Sunday, December 21, 2014

Derek - Kindness is magic (repost)

This a repost from September 23rd, 2013.  I watched the last episode of the first series again this morning, and was reminded of the strength of kindness, especially when it is sacrificial.  Dear Lord God, if I am to err, let it be on the side of kindness. Amen. 
Grace and I have a new favorite television show. It's a British production called Derek, written, directed by and starring Ricky Gervais.  I'm not usually a fan of Gervais', I find his humor a little harsh.  This show, on the other hand, is brilliant. The entire first series is on Netflix, and I watched all 7 episodes in one week-end. The last episode left me in tears.  Not just a little weepy, either. I'm talking big, gulping, falling over onto the sofa hugging a cat sobbing. Brilliant.

Ricky Gervais stars as Derek Noakes, a care worker in a small senior's home.  The show features a cast of  "quirky characters", working and struggling together to take care of the residents of the home, as well as each other.  The underlying theme is this, that "kindness is magic". And it's presented in a powerful way. Filmed in a mockumentary style, the characters interact with the camera and each other in ways that run the gamut from downright disturbing to heart-breakingly real and crazily hilarious. Sometimes, the most "real" moments are the most disturbing, and the heart of the show is this - through the life and words and actions of Derek, kindness is shown as something that costs something, that can leave scars on the heart of the giver and that shines most brightly when it is least deserved.  

Derek is the kind of show that everyone should see.  After finishing the first episode, I wanted to recommend it to everyone I know. Unfortunately, there is a problem. There is quite a bit of swearing, as well as offensive jokes about body functions and parts, etc. That's not the big problem, though. The power of Derek's message is that he loves everyone. Everyone. And that includes people like Kev.  Kev is a homeless, jobless man who hangs around the home, sleeps on the floor of Derek and Dougie's flat, is the third member of what Derek affectionately calls his gang, and just generally behaves in disturbing, disgusting ways.  There are lots and lots of really gross sex jokes. Lots of references to his lack of hygiene, and just general over-all ickiness.  Kev is a very difficult character to tolerate, let alone like.  The thing is, Derek loves him. Derek's kindness towards Kev is not blind. For the most part, he sees and hears and smells what everyone else does in Kev.  Still, Derek loves him.

That is one of the reasons that I love this show. In the beginning, scenes that had Kev in them literally made me shrink a little back into the sofa. Gervais has done a great job of writing a character that is truly unlikable.  There is nothing of television's classic lovable jerk in Kev. He is not lovable in any way.  Other characters, like Dougie (played by "An Idiot Abroad's" Karl Pinkington), can be a bit caustic but they always have inevitable moments of redemption and latent strength of character. Not Kev. Still as difficult as Kev is to accept, he is real. And being real means that there are moments of vulnerability hidden in the bravado and posturing.  Kev's disgusting behaviour is rooted in weakness and fear, and this becomes obvious as the show progresses. 

The thing is, to fully appreciate the power of Derek's willingness to treat everyone kindly, one has to stick with the show. Keep watching.  At first, I thought, we have to be able to look past Kev's character in order to enjoy the show. But now, I don't think looking "past" Kev is such a great idea.  I think we need to look at Kev, to get to know him even as we get to know the other characters.  Hannah, the manager of the home, has a heart of gold. Dougie, while a serious pessimist with a tendency to grumble incessantly, is fiercely protective of his friends and the residents and stands up for them in the face of manipulation and greed.  Derek is...well, Derek.  And Kev is Kev.

There is a scene in the last episode of the first series, where in true mockumentary fashion and in light of the death of one of the residents, the characters are being asked some fairly deep questions.  Kev's answer to the question of whether or not he has any regrets about his life made me weep. I want to cry now, just thinking about it.  

Derek is just a television show. Kev is a fictional character. He doesn't need us to pay attention to him, to really see him, to accept that he is what he is and to care for him unconditionally. He's not real. I think, though, that we need to do these things.  Gervais has created a show that challenges us to move past our own comfort levels and stay invested in the story, in the characters, even when doing so makes us squirm in our seats.  Not for their sakes, but for ours.  Everyone likes to think of themselves as kind people.  Yet we walk past characters like Kev on a regular basis, and we reason that there are some people who are just too far gone to even care if we are kind to them. Derek doesn't think so. Derek doesn't think about it at all.  Derek is kind because that's who he is. And if we stick with him on the journey, if we give this show and this character a chance, we just may find ourselves, after 7 episodes, listening and really hearing the heart of someone who, it turns out, isn't too far gone at all.  

Keep the tissues handy. Just in case.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Joy, in the company of pain

It has been a few weeks since the dreaded/much anticipated November 25th, when Grace flew off into the wild blue yonder and came back down to earth in England.  We all survived.  There were tears, and lots of hugging.  Excitement. Joy. Gratitude. Laughter.

And yes, mourning.

I wonder how much of our daily difficulties and dysfunctions are rooted in a failure to actively mourn our losses, especially when they occur in bittersweet, emotionally complex and contrasting circumstances. 

Life is so full of loss.  It is easy to get confused when our losses are mingled with blessings, gifts, relief. 

Grief is difficult to deal with when circumstances are clearly sorrowful and grief is expected.  Add a bit of ambiguity, a measure of cheer in the midst of the pain, and it is too easy to minimize, or ignore the pain. Out come two little words that have failed to comfort people the world over.

At least.

At least she is happy, at least she loves Jesus, at least she is with people who love her, at least she is following her dreams, at least, at least, at least!

All of this is true.  Something else is also true, though.  I am her mother. I am an influence in her life, and that influence is not diminished by distance. Grace is in England.  England!   With a young man that she loves, with lots of opportunities and challenges, in a beautiful home, at the seaside.  And she's in mourning too.  She misses her dad and I, her home, her friends and family.  Her kitties and her stuff.  I need to make sure that she knows that it is okay to feel the way she feels, when she feels it and how often she feels it.  I need to be an example of authenticity, of the freedom in truth. 

With all my momma heart, I want her to know that even as her arms are over full with the blessings of her life, it is okay to feel sad about the good things that she had to let go of in order to receive the new good things.  Gratitude mingles with longing.  Joy keeps company with pain.

I don't want her to feel guilty for leaving.  We have spent hours talking about this, and our frequent Skype chats always include reports of how we are doing with the separation. 

How we find ourselves staring into space, with heavy hearts, safe in the love that God has surrounded us with.

How skipping into the crashing sea with new red wellies, or curling up in bed with a softly purring cat gives comfort in our deepest places.

How our hunnies are masterfully and diligently offering comfort at every opportunity, bless their loving hearts.

How small things go a long way in making us feel at home, because it's the small things that we miss the most.

Even as we wish a Merry Christmas to others, we understand that "merry" might be shooting a bit too high.  Or maybe too low.  Maybe letting go of "merry", in all it's sweetness, is necessary in order to embrace the strength and power of joy.

Maybe joy, in the company of pain, is the fruit of love.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

There's no place like home

A few nights ago, I was lying on my back on my bed, watching Grace search the room for her "sparkly" shoes.  Grace and I were in Massachusetts with Brian and the family, and were sleeping in Brian's room, on the huge California king sized bed that will one day belong to Brian and I.

While Grace searched, I jokingly asked her, if she found them, would she put them on and tap her heels together?

"There's no place like home, there's no place like home, there's no place like home."

Grace smiled sadly, "Aw, mom..."

"The thing is," I pondered, "where would we end up if we did have ruby slippers that would take us home?"

She answered me, muffled, from under the bed, "I know, eh? "

She stood up, shoes in hand.

"People say, 'Home is where your people are,' but seriously, what does that even mean?" Grace rolled her eyes as she slipped her shoes on and grabbed her purse.

What does that even mean?

When your people are spread across the country, across the continent, across the sea?  When you have "people" that you love with all your heart and haven't even met yet? 

In a very real way, I can understand how the presence of people make a place feel like home.  I feel a deepening attachment to Darren, to his parents, to his places.  The beach Grace will jog on, the bus she'll take into Great Yarmouth, the place Darren worked at, the people she loves there. This past week the museum that Darren worked at, Yesterday's World, shut down. I felt oddly sad.  Of course, I had hoped to visit it when I went to visit Grace and Darren, but it's more than that. Darren's pictures of empty shelves and hollow rooms leave me feeling forlorn. 

There are so many people, though. So many places. So many homes.  I feel more and more at home here in Baldwinville, in the house, with this family.  On Sunday, I sat with Grace in church and pointed out people that I knew, names and everything. There are more every week.  I am even learning which kids belong to which parents.  It's a start.

The fact remains that, should Grace and I find a pair of magical ruby slippers that could take us home at a few heel clicks, we're not sure where we'd end up.

It's an odd feeling. 

The interesting thing, though, is that as we become more and more aware of our tremendous blessings, and draw closer and closer to the God of our sorrows AND our joys, home is becoming less about place, and less about people. I think the destination of our ultimate journey is to understand and embrace the fact that home is where our Lord is, our Love, our Jesus, our God.  And we fully believe that the Spirit of our Lord God makes His home within us.  And so, home is wherever we are.

Home is where there is comfort, familiarity, rest. Home is where being authentically ourselves is safe, normal, welcomed. Home is where, in the warmth of love, there is freedom to see ourselves as we are, to ponder and pray and confess and to be transformed into our whole selves, in the image of the One whose love makes home real.

There is a beautiful peace that comes from the awareness that home is within me, where Jesus is. Scripture calls it the peace that surpasses human understanding. 

It is an even lovelier joy to be able to lead my daughter into this awareness, to send her into the wide world knowing that her base camp, her stronghold, her home fires burn within her, in the Person of Jesus. 

Our earthly homes may be a bit of a fluid concept right now, but our true home is as solid and as real and as ours as the God who is decorating it with His love and beauty. 

There is, truly, no place like home.

Denial. Not just a river in Egypt...

It's Saturday.  Grace is leaving on Tuesday.  I wish I could say that I have been busy preparing her favorite foods, spending evenings going through old pictures with her and weeping into her baby blankets as I pack them away, along with all the sweet memories, to bring them to Massachusetts with me.

Yeah. No.

Don't get me wrong. We've spent every moment possible together, which thankfully has been a lot of moments.  But I have been tired, and cranky. My bladder is constantly stabbing me with a hot poker. My eyes hurt. It took me two days to recover from a beginners yoga practice that my body is used to.  We've eaten hamburger/tomato macaroni two days in a row (tonight will be three).  I've been napping, and I haven't had to nap in a long time.

In short, I am in denial.  Denial. Not just a river in Egypt!

Har har.

To be fair, I don't choose denial. Denial chooses me.  My brain sees something too big to handle and says, "Nope. Not doin' it."  My body, expecting the worst, protests, "But, but..."

I just go along for the ride.

I do have peace, though. That means everything to me. I have learned over the years not to try to control my body/mind/heart's reaction to difficult things.  I instead choose the way I behave in times like this, the words I say, the thoughts I think.

I am happy, and sad. I am excited, and fearful of the pain of letting go.  I feel stronger than ever, and pathetically weak.  I feel whole, and yet broken.  I am going through something that millions of parents have gone through before me, and I am on a uniquely personal path.  My body hurts, my heart aches, my eyes sting, and yet yesterday when we bought a lovely green coat for Grace to wear in England, I wanted to squeal with glee.  It's gorgeous. She's gorgeous. It's all gorgeous.

One day at a time.

Monday, November 10, 2014

On booked flights and a new kind of grief

On Saturday, Grace booked her airline ticket to Norwich, England.  She is leaving on November 25th.  Landing in Amsterdam, catching a connecting flight to Norwich and arriving early on the 26th.  She is going home, her new home, in Scratby, Great Yarmouth.  In England.


While Brian helped her book the flight, I sat at the kitchen table with them, absently leafing through a catalogue, listening, praying for things to go smoothly, and hurting.  When it was all done, we smiled at each other, relieved.  I smiled too, genuinely. And hurt.

Grace, Ashleigh and Amanda had plans to go to a roller rink/games place, and Brian was taking me out to supper so I headed upstairs to get ready.  I was changing my shirt when it happened.  I broke.  It felt like I crumpled inside. I buried my face in the shirt that I was holding, and cried.  I cried into my black jacket too.  And into a pillow. And a towel, as I washed and dried my puffy face. Then I cried when I saw how puffy and red my face was.  Stupid face.

The feeling that was washing over me, in waves, was familiar. It was grief. It was the same pain that I felt when my mother died.  C. S. Lewis opens his book, A Grief Observed, with this quote - "No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness..." I thought of this quote as I realized that the pain that I felt was grief, the sorrow of losing a precious aspect of my relationship with my daughter, a loss that no amount of blessing can counter, a loss that is real and deep and profound, and wildly painful.  This is what it felt like.

I'm not sure what happened then, my memory is a bit fuzzy.  I remember Brian coming in and hugging me for a long time.  I remember Grace coming in, too. She wrapped her arms around me and we just stood in a quiet embrace.  I resisted the urge to pat her back and comfort her, to reassure her that I was fine, that it was nothing.  I wanted to honor her strength and faith, to trust it.

I told her, "I can't wait for Heaven, when happy things are just happy, with no sadness attached." 
She laughed. We have talked about this before.  The pain of wonderfulness.  The sorrow of the blessings. The meaning of bittersweet.

Grace and I have spent hours talking about this.  I haven't written much about it because this is her journey, and it hasn't been an easy one.  She and her love, Darren, have worked hard for this. They have prayed and persevered.  We have been blessed and aided by friends and family, and I have had the joy of watching both Grace and Darren grown and mature and overcome together.

I need to make something clear here. Aside from Darren and Grace, no one has wanted this for Grace more than I have.  I have been her cheerleader.  From the time that she decided that she wanted to do this, the mother song that I have sung over her life has been one of encouragement and determination.  When words of doubt and discouragement came at her from others, I sang louder and stronger.  When she doubted herself, I sang until she remembered her song again.  When obstacles loomed large, I sang so much, she overcame them just to shut me up! 

My point is, aside from Grace and Darren, no one wants to see Grace living in England more than I do. 

And no one understands the tremendous blessing that God has poured out onto my life like I do, in the form of my sweet Brian and three incredible stepchildren, not to mention a whole other family to love and be loved by.  I grasp the immensity of this adventure that I am on, and I treasure it. It will keep me busy and fill my life with love. 

And still, grief remains. That is as it should be. 

I joke with the kids, that I am going to be at home helping Grace get ready to go, we'll send her off on the 25th, and I'll come back to Massachusetts the next day to spend Thanksgiving here...a broken woman. Maybe you had to be there. It's funny, because it's true. 

I am learning not to fear grief.  Grace told me recently that she had realized that the sadness was scary for her.  I understand that. 

Do you realize that with something like this, if Grace and I thought everything was going to be wonderful and she'd leave and I'd head to Massachusetts and life would be one long precession of rainbows, English teas and puppies, we'd receive no shortage of warnings about how rough it would actually be.

And if we enter into this with eyes wide open, fully aware that in the midst of the adventures, we'd miss each other like crazy and mourn the loss of what was even though what is becoming is amazing, comfort comes in the form of almost complete denial.  After all, is it really likely that we'll actually be so busy in our new lives that we won't miss each other? 

Don't get me wrong. I am grateful for Skype.  With the internet, we will be able to be in contact daily if we want to.  There will be visits, and how brilliant is it, that I will be able to visit England!  I love Darren with all my momma heart, and I am so grateful for his parents, especially his beautiful mum who loves my daughter with all her momma heart, as well. Grace's faith in the Lord has blossomed in the past year, and I have thrilled at being able to watch her and Darren spur each other on to faith and good deeds, deepening their relationships with God as well as with each other.  This thing has wonderful written all over it!

My grief at Grace's moving away takes nothing away from the wonderful.  And the wonderful takes nothing away from the grief.  It all just is. 

It all just is. 

I'm okay now, though. Grace and I are here in Massachusetts, and I am treasuring every moment. Living moment by moment, day by day.

And the 25th?   It can take care of itself until I get there.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Just a thought ~ on turning 48 and moving away.

So my birthday was last week.  I turned 48.  The day before, I went into the pharmacy to pick up a few things.  At the beauty counter where I went to pay for my purchases, the saleswoman offered to give me some free samples, and started rifling through a stack of little sealed packets of facial creams and cleansers.  As she flipped through them, I heard her say softly to herself, "Not this one, you're not old enough for this one, no, not this one either..."

I have a confession to make.  Without a blessed ounce of humility, I leaned forward and said, "It's okay, I'm going to be 48."  I'd like to think that what I really meant was, "Honey, I am plenty old enough for that age defying, wrinkle plumping, skin smoothing, surgical-results-without-the-scalpel magic beauty cream! Pass it on over!"

What I really meant? Oh dear. Okay, here goes. What I really meant was, "Oh yes ma'am, I know very well that I don't look my age and I have it on great authority that the little frowny lines between my eyes are adorable so I'm keeping them.  But still, pass the magic cream samples because, you know, I'll tuck them away for when I am old. Someday. Some far, far day, far, far away."

The saleswoman oohed and awwed about my lack of facial wrinkleage.  I took a shot at humility and told her that I had had oily skin all of my life, and so that was probably why I am wrinkle-deficient.  She nodded knowingly.  

"Ah yes," she smiled at me. "With dry skin, the face wrinkles. With oily skin, it sags."

And there we were, right back at Humblesville.  

Home sweet home.

The next day, on my birthday, I went to Ottawa with my dear friend Sandy and my daughter, Grace.  Grace had an appointment to apply for a two year work visa to the UK.  For months she has been working on pulling together what she needed to be able to apply for this visa.  She knows the UK immigration website better that it's creator probably does.  She planned and organized and worked and sweated, and yes, there was also a fair share of weeping and wailing, as is wont in any bureaucratic endeavor. Still, with her own dedication and persistence and with lots of help from friends and family, she got everything she needed.

Once she applied for it, the visa could feasibly be granting within two weeks. She will be free to head to England any time after that.  My head says that this is a good thing. She has dreamed of this for many years.  She is in a loving relationship with a wonderful young man, Darren, and will be staying with him and his family.  I am so proud of her, of them both, and I am beyond thrilled that they are going to be able to go on this incredible adventure together.  

My heart is conflicted.  I am filled with love for Grace and Darren, with gratitude for his family and their love and care for my daughter, with excitement at this new stage of life that Grace is entering.  

At the same time, England is crazy far away!  Like, way far.  Across the sea, far.

My baby girl is moving so far away, and this is not going to be easy.

Such is the conflicting insanity that is parental love, that I would find myself in the washroom at the immigration place in Ottawa, praying that Grace's application would be accepted, discreetly reminding God that it was my birthday and that this would be a lovely birthday present.

"Dear God, remember how it's my birthday today? I was wondering, could you please arrange for my child's visa application to the UK to be accepted without incident so that she can move way too far away while I crawl into a weeping heap and wail in the searing pain of separating from her?  Please?  Thanks. Amen.'

The insanity part comes into play in that I sincerely mean it all.  I am so happy for her! This might just kill me! Yaaaaay!  Ahhhhh!

I am comforted by the fact that I am going on an adventure of my own. I am moving to Massachusetts, just as soon as the U.S government gives me permission to marry my sweet hunny.  I am going to become part of a new family, with kids and parents and stepsisters and brothers, and another niece and nephew.  

God has prepared me for such a time as this.  This beautiful child was given to us and my heart is filled with gratitude. Her name is a constant reminder that her presence in my life has been a result of God's grace, and not of my deserving.  We are both entering a new season of our lives, with new joys and new challenges.  We are not walking anywhere that God has not already been, and I know that Grace is trusting Him with her life, as am I.  I have watched both Grace and Darren grow in faith and trust through this process of preparing to be together.  The loveliest thing is that when one of them falters, the other steps up and brings God's faithfulness and love to the table, encouraging and lifting up the other.  They do this all the time, and I am blessed to be able to witness them as they build each other up in Christ.  

 I'm 48 now. There are many changes happening.  Both Grace and I are moving in different directions physically, and yet we are and will always remain united in faith and love and in our precious mother/daughterness.  

And apparently, someday, my oily skin face is going to sag. 

There really is never a dull moment, is there?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Of Loss and New Life

Spring time has come to Quebec...and to Massachusetts.  A world that seemed dead just a few months ago, brown and limp, crushed from the winter's onslaught of ice and snow, is now green with life.  I spent an hour in the bush behind Brian's house yesterday, walking winding paths through the vibrant new growth, paths that took me all the way around Depot pond.  There were streams with rocks for steps across and fallen trees that, in my imagination, were obstacles to be valiantly overcome, even if it only took a step to accomplish the task.  So much newness, so many different shades of green, so much depth and life.

Life surprises me sometimes, how painful and lovely it can be, seemingly simultaneously.  A friend of mine passed away recently. His name was Mark Tasse. He was a close friend, and in the past week as I have been remembering him, I see that he has been a part of some of the most significant times in my life.  One of my favorite memories of him happened several years ago when I was in the hospital after having had a heart attack.  I had been discharged, but didn't have a ride home. I was sitting on my hospital bed, feeling a little panicked, when Mark walking in with a grin and a muffin.  Not only did he take me home, he took me out to lunch first (for some "real" non-hospital food.) Once I got home, he stayed until he knew that I was okay. That is who he was, to everyone. All of the time.  He loved to give gifts, the kind of things that speak of someone who really pays attention and knows what will bless the recipient the most. One of my most precious possessions is a volume of the complete works of Oswald Chambers, my favorite devotional author and teacher. It was a gift from Mark, and I was beyond delighted when he gave it to me. What a treasure!

For a few years, Mark came to our place every Tuesday night for supper. It started when the television show, Lost was on, and we'd watch it together.  After Lost finished, we switched to movies.  Mark ate a lot of his meals at restaurants and on the go, so a home cooked meal was a gift for him, and I took this seriously.  Every Tuesday late afternoon I'd receive a call from him, usually from a local grocery store.  He'd want to know what the plan was, and could he bring anything? He'd say, "Listen, salmon is on sale, do you want me to get some?"  Salmon was a favorite.  I'd tell him what I had, and we'd decide what he needed to get. Then he would arrive with a grocery bag full of goodies.  I would cook it all, whatever he wanted.  It was the highlight of my week.  I also loved the way he talked to Grace, not in that mildly amused, patronizing way that middle aged men often talk to teen age girls. He spoke to her like he spoke to everyone else and he really listened to her. He treated her with respect, like the intelligent person that she was, not a brainless boy crazy stereotype.  She loved him for it, as did I.

For the past few years, Mark's visits have been less frequent. He'd show up at the door with his lunch in hand, just bought at the grocery store.  I'd make coffee and we'd use the short time he had to spend with us to catch up.  A couple times he showed up after snow storms, sporting a shovel and his customary grin. He was always, always, always welcome.

I don't know.  It is hard to imagine him not here.  I feel a little like I did when my mum died, that Mark's death leaves a huge, gaping hole in the fabric of my life.  I feel like I have spent the last week staring at the hole in confusion, trying to look beyond it to see where he is. I am glad that there is a "beyond," that Mark is gone from this world, but not gone forever. I am grateful that he is with God, and somewhere in the pain is a tickle of excitement for him.  He's gone home, he's with Jesus! 

But.  Yes, the but is about me, not him. But it's real. But, I miss him.  I cannot yet see the world without him. I understand this, I still struggle to see my world without my mum.  It takes time.  Still, there are memories. Oh, blessed memories! 

Mark used to talk fondly of his times hiking in the woods.  He felt quiet and peaceful there. At home. Close to God.  He'd love the woods here, although I imagine that he would want to veer off the beaten track, where I dare not. 

So I will stay on the paths.  And think about Mark. And remember. And cry, and laugh. I am grateful that there is Light in this sadness. Mark has walked down a path that I haven't gotten to yet. He is alive in a way that we can't even imagine. He has turned a corner, and those of us who are left behind can't see where he has gone.  We can see the path, though.  We can keep walking, keep believing, keep loving and growing and learning. 

We can be grateful, to have known him, and to have been called friend.  Every tear is a sweet reminder, not only of what we have lost, but what we have had.

 There is much to be grateful for.

Friday, May 9, 2014


“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say” Bilbo Baggins, Fellowship of the Ring

I love paths.  There is something gloriously hopeful about stepping into a forest and seeing a path before you, cut through the brush and trees by use or design, calling forward around corners and through twists and turns leading to places and things that I know nothing about. Yet.

I didn't always feel this way. Growing up with an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, paths into the unknown were to be avoided, certainly not sought.  I spent hours in the bush behind our farm, and felt at home there. It was known, though. The paths were well worn, by my father as he cut winter fire wood and cleaned out the tangled mess each spring. It was as familiar to me as our front lawn. Familiar and safe.

The unfamiliar paths were to be avoided.  Before I knew enough to ask how or why, I knew that the world was not a safe place. I wanted to be safe. I needed to be safe. Unknown paths are not always safe.

When Brian and I went to Maine last Friday, I picked up a copy of The Hobbit at a thrift store.  I've read it before, and having given my copy to a fellow fan, I had been on the lookout for a new one for some time.

I was buried in The Hobbit early this week, and came across Bilbo Baggins expressing his very definite opinion about adventures -

"We are plain, quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can't think what anyone sees in them,"

I had to smile. I remember thinking and feeling like that.  I wouldn't have expressed it so, because while going on adventures terrified me, wanting to go on adventures has always been fairly fashionable.

Somewhere along the years, though, my heart has changed.  Because that is what was missing. I had the mind for adventurous paths, but not the heart.  I was broken, and needed to be healed.  God did that in me.

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened by a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1

What is more enslaving than fear?  I lived in a fear that was overpowering in its intensity The fear was real because the danger was real. I do not feel ashamed of it.  No amount of positive thinking or motivational Facebook post could battle it.  There is a brokenness that words cannot fix, a fear that clings because it makes sense.  To say that I could overcome was foolish, because I couldn't. To say things would be alright was lunacy, because they wouldn't.  To say that there was nothing to be afraid of was insulting, because of course there is much to be afraid of.  Real stuff too, not the fear-mongering threats of a world that seeks to create fear in order to sell protection.  Real stuff.

God did not swoop into my life and tell me that I would never be hurt again.  What He did do was show me a part of myself that, once in complete and trusting union with Him through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, COULD never be hurt again.

"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Ezekiel 36:26

Life is an adventure. So many things are happening, and there is always potential for complete disaster.  Or  extravagant joy. Or both. At the same time.  Life is weird like that.

I love paths. They remind me that I am on a journey, that there are new and wonderful and scary and challenging and exciting and odd and joyful experiences awaiting me.

"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step out onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."  Bilbo Baggins, Lord of the Rings

"When the path ignites a soul, there's no remaining in place. The foot touches ground, but not for long." Hakim Sanai

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

About saying good-bye and smiling hello and ancient grounds and cheap cheese and life and peace and gratitude...

You know what happens, don't you? Stuff happens, big stuff, trivial stuff, I have thoughts and feelings about it all, can't for the life of me put it all into words other than the rambling that happens with close friends and loved ones, then I try to write about it all, grind to a sludgy halt when the feels start and end up with 7 unpublished posts. Sometimes I suck at blogging.

Not that sucking at blogging is going to stop me from trying. For all I know, this may be unpublished post #8. Then again, it might not. And that is worth the effort.

I am in Massachusetts with Brian and his family. I love it here. Every time I write that, I feel an insistent urge to point out that I also love my home in Quebec. Which I do. I am discovering that there is a bit of guilt attached to leaving home there and finding home here with Brian. I am a woman between two lands. Which sounds much more dramatic than it actually is. What it actually is, is confusing and uncomfortable and interesting and bittersweet and lovely and sad. It's deep (what exactly does it mean to be a Canadian living in the U.S?) and simple (whoa, look at the price of CHEESE here!) It's celebratory (I am a 2 minute walk from Dunkin donuts AND from a huge, lovely bush behind the house that I can wander about in for HOURS!) and sorrowful (I keep dreaming about my mother, and our house on Linda St. in Ormstown.)

I am fully aware that I am in denial about some aspects of moving here. My head keeps reminding me that I am going to be leaving my best friend and soul sister, and my family, while my heart frowns and grumbles, "Shut up...we're not there yet!" Grace is moving to England, and I know that I cannot cheer my child on as she moves out on her own adventure if I am thinking about her being so far away. So I don't think about it. Well, okay, of course I think about it. But I don't THINK about it. We're not there yet, either.

One thing I do feel very clearly is peaceful. Yesterday I went for a walk in a cemetery that is just down the road from us. It's a lovely place, with tall trees and quiet. As I walked, I thought that it felt old and full of memory, which I think might be a Lord of the Rings quote about Fangorn forest. In any case, it fit.

It was peaceful, and I felt at home. There was a time when places like this, or the woods behind it were the only places I felt at peace. Not any more. The peace that is within me reaches out and rejoices in peaceful places and circumstances, but it does not rely on them. It is a peace that I don't understand and could never have manufactured for myself. It is real and persistent and solid and good.

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:4-7
There are a lot of big changes coming up. There are going to be extravagant gifts and gut wrenching losses.  It is the nature of life.  There are no gains without losses, no love without pain, no hello without good-bye, no laughter without tears, no joy without sorrow. Still, there is peace.  Jesus is like that. He is like that in us. And He is like that in me.

So where am I now, with everything that is going on? I am at the place that I always end up. I am at the lovely, nurturing, soul-sustaining place of gratitude.

And I couldn't be happier.

Just a thought.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Relaxing bedtime yoga pose...not so relaxing.

A couple of nights ago, I did a google search for pre-bedtime relaxing yoga poses. Now that I think back, I'm not even sure why I did the search. I take evening meds to calm and lessen pain in my IC bladder, and they pretty much cover the whole "relaxing" thing.  Still, I googled it, and got a few poses that seemed to be good options.
One of the poses involved lying on the bed with my legs facing the headboard. I was then to skooch my behind up as close to the headboard as I could get it, with my legs pointing upward, leaning against the headboard/wall.  It was supposed to look like this -

I didn't have any problem getting into the pose, aside from the need to skooch.  There I was, lying on the bed in my softly lit bedroom, feet up the wall, eyes closed, breathing and praying quietly and relaxing and stuff.  It was actually quite nice.  Even the whiskers of a curious cat tickling my forehead did little to mess with my calm. I was supposed to hold the pose for 2 minutes, although from my position the clock was upside down, so I've no clue how long I was there.

When I decided to come down, though, I was met with a problem. Notice the lovely lady in the picture, on a neat, pillowless, catless bed.  Mine didn't look like that. In fact, I had a mound of pillows, quilts, blankets and cats on one side of me (I think there were a few books in there too) and on the other side was the floor...a pile of books, a garbage basket, a lamp, some candle holders and did I mention the floor?

My bed is also quite soft, so it took a fair amount of rolling, grunting, pushing, leg waving and kicking, and more rolling to get over the dam of pillows and blankets. I felt like a turtle on its back. In a very soft bed surrounded by pillows and amused cats.  By the time I got to a sitting position, I was panting, facing the wrong way, the bed was a mess (stupid pillows), the cats had left in a huff, and I had kissed my zen good-bye.

Still, aside from discovering that  yoga is best practiced on the floor, the experience was one more step in the lifelong quest to take myself less seriously.  Which is surprisingly relaxing.

Besides, it amuses the cats. And that has to be worth something.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Grace, England and Growing Up

So Grace is in England. If you are a Facebook friend of mine, you already know this.  And due to my inability to suffer in silence, you also know that sending her off on the trip of her dreams was both personally thrilling and maternally traumatic.  My baby!

When we returned from the airport, I wrote this on Facebook - "I just watched my daughter navigate a labyrinth of ticket scanners, preteen hockey players from the Czech republic, airport security and a weepy couple blowing kisses to each other as they parted. I knew that this was the parental paradox. We realize that we have somehow managed to do it right when our children are able to walk away from us, in freedom and strength and love. She's holding onto God's hand now, not mine. And I am thrilled. And proud. And a little broken. But in a good way."   

The wonderful and odd thing about seeing Grace off was that I wasn't worried.  I knew that she'd be safer in the air than she is, say, walking down our stairs or riding in a car on the 401.  I trust her judgement, her wisdom, her insight into people, her knowledge and faith in God. I wasn't worried about her safety.

My daughter was taking a major step of independence, and I knew that when she returned, she would be different.  We say, they will always be our babies, but the reality is that our relationships with our children change as they grow into adulthood. They have to. If we keep treating our children like, well, children, we will either cripple them or push them away.  We have to see the maturity and depth as it builds up and flows from our young people. We have to acknowledge and honour it in them, because in most cases, it is hard-won. It is not easy growing up. It hurts. It's scary. It's hard. And when our children go through everything they need to in order to get to where they need to be, we as parents had better be there cheering them on, because it was not an easy journey for them.

More than anyone else in Grace's life, I know what she went through to get to the place where she was able to get on that plane.  And I applaud her for it. I celebrate her strength and faith. I honour her perseverance and courage, and her willingness to humble herself and seek God for help when her feeble resources run out. And I know that when she comes home, the fruit of all of that work will be ripening in her. She will not be the same. And I rejoice in that. And weep, because the bittersweet truth of it all is that in order to have a healthy, strong, loving relationship with the young woman who will be returning from England in a month, I have to say good-bye to baby Grace....and toddler Grace....and kid Grace and pre-teen Grace and adolescent Grace.

I will do it, because it is right, and good, and what both Grace and I need. While I am doing it, though, all of this dreadful, painful, healthy letting go, I will find myself adopting the slightly confused, wondrous, wounded and proud demeanor of all parents of young adults.  You've seen them.  They tear up at odd moments.  They carry pictures in their wallets and whip them out with the least encouragement, of graduations and engagement parties and brides and grooms and babies.  They ask questions like, when did this happen? How did they grow up so fast? Where did my baby go?  And then they laugh softly, not expecting answers because there are none. No one knows where our babies went.  We'll never understand how our kids got so smart, or accomplished, or strong, or faithful, or brave.  We'll always wonder where the years went, and we'll never figure it out.  We'll marvel the fact that joy and pain can exist together so eloquently in our hearts.

 There are moments along our journey as parents of young adults that grant us grace in the midst of our loss.  Today, while collecting clothes for laundry, I found out where all of our socks have been hiding. On the floor under Grace's bed.  There had to have been at least 10 pairs, plus the customary assorted singles.  We've been wearing mismatched socks for weeks.  I told her about it on Facebook. She blamed the Jean-Luc. Jean-Luc, with feline disdain, refused to comment.  I reveled in a brief glimpse of my baby.  I am still needed.  I remain Mom, "she who finds that which is lost."

It's not much, but I'll take it.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Valentine's Day 2014

For the past couple of years, I've written Valentine's Day posts mostly focused on how incredible God's love for us is, and how we can choose to love others regardless of what does or doesn't end up in our mailboxes or vases.  This year, I am engaged to be married to a really special man, and we did send lots of love across the miles to each other - using the internet of course, because apparently our respective postal services missed the memo that Valentine's Day cards and gifts are supposed to arrive on or before February 14th!

Still, God's love ruled.  I've been thinking a lot about the way God sees me, how He feels about me when He looks at me, whether He ever grows weary of my feeble efforts to please Him.  Last week I spoke to a small group of young people at an Ashes Arise get together in Ormstown, and my message centred around the parable of the prodigal son.  There is no denying that Jesus was trying to help the people listening, religious leaders as well as those living their lives without God, that their Father God is madly, extravagantly, passionately in love with them.  When we look at people and situations through eyes of love, we see things differently than we normally would.

This brings me to Brian. Because I have learned over the past year, that in many ways, he sees me differently than I have ever seen myself, or have been seen by others.  My gift to Brian was a series of glamour shots that I took at home. Grace curled my hair, I smeared a bit of make up on and did my best to take some pictures that would show how special he makes me feel.  Pictures are an important part of the long distance relationship experience.  We have sent each other pages and pages (and pages and pages) of emails and messages, but the pictures add something that cannot be expressed in print.  Pictures of our children, our homes, our activities, the weather, ourselves...they help us feel close to each other, and included in each others' lives.

In the beginning, the whole picture thing was a struggle for me. I don't like pictures of myself.  My theory has been that I am one of those people who looks better in motion, that I don't take good pictures.  I have also always had a bit of an ugly duckling complex.  I have never been able to see myself as attractive.

Consequently, my first few "selfies" to Brian had me looking a little "deer-in-headlightish."  I was looking at some of my later pictures once, and said to Grace that I looked like I was tired in all of them, compared to the earlier ones. She informed me that I just looked relaxed in the later ones. that's what relaxed looks like.  As I kept taking the pictures, and seeing Brian's response to them, I have begun to feel more and more comfortable. I've even started enjoying the process.

Hence, the glamour shots for his Valentine's Day present.  For the first time in my life, I had fun taking pictures of myself.  Of course, the years of fundamentalist church teaching is having a bit of an effect, and I feel squirmy inside, actually enjoying taking pictures of myself. I mean, really!  Our faith, though, is about truth, and when I look at these pictures, and listen to Brian maintain that this is the way I look to him all the time, I have to stop and think about what is really true.  Is this what love sees when it looks at me?  If so, why have I been cringing at every glance in the mirror, for all of these years?

These pictures are of a woman who is loved, and cherished, and cared for, a woman who has been made strong through Christ in the face of her abject weakness.  This is what acceptance looks like in me, what peace, joy, love and comfort look like. This is the best that a webcam, a piece of black lace cloth, a huge, red heart pillow and a loved woman can come up with.  This is love.

Most importantly, it is what happens when we allow God to love others through us. Brian's love for me is an extension of God's love, just as mine is, for him.  That makes it true.  And because it is true, it lets us see ourselves as we really are.  It's not all good, because we are not all good. But God's love has an amazing way of maintaining His passion and power and grace in the face of our "not goodness."  And it is that grace, that glorious undeserved love, that births in us a longing to be more, out of love, not fear. Out of His riches, not our poverty. Out of His compassion, not the enemy's scorn.

For me, Valentine's day will always be about God's love.  I am grateful, and thrilled that the man I am about to marry feels the same, and that his Valentine's day morning email contained this line - "My dear Kelly even though we can not be together on this day to celebrate the love we share we can both examine our lives for our love for the LORD and see that HE is the true meaning of celebration of the love we share." 

Now...Canada Post...I need to have a word with you...

Monday, February 3, 2014

A note about houses and dreams

I spent the day in a painful IC fog,  had to euthanize one of Grace's ratties (Hammy was a sweetheart and there's a story here. Details will follow in an upcoming post) and then went to work at 4pm, so I didn't get a chance to post this until now, at midnight, but something really neat happened this morning.

I woke up at the tail end of a dream that was taking place in Brian's home in Massachusetts. Which is a significant thing, for me.  I don't generally think of myself as someone who gets attached to places, but in my dream world, location is everything.

When I was a teen-ager, the farm house that I grew up in burned down. We weren't living there, my parents were divorced and I lived with my mom in a duplex in Ormstown. My dad had renovated one of the outbuildings on the farm into a smaller house, and was living in that. So when we visited him, which was often, we stayed there too. The big house was empty when it burned, and it was pretty much completely destroyed.

The farmhouse was very much a character in my childhood story. For years after it burned down, every dream that I remember having took place in that house. The geographical location could be anywhere, the people involved were varied, and the story lines were typical dream-type stuff. But the house was always a presence in my dreams. It still is, to a lesser extent, to this day.

The same is true for the duplex in Ormstown, although not with the same frequency. I always thought that the persistent presence of the farmhouse in my dreams was a way of keeping it in memory, as it doesn't exist anymore. The Ormstown place became a much more common scene for my dreams after my mother died, two years ago, and that was really more about going back to where she was, keeping her memory alive.

Lately, both of my childhood homes have been frequently cropping up in my dream world. No big surprise there. I am preparing to leave this place, this valley, the only home that I have ever known.

Which is what makes it so nice to have Brian's house serve as a back drop to my dream last night. I don't remember details.  I think there may have been pizza involved.  And Christmas lights.  The basic weird dream stuff.  It feels really positive, though.  After all, it's not just any house that gets to be the backdrop for my dream land story lines.  Just the important ones. The ones that matter. The ones that are home.

I'm not going to analyse the death out of this.  Okay, I'm tempted. But I'm trying really hard not to.

It's just neat, that's all. And as the start to a day that involved mind-numbing fatigue, crippling abdominal pain  and the death of a family pet, I'll take all the neat I can get.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Moving to Massachusetts.

So. I'm moving to Massachusetts.  I'm not sure when, though. That depends on the US government.  We have hired an immigration lawyer to help us, and once our paperwork is in order, I will file an application for a fiancee visa, and I will go to the US consulate in Ottawa for an interview.  It is at this point that  I hope to convince the powers-that-be that I am marrying Brian for love, his rugged good looks and his comic book collection, and  NOT to sneak into the country.

 It has occurred to me that if I wanted to just sneak into the country, I live so close to the Canada/US border, I could just cut through the bush. Or head over to Malone "for groceries".  I know that, and you know that. Still, wisdom tells me that I probably shouldn't assume that my interviewers will know that. Or will want to hear about it.

The interview should be interesting.  I probably should wear a muzzle.

If I sound flippant about this, I am not.  This process is not going to be easy, and the acquisition of permission to marry my American hunny is not going to be the hard part.  From the time that Brian proposed in November to just recently, whenever I though about marrying  Brian, my inner narrative went something like this, "I am going to marry him, I am going to be with him, I am going to Massachusetts!"

Now, though, all I can think about is that I am leaving home.



There is a process happening inside of me. A letting go, so that I can openly and freely receive what God is bringing into my life.  The letting go is beginning to hurt. And it hasn't even begun.

I think that this is something that I need to blog about.  A series, maybe.  Can I commit to being honest about this process, though?  What if it gets messy? Oh, who am I kidding, it will get messy.  Will I be able to be true to the mess? To myself? To God?  And more importantly, dare I not be true?

I don't know.  If a journey of a thousand steps begins with one, then step one is coming up with a name for this new adventure in writing.  I don't know if I have the courage to write a blog series on leaving Canada to move to the States, but maybe all I need to be able to do now is find a title for the series.

Any suggestions?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"We fall in love with their souls"

My brilliant niece, Bailey, posted this quote on her Facebook page today -

While I couldn't find a source for it, I do love it. And I believe that this concept also applies to long-distance relationships.  It is remarkable, in a long distance relationship, how much time is spent communicating. Emails, texts, Skype chats, phone calls. The entire relationship consists of some form of "talking".  Because of this, the things that we share the most, in the very beginning, are our ideas, beliefs, thoughts, feelings. Before Brian and I ever actually were able to touch each other, we had shared so much of our hearts and souls, the touching was a lovely addition to an already wonderful experience.

Last fall, I had decided that for Brian's Christmas present, I was going to print out the first few weeks of our email communications. I've kept them all, and there are over a thousand email threads, which means there are over two thousand single emails. At this point, it may be closer to three thousand.  I thought it would be a nice reminder of our first tentative, searching communication, in the days when we were reaching out gingerly, excited but cautious, and every word from the other was a reassurance that something amazing and real was being placed before us.

I started copying and pasting and soon realized that making a compilation that would cover the span of a few weeks was a bit too ambitious.  By the time I had put together eight days of emails, I had over 40 pages of text.  I also included some excerpts from my personal journal that I had written in the days just before I met Brian, including one written on the day before we initially connected, in which I prayed that God would either change my heart so that I could accept the idea of being alone, or provide someone to spend my life with. Either way, I was submitted to God's will. I knew, though, that I would need His help and guidance, either way.

Forty pages.  This was before we had even heard each other's voices, before the first Skype chat.  I fell in love with the heart. mind and soul behind Brian's words.  He was strong and honest, he wrote about his feelings with passion and beauty, he made me laugh and was respectful, he knew himself in a way that I admired, accepting his weaknesses and was honest about his strengths, he was a devoted father and son, and he made me smile.

When I met him for the first time, in the parking lot of the Aubuchon hardware store in Malone, N.Y, and he wrapped his arms around me, I knew him.  He was familiar and comfortable, albeit in a weak-kneed, ooh-la-la kind of way.  The first smile, the first embrace, the first was like coming home to a place that I loved but had never physically been to before.

I fell in love with Brian's soul long before I touched his hand for the first time, and I am grateful for that.

The rest is just gravy. Really, really good gravy.  More like a reduction, with wine and lovely fresh herbs and a touch of thick cream...yeah, that's it.  Meowrrrrr.

Just a thought.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Knocking down walls

When I think of all of the struggles that I have had over the past few years, I can see that because I was desperate and had no choice but to give myself and my problems to God, He has used them to demolish the walls between me and others.

I have an anxiety disorder? BAM! Down go the walls between me and the fearful.

Chronically ill and in pain? KAPLUIE!! Welcome to the world of the suffering.

Financial difficulties? VOILA!!! Gone are the preconceived ideas about poverty.

The loss of my mother? POW!!! Weep with those who mourn.

Abused and bullied? SHAZAM!!!  Say hello to a deeper knowledge of boundaries and forgiveness.

Rejected by Christians? POOF!!!  Move closer into a dependency on Jesus, not people.

Helpless, tired and alone?  SWOOSH!!  Move into the abundant life of those who live in the power of The Spirit of God, who have strength to equal their days and who are never, ever alone.

For many, many years, the thing that I have prayed the most for is for love. Love for God, and love for others.  More love, more love, more love.  I've begged for help, wailed in pain, howled for relief and wept in gratitude, but more than that, I've prayed for love. God's love in my heart for other people.

I've prayed. And then I walked, because what else is there to do while waiting for love to magically appear in one's heart?  The thing is, the love appeared, all right. It met me in the dust.  In the pain. In the tears. In the weakness and poverty and loneliness.  It met me when I failed, and stumbled and fell.

When I look back, I see a lot of messes. But that's not the first thing I see. The first thing I see is the love.  I was loved.  And that love knocks down walls between me and anyone else who feels small and poor and alone and in pain.

And that makes me happy.

My Zimbio