Prov 17:22

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

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Things We Throw Away

Picking up garbage around town with a group of friends is a terrific way to spend two hours on a sunny Saturday morning, especially when you find 500 dollars in cash and another 700 in Canadian Tire money.

Too bad that didn’t happen.

Still, it was a good thing to do. Kudos to the Portage Community Revitalization Corporation for organizing the “Beautification Days.” Our group managed to fill several bags, even in a relatively clean neighbourhood. The relatively clean neighbourhood was not mine. And if we had worked in my neighbourhood, chances are slim that any of the garbage collected would have originated with me. Naturally, echoes of my children’s voices rang as I worked. “I didn’t make this mess. Why do I have to clean it up?”

Why, indeed?

Because we all have to live here, that’s why. Of the nine in our group, two were recent immigrants to Canada. I found myself embarrassed by “our” mess, including endless cigarette butts, half-filled pop bottles, and of course, dirty diapers. Seriously, people? (I recalled the clever idea of hiding your wallet inside an unused disposable diaper, rolled up so it looks used, while you go swimming. But since we weren’t near a beach, I didn’t bother to check.)

I loved seeing teens and children involved in the work, because cleaning up others’ messes is a regular part of adulthood and the earlier we learn, the better. 25 years ago, as a young mother chasing three little kids, I remember feeling like life was an eternal quest to conquer dirt. From the moment I rose in the morning, my time filled with cleaning dirty laundry, dirty floors, dirty dishes, dirty bathrooms, and dirty bums on dirty children. Not to mention the dirt in my heart.

The discouraging part was how it never ended. I began making it my goal to accomplish just one task each day that would not require repeating tomorrow. I rarely succeeded. 

And so it is with the litter around town. Things may look great now, but how long before it starts to accumulate again?

And so it is with our hearts. Trash doesn’t clean itself up, and sin doesn’t go away on its own. Worse, we’re helpless to rid ourselves of sin except in that we have a choice of whether to bring it to the one who can wash it off for us. The one who did the work so we could be clean again. The one who made us in the first place. The one ready to pour out his mercy, make us new, and hurl our sins away as far as the east is from the west. Over and over. It’s a pretty sweet deal.

You might say we are most like Jesus when we are cleaning up the messes we did not make.

The thermometer climbed to over 30 degrees as we did our trash pick-up last Saturday, a brutal initiation for someone who, earlier in the week, still wore sweaters and mittens. I couldn’t wait to go home, toss my sweat-soaked clothing into the hamper, and step into the shower. Ahh… clean again, just like that.

It’s a pretty sweet deal.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Recipes for a Happier World

Last week I wrote about the May long weekend, so I thought it only fair to tell you how I spent mine. See it as a private diary, if you like, but I take no responsibility if you’re scandalized beyond recovery by my wild and wicked exploits.

Friday: Date Night   
Hubby and I take turns planning our date nights, although it generally involves supper out. Friday night was his turn. After a yummy meal at Tornado’s, he took me to the river for a quiet evening around a campfire. He gave me the option of splitting wood or starting the fire with some kindling, but I wasn’t falling for that. Silly man obviously underestimates my laziness and overestimates my sense of adventure. 

“I think I’ll just sit here and watch you work,” I said, snuggling into my lawn chair. Watching a one-armed guy split wood is more entertaining than a movie, and a roaring, toasty fire soon blazed. We didn’t talk much, just stared into the flames and relished the silence. Birds chirped. The occasional wild turkey gobbled in the distance. Not a man-made sound to be heard, unless you count the crackling of the fire. Just us, enjoying creation. Ahhh. If everyone got to do this on a regular basis, we’d have a happier world.

Saturday: Yard Work
I can think of one or two activities I find more insufferable than yard work. Having a root canal comes to mind, although I’ve never actually required a root canal so I can’t say for sure. But, like housework, yard work must be done. Unlike housework, I don’t actually know how to do yard work. I just want to magically have a beautiful yard, is that too much to ask? Hubby says I should have married someone who either loves gardening or who’s rich enough to hire a gardener. In other words, “kwitcher belly-achin’ and grab a rake.” 

But Saturday was a lovely day. So I hoed the garden in preparation for planting, sprayed some weeds with an organic, homemade weed killer recipe I found on Facebook, and pruned two rose bushes—also with instructions garnered online. Knowing my non-green thumbs, I predict the weeds will survive and the roses won’t.

The rewarding part of my yard day was hosing down the outside of the house. Watching winter’s grime run down the walls to rejoin the dust of the earth made me feel like I actually accomplished something. If everyone got do hose down a dusty house on a regular basis, we’d have a happier world.

Sunday: Church
Part Four of a series called “A New Life by Summer” and this week’s topic was about better rest. Ever wonder why you come home from vacation or a day of recreational pursuits exhausted instead of refreshed? It was helpful to hear why this happens and how Sabbath rest is a gift from our creator, not a heavy yoke in a long list of rules and regulations. If we could just get a handle on this one good gift, everything else would fall into place and we’d have a much happier world. You can hear the full, inspiring message HERE.

Monday: Writing
When you write a weekly column for your local paper and a quarterly column for a writer’s magazine, and you want to enter a couple of short story contests and polish up your dusty ol’ novel for yet another contest, and the Chicken Soup for the Soul folks are enlisting submissions for a “Christmas in Canada” collection, and there’s a local website/magazine starting up, asking for contributors… well, there’s no end of possibilities for an introvert and her laptop on a drizmal holiday Monday. Like a pig in mud. If everyone got to spend a full day now and then doing what makes their heart come alive, we’d have a happier world.

(PS - If you have a story to submit for the “Christmas in Canada” book, go to click on “submit your story” and follow the instructions.)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Quirky Queen and the Longest May-Long

Is this your favorite long weekend of the year? Seems it has become known as “The May Long” or “May Two-Four” and it signifies many things to us here on the Canadian prairie: planting gardens, getting yards in tip-top shape, firing up the barbecue, the start of camping season, garage sales, outdoor festivals, and the unofficial kick-off of our shortest and most cherished season.

What is it, anyway?
Victoria Day occurs on the Monday before May 25 each year and honours Queen Victoria, whose actual birthday fell on May 24 and who reigned from 1837 to 1901 (during which time the population of Britain doubled). She still holds the record as the longest-reigning British monarch, even though she needed to survive her father and three uncles in order to wear the crown.

Why her?
So why is Victoria’s birthday a holiday and not any or every other monarch? Maybe because she was so interesting. Her mother was a German princess, so she spoke German first, then English, French, and Hindi. Her first name was actually Alexandrina and her family nicknamed her “Drina.” Having lost her father when she was still an infant, she was only 18 when she was crowned. She married her first cousin, Albert, whom she was crazy about all her life. They had nine kids, eight of whom later sat on thrones in Europe. She was the one who started the trend, apparently, of white wedding dresses—but after Albert’s death she wore only black for the rest of her days. Queen Victoria survived seven assassination attempts, although why so many wanted her dead isn’t clear. She enjoyed singing, painting, drawing, and keeping a journal which encompasses 122 volumes.

Did you know…?
In some Canadian cities, Victoria Day is celebrated with fireworks or parades. Not surprisingly, Victoria, BC, (named for the Queen) holds such festivities and I wonder if the children who live there assume that “Victoria Day” is a celebration of their home town. I wonder if all the women named Victoria or Vicki think the holiday is for them. I wonder why there is no holiday named for me. Oh wait. Maybe that’s what April the first is for.

My most memorable May Long.
The 1981 May long weekend was the longest weekend in the history of the world—my world, anyway. With my first child nine days past due and my body so swollen I qualified as a capacity crowd, I felt thrilled when labour finally started on Friday afternoon. Notions, my dad called it. All of his daughters had to endure the final weeks of our pregnancies answering Dad’s daily query: “having any notions yet?”

Happy as I was when the notions arrived, it seemed to me that three and a half years passed between that Friday evening and Sunday afternoon when our healthy, 9 pound, 7 ounce son was finally delivered by Caesarean section. While it may have been my longest weekend, it was also the most rewarding. And the fringe benefit? Our son always gets a long weekend on or close to his birthday.

So, happy 33rd birthday to our handsome firstborn, and Happy Victoria Day to all! Enjoy your May Long.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Mom's Legacy

Mom & John at her 80th in 2011

Last week, I stood near my mother as the body of her third husband was lowered into the ground. 

The first time I witnessed this, in 1986, cancer had claimed the life of my father; the second, in 1991 when my first stepfather succumbed to heart disease after only 20 months of marriage. Mom had been married to John (who affectionately introduced himself as “Mister Norma the Third”) for 15 years when a rare disease called Progressive Supernuclear Palsy ended his life here on earth. None of these departures were swift or straightforward, and Mom found herself playing caregiver each time, though her formal education never trained her for the role. I hated seeing her at yet another graveside. At 82, standing between her tall sons, step-sons, and grandsons, Mom looked small and frail to me, maybe for the first time.

My mother’s strength is becoming legendary. She has outlasted enough of life’s hurricanes to rank among the most cherished of retired ships. She deserves to be honoured in a safe and sunny harbor, with no more battles to fight. Instead, she must remain here to keep sailing, whatever storms are yet to come. Knowing Mom, she will do so with grace, wisdom, and ridiculous portions of spunk. An old hymn says, “… it holds, my anchor holds: Blow your wildest, then, O gale, on my bark so small and frail; By His grace I shall not fail; For my anchor holds, my anchor holds.”

Understanding the temporal nature of these separations is one of the things sustaining Mom while she awaits her turn to join the party. It’s inaccurate to say she “lost” three husbands because she knows exactly where they are. Or, more precisely, whom they are with. Nothing can surprise the author and finisher of her faith, and he tells us that to be absent from the body is to be at home with him. He tells us we don’t grieve as those who have no hope. He tells us he is the resurrection and the life, and that everyone who believes in him will live, even after dying. And in her favourite Bible verse, he tells Mom to be still and know that he is God.

I recently learned that years ago, when farmers cleared a field of trees for planting, they traditionally left one tree standing. The surviving tree was spared for a purpose—to provide shade for the farmer and his animals on a hot summer day, or shelter from a sudden storm. These days, I imagine my mother must sometimes feel a bit like that last standing tree. I hope she knows how much shade and comfort she continues to provide to those she loves.

Oh, my mother hasn’t done everything perfectly and she’d be the first to tell you so. But by her determination to carry on, Mom models for her children how it’s done. How you don’t abandon the one you promised to love when they become weak and sick. How, although you become angry, frustrated, discouraged, and confused, you don’t stay stuck there. How you don’t allow loss to paralyze you. And how, when calamity falls, you turn to the one who calmed the raging Sea of Galilee with his words. 

Mothers, as we celebrate your special day this weekend, I encourage you to reflect on this. What are you modelling for those who come behind you? How will your children do life better because they watched you? Have you shown them where to turn for rescue during the storms of life? And will you continue to offer shade and shelter, even if you one day find yourself the last tree standing?