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* Tomorrow family and friends will bid this lady a final adieu … but we have been doing that for a couple of years now. This was my last visit with her, one I am so thankful to have had. If I might be so bold, if there is someone in your life who forgets more than they remember, go see them anyway … their soul is still here.

“I don’t think she will know who I am by the time I get there,” I stated to hubby one day, just weeks before I left for a trip to visit family.

My aunt (not pronounced ‘ant’) was diagnosed with Alzehimer’s Disease a number of months back. She has surrendered her license, her volunteer activities, much of her memory.

I had decided that if, when I called her on the phone, she recognized my voice, knew who I was, I would go visit her. Conversely, I had decided that if she did not recognize my voice, know who I am, I would not go visit her.

I want to remember her how she was …

That was my rational. One part, economical use of my time in the area, one part self-preservation (lets call a spade a spade … it was 1.99 parts self-preservation.

So, when I called her on the day of my departure (yes, this was something I procrastinated), when I said hello into the phone, I was shocked that she knew my voice immediately.

A thrill of hope ran through me, as I told her we would be stopping by for a visit soon.

It will be the same as always …

We arrived at the home she and my uncle have lived for as long as I remember. The home I spent countless weeks in the summer, playing board games, getting baking lessons, picking blueberries, watching movies and feeling like the spoiled niece of my (childless) aunt and uncle that I was.

The house, well-worn on the inside and out, signs of lacking maintenance by this eighty-something couple. Food, cooling on the countertops (breaking every food-safe rule), before being stored in the fridge or freezer. The outer porch piled with newspapers, saved for …

These props, extras in my periphery, meaningless to the woman I had come to see, who would know that I was there.

Our initial greetings were good, normal. Never an overly, outwardly affectionate woman, this aunt always had the sensible approach to life of Anne of Green Gable’s steadfast rock, Marilla Cuthbert.

With my first words, I made the first mistake … I asked a question about her whereabouts that morning. I knew better than to ask a question about something in recent history and I mentally scolded myself, as soon as my query was met by her uncertain response.

We visited nearly an hour, not another question from my lips.

We talked about my family, the distant past, looked at the wedding photos of herself, her parents (my grandparents) and her in-laws. I showed her photos of our kids, my hubby and videos of my lunatic dog that made her laugh.

She mentioned my sister who was travelling with me … actually my daughter. She looked … lost …

lost in the liminal space between a world she has confidently moved and navigated and one that she knows she should know, but the holes in her mind muddle the familiar into dark unfamiliarity … as though a constant joke is being told, and everyone gets it, but her.

As we prepared to leave I took a selfie with her, we each said goodbye (no doubt our last goodbye) and I whispered I love you.

That moment on the phone, when she knew my voice … that was what drew me to go see her. Maybe that was a push from another force, to honour this woman who planted the seeds of love and acceptance in me.

I needed to share in her lostness to remember that I need to love and care for others, not for how they make me feel, but for how I would want to be treated were I lost in a similarly disconcerting world.

I forgot that seeing her was not about me, but about her … what she needed.

That sensible aunt still lives within my memories and in her soul, to love when it cannot be reciprocated anymore is the most sensible thing to do …

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As a child I loved it when my mom would hand me what was once a tidy ball of yarn that had gotten loose in her knitting bag or scattered across the floor. She would ask me if I could untangle it for her. Or my grandmother would do the same with a necklace, whose chain had knots.

I would eagerly take on these problems, these messes and straighten out what was knotted. It was a game, a challenge for me where I usually had success and I loved it.

Problem solving has become my life. I have used this skill in my profession, helping students learn in unique and creative ways. In the running of a home, utilizing form and function. In childrearing … in so many ways. In helping in so many situations and circumstances.

Give me a problem, a puzzle, a challenge, a mystery. Invite me into your struggle, your situation, your sorrow. Let me untangle that knotted mess of yarn that is that part of our life.

What I am not good at is acknowledging when I cannot solve the problem, when the mess is tangled beyond my problem-solving capabilities.

Recently I ran into a snag … problems that I simply could not untangle. This failure of ability (for it was not a failure of desire to solve the puzzles) was getting to me. I looked at it from every side, tried to see if moving things would help. Yet, I was quickly faced with the reality that all problem solvers hate to face …

the tangled mess was out of my ability to straighten it out.

This self-acknowledgement wore on me, for that which I love to do and do well, I was powerless to accomplish.

Besides, I am a follower of Christ, a believer in the power of Christ in me … I mean doesn’t Matthew 7:7 say “ask and you will receive” … and Mark 11:24 says, “whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you”?

Of course I am taking those one-liners out of the context of the Word, as a whole … rubbing my Bible-Genie making my one wish. But, what I ask is so desired, so good, so sincere …

Then I saw an image. It was the one at the top of this page. It was the mess of the first screen that got me … as soon as I saw it, my eyes did not see a pile of letters, but a pile of yarn, twisted and knotted … a problem waiting to be solved.

That was the problem I was dealing with.

Then the reminder … the God-response … not the I love you, for I simply do not have the capacity to not know that God loves me, or others. It was the two words,

I know

He knows.

He knows the knotted, tangled, ugly messes of our human lives. He knows that situations that break our hearts, that mess with our confidence, that even make us question if we are still in his will.

He knows.

“Be still, and know that I am God”
Psalm 46:10

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This morning, someone I love will begin to emerge from a valley of shadows.

Chemo and radiation treatments come to an end. It is a day that signals the faint but growing light at the end of this dark tunnel … this valley.

Just three months after our dad died unexpectedly, the oldest of my two younger brothers was told that he may have cancer. A month later that possibility was confirmed. Another month later, treatments began. Now, nearly two months later, he will walk out of radiology, hopefully for good.

In the midst of all of that, he had to have all of his teeth removed (due to the radiation treatments). Covid 19 introduced the world to social distancing, eliminating the support of his partner at medical appointments, counselling and making it more challenging to get transportation to medical appointments. It also restricted the freedom to travel (how I would have loved, would love to be there to help his family).

It was a solitary valley of dark and menacing shadows.

The side effects of the ‘cure’ were dreadful for him … for them, for his family were also subjected to the effects of such powerful treatments. They had to endure his physical exhaustion, the emotional rollercoaster and vile sores in his mouth and throat that made even drinking water an agonizing torture. They have watched his body mass decrease by over 15%.

It is as though, the completion of his treatments are the first signal in over seven months that our hearts can begin to emerge from the valley of shadows.

I have heard many whispers of Psalm 23:4 :

“Even though I walk
through the darkest valley …”

Some versions say, “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” …

Death is what one thinks of when we hear the word Cancer. It doesn’t matter our age, our situation in life, the type of cancer … we all know of someone who had cancer, who died, So, when we hear it as a diagnosis our minds rush to that scenario … contemplating what we will miss, who we will miss.

I am certain that for our entire family, who were still wandering in the shadow of our father’s death, for whom death still had a presence, a personality … his diagnosis caused fear to raise it’s ugly head.

What a season it has been for him, his partner, his kids, mom and all the rest of us who cheered him on from the sidelines. It has not been easy. As he said to me just yesterday, “it was a good cancer, because it is so treatable.” Yet, a good cancer makes me think of the impossibility of being kind-of pregnant … it’s still cancer. And this ride has been so rough and in this time of pandemic, it has been made even more challenging.

Yet, here he is … walking through this valley, taking in the poison that is his medicine, enduring agony to eliminate the pain. Utilizing every bit of strength to get through each day, while this valley takes everything out of him.

Congratulations, brother! You made it to the end of this leg of the valley. You’re not at the very end yet, and there will still be a bit more stumbling in the dark, but the light is shining in.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Psalm 23:4

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Just words on a screen, yet they were so much more.

I read then, over and over again. Making effort to fully understand exactly what was being communicated. Hearing those words said through my mind’s re-creating of the writer’s voice. After reading them, I would turn from the screen, shake my head in amazement.

I love words. Direct words, spoken sincerely. I grew up in a home that was a combination of direct talk and stone silence. Much of the time, the direct talk was probably too direct, for it was often not always delivered with the needed amount of vulnerability.

Vulnerability of the speaker (writer) makes words come alive, giving them the power to infect the listener (reader), making them their own. To read words written directly, sincerely and with vulnerability is to feel as though the writer knows who you are, what you need to hear.

This particular day, I had awakened to a message from a student. A farewell and thank-you you message, from one who now graduates on to the rest of their life. The words were shocking … for they were kind, generous and vulnerable. The words were live-giving … for they indicated an awareness of efforts made, acknowledgement of contribution, of care.

Those words on a screen filled my cup.

They eased the struggle of adjusting to online schooling. Erased the moments of frustration, anxiety and concern. They overrode the events of discouragement, dismay. They patched and mended the times when it seemed efforts were in vane.

Those words, shared voluntarily, spoke volumes into my heart … they will be the fuel for the year to come …

but they will also be my final, positive and vulnerable communication from a young man who simply dared to share them.

We all have such words within us … words others need to hear, whose souls would be lifted higher and for longer than it would take for us to share them.

“Words satisfy the soul as food satisfies the stomach;
the right words on a person’s lips bring satisfaction.”
Proverbs 18:20 

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He hasn’t been ‘daddy’ since I was quite young, but I will still always be a daddy’s girl.

He chose me … not really knowing who I would become, the choices I would make, or even if I would chose to love him back … that is father love that parallels the love offered to us all, through Christ, in our God.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” 1 John 3:1

God, the father to all, the father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5) will love us when there is an earthly absence of a father … of a good father. God is a father who loves with an unconditional love. He can fill the void that some feel on this day of celebration of the love of a father … the void of who we were because of a father’s love.

A few months ago I wrote of the grief of loss as not only that they are gone, but so is the part of you that was loved uniquely by them. It is the loss of a person, a relationship, a part of who you have always been … with them, in them, through their eyes.

I have always been his daughter … cared and sacrificed for, taught about life and living, chosen and loved as his own. It is hard to explain how it feels to have always known that you are so loved, to have been confident that there is no one and nothing that could ever change that love … not driving the car in the ditch, not even moving to the other side of the country.

Today I will feel it … the absence of it all … his presence, his voice, his acceptance, his unconditional, chosen love. The void leaves me aching with memories and missed opportunities.

Most of all, today I will miss who I was in his eyes, in his presence.

I was his daughter …

Though I am loved beautifully by my husband and kids, my mom and others who I hold dearly, today I remember, with thanks, the man who loved me enough to call me his own …

Today …

I ache for who I was in the eyes and heart of my dad …

every part of my life changed because of his love …

and every part of me is lonely for him, for my identity in and through him.

I am still just a dad’s girl and I miss him so.

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The sun is pouring in … bright and warm yet it is still over an hour before my morning alarm.

What a welcomed start to the day.

I sit here and a song plays through my head,

The sun’ll come out
Tomorrow
Bet your bottom dollar
That tomorrow
There’ll be sun!

It is a song that my mind and memory go to … once the clouds have moved apart to remind me that the sun does still indeed exist.

I wish the song would play when it’s still dark and grey and …

It’s been dark and grey here, in the Pacific Northwest. June can be that way here. It is as if nature is giving us that last reminder before July to not complain about the heat. To take joy in the cool, in the pause before the drying comes.

We need these bright and sunny dawns … even if they are soon followed by low cloud cover that blocks the sun’s existence. We need to remember that it is always darkest before dawn.

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It is not a naturally comfortably thing to be ok with making mistakes, being wrong. It feels like sand in your shoes, that rough tag in your shirt … it makes us itch, squirm. Maybe it even makes us blush, embarrassed, humiliated. Sometimes it even makes us angry … committed to prove ourselves right, never admitting that we made a mistake.

Experience
is simply the name we give
our mistakes.”
Oscar Wilde

Yet, learning to be ok with our wrongs, our mistakes … learning to get up after we fall and trying again … learning to say, I blew it, then learning from our mistakes … that is normal, real-with-skin-on life.

“A person who never made a mistake
never tried anything new.”
Albert Einstein

As an EA (Educational Assistant) in a high school, I work with students who have been wrong so often, they often will do anything to avoid making mistakes. They would rather get in trouble for not doing assignments, than to do them and receive the same old critiques …

  • it’s late
  • you didn’t complete it
  • this is not what the assignment was asking for
  • check spelling next time
  • you didn’t submit it in the right way, the right date, the right font, the right … notice that the message a student often receives is that what they did do isn’t right … and sometimes, for a number of students, their best is not good enough.

“Mistakes are always forgivable
if one has the courage to admit them.”

Bruce Lee

Often the students who I work with have weak ‘head math’ skills. They struggle to understand numbers confidently, resulting in poor addition, subtraction, multiplying and dividing skills. Though they can use calculators, once they know me a bit, I like to ask them if they can do equations in their heads … but in a classroom, where their peers might hear them, they often are so fearful of making a mistake that they won’t try (or maybe, more accurately, they can’t try it, given the anxiety produced).

“If you want to grow,
you need to get over any fear you have
of making mistakes.”

John C. Maxwell

After over two months of online learning a bit of miraculous development has been occurring … they are trying hard things, risking the making of a mistake … they are comfortably trying head math! And their skills are improving!

“In the real world,
the smartest people
are people who make mistakes and learn.
In school,
the smartest people don’t make mistakes.”
Robert T. Kiyosaki

But this new development came from being in an environment where their peers are not right beside them. In this context, they are safe to risk being wrong, and having the confidence in themselves that, if they make a mistake, they can just try again.

“We don’t make mistakes,
we just have happy accidents.”

Bob Ross

It is a good reminder that one way education does not work best for all students. But it is also a good reminder that applies even more broadly to life. Making mistakes is part of life, it is our most helpful tool in learning, but we must have confidence in ourselves, in our environment as a safe place, to be willing to risk those errors, failures. Once we feel safe, within ourselves and our surroundings (and those we share our surroundings with) we are free to to learn from our failures, rather than shrink from them.

“All men make mistakes,
but only wise men learn from their mistakes.”

Winston Churchill

Maybe, if we are more aware of those around us, we could be more intentional at creating environments where others can be confident to try, to do things where they are at risk of making errors. That way we can be agents of growth and change in others … and in ourselves.

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What a year to graduate!

Last evening was the graduation ceremony of a number of pretty special grads (one, in particular … she knows who she is). There are many, similar, or quite different graduation experiences going on all around … all around the world.

You, grads 2020 have worked for years to get to this end of the road … except … no one told the end of a road was an overgrown trail through the bush!

“Expectations
are the root of all heartache”

And what were your expectations at the beginning of this final school year, grads? Adventurous school trips, field trips, retreats and over-nighters? A ceremony with your friends, family and fellow grads in an event center, a church, an auditorium, a gymnasium? An evening of formality … dressed to the nines, with a special someone at your side as you walk into a room decorated to take you away to a dreamland-like destination? How about group photos? Caps through in the air in unison? The dances? The many opportunities to gather …

all together, for one last time

These were the September expectations …

and then, the pandemic …

Everything stopped.

School stopped.

Events cancelled.

Plans turned upside down.

Grad everything in question.

Initially, everyone hoped that this pandemic would end and things could go back to normal again, that graduation events would go as planned. But … pandemic comes from the Greek pandēmos meaning all people. Covid 19 has affected, infected our world, leaving a trail of disappointment and destruction in it’s wake … so long expectations of what was to be.

“Expectations
are the root of all heartache”

Those words are attributed to William Shakespeare, but … grads, have you ever heard Shakespeare speak so clearly? Those words are a translation of what he wrote in the play All’s Well That Ends Well … now there is a theme for grad 2020!

Did it end well? Did you walk a stage, in cap and gown? Did you get to share graduation with friends and family? Did you get to dress up? Did you find creative ways to take group pictures while respecting social distancing? Did you graduate?

The expectations you had were not met, the losses are very real and there is no way to make up for those losses. It is okay to mourn the expectations of what couldn’t be.

There is no way to to redo this ending. This ending, though, also marks a beginning. High school is completed (or will be in just days) and a door to your future awaits you.

As you walk through this next door I leave with you words from the book of Isaiah, to hear from God of his compassion and hope for your future, if you trust in him.

Comfort, comfort my people,
    says your God …
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:1, 28-31

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This season of our lives, this Covid pandemic, in so many ways is surreal. Many of us continue our work, school,  lives as always, just at home. Yet, there is this invisible cloud called change and I wonder if it might be affecting us all, more than we are aware.

Our lives have changed, been altered by this pandemic that has touched every corner of the Earth.

Our work, school, places of worship and social lives have changed. How we shop, spend our time do recreation and entertainment has changed. Now, as summer is just around the corner, how we vacation has changed.

Graduations, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and so many other special events have changed.

Though things are ever so gradually opening up, officials are quick to remind us that we are not going back to what we knew to be ‘normal’ but we are moving towards a new normal …

and, well … we can’ see or envision what that looks like, because it is still enfolding. With this, even our ability to dream or foresee what the future looks like has changed.

There are those who are eager to leap into what is opening up, those that are more cautious, or even more fearful. Fear has been on the rise over these months … and it will destroy even more than Covid 19.

Change is hard. Change without knowledge of what is to come … that can be destructive.

My thoughts go back to this invisible cloud called change and I wonder if it might be affecting us all, more than we are aware.

“Before we had airplanes and astronauts, we really thought that there was an actual place beyond the clouds, somewhere over the rainbow. There was an actual place, and we could go above the clouds and find it there.” – Barbara Walters

I wonder if Barbara Walters knew something of that place above and beyond the clouds. I wonder if she understood that what was, what is beyond our troubles, is a place and a person to put our hope in, when the heaviness of life weighs us down.

Look up!

Turn your eyes toward Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace


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Almost two years ago we moved to our current home, a townhouse.

It was a bit of an adjustment, moving from a single family home, on acreage, to a townhouse on a busy road. The lack of privacy, the noise from the road, the sounds of people’s voices as they walk by, when the windows are opened, the absence of the sound of the coyotes calls in the quiet of the night.

Now, I quite love our home. I love how every square foot is so well utilized, I love my more modern kitchen, the spacious shower in the master bath, how perfectly our basement family room is for watching movies, how close we are to everything we could need.

Our home is lovely to us … just like our neighbors. They moved into their townhouse a year after us. Like ours, theirs is an end unit. Like us, they have made it their own … painted walls, planted flowers … it is a shelter from the elements, a place of refuge. Their home is like ours in so many ways, except that our homes are reversed … basically theirs is the mirror image of ours … exactly the same features and value, just opposite.

If I was cooking dinner and saw smoke coming from my side window, I would stop what I was doing. I would run outside to see where the smoke was coming from. If, when I got outside, I saw flames coming from my neighbor’s home, I would call 911, I would bang on their door to make sure they were not in the house, I would scream “fire” to alert other neighbors.

I would not be occupied about what color to paint my bathroom, or if I should replace the carpet on the stairs with carpet or wood, nor would I stop to change the lightbulb on the outdoor light fixture. Because, in that moment, if my neighbor’s house was on fire, their home would need the attention.

So, moral of the story …

Yes, ALL lives matter, in that they all have equal, God-given value, but when a specific group is at risk, well that’s where our attention should be.

#blacklivesmatter

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