Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Friday, September 23, 2022

Through the Valley of Shadow, Part 1 of 4

Doug Pryor slumped to the forest floor, exhausted. Was this the last time search parties would be sent out to look for his twenty-one-year-old daughter?

“God, I can’t go on.” He prayed. “I just need to know. Is Taylor safe?”

Just then, he spotted three deer not too far away.

“Lord, if she’s safe, bring one of those deer to me.”

The deer took off.

That’s when Doug knew.

Taylor Pryor was well known for her spunk and enthusiasm, her love for God, and her compassion for the downtrodden. As a student at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, she was in her element—encouraging the other girls and leading a Bible study. Video footage from a 2017 Missions trip to Guatemala reveals a vivacious young woman ready to take on the world. More than anything, she desired to make a difference in the lives of those God placed in her path.

Ending her first year at university with a round of written exams, Taylor flew immediately to Ontario to work in an asparagus-packing plant. Already exhausted, the isolation, long hours, and “no music” rule quickly took their toll on this extroverted young woman. When anxiety and suicidal thoughts began to surface, she returned to Manitoba and worked the rest of the summer as a camp counselor—for which she was far better suited. She returned to school in the fall.

During a college soccer game in October of 2018, Taylor collided mid-air with another player when both jumped for the ball. In the weeks that followed, she began to exhibit physical symptoms such as blurred vision, hearing problems, and an inability to stay focused or sleep. She saw a concussion specialist at a sports clinic where she received physiotherapy for her eyes.

Gradually, personality changes became apparent to her family and even more so to her friends in residence. She displayed anger and anxiety they hadn’t seen in Taylor before. She used language she would not typically use. She began to push her parents away, insisting that she could deal with it on her own.

“We let her do that for a while,” her mother Darseen said. “But it was really hard.”

“She distanced herself out of shame. She was embarrassed about where she was at,” Doug added.

Taylor pushed through that first term and came home for Christmas break, but her parents were beginning to see an entirely different person than the girl they knew. Back at school, things began to snowball. In February, she made her first suicide attempt. By March, Taylor had been in and out of hospitals numerous times. Her parents decided to find her an emotional support dog. Leaving the hospital on the day she was given a pass to go pick out her puppy, Taylor admitted to her roommate that she had no idea how to pick out a dog.

“Just sit back and wait. Your dog will pick you,” was the advice she received.

Taylor with her "baby"
So she did. Sure enough, as Taylor watched the little fur balls wrestle and play, one dog broke away from its siblings and waddled straight to Taylor, later falling asleep in Taylor’s lap. Although the dog’s name is officially Everly, Taylor’s main name for her was always, “My Baby.”

While the dog helped, the chaos escalated. It seemed the vigilance required simply to keep Taylor alive was becoming a full-time job. When Taylor was asked to leave the dorm because of all the disruptions, her parents began to look for an apartment. Finding a suitable one seemed impossible. They needed a place on ground level, near Taylor’s school, that accepted pets, and that was nice (putting someone struggling with anxiety in a run-down space is not helpful). With that sort of laundry list, the odds seemed impossible. But when a friend of a friend told them there was one available apartment in her building and they went to check it out, Doug and Darseen were able to check off all their boxes. In mid-April, they’d secured the apartment and Darseen moved into it with Taylor. As a bonus, their building was surrounded with lovely biking trails, one of which led to Taylor’s school in a ten-minute ride. It definitely felt like an answer to prayer.

To be continued next week.


Thursday, September 15, 2022

The Mouse House

In the fall of 1986, I was the mother of two pre-schoolers with another on the way. Christmas was coming. Money was tight. What I did have was a new Pfaff sewing machine. My father had died earlier that year and we’d received a bequeathment. I knew I wanted to use part of the money to buy a good sewing machine. I’ve never regretted that decision, and I think of Dad every time I use it.

I also owned a trunk of assorted fabrics, old clothes, and crafting materials. When I found a pattern for a little fabric doll house and its three family members—which you could make either as bunnies or mice, I decided to make our three-year-old daughter a mouse house.

This, of course, required working only while the children slept.

The first step was cutting out ALL. THE. PIECES. The walls and roof were reinforced with plastic, then padded with batting before adding fabric on both sides That’s a lot of pieces. The roof and carrying handle were made from leftover fabric I’d used to make my husband a shirt, the walls from a discarded dress. Half the roof lifted up while the front wall could be raised or lowered using zippers along each corner. Each wall included at least one window, complete with shutters and flowery window boxes on the outside, curtains on the inside. The little red door opened and closed with a snap. I even found an old pair of child’s pajamas printed with cute little mice to cut out “family portraits” to hang on the inside of the walls.

Furnishings included a little bed with a quilt and pillow. I made the sofa and matching armchair from a dress I’d worn in Grade Seven.

The three mice were made from fuzzy blue fabric with pink lining for their ears and tails of braided blue yarn. Mama Mouse wore her own little bib apron, while Papa and Baby sported only red ribbons around their necks. 

Those walls stood much straighter in 1986.

As Christmas grew closer and my belly grew bigger (our third arrived January 7), I feared I’d never finish the mouse house on time. Then hubby had to attend a conference that involved staying in a downtown Winnipeg hotel. Did I want to go along? Boy, did I!

We farmed out the kids. I packed my sewing machine and all the cut-out parts, then set up shop in our hotel room. Two uninterrupted days to work on this project felt like the biggest treat. There I sat, larger than a house myself, working away at a sewing machine. Thread, stuffing, and Velcro bits lay scattered about. I can only imagine the “guess what I saw today” story the housekeeper told after leaving our room.

Our girl spent many happy hours playing with her mouse house. Last Christmas, she discovered it in our storage room and decided to take it home. I said, “At least let me fix it for you.” The roof was falling off, the furniture coming apart, the mice looking extremely ratty.

She didn’t argue. I put the house in my office so I wouldn’t forget about it.

Seven months went by.

Finally, realizing I would see Mindy again at the end of September, I got to work. This time I used a glue gun for several of the repairs, saving myself a ton of stitching. The mouse family received new whiskers. I reinforced their tails. Mama Mouse underwent eye surgery which altered her appearance, but her vision remains unchanged.

I probably spent a good six hours fixing the mouse house. Although none of those hours were interrupted by children, I do find threading a needle more time-consuming than I did 36 years ago. Go figure.

Jesus of Nazareth, the most talented carpenter who ever lived, is preparing a place with “many houses” for his beloved children. I like to think he’s putting all the care and love into mine that I put into Mindy’s mouse house—but with a lot more skill, and no need for repairs in 36 or 360 or 36,000 years.

I can’t wait to open the door to mine!

Saturday, September 10, 2022

High Hopes

One cool thing about getting married while you’re still a baby is that you can mark significant anniversaries typically celebrated only by old people. Last January, when I realized that October 1, 2022 will mark 45 years since our wedding day, and that it fell on the Saturday of a long weekend, I began to scheme. All I wanted was to have our kids and grandkids with us for a few days. Organizing a family photo shoot would be the icing on the cake.

Odds were against making this happen. Covid-19 was still raging. Some of our crew would need to travel from Alberta. It would mean pulling kids out of school. Coordinating it all felt insurmountable. But with nine months’ lead time, I decided to start planning, hoping the early notice would work in our favor.

Once I had all our kids at least semi-committed, I booked three nights at a friend’s cottage near Clear Lake. They warned us it was up for sale, but they’d take it off the market if it hadn’t sold by the end of April. I booked a photographer friend to join us for one of the three days. Although everything seemed set, I knew I would need to hold the whole plan with open hands so that it would be less painful if it fell apart.

It has indeed tried to fall apart several times.

First, a job loss resulted in a plummeting income. How could we afford this now? I never would have started planning had I known. We decided to wait and pray. Before long, we received an unexpected cash gift that would cover the cost. It was easy to decide what to earmark the money for. Onward and upward.

Then, our friends sold their cottage. I wanted to cry but prayed instead. I approached another friend with a cottage, expecting to hear they did not rent it out. It turned out their cottage was not only available to us but also had more to offer at less cost. We booked it.

Shortly after that, our Alberta kids learned they had to move. Given their time constraints and Calgary housing, there was a likely chance they would need to be moving the weekend of our anniversary and would not be making the trip. I prayed hard about this one because no amount of texting, phoning, or alternative planning on my part could fix it. But on July 29 our daughter texted that they’d be getting the keys to their new digs in mid-August, leaving plenty of time to settle in before heading for Manitoba. Yay!

Next, we learned our photographer may have to bow out due to a family health situation. This one is still up in the air and being prayed about. We may have to settle for trying to take our own pictures, but at least we’ll have made memories.

Getting this family together for a photo might be easier.

 Between the prayers and the problem-solving, I’ve been planning meals and activities for this event while still trying to “hold it loosely.” Is that even possible? Having it pried out of my hands at this stage would be painful for sure. But holding it so loosely that I fail to plan would mean it never happens. It reminds me of that old saying, “Plan like you’ll live forever, live like you’ll die tonight.”

Maybe only mothers of adult children can fully appreciate the value of and the longing for this type of gathering—especially those for whom it’s a rare occurrence. A dozen things could still go wrong and some of them probably will. The juggle and struggle between our expectations and our disappointments can feel like a high-wire tightrope act, can’t it? As much as I want everybody present, happy to be there, getting along with each other, and returning home feeling loved and blessed and glad they came—it’s out of my hands. Seems like a lot to ask. Seems like high hopes.

I’ll keep you posted.