Tuesday, 17 July 2018

A HEART PREPARED

There is a time for everything,
    and everything on earth has its special season.
There is a time to be born
    and a time to die.
There is a time to plant
    and a time to pull up plants.
There is a time to kill
    and a time to heal.
There is a time to destroy
    and a time to build.
There is a time to cry
    and a time to laugh.
There is a time to be sad
    and a time to dance.
There is a time to throw away stones
    and a time to gather them.
There is a time to hug
    and a time not to hug.
There is a time to look for something
    and a time to stop looking for it.
There is a time to keep things
    and a time to throw things away.
There is a time to tear apart
    and a time to sew together.
There is a time to be silent
    and a time to speak.
There is a time to love
    and a time to hate.
There is a time for war
    and a time for peace.
~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

I was thinking today of how blessed we are when our hearts are given time to prepare for the next season:
* When leaves turn color and begin to fall, and we prepare for the coming cold.

* When we learn of new life amd we begin to prepare space and clothing and other essentials.

* When children grow and approach graduation and you spend the months preparing to see them off

I love the Bible stories of Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, and of Mary, mother of Jesus. For Zechariah's doubt, he was smitten mute until his son was born. For Mary's obedience, she was given a spirit of peace to "ponder these things in her heart." In each case, a time of preparation was given.

But what about the news you could never imagine and were not prepared to absorb?

* The sickness is terminal.

* Your job is suddenly terminated.

* Your loved one was in an accident.

* You've invested in a one-sided relationship.

* You've lost everything to a natural disaster.

I had one of those shocking moments today. It's a relationship I have literally invested in for my entire life. I recently accrued some credit card debt to travel across the country to invest in this one relationship. 

Knowing it may be my last chance to do anything meaningful or significant, I agreed to work the overtime required to miss two shifts. During my visit, I gave praise where it was due, encouragement where it was needed, and dignity where it was called for. 

And all that mattered to them was 2 minutes of someone else's time. As in, not mine.
For all of our differences, we are all just asking to matter. Some would ask to matter to one special person, while others would prefer honor on a grander scale. Regardless of the number of people one wants to impact, the desire is the same: to feel loved and valued. To matter at all.

Disappointment is a double-edged sword. It cuts equally as deep to be disappointed by someone as it does to be a disappointment to another. The difference is that you can live guarded against being disppointed; but when you pour yourself into giving and doing and think jumping one more hoop will be enough, nothing prepares you for one more letdown. I have found that rather than becoming accustomed to the feeling, it just stings a little more each time.

Alas, how beautiful to remember the story of the lost sheep. Jesus spoke of a shepherd who left 99 sheep safe in the fold to go find the one that was lost. And my head knows the lesson: He cares as much about what I have to offer as He does about the Billy Grahams or Mother Theresas of the world. The King of Heaven pursues relationship with me daily with messages of love and instruction on repeat. But my heart - oh, to get that knowledge to settle deep in my heart!

And so I learn the importance of a heart prepared: prepared to both give and receive love; to expand and stretch; and sometimes, to break and be re-shapen. 

A heart prepared to absorb disappointment and pour out compassion. 

A heart prepared to turn my grief into His glory - one that makes less of me and more of Him. 

And slowly and ever-so-gently, the love of a King makes me feel like a Princess. And my heart is prepared to sing.

"You're a good, good Father..."


Thursday, 5 July 2018

OH THE HUMANITY!

Life is full of humbling moments, and I seem to be "enjoying" my share these days. You know, the ones where you call someone out for a mistake and then make the same mistake the next day? About that.

I am ever learning to keep my words sweet, lest I need to eat them later. The challenge lies in calling out the best in others without coming across as though I, myself, am perfect. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Proverbs 27:17 reads, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." As much as I want to be the iron that sharpens others, sometimes I, too, must be sharpened. And that's humbling. I learn best from those sharpening experiences which leave me feel as though someone has imparted wisdom to me - not the ones where I leave feeling embarrassed or like I just screwed up one more thing.

And I'm learning. I'm learning that it's OK to be on both sides of the sharpening tool. I'm learning to be careful with hearts. I'm learning the power of words - something we start learning at a very young age, but don't fully understand until many years later. I'm learning the value of friends who call out the best in me and invest in me.

Another verse that comes to mind is 1 Corinthians 10:12, which says, "If you think you are strong, you should be careful not to fall." I picture a runner falling on the track, or a bodybuilder suddenly dropping the weights previously lifted so easily. Can you imagine how humiliated they might feel? How important it would be in such a moment to have members of your community who can say, "I've been there!" - and mean it!

Last week, I wrote here about my disappointment with the support my daughter received/didn't receive. And within days, I learned that I had failed to support a dear friend through a very hard chapter. Sure, I noticed her absence in our usual circles - but when I asked, I was told she was investing some time in relaxation and yard care. And I assumed she had chosen another circle on Sundays. There's that word "assume" again ...

The truth is, she lives less than a 5 minute drive from my home. The truth is, I should have knocked on her door and asked her directly where she'd been. The truth is, I need to be better at sending text messages instead of using my phone for social media. The truth is, I am now on the other side of the sharpening knife. And it stings a little.

So I continue learning. I'm learning the true definition of grace. I'm learning that grace must be given before it can be received. Last week, I rebuked the spirit of bitterness, knowing that I may well be the next person to let my community down. This week, I am so grateful that grace is like the water in a decorative fountain: it is continuously drawn up and poured out again.

To all of my "sharpening" friends: Thank you! Thank you for grace, and for seeing the shine underneath my rough exterior. You are treasures, buried deep in my heart.

Blessings to each of you today.

Monday, 25 June 2018

WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS

I love the Scripture that talks about how good and pleasant it is for God's people to live in unity! I have stood at several altars with arms entwined around each other while the congregation sang:
            "You're my brother, you're my sister,
              So take me by the hand,
              Together we will work until He comes;
              There's no foe that can defeat us
              When we're walking side by side,
              As long as there is love, we will stand."

Ahhh, there's a catch, though. We must continue to stand together in love. And I think that's what I'm struggling with these days: feeling loved by, and together with, my people.

I guess I allowed myself to become a little disillusioned over the past few years. Notes/comments on social media have been quick to proclaim that our family is loved and missed and should come "home" for a visit.

Then I did. And precious few of those note writers observed my presence. And so began my feelings of disillusionment. Had I really invested 15 years of my life in building community with so many people who couldn't - or worse, wouldn't - spare 15 minutes?



And then I came back to my new home, where I have found my stride in life. I felt blessed to be covered in the love and prayers of new friends as I journeyed back East, and couldn't wait to return to open fields, open skies and open arms.

Except the arms I expected weren't open. It was coworkers who asked the details of my dad, my mom, my gay boyfriend and the ocean. The prayer whisperers were absent in the aftermath.

I chose to count myself doubly blessed: I had friends for praying and friends for staying. Those people who need only interact Monday through Friday during business hours have become woven into the fabric of my heart. They choose to care at all hours.

I spent the next three weeks fielding questions about my daughter. My first baby who is about to give birth to my first grandchild. "What does she need? Is she getting excited? Will there be a shower? I have stuff for her! Tell us when and how we can help or drop things off!"

The baby shower was advertised on flyers around town. It was posted liberally on social media accounts. And it was attended by exactly two people who were not family. One of those two makes no claims to Christianity. Again, though, coworkers came through with a stroller/carseat combo and numerous items of furniture and clothing.

My daughter lives directly across the street from my church. Many from the congregation nod, wave, or even chat with her each week. Still, the day after the unattended baby shower, several watched her excuse herself from the dinner-on-the-grounds lineup when she didn't have enough money, as she assumed it was the price of a donation. And my heart shattered.

When did we, as the family of God, forget how to be family? When did we stop linking arms with the sad and the poor and the loner and the weak? When did we begin to believe it was OK to offer lip service but be of no actual service?

I am challenged by these events: to be better, to do more, to love harder. To see a need and meet it. To bind up the brokenhearted. To stand in the gap for someone who has no one. To take every thought captive and stomp out the root of bitterness. We are better together.



If I have ever neglected you, please accept my heartfelt apologies. If I have disappointed or made you feel less than, I am so sorry! If it's not too late, I'd like to be better at being part of your community. If there are specific ways I can help, please don't hesitate to ask!

When life gives you lemons, I would like to be the shade for your lemonade stand. Because sometimes the best thing is just to show up and stand.

Together.




Heart Hugs,
V.




Friday, 8 June 2018

YOU'VE BEEN GOOD

One week ago today, I flew across the country to say Goodbye to my Dad. It has been a whirlwind of activity and emotion; my heart is full, and my pen is unsteady.

As with any situation in life, my family has not disappointed in the drama department during my father's illness. I have struggled to get updates on his condition, and my arrival on site taught me that while a picture is worth a thousand words, it also covers a multitude of truths.  This was clearly our last visit.




I am weeping as I write this, and I realize this is the first time I have given my tears permission to flow this week. Crossing 6 times zones in 4 days is a terrible idea, and having something scheduled every evening could be positive or negative, depending on what you wish to accomplish. While it may result in snoring at your desk, it also gives the heart time to ponder without really processing.

My Dad has had Multiple Sclerosis for a number of years. Sneaky disease that it is, it allowed him to have normal and lengthy telephone conversations that gave life the illusion of normal. Until the Congestive Heart Failure jumped on board a few weeks ago, I did not know that he had not spent any pleasure time outside in over a year. I could not hear him shaking in a manner similar to Parkinson's, could not see his tongue thick and on the verge of escaping his lips in moments of stillness, and could not see the scoliosis they've now diagnosed. He says he didn't realize anything was wrong; he's just sitting how he always sat while driving truck. 

He dropped other tidbits, too - stories told twice in ten minutes. A neighbor of several years mistaken for a high school friend. His line in the sand - he wants to be "in the ground at 70" - and he's already 68. "Don't forget, Vic - I wanna be buried upside down." Yes, Dad - so the world can kiss your ass. "You got 'er," he says, laughing.



Laughter is my Dad's legacy. Despite how little we have known of each other through the years, we share this gift of humor. It turns these 2 days together into a lifetime of memories. His video chat with my middle son makes me roar laughing - until he refutes the offer of a visit saying, "You've been a good grandson; I could at least make fun of you." The threat of tears prompts a hasty end to the phone call because this, too, I share with my Dad: say it quick, move on, and avoid the depth of it.

It is quiet from across the country upon my return to the prairies. Today I sent my mom a text message - just a silly Snapchat photo of myself with kissing lips. "Tell Dad I say hello; he's been awfully quiet." She responds that he sometimes has a down day, but it's been 3 days - the lowest she's ever seen him. My heart breaks as I realize my Dad actually knows I'm gone. And then he wakes from his nap.




"He says it's an improvement on your looks," the text reads.

"I wouldn't expect anything less from him," I respond with a giggle.

"He says he is glad you're not disappointed. He is laughing ... nice to see."

Awww Dad. You don't disappoint. You've been a good dad; I could always have fun with you. 

Love,
Your #1 Youngest Daughter

Monday, 28 May 2018

LOOKING PAST THE DIRT

I grew up on Canada's East coast, where laws strictly govern the state of your windshield when driving. The main concern there, of course, is snow in winter months. Occasionally, some concern arises from a severely cracked windshield.



In the spring, when mud is everywhere, it is not uncommon for rear windows to look like peepholes. Numerous Jeep-style vehicles may even be coated from tip to tip in mud, as mud bogging is the sport of rednecks of all ages, shapes and sizes.

 

Since moving to one of Canada's prairie provinces, I have become acquainted with a new kind of obstructed windshield: it's dust-covered. No moisture is required for the dust to stick - it just does. A full week between windshield washes is unheard of in the heat of summer, as the dust buildup is exceeded only by the volume of dead insects accumulated.

Road dust here is used for some pretty creative graffiti. Although I haven't yet experienced a butt print as pictured below, I have been the victim of any number of words, phrases, names, gestures and genitalia.


Pulling up to the pumps at the local full-serve station this weekend, I was greeted by the usual litany of questions:
"Are we filling it today?"
"Yes please - with regular."
"Sure thing! You wanna roll your windows up and we'll give 'em a little swipe for ya?"

Now, I know this lady fairly well. She once covered my Timmies order when the zipper on my wallet refused to move, holding my money hostage, citing the fact that she knew I would come good for it. I know that she only hires students who participate in sports teams, because she believes in work ethic. So I thought I'd slip in a little humor.

"Listen," I responded, "as a middle-aged woman who may *actually* die of heat stroke, I'm willing to look past the dirt if you are!"

We both chuckled, but my heart was instantly awakened to my own words. "I'm willing to look past the dirt ..."

Isn't it funny how willing we are to do something physically demanding, but struggle to do the same emotional task? 

I can live with peering at the beautiful scenery through a layer of dirt. Pass a person in front of me who has hurt my feelings or made poor choices in life, though. Am I still looking past the deposits of debris to see their beauty?

I will sacrifice vision for comfort, when I am actually called to do just the opposite! We are all called to step out of our comfort zones before we can truly follow the road before us. 

I am tired of gathering dust and merely looking past it. I am going for the clearer vision of life. I know that I will lose some "graffiti" in the process: some drawn on my life by skilled hands, and other trashy pieces deposited on me at random. But when the view is clear, I can see the best in myself, in others, and in the days/years to come. 

Join me in cleaning the windshield this week! Leave a comment below to share what the idea of looking past the dirt has meant to you. 

Sunday, 20 May 2018

LIVING IN-BETWEEN

I have heard people describe parts of life as seasons or chapters or numerous other analogies. What I had yet to hear or understand was that some parts of life don't qualify as neat-and-tidy segments on a calendar or a page: they are, rather, in-between.

Much has been written about the sandwich generation: those who care for aging parents while raising children. While I knew those people existed, I absorbed little of the information because I felt confident it would never describe me. After all - my parents had always been healthy and of my four grandparents, the three who have passed away were taken by a heart attack, cancer, and naturally while sleeping. None of them required extensive physical care or experienced significant mental decline. No, this "sandwich generation" was not to be my lot in life.

I went about my business, then, building a life for my kids. I put my career on hold to be at home with them in their early years. We joked as they got older about the need for them to take care of us one day. Still they, like us, were experiencing healthy parents and grandparents; there was no real cause for concern.

Suddenly, when my dad was in his 50's, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. His physical health took a sharp turn for the worse, but his faith and mental clarity remained strong. My sister and I began to understand that we may, indeed, need to "take care of" our parents one day.

The years have passed quickly, and much has changed. My husband and I moved our family across the country. My sister moved closer to home. My dad continued on such a slow fade, I didn't fully realize what was happening.

Meanwhile, my kids continued to grow. They graduated from high school and moved out to attend college, start work, and establish long-term relationships. It seems I barely blinked and woke one day to hear the news: I was going to be a grandma!

It takes some weeks, or even months, to thoroughly absorb this kind of news. And then you start to panic about all the furniture and the clothes and the diapers and .. and ... and ... more! I would be lying if I said my credit card hasn't taken a beating. I would also be lying if I told you all of it was justified. Sometimes a grandma has to get some practice in for the spoiling routine!

And then, smack in the middle of packing the Welcome Wagon for my grandbaby, came word that my Dad was sick. Not just a flu sick, but the kind of sick that would keep him in hospital for 2 months to date. Observing his health in recent weeks is like a nightmare roller coaster. And I realize that, although it came out of nowhere, this is my rite of passage to the "sandwich generation."

I have a living grandmother. I am becoming a grandmother. I am in middle of 5 generations.

I am parenting adult children. I am also parenting my mother equally as effectively these days, it seems. And a 6-yr-old. It seems impossible to decide how old I *feel,* as it seems to change from day to day.

I am worming the career I trained for, but looking forward to training for the career of my heart. I dream of counseling victims of domestic abuse some day.

I crave the sounds and smells of forest and ocean, but I love the wide open of the prairies. My husband and I have discussed purchasing a home near our favorite campground someday: on the edge of a salt-water lake. It's a happy compromise.

So how do we keep movimg when we're mired down in the middle of all? How do we rest when we're not anywhere we aim to be?

I was reminded this week of the verse in 2 Corinthians that reads, "We all...are being transformed into [His] image from glory to glory..." From glory to glory - and all points in between. The points that feel like a sharp decline from where we once were. The points that feel like an uphill climb. The in-betweens. They are part of the journey; they matter.

I am so grateful for those who join me on the journey and love me between the high points of life! One day, when we all get where we're going, we will see that the in-betweens colored most of the canvas of life. And it will be worth hanging in for!

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

ROOM FULL OF RUNNERS

I awoke in the middle of the night from a dream which, while seemingly unrealistic, I knew I must share with you.

In my dream, I entered a gymnasium-style room full of runners. Each person in the room was wearing sneakers and stretching in preparation for an imminent run.

In the next scene of my dream, the runners were all seated, and I was addressing them as a group. I was encouraging each of them to find a person or a small group with whom they synchronized well; they were then asked to run together. As I was encouraging them to run the race well and see that no one was left behind, I woke - and I was actually chanting "Run together!" out loud.

In waking, it seems such a relevant message for all of us! Whatever your struggle is in life, find someone who is running the same track as you.

Do you find parenting small children exhausting? Find another couple or a play group you can join once a week for a time of sharing stories and feeling less alone in the battle. Are you struggling in your marriage? Find a counselor or a marriage mentor who can adjust your pace and help you conquer the track. Do you battle with mental health issues? Join a support group or seek out someone who is on the same journey.

When you seek your running partner, do not worry about the pace they are running or how seasoned they are. Perhaps some have many miles on you, or appear to be nearer to the finish line. Did you know that sometimes runners get "lapped"? This means, while they appear to be closer to the finish line, they've been passed or "lapped" by other runners on the track. Sometimes the people we assume have it all together are really struggling the most.



Each of us should find, and seek to be, a runner who will adjust their pace. The runner who gets the prize knows when to run at full speed and when to hold back. This is knowledge we need to share with each other. Let me share some examples:

Seasoned mothers in my life have certainly lent valued advice on when to have the hard discussions with my teenagers and when to stand back and let them learn. Marriage mentors have taught me to draw my boundaries carefully with my husband: what changes I can request, and what changes must be prompted by the Holy Spirit. Even in my career, I have learned from my professional mentor how to dress for the job I want - not the job I have; this advice has promoted me on more than one occasion. 

Each of us has something to contribute to another. Each of us has something to learn from another. In today's world, where loneliness and suicide are rampant, how important it is for us to find others running the same race! We must adjust our pace, link arms with each other, and run together! Ecclesiastes 4:9 (NLT) says it this way: "Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed."


That is our mandate: to help one another be successful. When someone partners with me in my personal success, it makes me feel loved and valued. Who wouldn't want to be that person for someone else?!

Is there some way I can help you run today, friend? Do you need someone to stretch you into a more confident version of you? Do you need someone to run beside you, in the form of a weekly coffee date or actual telephone call? Do you see me falling behind on my track, and have some words of wisdom to help me reach my goal? Leave a comment to let me know how we can run together!