Sunday, November 18, 2018

Great Love

On this day, 26 years ago, I went to "work" delivering this bouncing boy. Labour started about 4:30 a.m. and he was finally born somewhere around 8:30 p.m. I worked overtime for the next 17 years to  deliver my love to him and make sure he's healthy and where he needs to be.

He's a man now, and has added to my life exponentially in countless ways. I still send my love in countless ways, pray for him daily, but he handles his own health and appointment calendar just fine. His is the call I will always take, no matter the time, and the hardest part of my life is that we live a thousand kilometres apart. Although, if I lived in the same city, it's quite possible with our mutually busy schedules that we might not see each other much more than we do now.

I'm so proud of him. Permit me to beam. A first-year grade four teacher, a gifted musician with a published EP of original music, husband to a beautiful and equally gifted woman, master to a chocolate doodle who I'm proud to claim as my fur-grand. He has a strong, caring, fun-loving group of friends and family around him and is a killer game player, teaching us a new board game or card game at every holiday gathering. He has his father's tenacity, my love of words, and he cares deeply about his students, especially those who may have special needs.

Today on your birthday, Andrew, I give you the same blessing I have for several years: a time worn, faithful blessing given by the sons of Aaron to the children of Israel:

The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

This year, I add my personal life verse:

I am confident of this very thing: that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.

Happy birthday, beloved son.

Photo 1: Personal collection
Photo 2: Patchwork Media

Friday, November 16, 2018

Remember Whose You Are

She calls out to me as I dash out of the house. It is a blessing, benediction, warning, prayer, and goodbye. It is intentional, and it goes far beyond the fact that I am her child, that I belong to this family and we have certain requirements for behavior. It holds a far deeper meaning that touches on my conduct, purpose, and identity. It takes root deep in my mind and heart.

My mother's words echo at almost every departure: "Remember Whose you are."

It is more than who I am. It is the deepest core of my identity.
I belong to God.
I am God's child.
I am beloved by God.
I was bought with a price.
(more here)

Because of his love, God sent Jesus, his only begotten son, to die for me, to give eternal life.
Therefore, I matter.
I have a purpose.
How I live matters.
What I think matters.

My life has been exchanged for the life of Christ. I am a standard bearer for the name of my Saviour. Through his strength, I can reflect the love and light of the One who is my Life.
How I treat others.
What I contribute to the world.
The attitudes I cultivate.
How I steward my talents and resources.

Every good thing I am and have is a gift from the Father of Lights who is a good, good father. One who gives good gifts to his children. I am his.


I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith (by trust) in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Photo: Mom and I, 1959, from personal collection

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

God Doesn't Give Answers, He Gives Himself

Two quotes showed up on my Facebook memory feed from this day in 2013. They require a bit of concentration, contemplation and re-reading to grasp the point: 

A Predictable God?
Before we start to look at (the book of Job), we must face up to a truth about ourselves. The "god" we think we need is faithful in ways we understand and expect, and he expresses faithfulness in the ways we choose. There is such a "god"; in fact there are many of them, constructed of small snippets of Bible verses glued together with human reason and need. This "god" always moves in predictable ways, according to the given formula. His faithfulness always feels good. It almost always ends in bankable results. But this is not the God of the Bible.
(excerpt from "Joy in the Journey" by Michael Card)

Words Without Knowledge
It is out of the whirlwind that Job first hears God say, "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?" (Job 42:3). It is out of the absence of God that God makes himself present, and it is not just the whirlwind that stands for his absence, not just the storm and chaos of the world that knock into a cocked hat all man's attempts to find God in the world, but God is absent also from all Job's words about God, and from the words of his comforters, because they are words without knowledge that obscure the issue of God by trying to define him as present in ways and places where he is not present, to define him as moral order, as the best answer man can give to the problem of his life. God is not an answer man can give, God says. God himself does not give answers. He gives himself, and into the midst of the whirlwind of his absence gives himself.  (excerpt from "Telling the Truth" by Frederick Buechner)

Photo: Neil Zeller
Text added on WordSwag app

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Wedding Day (Part 2)

This is a long-overdue continuance of my memories around my only son's wedding. For those who are stopping by for the first time, you can find the background, preliminaries, and photos of everything else at these links:

I Want to Remember These Moments (The bridal shower) 
Re-Remembering (The week leading up to the wedding)
The Wedding Day (Part 1)
My personal Photo Album of it All (with commentary and captions)

Arriving at the venue, we park under the trees at the far end, knowing the forecasted heat this day will make the car an Easy Bake Oven. We test the temperature in the reception hall and I get a little nervous, knowing there will be a lot of warm bodies in there later on, but by the time the dancing starts, there will be darkness and the cool breezes off the mountain.

The clubhouse is adjacent to the golf course. It's flanked on the south by a beautiful waterfall, and on the north by a stunning view of the 9th green and the mountains. The venue for the ceremony is on an outdoor platform overlooking this view. I nervously rehearse the song we are to sing during the ceremony as a quartet with my brothers. It is a song our dad wrote on the occasion of my parents' 25th wedding anniversary. If you'd like to read the full lyrics and hear a snippet from another occasion, click here. But why so nervous, you may ask? For all the years I've sung, it seems I can never render a flawless performance and of all days, I'd like to get it right. Perfect or not, this day is not about me, so I keep smiling when I glitch and move on.

It's a near record-hot day, so we try to stay in the air conditioned pro-shop as long as possible, then as the ceremony start time approaches, we move to the outdoor shade and drink lots of water while we waited for our time to be seated.  Finally the time comes and I am escorted by my dear son, with Henry to sit on the front row as mother of the groom. I'm at peace, yet excited for all that is to come. Everyone looks so stunning and everything is just so beautiful.

Except the heat, which can't be helped. And the platform, which was so hot it could burn your feet if your soles were too thin, which mine weren't. And the blazing sun, which, thankfully, I could shield from my sandalled feet with the long drape of my skirt. Those poor men in their suits. I pray no one passes out. (The things I remember!)

After the mothers are seated, the music begins, the handsome men arrive, the lovely '40s retro bridesmaids, and then the curtains are opened to the most beautiful bride. I watch Andrew's face, and see all that a mother longs to see on her son's wedding day: he is totally captivated, moved deeply with emotion, and has a significant twitch on the right side of his face that belies his otherwise calm exterior.

This is the moment he has waited for since he first realized he had feelings for Rebecca so many years ago. Everything is as it should be. All is right with the world.

A special item is wired into Rebecca's bouquet: a small framed photo of Andrew's dad, their favorite photo from our visit to Venice. He's feeding the birds in the piazza and totally rocking his aviator sunglasses. "We wanted him to be with us at the ceremony," Rebecca said.

As it should always be.

The ceremony seems flawless, I really don't notice anything going wrong except me jumping up a little too soon for the quartet. Pastor Brad, Andrew's uncle, does a superb job officiating. I suppose if there are glitches, there is laughter to lighten the moment and no one is judging.

Then it's over and it's on to photos under the shade of all the family groupings. The photographers are well organized and we don't have to chase anyone down, so once that's done the Really Cool Thing happens: a helicopter lands to scoop up Andrew & Rebecca. They go with their photographer to the top of the mountain for an intimate portrait session. How stunning!

While they are doing this, the rest of us have hor d'oeuvres and drinks on the patio at the clubhouse. I was honored that our long-time friends Cheryl and Arnie Miller are in attendance. It is also their anniversary! How sweet they wanted to celebrate it with Andrew & Rebecca. Then Henry and I zip back to our vacation rental to nap and he changed out of his suit into cooler clothes.

The reception is filled with good food, many toasts, lovely decor, and much laughter. Rebecca's mother has made traditional Danish wedding cake. Speeches are given by the maid of honour and best man, the parents of the bride. Many tears.

Then it is my turn. The mother of the groom speech. I had written and re-written this for days prior, still editing on my phone even while sitting at the reception. I had practiced reading it and timed it, wanting to honour the 5-7 minute timeframe they had given me, fully aware of everyone's desire to not have a long program and get into the music and dancing. So, at the last minute, I decided to cut out the middle section about my remembrances. It's highly unlikely any person sitting there that day would have minded too much if I'd taken another five minutes to tell the highlights of my memories of life with Andrew, but in that moment, it felt self-indulgent. After all, it is their day, the two of them, not mine. And it's always better to leave the audience wanting more than to give them so much that they want to leave. So, if you would like to read the entire speech, including the memories I didn't say out loud at the reception, you can click here to read the blog post for his 23rd birthday in which I include the entire original transcript.

Andrew and Rebecca had asked me to put together a "memory" video to show at the reception, but the venue wasn't set up properly for projection so we bypassed that and moved on to music and dancing. You can view the video at this link.

Andrew and Rebecca's first dance was a rehearsed, fun, performance that showed their partnership and their love for each other. When I find the video I took of it, I'll link it here. Father and daughter dance, then Andrew invites me to the mother and son dance. I don't know why but I hadn't thought this far. I don't really dance, I just sway. He taught me a few steps on the fly and I loved the experience. So sweet, he finally said, "Ok, Mom, you can stop looking at your feet and look at me." I hope I do that for the rest of my life.

Julia, Rebecca's sister and maid of honor, sang a song with the band. They had two or three bands switch out through the night. Bill, Rebecca's dad play the drums with his band, and all Andrew and Rebecca's friends are having a great time.

The night ends with a fun farewell to the couple, then we all begin to wind down, sitting under the stars in the cool evening breeze, then go back to the rental house to play board games with my brothers and their wives till we can't stay awake any longer.

Rebecca and Andrew open gifts at the house the next day and fly off to Mexico for their honeymoon.

I'm sure I've left so much out, but now that I'm blogging every day, you never know when I'll remember something and talk about it again... Subscribe to these blog posts in the right hand margin so you can get them in your email in box.

Please feel free to click all the links I've highlighted above and thanks for wandering with me through the memory lane of a mother's love for her only son.

Not as Those Without Hope

It was the wee hours of the morning in mid-January when the phone rang at 3056 West Madison. Frank Nickel answered and heard the anxious voice of his oldest son, Charles, on the other end of the line.

"The baby's started coming, one foot is already out, what do I do?"

"I'm on my way," Frank said.

After instructing his son to call for an ambulance, Frank rushed to Charles' home, arriving before the ambulance did. Together they struggled to deliver the child, but since it was a breech birth, it was very difficult and took much time. I do not remember if the baby was born at home, in the ambulance ride or at the hospital.

For two days, Angela Kay, fought for life in the newborn nursery at the hospital. She had fluid in her lungs, inhaled during the extended delivery. I stood at the nursery window and wept, watching her little chest heave involuntarily in shuddering spasms as she gasped for air. I begged God to spare her, but her lungs were too compromised.

I listened as my family went through the various stages of grief, anger and blame. Why didn't the doctor know the baby was breech? Why did it take so long for the ambulance to arrive? Why were the ambulance attendants not better trained in labour and delivery?

My parents were heartbroken, not only for the loss of a granddaughter, but for the pain brought to bear on their first son and his wife. They knew the truths of scripture, but this was the first untimely death of a direct family member. But it was not the last.

I had just turned 16. I don't remember anyone speaking to me directly about this loss. I don't even remember if there was a funeral. I was present with the family when I wasn't at school (did I even go to school during this time?) but I knew nothing about dealing with grief.

Mom and Dad were already reeling from a fallout with their son, Jack, who had cut off contact with them in the prior year. I witnessed first-hand the anguish, heartbreak and grief my parents experienced as a result of the severed relationship. They prayed daily for all their children and extended family, but spent many more hours in supplication for Jack, and for guidance in how to appeal for reconciliation.

But Jack was out of touch. He had enlisted in the Marines and told them not to contact him. The enlistment was a further blow for our parents, raised as conscientious objectors who are opposed to war because of deeply held convictions against killing.

As you can read in yesterday's post, Jack became the second family member to face an untimely death, less than two months after Angela. How does a family heal from such devastating loss?

Yesterday, I found my father's answer to that question in his own words, written April 2, 1974 to those who had expressed condolences:

Dear Friends,
"Perplexed but not in despair." (2 Cor. 4:8)
Please accept our sincere thanks for your expressions of sympathy. The painful losses of Angela Kay, new-born daughter of Charles and Carol, on January 16, and then our third son, Jack Daniel, on March 2, have both resulted in the free-flowing of a fountain of tears. However, we have not questioned God's faithfulness or compassion. His Word has become more relevant and His presence more real, as the "peace that passeth understanding" has filtered through the shadows and settled as dew on our troubled minds. We are told to "lay up treasure in heaven." Now God Himself, has chosen to "lay up" two choice treasures for us. Need we say that heaven is nearer since they are there? How precious is the assurance of seeing them again!
Angela Kay died as a result of breathing complications after somewhat less than two days of life. She was a beautiful baby of nearly nine pounds. We do not know what caused Jack's car to leave the highway and strike a tree. He would have been 26 on the day of his funeral. His testimony for the Lord through the years, both in life and service, has blessed countless lives, both in our nation and in Canada,--also in many foreign countries by recording. His clear tenor voice thrilled us again and again, and his pleasant personality attracted many, wherever he went. He often quoted Psalm 16:11, "Thou wilt show me the path of life; in Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore." His wife, Karen, resides with her parents presently at Enid, Oklahoma, and will possibly take up further educational training.
Your prayers, and expression of love have meant so much. May God bless you for them.
The Frank Nickel Family

I also consider how my parents weren't aware or able to help me grieve while they were overcome with their own grief. I saw more "brave face" from my parents than I did sadness. I do not doubt that they grieved much in private, away from my eyes. So as an adult, through the recent reading and research on grieve and through participation in a GriefShare support group, I've learned the critical importance of giving myself permission to sit with the feelings of sadness as they rise.

Because I believe in the resurrection, I do not grieve as those who have no hope. But I still grieve. One of the ways I find healing is taking time to think, pray, journal or even blog about my losses with tenderness and honesty. I am no longer in despair, and after I publish this, I will go on with my life, which is filled with wonder, laughter and peace with the occasional bouts of sadness. But I have spent the past six years going through a number of steps to get to this point.

My encouragement to you, if bereavement comes to your family, is this: don't squelch your path back to wholeness by ignoring your grief. Take the time you need to express your grief in a safe place, a support group, a grief counsellor, reading good books (I've collected a list for you here). But while you are doing so, please also be aware of the younger ones around you who don't know how to do this and may not understand what is happening. It's important to give them comfort and reassurance that is age-appropriate, and to let them see your sadness.

If you've been through this, what other things have helped you process your grief in a healthy way?

Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash
Text added by Joyce Rempel on Word Swag

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day 
is splattered with memories, 
festooned with pride, 
saluted with respect 
and soaked with tears.

On this Remembrance Day, I honor the memory of my brother Jack, who served in the Marines.

Jack was my favorite brother, primarily because he gave me time and attention. This was hard to come by in a house full of people, mostly boys. As the youngest child and only girl, I was often left out of activities, or at least it seemed that way.

Jack would tell me stories, fascinating stories he seemed to make up out of thin air. Stories I remember to this day, of children exploring old houses and caves, getting lost and rescued, with much tension, drama, and fun in between.

But all was not sunshine.

As the youngest child I was often privy to conversations I probably shouldn't have heard. There came a day, after Jack had been married several years, when there was a final falling-out between Dad and Jack.

In the coming year, Jack joined the Marines and went to basic training, winning every award or challenge available. He was determined to succeed as one of "the few, the proud".

He was appointed to officer training school and had a one-week leave before he had to report. He went home to his wife in Oklahoma, bought new tires for the car and took it for a test drive. He didn't make it home.

It was a Saturday morning when we got the news. Stunned disbelief. He'd lost control of the car, it left the road and hit a tree, killing him instantly. The funeral was held on his 26th birthday. My father wept beside the casket with his head on Jack's chest; two military men folded the flag and presented it to Jack's widow, and this was the first time I saw her break down.

Afterward, our family gathered in the funeral limousine only to have Dad climb back out to visit with people who had come to pay their respects. Back at the house, I spent time alone with Jack's widow, Karen, as she went through her keepsakes of Jack and shared some of the facts about his short lived military career: how it shaped him and why he chose to serve.

Remembrance Day is splattered with memories, festooned with pride, saluted with respect and soaked with tears. The other days we are left to pick through fields of grief, sort emotional baggage, gather treasured remnants and flowers. All I have gathered of my favorite brother is a fading newspaper photo and a heart full of mixed up memories.

Photo 1: Official Military photo from newspaper article
Photo 2: Personal Collection

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Books for the Journey of Grief

Yesterday was a busy day which did not allow time for blogging. My 3x per week noon workout in the community pool, a dental visit which confirmed the need for a root canal, then Girls' Night Out at church (sold out) with 200 women enjoying dinner and a movie: God's Compass.

It was a sweet, tender story. The main character had just retired, and her husband had recently passed away. She sought to help a stranger who had helped her pregnant daughter in law to the hospital and had a hidden connection to her family. Grief and loss are part of the movie and it stimulated some thinking about how one may turn to  pragmatic tasks or sacrificial service during and after bereavement as a means of honoring the one who died by making a difference in someone else's life.

It's approaching six years since I was first widowed. During that time there were several books that helped me, and I asked a few friends to add to that list by recommending books that helped them as well. If you are a reader, this is a resource list you'll want to explore. It will equip you for comforting the grieving, and if you are grieving, these books will simply comfort you.

It is my prayer that one or more of these recommendations will make a difference in your life, perhaps even serve as a compass to point to your true north in the aftermath of bereavement.

Mourning Into Dancing by Walter Wangerin Jr.
Wangerin is one of today’s most gifted and award-winning writers on issues of faith and spirituality. I worked through this book around the time of my mother's death in 1996. It was transformative for me. In a captivating narrative woven with stories and comfort, this book defines the stages of grief, defines the types of relationships and the losses we experience in those areas, shows how to help the grief-stricken, gives a new vision of Christ’s sacrifice, and shows how a loving God shares our grief.

Seven Choices by Elizabeth Harper Neeld
A highly original and meaningful approach to the grieving process with sound advice on how to adjust to change and form new life patterns and human bonds.

Roses in December by Marilyn Willett Heavilin
Having lost three sons, Marilyn knows the tremendous sorrows and struggles that come with the death of loved ones. Yet she shares how, even in the winters of our lives, God provides roses―special occasions, special people, and special memories―to give us strength and draw close to Him. My fourth brother Jim and his wife found this book particularly meaningful after the loss of their 21 year old son in a collision.

Through a Season of Grief by Bill Dunn and Kathy Leonard
A place to turn for daily comfort and help packed with tools to move forward. This is a 365-day devotional designed to support and uplift you in the first, most difficult year of bereavement. More than thirty respected Christian professionals share their insights on how to walk through the devastation of grief toward wholeness and hope. You will also hear from people like you who have lost a loved one and have found God's healing presence in the midst of despair. This unique devotional is based on GriefShare®, a national grief recovery support group program that has helped more than 100,000 families.

Lovely Traces of Hope by Kathy Burrus
By a college classmate of mine who lost her teenage daughter to an accident. It was her daughter's unfinished book that penetrated deep into the torn and broken heart of her mother and pointed her, in the midst of her grief, to the lovely traces God reveals about himself in random and unexpected ways.

Journeying Through Grief by Stephen Ministries

This is a set of four short booklets that offer words of comfort and hope designed to be sent to grieving people at specific, crucial times during that first year after a loved one dies. Each book focuses on what the person is likely to be experiencing at that time and provides care, assurance, encouragement, and hope. I was grateful to be a recipient of these each quarter from a dear friend who understood what it meant to be widowed and delivered them personally with a handwritten note of encouragement.

I Will Carry You by Angie Smith
The powerful story of a mother who carried a child deemed "incompatible with life," and the eternal insights gained from a baby who lived less than three hours.

What books have you found comforting or helpful in the midst of your grieving?

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Snoring, Smiling, and Snoopy (the dog)

It's not just snoring. It can cause high blood pressure, insomnia, behavioral issues, heart attack, heart failure and stroke. Sleep apnea can kill you. So when I lose the very thing that helps, I'm in trouble.

My family of origin has a genetic predisposition toward sleep apnea, where you basically stop breathing multiple times per night. Five of us have been diagnosed, others show symptoms they have, so far, successfully ignored. According to Mayo Clinic, an estimated 12 million American adults have obstructive sleep apnea, and many of them are undiagnosed.

In my moderate case, a "mandibular advancement splint" gives a degree of relief. While it sounds ominous, this is basically a dental appliance, a "night guard" similar to those used to stop teeth grinding or manage TMJ pain. Mine sets the lower jaw forward, opens up the airway, minimizes obstruction, and keeps me breathing. This is a very good thing.

Unfortunately, the splint is expensive and not covered by our provincial health care. Costs range in the thousands of dollars. The employer's insurance plan fortunately covers most of that cost for the initial splint, but not for loss.

One evening, a decade ago, my splint is not in its proper place. Now, it is not uncommon for me to set things in odd places (cue laugh track from Henry), so I patiently search. The most likely locations turn up nothing, the level of frustration rises; I scour every room in the house, nothing! I finally dig through the garbage, where it had once been found rolled up in a tissue, but not this time. I give up.

How could I lose it? $480 to replace! Oddly, the song going thru my head at that point said, "God will provide."

After the fitting for a new one, the dentist's office calls: "Insurance covered 90 percent. All you owe is $48!"

I share my happy ending, and my friend Heather (the Fairy Dog Mother, who dog-sits for vacationing friends) tells me she once found her night guard in the mouth of one of the dogs she was sitting. Fortunately, she was able to still use it -- after a thorough cleaning.

That triggers a memory between my mom and our family dog, Snoopy, who Mom barely tolerated for the sake of the boys. Mom wore a partial plate which was somewhat ill-fitting, so she'd occasionally remove it while eating. One day, Snoopy gets hold of Mom's partial plate, thinks it's a chew toy, and proceeds to break off a piece. Mom is so flustered, she grabs the two parts, examines them and then cries, "I don't think she's ruined it!" and pops the larger part in her mouth.

And then her eyes grow wide as she spits it out and splutters in horror: "I didn't wash it!"

After much scrubbing and rinsing, she fits it back in place. Emerging from the washroom, she exclaims, "Well, praise the Lord and thank the dog, it's more comfortable than before!" She used it for the rest of her life.

Fast forward to today. My splint is aggravating the roots of a molar, so I've not been wearing it since August. As you can imagine, my sleep has been affected. The next step is a root canal, and other dental procedures before we proceed to a refitting. This time, as a retiree, there is no employer's medical benefit. So I again am singing that song, "God will provide." I don't know how, but I'll trust God to figure it out.

One final note. If you snore a lot, and/or think you may have sleep apnea, consult your doctor. A sleep study will follow. This article may help in choosing your best route of management.

Cover Photo by Megan te Boekhorst on Unsplash
Dog Photo: "Snoopy" from the family archives, 1970.