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 truly perfected the candid reluctant pose




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.



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.



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



Leaving Our Graves Behind

Clarence in cutter 2

They left the graves of their two precious children behind when they abandoned the farm. It was time. The Depression years had lasted long enough.

I thought of my grandparents yesterday and so wished they could have been with us. Our granddaughter, (their great great-granddaughter) was baptized. On her own she sought out the youth pastor at her church and told him about her encounter with the living Jesus. He showed up as powerful and deeply intense feelings and even though she is not yet twelve-years old she knew that she knew that he was speaking to her and asking her to make a public declaration of her faith. The symbolism of being buried with Christ and rising to new life in him was made even stronger by the fact that since this group doesn’t have a built-in baptismal tank they purchased a portable tub originally designed as a birthing tub. Perfect.

One of the triggers that brought up the memory of my grandparents was being greeted by familiar friends from my childhood when we arrived at the church. They just happened to retire in the same town where our son is now a pastor. “I can’t believe Aunt Annie’s grandson is our pastor!” “Matt’s” wife said with tears in her eyes when we first ran into them. “Matt” was the son of my grandmother’s life-long best friend, who we called Little Mary, and her husband Spencer -with whom my grandfather shared an amazing experience I only heard about a few years ago.

My grandparents’ baby girl died when she was only a few days old. Grandma never knew why. The crops had failed again that year and even if they could have scrounged up the money for a doctor he may not have been able to make it through the spring blizzard or been able to help when he got there. She and her husband were devastated, but went back to work ploughing, and planting and trying to raise their three- and five-year old sons. Then only a few months later their youngest boy died.

“Quinsy. That’s why we give you medicine for tonsillitis now,” she told me when I was a girl. “We didn’t have any back then. It was such a  hard year. Your daddy was left  all alone without his sister and brother and played “funeral” by burying pretend children in matchboxes in the yard and then digging them back up again. I cried a lot, but your grandfather was angry a lot. Then Jesus came into our lives.”

My grandfather, Clarence, always used words sparingly. He wasn’t miserly with his words, he just didn’t have many. His thoughts came in the form of deeply intense feelings. It was my Dad who told me the story of how Grandpa met Jesus.

“There was this nurse. Nurse Conners,”  Dad said. “She wanted to be a missionary overseas, but the missions board rejected her because they said she was too small and too sickly and just a woman, so she decided instead, on her own, to go out west and be a missionary to the settlers on the prairie. She rode around the district with her horse and cutter in weather conditions that were tougher than in any tropical country. She looked after the folks and taught them about Jesus and even started a kind of training school where she taught young men how to preach. Some of these young preachers came around to the nearby village and held some old-fashioned tent meetings. Your Grandma walked down the aisle that first night to find out more about this Jesus and she never looked back. Your grandfather went to the meeting with her but he wanted none of it. He was an angry, bitter man who had enough of religion. His mother was a religious woman in the Temperance League movement and she had already attempted to literally beat it into him.

He was in the barn late at night tending the horses when a bright light appeared behind him. He could feel something was happening before he had the nerve to turn around. When he finally did he saw Jesus standing there in the middle of the light.”

“‘Why are you fighting me?’ He asked. ‘Why are you kicking against the pricks?’” (This is close to the phrase, in King James English, that Jesus spoke when He appeared to Saul, a man who hated Christians so much he led a movement to imprison and kill them. One modern translation puts it this way: “It’s hard for you to fight your own conscience.”)

My grandfather turned his life over to Christ that night. If that experience wasn’t amazing enough, when they went to the meetings in the village the next evening he learned his good friend, Spencer, had exactly the same experience at the same time in his barn a few miles away. The transformation of two families began that night.

A few years later Grandma and Grandpa left  their children’s graves and their failed lives as farmers behind to move to the city where they bought a big old boarding house that became a place of refuge for many folks at low points in their lives.

The old boarding house before they replaced it with a mall.
The old boarding house before they replaced it with a mall.

So yesterday, there I sat in the same room as Spencer’s son listening to Clarence’s great great-granddaughter talk about her encounter with the living Christ and wanting to follow him for the rest of her life. When she stepped out of that birthing tub she symbolically left her grave behind to be raised up with Christ.

If that wasn’t amazingly joyful enough Jesus encountered me there as well, as he often does, through music. This is a church that praises God with contemporary music. I loved hearing Kim Walker’s song, “How He Loves”. It was perfect for the occasion. But then the worship leaders started singing a song I haven’t heard in years. What? It seemed like a totally unlikely song to sing in a modern sophisticated church setting. It was an old Hank Williams song I heard crackling out of my grandparents’ record player. “Praise the Lord, I saw the Light.”

Like my grandfather -and now my granddaughter I felt His presence before I had words for the experience. The connection to memories of Grandma and Grandpa hit me deeply and I cried and cried.

I had said earlier, “I wish my grandparents could see this.”

I think the song was telling me they did. Thank you, Lord! What a gift!

I have a good inheritance. God is good, so very, very, very good.


Exercising Happiness

Photo: Babes in the grass

Exercising Happiness

I was avoiding doing the boring stuff, stuff I had done yesterday and, barring anything fascinating or catastrophic invading my day book, would probably do again tomorrow. My favourite way to avoid the inevitable is to click on “Stumble”, an internet search program that leads one to hitherto unknown sites determined by the user’s chosen areas of interest. I’ve spent many happy, unproductive hours collecting more trivia than my brain can store. That morning I “stumbled” upon a writing exercise: Describe a happy moment.

Hmm.  Happy moment.  I’ve enjoyed many happy moments in my life such as falling in love or seeing my babies for the first time.  Oh, and there was that profound moment when I realized, in Sally Fields at the Oscars manner, that God loves me, He really loves me. That was a supremely happy moment, but these examples seemed too obvious.

I searched the cluttered files in my mind and found one labeled, “Remember this.”

Our son and his wife entrusted the care of their two precious little ones to Grampie and me while they took a group of teens to Mexico to build an orphanage. Grampie and I were thrilled to have the grandchildren all to ourselves. We stuck blank plugs into all the electrical outlets –and remembered how hard it is to get those wretched things out when you have to actually plug something in. We locked up the medicine –and noticed there were a lot more little brown bottles in there than there used to be. We erected a child gate at the top of the stairs –and carved a round chunk out of the wall in the process. After stocking up on toys and picture books we were ready to be cuddled and entertained by the most wonderful children in the world.

I regret now putting the mother’s curse on my boy.  The mother’s curse?  That’s the one Erma Bombeck wrote about: May you have children just like you. My boy’s kids also have only two speeds: “high” and “off”, and they acquiesced to “off” mode most reluctantly.

We felt harried and somewhat tense as the little ones dove directly for the things we hadn’t recognized as hazards. Our son and daughter-in-law trusted us with their most valued possessions. That made the babies doubly precious and put us into an exhausting hyper-vigilant state, lest one of them receive a dent. Grampie and I resorted to working in shifts so one of us could take a nap occasionally.

One hot afternoon we took them to the water park.  That water is cold.  Little kids don’t always like the shock of a cold spurt of water catching them unaware.  We were about to try something else when we noticed the little guy standing ankle-deep in a puddle.  He squealed in triumph over his fear of frigid water and plopped his chubby feet up and down. Meanwhile, his sister was collecting water in a pop can for her Grampie’s baptism.

Later as we swathed their goose bumps in sun-warmed towels, a pink swim suited child skipped up to my granddaughter.

“How old are you?”

“Three,” the Princess answered from behind my leg.

“I’m four. Let’s play!”

She pulled our sweet girl by the hand to a grassy area after I gave her permission to go.

I wish I could make friends like that.  I imagined myself going up to a stranger and asking her how old she was.

“Fifty-eight,” she would say.

I would say, “I’m fifty-nine.  Let’s play!”

The girls giggled with glee as they tossed handfuls of clover flowers torn from the lawn into the air. Somehow I resisted the urge to warn them about bees. Instead I stood nearby holding Little Man in my arms.  He rolled his shoulders forward tucking his arms between our bodies and rested his perfect round head on my shoulder. A warm summer breeze enfolded us.  My beloved mountains surrounded the valley like a protective purple fence. On the edge of the park the sound of wind in the swaying trees was like distant applause from approving angels in the grandstands of heaven.

“Take a picture of this,” I told myself. “Take a mental snapshot of this moment. This is happiness. This is joy.”