Monday, August 25, 2014

Just Give It a Try

Hold on and lean forward, feet tucked below the seat as you sail back and up. There’s a split second pause at the top of your arc. That’s when you lean back and stretch out your legs, face tilted to the sky for that stomach lurching swoop with the wind ruffling your hair and your mouth open wide in an involuntary grin. Just for that moment it feels like flying. I’d forgotten how much fun a swing could be.

I was on a visit to my son Jason’s family in Ottawa. We’d taken my granddaughter Evaine to the park and no one else was around. Jason was pushing her on the kiddie swing so I decided to sit on the big swing to wait. She’d likely want to move on to something else in a moment or two. Muscle memory is a marvelous thing. Without any conscious thought at all I found myself automatically pushing off, legs working back and forth in the pumping action I’d learned as a child. Higher and higher until I imagined my outstretched toes would touch the clouds. I haven’t done that in years and now I wonder why. It was great!

When we got back to the house Jason brought in a couple of gigantic mats that he’d salvaged from the climbing gym. He set them up in the basement for me to use as a bed. They were about eight inches thick and the two of them together made a bed about eight feet square. My husband was due to arrive in a couple of days so he wanted us to have plenty of room. The whole family could have slept on that makeshift bed but in the meantime it made a great spot for jumping and Evaine was bouncing up and down and flopping onto her back with gleeful abandon.

Eventually she tired of the game and I was left alone to set up my sleeping space. I stood there for a moment looking at that enormous spongy expanse before sitting on it and giving it an experimental bounce or two of my own. I had an outrageous impulse and shook my head as though to dislodge it. It was too ridiculous. I think my earlier experience with the swing must have dislodged my common sense. I told myself I should act my age. On the other hand, no one was there to see me. Why not just give it a try? What was the harm?

 I checked the stairs to make sure I really was alone before returning to the mat and furtively getting into the correct position for what I wanted to attempt. A moment later I lay sprawled on my back trying to stifle the giggles that threatened to erupt. I confess it now. I, Robin Livingston, 57 year old grandmother of eight, did a somersault when no one was looking. In fact I did two.

I don’t know what got into me but somehow, when I am around my grandchildren I remember what it was like to be a child myself. I end up doing some pretty strange things. That didn’t happen when my own children were small. Too much responsibility I suppose. If you don’t have grandchildren of your own maybe you should borrow some. They will help you to remember that it’s fun to play.
Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles @



Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Big Question

Most of us can look back at our lives and pinpoint certain events that were pivotal in our growth and development. There have been a few of those in my life and I expect that there will be a few more since I still have plenty of growing and developing to do before I’m done. However, I am thinking of one particular event, probably the most significant in my life. I know that it affected me at a profound level and shaped my entire future. The memory jumps out at me, still crystal clear after 40 long years…

It was the final exam in my grade 11 Ancient History class. Odd?  Well, perhaps, but Roger McCombe was not your average teacher. He was quirky and unconventional and we never knew what he would come up with next. We could show up for class to find him wearing a toga or encouraging us to build a chariot to compete in a race at an annual Classics Convention. He made learning fun. He was a teacher who genuinely cared about his students and I think he believed that getting us to ask questions was more important than getting us to recite a lot of facts.

One day he announced that each of us would be scheduled for an appointment the following week and we would be taking our final exam one at a time. We had one week to prepare and it would be an oral exam consisting of a single question. All we had to do to receive a passing grade was demonstrate that we’d given the question serious thought. Serious thoughts take time so he gave us the question in advance. It wasn’t complicated and no one had to write it down. He simply asked “Why do you think you were put on this earth?”

I was 16 years old and above all things, I wanted my life to matter. That question rattled around in my head and I wanted an answer far more than I wanted a passing grade. I needed a place to think so I climbed the hill behind our house and found a rocky vantage point where I could look out over the treetops below. We weren’t a religious family. We were Catholics but we hadn’t attended church in years. I believed in God but all I knew about him was what I’d seen in movies like The Ten Commandments or Ben Hur. It occurred to me that if there was a reason for my existence, God would know. Maybe what I needed to do was just ask him.

I had my very first encounter with God on that hilltop. By the time I came down I knew what my answer to the big question would be. When my turn came I walked in and sat across the desk from my teacher and looked him in the eye.

“I was put on this earth to experience joy,” I said. He raised an eyebrow so I tried to explain. “I’m not talking about fun or even happiness. I think joy is something far deeper than either of those and I think that it comes from God.” There was a pause while he waited to see if I had anything more to add but I shook my head helplessly. That was it. It took less than 30 seconds. It was one question but it was an exercise that shaped the course of my entire life.

I think Mr. McCombe knew his question had the potential to do that. It wasn’t really a final exam after all. It was his final gift.

(image courtesy of Master isolated images/


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Things I've Learned from my 90 Year Old Father-in-law

This past Saturday we celebrated my Father-in-law’s 90th birthday. You might think that he’d be ready to take it easy at his age but you’d be wrong. He may have slowed down considerably but that just means it takes him longer to do the things he insists on doing.

He still lives in his own home and heats it with wood. He cuts and moves his own firewood and makes the trip down to the basement to stoke up the stove several times a day all through the winter. He scoffs at any suggestion that he use the electric heat the house is equipped with. He keeps a garden and still drives his tractor and his ATV. He is working at ploughing and seeding down a field this summer and he has every intention of going hunting again this fall. It’s the highlight of his year. Now that he’s had both hips replaced he’ll actually be able to hunt without using his walker. He loves the bush and always takes the time to scatter acorns or walnuts so that new trees will grow.

Change comes hard to him as it does to most people his age. Some might call him stubborn but I prefer to think of him as strong willed and determined. I’ve learned a thing or two from him as I’ve watched him cope with getting older.

1.      Just because I can’t do a thing the way I could when I was younger doesn’t mean I should stop doing it. I just need to learn to do it in a new way. Where there’s a will, a way can generally be found. It might not be pretty but who cares?

2.      Everybody needs some sort of work to do no matter how old they are. Having something to accomplish helps get us out of bed in the morning and gives us a sense of achievement at the end of the day.

3.      Life should always be more about what I can do than what I can’t.

4.      I should never give up on the things that are important to me.

5.      A sense of humour always helps.

6.      Family makes a difference.

7.      As long as I am alive I should be planting things for the future.

Not long ago Bev’s Dad asked him to help put fences around some of the young walnut trees that sprouted from the seeds he’d planted. He didn’t want the deer to eat them. He also had more acorns he wanted to scatter. He is a remarkable man.

It made us think of a Greek Proverb we’d seen recently. “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Secret to Contentment

We are heading up north this week to visit my brother Dave. He has recently retired and moved to a tiny home that he built for himself on the edge of a wooded section of a friend’s farm. There is no driveway. He has to walk a kilometer or so from the spot where he parks his car. He has no electricity and no plumbing and no internet or phone line. There is an outhouse and eventually he will dig a well. For now there is a trail through the bush to the river for summer bathing and all his drinking water has to be hauled in from town. He does have a woodstove and a tiny propane fridge which he considers the height of luxury. There is also a propane camp stove. He has his books and his guitar and he is content.

I am looking forward to experiencing a taste of his life but I can’t help wondering if
I could ever be content with so little. It’s one thing to visit for a couple of days when you know you can go back to showers and flush toilets, electric lights and emails at the end of it. Could I give up those comforts more permanently? I’m not so sure.

There is a secret to being content. Paul talks about it in Philippians 4. He says that he has “learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” If Paul learned it maybe I can too.

Genuine contentment is a rare thing in our culture where everyone always seems to be striving for more. More comfort, more money, more entertainment, more recognition, everything bigger, better, more up to date… The list goes on and on. I am not immune. I know I often confuse the things I want with what I actually need. If I’m not careful I can slip into the habit of comparing my life to someone else’s and wanting what they have rather than what I’ve been blessed with. That’s a sure path to chronic discontent rather than gratitude, peace or joy.

Perhaps learning the secret to contentment isn’t all that complicated. I expect, like anything else you want to learn well, it will take practice. I can practice not making those cursed comparisons. I can also cultivate a habit of thankfulness. I’ve learned that gratitude is often a choice rather than a feeling. Last but not least, when I take a closer look at that passage in Philippians I see that Paul went on to say that the secret lay in knowing that he could handle any and every situation through Christ who gave him strength. With practice I will discover that to be true for me too.
I’ll try to remember that when I have to make a midnight run to the outhouse in bear country.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Are Your Roots Showing?

Image courtesy of Just2shutter/

 I went to the dentist this week and the news was both good and bad. I’d been more diligent than usual since my last checkup so there was significant overall improvement in my dental health. There were no cavities and not even much plaque. However, one single tooth was looking decidedly grey compared to its neighbours. I was told that such a development sometimes indicates that the root of the tooth is dying. That sounded ominous to me, especially since there isn’t really anything I can do about it. No matter how careful I am to look after the part of my tooth that shows, without a healthy root I could lose it altogether.

I’ve been thinking about how important roots are, not only in nature but in life. We talk about putting down roots in a place or a community. It means we are settled there, connected in meaningful ways. We might search out our family history or our roots in order to understand where we’ve come from and have a sense of our place in the world. Our roots anchor us and enable us to stand strong in the midst of the storms that sometimes overtake us.

When I think of the roots of a tree I immediately think about how those roots do more than just anchor the tree and enable it to stand strong. They also draw life and sustenance from the soil they are planted in so that the tree can flourish.

What about me? Where are my roots planted? Where do I get my sustenance and the strength to stand in adversity? Do I spend time and energy looking after the parts of my life that show and yet neglect my inner life?

The Bible talks about being strengthened by God’s Spirit in our inner being and that with Christ dwelling in our hearts we are rooted and established in love. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

That’s true. My life is rooted in my faith and my faith is rooted in God’s love for me. That’s where my confidence comes from. It’s where I get my strength and my peace.  It’s not too hard to check on the health of my roots. They may not be easily visible, but if they are not healthy it will show in the rest of my life soon enough. I get anxious and fearful and depressed. When that happens I know what to do. I need to remember my roots…I need to check for and deal with anything that may have damaged my connection with God. He is always willing to heal the breach. Then I can go back to soaking up the life that comes out of knowing I am loved absolutely.

I have a feeling it won’t be that easy with my tooth. Too bad.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Spontaneously Silly by Robin Livingston

I love lazy, hazy summer afternoons sitting out in the sunshine and soaking up the warmth. It’s too windy today for hot air balloons but on calm days we often see them sailing overhead, bright globes of colour against the backdrop of pale blue. There’s something majestic about their silent passage. It makes me smile.

Years ago we were sitting with friends on the back deck when we saw a hot air balloon that looked like it was going to pass directly over our yard. With one accord we all jumped up and ran out to the middle of the lawn to watch it coming. Yes indeed, it was going to go right over our heads and it was sailing low enough that we could see the people in the gondola beneath it.

We planned to wave a greeting when they got closer but my friend had a better idea. “I bet we could spell out the word ‘Hello’ using our bodies to form the letters on the grass,” she suggested with a laugh.

There was no debate. We all just looked at each other and said, “Let’s go for it!”

There were just enough of us with the kids included to do the job. It took a few minutes of giggling chaos to sort ourselves out and assume our positions but we managed it and just in time. We held our collective breath as the balloon passed, hoping that someone would look down and spot us where we lay giving new meaning to the term body language.

It was silly and undignified and thoroughly fun and it was my favourite memory of the summer. I still grin whenever I imagine what we must have looked like from above. Everyone needs a little spontaneous silliness in their lives now and then. Laughter is good for the soul. 
Image courtesy of creativedoxfoto/


Friday, May 23, 2014

The Best Things in Life are Free

It was a holiday Monday and promised to be the warmest day of a chilly May long weekend. We looked at each other over breakfast and my husband asked that dreaded question.

“What are we going to do today?”

We looked at each other some more as we struggled to come up with a really great idea. I was beginning to think we might end up tackling the endless chore list for want of something better when I had a sudden inspiration.

“We could take our bikes and bring a picnic along,” I suggested.

It was decided. I started making sandwiches and Bev went to get our bikes out of the rafters in the garage. It would be our first ride of the season.

We wanted to see some new territory so we settled on biking the first part of the Caledon Trail which is a Rail Trail stretching from Terra Cotta all the way to Tottenham. We planned to get as far as Caledon East which would be a 19 kilometer ride one way.

By 9 am we were at the trail head in Terra Cotta, geared up and ready to begin.


Dappled sunlight dancing through the vibrant greens of newly sprouted leaves. The trail stretching empty before us.



The musical sound of water gurgling and splashing along tumbled streambeds competing with the chorus of birdsong overhead.


The chance to stop at the river crossing to watch the minnows dart in and out of the shadows under the bridge.



The forest floor carpeted with trilliums in all their glory.



Even the swamps are beautiful in the spring.



Wild strawberries blossoming all along the trail, the promise of sweetness to come.


Our destination reached in time to relax on a park bench and eat sandwiches that somehow tasted better than they would have if we’d eaten them at home. Chai Latte from the local coffee shop for dessert and it was time to begin the return journey.
More stops on the way back as we noticed things that we missed coming out. Ice cream at the General Store in Ingleside to celebrate the day. 

Finally, after 38 kilometers, we were back where we’d started, our strength depleted and our spirits filled. Not bad for our first try. We drove home in that warm and comfortable silence that is the fruit of years of easy companionship. When we pulled into the garage at last Bev turned to me with a smile on his face. 

 “This was a really good day.”  

Yes, yes it was.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Moments to Treasure / by Robin Livingston

I spent a few days this week looking after my 3 year old granddaughter and having adventures. Not all adventures are huge and breathtaking. There is plenty of excitement in the ordinary little things that fill our days when you see them through the wondering eyes of a child.  Spending time with Evaine brings out the inner child in me though I can’t quite match her boundless energy. I may be weary when I go home tomorrow but I will be richer by far than I was when I arrived.


Arms outstretched and a shout of welcome,

“Come play with me, Baba!”

Plastic cookies served with make believe tea and grave politeness

Towers of blocks carefully constructed and gleefully demolished

Shrieks of laughter as we chase a purple ball back and forth across the lawn

Heads bent together as we examine and count the leaves on a sprig of clover

Waving at our shadows as they stretch out in front of us in the morning sun

A wagon load of treasures discovered and examined along the way to the park

Rocks and pine cones and flowers and seeds, wondrous “stuff” to show Mommy and Daddy

Endless games of Hide and Seek and Follow the Leader

Marching and jumping and flapping our arms as we try to fly like the geese overhead

Absolute trust and joyful abandon

 “Can I see? Can I come? Can I help? That was FUN!!”

Kisses that heal and giggles and hugs

The first fuzzy caterpillar seen this year

Warm snuggles and sleepy yawns as we say goodnight at the end of the day

It doesn’t get much better than that. I’ll carry the memories home in my pockets and take them out when I need reminding.  Every day is a gift.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Lessons from a Wild Carrot / Robin Livingston

Symbolism is a powerful thing. During a recent women’s retreat I was attending we were invited to participate in a walk along some beautiful nature trails. Our goal was a spot in the woods where several sculptures depicting Jesus’ death on the cross were set up for those pilgrims wishing to pray and meditate.

It was suggested that during our walk we try to find something in nature to represent whatever it was that we would like to leave at the foot of that cross. I had done a similar exercise once before where we carried a stone representing our burdens and set it down at the foot of a cross before walking away. I’d found it to be a profoundly moving experience so I was eager to participate.


I had no idea what I was looking for, but what caught my eye was a cluster of seeds from a plant called Queen Anne’s Lace or more commonly, Wild Carrot. These were last year’s plants, and the stems of what was once a spray of delicate white flowers were all curved upward like the bars of a miniature birdcage enclosing the seeds within.

 It was perfect. Earlier that morning, I’d been wrestling with some pretty negative emotions. Anger and self pity are a snare that can cripple you even when you are convinced they are justified.  I knew that I had to lay them down or they would become the bars of a cage, trapping all my potential inside where there would be no opportunity for the seeds in me to produce the fruit that God intended.

 I thought about that as I walked along the trail with the brittle little cage of seeds nestled in my palm. When I set it down at the foot of the cross I felt lighter somehow…at peace and free. I’ll never look at Wild Carrot again without remembering.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Time Out

This weekend has been set aside for a special purpose and I’ve been looking forward to it all winter. Every year, for the past several years, the women in our church have been going on a weekend retreat where we can set aside all our cares and responsibilities and spend time with each other and with God. We’ll be heading to the beautiful Mount Alverno retreat centre in Caledon on Friday.

It’s spring…a time when the whole world, or at least the part of the world that has seasons, gets refreshed and renewed. I find that I need refreshing and renewing just as much as the world around me does. There is no better place than in the beauty of His creation among friends that I love.


Softly…softly…like eiderdown floating

Jesus, Lover of my soul,

The touch of your hand soothes all the jagged edges of my spirit,

The places where my “fur” has been rubbed the wrong way,

The dots that refuse to connect,

The derailment of all my intentions,

Scrambling my thoughts and stealing my peace.


What a day!

Let me sit at your feet,

Rest my head on your knee

And just be.


I will drink from your cup and be satisfied

And when I am at peace I will see

What I missed in the midst of the storm…


You were there.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Grey before the Green

I have always loved the colour green in all its many guises, from the rich and vibrant hues of spring to the deep blue-green of the ocean on a sunny day.  It speaks to me of life and never fails to touch my spirit with hope. Who would dream that a colour could do that?

I recently bought myself an artist quality set of pencil crayons thinking that I would like to reproduce some of the colours that I see in the world around me. I was surprised to discover that I couldn’t find a crayon to match the particular shade of green that I was looking for. I learned that the green I wanted would require a layering and blending of several different colours. After a good deal of experimentation I discovered that in order to achieve the best results, I had to start with grey. That surprised me.

Grey is most definitely not my favourite colour. I probably wouldn’t have bothered to include it in the box had I been in charge of packaging the crayons. In my mind if green is the colour of hope, then grey would be the colour of sadness. I’m glad I wasn’t in charge after all. The shades of grey in my box of colours are more important than I knew. 

There are grey times in my life, times when sadness is my portion. I might have wished that the One in charge hadn’t included that particular colour in the tools He uses to paint the portrait of the woman I am becoming, but now I see that the grey is only a small part of something much richer. It is a necessary step in achieving the final result. I just need to trust the Artist. 

I may be in the grey right now but it is only the grey before the green.


Thursday, March 13, 2014


Wow! Here it is March 13 and the snowdrifts in our backyard are positively mountainous. We have a shed out back that I have to say we haven't seen the inside of since November. Access Denied so to speak. We could have cleared a path through the drifts but that would have required a lot of maintenance this winter. We decided that staying connected to our shed wasn't worth the effort.

Staying connected with people takes effort as well. There are some seasons where the maintenance of those connections seems like more work than we can handle. That's the season I have been in lately. I haven't done a very good job of keeping up with my blog or other connecting pathways like Facebook or Twitter. I don't actually have a twitter account. I've never been one for chatting on the phone and writing letters is almost a lost art. It's not surprising that I feel out of touch.

People are important though, and in honour of the coming spring (I am certain it IS coming in spite of the lack of evidence we've seen) I have decided to come out of hibernation and put the effort into re-connecting. Time to start blogging again. I may even open a twitter account. I am sure someone can show me how to go about it. You'll be hearing more from me and that's a promise.