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Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Very Bad Day

Yesterday was categorically bad.  A very bad day.  The walls of my house of faith shook with my shouting and my body trembled with the thoughts of what might be.

Two things caused this volcanic eruption.

1) We were told by the Brazilian Consulate that it could be 'months' before we receive our visas.  World Cup 2014 seems to be causing a backlog.  This left me stunned.  Back to life in limbo.

2) I received results from genetic testing that indicate I am positive for the genetic mutation that causes something called Left Ventricular Non-compaction Cardiomyopathy.  It's the reason my niece had a stroke when she was 21 and it's the reason we lost her brother in October of 2012. The short explanation is that the muscle of the left ventricle doesn't compact in the womb causing there to be a 'spongey' texture and the wall of the heart, where blood clots can form and/or the heart becomes dilated because the muscle cannot function at full capacity.  So far I show no signs of this.

My walls shook not because of my own health, I can handle that-and so far I have no signs of actually manifesting the disease, I just carry the gene.  The part that rattles me to the core is that it is autosomal dominant, which means there's a 50% chance of my children having the gene as well. Their little hearts, formed in my womb, may have a problem.

That's where the shouting comes from.  That's when my body trembles.

'Not my kids God, please, not my kids', is my cry.

So, Monday I will take both of them to a hospital to have blood drawn which will then be sent off for genetic testing.  The results take 8-10 weeks to come in.  More waiting.

Did I mention I'm not a very patient person?

The night before this very bad day my kids and I were reading the bible before they went to bed.  My daughter read the first passage in Genesis and then Luke brought up the story of Job.  We talked about how he was a faithful servant of God, but that God allowed Satan to test him.  He was stripped of all his family,and then his own body was ravaged with boils.  Everyone turned away from him.

Job had many, many, very bad days.

In the end, God restores all that Job had lost and then some.  He ends up living 140 years, having seen his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Throughout the bible are stories of loss and redemption, death and resurrection.

I don't know what the rest of our story is going to look like.  I only know that we have to take this one day, one minute at a time.   I am holding my babies a little closer, a little longer, and praying that they will live long and healthy lives, that this 'mutation' ends with me and doesn't carry on any further in my family line, that none of my other family members will be affected.

As for the first problem, our visas, we will wait until Friday March 7, if we haven't had an approval come through by then, we will have to cancel our flights until we have the necessary documents in hand.

This may give us time for the kids to have some preliminary testing done.

Before we knew about my results Phil and I discussed the 'what ifs'.  We decided that regardless of the outcome of the tests we feel we are supposed to carry on with our calling in Brazil.  There are cardiologists (very good ones) there and if our kids carry the gene, the protocol is that they are to be monitored once yearly.

One day, one minute at a time, we breathe and we believe that God is in control.



 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Without Him


Three weeks ago, I lay in my bed, feeling like a heavy weight was sitting on my chest.  I had only been home from the hospice a few hours and tried, unsuccessfully, to get some sleep.  But the events of the few days before kept flashing through my brain like a fast forward movie reel and I would wake with a start like I’d missed an appointment or should be somewhere else.  But the somewhere else I was feeling I should be was now an empty room being cleaned out and prepared for it’s next resident.

My Dad was gone.

Four days earlier, I had slept in much later than I normally did and had a fleeting thought that God was preparing me for something, giving me rest.  I hurried to get ready to leave to see my Dad in hospice, my kids had made a video for him and I wanted to get there before they gave him meds that would make him too groggy to watch it.

I walked into the hospice room to find my Dad awake, for which I was grateful.

‘Hi Dad!’ I said smiling.  And he turned his head to meet my gaze but in slow motion.  ‘Dad, are you ok?’ I asked.  His eyes met mine he tried to speak but it was as though his mouth had been taped shut.  His hands shook and I knew in my gut that something had changed.

I pressed the button to call the nurse and shortly after my step-mom came in the room.

‘I don’t know what’s wrong, he can’t speak’ I said.
She walked over to his bedside, and leaned in close her hand on his arm.

“Hi hunny are you ok?” she asked gently.
He looked in her eyes and tried to speak but again, nothing came out.  My eyes began to fill with tears as the realization of what was happening filled my heart.

We were losing him.

The nurse came in and we explained what had happened.  She said she would get him something for pain and to relax him.  I knew that would mean he would be asleep soon. 

The tears spilled onto my cheek and I knew that this was the day we knew was coming and had dreaded.  It doesn’t seem to matter how long you know something is going to happen, the moment it happens still hits you like it transport truck.

I went into the bathroom to get something to blow my nose and the nurse came in to get something as well.
“How long are we looking at now?” I managed to choke out.
“Hours…maybe days.  He can hear you, tell him you love him say what needs to be said and be with him.” She said.

I contacted my siblings and in laws and we began what would be a three night bedside vigil. We held his hand, we stroked his hair, we spoke to him.  We ate, we told stories and shared memories, we cried and we laughed.  I don’t remember a time in my life since I was a small child that I spent that much time with my sister and brothers.  It was a cherished and bittersweet time.

That first night the nurse and care worker on duty felt it might be that night.  One of them was one of my Dad’s favourite and her voice began to break as she told us how much our Dad had come to mean to her.  She said that whenever she came to see him, no matter what he was going through he always had a smile or a joke for her.  My Dad brightened her day enough to shine through the darkness that she had to face in the other rooms.  He would be missed by everyone at the hospice.

On Wednesday evening our brother who lives on the east coast was arriving.  For three days my Dad had been pretty much the same, mostly asleep and breathing comfortably and steadily.  So much so that the slightest change in his breathing caused all of us to hold our breath and stare at his chest.

He had two hours one evening of wakefulness, he became very alert and wanted water and soup and to kiss his wife.  Between sips of soup he puckered his lips for more kisses, like he knew they’d be their last.

On the third night my brother who lives on the east coast was flying in.  No sooner did we finish discussing his arrival than my Dad’s breathing pattern changed noticeably.  The nurse came to check his pulse and said it had weakened.  The time was drawing near.  We all drew closer to my Dad.

None of us wanted to miss a thing.  We all wanted to be there until the end and for the end..
My brother arrived and we all huddled near my Dad’s bedside.  I held his hand, kissed his cheek and whispered how much I loved him, how much I would miss him but that he could let go now.

At around 1:30am the nurse came to check him again and told us we should try to get some rest, that he could go on like this for hours.  We all hunkered down, eight bodies in various positions around the dimly lit room and tried to get some rest as the sound of my Dad’s breathing filled my ears. 

I woke several times over the next few hours pausing to differentiate my Dad’s steady breathing from everyone else’s.  At about 5:44am I woke and couldn’t hear him. My pulse quickened and I sat up trying to clear my eyes.  My brother was sitting next to the bed and saw the panic on my face and nodded, he was still breathing just very quiet and shallow.  I got up from my makeshift bed on the floor and sat in a chair next to the bed.  Putting my hand on his leg I watched his chest rise and fall.  I felt as though the time was very near but then also wondered if he would rally for a another day or so.  He had been so strong throughout his illness, not wanting to ‘leave the party’, knowing how much it would hurt us to say good-bye. 

As four of us sat touching part of him, he took one big breath and then exhaled for the last time.  We sat staring at his chest for a little while longer, waiting for it to rise again but knowing that it would not, I could see that my Dad was gone.  It was as peaceful as I could have asked for, a quiet gift after a long year of suffering.

In hushed voices we woke the others and my oldest brother placed his hand on my Dad’s chest as he recited the 23rd Psalm and I tried to join him through the tears and soft sobs that threatened to escape my throat.

His pain and suffering had finally come to an end, he was free of this bed, this room and the body that failed him.  We were now the ones that had to live with pain, a pain of losing a great man, a wonderful father.

But, if death can at all be beautiful, his most certainly was.

Shortly after my sister and I drove to get our step mom, to tell her that he was gone.  On the way back we saw the most incredible sunrise I have probably ever seen and later I wrote this:

A warm orange glow spread over the crisp morning frost and wisps of clouds spiraled up from the rising sun reaching higher towards the heavens like tendrils of steam on a hot cup of coffee.  A peace filled my inner parts where sorrow threatened to take up residence and I knew you were there with Him, the great I AM.  The glow of the celestial city illuminated your face, no longer hollowed from the illness that took you but full, soft and youthful.  A smile spread across your face as you embraced the joy and love that filled you and you spread your arms wide as you ran into your eternity.

My earthly father is now with my heavenly one, and despite the grief I will need to endure, there is a peace deep inside me that comes from knowing where he is and that one day, I will see him again.

Until we meet again Dad….

My friend Kris MacQueen, a talented musician wrote this song, the lyrics and the music both remind me of that morning, as sad as we are to lose our loved ones it is indeed a glorious moment when they are united with the King of Kings.


















Here is the video my kids made for their beloved Papa, unfortunately he didn't get to see it.  In the month of November and in memorials my Dad raised $3500 for Hospice Wellington.  My brothers have decided to to this fundraiser yearly.








Saturday, November 23, 2013

My Dad Does Movember

Each day that I visit my Dad these days, his first question is almost always, 'What's our new total?'

His voice is weaker these days, sometimes you have to lean in close to hear it.  His once boisterous laugh is now silent, but his face still breaks into a smile whenever he can.  He still makes jokes, at every opportunity.  He is still living his life the best he can with what he has and he is still my Dad.

Part of that living is growing a moustache for Movember.  He is not, however, raising money for prostate or testicular cancer.  But the money will very definitely benefit those who face cancer.  He is raising money for the Wellington Hospice, the place he has called home for the past three months.
My sister and I and my Dad last October

When he was admitted to the hospice we thought he might have only three weeks left.  We underestimated a man who, each day, as his body becomes smaller his spirit grows larger and my love for him grows right along with it.

The hospice has allowed us to move from caregivers to family again.  We can visit 24 hours a day and they provide excellent care to my Dad and to us as a family; with hot soup and snacks when we are there for a long time, it is a home away from home.

We started a facebook page  Movember Norman - For Hospice Wellington and within three weeks we have raised over $2000.  We are aiming for $3000.  This is the first time someone who is a resident at the hospice has done a fundraiser and they said it's one of their most successful fundraisers to date.

One of the staff at the hospice said that the thing she loves most about this is that it reminds people that the hospice does not have to be a place of constant sadness, that although the residents are at the end of their lives, their lives are not over.

My Dad is definitely a man who has lived his life well and is continuing to do that as long as he is able.

If you haven't already, I encourage you to click the link and get on board with his Movember movement.  www.hospicewellington.org.  There is a special link on the bottom of the page that says 'Movember Norman' click there to donate.  And if you can, leave a little note for my Dad, he loves people.

As a way of encouraging my Dad and to say thank you to those who have already donated, my kids and I made this video:

Our Movember Champion

Dad's first haircut after the hospital



Dad's moustache two weeks in




Thursday, November 7, 2013

Shining Our Light In The Darkness

Last week was Halloween.  In the past, our church (The Cambridge Vineyard) has offered an 'alternative' evening for the families of our congregation.  Many Christians do not wish to take part in Halloween..

Last year our church partnered with the Allison Neighbourhood Community Association to create an outreach event called 'Light Up The Night'.

This year the event was planned to be larger and held on the church's front property.  We distributed over 400 flyers throughout the community.  We packaged hundreds of treat bags. We watched the weather forecast: rainy with a chance of more and more rain.

Thursday morning the clouds opened up and the rain started and didn't cease all day.  But we pressed on.  We modified the layout, changed the games the kids would play, we put up the tents to guard from the rain, we strung up hundreds of Christmas lights and flood lights, construction lights, everything we could do to be a light in our community.

We really had no idea if anyone would show up.  We decided it was better to go through all the work to be where we said we would be than to cancel it and disappoint anyone who did show up.

Six o'clock came and after countless technical issues we were finally 'Lit Up'.  Coffee was brewed, apple cider and hot chocolate were ready at the first station and the stream of people poured in as constant as the rain that soaked us.  But there wasn't a face that wasn't just as brightly lit as our tents.  There was a joy that night that was palpable despite the weather.  We met close to 200 of our neighbours-what other night of the year would we have the opportunity to do that?





For some, the evening was controversial.  Christians 'doing' Halloween? There are many who believe we shouldn't have anything to do with it at all.

I disagree.

Are we called to take our light and shine it only with other people who already have the light? Are we called to hide from the darkness with fear and trembling or face it, shining our light into it?

Did Jesus hang out with only those who believed he was the Messiah or did he go to those people and those places where people needed him.

The other question is did we preach the word?  Did we talk about Jesus?

No we didn't.

Because sometimes you need to build a relationship with someone before they trust you enough to listen to what you have to say.  There are people in our neighbourhood who think our church is a cult.  There are kids who've heard an age old tale that if you go over the wall you never get out again.  There are people who think we make wine.

This was an opportunity for people to meet us, the church (which of course isn't a building but the people who make up the body) to see that we are kind, happy and friendly people.  The kids in the neighbourhood got to play games, get balloons, hear kids music and they were able to leave the property again-myth dispelled.

We did not serve any wine.

So, the next time we see some of the neighbours we are now a face they recognize, we can start a conversation and perhaps invite them to a service, to coffee or even into a relationship with Jesus, if that's where it looks like God is leading them.

Do I believe you can lead a perfect stranger to Jesus. Yes. But I also believe there's more than one way to skin a cat….so to speak….and that we are called to take any and all opportunities to light up the dark places so they can see the saviour we are talking about.













Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Prayers Answered-Mountains Moved

Near the end of August Phil and I spoke in front of our home churches congregation about Brazil.  We shared what we had seen God doing, how we were involved and the dreams we had for the future there.

We shared with the members and visitors of our church that day that God had used us in more ways than we could have imagined in just eight short months.  We shared video (see the video 'Brazil' tool bar--> )
and photos of our time.

One of the things we said we hoped to accomplish while we are in Canada was to raise enough funds to purchase a vehicle when we return.  More specifically, a VW Kombi bus.  There are several reasons for wanting a Kombi bus:

1) It has nine seats meaning we would be able to bless the members of our neighbourhood, taking them on outings or other projects, driving people home when it's raining and so much more.

2) It's a simple vehicle mechanically, one Phil and I are familiar with since Phil owned and maintained one in the UK and we drove one in Nigeria during our time with CERCOPAN (cercopan.org).

3) Cost- Most vehicles in Brazil are extremely expensive where as the VW Kombi is reasonably priced  brand new.  We would most likely get years of good use before needing to worry about costly repairs.

4) Versatility-The VW Kombi has been known to drive well on many terrains-who knows where God will take us!

It seemed to me a mountain of money to raise.  I pinned my hopes on enough to purchase a used vehicle.  I prayed.  The amount we needed was the same as we had raised over a course of two years of blood sweat and fundraiser.  How could we possibly raise that much in a much shorter time?

Silly me.  I forgot the kind of God I'm serving.  I need to repent for my unbelief and my shouldering the burden of provision.

After the service we were approached by a friend who told us that although he didn't have the means, he was committed to raising the funds, one way or the other he would get us the money-the whole 20,000.

I'll be honest, I cried.  I asked God to forgive me for my unbelief.

But hang on the story doesn't end there…..

A week later, I got an email from a couple who had been visiting our church from Texas the Sunday we spoke.  She said her and her husband both felt the same 'nudge' to help us with our vehicle purchase after hearing us speak.  They were visiting friends in Cambridge but both felt strongly there was another reason they were there.  I asked her if it would be ok to connect her with our friends who had committed to helping us raise the funds, so they could co-ordinate things.  I left it at that.

A month later we received an email that a donation for $20,000 had been received for us.

My mouth hung open.  What?

We later found out that it was a single donation, from the couple who visited once, whom I've never met.

Prayer answered, mountain moved.  Just. Like. That.

I am still in awe, I'm thankful, I'm shocked, I'm overwhelmed.

What mountains are you facing?  Have you asked God to move them?


Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Gift of Another Day

For seven years after my mother passed away I had a rather tenuous relationship with my Dad.

I was so angry.  

I was angry at my Dad for getting married so soon after she died.  I was angry at God for taking my mother when I still needed her.  I was angry at my Mom for dying.

Angry, angry, angry.

I pushed my Dad away, I found reasons to fight with him.  I distanced myself from him.

I thought maybe if I kept my Dad at arms length it wouldn't hurt so much if I lost him too.

It didn't work.

The only thing it did was add to my bitterness and anger.

Years later, when I lost the tunnel vision of my youth and began to see life's bigger picture, I realized that my Dad's new relationship didn't negate the feelings he had for my mother.  Instead, it showed how important being in a committed relationship had been to him. My Dad has been married for fifty-eight years of his life.

Father Daughter Dance
On my wedding night, during our father daughter dance as he whisked me around the dance floor he cried and said he was sorry for the hurt I felt when he got remarried.  He explained through his tears how much my mother had meant to him, that marrying again didn't mean he didn't love her.  I cried too and told him I understood now.  I had just married my best friend and couldn't imagine facing life alone.

I forgave him and I forgave myself for all those lost years.  I chose to love him the way he had been loving me in spite of my flaws and hurtful actions, unconditionally.

In the past six months as I have spent hours at my Dad's side I've learned more about him than in my whole life.  I'm learning just how much he and I have in common.  I'm also learning, as he sets new goals to live past certain dates that he is one of the strongest and yet most gentle people I've ever known.

I'm thankful he didn't write me off when I pushed him away.

I can't get those years back, but I can make the most of every minute I have with him now, the quiet ones, the ones when our eyes spill with tears, and even the ones filled with laughter--his sense of humour has remained a constant throughout this whole ordeal.

This week  my Dad will celebrate his seventy-eighth birthday, no doubt with a smile on his face for the gift of another day.

This life we are gifted is exactly that a gift.  What we do with it and the people in it is up to us.  We can hold on to anger and bitterness and leave hurts unforgiven but the person we're really hurting when we do that is ourselves.

So, I challenge you to search your heart, who have you left unforgiven?  Who remains at arms length in your life? Find the courage to forgive, to let go.

....life is too short.

While you have the gift of another day, use it wisely.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

10 Reasons You Shouldn't Wait Until You Retire To Do 'It'


The world we live in tells us that a great career and financial success will bring us happiness.  Many of us work forty to sixty hour weeks to pay the bills, with the end goal of retirement dangling like a golden carrot in front of us.   Is there anything wrong with that?

No.

And YES.

The problem is, if you wait to LIVE until you retire you will miss out on the very essence of LIFE.

When I retire I will __________ .(fill in the blank with your own dreams)
How many times have you heard of people retiring, finally having the time to do the things they never had time to do only to have no life left to do it?

Because there are no guarantees.

So, in light of that, these are my 10 reasons you should do it NOW.  What is 'IT'?
'IT' is whatever it is that puts a fire in you; a hobby, travel, writing, taking more time with your spouse/family.

In short; YOUR BUCKET LIST.

10 Reasons You Shouldn't Wait Until You Retire

1) You might not get to retire.

Maybe you work for a company for twenty years and them, bam! They go under.  That pension you were working for? Gone.

2) You might not be healthy by the time you retire.

The incidence of life altering diseases makes a steady incline the older we get.  Not trying to bum you out, just giving you the straight goods.  No one wants to climb Kilimanjaro with a cane or a walking frame now do they?

3) Life might be shorter than you think.

We have no guarantee how long we have to roam this beautiful planet.  I wish we still lived 900 years like they did in the early bible days but according to Genesis the maximum we get is 120 and the average is about 75, and given the way most of us treat our bodies, about 50 of those are healthy.

4) Doing the things you dream about gives you courage, confidence and excitement that you can pass along to encourage others.

I have NEVER regretted following a dream, pursuing a goal. EVER.  See? Now I'm encouraging you!

5) Life experiences make us HAPPIER.

Living life outside the box (even if it's once in a while, doesn't have to mean selling everything and moving to another continent like us) just makes for a fuller life experience, opens us up to new people, new surroundings and broadens our minds which is never a bad thing.

Taking risks is scary but growth doesn't come from stagnating, unless you want to grow mold.

6) Your life is a gift, so open it and USE it.

We've been given the gift of seeing, touching and feeling a world around us.  Often our fears and anxieties inhibit us from jumping off the hamster wheel to try something different or pursue a goal.  That's like being given a gift and never opening it.  What a waste!  Open the gift, see what's laying hidden in your heart to do/see and then start taking steps to walk it out.

7) Investing in your family while your family is young will change the course of your lives.

Invest.  We hear talk of investing all the time.  Real estate is a good, safe investment.  RRSP's, mutual funds.  What about people?  What sort of return do we get when we invest in the people closest to us?  It pays dividends and it's risk free.  Turn off your iPads, iPhones and TV's.  Take a day off of school and work and spend the time really being together.  Those little people who can run us ragged and suck the energy out of us are only going to want to be around us for so long, but I bet you money it will be longer if we show them they are WORTH IT...that they mean more to us than the 'things' we are spending time at work to pay for.

8) The 'stuff' we work to pay for isn't really important.  

That's right, you heard me.  Take a look around your house/apartment.  Really, look around you. Make a list of the things you ACTUALLY need to sustain LIFE.  Not a very big list is it?  Nuff said.
Spending less time working now might mean less stuff but you can't take your stuff with you, the memories you create with those you love leave a legacy long after you retire.

9) Doing more stuff means having less stuff-that's a good thing!

 Ever have a garage sale? Or cleaned out your basement, taken a load of stuff to the local charity shop?  There's a feeling of elation, a weight being lifted as you drive away and it isn't just because your car is lighter, it's because all that stuff was weighing you down.  Ever go camping?  When you're camping life is about three main things.  Sleeping, eating and hanging out.  Live like you're camping.  Simplicity brings a certain feeling of serenity.  If you are busy doing 'it' whatever it is, you are less likely to have as much stuff because you're busy doing instead of shopping.

10) Live a life without regrets.

A woman who spent years working in palliative care made a list of the things patients most often said they regretted at the end of their life (you can read the full article)

I have highlighted them:

1) I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not what others expected of me
2) I wish I hadn't worked so hard
3) I wish I had the courage to express my feelings
4) I wish I stayed in touch with my friends
5) I wish I had let myself be happier.

Print that list.  Put it on your mirror in the bathroom, your fridge, the homescreen on your cell phone.  Look at it every day and at the end of your days may you be able to say all of those things minus the 'I wish'.