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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.  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 (

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. 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?


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.


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'.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Hope of Heaven

What is hope?

Hope defined:

Hope: a person or thing in which expectations are centred

Expectation defined:

Expectation: the act or state of looking forward to or anticipating.

Hope is not based on something that might happen it is based on something that will happen.

In winter we have the hope of spring.  Despite how dark and cold it is we know that spring is coming.( Read Blog: Promise of Spring)

If you have ever lost a loved one you undoubtably understand the feeling of longing.  Longing to see them 'just one more time'.

What if you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that you would?  That the time would come for you to be reunited with all of the loved ones you've been separated from? That it wouldn't be just for a moment but for an eternity.

Would your suffering and pain be eased? Would it be easier to part with those you are losing?

That is the hope of heaven.

It's an expectation, a hope, the promise of what is to come.  Spring always comes no matter how dark and cold and long the winter has been, the hope of spring is a promise.

Having that assurance, that hope of an eternity with loved ones, without pain or sorrow doesn't cost a penny.  It's free and it's yours for the taking, you just have to ask for it.

"God, I want your promise, your hope in my life, I open my heart to you".

It's just that easy.  What are you waiting for?

He's waiting for you.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

"I Don't Know Where You Get This From"

It was fifteen years ago this September and I was standing in Pearson International Airport surrounded by fourteen of my closest friends and family.  The day had finally come, I was headed for Africa.

As my friends hugged me and told me they'd miss me, we cried and I wondered if I wasn't losing my mind.

Then it came to say good-bye to my Dad.  We had had some painful years between us since the loss of my mother and his wife.  Finding our way without her, my anger often found its way toward him.  But those days were behind us, I had said my apologies and we were on solid ground.

As I approached him, he opened his familiar arms and embraced me in one of his bear hugs that momentarily squeezes the air from my lungs.  Then, pulling away he put his hands on my shoulders and said, "I have no idea where you get this from".

The truth was I didn't either.  He and my mother had done very little traveling in their thirty four years together.  Six children puts a bit of a damper on the travel budget.  Not to mention my mothers fear of highways, bi-ways and most modes of transportation.

The thing that drove me to Africa was a desire to leave no page unturned, to leave no dreams left un-lived, no regrets. I was also going out of a desire to help, to save, to make a difference in peoples lives.

As I sit here, drumming up memories and spinning them together into something I hope people will want to read, I took a break and scrolled through Facebook and stared at my Dad's picture that is currently my profile picture.  It was taken the year I was born, 1972.  He had just been accepted to the Fire Department as a paid employee after being a volunteer.  I look at his kind eyes, the same colour as mine, the ones that I only had to meet for a moment when I wanted something.  He couldn't say no.

But more than just the memories of the soft hearted Dad I have been blessed to have all these years, I'm struck by something he said just a few months ago.  The doctor assigned to his case came for her first visit and she wanted to get to know him.  She asked questions about his family, his life and his career, and what gave him life.  His answer to that came quickly, 'Helping people.  If someone needs help, I want to be there'.

So Dad, fifteen years later I can give you the answer to that question in the airport.  Who do I get it from Dad?  The need to do what I believe in because I know it will help others?

I get it from you.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Just Start Writing

For the past ten or eleven years since I came back from Africa, my Dad has been encouraging me to write a book about our time in Africa.  Shaking a finger at me, hand on my shoulder, big brown eyes looking straight into mine he'd say,
'You need to write, just start, before you forget'.

'I know, I know' I would say.  But then I wouldn't.

Then my husband hopped on the bandwagon with him.  The two of them tag teaming me and cheering me on.

'You need to write, Jen.  Just start', my husband would say.

But do I have what it takes?  Do I have the stuff, the courage and the ability to write a book? Not to mention I cringe just saying it, it feels...arrogant saying I'm writing a book, or worse yet my 'memoirs' which sounds like I should be saying it while wearing a smoking jacket holding a pipe and speaking with a posh English accent.

Aside from my lacking confidence, there's also the issue that writing my story isn't just a collection of interesting monkey tales of our journey into the jungle.  There's a much bigger picture involved. What took me to Africa in the first place is a big part of the story, and the journey I was on before, during and after are all part of it.

The scary thing is that it involves not only digging into my less than 'Christian' history, but it also means putting it on paper and then hopefully getting it published.  Like letting the world read my diary.  Gulp.
I could face judgment, ridicule and more.

So why do it?

Firstly, because I feel that not only are my Dad and my husband pressing me to do it, now God is in on it too.

'Just start writing,' He said when I took my concerns and fears and doubts about this idea to Him.

Secondly because if my story speaks to even one person who feels the way I did, who's making the kind of choices I made, if it causes them to think that maybe they are worthy of so much more; the unconditional love of a saviour, then it's worth all of that risk and more.

Lastly, because I want my Dad to know that I took his advice, that I'm going to go for it and see where it leads.

So I have started to 'just write' as often as I can.  Tapping away at my keyboard as the Lord brings memories, thoughts and feelings to mind.  When I get a quiet half an hour without kids, as I sit with my Dad, I just write.

I've amassed over 5,000 words so far, a prologue and three chapters.  A drop in the bucket.

It's a daunting task to say the very least and it means revisiting some sleeping dogs that I would like to leave snoring and some painful memories that cause tears to blur my eyes as I type.

But, as I have been encouraged by my Dad, my husband and my heavenly father, I will 'just start writing'.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Life's Ugly Gashes; The Bob Ross Analogy

For anyone who was watching TV during the 70's or 80's you know who Bob Ross is.  For those of you who don't, let me enlighten you.  Bob Ross was a televised painter who, in thirty minutes, would take a blank canvas and with a combination of putty knives and paint brushes bring to life a meadow, a mountain scape, a lakeside sunrise.

Bob Ross had a soothing voice like warm honey, and as you watched you were lulled into a near sleep trance, as green blobs were transformed into 'happy little trees'.

But then there was always that moment when he would take his largest putty knife or biggest brush and seemingly destroy the whole painting by scratching a big jagged black line on the canvas.

Now you're awake.

"What the h-e-double hockey sticks is he THINKING? He just RUINED the whole thing!!"

At that moment, I was usually annoyed with him.  Why did he have to take that perfectly good painting, that lovely lake scene or meandering path and make a mess of it?

This is where the analogy part comes in.

Sometimes, life is like that Bob Ross painting, everything looks beautiful, the sun is shining, and you are in a peaceful, trance-like place in life.

And then BAM!

Something happens that snaps you out of your slumber, feels like a giant black gash, messes up the beautiful tranquility and you can't make sense as to WHY.

It's at that point when I was watching Bob's show that part of me wanted to shut the TV off.  I would actually get a bit angry with the honey voiced Bob.

Like he didn't know what he was doing.  But of course he did, because he's the painter.  He knew when the canvas was just white and blank that the gash was going to happen.

The way I see it, our normal day to day unhindered life is like that initial painting on the canvas, serene and beautiful, 'happy little trees' dotting the shoreline of a glass-like calm lake.  And the painter, the creator of that life is God.

And then BAM!

The big black gash in the canvas, the thing that rattles you to your core, seems to 'ruin' your landscape.  Whether it's the loss of a job, a house or worse yet, a loved one-it feels like God has taken his big putty knife covered in black paint and put a big ugly gash down the middle of what we thought was an already perfect picture.

Although we can't turn life off like a TV, we can choose to get stuck, push the pause button.  Fixate on the gash.  We become stuck in a negative and downward cycle of bitterness because life has handed us a 'raw deal'.

Back to our friend Bob.  If you waited, and watched, he would take that horrible black jagged line and using one of his big brushes start dabbing away, just blotches at first that would then start to take shape.  Taking another brush he would add touches of yellow and white, light glinting off the boughs and suddenly an almost three dimensional evergreen tree would appear on the canvas, giving the scene a depth and life that makes it jump off the page.  The whole scene is so much richer now, that the previous landscape almost seems flat, and dull.

Huh.  I had no idea it could look BETTER.

Romans 8:28
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

There are going to be gashes and big black lines in our peaceful landscapes.  Lost jobs, lost houses, lost loved ones, illnesses.  And at first it's going to feel like things have been ruined, changed, will never be the same;  and they won't be.  But that doesn't mean they can't be good, or if you can imagine, BETTER.

When I was 18 and my mother died I couldn't imagine how such a devastating loss could possibly improve my life.  I was young, I still NEEDED  mother.  There were so many things she was going to miss in my life.  I missed her so much that it physically hurt.  I was so lost.  But as the 23 years have passed since that 'gash' was put onto the canvas of my life I have seen so many GOOD things come from it.  My family is a tighter knit unit.  I wouldn't have traveled to Africa, met my husband, lived a thousand other experiences that I refused to let slip by me because at an early age I was blessed with the knowledge of how fleeting life could be.  Yes, blessed.

And ultimately, it led me to God,  to an unconditional love the likes of which I had never encountered.

These days I feel like I'm surrounded by these 'gashes' in my own life and in the lives of those around me.  Cancer, death, sickness and tragedy seems to be everywhere.

God, the creator, is never surprised by the sad and tragic events in our lives.  He knew before you came into the world that those 'gashes' would happen, but He also knew what His plan for them was, how he would add colour and light and texture to what was just a flat black ugly line to turn it into something beautiful.  


The choice we have is whether or not to get stuck staring at the ugly gash, or to pull back and look at the big picture, hand the paint brush and the canvas back over to the artist and allow Him to turn it into something amazing that enriches our lives in ways we couldn't begin to imagine.

The choice is ours.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Wedding and Baptism

Brittany& Steve with My Parents
Amongst the heartache of all that is going on we have had moments of immense joy.  Two weeks ago, my niece Brittany and her fiancĂ© Steve said their vows and committed their lives to one another in my brother's backyard so that my Dad could be there.
Releasing balloons in memory loved one

The sky was blue, the bride was beautiful and there wasn't a dry eye amongst us, least of all me who was walking them through the ceremony.

Brittany and her three sons, Jamie, Xavier and Cole

It was an idillic afternoon with children playing a dog frolicking and all of us just enjoying the sweet moments of life together, putting aside everything else if just for a few hours.

Luke is Baptized

This past Sunday, our son made public a big decision he has made.  A few months ago he started saying that he would like to be baptized, "Mom, Jesus saved my life, I want to be baptized".  We talked a lot about what this meant for him, that it was a big deal to commit your life to him.  After many talks and prayers, and meeting with our children's pastor at our home church here in Cambridge, we all decided he was ready.

I love that our church does a full submersion baptism, it's dramatic, it's wet and it changes your physical situation.  It's the way John the Baptism baptized Jesus.  I also love that it's a choice you make, not one your parents make for you.  There is a saying that God does  not have any grandchildren, just because Phil and I made the choice to follow Jesus doesn't automatically mean Luke and Faith will.  Of course, ultimately this is what I want for them, I know after living 30 years without faith that it's not a path I would chose for them.

So, the fact that Luke has chosen at this young age to follow Him makes us extremely happy and proud of him.

You can see his testimony and baptism for yourself here

Nothing Normal About This New Normal

I think we've forgotten what normal looks like.  We live in a trailer.  No two days are the same.  My Dad is paralyzed, bed ridden and in pain on a daily basis.  My siblings and I have developed a schedule to cover the days so he's not alone, we help the personal support worker (PSW) when she needs to roll him to change his dressings and give him a sponge bath.  Every time I hug him his once strong frame seems a bit smaller.  He grimaces when he thinks we're not looking.  I cry in the car on the way home when I know he can't see me.  We're all trying to be strong for each other when inside it's hurting all of us.

There's nothing normal about this new normal.

In the midst of this we are trying to create some kind of routine and fun for our kids, Phil is trying to fit in some work, we are trying to visit our friends and we also need to do some fundraising.

I spent my fathers day evening with my Dad, my last Father's Day with him.  Picking a card I stood in the isle at Walmart tears pooling in my eyes as I read all the sentiments, many of them ending with 'I don't know what I would do without you in my life'.  I went with one that just told him how much he meant to me.

I arrived and we watched golf together, something he was able to do up until his fall last year.  He misses it.  He misses his wife, they only spend a few hours a day together since they live apart.  He misses being able to move his legs.  His pain in constant but managed with morphine.

The PSW came to get him ready for bed and I help her roll him slowly, so slowly and I could see from his face the immense pain he is in.  She bathed him and changed his briefs, we chatted about her family, she is Portuguese.  My Dad took deep breathes to deal with the pain.  I stroked his now short hair that I cut just this week and he asked me to keep doing it, it felt good.  I did it as long as he wanted, would do it all day if it would give him even a bit of a reprieve from the pain.

Nope, nothing is normal.

I realize I haven't been writing as much as I normally do.  I have journaled most of my life, since I was 13.  The period of time when my mom had cancer is a big blank spot in my journal.  Writing about my pain forces me to feel it, to face it, to make sense of it in order to put words onto a page.  So, avoidance is a coping mechanism I guess.

The question is still asked, 'How long are you here for?' and I still don't  have an answer.  The doctors gave my Dad 6-9 months 'if he's lucky'.  That was almost 3 months are here until he no longer is.

I recently had a very difficult conversation with my kids.

"Mommy, how long are we staying in Canada"
"I don't know baby, we're here until Papa goes to be with Jesus"
"Mommy, I don't want Papa to die"
"I know baby, either do I"

There has been a lot of sickness, and death in their little lives already, and I wish that I could hide them away from it, protect their innocence.  But I can't, what I can do is hold them when they cry, answer the endless questions the best I can and guide them towards the only one who can truly bring comfort and peace.

We are grateful for the time we have, grateful for the large family that can care for him, grateful for all your thoughts and prayers.  Thank you.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Leaving Brazil

It's three weeks since we boarded our first flight back to Canada.  The connections were tight (less than two hours), flights were delayed and we literally had to run between flights (with luggage) to make sure we got back.  I was anxious to be home, to see my Dad, I really didn't want to be delayed.

Pushing much lighter luggage than when we left, 'team Snell' made it to Toronto in 22 hours.  We were exhausted physically and emotionally, the weeks before we left were wrought with tension waiting as tests were done to find out about my Dad's health.

Saying to good-bye to those we had just begun to know and love in Brazil was harder than I thought.  Funny how leaving a place makes you look at your relationships a little more closely.  As much as Brazil isn't 'home' yet for me, I realized as I was packing and hugging and wiping tears (both mine and of others) that roots were beginning to go deep.

Lorrane and Faith 

One of our first friends, a twelve year old girl named 'Lorrane' (pronounced Lohanee) came into our house a few days before we left, saying she just found out we were leaving.  She flung her arms around my waist and squeezed hard as tears streamed down her face "I will miss you guys so much, you're so nice and I love you!" It was overwhelming to see her obvious grief at the thought of our absence there and it brought me to tears (not hard these days).

Another moment before we left that meant so much was during our last church service.  They had a time during worship when everyone goes around to say hello to each other.  When we first arrived, I saw a little girl who was so adorable, my smiles to her were met with suspicion and often a scowl.  There was an obvious distrust of adults.  Over the months that we've been there, she has slowly warmed to me, and especially to Phil whom she has wrapped around her little finger.  During this particular worship song I was making my way around the church and then spotted her.  I bent down and opened my arms for a hug and she jumped into them wrapping her little arms around my neck as I spun her around.  I put her back down and she opened her little hand, offering me a gum ball.  I don't think she realized how much that little gum ball meant to me, I had cracked through her tough exterior. 

Since we've returned it has been an overwhelming sense of love and God's presence and provision.  We have a complete peace about having pressed the 'pause' button on our work in Brazil and there has been nothing but confirmation since we arrived that we are exactly where God wants us right now.  I'm so filled with opposing emotions most days.  Joy, gratitude, grief and pain. It's truly an odd place to be in.  We are trying to live moment by moment day by day, praying for God's grace in all of it.

Mountains and Valleys

Writing has not been coming easy to me these days, hence the four
week hiatus since I've posted.  I've tried to write and have three other posts sitting in 'drafts'.  If this were the age of paper and typewriters, I'd be banging away on the keys, under the glow of an overhead light surrounded by crumpled balls of paper.

Instead the curser blinks, words spill out and then get erased.

The trouble is, a lot of my writing is poured out through my heart, and right now my heart is a bit of a tattered mess so, when I can bring myself to the keyboard and try to get to a place where I can connect with all that's going on, my mashed up heart seems to be scrambling the words.

So please, bare with me.

We are back in Canada and it's almost like we never left.  If it weren't for the pictures and the messages from friends in Brazil asking, 'when will you come back, we miss you',  I would be inclined to think I had just dreamt the craziest dream.

My Dad was in the hospital when I came back and that first reunion (see video below) was so good and so hard.  We both were in tears, for so many reasons.

Taking Communion with my Dad
Not long after our return we made the decision, as a family, to have my Dad transferred to my brother's house where we would all (I have 6 siblings and in-laws) work to take care of Dad along with the help of nurses and personal support workers.  It was a big decision, especially for my brother and his wife who have transformed their living room into my Dad's room. But it was also what we all wanted, to have him in a home environment where we can come and go and spend time with him.

I have such conflicting 'mountains and valleys' feelings these days.  We are overwhelmed with gratitude for all of those who have rushed to help us, to put clothes together for our kids, to
offer us a place to stay, to feed us etc., that my brother is providing us with the trailer so that we have our own space for the time that we are here, for the Doctor who took the time to get to know my Dad today, and for the fact that I recorded her conversation with my Dad, for the way God is just pouring his mercy and his grace over us every day.

Our home while we're in Canada!
The valleys are the days like today.  My Dad had a fever and was just not himself.  I sat and watched him sleep, and mumble in his fevered delirium and fought the tears, a battle I lose every time.  Watching him slowly slip away, unable to use the limbs which were once so strong his hugs took my breath away is heartbreaking and today I let the waves of grief wash over me as we drove away.

I walked this road before, a much younger woman of eighteen, with my mother.  The difference between then and now is night and day.  Although the heartbreak and sadness are still there, the hopelessness is not.  I have a hope that is eternal.  I have a saviour who strengthens me, and who carries me on the days I can't carry myself. Today was one of those days.

As for the question of how long we are going to be here, God has the answer to that.  I know He's all over this.  So, for now we take things day by day, minute by minute.  A crash course in living in the now.

We do appreciate all of your prayers and love and support, thank you.

Video: Reunion With Dad

Friday, April 12, 2013

Deep Wounds, Deepening Faith

I've started writing this blog about 4 times.  But it takes me to a place I don't want to go and so when it starts getting hard I close the computer and walk away.  Here I go again.

Ok, it's the next day, I'm back.

In four, make that three, days we will make the trip back to Canada.  This past week we received the news we dreaded to hear.  The cancer is terminal, stage 4.

Despite the fact that I think in my belly I've known this was coming for months now, the reality of reading those words hit me hard.

Palliative.  Comfort measures.  Not going home.

I cried.  I sobbed.

Lord, be like balm to my wounds, cover them with your sacred ointment, carry me when I can no longer walk, make a soft place for us to lie down.

One might be inclined to think during this time of heartache, and after the other three deaths we have experienced this year that I might be tempted to shake an angry fist at God, to distance myself from him for 'allowing' all of this suffering in my life.

The opposite, however, is happening.  My faith is deepening to new incredible depths.

Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted...Matthew 5:4

I think I feel God's presence in my life more now than I ever have.  I can almost feel the weight of his arm on my shoulder as He walks this path along side me, and on the days when I just can't walk, I feel him lift me up.

His provisions for us have been overwhelming.  'You need a car? Here's 3 to choose from! You need a place to live, here's 3 to choose from! Need clothes for your kids-here's a bunch'. His generosity knows no limits.

A time like this can do all kinds of crazy things to a family.  Especially one with 6 siblings 5 spouses and many children with opinions and feelings.  But what's happening in mine is like a purse string; the tension of the situation, the anguish we're all feeling is pulling on us but pulling us closer together.  Thank you Jesus for causing so many children to 'happen' to my parents, it definitely wasn't their plan, but it was yours and it was perfect.  I don't know what I would do without all of them to go through this with.

I've never had such conflicting feelings.  Those of grief and joy co-existing in my heart simultaneously.

Every felt and spiritual need is being met and more.  My cup runneth over.

I leave you with this song, written and performed by a very dear friend Kris MacQueen.  It about sums up how I'm feeling right now: