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Archive for April, 2021

Dear God,

Thank-you for breath today.

No matter what the day brings, if we have breath in our lungs, it is a reminder that you have purpose for us in this very day. Let us be mindful of each breath … inhale, long and slow then exhale the same … feel that breath move in and our of lungs … whisper, to remind oneself,

i

am

alive

No matter how yesterday ended … exhaustion, joy, mind-swirling, excited, sorrow-filled, joyful, meh … today is truly a brand new day. Though today is linked to yesterday, you give us the daily gift of new. The left-overs of yesterday’s blunders can be tempered by the freshness of a new day … with no mistakes in it yet (Anne of Green Gables). Today is the gift of a blank slate, a fresh start, an opportunity to change course.

God, remind us of your presence today.

We get so distracted by everything around us. Though we know that all that we have is from you, we forget you in our days. We think about what to eat, where to go … hum, I am reminded of the words of Matthew (6:25)

“… do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”

His words say it. God, remind us as we walk through this day that our life is about more than just surviving. Remind us to give our needs to you. To look to you for our needs … for all of our needs.

Lord, we know that our days of life and breath are numbered, that no one escapes our mortality. May we truly live each day, blessed by your breath in our lungs, your Spirit in our souls. May we not come to the end of our day (our days) without praising you.

Amen

“Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
    Remind me that my days are numbered—
    how fleeting my life is.
You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
    My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
    at best, each of us is but a breath.” 

Psalm 39:4-5

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Let me preface today’s post by saying that it might be too dark, too filled with questions, too real for you today. Most days I keep my focus on wonder, on the light, on hope. But, let’s be real, life isn’t always that bright. Yes, I still believe that God has a plan. Yes, I still believe that good wins over evil. And, yes, I know that because of Christ, there is hope. But … I also know that sometimes our perspective of where we are is shadowy and requires a mournful lament of our helpless state.

So … stop reading now if (in the words of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men) “you can’t handle the truth”.

It happened again, like it has happened dozens of times in the past few years. One of our daughters had spent numerous hours in the ER, looking for answers, for relief from pain, for the assurance that it was just another flare and not a bowel obstruction or kidney stones or ulcers (just to name a few possibilities … avoiding the less appropriate for public discussion).

Again, it was just a flare … nothing serious.

Again, all they could do was offer IV fluids, pain relief (in the form of acetaminophen or opioids).

Again, they headed home, still in pain.

I didn’t hear about this, latest episode, until she was headed home ’cause … what can mom do anyway? why cause her to worry? Sometimes I hear about it before they go to the ER, looking for another to help them decide if it’s worth it to sit, in pain, in uncomfortable ER chairs, for hours (though they have discovered that vomiting in the waiting room is most efficient way to fast track themselves through the process of triage).

For one it took almost two years and the other four years before diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. But the pain began (for both) years before pursuit of origin of pain and eventual diagnosis (one of their diagnosis was delayed because the specialist didn’t look in the most common area affected by the disease, delaying her diagnosis by over a year).

SO many doctors, specialists, tests, procedures and even surgery to get to a diagnosis!

Crohn’s Disease is an auto-immune condition (their immune systems fight their own cells as though they were invading cells) where inflammation affects the intestines, causing ulcers to form, thickening of the intestines and scar tissue. This is the Coles/Cliffs notes description. Suffice it to say that it is (quite literally) a painful, stomach-churning, shitty disease.

It is said that about 1/5 people with Crohn’s disease have a family member with it … our family has 2/5.

Our girls have experienced the relief of human biologic medicines that have given both measured relief … temporarily. Steroids are another (short-term) option, but … sigh … anyone who knows steroids knows that sometimes the medicine is almost worse than the disease.

Both are now currently waiting for the next help … the next (short-term) miracle.

Speaking of miracles …

I believe in them. I believe in the miracle worker Himself. The one who formed these souls, so precious to this momma’s heart. Each of their existence alone are miracles. They were prayed for, prayed over, dedicated to God, from before either took their first breath (and one of them took her good ol’ time to take that first breath).

The other night, I reached my breaking point. After hearing about this latest episode, from my girl, sobbing in pain … again (after she left the hospital). I uttered words that I just never imagined coming from my lips …

I just don’t see any hope in this.

I am not one who feels they deserve better than others. Nor do I think that life is without pain, or struggle or difficulty. But … this is hard, really hard … not for me, but for them. Their struggle is one that touches every other part of their life … from work, to relationships, to physical stamina, to travel, to mental health, to future dreams.

A few days later, I am still struggling to find hope in this shitty mess.

This is me, being really real today … lamenting, like the Psalmist (13:1) who cried out “how long, O Lord …”

And I do believe that hope will resurface, somewhere, sometime, “in the shadows of disappointment and darkness” (Nouwen).

“Hope is not dependent on peace in the land, justice in the world, and success in the business. Hope is willing to leave unanswered questions unanswered and unknown futures unknown. Hope makes you see God’s guiding hand not only in the gentle and pleasant moments but also in the shadows of disappointment and darkness. No one can truly say with certainty where he or she will be ten or twenty years from now. You do not know if you will be free or in captivity, if you will be honored or despised, if you will have many friends or few, if you will be liked or rejected. But when you hold lightly these dreams and fears, you can be open to receive every day as a new day and to live your life as a unique expression of God’s love for humankind. There is an old expression that says, “As long as there is life there is hope.” As Christians we also say, “As long as there is hope there is life.”

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Turn My Mourning into Dancing: Finding Hope in Hard Times

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Today I will be getting my first vaccination for Covid and I feel a bit like a kid at Christmas.

I have been telling people the vaccination is my ticket to travel again … but you don’t have to think exotic places, for I just want to be able to fly to the other coast of Canada to see my family (especially my mom who has experienced this Covid year largely alone).

But, this vaccination is more than just that for me.

It is also an exhale from deep in my lungs … like I have been holding my breath for over a year, as we have two daughters with a chronic health disease that requires being on a medication that can lower the body’s ability to fight off an infection … aka a greater possibility of being extremely sick (or death) if they acquire Covid. Though we are cautious and following guidelines from public health, it has been a yearlong concern that we might acquire then pass the virus on to one of them.

This has been a constant concern for the past year.

Added to that have been the glib perspectives that I have had to encounter from those who feel the whole Covid thing is a world-wide government plot, or that it is “just like the flu”, or “enough already with the shutdowns and closures”.

Most of the time I file such perspectives as arrogant, thoughtless or simply idiotic … a couple of times my inner momma hen has verbally pecked the one whose words cut so close to this momma’s heart … most of the time, I just try to ignore and pray they don’t ever have to be in the position I am in, as a mom, feeling such concern for their own kids.

Each wave of Covid has literally felt like a punch to the gut, as I check in with them, ask about their job safety and find myself on my knees on their behalf.

So, today, I get to roll up my sleeve and I consider myself privileged, blessed, thankful. One step closer to being in a position where I will not share this virus with my girls (or anyone else).

And exhale from deep in my lungs.

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Though it was a pickup line by the character Joey, in the television show Friends, how you doin? is a most perfect question for these pandemic days.

We need to ask and be given space to share our experience of these days … the good, the bad and the ugly.

In the past year, I have had many experiences of asking this question to people, often inserting really into the question (how you really doin?) and it has been asked of me, as well. I think we all acknowledge (no matter our perspectives on the pandemic and how it is being handled, that we are living in a time of an alternate normal and that reality has to take a tole on us.

But, there is more.

These questions are opportunities to share the hope that God gives in our lives. Not a Pollyanna hope, sugar-coating our sorrow, struggle and confusion, but hope that exists in the midst of the struggle. A hope that exists while tears are falling down our cheeks. A hope that exists in the One that will never leave us … even when we are in the pits of sadness.

” … you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.”
1 Peter 3:15

So, prepare for the question … how you doin? … and yes, share the dark and twisty times you might be going through, but share the hope of Christ in your life as well. For the world around us needs to know of Him and of the peace that He brings.

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What’s your earliest memory?

Maybe there is more than one? Maybe they blend together? Maybe they are incomplete? Maybe it isn’t a memory so much as a feeling?

I have a memory from my childhood. It is late spring or early summer. The sun high in the sky, causing my squinty eyes to squint even more. I can recall it’s warmth on my skin, not enough to sweat, but feel comfortably warm. I remember holding the hands of my parents, me in the middle … where every child aims to be. We are walking through a path or trail with trees on either side. I remember feeling, not just the warmth of the sun on my skin, but also the warmth of love, connection, safety.

And that is all I remember.

It is a happy memory.

We all have memories from our childhood. Ones that make us feel good things and ones that leave us feeling the trauma of that moment. Sometimes we can identify the origins of our feelings, but not always. Sometimes it is smells or sounds that awaken our memories of years ago. Sometimes, our memories aren’t accurate at all and what we think we remember may not have even happened.

The Psalmist has said, (9:1), “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.”

Have you ever done that? Recounted the wonderful deeds of God in your life … ?

Ever looked back for times when you know that God stood in the gap for you? That something in your occurred and you know, without a doubt, that he worked things for you? That he did a miracle? That he filled you with joy?

Try it. Really! Try it.

You might remember something that has been forgotten, some evidence of God in your life that you need to remember now.

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Good food, good conversation, laughter … these are what we often think of when we imagine a family meal.

Over the past few months I have been in search of a new, bigger dining table for our home.

When we moved, almost three years ago, I sold our farmhouse table. This table that I had picked up (for free) early one Saturday morning. I re-painted the black base and legs a creamy white. Then I sanded the top to bare word, stained it a lovely red walnut and then rubbed on a protective topcoat.

I loved that table. I loved that I scored it for free. I loved that I made it ours with my own hands. At that table sat our five plus so many others, from all over the world. So many friends of our kids and ourselves. Visitors and friends from the church, the school, swimming and football and … just so many friends. So many meals … not all good, gourmet-quality ones … but they filled our tummies. There wasn’t always laughter around the table. Sometimes there were raised voices, angry tones or even blaring silence … yet, sustenance, space and time were shared. Sometimes it was just a glass of water, or milk or a cup of coffee or tea. Sometimes extra chairs were packed around and sometimes just me, staring out at the sun rising behind the ‘yellow’ tree (forsythia) with a warm cup in hand and my feet resting on the seat of another chair.

It was going to be too big for our townhome, so I sold it. I was rather picky about who to sell it to, because that table wasn’t just word and paint and stain … it was a treasure chest that held our memories. Eventually I chose a lovely young family. After picking it up, the lady messaged me to say that their kids were already making a puzzle on it … new memories with our dinner table.

I still remember times of laughter over a meal around that wooden structure.

But now I have found a new (used) table. One that comes with it’s own stories, it’s own memories (the owner said she chose me as didn’t want it to go to just anyone, but someone who would see the treasure of it, who would treasure it. I have to do some work, because it’s a little rough around the edges … much like those who will eventually sit around it for a meal.

sharing a meal (be it pizza from a box or turkey dinner with all the trimmings),

sharing conversation (be it whispers of affection, silence, shouts of anger or laughter straight from the belly),

sharing space … inhaling and exhaling the air … together.

In Isaiah 25:6, we read :

“In Jerusalem, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world. It will be a delicious banquet with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat.”

This is prophesy, for the future. But, this is also our great hope … and it is all about a gathering around the table. A gathering, prepared by God himself, for people from around the world (Jews and Gentiles). At this banquet God will serve the best there is to ingest, from wines to meats, to everything in between. It will be the ultimate family meal.

This is God’s plan. Christ is the treasure at this table. This is our hope in Him.

Imagine the joyful laughter around the table.

“He brought me to the banqueting house,
and his banner over me was love”
Song of Solomon 2:4

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I sit at my office chair, early in the morning and glance to the east-facing window to my left …

a smile crosses my face.

The sun, though still below that magic line, is lightening up the sky.

I look to my left more frequently, knowing that there will be more colors, more light with each passing minute now, until the sun rises above the horizon. Each glance filling me with more joy, more hope, more physical and mental tranquility.

I open my window and my ears are flooded with the song of the dawn chorus, as the birds sing out with the new day, unable to contain their joy.

Lamentations (3:22-23) … the book of sorrows takes a break in the middle to sing out the praises of the love of God :

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.

The Psalmist (65:8) seems almost to levitate with joy :

The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.

… and remind us that God’s creation speaks and works for Him (19:1) :

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

… and these Psalms (113:3) tell us to use the sun as a reminder to praise Him :

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the LORD is to be praised.

The great prophet, Isaiah, speaks of the sunrise numerous times. In his message about God’s covenant with the church, we are reminded that He is the light that has come and that His light covers us, as His church. We shine with His light to bring others to Him (60:1-5) :

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm. Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy …

May the Lord make His face shine upon you, today.

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Who do you say I am?

The words of question to Simon Peter, to the disciples … to us all, encapsulate the most important question ever asked.

Who we say Jesus is determines our relationship with him, our eternity.

If we call Jesus a great teacher (which is true) that simply means that we relate to him on an intellectual level.

If we call him a great healer (which is true) then we relate to him as one who can fix our physical bodies.

If we call him a great counsellor (which is tru) then our relation to him is just as one who we can tell our troubles and to whom we can hand over our anxieties.

If we call him Creator (which he is) then we relate to him as a cosmic genie or chess player, moving his creation to a fro in an effort to win with the most players standing.

But …

if we call his father, then he is one who gave us life.

if we call him Lord, then he has a plan and we are part of it.

and if we call him Saviour, Redeemer … then he is the only one who could open heaven’s gates to us both here on Earth and in heaven … and he did so at a cost that was ours to pay, not his.

Jesus, on his last night with the disciples said (John 14:6), 

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

But, he didn’t stop there, he continues (v.7),

“If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Jesus is reminding his disciples (and everyone who has read these words, including you and I) that Jesus and God are one and that he has access to the power of heaven. Actually, Jesus goes on (v. 12) :

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these …”

What?!

We, who believe in Jesus as our Redeemer, can do even greater things than him?!? People, we cannot forget who Jesus is … what he has done for us … how that impacts our lives.

Just a few years after his life was threatened by a bullet intended to kill him, Pope John Paul 2 said,

“We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!”

It is the death and resurrection of Jesus that gives us life, through which we share in his power and victory.

People we may have very real struggles, we may have very real fears and sorrows … but we serve the one who has beaten death. It doesn’t matter if this Pandemic continues for years, or if is all a conspiracy … if we call Jesus our Saviour, “Allelujah is our song.”

“Who do you say that I am?”
Jesus

“We do not pretend that life is all beauty. We are aware of darkness and sin, of poverty and pain. But we know Jesus has conquered sin and passed through his own pain to the glory of the Resurrection. And we live in the light of his Paschal Mystery – the mystery of his Death and Resurrection. “We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!” We are not looking for a shallow joy but rather a joy that comes from faith …” Pope John Paul 2

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To serve is to submit, help or do for another … another group, another person or to God. Basically service is submission of me for another.

To be in service can mean that there is a payment for such acts, but the act of service is always, always an act of the will.

In recent days the word service has been used more than in months previous, added together. The death of Prince Philip, husband to Queen Elizabeth, has heralded the use of the word service in news articles and social media posts in the most honorable of ways.

Just yesterday, scrolling through Instagram I came across a post referring to the decades-long service of Philip to his wife and Queen. Following that was a meme about how we deserve better. I paused my scrolling … and sighed.

To serve is selfless, to speak of our deserving more is quite a different thing.

I think we humans, in this age, struggle to serve others, for we are constantly told that we deserve more, better. Serving takes on the connotation of being low, personal sacrifice without recognition, being in the shadows. No one wants to live in the shadows when the spotlight is so shiny.

This perspective can be exemplified when the culture around us has a pattern of looking down on those who serve others. The current pandemic has done some repair to this perspective, acknowledging those who serve others in hospitals, care homes, grocery stores, schools, on ambulances etc.

Our human choice to focus on what we deserve as opposed to how we can serve others means that we lose out on the joy of serving, of understanding how our strengths and gifts might be used in our service to others. To serve others is to live our life walking more closely with Christ, for he himself came to serve.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served,
but to serve,
and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:45

What we deserve … would not be IG meme popular today to our eyes and hearts. For there would not have needed to be a cross if what we deserved was socially marketable. What we deserve is why Jesus had to die … his body broken, his blood spilled, his father’s back to him … he did this because of what we deserve. Thus we have John 3:16 (the Carole Wheaton translation)

“For God so loved the world,
that he GAVE his SON,
that whoever SERVES HIM,
will not get what they deserve.”

Romans 3:24 does give us hope in regards to what we deserve,

“God treats us much better than we deserve,
and because of Christ Jesus,
he freely accepts us and sets us free from our sins.”

His is the example of service to us, for through his sacrifice, we get far more than we deserve. May we focus our lives on what the example of Christ’s serving rather than on what the world says we deserve.

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I didn’t really get it fully, until the consequences were too close to home … actually they weren’t just close to home, but they reverberated from the foundation right up to the top of the roof.

The it I refer to is the very real necessity and freedom to use sick days, provided through our employment benefits, as mental health days. To understand that a conflicted heart, a weary soul, an unwell brain are as valid a sick day as vomiting, a migraine or even symptoms of Covid is to have evolved as a worker, an employer and a society.

On a website called Bored Teachers I read this quote :

“My first year of teaching, my principal looked at me in the eyes and told me that sick days were for my mental health too, and to never forget that. It was the best advice anyone has ever given me.”

We have all heard people brag about their unused sick days, even referring to them as banked, as if in not taking sick days they had made an investment.

Though there are those of us who are truly blessed with good health, the goal of sick days is not to accumulate them, but to have them available when employees are ill … when they cannot do their best work.

Sometimes it is not just when we are physically ill that we cannot do our best work, but when we are emotionally or mentally exhausted.

Added to this, though we may be able to push through and do good work even when we are not feeling best, we may do more danger to ourselves by living by the mottos of keep calm and carry on, push through the pain or just get through the day. Heart disease, digestion-related problems and infections are just three of the areas of our physical bodies that can be negatively effected by ignoring our mental health struggles.

Mental resilience or grit is a great life goal, but it can only be developed within a well rested (physically and mentally) individual.

In the Bible there are numerous accounts of Jesus take a mental health day.

Ok, so maybe that is not how it is worded in these narratives, but … they are instances when the work was still needing to be done, yet Jesus either sent his disciples away, or he removed himself from the work at hand for a time.

After hearing of the death of John the Baptist, “he (Jesus) withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13).

As the crowds were gathering, Jesus said to his disciples, “come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat” (Mark 6:31). Now, the passage goes on to say he had compassion on the crowds, then fed them … some times we do need to push through! But, then, once they were fed … keep reading :

After feeding the five thousand he sent them away, “and after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went …” (Matthew 15:39). He sent them away and then he got outa town.

After teaching for a period of time it says, “leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was” (Mark 4:36). He needed refreshment and separation from the task at hand.

“Great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:15-16). Take note of this … he withdrew and prayed … when we take a mental health day, Netflix is not our top priority, but intimacy with and rest in Jesus!

“And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know …” (Mark 7:24)

“They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’” (Mark 14:32)

Sick days are for those who are sick, who cannot do their job best, be it a sore throat of a muddled mind.

Though it has taken me years to understand the validity of mental health days, I have seen the long term results of pushing through to meet the needs of the crowds.

“Yet He frequently withdrew to the wilderness to pray.”
Luke 5:16

(* and if you take a needed mental health day, don’t just withdraw, but pray … it is the best filling for emptiness)

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