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Archive for the ‘FAMILY’ Category

So it’s your birthday today!

Yes, I ended that sentence with an exclamation mark, even though birthdays have never been something to celebrate in your mind.

I remember the first time I celebrated your birthday with you, your mood would have indicated that you would rather do just about anything except acknowledge you were turning a year older … you were twenty-three.

Though birthdays are not something you wish to celebrate, you are worthy of celebration.

Your roles in life include being a son, a husband, a father but there is one area of your life that I have seen this year (and every year before) that makes my admiration for you grow exponentially.

I have come home from work many days to the awareness that you are having a FaceTime conversation with someone, usually an older person who you once worked with/for, whose home you once lived, or knew somehow in the past. Or it might be a call with that guy who is a security guard at a local shopping strip mall, or the elderly man who you met at the barber. As Covid has snuck into the senior’s home where you work as a chaplain, preventing you from doing your work onsite, you have spent countless hours making phone calls to the residents, making contact by voice and heart, being received with happy excitement as well as teary thankfulness.

And each time I overhear your conversations, my heart is reminded of yours.

Your words speak love, encouragement and hope. Your listening speaks even greater volumes. You remind these people that they are still worthy of one’s time and attention, that they are still alive, that the breath of … not just life, but living and purpose is great within them. And through it all, you are the whisper into their souls that they are a valuable child of God …

A few weeks ago your phone rang, just after we climbed, weary-eyed, into bed. It was that English gentleman you’d met at the barber. He was calling to see if you’d heard if the lady barber (who, herself, is seventy-something) you share is still working. Though exhausted, my attention was fixed on the conversation between you and he. You discussed the barber situation, British television programs, historical events … both of you speaking and listening in turn. It was obvious that he was not eager to hang up, to go back to his silent apartment and you did not rush, but continued the conversation joyfully.

And I lie there, silently beaming with pride in how you gave this man the gift of being valued, being seen, being heard.

This is your gift, your greatest calling, giving attention to those who so easily get pushed aside, forgotten.

Now, today, as we celebrate your taking another turn around the sun, I hope you see the value in every breath you take. I hope you are able to receive attention directed to you. That you feel and know that you you are alive and that the breath of … not just life, but living and purpose is great within you.

May you hear the whisper into you soul that you are worth celebrating!

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I thought that I was done with this subject … then … more words flowed out onto the screen. I guess the ripples are still in motion …

It is akin to floating, or maybe I just long to feel the motion of the ripples on the water. I long for peace …

Nope, that doesn’t do …

Most of time I live and move through my days as always, then something jogs my memory, or I bump my knee and like the pain of an old injury resurfacing, I dissolve in a puddle …

No … still inadequate …

I’ll see him in one of my kids and I almost burst with a combination of joy and sorrow …

Nope …

How does one describe walking through the first 365 days without a loved one? How does one, adequately, define the experience of great loss? How does one say, at the same time … the pain of loss is always there and life goes on? How does one meander through year one with everything the same, yet every first a reminder that everything is different?

Short answer …

I don’t know.

This experience of year one without my/our dad, my mom’s husband, the next generation’s grandfather, a friend, neighbor, cousin does not make us experienced, experts. It just leaves us longing for what was, for time snuffed out.

Not only do we feel the void his death has left, we feel and know that it has changed us, our relationships with each other, for his empty space has removed scaffolding in our relationships with each other, causing us to either be stubbornly unmoved (a fallacy, as Seismic Shifts move us all) or completely unmoored, bounced around by every wave, every ripple.

Every ripple … the ripples of his life, breathless for almost a year, are still moving.

I saw it when my younger daughter filled my kitchen with biscuits from his biscuit recipe, when my nephew worked in his garden in spring and when my niece showed up to help clean his garden as summer was fading. I see it when my older daughter calls her grandmother to check in on her, when my son wrapped his arms around me, offering wordless comfort as I melted into a puddle. In how all the grands love their dogs and cats.

I saw it in the stubborn, in the drop everything and run, in the sadness and the frustrations and the avoidance techniques of my brothers … of myself.

He is in our risqué humor, our desire to help each other, our love of music and movement, in the colors of fall and the earliest maple syrup and pussy willows in spring. He is in the late night game, the local hockey team, eyes closed, but don’t you think about turning the channel. He is in the beauty and fluttering of a hummingbirds wings, the enjoyment of an ice cream cone or a meal surrounded by one another. He is in the contradiction of our striving and contentment. He is laughing … that deep belly laugh that often ended in him coughing up a lung. He is on the swing in the cool of a summer evening, reminiscing with our mom.

 “In the Ramtop village where they dance the real Morris dance, for example, they believe that no one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away—until the clock he wound up winds down, until the wine she made has finished its ferment, until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone’s life, they say, is only the core of their actual existence.”

Terry Pratchett – Reaper Man

Dad,

the water still ripples.
the clock is still wound.
the wine is still ripening.

and dad … the crop you planted … it’s growing strong,
and the bounty of it will never come to an end.

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It was a Thursday morning, just like today.

Just like today, the sun shone brightly that day, after days of grey and gloom and rain.

At a glance, one might say that it was the calm after the storm … for me, a year ago, it was the beginning of the storm after the calm.

Twelve months later it is still a mix of calm and storms, everyday life and everything is changed, laughter and tears, stability and wobbling.

Twelve months of grief for my dad, followed by grief for his sister and her husband, a cancer diagnosis and treatment for a brother, the diagnosis of chronic disease for a daughter as well as illness for another, the loneliness of our mom and a world pandemic to round it all out.

Grief doesn’t happen in isolation. Life, with it’s joys and horrors just keeps happening, with little concern for our pain and processing.

There have been times when I have felt, metaphorically, buried alive with grief, disappointment, fear, tragedy and sorrow. Days when I got out of bed, but stayed on my dung heap from morning ’til night. Days when I didn’t have anything left to give … to anyone, even myself.

And the one who I had previously gone to, when there was no other … he was gone too. And I felt it. I felt the vacuum of his absence, the loss of the undergirding he had always provided.

And what have I learned?

  • I have learned that life is short … too short for regrets, excuses. We have today, this moment … that is all we know we have.
  • I have learned that speaking of your pain validates the pain felt by another.
  • I have learned to say I love you instead of good bye … to family, to friends … it will one day be too late to speak them, don’t save them like fancy china … throw them around like confetti.
  • I have learned to lean into my sadness, to cry when the tears surface, to say the words, “I am sad today,” to feel the feels of grief.
  • I have learned that it’s okay to take a break from helping others … saying no or not volunteering to help someone else is okay when your cup is empty.
  • I have learned that even helpers need helpers … from my husband, to a couple of friends, to my counsellor … these people have been the ones throwing me flotation devices when I was taking on water.
  • I have learned that even though I have struggled to write during this year, I have managed to continue to practice this daily discipline.
  • I have learned (again) that God never leaves us in the valleys of life, including grief … and he shows himself in people and wonders that can only be of him.
  • I have learned that grief is not something one can go around, but we must go through it.

It has been a year … started with a beautiful, sunny morning and ended the same.

Though the void left behind will never again be filled, I am hoping that this sunrise was the calm after the great storm.

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Remember, remember, the Fifth of November

That is the start of a poem, a nursery rhyme from the seventeenth century about religion, politics, treason and an impassioned ‘guy’.

this post has nothing to do with any of those things …

I heard the line a few weeks past and, in an instant my mind raced to the significance of the fifth of November.

On November 5, 1943, with the miraculous simplicity of the birth of a baby, the baby boy who would become my dad, breathed his first breath … and like a rock dropped in the water, ripples spread out, forever changing the lives of so many.

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November

As I remembered the fifth of November, it was a memory of that date last year. I didn’t want to forget to wish him a happy birthday, so I called as I was driving home from work, speaker on full … so that I could hear him not hear what I said (yes, he had hearing aids. No, he didn’t wear them).

“Hel-lo” the phone came to life quickly … my mom not picking up calls that day, knowing that most would be for him, wishing him well on his birthday. He loved birthdays and relished the attention on his.

I don’t remember what we spoke of, though I am certain that he told me about who else had called him, where he and mom had gone to dinner, and how whatever he had eaten was “some good.”

What I do remember for sure is that it was our last conversation and … I was miffed at him.

It was so clear that he did not hear much of what I said (damn pride about those hearing aids). And … he just wasn’t right, not himself … and I longed for something better.

As we said good-bye, I rolled my eyes, wondering if he had heard much of what was said. I was miffed at him … and that was our final conversation.

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November

This will forever be my final memory of talking to my dad. Within days he was not feeling well, then taken to hospital by ambulance, then …

If I could have a redo, I would have called him back the next day, been more patient, asked more questions, said I love you until I was certain that he heard it …

But, there are no redos … we only have today, this moment.

Thankfully, I have a lifetime of good memories with my dad, far more good and warm and positive than this last humdrum conversation.

Death is a part of life and we cannot live in relationship with other humans thinking that we have tomorrow.

Do it, today. Say it, today. Live with no regrets.

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November

November 5, 2019, was my dad’s seventy-sixth birthday. Twenty days later he breathed his last, but, like a rock dropped in the water, ripples are still spreading out, forever changing the lives of so many.

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November

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As the day of your birth approached, I was thinking about the dreams I have had over the years for you, my first born daughter.

Dreams about how you would make the world a better place.

My first, and most grand dream was pretty basic … that you live. For those of us who have known loss before that first breath this basic sign of life becomes the grandest dream.

Actually, it is probably similar to your grandest dreams for those who you work with, as an addictions counsellor … that they might continue to have the breath of life.

I have watched you, heard you share stories from your work … stories that break my heart, leave me with questions that I later pour out in prayer. I hear these stories with ears of a momma … aching for the aching, for what they are missing in life, for the traumas that they have experienced that have led them to such destruction.

I see your heart most clearly when I hear you speak of those you work with in your day (and night) job. I hear your hopes for their futures, I sense the hints of your dreaming for them, for their lives.

And here, in your workplace … whether in your office, or on the streets of a ‘skid row’ (in the middle of the night … ), or over a coffee, or at a park, or as they are coming off a high, or as you administer Naloxone to save their lives …

YOU are making a difference in your world.

Matthew 25 tells us the parable of the sheep and the goats. It is the final parable that Jesus shares (final things said and done should be noted because … they were Jesus final attempt at telling us how to live).

“The King will say to them, `Yes! I tell you that whenever you did these things …

  • filling in forms for people who need help
  • finding a safe place for someone to live, to sleep
  • administering Narcan, in a drive thru, to someone who is turning blue, after overdosing on an opioid … after a long day working in a drug treatment residence
  • taking a kid to get the first food they’ve eaten in days
  • being threatened by someone for supporting a teen girl who needed to leave a dangerous home environment
  • sitting and hearing the woes of an addict, while silently suffering with your own physical pain
  • hearing the stories of sexual abuse of teens by boyfriends, uncles, fathers, brothers, foster parent and on, and on, and on again

… for one of the least important of these, you did them for me!'”

You are living the dream, girl. You have breath in your lungs and you are using what you have been uniquely gifted and called to do, in a way that can change someone’s day, their life, this world.

This work you do it beyond what I had dreamed for you … but not beyond what your Creator made you fully equipped to fulfil.

I am so proud of how you love and help those who in our society are often seen as the least.

Happy birthday sweet girl.

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Twenty one years ago I was only nine years older than you are now, when I pushed, you emerged, took your first breath and wailed.

Where did those twenty-one years go?

All parents ask the question, but the reality is, we know where they went.

They went through all hours of the night for the first weeks. The most precious middle of the night wake ups are when a woman knows it’s the last.

The years were used up living in the imaginary world of Thomas the Tank Engine as well as collecting, building, tearing apart and building with Lego.

They were spent in the pool wearing your ‘pissers’, kicking the can with the neighbor kids, trying to catch the dog as she raced through the field behind our house.

They were passed quickly on the football field, the stage and playing video games late into the night with your fellow gamers, at youth group events and at friend’s houses.

Days, no weeks were spent travelling all the way to Florida … and back, ingesting a daily diet of hot dogs.

Sweet times of ‘snugs ‘n nugs’ with the girls. Giants games or Subway (“eat flesh”) with your dad. Sushi dates with me.

So many shared movies from Marvel to DC to Harry Potter, Star Wars and The Rings.

Drives to camp and back … so many drives down that highway.

Travels to Cannon Beach, Mexico, ALL of the south states, the East Coast, Ontario, New Zealand, Thailand.

Where did those twenty-one years go?

Time flies, my son. In a blink you grew from a newborn to starting kindergarten, to high school graduation, to flying off down under, to right now … where you stand at the cusp of another stage.

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us”

Gandalf

This precious gift of life is filled with an unknown amount of time that we can never recapture. Once it is lived it is in the past … gone.

Colossians 4:5b tells us to “redeem the time” or make the most of your time. See the value of not just your years, but the days, even the minutes. Consider how you will spend your time … for it flies ever so quickly.

Happy 21 … may the next twenty-one be as memory-filled.

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We’ve all heard them, maybe even spoken of ourselves (as the child or the parent). Idioms that communicate that a child is so very similar in looks, behavior or attitude.

“Well doesn’t she just take right after you”

“That apple didn’t fall far from the tree”

“He’s a chip off the old block”

Genetics are an amazing thing. Yet, there is also the question of nature or nurture?

As a Christian, we might even look to the negative attitudes, habits and behaviors as generational curses … leaving us a little less personally ‘guilty’ for the nasties that we bring to life.

Yet, in Ezekiel 18 we are reminded”

“The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness.” (v. 20).

In this account we are reminded that God does not see us through our families, he sees us, our choices, our actions and attitudes as individuals who are free and responsible to make our own choices … even when we have been nurtured a certain way.

If we grow up in a home where physical abuse happened, it is our responsibility to not continue inflicting pain on others (seek counselling).

If we grow up in a home where we saw substance abuse, we must do whatever we can to avoid that substance (join a 12-step program for loved ones of substance abuse users/addicts).

If we grow up in a home where passive aggressive behavior was the norm, choose to live differently (learn to be assertive (not aggressive), to speak what is on your mind, stop reading into the motivations of others).

As I read back, those suggestions might sound far easier, far more simplistic than the reality is for those living in tough situations, with not the best role models.

Then there is the parent or grandparent who inflicted the pain … is there any hope for them?

Ann Voskamp tells a story that kind of stopped me in my tracks:

“I knew a guy who said: “Dad – I need you to say that I’m enough …”

Sometimes what you want most is your father/mother) to give you the greatest gift: For them to believe in you.

But his father turned to him and said – I can’t. Because my own father never said it to me.”

What your father (mother) never gave you, may be because it was something he/she never had.

This can be an unspoken bond with the one who has wounded you? You both carry the same wounds.

You can’t deeply love your parents – until you grieve the deep wounds of their life.

Even now, we could be the ones to say what every parents long to hear: “I love you and nothing you’ve ever done or ever failed to do will change how I forever love you.

I’m not ashamed of you but I acclaim you, for the battles that count as wins because you kept getting up again.”

https://annvoskamp.com/2020/06/what-all-our-hurting-hearts-need-most-this-fathers-day/

In this world where we encourage the elimination of toxic people from our lives, we forget that our scars can be the ointment that heals others … and that can be the miracle cure for our own. For our scars may, indeed, be very similar … originating from a common source.

We need to remember that God does not look at us through the sins of generations before us, he sees us for who we are as his child. It is how we choose to live that we are responsible for. And it is his favor, his grace that moves us beyond our nature and our nurture.

Fight the tendency to follow in your father’s or mother’s dirty footprints. Live differently! But also keep the door open to finding a new family path, by being the one who nurtures healing.

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Driving to work the other day, singing along to a worship song, words leapt out at me:

May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
Your family and your children
And their children,
and their children

As the words settled in my mind, my grandmother came to mind.

A woman of faith, who lived a very real, intentional, consistent life. She worked hard, played hard and knew when and how to rest. She loved her family, would go to the ends of the earth for any one of us. She never allowed our poor behavior, immaturity or way we chose to live impact her unconditional love for us.

But … she did not leave this world under any illusion that all of her loved ones chose, or would choose to follow her God.

I am certain that her greatest hope would have been that her family walk with God … her children, and their children, and their children and their children …

We all have loved ones who have not accepted Christ as their redeemer, or ones who have chosen to walk away from the gift of grace … the favor that is offered. We all have ached for the peace that they do not even know is missing in their life. This desire for their lives is a good one, perhaps the best anyone can hope for another.

Yet, if we sing the words of this blessing we can feel as though our loved one, as though we have been overlooked by God, missing out on his favor, his grace for life, everlasting.

One thing that my grandmother taught me, that is still resonating in my mind and heart, is to trust God. Or, as Corrie Ten Boom said,

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God”

So, we trust God, who loves our loved ones even more than we do. And we hold on to his promises, knowing that though with man this is impossible, with him all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

“Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord.”

Psalm 102:18

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Unknown Artist – Germany 1560s

I realized the problem … me.

It is something that had been gnawing at my for quite awhile. I couldn’t figure out why my advise wasn’t being taken … I mean, I do know things.

It wasn’t like this was the first of our three adult kids to ignore my sage advise, my words of wisdom. But … this time is was really contributing to my knickers being tied up in a knot.

Then it hit me … I am the problem …

It was a simple thing, a parental ‘letting go’ of control of an area of one of our kid’s lives. An appointment had to be made, so I said, here’s the number you need to call and make an appointment asap.

An hour later … call not made.

The next morning … call not made.

That afternoon … call still not made.

Three days late … notta!

The procrastination to make this simple appointment was getting under my skin.

“But, it’s not rocket science.”

“How hard is this?”

“It will take mere minutes.”

… all my thoughts in response to this … nothing.

Then it hit me … when I was that age, I hated to make telephone calls to doctors, dentists, hairstylists, businesses. I would avoid it at all costs. Actually, I still hate doing it … I don’t have good rationale for my avoidance, it’s just an area that I can procrastinate with natural flair. Except that, I have mostly overcome it, managed to accomplish such tasks with little procrastination.

So, I started to look at other areas of our (adult) kid’s lives that made me kinda crazy. The things that had me shaking my head most often were the areas that, at a younger stage of my own life, I struggled with. Whether it was getting enough sleep, spending/saving money, time management, or … making an appointment, it is the things I struggled with that I am less gracious or understanding about in my kid’s lives.

This realization had me thinking about the parable of the unforgiving debtor/servant (Matthew 18:21-35). A man had a debt he simply could not repay the king, so he begged for mercy … for time to repay it. The king not only let him go, but forgave his debt. The man then went, straight away, to find one who owed him money and he demanded it immediately. This indebted man also begged for mercy, for time, but he was thrown in jail. When the king heard this story he was aghast. So he had this man thrown into prison (after a good tongue lashing).

The Matthew Henry Commentary on this parable states:

“Though we live wholly on mercy and forgiveness, we are backward to forgive the offences of our brethren.”

Though this story deals with debts, which my own story does not, it also deals with learning about grace and mercy.

In my life, I have had to learn from my own successes and (maybe more-so) mistakes. I have had to pay the price (literally) for debts unpaid, for late nights, for poor time management, for not making an appointment. These experiences have helped me to learn and grow.

But, I cannot expect my kids, who are still in the early stages of learning and growing, to have mastered the same level of learning as I. They too need to learn from their experiences and that means making their own mistakes along the way as well.

They, like me, will learn best from their own successes and errors. I hope that I can view their struggles … the ones I have learned from … with eyes of grace and mercy.

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Forty-nine years ago my parents spoke their vows, exchanged rings and sealed them with a kiss. This happened after a short engagement, in an old stone church, surrounded by family and friends.

Forty-nine years of for better … or worse, richer … or poorer, health … or sickness. Forty-nine years of love, and arguments, and silence, and disagreements, and children, and inlaws, and bills, and holidays and memories … so many memories.

They married, but their marriage did not begin as two, for my two-year old self was there to keep them from focusing too much attention on the other. Fifteen months later their son followed and twenty-six months another son.

There were numerous dogs and cats and even a few fish (but NEVER anything from the rodent family … NEVER).

In forty-nine years there were only two homes, one built by my dad’s father, the other a new home in a neighborhood with other young families. One phone number … just one.

They raised us kids, just like they were raised. Fed us what they had been fed. Spoke words, rules and wisdom that they had been given. Disciplined us as they had been disciplined.

In their house there was always yarn, cheese and the daily newspaper. Hockey ruled the TV most evenings and closed eyes were no indication that it was okay to change the channel.

The vegetables were peas, beans or corn (or all three at once). Most meals were made in quantities that would last much of the week and appeared in casserole dishes.

Physical ailments could be fixed with Vicks Vapo Rub, Absorbine Jr. or Polysporin. Home improvements could be fixed with a nail, tape (copious amounts of tape) or wallpaper.

Christmas morning always started before the sun even imagined rising and has always included a green tree. Birthdays were never without a cake, candles, ice cream and a call to serenade the birthday girl or boy (woman or man) with Happy Birthday singing. Spring was not spring without pussy willows. Hot summer days were for potato salad (with peas). Hot summer nights would hold the possibility of a drive to Sussex or the village for ice cream. Soap operas were enjoyed by both partners (though one wasn’t as quick to admit this truth).

One spent too much money when out, the other spent too much time away at the ball field (for better or worse … so the vows say and is the reality of marriage between humans).

In recent years summer evenings were spent on the swing, looking back, looking forward.

But there are other memories. Ones a daughter or son do not remember. Ones of just the two, in their wandering through married life together. They are the spectacular memories of words said and life lived that only one other person on the planet shares. These memories of joys and even heartbreaks bring wordless smiles and tears.

Memories of a long marriage are sure to awaken us all to the brevity of life.

It is in looking back that the preceding years seem to have gone in a flash. These memories of marriage are what we hold on to. They are the gift and the offering wrapped up together … the offering in their original experience and a gift when looking back at life and love shared.

The Bible says that marriage is a mystery. Maybe the memories of a long marriage are the unravelling of the mystery, slowly reminding us how fortunate we are to have these mental souvenirs of the past.

And, even though health may fail, though life here may have an end, the memories live on in our minds, in our hearts and even in the generations that are woven into the marriage story.

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