Time to rest

I just turned off the stove and sat down; noticing it’s already 9:45 PM, cooking can wait until tomorrow. At 8 PM, I only meant to rest for 5 minutes, but instead I read for an hour, did a few things, and the evening evaporated. That’s fine; it was a productive day, and  an enjoyable evening.

That 5 minute rest took a while because I just bought my first Kindle book. I had to install the app, download the book, and test it on two devices. It’s workable on a PC, but elegant on an iPad. I love digital reading! You can highlight, cut, paste, share, and quote… In fact, I want to share a quote with you. The book I’m reading was recommended by the facilitators of a retreat I recently took, and it’s profound — “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voscamp. Here’s what struck me tonight:

“I wonder too … if the rent in the canvas of our life backdrop, the losses that puncture our world, our own emptiness, might actually become places to see. To see through to God. That that which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God whom we endlessly crave. Maybe so. But how?”

Voskamp, Ann (2011-01-04). One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are (p. 22). Zondervan. 

I appreciate Ann’s openness and honesty, her deep gaze into the brokenness of life. As I shared in a recent post, I’ve had crises in life, and crises of faith. One of them I could barely see God through for years, although slowly, light began filtering in through cracks. Another catastrophic crisis rent a hole so deep and sudden that the light poured in as I cried, “God, help me!” For years, although my heart-wound was still open, I always sensed the presence of God; in fact, I felt a deep link to Jesus’ suffering through my own. So I’ve personally experienced crises that drove out the light, and crises that drove me to it. Or, as Ann would say, I’ve chosen to ask “Why, God?,” in doubt and denial, and I’ve chosen to say “Help, God!,” and cling closer than ever. When not in crisis, I’ve had times of sharing frequent moments with God, and extended periods of spiritual drought. Times of choosing awareness, and times of losing awareness.

Right now, I’m seeking, and sensing, God, but I’m aware of a distance. Weariness dominates my experience; joy is a ray of sunshine granting respite. I want the reverse experience — to bask in the light, with occasional shadows. I’m seeking it, and my inability to create it myself is driving me to use it as a window to the other-world.

What about you — are you basking in the light, living with open hands, or have you clenched your fists, as Ann did after experiencing deep pain? Consider taking a walk this weekend to do a personal “systems check” and see where you are on the spectrum.


Posted in Spiritual Journey | 3 Comments

Giving up, then finding

On my way outside to retrieve my phone from my car (I stash it there on dancing nights), I pass the just-opening, prolific, floribunda roses climbing up my porch posts. I love the profusion of colour! There wasn’t much of a garden when I bought the house, but this old faithful is a gem!

Making my way back up the walk, I can’t help but notice other plants — the shoots emerging between the paving stones, the “wild flowers” (aka weeds) towering between the carpet blue spruce branches, and a dandelion in the walk that is just about to flower. How did that emerge overnight? I know my problems will be multiplied if I let it go to seed, so, I tug on the root gingerly, without the aid of my handy weeder. Whump! A 5 mm-diameter root emerges, almost 15 cm long, with a very satisfying sound!

I haven’t seen the weeder since last year. I missed it sorely on my first day tending the herb garden this year. I resolved that today would be the day I replace it, although it’s probably just under the ivy (but which clump)?

Root in hand, I proceed up the porch steps and check the mailbox. I keep my tools in the cubbyhole beneath it for dandelion emergencies all summer. Without hope, I check the cubbyhole again – nope, that’s just the trowel – and see a second blue handle out of the corner of my eye. Aha! My weeder! It’s been under the euonymous all along! How did I miss it when I traced the misplaced vine under it last weekend, seeking its root?

Isn’t that the way it is with God? You seek, and seek, and seek, knowing that what you want is close at hand, but you can never grasp it. That high, that job, that relationship — you’ve experienced it briefly, and you want to grab onto it with both hands, and put it in your cubbyhole. But it eludes you – maybe with periodic flashes of blue, maybe with deafening silence, maybe after years of prayer.

Just when you give it up, and accept that it isn’t to be found, the elusive item falls right into your lap. Ta-da! No effort. No prayers. No nights of longing. Just voilà!

“In their hearts humans plan their course,
    but the Lord establishes their steps.” Proverbs 16:19 (NIV)

Posted in Spiritual Journey | Leave a comment

Doubt and Faith

I had lunch with a friend today, and he asked if I ever had spiritual doubts. “Of course,” I responded, “who doesn’t?” He admitted having been scared to ask the question, and relieved that instead of judging him, I empathised with him. He’s spoken to others who didn’t respond kindly, and he’s gun shy about voicing his doubts out loud.

Why do we do that? Are we so insecure in our own faith that others’ doubts scare us? Do we feel that we need to defend God? Do we believe refuting or glossing over people’s  struggles will spur them on to faith? If so, would it be an honest faith?

I also have struggled, and deeply. Like Job, during my darkest period of doubt, Christian friends multiplied my suffering by calling my doubt un-Christian. Even those I loved and respected, including a pastor and close friends, were uncomfortable with my questioning, and shut it down or brushed it off. Only one friend was supportive and loving, and I talked to her many times throughout my struggles.

As we ate our soup, I shared how lonely my doubtful time was. How I longed for sad songs at church! I couldn’t honestly sing our worship songs for years. And could we please read the complete Psalm — the “Praise God, hallelujah” part, and the “Where are you, I’m drowning” part? After the light dawned and I found a deepened trust in God, I wondered if I should lead “worship for dark times” so that others wouldn’t feel so alone.

Mentioning sad songs struck a chord (probably a minor one). My friend recounted singing a song he wrote at church. Afterwards, someone told him it had a beautiful melody; too bad the words were dark. Hurt, he wondered if something was wrong with him, and if sharing doubts would ostracise him from the “club.” I assured him I remembered that song, and found it beautiful. When someone shares their heart, no matter the content, we should honour the gift.

Before I’d personally faced doubts, especially as a new believer, I might have responded the same. I was pretty enthusiastic in those days! Now, I take care to listen openly with people, no matter where they are in their faith walk. I’ve been there; how can I judge? I’m glad to share my own experience, and leave the rest up to God. His greatest commandment is to love, not convert.

Posted in Spiritual Journey | 2 Comments

Big plans, small accomplishments

8 AM

Today is my day. I’m almost giddy by the numerous accomplishments I can achieve by dinner time with diligence! Rising early, I don’t feel guilty by writing first; the whole day stretches luxuriously ahead of me!

9 AM

I decide to tackle the living room. There’s a substantial amount of clutter here — challenging, but manageable, and enough to make a significant difference when tidied. First, I’d better have breakfast to give me energy for the task ahead.

10 AM

I’m feeling a bit scattered. I took time to do the dishes, then brought a box to the bedroom and folded laundry. Returning to the living room, I’m indecisive about what to tackle first. I don’t want to put the sewing basket away before replacing that button; should I sew it first, or clean and spray my leather coat before storing it for fall — a bigger item, so a bigger impact? If I do that, should I clean and spray my boots too, which are in the bedroom, awaiting treatment? Or should I sort through my CDs, discard empty cases, and upload “keepers” into itunes? My giddy joy is giving way to paralysis.

11 AM (to be honest, 12 PM)

Instead of cleaning, I’ve been browsing for new themes for my blog. Get off the computer! It’s your day, and you need the mental space clearing up some physical space will afford you! Get offline now!


I did get off the computer, and I did get a lot done. I started with the leather while listening to CDs — a great choice. Bolstered by that success, I attempted the button. Discovering I sewed it in the wrong place, I recognised why it’s been there for 4 months, and it’s now last on my list. I continued working until 5 PM, then “treated” myself to mowing the lawn, weeding, and training the honeysuckles up the porch trellis. The vine in the back is so prolific it collapsed the top of the fence. I’ve called a handyman, but to be honest, I like the honeysuckle more than the fence. I brought two bouquets in to scent the house.

As my final treat, I read a magazine I want to throw away in the backyard after gardening. The living room isn’t finished yet, but I can see the progress, and it was all I hoped for and imagined for this spring Saturday.

Posted in Spiritual Journey | Leave a comment

Early morning dreams

I awoke early, although I didn’t intend to. Listening to the birds chirping through the open window, I started daydreaming about going to Assisi this summer. In April, a member on one of my NGO boards mentioned that she spends a month working in Assisi every summer (how do I get that job?). Knowing its name only from the saint, Francis of Assisi, and that she felt a strong spirituality in the idyllic hills, I made a mental note to visit it one day.

Last week, while having lunch with a friend, he asked what my plans were after Mom’s death. “I don’t know,” I said, “but I know I need rest, and I want to travel.”

“Do you prefer beaches or cities?”

“I love beaches, and think I need some ‘down’ time, but I also love history, and exploring new cultures.”

“When I was burned out, I went to Assisi for 4 days, then took a Mediterranean cruise.”

Assisi again! The thought of a peaceful, spiritual retreat centre draws me. I do believe that a restful, and wrest-ful, time is needed to bathe my spirit before the next phase of my journey. I think I would face some “dark nights of the soul” if I could only find the space. Two years ago, I went on a week-long silent Ignatian retreat. I had warm, embracing moments, and vivid visions of wrestling demons (with God’s help, Christ won).

So with my “found” hours this morning, I’m going to research Assisi. If the stars align, maybe I can go there this summer.

Posted in Spiritual Journey | Leave a comment

How much, O God, how much?

How much grief can one person take? Dad’s only been gone 6 months. I’ve hardly had the time to start processing that, and mom’s symptoms started immediately after the funeral. At the time, we thought it was the stress of dad’s death. When it persisted, and worsened, we began to fear it was worse. I knew it was serious when Mom went to the doctor of her own volition. She’s had skin cancer on her nose for years and never went, no matter how often I begged her to.

I quote verses like “How long, O God, how long, until you answer me? My heart fails within me; my bed is swimming in tears.” Rather than looking them up, I paraphrase all the verses of dark Psalms I can remember. That’s all I relate to spiritually right now. I ruefully recalled last night, as I put 3 layers of Kleenex on my pillow to keep my cheek dry, that in one of my previous life crises I realized you could cry on 7 corners of your pillow, front and back, before you ran out of dry spots. Tonight I ran out.

Posted in Mom's Story, Spiritual Journey | Leave a comment

Still Reeling

I cried all day. Thank God I work from home! Every private moment I had, I thought about mom’s scan. I keep hoping that it’s a stroke, and praying that it is, and that she’ll be healed, but I know it’s cancer. My little sister joked to mom once that if she got cancer again, she’d just lose another organ & live another 10 years, like the last two times. It made us all laugh, and mom has been lucky, but I have a terrible feeling this time.

Mom was doing so well for so long, I really believed she’d beaten it. This isn’t supposed to happen! I keep joking that we’ve got great genes in our family — we’re all going to live ’til 100, and still look good, too! Great Granny lived ’til 94, Gran ’til 91, and Mom’s only 76! That’s a spring chicken in our family! I feel gypped! Mom should live 15 more years, at least, and even that’s short! She was a young 74, but  became an old 75.

We looked into going to go to Cuba after Christmas, but the $500 sell-off passed, my huge work project got delayed, and I’m still working night & day on it. If we’re going, we’d better go soon. I have a feeling mom won’t be here next Christmas.

Posted in Mom's Story | Leave a comment

The news

Two weeks ago I was driving to salsa night when mom called. Although it’s illegal, I picked it up – it’s so rare for mom to call that I had to. We shared hellos as I pulled over. I told her I was on my way out dancing, but of course had time to talk – what a pleasure to hear from her!

We talked for a while, then she shared that she’d had a CAT scan, and there were spots on her brain. They might be what was causing the weakness that made her drag her right foot since about October, and now is causing her right hand to shake. She’s been avoiding walking when company’s over so they don’t notice; she feels like Quasi Moto! We laugh at that, and the time it took her 3 hours to drag herself up the stairs when both her legs gave out one night. Mom has an amazing ability to laugh, and an amazingly brave attitude. That night, she was so tired after the ordeal she just went to sleep. If she was still paralysed in the morning, she’d deal with it then.

I cry silently as we talk in the car; as a two-time cancer survivor, I’m afraid mom has cancer again. I want her to feel free to talk, but I don’t want to get ahead of her. We discuss the possibility that it’s a stroke; that seems consistent with her symptoms.

She admits being scared that it’s worse. I do too; yes, it could be cancer. Somehow, we end up laughing through our fear. I forget how we managed that, but it’s not unusual. Mom & I have a similar sense of humour. We often crack each other up, even if it’s black humour.

“I’m so glad you took the call. You really cheered me up.”

“Me too, mom. Thanks for phoning. Call me tomorrow if you want to talk.”

I stay parked for a few minutes, releasing the sobs, and my fears that mom’s facing cancer again — and that this time, I am facing her death. The last two times I had no fear at all; I just knew everything would be OK. This time I don’t, and I trust my instinct.

It got cold, and I got cried out. There’s only so much emotion you can feel pulled over on a busy Toronto street. I started the engine, and continued to salsa.

My friend and favourite partner asked me for the first dance. “How are you?,” he asked, launching me into a spin.

“Just awful,” I said, returning to centre. “My mom has spots on her brain. I’m afraid it’s cancer.” I don’t verbalise the rest of the thought, the one that has me truly terrified – that at 45, 6 months after losing my dad, I might lose my mom. I feel so lonely.

“Forget that tonight. Just dance.”

And I did.

Posted in Mom's Story | Tagged | Leave a comment

A Too-Exciting Trip

I loved Zanzibar so much, I just had to return to swim in the Indian Ocean again before returning to winter. With an early flight, we could get there by noon for an afternoon swim. So we booked it!

On the way, I noticed a huge amount of liquid spewing over the wing… no, from the wing! It’s a very large gas leak! My friend returned to his book; I started praying. In case we don’t make it, the plane is Fly540 5Y-BSS, and ask VISA if I get death benefits on flights booked with my credit card.

We did land safely. Now 4 people (who look like the ground crew) are climbing up & down a ladder inspecting the wing, as they if plan to continue the flight. Daniel seems not at all concerned, whereas I will follow him later (preferably by boat) if he gets back on that plane!

Wow. The replacement plane was even scarier! I never saw such a small commercial plane! we practically had to flap our arms to get airborne!

That early morning flight ended up taking 3 planes and all day. But wouldn’t you agree it was worth it?

The view from a beach bungalow onto the softest, whitest beach I’ve ever seen.

Posted in Travel Adventures | Tagged , | Leave a comment

New Friends, New Tools

Oh, the Internet is so slow!!!

My heart just burst tonight with joy and pride as the staff of Life Concern, Paidha, Uganda, shared a closing dinner with us after two full days of visiting their projects. We ate in candlelight because the power was off, and the ambiance was so warm that I looked for the light switch when it came back on so I could turn it back off.

Before dinner, I spent four very difficult hours showing them WordPress and getting their first website (a free WordPress blog) set up. I say painful because we were surfing on a GPRS modem – a wonderful technology that allows you to surf anywhere you can get a cellular signal – but it was so slow we despaired of being able to do anything but post one test page and one test post before fatigue, frustration, and then a power failure led even this stalwart group of peacebuilders to call it a night. The connection did not even allow one picture to upload, but I’m sure with (copious amounts of) time and bandwidth they will succeed in sharing their inspiring stories on http://lifeconcernuganda.wordpress.com.

The sincere appreciation they expressed made me proud to have been able to contribute something so valuable to them, and grateful for the opportunity to do so. This is exactly the reason that I keep sharing technical knowledge with resource-strapped NGOs in Africa, especially when the needs are so great. They had attempted for years to start a website, but technical knowledge and lack of funds prevented them from doing so. They shared that paying for a website would have cost millions of shillings (one million shillings is about $500), and who knows if the technology would have been easy and sustainable enough for them to manage fee-free after that?

Equipping Messengers of Peace

Thank goodness some funders discovered their work offline and supported it anyway, because the impact we saw on the ground was amazing. Yesterday they distributed bicycles, T-shirts and boots to their “Community Messengers of Peace,” comprised of ex-poachers and others who now ardently protect wildlife  and intervene on resource-based and other types of conflict in their communities. (An alternative source of income remains an outstanding need.)

We visited two of their high school peace clubs, and were sincerely impressed with the inspiring music, dramas, and creative fundraising initiatives the youth shared. They planned and budgeted to start a school canteen to enable them to become self-sufficient and provide scholarships, training, and youth exchanges for members.

I was grateful for the very generous gift of time Life Concern staff, especially their Director William Anyolitho, shared with us, taking us as far away as Paraa to see some of these initiatives. They truly are having an impact that appears multiplied like the loaves and fishes compared to the resources they have. I look forward to finding a gift of time myself so I can edit and post the numerous videos I was able to take to share their work more vividly. Look for them on their new blog!

Posted in ICTs for Development, Travel Adventures | Tagged , | Leave a comment