As Different as Chalk and Cheese

Sometimes I wonder if one of the greatest miracles Jesus performed was to keep the disciples from killing each other. This week, as I watched another political/religious family feud break out on social media I remembered that Jesus, born into a time of political high tension, took both a collaborator and a resistance fighter on a road trip. It’s time to re-blog this.

Charis: Subject to Change

boys buckets painting ch rs DSC_0204

I grew up in a family where teasing was a form of affection. Wrestling, practical jokes, funny stories that revealed weaknesses in each other? All normal (to us). To those not accustomed to this way of relating, such play appeared intimidating and offensive. Most of the time we knew where the line was, but in the background, we often heard someone warning, “You had better stop now before someone gets hurt!”

And then someone got hurt. A line was crossed. For one of the participants the action wasn’t fun anymore. Teasing became bullying (to them). Fights ensued.

Like many parents, we discovered our children’s individuality early. One liked to cuddle. The one who had to move-it move-it move-it resented the restraint of adult arms. One cried easily, one bounced back like an inflatable clown punching bag, one treasured solitude, and one was happiest when surrounded by 27 of her closest…

View original post 1,596 more words

Perennial

DSC_0029 (2)

I haven’t even tidied this corner of the garden yet. With other projects demanding attention, I’m late with weeding and clean-up. And yet here they are, my faithful, happy harbingers of joy, unpainted fence and plastic detritus notwithstanding.

Leopard’s bane are called perennials because they come back again and again, year after year, without me having to do anything. They are also called “bane” because they were thought to be a threat to threats. Joy as a threat. I like that.

As I downloaded photos today I thought about faithfulness. Faithfulness is one of the attributes of God that he has been emphasizing to me when I ask the question, “Who do you want to show yourself to be for me in these current circumstances?”

It is easier to go through a crisis on your own than to see your children and grandchildren face challenges. We can read about God’s faithfulness, but when we experience God’s ways of bringing us to experiential knowledge of that faithfulness, our relationship with God deepens and becomes our own. My mother’s years of experiencing God’s keeping power through pain meant nothing to me until I heard him sing over me during long dark sleepless nights.

She had her relationship and I have mine. Now I am watching my children and grandchildren discover for themselves that he reveals who he wants to be for them. As I pray for them, I’m learning to stand in the gap without standing in the way.

God is good. Perennially. And not just for me.

Your faithfulness flows from one generation to the next;
all that you created sits firmly in place to testify of you.

Psalm 119:90 TPT

Correction Lines: When Staying the Course Will Get You Off Course

cowby hat fence field 2 ch DSC_0158

When we were kids, Mom and Dad took us on trips back to Saskatchewan, where they grew up. People dropped in on each other in those days, and there were plenty of folks to visit. I counted cousins one day. Including close second cousins and those almost a generation older, we had over fifty — and many of them still lived near our grandparents’ homesteads. That meant a lot of visiting and a lot of driving on prairie roads.

Our house on a hill in Calgary faced the mountains to the west. My heart was drawn in that direction. My parents’ hearts were drawn in two directions, to the rugged blue mountains we could see every morning from the living room window, and to the immense sky of the flat prairies to the east that was still home in their memories. Maybe that’s why they chose to live in a place of geographical transition where they could see both.

I liked it when we left after school on Friday before a long weekend because it meant Dad drove late into the night and I could sleep through the boring parts — which was pretty much every thing after the Flintstonesque Badlands in Drumheller. By the time we reached the Saskatchewan border I was bored with the sight of fields and fences. My parents’ admiration of the big open sky failed to impress me.

After we turned off the main highways onto the gravel roads Dad knew well, I felt like there was nothing to do but count telephone poles sailing by. I tried to sleep in the backseat — when my brothers stopped teasing me. I know we asked, “Are we there yet?” A lot.

We drove on straight roads that never turned. Until they did. For some reason I didn’t understand, every once in a while Dad had to stop, make a turn, go down the road a little way, make another turn and keep going. This action annoyed me because it woke me up. No slough or gully that I could see blocked the way. A stop sign marked the road’s end at a T intersection and we stopped.

When I asked him why, Dad said, “Sometimes staying the course will get you off course.” Then he explained correction lines to me. “The earth is smaller at the top because it’s round,” he said. “These jogs in the road are correction lines to keep us heading north toward the north pole. If roads went all the way up to the top of the earth you would see all the north-heading roads in the world converging on one spot, right?”

I pictured a globe. “I suppose.”

“Engineers built in changes to the square grid of these back country farm roads to keep us heading true north. ”

“…strong and free!” my brothers and I both sang from the backseat.

I’ve been reminiscing about family trips and the efforts it takes to get together now that my own children and their children are spread across the continent. That’s when I remembered my dad talking about correction lines and the wisdom of his observation, “Sometimes staying the course will get you off course.”

Even institutions that are careful to make meticulous plans for the future will find themselves off course eventually if they do not focus on Jesus Christ who said he was the way, the truth and the light. They need to stop and change. Circumstances in our lives can appear as inconvenient stop signs at T intersections. They can force us to pay attention and make adjustments to the direction we are heading. Determination to keep going the way we have been going may not take us where we assumed it would.

We like to hear stories of dramatic shifts in other people’s lives (and not so much our own), but sometimes drama is the result of not making smaller adjustments along the way. Judgment doesn’t always mean condemnation. Sometimes it means listening to the adjudicator’s assessment and accepting advice on how to improve. That’s submitting to discipline, exchanging our naivety (or arrogance) for wisdom that leads to change. A loving Father brings loving correction.

Becoming a disciple means following Jesus and transforming our thinking as he leads. Big dramatic turn-arounds may not be necessary when we slow down and pay attention to correction lines on the journey. It’s when we ignore signs and fences and ram our way through  muddy fields that we get stuck. Jesus said his commands are not burdensome. They don’t weigh us down like thirty pounds of prairie clay in a wheel well.

Jesus’ commands to base our choices on the law of love have a way of bringing us closer to him and closer to each other.

Everyone who trusts Jesus as the long-awaited Anointed One is a child of God, and everyone who loves the Father cannot help but love the child fathered by Him.

Then how do we know if we truly love God’s children? We love them if we love God and keep His commands.

You see, to love God means that we keep His commands, and His commands don’t weigh us down.

(1 John 5:1-3 The Voice)

May the light of his love draw us all closer to his heart as you celebrate the long-awaited arrival of the Anointed One this season. Blessings to you and your family.

 

 

Tell It Like It Is

DSC_0137
When I was a teenager my long dark straight hair, parted in the middle Juliet-style, almost reached my waist. I was so proud of it.

My mother hated it. She showed me borrowed magazines full of photos of the cute curly-permed styles she would have loved as a teen, if only her stepmother had allowed her to cut her hair. It seems the fashion pendulum swings its way into the middle of independence struggles in every generation.

My mother did not approve of my skirt length either, but neither did I approve of hers – although I would never dare to say so out loud. We compromised. Rather, I compromised by wearing the skirts she bought and waiting until I reached the bus shelter before rolling them up at the waist.

Miniskirts were not designed for girls living on the prairies in Canadian winter. The January wind in Calgary left more than one of us enduring geometry class amid the distraction of chilblains on our thighs. That factor bore no influence on my need to not look like my mother`s generation, nor did the hazards of wearing fashionable unlined boots with absolutely no traction on ice. I bore frozen toes and ripped stockings with feigned nonchalant flare deserving of an Oscar – at least in front of Mom.

We quarrelled over music as well. I studied classical music and sang in my first opera at 14 (The Dew Fairy in Hansel and Gretel). “Old” music was not the problem. Our problem – ok, my problem – was old church music.

“Listen to this!” I said to her in a voice that was probably too loud for the living room. I played the last two bars of every song in a book called The Church Soloist, High Voice which she bought for me with her own hard-earned money. Banging out insensitive interpretations on the piano I complained, “Except for key changes every single song sounds the same as every single song we have sung in church since the Reformation.”

I don’t remember what she said. I wasn’t listening anymore. Door slamming may have been involved. I could be a horrible, emotional teenager. I knew she loved me, but sometimes I felt like I was fighting for my life. In a way, I was.

Years later I felt the same frustration my mother must have felt when my own kids rejected my taste. I was grateful for parenting classes that explained that the work of adolescents is to discover their own identity and forge their own relationship with God. Sometimes the only thing a young teen knows is that they are not their parent. The separation process begins at birth and accelerates in the years before leaving home.

My grandfather died before I was born. I heard stories about him, but I had no relationship with him. I could see photos and a gravesite, but he was like a mythical figure to me. My Mom had a relationship with him. I didn’t. I could see his influence, but I couldn’t see him.

God has children. God does not have grandchildren. In order to relate to him with a sense of integrity emerging independent young adults need to wrestle with him, interact with him, and enact their own faith by worshipping in a way that engages their own hearts. Parents get to pray a lot, get an opportunity for upgrade in their own faith, and get to try not to take rejection too personally.

The memory of the music battle came up today after I read that Kurt Kaiser died this week. Kurt Kaiser and Ralph Carmichael wrote Christian music that shocked our parents and convinced my grandmother that we were on the road to perdition. Their songs seem so innocuous, even embarrassingly bland now, but back then the adults didn’t like it, which meant we could. I remember practising the choral work for youth called “Tell It Like It Is” with my friends at church and feeling like this was cutting edge, daring stuff.

I found a recording of the musical on Youtube today. It sounds as cutting edge as an ice cream scoop now, but at the time it began to give a sheltered fourteen-year old hippy-wannabe an opportunity to express doubts and claim fledgling faith in my own way.

Anyway, I want to honour Mr. Kaiser and his friend Mr. Carmichael for noticing us. It was a start in making cultural connections. He showed me, before I reached that awkward spot in my parenting journey, that every generation needs to sing their own songs their own way. Bonus points if your parents don’t adopt it.

One song Kurt Kaiser wrote stayed with me. In words as simple as a nursery rhyme set to a tune that still had a range greater than a third, (my old person jab there) it communicates the most important message of all time: Jesus loves you and Jesus loves me.

Oh, how He loves you and me, Oh how He loves you and me.
He gave his life, what more could he give?
Oh, how He loves you; Oh, how he loves me; Oh, how he loves you and me.

Even Mom would have liked this arrangement.

Thank you, Mr. Kaiser.

Foster Daughter

lake rocks reflect reeds ch rs IMG_5043 - Copy

Foster Daughter

Sadie tied her hair with twine;
Helen wore high heels in a snow storm.

Sadie whistled to the birds in the willow tree;
Helen bought a budgie at Simpson Sears.

Sadie sat on a stump scraping hides with a blade;
Helen sat on a lawn chair spraying the grass with Raid.

Helen placed rose-shaped soaps on the toilet tank;
Sadie hung rusty traps on the kitchen door.

Helen served eclairs for tea;
Sadie served Spam for dinner.

Helen read Chekhov and Dickens to me;
Sadie asked me to read the mail to her.

And now, my two mothers,
I sit here on the steps,
jewelled watch on my wrist,
beaded moccasins on my feet,

and wonder who I am.

 

I wrote this poem after fostering several children from Indigenous families. Some were “status” and some were not, even though they were half-siblings. I wondered what this move back and forth between cultures was like for them.

But this was also my own experience. When people read this poem they assume “Helen” was the foster mother. In my case, “Sadie” was more like the substitute mother I spent the most time with. My mother alternated between working long hours and recovering from frequent illness. I went to live with my grandmother as an infant before my mother was released from the hospital and I bonded with her. Grandma was my main caretaker in early childhood and after I started school our extended multi-generational family lived together until I was 16.

Grandma grew up in the area now known as Algonquin Park, miles from the nearest road. Her formal education ended when the school burned down after she attended sporadically for two or three years. Reading remained a struggle for the rest of her life.

School in Bark Lake

Her father hunted and trapped to support his family. He met her mother in an aboriginal village. We always assumed she was of indigenous extraction. Great Grandma taught my grandmother how to live off of the land, the importance of community and imparted to her a deep reverence and connection with creation.

My father told me stories of how his grandmother chewed hide to make moccasins for all her grandchildren, how she was a crack shot, and how she knew every plant and every sound in the forest. She raised ten children to adulthood without access to modern medicine, relying on herbs, raw honey, and prayer.

Dad learned that her father, a logger who spent months in the bush himself, abandoned her after her mother died. She was sent to live with a foster family in New York who treated her, as many unclaimed children were treated in those days, as a slave. She slept in the barn and did chores instead of attending school with the other children. She never did learn to read.

Ethel didn’t talk much about her early childhood, but something about her mistreatment prompted her to take the risk of running away. With only her dog as a companion, she set out to look for her father. All she knew was that he lived in northern Ontario.

She must have been a resourceful kid because she lived for several months on her own in the northern woods before some Algonkin people found her, took her in and raised her as one of their own. Eventually, when she was a young woman, she met my grandfather when he came into the camp carrying a buck over his shoulders to share. His size, strength, and generosity impressed her. She left with him, but the ties to the community remained and their way of thinking and doing life was passed on to the woman who shared in raising me.

On a whim, I searched for Great Grandmother’s birthplace when I was labeling old photos for my father. I was shocked to learn that not only was she entirely white, but she was a descendant of American royalty – the first Pilgrims in Massachusetts. I’m not part native Canadian after all. My straight dark hair and high cheek bones came from elsewhere, but I still have a deep love and respect for Indigenous people and the role they played in our family history.

I wonder if Canadians are less prone to put more weight on individual concerns than community concerns than American culture does because of the stronger positive influence of indigenous connection in early days. It made no sense whatsoever to my grandmother or great grandmother to see perfectly good food thrown away when people were hungry, for example. It would be like one person feasting alone after a successful hunt while hungry villagers looked on. In a harsh environment, community is essential to survival. It’s called caring.

Grandma felt the same way about possessions. She never understood why everyone on the block needed to own a ladder when she never saw more than one person at a time using a ladder. She just helped herself to “the” ladder when she needed it. The fact that it was stored in the neighbour’s garage turned out to be problematic – more for the neighbour than Grandma. She had no problem with friends and neighbours using whatever she had and didn’t understand why they were so stingy. She was incredibly generous and sheltered anyone who needed help. Her boarding house in Calgary became a community itself.

I think Grandma could hear the trees weep and the rivers wail when short-sighted resource-gathering practices hurt them. Even when she was in her 80s she begged my dad to set up his trailer in the middle of nowhere so she could revive herself in nature on a solo retreat. He argued it wasn’t safe, so she went to work as a camp counselor instead.

One day she taught her cabin of girls how to track by circling around and following the search and rescue people who had been sent out to look for them when they failed to return on time. “On time” was another problem. She was as likely to show up hours early as hours late.

My mother was definitely European. She was accustomed to excelling in competitive environments and creating order out of chaos. Grandma thrived in let-it-be chaos. In fact, she was often the source of it.

Growing up with two mothers who thought differently and had different priorities and values confused me at times, but I learned early there is more than one way to perceive a situation and that love overcomes a multitude of misunderstandings so people can honour each other’s strengths and live in harmony. I am richer for that inheritance.

Today on National Aboriginal Day (and soon to be known as Indigenous People’s Day) I thank the First Nations people who fostered my disadvantaged grandmother and enriched my life as a result. You laid stepping stones for us all and I am grateful.

Time After Time

pocket watch IMG_0156

My son proudly showed me the pocket watch his mother-in-law gave him for Christmas. It’s a family heirloom that is nearly a hundred years old. The biggest surprise to him was that after he wound it, it still works. The parts that have seen the passing of time are so fine and yet continue to mark the moments, time after time.

I don’t know how many seconds have passed in all that time, but I know that God is worthy of praise for every one of them. No matter the times, no matter the circumstances, he makes our future glisten with hope – time after time.

I will praise the Lord at all times.
I will constantly speak his praises.
I will boast only in the Lord;
let all who are helpless take heart.

Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness;
let us exalt his name together!

I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.
He freed me from all my fears.

Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy;
no shadow of shame will darken their faces.
(Psalm 34:1-5)

May this New Year glisten with hope.

May you be radiant with joy

time after time.

Bowls

vessels oil charis warm

 

The gift shop sparkled with luxury table settings -fine china, crystal goblets, bright jeweled napkin rings and silver cutlery in perfect formation. Totally impressive, and totally out of my price range. More utilitarian items for food preparations artistically occupied the shelves at the back, much like the way the mess of a kitchen is kept out of sight from a formal dining room. That’s where the simple bowls caught my eye.

My mother was a marvelous cook. It’s how she expressed her love for her family and friends. She loved being in the kitchen and throwing Martha Stewart-style dinner parties with her best china. I appreciate people with the gift of hospitality, but it feels like an awful lot of work. For me, time in the kitchen is an act of sacrifice. There are other areas of the house I enjoy more, but I extend myself to cook for those I love.

Those bowls stacked on a shelf reminded me of mixing pancake batter or homemade granola bars for my kids and grandchildren. I have a few nice pieces of china and silver and crystal and serving platters I inherited, but I seldom use them.  I keep them on a high shelf so they won’t be knocked about, but they are a pain to get down, so they sit there looking pretty. My mixing bowls are chipped and the colour is practically worn off in places -and the finish is crazed where it is not. They are not as impressive as the pretty bowls in the shop, but they are the faithful servants in my kitchen.

I am often amazed by the “people vessels” God chooses to express his love through. Most of them are not “high shelf” people. They have chips and cracks. Their finish can be a bit crazed, but what comes out of them nurtures my soul. God loves ordinary people. What comes out is all about what he puts into them anyway.

Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of “the brightest and the best” among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31 The Message)

My Grandmother, the Photographer

grandma's early for the parade

Grandma was what they called “a character.” If you’re old enough to remember Tugboat Annie or Ma Kettle she could have been type-cast in either of those roles. I’ve written about my mother before so this Mother’s Day I’d like to honour my other mother.

She ran a boarding house in downtown east Calgary during the war years up until the end of the fifties. She told us it used to be the Northwest Mounted Police officer’s quarters before that. But it’s hard to know for sure. She was an honest woman, but facts underwent some sort of redistribution once they went through the shuffling process in her brain. Sometimes she just grabbed a date from one pile, a place from another and a name from a third and wound them all up in a story that we fondly referred to as “Grandma’s version.”

She could read if she was allowed to point to the words and move her lips, but bits of the information she gleaned that way ended up in scattered fact piles that just added colour to her already improvised histories. She said the one room school burned down before she was in third grade and the neighbours who helped build the first one never got around to help build a second so that’s all the learnin’ she got. Since the home she grew up in was thirty miles from the nearest road, that story was plausible.

Everyone all the way downtown knew her, including the shopkeepers, the bus drivers, the preachers at the Prophetic Bible Institute and the folks at city hall. She may not have been able to read books well, but she could read people and she was the ultimate extrovert and filled the house with all manner of friends, from the chief of police to the homeless guy with a three-legged dog. As a teen I remember her carrying around a camera with her and setting off a flash at some of the most inopportune times. (Maybe that’s where I got the habit.)

When my father had to reduce his worldly goods to fit into a room at the lodge I decided to put his photos on a digital frame. Since his memory is failing he asked me to label them. That’s when I found my grandmother’s photo albums with page after page of unidentifiable torsos. They all looked like healthy torsos but my grandmother had her own concept of photographic composition. She knew who they were. They make me smile. May I present some of her work?

 

 

Creative use of negative space

grandma's drapes

 

Portrait of Grandma’s favourite TV evangelist, Rex Humbard

 

grandma'srexhumbard

 

Grandma truly perfected the candid reluctant pose

 

grandma'scandidpose

 

Colour photography thrilled her, especially when she chose the outfits.

 

Dwayne, Melody, Wade Leah, Mervin

Happy Irthday Ladies”. A cake and a record of someone’s efforts to attach mauve lace to a green tablecloth. Perhaps it had ecological significance.

grandma'scake

 

I can just hear her saying, “Here, Daddy. Hold my purse while I take a picture of you.”

 

grandpa's purse

 

Romantic anniversary shoots were her specialty.

 

grandma'sanniversary portait

 

Grandma taught her family her photographic techniques so they could pinch-hit in an emergency. This is Grandma and Grandpa’s 50th anniversary.

grandma's50th

 

Choosing the right setting communicates so much, and what could be more appropriate for a family from the dust bowl than a Saskatchewan sandstorm.

Dorsey Family

The truth is, she may have embarrassed me half to death, but I adored my grandmother. Since my own mother was often ill or working she was my main caretaker. She was a camp counselor at 81 years old and her cabin of girls loved her because she knew how to have fun -and she never read the rules.

She the one with the biggest smile.

The Donaldson Family