Prov 17:22

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

Friday, October 28, 2022

Blazes of Glory

In early September, I told you about my high hopes for gathering with our kids and grandkids to celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary on October 1. I explained how the deck seemed stacked against us from its initial planning stages, with everything from Covid restrictions to venue changes and other wrenches thrown into the mix. I tried hard to hold it all lightly, lest it be swept away.

Then I left you hanging. I sincerely apologize if you’ve bitten your nails down to the knuckles waiting to hear how that all turned out.

I could write an entire series of columns about our shenanigans, but ain’t nobody got time for that. I’ll try to limit my highlights to five special things you could adapt for your own family.

1. Family Olympics. With 11 people, we divided into two teams of five with one “moderator.” Events included naming your team, piggyback, 3-legged, and unicycle races, the eye contact game, cup stacking relay, and a themed pentathlon consisting of five events for which each team selected its champion so that all five members competed in one. Yes, this took a bit of organizing ahead of time but proved well worth it. The results included tons of chortling, cheering, and just the right amount of cheating. Gold or silver-wrapped chocolates were awarded to the teams with the most and second-most accumulated points—a close call with scores of 265 and 255.

2. Love-About Sheets. Brightly colored sheets of paper, one for each family member, covered one wall throughout the weekend. At the top of each were the words, “One thing I love about…” with a person’s name. Even the little kids, with help, wrote what they appreciated about every other person. Afterward, each took their sheet home.

3. Slide Show. I had discovered on my computer a Powerpoint show I’d made for my husband on our 25th anniversary and realized I could resurrect it and simply add photos from the last 20 years. I should have realized that with grads, weddings, babies, and books, we’d have far more to show for the past 20 years than the first 25. The show grew to 20 minutes long and used five of our favorite songs. But when we watched it together, even the youngest stayed to the end. Yep, there were tears.

4. Photo Shoot. My friend and favorite photographer, Gayle Loewen, drove two hours to capture our family in both posed and candid shots. Her excellent results already hang all over our walls and on my social media. What a treasure!

5. Blessings. To honor the value of a more formal and official blessing, we took time to call each person forward to receive spoken words of affirmation, physical touch, and eye contact. Starting with the youngest, each person’s blessing is printed on a tile they can keep. Each envisions a bright future for them and includes a scripture chosen specifically for them. Most of the tears came from Grandpa and me, but when I asked our daughter later if it felt like “too little, too late” from us, her spontaneous answer made my day. “Oh heck, no.”

I could also mention meals, fires, our beautiful surroundings, and awesome weather—as well as the all-too-human, unplanned wrinkles and wobbles that inevitably factor into every convergence of multiple generations. But I’m convinced those three days were the best gift we’ve ever given our family. I titled this column “Blazes of Glory” because I came home feeling like I could die happy. Alas, I’m still here. Email me if you’d like more details on our structured events or our simple but tasty meal plan. 


Friday, October 21, 2022

Election Time Again

Last time we held a municipal election, I still worked at city hall and could meet the candidates as soon as they registered. I also attended the candidate forums to hear their platforms. Sadly, any candidate forums I’m aware of this year were scheduled for Wednesday evenings when I’m busy teaching a Creative Writing class at Red River College. (More on that in another post.) I will need to work a little harder to discover where the various candidates stand and how much experience they might bring to that big oval table in our council chambers.

I hope you’ll take the time to attend a forum or research the candidates and their positions so you can make an informed decision. Remember, you can vote for up to six councilors. If you’re unsure, you don’t need to check six. Better to vote for fewer councilors than to randomly select the name of someone about whom you know nothing.

However you make your selections, I do hope you vote and that you’re grateful for the privilege. This world still has far too many places where voting is not a given—or worse, where you’re forced to vote but the ballot features only one candidate’s name.

I felt tickled to receive some winning votes myself last month, in another arena entirely. You may recall hearing about, or maybe you’ve read, my novel Rose Among Thornes. This book has ties to the Portage la Prairie area and I’m so pleased to tell you it won a couple of Word Awards on September 17. With its theme of the Japanese Canadian internments during World War II, “Rose” won The Word Guild’s Debra Feiguth Award for Social Justice. For this particular award, organizers contact the winner ahead of time so they can use a virtual acceptance speech. Since it took me only about ten takes to achieve an acceptable video, I’m grateful it wasn’t live!

Debra Fieguth was a gifted journalist whose freelance work appeared in many Canadian Christian publications, including Faith Today magazine. She authored two books and co-authored several more. Her death in 2016 was mourned by many, including hundreds of refugees, immigrants and international students whom she helped, befriended, or welcomed into her home. I can’t imagine a better award to win.

But then The Word Guild floored me. “Rose” also came away with the award for best book cover, out of 13 nominations. I can’t take any of the credit since the cover was designed by Hannah Linder. You can see more of Hannah’s excellent work on her website, HERE.

If all that isn’t enough, judges shocked me again by declaring the other novel I released last year, The Last Piece, winner in the best contemporary fiction category. Since this story begins in the 1930s and works its way to the present day, I wasn’t even certain it would qualify as contemporary.

Did you know that YOU are part of this success? Writing this blog post every week forces me to keep practicing and growing in my craft. Each time you choose to read one, it’s like a vote of confidence and I thank you.

But, while exciting and encouraging, there’s something about winning that can also feel intimidating. “What will be expected of me now?” is a question commonly asked. “Will I measure up? Can I follow through? What if I disappoint?”

As long as you don’t allow them to paralyze you, those are good questions, whether running for office or running for recognition. Trust that those who voted you in had valid reasons to do so. Then work hard, listen well, and do your best.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Through the Valley of Shadows, Part 4 of 4


Taylor Pryor on a Guatemalan mountain top

We’ve all heard the advice that “the first year is the hardest” when someone you love dies. In the case of Taylor Pryor, her parents Doug and Darseen felt so numb and exhausted from the stress of the previous year, that the second year proved harder than the first. Well-meaning people can say unhelpful things. One man who had lost a son called Doug to express sympathy. “They tell you it gets easier with time,” the man said. “But it never gets easier.”

That was not what Doug needed to hear.

Isn’t it odd how we all feel the need to say something, anything, when what people in these circumstances need most is simply a listening and sympathetic presence? For the first few weeks after Taylor’s passing, friends came every evening to just sit and listen and cry with them.

While Doug and Darseen admit it’s difficult to see Taylor’s many friends going on with their lives, it brings them comfort at the same time. When her friend Mercy threw a party on Taylor’s birthday so all her friends could come to share their memories and celebrate her life, it brought joy to their hearts. The arrival of their first grandchild, a little girl, early in 2021 also helped soothe their broken hearts and bring joy.

When I asked the Pryors whether they had any specific scriptures they cling to, Darseen told me the most significant one has been Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” For Doug, it would be the passage in Matthew 14 where Jesus invites Peter to walk on the water with him. Peter succeeds only as long as he keeps his eyes on Jesus. When he looks at the storm around him, he begins to sink.

In another Peter story, several followers have walked away from Jesus because they simply cannot understand his difficult teachings. Jesus looks at his twelve disciples and asks if they, too, will leave. Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

All this boils down to surrendering to God’s sovereignty. Like Habakkuk in the Old Testament, the Pryor family has no explanation for why God allowed such horrific things to happen. How do you continue to believe that God is both all-good and all-powerful when He did not prevent this? “I know God is going to redeem this,” Doug said.

I wish I could adequately describe for them what happens in my own heart when I hear this, or when I see Doug and Darseen continue to raise their hands in worship at church. I can’t begin to grasp the level of their pain, but I wonder if their particular brand of “rejoicing” will be their ongoing battle for improved, consistent mental health care for others. I wonder whether they will get to see for themselves how Taylor did indeed change the world for good.

If they were to compose their own paraphrase of Habakkuk 3:17-19, I wonder if it might look something like this:

“Though our precious daughter is no longer here,
Though she was unjustly treated by our health care system,
Though our hearts are broken beyond repair,
Yet we will rejoice in the Lord, our Redeemer.
The Sovereign Lord will give us strength to carry on until the day we see our beautiful Taylor’s face again, and we finally, truly understand.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, help is available. From anywhere in Canada, call: 1-833-456-4566 (24/7). Adults can text: 741741. Youth can text: 686868. Website -

Friday, October 7, 2022

Through the Valley of Shadow, Part 3 of 4

October 16, 2019 was the last time Darseen Pryor saw her daughter Taylor alive, scaling a fence along a busy highway near the University of Manitoba, only four days away from being admitted to the Selkirk Mental Health Centre. Over the next two days, a search team including police and numerous volunteers scoured the area for Taylor.

When those deer took off that day in the forest, Doug knew his daughter had passed away. God was preparing him for the news. Moments later, he learned that friends had found Taylor’s body. Doug had been all over the area where she was found but had not seen her. God, in His mercy, had spared him.

“I’d believed without a doubt that God would pull her through,” Doug told me more than two years later. He had received God’s promise that Taylor would be a world-changer, that she would influence government, that she would affect nations and youth. “So many were praying and so many prayers were answered. God had told me we needed to fast. We did forty days of prayer and fasting for Taylor, and so many people participated with us. It was such an encouragement. I just assumed she would be here to fulfill that world-changing promise.”

That night, a search volunteer named Darrell, a stranger to the family, had a dream. He shared it with the Facebook group that had been established as a way for searchers to communicate with each other. In Darrell’s dream, Taylor visited him. She was wearing a pale blue dress and glowing with joy. She stood in a garden, surrounded by animals, and she kept talking about her “baby.” Then she brought a man over to Darrell and said, “This is my dad’s dad.” Before she left, she told Darrell to “take care of Dad and Teaghan.”

While Darrell may have known that Teaghan was Taylor’s sister, he could not have known that it would be Doug and Teaghan who would struggle the hardest in those early months. He could not have known that Taylor loved plants and animals, or that her paternal grandfather had died when Doug was only sixteen. He could not have known that Taylor always referred to her dog as “My Baby.”

Darrell’s dream gave mourners much to hold on to. Taylor’s funeral at Prairie Alliance Church was standing-room-only, spilling over into all the overflow areas of her church. Many who didn’t even know Taylor came out to support the family. They heard firsthand from her friends and family about what an incredible person she was.

How does a family go on when their worst nightmare is realized? When their emotional and physical resources have been completely depleted? When they feel let down by their health care system?

Somehow, Doug and Darseen found the strength to continue to fight, in hopes that other struggling individuals—many with far less support than Taylor had—would not fall through the cracks. By February of 2020, they had done an extensive interview with CBC television and told Taylor’s story nationwide. Dr. Gerrard continued to fight on their behalf. Doors opened for them to meet with the province’s Health Minister and they had ongoing meetings with the head of their regional health authority. It seemed Taylor truly would be a world-changer, affecting governments and youth, although nowhere close to the way her parents had dreamed it would unfold.

Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck. At first, Doug and Darseen were glad for the forced isolation. They weren’t ready to have people around and this gave them an excuse to avoid it. On one hand, the pandemic slowed their grieving process. At the same time, it threw a blanket over everything they were trying to accomplish. Suddenly the entire world was focused on Covid. Though mental health issues would spiral out of control during and because of the pandemic, much of the fallout remains to be seen.

Doug admitted to having suicidal thoughts himself. He had shared the story about the deer with his pastor who told him, “I think God is going to use deer to speak with you more in the future.”

And God has. In one case, while staying at a friend’s cabin, a doe came right up to Doug as he sat on the deck and allowed him to stroke its neck. Another time, he was driving down the road, crying out to God in despair. “Lord,” he hollered. “I know Taylor is safe with you, but I just need confirmation! I need something. I need another deer. Could you send me a big buck?” Moments later, he had to stop the car to avoid a large buck. It stood in the middle of the road looking at him before running off. The clock on the car dash read 10:19. Taylor’s body was found on October 19.

Moments like that keep Doug and Darseen going, even while they live with broken hearts and, at times, unbearable grief. Next week I’ll share the last installment of their story. 

Taylor with Guatemalan children on a missions trip