Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Picking up the Pieces

Have you ever felt like a ghostly, transparent version of yourself? How does one pick up the pieces after a six-month absence from everything that was once a normal part of your life? I know I am not the only one wrestling with that question. There are no easy answers.
Everyone is experiencing this pandemic is different ways. For me, the Covid-19 lockdown was added as icing on the cake to a cancer diagnosis back at the end of January. I don’t believe in luck or I would be saying I was one of the lucky ones. Instead, I see it as a gift from God that things moved very quickly, and I was able to have both my surgeries before the hospitals started their strict protocols and the shutting down of all elective surgeries. I still find it hard to understand how cancer surgery could be considered elective yet many of them, if not all, ended up being postponed. I am thankful that my case was not put on hold and I was able to go on and receive all the treatments I needed. I’m happy to report that it was a success.
A friend who just passed her 5th anniversary of being cancer-free had some important insights to share from her own story. She told me that the months following the end of treatment can be just as challenging as the treatments themselves. Often when you are in the middle of the process, all you can do is focus on getting through the “next thing”. It isn’t until you pass the finish line that you are able to let down and begin to process the experience. Just when you think you ought to be able to coast on into your old life, you realize it just isn’t that simple. Add in the changes to daily life that we are all experiencing right now, and the difficulty multiplies.
Even being forewarned, I still somehow thought it would be easier. I have found myself struggling to know how to move forward from here. There doesn’t seem to be a playbook to follow. I still get tired easily. I am more emotional (even more than usual, I mean), and I wind up feeling overwhelmed by things that I would normally have taken in my stride. Low-level depression on most days makes it difficult to get up and start anything. I have not been able to get back to my writing in any meaningful way and that bothers me.
All of this could, of course, be a bi-product of the ongoing hormone blockers I will be taking for the next seven years or so. It also sounds like what many are going through as a result of the physical distancing and isolation the pandemic has necessitated. For one reason or another, I laid down all the pieces of my life back in early February, and now that it is time to start picking them up I am not even sure if I want to. Which of those pieces should I let go of, and where should I focus my still-somewhat-limited energies? How do I begin?
Firstly, I am told I need to cut myself some slack in all this. Unrealistic expectations only lead to frustration and guilt. I’ve asked God to help me discern what it is that I CAN do rather than what I only WISH I could do. There are some pieces of my life that will continue to be set aside, at least for now.
Secondly, I need to recognize that where I’m at today is not my “new normal” for the foreseeable future despite what the literature says about side effects of hormone blockers. There are things I can do to improve my energy levels and my mood. Once again, I am reminded that I have the power to choose when it comes to exercise and diet. When I’ve had a bad day and failed miserably, instead of giving up I can start again. If I do my part, I know I can trust God for the rest.   
I walk for exercise. To date, I have managed to increase my distance to 2.5 km. That may not seem like much, but I remind myself that I am carrying a little extra weight these days, a 40-pound pack to be exact. It makes a difference. I managed to lose 4 of those pounds which also may not seem like much, but I’ve decided to celebrate these baby steps. At least they are movement in the right direction.
As to my writing, it’s never been so difficult. Yesterday, I went to a park to sit under a tree and do some cursive free-flow, jotting down random thoughts as they popped into my head. It is said that those sorts of exercises help unlock the creative side of your brain. Today’s post is the result. It’s a small beginning and even the smallest beginnings deserve to be celebrated. It leaves me feeling hopeful and that’s a good place to start.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

When Life Hands You an Unexpected Detour

My husband Bev and I love doing road trips. We pick a destination, plot our route, and hit the highway to see what we can see. Of course, we do like to have a fair idea of where we are at any time and which direction we are heading. That’s why we never go anywhere without a good map. I never realized how important good road signs are to the whole process until we travelled in Ireland a few years ago. Perhaps in a small country, the assumption is that everyone knows where they’re going so road signs aren’t necessary. Whatever the case, there were many places where we saw no signs at all. It’s hard to figure out where to go when you have no idea where you are. It rendered the maps all but useless and forced us to stop and ask for help any number of times – not such a bad thing as we met some great people that way. However, I discovered that I don’t much like not knowing where I’m going.

Here in Canada we rarely feel so lost, except perhaps when we run into an unexpected detour. At times like that, what we think will be a straightforward trip from point A to point B can end up taking us in a completely different direction. That might not matter so much if we are just meandering, but when we have a specific goal in mind, especially one involving a timeline, hitting a roadblock can be stressful. It’s like we are at it’s mercy and forced to head into uncharted territory right when we thought we had it all figured out and knew exactly what to expect. That’s when we have a choice to make. We can get all bent out of shape, or we can stop worrying about the destination and the plan and decide to enjoy the journey.

This year we were heading into the year 2020 with high hopes and a sense of optimism. We had some very definite plans in mind and were already marking things on our calendar in anticipation. We thought we knew exactly where the road ahead would be taking us. That’s when we hit one of life’s unexpected detours. At the end of January I was diagnosed with breast cancer and we now find that we are heading into uncharted territory. It’s a completely different direction than we were planning on, so we find ourselves with a choice to make. We can get all bent out of shape, or we can decide to embrace the journey and see what we can see along the way.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Living on Purpose

A friend once asked me how I was doing, and I answered by telling him I’d decided to live. His brows shot up and I hurried to clarify. What I meant was, I’d decided to really embrace life, to live on purpose, to grab hold of it with both hands and make the most of it. To be honest, some days I do better at that than others. I find it helps if I have something to reach for, something to look forward to.

For the last 35 years or so, my husband and I have made a point of setting goals in January for the coming year. We started the practice because of the post-holiday blues that can sometimes set in when all the hustle and bustle of Christmas is past. When so much energy goes into preparing for the holidays, the quiet days that follow can leave us (me) drifting aimlessly or crashing altogether. We wanted something that would energize us, give us a target to aim at, and create a little excitement and momentum in the drab winter months. We figured a date night that included a dinner out followed by a bit of brainstorming would net us a few plans for going forward into the new year.

That first year, we sat down and made a list of categories. It included things like financial goals, personal development, home improvements, ministry goals, vacation, and a few others like hobbies, that could conceivably fall into one of the categories already mentioned. It might sound dry, but it actually wasn’t. It got us talking and dreaming a bit as we jotted down our ideas. Once the list was made it got tucked away in a folder and we didn’t look at it again until the following year. We didn’t really need to. Most of the things we wrote down got fixed in our thinking just by talking them through. We were keen to get started and January came to feel like a fresh beginning.

Of course, we recognized right away that we would need to hold those plans loosely. After all, God is the one who is steering the boat. Proverbs 16:9 says that the heart of a man plans his way, but God directs his steps. Stuff happens and being flexible is a good thing. There was nothing hard and fast about those goals. There was no pressure and no guilt involved. Some years we were able to check off nearly everything on the list. Then again, there were some years when life took an unexpected turn, and a whole new set of goals got made on the fly. We still considered it a win even when we didn’t actually achieve much of anything that we’d originally planned on. Each new year, we’d pull that folder out and take a look at the road behind us before we started dreaming for the year ahead. It’s become an annual thing. The folder is getting full now and all those sheets of paper make an interesting record of the things we’ve done or thought to do from one year to the next.

This year, we’ve put off our planning date and may not get to it till the month is almost over. It seems like life may be taking one of those unexpected turns before we even get the year started. One or two unanswered questions could make a big difference in how the year unfolds so it’s probably worth while to wait a bit before we sit down to talk about goals.

Whatever 2020 might bring, we want to tackle it full on rather than as passive bystanders. You can’t steer a boat that isn’t moving. The specific goals we set aren’t really so important. What is important is that we live on purpose. No one knows for certain what a given year will hold but we know we’ll be able to handle the twists and turns that come our way because we trust the One who is at the rudder. It pays to remember that He loves us, and we belong to Him.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Peeling Back the Layers

I was riding in a friend’s car once and noticed a little square of black electrical tape stuck on the face of the dashboard. Curious, I asked what it was there for.

“Oh, it’s nothing, just that annoying little check engine light. I can’t get it to turn off, so I covered it up. The car is running okay anyway.”

Foolish? Perhaps. Those ‘trouble’ lights are there for a reason and when we ignore them, a small problem can sometimes turn into a much bigger issue.

Lately, I’m realizing that I have ‘trouble’ lights of my own that I don’t always pay attention to, and I’m not talking about my car. There are any number of small indicators in how I respond to the issues of life that hint at some underlying problem. It’s often easier to ignore the signs than to dig a little deeper to see what lies beneath.

For instance, when I get annoyed or impatient at how slowly something that is outside of my control is happening, I often treat the symptoms with several deep breaths and a treat or a distraction of some kind. My coping mechanisms are like putting a band-aid on my check engine light. Getting to the bottom of things takes time and hard work. It can be painful to discover that my annoyance might be due to my own issues.

When I’ve taken the time to examine the ‘why’ behind my emotions, I’ve occasionally been forced to recognize a need to be in control just below the surface. If I peel back that layer, I discover fear tucked away underneath it. Fear that the result I am hoping for will not happen if I don’t make it happen, fear of failure. Where does that come from? One layer deeper, and I realize that I’m actually afraid of being judged or measured by my performance. And hidden beneath that is the lie that my worth is based on how people see me. I’m not even going to touch on how pride figures into all of that.

Once I’ve peeled back enough layers to discover the lie that is so often at the root of my lack of peace, I can do something about it. Repentance is a good place to start. Follow that with the choice to actively trust in God and what He says is true. He says that my worth is incalculable, and it doesn’t change. I am precious in His eyes. It is not dependent on my performance or what people think of me.

Now, when I find myself shaking a fist at a driver who insists on moving 20 km/hour below the speed limit, I automatically catch myself. I don’t have to start from scratch this time. I remember what was under the surface when I peeled back the layers the last time and give myself a little shake. The annoyance drains away as I am reminded of who I am and who God is, and that He is in control. It’s quicker and more effective than chocolate… and easier on my waistline.  

Saturday, February 20, 2016


We just got back from a visit in Northern Ontario where we had a much enjoyed taste of winter with my brother Dave in Elliot Lake. We got to go snowshoeing through the woods and across the lake to have a winter picnic complete with campfire and toasted sandwiches with a cup of bush tea to warm us as we sat on a log in the sunshine. We did get to see a wolf but not while we were on our hike. He passed by Dave’s building where it backs on the bush at the edge of town while we watched through the living room window. We were snowshoeing on that same trail but saw no sign of him other than his prints in the snow. There is something wonderfully peaceful about the silence of the snowy wilderness on a cold, still morning. Even the swamps are beautiful in their carpet of white. It’s one of the things I miss, living in the south. It brings back a whole landscape of happy memories.

I thought about that on the long drive home. Memories are such a gift, treasures to be brought out and enjoyed over and over again. Sometimes I like to capture my favorites on paper so they can be shared.

When we passed the sign for Black Creek just north of the turn-off for Highway 17 I was reminded of another one. It’s a 50 year old memory now and back in 1993 I wrote it down. I thought I’d share it here.

“The Cabin on Turtle Lake”

Dad built the cabin in a lonely spot close to the eastern shore of Turtle Lake. To reach it we travel up Black Creek by canoe, crossing eight beaver dams in the process. The trip takes hours and we mark the distance by the number of times we clamber out of the canoe to negotiate those barriers of interwoven sticks and mud. When the count reaches eight we begin to watch for the trees to thin out and allow us our first glimpse of the lake.

Turtle Lake is long and narrow, with a rocky shoreline that in places rises up like the walls of some ancient fortress. At its eastern end, where the cabin sits in a clearing on the banks of the creek, the land slopes down more gently and the birch and poplar trees give way to tall grass and bulrushes. The swish of our paddles sounds loud in the stillness as we push through the reeds to land. The trail from the shore to the clearing in the trees is carpeted with autumn golds and the clean smell of wet leaves and distant pines is like a tonic.

The clearing is dominated by the squat shape of the cabin. Its rough walls of pine logs rise only five feet from the ground. They are topped by a peaked log roof covered with black paper that smells of tar when the sun warms it. A length of old blackened stove pipe sticks up from one corner at a jaunty angle. The low door is made of smooth unfinished boards that have weathered to a dull grey. It has hinges made of old tire rubber and sports the only window in the place. That tiny square of smudged glass and the rusty latch look almost out of place here. A squirrel chatters a welcome from the woodpile stacked neatly along one side of the building. Two makeshift sawhorses of crossed poles stand ready with an uncut log resting securely in the notch formed by their upthrust arms. The ground below is littered with sawdust and wood chips.

The dim interior of the cabin smells musty after the fresh air outside. The odours of pine gum, old wood smoke and lamp oil envelope us as we step over the threshold onto the hard packed dirt floor. There is only one room. In the corner stands the stove, made of an old oil drum propped up on bricks. Two sets of bunk beds line the side walls. Actually, they are just frames made of rough cut poles and strung with chicken wire and padded with a thick layer of canvas, but they look inviting after a long day. The only other furniture is a small sturdy table sitting opposite the stove with a box of kindling under it. There is a shelf on the wall above it that holds the oil lamp and an old, faded tin snuff box that we keep matches in. A chipped and battered enamel cup also sits there. It holds the wilted remnants of a handful of wild flowers that once provided a spot of colour to the otherwise drab room. The cup fits my hand like an old friend as I lift it from the dusty shelf and carry it out into the late afternoon sun. Leaves is what we want this time, I think to myself. Orange and yellow and gold.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Much More Than Goodbye

I originally wrote this post for Family and Faith Matters in 2014.

This morning when my husband set off for work I saw him off at the door with a hug and a kiss and a “Have a good day”. I’ve been doing that for almost 34 years and I suppose it’s a habit now. It’s much more than a habit when I stop to think about it though. It’s a wish and a prayer and a blessing all in one and it carries the love and respect I have for this man who is my partner and soul mate right out the door with him when he goes into his day.

The concept of sending people off with a blessing is not a new one. The word goodbye actually originated with the phrase God be with ye.

I was watching the movie “Gladiator” recently and in it the Roman soldiers parted with a hand grip and the words “Strength and Honour”.  What a great way to send someone off! Honour is a word we don’t use much these days but it is another way of saying integrity or uprightness of character. I can almost feel myself standing a little taller and stepping out with a little more vigour when I hear that parting wish.

Most of us are familiar with the old Irish blessing.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

I suppose I might try saying that to my husband as he leaves for work in the morning but it is a bit cumbersome. I’m more likely to stick with my simple “Have a good day”. It has a power and beauty of its own when accompanied by that hug and kiss. Or maybe I’ll mix it up a bit and add an occasional “Strength and Honour”, or even the Vulcan “Live Long and Prosper”. I can just see the raised eyebrows now. At least he’d be going out the door with a smile on his face.

The next time you say goodbye make it more than just goodbye. It’s the chance to send someone off with a wish and a prayer and a blessing all in one.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


I originally wrote this post in the fall of 2014 for Family and Faith Matters.

Photo courtesy of  Suat Eman @

The last of the raspberries are picked and safely stored in the freezer for our supply of winter smoothies. I’ve gathered all the apples and their fruity scent makes my mouth water whenever I go into the front porch where they are waiting for my attention. Over the next few days I will turn those baskets of apples into jar after jar of applesauce to sweeten our mealtimes during the cold season. Today though, the kitchen counter is covered in tomatoes and peppers that came from my husband’s flower bed vegetable garden. It’s time to make chili sauce.

I love living in a country that has seasons to mark the passing of time. Each season has a unique beauty to enjoy but there’s more to it than that. There’s a rhythm to our days when we live in a place that has seasons. At least that’s true when we are part of an agricultural community. We spend the summers growing and gathering and storing food for the winter. We spend the winters renewing our strength and planning and preparing for the next growing season.

Life has seasons too. Ecclesiastes 3 says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…” No matter what particular season I am in at the moment, whether it is a time of mourning or a time of dancing, I know that it is only for a time. I believe that God uses each season in my life to prepare me for the ones to come. I can embrace whatever season I am in and know that there is a purpose to it that goes beyond whatever my current reality is. That gives me satisfaction and confidence and hope. My life is in the hands of a Master Gardener and nothing ever gets wasted in His economy.

What should I do with the time that I’m in? That’s the million dollar question. How can I make the best of this particular season while it lasts? Thankfulness is always a good place to start. Then, I think I’ll start on that chili sauce.

Chili Sauce

12 large tomatoes

4 large onions

½ bunch celery

1 ½ green peppers

Chop all finely

Add: 2 ½ c. vinegar

         3 c. sugar

         2 T. salt

         1 T. pickling spice in cloth bag

Cook 3 hours on low boil or until thickened. Seal in jars.