Monday, June 30, 2014

Monday morsel: a mysterious way (from Marlena Graves)

Last month I entered a draw on Micha Boyett's blog to win a copy of Marlena Graves' new book A Beautiful Disaster:  Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness, and I won.  (This is the third book I've won in a draw in the past year!)  I am loving this beautiful book.  Marlena is a gentle, wise mentor giving encouragement to anyone who is going through difficult times:  she shares parts of her own life story, stories from the Bible, and reflections on what she has learned through wilderness experiences.  Here is a section from the book that I'm finding particularly meaningful at present:

When we are increasingly patient in the midst of trying circumstances and even in the mundane events of every day, we can rejoice with our Father in heaven and all his angels because it is evident he has provided for us.

Provision in the wilderness may look like death.  In our dying, we are as a single kernel of wheat, buried in the ground, dying, and producing many more kernels.  In a mysterious way, and for reasons known only to him, God uses our mortification -- the thousand little and spectacular deaths we die in this life -- as a means of provision for others.  Our deaths to self are a means of grace for others and vice versa.

We die, laying down our lives, so others may live.  We lay down our lives for our friends -- and our enemies.  At least, that's what we're supposed to do as followers of Jesus.  I don't believe we'll ever know the eternal implications of our obedience to God.  We'll never exactly comprehend how in our dying he provides for others.  But we too are broken bread and poured out wine.  A divine mystery.
 Marlena Graves, A Beautiful Disaster 
2014, Brazos Press

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A journey of 5,600 kilometres begins with a single step

School is winding down this week, and one thing that means is that I won't be walking Jonathan to school for the next two months.

The route between home and school has become a very familiar one.  It is about .85 km long, so with two round trips that's 3.4 km of walking most days.  (Richard does the trip sometimes, but in most cases it makes sense for me to do it.)  I did a little more calculating and figured out that if Jonathan's senior kindergarten year had 95 school days, and grades 1 through 6 have each had 195 school days ... and if I count the two years when he was still coming home for lunch, which involved four round trips per day ... and if I omit the relatively few times that I drove him in the car ... then I have walked approximately 5,600 km back and forth to his school.

Most days, it's a pleasant walk.  (Even this past winter, when there were so many bitterly cold and snowy days, walking was way more convenient than brushing, starting, warming, driving, and parking the car!)  Jonathan usually takes the lead.  In the morning he always crosses the street at the exact same dip in the sidewalk, and he likes to stop at certain familiar places to see if they have laundry on the line or if their recycling boxes are at the side of the house.  He checks to see if Barbara's car is home, and when Nina drives by each day on the way to her sons' school, he has to stop and wave.  He spots the tiniest dot of an airplane in the sky and shouts, "AIRPLANE!" so that anyone else who might want to stop and look up into the sky can do so.  He recognizes certain schoolmates from long distances away and calls to them by name, often getting a friendly (or at least tolerant) "Hi Jon" in response.  He talks repetitively about what he'll do at school, what we'll have for supper, whether Dad has to work today, and who's going to be putting him to bed.

Many of his grade 6 peers -- and a lot of younger kids, too -- walk to school alone.  But that's not realistic for Jonathan and probably won't be for some time; he has no real sense of safety and has trouble remembering to look both ways.  So it just becomes part of my daily routine to walk him there and back each day.  

One of the effects of this routine is that it slows life down.  This is particularly true of the homeward trip.  I see parents rushing into the schoolyard and saying to their kids, "Hurry, we have to get to gymnastics/hockey/piano!"  But Jonathan and I have nowhere to be other than home.  We can stop for another laundry check.  We can count crows on a telephone wire or "geeses" flying overhead. When we see the city bus lumbering by along Regent Street, we can stop and watch it till it disappears.  Yes, sometimes I try to hurry him along (I have a much lower boredom threshold than he does when it comes to investigating people's recycling boxes) -- but I have to admit that really, there's no rush.

This twice-daily walk also reminds me just how much  life there can be in the in-between time.  It's easy to think that this time isn't particularly meaningful in and of itself -- that its only purpose is to get us from Point A to Point B, where the real things happen.  But for Jonathan this is meaningful, real time.  Jonathan is not an abstract person; he doesn't ask "Why?" or ponder the mysteries of the universe.  He focuses on the things he takes in through his senses -- food, laundry, garbage cans, music, helicopters, yellow-blue-red, jigsaw puzzles -- and his life is taken up with enjoying these things, recalling previous times that he enjoyed them, and looking forward to enjoying them again.  The walk to and from school is a time for him to appreciate and engage with all that his world offers.

My interest in laundry and garbage trucks is actually pretty limited.  I must confess I don't fully share Jonathan's excitement in these mundane things, though I try to sound excited about them for his sake.  But I learn more about him by observing what he enjoys.  And isn't that true in any relationship?

I'm not going to end this post with a cliche like "Stop and smell the roses" (or "Stop and count the blue boxes").  But it occurs to me, after having walked 5,600 km on the same .85 km route, that life is not all about "getting there."  There's a lot of living to do along the way as well.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Using our gifts and talents to SHAPE our lives

This past week I had two opportunities to observe and be grateful for the gifts and talents my kids possess.  It is tempting at times -- and I think this is true regardless of whether we have "special needs" kids or not -- to focus on challenges and what isn't going well, because challenges require so much time and energy to deal with.

But instead these were moments when I sat back, amazed, and wondered, "WHO IS THIS PERSON?"

Allison has been taking a drama class this semester.  When course-selection time came around last year and we met with a teacher to discuss her Grade 10 choices, there was no doubt about one of Allison's selections:  her eyes lit up, she sat up straight, and she said with an eager smile, "I think I'd like to take drama!"  It's been a good experience for her.  Her teacher is a Christian who attends our church, and she's been very supportive and encouraging.

Last Wednesday night the school hosted an informal Evening of Theatre.  Several students from Allison's drama class had been asked to perform monologues they had written themselves, and Allison was one of them.  She played a man who was writing a letter to his daughter from prison and explaining why he had committed the crime he had.  It was pretty astonishing to observe Allison's creativity -- both the humour of her performance and the darker side of the character she was portraying --  and the way she could get inside that character's head so convincingly.  I was so proud of her.

Then on Sunday after church our family was walking home through Victoria Park; we met a friend coming the other way and stopped to chat.  Nearby, a guy who appeared to be around 25 was shooting baskets by himself at the small, dilapidated basketball court.  Jonathan wandered over to the edge of the court and must have said or done something that suggested he'd like to participate.  The man tossed him the ball; Jonathan gave it a couple of pats and then flipped it confidently up and through the basket.  The guy gave him the ball again and he made another basket and then passed the ball back to his new friend.  (Nice sharing!)  Next time Jonathan got his hands on the ball, he turned and trotted down to the other end of the court where the basket actually had netting on it.  The guy followed him, and they traded several more shots, with Jonathan consistently getting the ball in the net -- just like a couple of buddies out playing one-on-one.  Our friend was watching the whole process with a huge smile on his face as if this had just made his day.

I remember reading Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven Life a number of years ago, and it talked about our SHAPE:   Spiritual gifts, Heart, Abilities, Personality, and Experiences.  One of their online articles has this to say:

"What I’m able to do, God wants me to do.  We are the only person on earth who can use our abilities.  No one else can play our role, because they don’t have the unique shape that God has given us."*

Allison can use her ability to write and act to experience enjoyment, and to entertain others.  Jonathan can use his basketball skills to get exercise, practice social skills, and make other people smile.  And both of them can use their talents to glorify God, who gave each of them their unique shape.

*Quote from

photo property of Jeannie Prinsen 2014

Monday, June 16, 2014

Monday morsel: one golden nail

I'm a little slow in posting my "Monday morsel" today, because it's been a busy weekend with family birthday celebrations and because I was preparing my "Twitterature" post for yesterday. But this amazing quote came to my mind recently when I was reading a post at Adriana's blog "Classical Quest", so I shared it with her in a comment. 

Upon his graduation from university, Japanese-Canadian architect Raymond Moriyama received this original poem from his father -- just ten simple words.  (You can read the background story HERE.)

"Into God's temple of eternity, drive a nail of gold."

Sunday, June 15, 2014

June 2014 "Twitterature"

Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly "Twitterature" post, in which we all share short(ish) reviews of what we've been reading.

  In the past month I've read three excellent books:

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans.  Held Evans spent a year trying to take the Bible's commands about women as literally as she could, with funny and fascinating results.  Ever the overachiever, she engaged in numerous projects:  from sleeping outside during her period, to keeping silent in church, praising her husband in the city gates like the Proverbs 31 woman, dressing modestly, holding a ceremony to honour forgotten women of Scripture, interviewing a polygamous family, and much more.  Her conclusion that there's no single right way to be a "Biblical woman" doesn't have an "Aha, I knew it wouldn't work!" tone; rather, she finishes her experiment with a greater and humbler appreciation for her own faith, for her marriage, for other Christian women of all kinds, and for the freedom offered by the gospel.  A hilarious, informative, moving book (with pictures!) that isn't just for women.


Found by Micha Boyett.  I started reading Micha Boyett's former blog, Mama:Monk, a few years ago and loved how she blended life as a mom of two sons with reflections on prayer and spiritual disciplines.  Found explores how she struggled with whether she was doing enough for God as a mother, and how she came to terms with her calling and discovered joy -- hers, and God's -- in her here-and-now life.  The book is structured according to the divine hours, beginning with Vigils: Midnight and ending with Compline: Night Prayers. This structure helps emphasize that the insights she gains are not once-and-for-all achievements but part of a daily, constant exercise of faith.  Great book for anyone who's ever wondered if their ordinary life matters.


This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett.  This book of essays deals with a wide range of subjects:  Patchett's childhood as a daughter of divorced parents, her own early marriage and divorce, her second marriage (the "happy" one of the title), her writing habits and assignments, her beloved dog Rose, and other things.  The only previous books I'd read of hers were Truth and Beauty (about her friendship with writer Lucy Grealy) and her novel Bel Canto, so it was interesting to find out more about Patchett the person and the writer; but this book is well worth reading even if you haven't read any of her other work.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Where is my peace?" - guest post at Bronwyn Lea's blog

Today I'm honoured to be a guest on Bronwyn Lea's blog as part of her "Words That Changed My World" series.  I met Bronwyn online and have enjoyed reading her insightful, encouraging blog posts and her comments on many of the other blogs I visit.  (It's quite a community out here in the blogosphere!) 


I have a friend I've been walking with every Tuesday morning for the past several months, and our conversations about books, family life, friendship, and God are always inspiring and life-giving.  A couple of weeks ago  ....

Click here to read the rest over at Bronwyn's blog.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Monday morsel: "Hearts are meant to feel" (Franceen Neufeld)

Today's "morsel" is from my friend Franceen Neufeld.  Franceen has written a book called Suffering Eyes which aims to raise awareness about the suffering of animals in our world and to awaken compassion for all creatures.  These words are from a talk she recently gave at the Wishing Well farmed animal sanctuary near Toronto.

"As long as there is suffering in this world, and as long as there is love to respond to it, grief and joy must abide together.

 But what do we do with the fear?  The fear of pain, the fear of grief, the fear that we may not be able to bear it? What if we are right, that facing the suffering will break us? I think there is something far more fearful than that, something that is happening everywhere always, one thing that is perpetuating the suffering. In our fear of pain, in our desire to protect our hearts, we are hardening them – we are making them ill, unable to respond as hearts are meant to do. 

 Hearts are meant to feel, and when they are well that’s what they do: in the forming of close relationships, healthy hearts feel love; in celebrating life, they feel joy; at the invasion of loss, they feel grief; towards the infliction of injustice, they feel anger. And in witnessing grievous suffering – healthy hearts break. Indifference to the suffering of others is a symptom of a sick and hardened heart, one that has lost the ability to love. As the Puritans said, a broken heart IS a healed heart. If this world is to heal, we must welcome the breaking of our hearts, not fear it.

 I believe that the only way that we will ever welcome the breaking of our hearts, is when we stop being curved in on ourselves, as theologian J├╝rgen Moltmann put it, and learn to love somebody else. And the paradox is that when we begin to love somebody else, that is when we begin to find ourselves."

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Things fall apart

 "Things fall apart..."

Yes, those words are from a poem by William Butler Yeats.

They're also the title of a novel by Chinua Achebe.

But I don't mean them in the literary sense.

I mean them in the literal sense.

Things fall apart -- and they all seem to choose the same time to do so.

Our dishwasher died last week.  I know, that is totally a first-world problem:  a dishwasher is a luxury, not a necessity, and I've made sure not to complain about washing dishes by hand for the past few days.  But not complaining doesn't mean we intend to go dishwasher-less -- after all, something's got to fit into that perfectly-sized space under the counter!  So we purchased a new one the other day, and yesterday a guy came to remove the old one and put in the new.  This process required him to remove the baseboards under the lower kitchen cupboards because the water hose was installed in an "unusual" way, and to go out and get new pipe fittings to rectify some "unorthodox" plumbing decisions made by the previous owner.

Barely thirty seconds after the dishwasher guy left, our neighbour Bill appeared to do a little plumbing job we'd asked him about:  our main-floor bathroom faucet needed replacing because (1) it was starting to drip randomly and (2) it was 30+ years old and holding together by rust.  Our flashlights are all very lame, so I plugged a lamp into the bathroom outlet to give Bill more light to work by.  The lamp bulb blew, which also blew out the bathroom light fuse.  Sigh.  Fortunately I had another fuse ... better stock up on a few more.

The faucet's working great now (although Bill needed to run out to Canadian Tire for new water lines because the lines on the new faucet were three inches too short to connect with the pipes under the sink).  We'll probably need to buy another lamp, though, because that one may be fried.

Also, the pullout part of our kitchen sink faucet is broken.  The metal tube that surrounds the rubbery blue tube broke off and is now stuck inside the unit, so only the blue tube is exposed -- and it kinks if not pulled out properly.  I'm pretty sure we're going to need another faucet.

In addition, our front stone steps are starting to crumble, and we're thinking we'd better replace them before we have to put out an "UNWELCOME" mat.

And don't even get me started on the main-floor carpets that need replacing.

That's the way with material things, it seems.  The best dishwasher conks out eventually; ours lasted 14+ years, well past the expected 10.  Thousands of turn-offs and turn-ons and pull-outs will take their toll on even the best faucet.  Time, rain, ice, and salt will create cracks in stone and concrete.  Kind of reminds me of the old nursery rhyme, "London Bridge is Falling Down":  various solutions are suggested for repairs to the bridge, but they're all rejected because of their impermanence.  Iron and steel will bend and bow; wood and clay will wash away; silver and gold will be stolen away; and so on.

Sometimes non-material things fall apart, too.  Plans fall through ... dreams dissolve ... hopes crumble ... relationships we thought were permanent break down.  And there's no quick repair job or easy replacement -- as if we could install a brand-new friendship or dream into the space left behind by the old one.  

Those are hard things to face.  I ask "Why," but I don't really reach any satisfactory conclusions.  Some things just don't have easy answers.  But I do find it helpful to focus on things that are permanent and reliable, and that usually means meditating on Bible verses or song lyrics that I find meaningful and comforting.

Josh Garrels' song "Flood Waters" is one that particularly helps me.  Give the song a listen by clicking here -- and if you're experiencing that sense of things falling apart, I hope these lyrics help you focus on the stability and permanence of God and His love.

Higher than the yonder mountain, deeper than the sea
From the breadth of the east unto the west
Is the love that started with a seed

Stronger than the wildest horses and the rising tide
The cords of death hung so heavy round our necks
Will be left at the great divide

Flood waters rise, but it won't wash away
Love never dies; it will hold on more fierce than graves

Farther than the pale moon rises above the open plains
Past the time of the longest blood line
There shines an immortal flame

Somewhere in between forever and the passing days
There’s a place moth and rust cannot lay waste
This is grace, the face of love

Flood waters rise, but it won't wash away
Love never dies; it will hold on more fierce than graves.

Josh Garrels "Flood Waters"
from the album Love & War & the Sea in Between, 2011

Monday, June 02, 2014

Monday morsel: "stability is brave" (from Micha Boyett)


I've just finished reading Micha Boyett's memoir Found:  A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer.  

I started reading Micha's former blog, Mama:Monk, a few years ago and loved how her writing blended life as a mom of two small boys with reflections on prayer and spiritual disciplines.  Found explores how Micha struggled with whether she was doing enough for God as a mother, and how she slowly came to terms with her calling and learned to experience joy -- hers, and God's -- in her ordinary here-and-now life.  In this section, Micha reflects on the Benedictine vow of stability:

The Benedictines take three vows when they offer themselves to the monastic life:  obedience (to the rule and to the abbot, or leader, of their monastery), conversatio moralis, sometimes understood as "conversion of life," and stability.  Every instruction in Benedict's Rule flows out of these three commitments.

That vow to stability is the thing that sets Benedictines apart from every other monastic order, something I didn't know when I first began to study Benedict's Rule.  It's a concept that feels countercultural.  After all, I am from a generation that values change above all else:  technology and careers should always be evolving.  We transform in order to remain necessary.  If we don't change, we're left behind.

When a monk makes a vow to stability, he is not committing to a general spiritual concept; he is vowing to remain in a single place, with a single group of people, for an entire lifetime.  The monastery is his lifelong home, the monks and nuns his family.  For better or worse.

Maybe St. Benedict chose stability in response to his own choices.  After all, his story starts with a teenage boy leaving everything to follow Jesus.  Changing his home and his lifestyle and his future for the sake of his God.  Did those three years in the cave at Subiaco teach him to grow weary of the human desire to find something more interesting, more challenging, or more demanding?

Leaving often masquerades as the more courageous choice.  But in reality it's often easier to leave a relationship than to pursue it despite the difficulty.  Stability demands forgiveness, discomfort and, often, a sacrifice of the more interesting, more exciting possibility.  Stability is brave.