Anxiety mounts. Faced with yet another decision and I am unsure which direction to take. Riddled with the obscene amount of choices, I sort through the dollar store bin of glossy nails, trying to find the colour that I will settle one. When I left last time, I chose a bubble gum pink by accident or by haste. I regretted the decision immediately. This time, I was resolute to NOT choose bubble gum pink or any version of red. I was searching for the perfect muted raspberry. With the bin balanced on one knee, I recklessly careen through the colors, trying to find that perfect one. I find it!!! My anxiety lets itself out and I lean back in the chair content. I am questioned for the color and I hand the palette to the nail specialist. “Oh no” she says, “this is for acrylics. Choose again”. Anxiety must not have gotten too far down the street because she was back in wreaking havoc within seconds! Now haste has entered the scene and is beckoning the bad decision mongrel to rear its ugly head and he did not disappoint. By the time I left that salon, I did not choose bubble gum pink. I hastily chose bubble gum pink with SPARKLES. Good grief. What happens to my brain in crunch decisions???? Anyone else struggle with choosing that perfect shellac color??? Oh…and my toes are almost red (with sparkle) Please recall what I decided when I walked into the salon. No bubble gum pink and no red. Send help.
Over the years, I had built up a veneer of confidence that has slowly been chipped away. The veneer, that is…not the confidence. You see, the confidence was just a veneer. In the environment I had grown up in, you must be strong or you would be annihilated emotionally. I learned the “steely gaze” while I was still in middle school, only to melt into a puddle of tears as soon as I was out of ear/eye shot. Then I met Jesus. Without going into my entire story of how that transpired, I will say this one thing. He gently chipped that veneer away and replaced it with something so much more beautiful. Something beautiful, something good. All my confusion. He understood. All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife and He made something beautiful of my life. Oh, I was still broken but it was a brokenness that was being restored.
Fast forward a few years and I am married with a few children, five to be exact. There was a fascination I had with lights on in houses. I loved Thomas Kinkade prints of those charming houses that glowed from the inside. It was my heart’s cry to create a home like that for our family, so I read voraciously to try to be the best mom and wife I could be. We opened our doors and turned on our lights and tried to make our home a place of refuge for anyone who didn’t have a “place”. So often I felt displaced when I was a child and it was a mission to be invitational to those who needed to feel included. This was our home for so many years. This became our home; we opened the door of our heart and our home. Young adults, dinner clubs, friends dropping by, strangers needing a bed, kids friends hanging out around the island; this defined us.
Then the words hit my heart. “He’s down”. My husband suffered a catastrophic stroke from a hockey collision that tore his carotid artery. Our lives changed trajectory in a heartbeat. While he fought for his life, we fought to keep living. Dark days loomed with no lights in the windows. This deep tragedy caused my heart to curl up into a ball and seek refuge in the dark. I could barely breathe, let alone function. Friends who knew us well didn’t let this happen. Countless acts of kindness descended on us like a flood as our lives circled around caring for Kevin. Meals were brought to our home 3x a week, scripture texts popped up in my inbox, offers of financial help, words of salve that ministered to my heart, extraordinary prayer, waiting room visits, laughter that was so needed, practical helps….the list goes on. Every kindness killed me. The tears would flow when kindness cracked open my heart again. Every tear healed my heart a little bit more. This time, the vulnerability wove my friendships to an untearable strength. There was no need to hide anymore, Ironically, the weakness made me stronger. I rested in His strength, because mine was gone. I allowed the many tears of grief and feeling quite bereft and lost. This time, I would not be ripped apart when my tears gave way as in childhood. What WAS ripped apart was my significance and my understanding of who I was. I was the giver. I was the host. I was the strong one. I was the one who offered hope. I was none of these things anymore. I was needy, lost, weak and scared, just clinging to God’s word as a lifeline. The proverbial rug was ripped out from under me and I laid on the floor bewildered.
Leaving the hospital after a week long death watch over Kevin, I was feeling bankrupt of emotion – dull and overwhelmed. Looking up to the dark sky, I saw a picture of our friends who had gathered around us. They were crawling on their knees in prayer, our family was being carried by them. Others encircled us by holding hands. This gave me so much hope. We were not forgotten; by God or by our prayer warrior friends. Our life was in His hands. Trust and confidence in Him began a new journey to a foundation, not a veneer. While this is just the beginning of this new path, we are slowly gaining a rhythm. Every little kindness still kills me, the tears flow freely. At the mention of a kindness bestowed on anyone, my eyes leak! This is just who I am now – raw, real and ridiculous. This is our story. This is His story in our lives. It is hard yet it is filled with both tears and laughter. He is not done writing our story and so we join hands with our loving Father and the people He has placed in our lives, to walk it out for His glory.
You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,
Love like you’ll never be hurt,
Sing like there’s nobody listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.
- William W. Purkey
My mind is a Rolodex. Flipping from memory to memory, I relive those special sunshine moments as we walk through the darkest days of our married life. I love laughter. It is one of my hobbies and I try to do it at least a few times a day, if not more. I am not good at a lot of things, but I am VERY good at laughing. Even when I return home from a night of grocery shopping when I was a young mom. The house was quiet and that meant that the baby was sleeping and I was eager to wash off the grime of the day and make my way there as well. I take out my contacts to render myself semi-blind. The water is turned on and I feel for the soap and lather it up in my hands and bring it to my face to scrub off the make-up. The soap is rinsed off my hands and I grope around for my facecloth that is bunched up in the corner of the bathroom counter. Bringing it to my face with my eyes squeezed tight, I begin to scrub the soap off. What is that smell? Why is it so sticky? What is going on? I am blind with soap in my eyes and cannot for the life of me figure out why I smell poop. I throw the facecloth down in the sink and yell out in confusion. From across the hall, I squint to see my husband rushing in to find out what the problem is, with a huge smile spreading across his face. Looking into the mirror, I see splotches of mustard colour on my face and in my hairline. Nothing makes sense but I can now see that I have spread baby poo all over my face. Hot water rinses and splashes, coupled with choked down sobs of laughter from the hallway, I emerge. Red scrubbed face, shocked eyes, and a very apologetic husband who cannot stop laughing. In a very tired night, he wiped the baby’s bottom with MY facecloth and then LEFT it all bunched up in the corner of the bathroom counter, forgetting to rinse it and throw it in the laundry. We laughed so hard while I literally had to PRETEND to be angry to amp up the “funny”. To this day, we can still bring that story up to find ourselves chuckling. Life can have its “hard” and thank the Lord for a Rolodex mind that recalls funny moments for us to escape. Today, in my daily talks with my husband who is in a rehabilitation facility on quarantine after a stroke that almost took his life, I will bring up this story to add to his repertoire of memories that he plays in his mind. These mustard coloured moments are ones that scatter themselves across the pages of our story. Sunshine moments. I find myself searching for the “yellow” in the canvas of my life even when the dark lines are being woven.
Our community group is walking through a series called “Irresistible” and how we are called to care. This question “WHAT DOES LOVE REQUIRE OF ME” is one that needs to be asked in the every day situation. When this question is the lens through which I choose my response, I am almost certain to be kinder, filled with more grace and eager to choose hospitality and hope. My mom was a person who gave of herself freely and so many of us were recipients of her generous heart. I am grateful to her and on this day of Remembrance, I remember her as well. She was not a soldier but she fought hard for her family and for goodness to prevail. I am so proud to be her daughter and so grateful for her constant outpouring of love to every one of her grand-kids and great grand-kids. She was a remarkable woman in a quiet, yet sassy way. Each one of the kids reflect her generous character in their own unique way and this is an example of how Zachary reflects his grandma’s giving, generous heart. He definitely did what “love required of him” and I was the grateful recipient.
A huge question to be answered in an upcoming book. :-).
Snap – Flash – Click. Shutter opens. Closes. Flash of light. Click. Click. Click. The weary buttons beg for reprieve as the merciless index finger presses down with vigor. Breath catches and together we are caught between capturing and savoring the moment. When my eye lands on something that sparks my heart, my hand involuntarily lifts my camera to capture the moment. Through the years, my heart has been gathering snapshots that mark my trail as breadcrumb snippets that lead me back to the memory. As a child, the sweet joyful moments speckled in through the dark chaos. The snapshots I took were mostly those imprints that warmed my heart. These shots were few. Bare, sweet stolen moments of wonder sprinkle the pages of my childhood album. Memories of my childhood are slim. Though frustrating at times, I have come to recognize this as a gift to not dwell on the darkness of the past but instead, bring to recall the good things. Homemade bread, fantastic home sewed Halloween costumes, warm dinners and books aplenty are some of those good things.
One memory is tucked away as one of my most cherished. At the end of the aisle, my future husband stood with tears perched on his lower eyelid. A quivering solid arm is extended to me and together my Dad and I walk towards my future. Walking down the aisle, we clumsily reach for each other as husband and wife with all the flaws and imperfections within that grasp. Days into our marriage we basked in the sunlight of Hawaii being tossed about by the waves of building a relationship, learning to communicate and walk in synch with each other. We had begun that awkward journey of becoming one. We were two colliding into one another to become one. It was a messy business. The waves continue to roll in and the sun set for almost thirty years in this journey. Now, almost 30 years later we are en-route to Hawaii once again. This time, we fill two rows and we are surrounded by three of our daughters and looking to reconnect with more family when we get there. The journey has picked up other travelers along the way and we continue to become one in the midst of the clutter of daily life. Looking out at the expanse that is below I catch my breath at the beauty of the fuzzy pink cotton candy sky, cuddling with the periwinkle saying its goodbyes to the resplendent glory of the dazzling golden beams that had just stretched across the skies and reflected off the hard metal of the wings of the plane. The reflected glory of the sun slowly slips off the cold, hard wing. I smirk as a thought crosses my heart as I gaze on this picture. We are the reflected glory of our Savior. My hand rises to take the picture. It is a joining of my senses. From behind the camera that specific frame is exactly the state where I want to remember it. My fingers are eager to bring to permanence the beauty and the memory of this moment. Drinking it in, we are all snapping pictures in our row.
Saved for Instagram, filed away to share on FB or simply for our own enjoyment, we snap.
My heart is taking snapshots through the lens of my camera. It is irresistible for me. Longing to embrace and hold onto each moment to savor richly and deeply ~ I immobilize the picture. Turning to Mikayla and Meghan I try to explain why it is that I love to apprehend this beauty and God’s glory in His creation. “ I love capturing His beauty.” The words sink into my soul as I look at two of our girls. It dawns on me and I speak it out loud: “That’s why I love taking pictures of all you guys. You are all so diverse in your beauty and a total gift from God. Strikingly beautiful and it catches my heart and has me longing to seize that moment.” They smile. They understand.
I can’t even describe the overwhelming ache that rises up within me when I revel in the gift the Lord has given to this becoming one thing with Kevin. We are becoming one and in doing so, we have made a measure of many who will one day become one with their own soul-mate. I love each frame of this journey together and look forward to each snapshot yet to be taken. As with photographs, some pictures are taken out of focus or not enough light and those ones don’t need to be prominent in our lives but will serve as a reminder for how we WANT to frame our lives. The pictures we will keep in our memory will chart our course in days to come.
As we step onto the soil of Hawaii yet again, I join hands with Kevin looking back over those almost thirty years and sigh deeply and contentedly even as I look over the waves of doubt, hardship and angst. Together we have traipsed, stumbled, wrestled and sauntered through many sunsets and countless waves. My hand stays still within his IN His. I can’t take a picture of that. I can’t capture the joy that springs eternal when I look back on our years and see the faithfulness of our God. Every step of our journey, we are in the palm of His hand and He has delivered us safely back to revisit our honeymoon island to the place where we began our journey of becoming one. Some things a camera can’t capture. I close my eyes and with a flutter, I allow my mind to rest in this contentedness of His irresistible grace and faithfulness to inscribe deeply in my heart.
Pushing the needle in over and over again to fill each square with the designated color. Changing colors on the needle over and over again and watched the needlework design emerge. Turning the embroidery over, the back was scarred with knots and frayed ends and crossed over edges. Much like our lives, our “private” side can be scarred and broken with the marks of failures and hardships deeply embedded into our hearts. Turning the work over, I marvel at the canvas before me. Gorgeous strokes flow to produce a lovely landscape, muted and joyful in a kaleidoscope of colors. The thoughtful blues, the flamboyant mahogany, the effervescent golden, the deep flowing emerald, the melancholy periwinkle, the soft pinks flood my visual senses. A sigh of contentment rushes involuntarily to my heart. In this moment I want to stay.
Pain comes, hard dark times threaten, money is tight, loved ones die, relationships are confusing, emotions swirl, hurtful and angry words ensue and darkness sets in to try to steal this colorful moment that I try to cling to. In these moments, I begin to understand the beauty of pain. The dark threads weave in and out of the color-filled canvas framing each intricate detail causing boldness and richness not seen before. As the threads of pain and darkness outline the joy and beauty of our lives, we are reminded that we live in a world of mountains and valleys. The Master Weaver uses the pain and tragedy in the wisps of our frail human days to outline the beautiful moments to bring vivid contrast in order to see the hand of His glory in our lives. To fully appreciate the joy of our days we must experience loss. At times we are a pendulum of laughter and tears. Our lives are woven in an eclectic mix of colorful and exciting bursts of mountaintop experiences, muted shades of the ordinary and outlined by tragedy in the valley of darkness to reveal a remarkable work at its completion. When we look at our lives, do we only see the dark threads, or the messy scattered hopelessly fragmented underside? Or do we gaze upon what is being woven in His timing? Guilty of all three and my prayer is to posture my heart to accept the threads that are woven on my canvas with His grace and look to Him with abundant joy for the hope that is set before me. What compels me to hope is the love of my Father in Heaven who holds me in the very center of His palm as together we weave the life that is mine.
This life that is in Him. This broken, fragmented, messy life brought to the cross where He saw beauty in the ashes. Tears of thankfulness wet the canvas when I realize that while I can only see the masterpiece He is weaving in my life in the moment, He sees the finished work of His grace in my life.
Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
To live is to love, which is, to know. The innate desire to be known and loved resides within us all. If we are familiar with the words of Christ, this shouldn’t surprise us:
“And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing
with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which
commandment is the most important of all?”Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O
Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall
love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your
entire mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘You
shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater
than these” (Mark 12:28-31 ESV).
Humans were made to love; this is our purpose: to love Christ with the entirety of our being…
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Love the thoughts of my daughter as she travels the world!
Day Three . . .
Kigali Genocide Memorial.
It’s hard to believe that this horrific event occurred only 20 years ago. There is not one person who is not affected by it.
The museum is well put together and succeeds at educating visitors of the progression, the event, the aftermath, the stories, and preventative actions.
One quote I read was saying that genocide doesn’t just happen all at once. It starts with one death at a time.
A book that was recommended was “Shake Hands With the Devil” by Romeo Dallaire.
The people here are dedicated to moving forward by educating others about he past so that we may all learn from it.
After a sober morning, we transition to the Akilah school for women (www.akilahinstitute.org) whose goal is to connect young women to economic opportunity. Nadine, a recent graduate, shows us around and tells us how Akilah has changed…
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A dance hall. A clutched purse. A handsome young soldier. Eyes meet across the hall and he saunters over to the lovely vision. Asking her to dance, she protests with a “can’t put my purse down” excuse. He alleviates that excuse and tucks in her purse under his uniform jacket and whisks her onto the dance floor and into his life for the next 68 years. The war expedited love. The brisk wind of death had fallen upon many and life was grabbed at every opportunity. With the cold bony grip of death so close, love was forced to make quick decisions. Love. A “promise” of marriage wasn’t enough to carry this bride to another continent. Once again, this dashing soldier tucks in the purse of commitment under his uniform and produced a ring and a covenant to his beloved to love, honor and cherish her all the days of his life. Plot twist. She would be moving to Canada.
Goodbyes. Stepping onto the train. Traveling across the world to meet up again. The young thoroughly modern Millie embarks to embrace her new life with her dashing soldier in Canada. Many stops were made along the way with war brides shyly meeting up with their husbands. Uniforms now exchanged for farm work wear and dusty boots, the image was dauntingly unfamiliar. Breaths caught up in throats and fear clutched at some. Down to a few. The train stops and Millie looks out to see her dashing man in a suit alongside a car. Smiling to herself she thought, “I got myself a rich one!” Johnny looks up to see his thoroughly modern Millie with a wave of white cascading through the front of her black tresses and a jaunty cigarette at her red lips. Thrilled to see one another again, they jaunt off home to his mother’s home in his rental car to meet Johnny’s two conservative and wonderful sisters. Johnny had wanted to bless Millie and rented a car for the day from his wages. Life was meager at times but their love was rich. Memories of having to hitchhike a ride to the hospital and scraping money together to pay for their first property. Building their home brick by brick by hand and not going into debt to get ahead was Johnny’s standard. Millie was the spice that kept life sweet and flavorful.
Into their marriage a bit, Johnny came to know the Lord and wanted desperately for his new bride to know His Savior. Night by night, they would get tucked into bed and he would read the Bible aloud to her until it became a reality in her life and she too surrendered her life to Jesus Christ. Together they forged through life with joys of daily adventures and life itself and hardships of barrenness, financial loss and death of friends. After many years of not being able to have children naturally, they began the process of adoption and had two lovely girls Diane and Joy. Through this, they were able to pour their love for each other and for the Lord into these two little ones and now many more to follow in grandchildren and great grandchildren. Through the years, the Lord has prospered this lovely couple who have daily forged through life with tenacity, with zeal, with hospitality, with joy, with PURPOSE.
We had the privilege of meeting this couple about 18 years ago and delighted to spend time with their wisdom, their humor and their complete surrender to the will of God. Never have I failed to walk away from any conversation with either one of them but have been filled to the brim with thanksgiving that the Lord has gifted us with such treasure for friends. Tomorrow is their 68th Wedding Anniversary and I am struck once again at the faithfulness of God unfolded in the marriage of these two. Together, they have took hold of the very hand of God and walked through life leaning on His word. Together, they have met adversity, lost friends to death, watched churches split and countless painful moments where their recourse was to pray, to trust God and move forward. I learn so much from both of them. I learn that life is short. That moment in the dance hall is etched in their minds…..it echoes on their hearts still. They are youthful in their hearts, wise in their speech and they feel the pains of their age creeping into their bodies. We learn from it all and feel as though we are immersed in a pool of gold and wisdom in their midst. At 90 and 91…..they are together, they serve the Lord, they fill each other with God’s word, they go about their day with thanksgiving and very occasionally I hear a complaint and when I do, it is likely turned around into something to laugh with. They apologize for their shakiness or their age at times and I am astounded. All I see is bedrock strength, stunning beauty, ageless wisdom and an outpouring of love. They make my heart sing. My hero couple, my couple who prays diligently for our children, my couple who demonstrates to me daily what it is to love unconditionally, my couple who loves to laugh, my couple who still manages to bless all those in the wake of their kindness and generosity….I love them.
Daily routine. Daily pain. Daily prayer. Johnny daily “tucks Millie’s purse” in his uniform by caring for her needs, being a provider, loving her dearly every day. Every day is a gift and it had been from the time they were young. Now they know it more than then…every day is a gift. Now instead of jauntily tucking a purse into his uniform to whisk his lovely off for a spin, Johnny tucks Millie into bed and he kisses her goodnight every night and says, “see you in the morning”. Millie responds with, “I hope so.” The light is turned down and evening sweeps in with quiet and the peace shatters the air. Life well lived.