heavy, but hope in Christ and intimacy with Him lightens the load. Today, let's decide to put our hope in the only One worthy of it: beautiful Jesus!
Prayer: Father, thank You for giving us Your Son. Thank You that death is not the end for Your children, but the beginning. We look forward to that day when we can see You face to face, with no more tears. Renew our hope today and give us the joy that only You can bring. We love You! In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

This devotional was published today, with minor variations on the PCCWeb Daily webpage: .

Monday, October 11, 2010

Privilege, Peace and Pie

       The weekend before last, I had the privilege of spending some much needed respite at Blue Lake near Parry Sound. Jennie and Jim kindly opened their cottage for friends, Ralph and Evelyn and I. The five of us spent the time strolling and conversing, appreciating the deep ornamentation and aromas of fall. We had no agenda, no schedule. That in itself made for a peaceful weekend.
       We sat in each other's company and enjoyed the leisure of it all. Evelyn is an artist, skilled in ways I can only dream of, a great inspiration to pursue gifts given by God. She was diligent to sketch and experiment with watercolour, rarely seen without sketchbook in hand. Jim, when not sawing up a large tree he had felled, favoured a corner with good light, off in another world with a good book. Ralph helped Jim with the tree and joined Jennie and I in many games at the table. Jennie floated among us singing the song of the hostess, making sure we always had whatever we needed. The food was grand and more than one recipe was copied. And to my delight, being raised on good pie, there were both lemon meringue and a berry crumble to choose from. Sheer relaxation.
       The place itself is a sanctuary of peace. Surrounded by tall oaks and maples, the cottage is nestled in, away from the road, up the hill from the water. A place well known to bears and bluejays, the forest sings with movement. Jennie and Jim bought the twelve acres at the end of the lake in the late eighties and have been spending the warm months working on their dwelling all these years. More country house than cottage, as it is fully winterized, bathroomed and bedroomed, the sheer size of it takes it fully out of the cottage category. But it wasn't always this way. For the first three years, they lived in a trailer. Patiently, persistently they used their "Willy," (a jeep sort of thing) to haul in materials and nail by nail build their "Lighthouse." Just last summer, their modern kitchen was completed. My favourite room runs along the side of the house with large windows on every side. It has all the benefits of being in the forest without the bugs and heat. Surrounded by nature, that room could stand by itself as a reason to build in the bush. 

       Jennie and Jim are salt and light. They humbly offer their abode to any who need it. It has been a place of honeymoons, baptisms, retreats and reunions. They've welcomed guests from their home in York region and as far away as Holland, Sweden, Finland and even New Zealand. Their doors are open and so are their hearts. I count it a privilege to have been part of this group.
       One guest echoed the sentiments of myself and many others when in their guestbook, he simply wrote,
                       Jennie and Jim,
                            Thank you for this place of peace.
                             May you be abundantly blessed!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

His Place

There are those days
when a throng of thoughts niggle away at a heart,
lists of lists
when no solutions are easy and rest seems remote

And there are those days when peace surrounds and lifts
when calm breaks forth on a biting sea
and life touches down

How to reach that peace during times
When minutes streak like fireworks
when time flashes instead of passes

Only the Prince of Peace can calm the soul significantly -
Only the Good Shepherd can hold me in his arms
and rock away the driven ness

Today the choice is made
His eyes behold me,
His arms encircle me...
It is well with my soul.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Survival of the Busiest

     Just when I wonder if life can get more complicated, something new arises. I am reminded of the summer of 2008. My mother died suddenly, I got food poisoning in Cuba, and while there, we got a call from my son saying he had totaled our car. I was in deep, stupefying grief, had a stomach ailment from the nether regions and came home to a notice from Revenue Canada that we were to be audited. I was trying to look after my grieving, confused father and regularly thought I was going to have a stroke. This all happened within three weeks. I walked around in a fog of desperation. Surprisingly, I felt the Lord’s tangible presence, as I knew many people were praying for me. That summer passed without me having any recollection of it. It was just mourning.
      So what I face now is simple really. No one has died. The government is leaving us be, our cars work and my doctor informs me that I am healthy, but perhaps a little nuts. The addition has left me busy and worn to a frazz.
      The water had to be turned off for 48 hours, so this week I checked into a cheap (seriously cheap) hotel and got exactly what I paid for. By 11:40p.m. I had to flee because the smell from this “non-smoking room” (yah, sure!), was going to permeate my being for life.  I confronted the desk clerk. She came clean and said it “used to be” a smoking room. I’m thinking that if it used to be, it was a pretty recent change. The place was an abyss of lung clogging particles. And I got to pay for it, as they refused to refund my hard-earned money.
       This morning the water was on at home. Things are shaping up. In the midst of all this, I am making decisions about toilets and sink placements, light fixtures and towel bars. It’s like being in labour and the birth is taking forever. 
      I visited my father this past weekend and he commented on how much dust was in his house and wondered where it all came from. I advised him that I am now a carrier and probably it fell from my hair and clothing. My beloved husband wants to hire a cleaning service at the end of it all and I say, “Bravo…I love you!”
     A wonderful sign of hope....there are slender tendrils of baby grass sprouting in the backyard. We could be growing a lawn back there!
Counting the days till normal life returns…

Looking like HORDERS...

Friday, September 24, 2010


       A few weeks ago, Cuz came into town from Montreal and we had a quick opportunity to dash into the bedroom at my father's house and talk privately. I love my cousin. I've never had a sister, and Cuz is the closest I'll ever get. We grew up around the corner from each other and our families were close. She is hilarious. She "gets it." There's history there and family traits we can laugh about.
       She brought with her a newspaper article and photograph about an old friend, someone we haven't seen in 30 years. I met "Jim" in my second year of university, in art school. He was a looker. And manners...the guy was pure, genuine charm. We had the same sense of humour and could fall down laughing on almost every occasion. We shared a love of fine art and Gary Larson "Far Side" cartoons. We became quite close, but never in a romantic sense. I had a steady guy at the time, and he loved the tall, slender types, something I have never, ever come close to being accused of. So we had a "safe" guy-gal friendship.
       I don't remember when I introduced Cuz to Jim, but there was a definite attraction between them. (She takes after the other side of the family - the willowy ones.) We were visiting the gallery where he worked and she and I headed off to the ladies' room and spoke rather enthusiastically about how captivating Jim was. We were mighty red-faced when we came out and realized he had been waiting in the hallway and had heard everything we said. Gentleman that he was, he pretended he didn’t.
       Cuz liked Jim, but I don't think anything too intimate developed between them. A kiss or two, but both instinctively knew that separate ways were inevitable. As time went by, we all lost touch. Jim ran the local art gallery, Cuz struck out to become a paper restorer and worked for a number of galleries across North America. I became an art and English teacher on the west coast. All of us in different goes on and the drift becomes sure.
       And now the memories flood back as I look at a photo of a man I'd never recognize. We were astounded at how timeworn he appeared. When I asked my husband how old he thought the man in the photo looked, he guessed a full 20 years older than Jim is. Our friend looked gaunt and ill, white haired with sunken eyes. How could this be? Time had ravaged him. I wonder what life events had taken such a toll on this gentle man? Was he ill or deeply grieving? After a distance of 30 years, a phone call seems out of place, nosy, inappropriate. Cuz and I decide to just leave it be. But I will pray for my old friend. It is a blessing to know that Jesus sees all and can touch that heart, so distant from me. And I thank Him for the memories that still make me grin.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

How I "See" It

       Being a drawer and watercolour painter, over the years, I have taught myself to see in two dimensions. When I need to, I can bring what's before me into a flat plane, so that I can concentrate on positive and negative spaces in order to draw them. I have never "worked with my hands," to create in the form of sculpture or to build anything three dimensional. It's not in me to do. I have been known to draw or paint pictures of houses and buildings and in my younger days, became somewhat skilled at it. But there it lies. I create in two dimensions.

"Old House"
        When we hired someone to draw up blueprints for our little house addition, I found it difficult to visualize the finished project. I would pace it out in the backyard, stretch out arms to form the space, but couldn't see it in three dimensions. And at every step of this process I have watched in awe as these competent young men create a structure I will live in. They confidently ripped off the back of the house; they put in footings; they took all sizes of boards and nails and metal and made something real...big, and heavy and real. I stand amazed.
        In the midst of my limitations, I panicked at times at how this would all get done. I have had to trust their know-how, their experience. They know enough to take it one step at a time, each working within their area of expertise: framers, dry-wallers, insulation experts, plumbers, electricians, painters and landscapers. My job has been to stand back, watch, and learn.
        And isn't that how it is with life? We can't do it all. We want to, but we can't. We have to recognize our own limitations, give the experts their due, and trust them. Too often I want to be in charge, to handle it all and these days, I find the more often I stand back, mouth closed, the more I learn and the more peace I feel.
        And there's the Lord, who CAN do it all. He sees how everything will turn out in all things. He sends help along the way when I am out of my element. He sends "experts" to teach me in life and at times, to do it for me. All I need to do is trust. He knows what it will all look like. He is trustworthy in all things. He sees in multi dimensions, knows my limits and loves me fully.

Psalms 9:10
Those who know your name will trust in you,
for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Addition Update

       What joy to arrive home from work daily and find significant changes in the addition on the back of our house. We are well past the lock-up stage, insulation as thick and impenetrable as a cast-iron frying pan. My favourite day so far was the one last week where I arrived home and found the old outer wall between the present mini-kitchen and its new partner knocked down - the only barrier existing now a sheet of plastic to keep out as much dust as possible. Finally I got a glimpse of the size of the new kitchen! What fun! Closing my eyes, I see family and friends gathered around a new harvest table enjoying an elaborate meal, lovingly prepared by me! In the corner a new dishwasher waits for all those dirty excellent end to any meal. (No more dishpan hands for me!)

       My husband has been my champion in all of this. He fought for the best materials, the most secure form of insulation and drainage. He traveled far and wide to choose stylish tile for floors and the perfect bathtub. He has been the one to communicate to contractor and workers, inspectors and tradesmen. A detail man, it will be perfect if he has any part in it at all. I sit back and watch, trying to hold my tongue, be appreciative and not be a contributor to stress. (I’m learning, sometimes the hard way!) We made a trip to IKEA on Saturday and laughed as we concocted a wish list. We agreed on everything and my husband had inspired ideas on how to make the kitchen functional. What an imagination!

        So....all is well in the addition department. Chaos still reigns as we live with dust beyond what I could imagine and many belongings in the living room. I hear it’s about to get it’s the bathroom! Time for faith that soon our home will be livable again and more than that supremely more functional. Thank you, Lord for this great opportunity.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tornado Tree

by Michele

       On a wide curve on the Charleston Sideroad between Airport Road and the village of Caledon stands a lone elm tree. About ten years ago, on that road at dusk, my husband had drifted off to sleep in the passenger seat. As we rounded the curve, in some hazy dream state, his eyes opened, he shuddered and belted out, "Tornado!" The elm, standing alone by the roadside in the dusk, had been mistaken for a twister. Ever since then we've called it the "Tornado Tree."

       This living monument was somehow overlooked when the road was put through and the farmers cleared the land. Or perhaps it remained a lone survivor in an outbreak of Dutch Elm disease. Why it is there is beyond me, but I am grateful. I drive that road many times in a month on my way to visit my elderly dad, and it is a marker and reminder.

         Isaiah 55:12 comes to mind:   "You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands."       The elm, branches raised toward heaven and spreading over the earth seems to be reaching toward its creator and at the same time pointing the way. I've imagined it worshiping, standing, roots firm, for over a hundred years. It fulfils its purpose: it provides shade, it houses birds and insects and it is a living testament to its Creator, a thing of beauty put there for us to enjoy.

          I want to be like that Tornado Tree. I want to fulfill my purpose, thrive where I'm planted and point the way to the Lord of Creation. I want to worship Him with the gifts He has imparted and bless others. When storms come, I want to stand, even if I'm standing alone.

         That is the lesson of this elm tree for me.