Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Wedding Day (Part 1)

I had promised I would write more "tomorrow" and that was weeks ago, but the remembrances I wish to record have their own mind it seems and sometimes elude me altogether. I had to go off my meds pre-surgery and things started falling out of my brain (names, dates and memories). Still, despite my brain farts, now that the Oct. 21 surgery is done, recovery is well on schedule and I'm back on most of my supplements, let's try to recapture this beautiful day: the wedding day of my one and only child.

(Disclaimer: this is from my perspective and may be distinctly different from your memories, if you were there. We all see with different eyes, and our unique personal filters assign meaning, based on our experiences. As always, if I have any glaring error in my facts, names or places, please let me know and I'll correct it).

Waking up is odd, thinking about Andrew becoming a husband. How do I feel about that? I remind myself every day as a mother that this is my job: to prepare him to leave, lead and live well. I still don't know anything except fierce pride for the courage and talent and loyalty I see in this handsome young man. So many others have also built into his life and he seems to have absorbed the best qualities from us all. In an earlier part of the week, Rebecca and I were alone in the car going from here to there. "He always has such a positive attitude," she says, and my mother's heart exhales a contented sigh, my mind circles three times like a beloved old dog, tail softly curls around and settles into a cushion of peace.

I spend too much time relishing memories of life with a younger Andrew before I get up, which delays getting to the bride's home on time to meet her mom for our hair appointment. She's just leaving when we arrive, so after a brief greeting, she decides we should drive so we hop into her car for the short jaunt down the street to Hagen's Hair Studio. We approach the double front-drive garage with the overhead door open and a separate facade which opens into the garage-turned-hair-salon. Nifty. When the overhead door is closed, it still looks like a normal garage and when it's open, it looks like a storefront. (A perfect solution for an in-home salon without violating neighborhood architectural controls or encroaching on one's private living space). 

A confident blonde - older than I, with a slight Eastern European accent - is busy working on someone else when we enter. That finished, I let the mother of the bride go first, because I want to catch my breath and check Facebook, then I shoo her off to the bridal preparations back at home, assuring her I can walk back on my own. She is a baker and had made three types of cake for the wedding, one of which needs final touches far more than I need to be kept company.

My hair had been recently done, so this was just a shampoo and style. (My hair is always a little nervous with new hairdressers, seems to have a mind of its own. Am I alone in this?) The stylist discusses what she'd like to do and I say, "Go ahead," but when she starts back-combing the top, eeek! I get visions of sixties paisley miniskirts, spirals and psychedelic lights.

"Oh, no, hon," she asserts, "this is the only way your hair will keep its height and hold all day! Otherwise it will part and fall." Well, no one wants anything to separate or fall apart on your son's wedding day, so I acquiesce. (She was right. My hair holds it together all day long and combs out quite easily at the end of the day. And the cost of the visit is cheap like borscht. Two thumbs up.)

Feeling quite glamorous in my new 'do, I walk back to the bride's house in the already warm sunshine, slow enough so my freshly showered body doesn't begin perspiring. It's already near 25 degrees Celsius, so I walk slow.

Stepping into the main hallway, I see Rebecca by the front window smoothing her hanging wedding dress with a steamer. Henry is just beyond, trying to stay discreetly out of the way of the bridesmaids in lovely oriental dressing gowns getting makeup and hair done in the family room. He's already helped Bill with final preparations and is tucked away in a cosy corner of the living room, quietly reading.

Rebecca moves on to smooth wrinkles out of all four bridesmaid dresses, then offers to do my dress as well. I jump at the offer, since it's been in the dress bag in back of the vehicle for a week and I have no idea how to use a steamer. (I also have disconcerting flashbacks of my candlelighter melting a hole in her dress 30 minutes before my first wedding ceremony, so feel it best to leave this to the experts).  I admire her deft handling of the steamer and quietly marvel at the quality of character in this lovely young bride serving everyone else on her big day. Selah.

Rebecca also arranged an onsite hairdresser for the bridal party and two makeup artists from MAC Cosmetics for herself, the four bridesmaids, her mother and I. This is quite the pampering, and the artist that works on me is very attentive to my preferences, giving me a natural look with just a touch of glamour. I've never worn false eyelashes before but I guess they're all the rage, so I agree to try them. (They look nice and I love the idea, but there seems to be an adhesive malfunction so I promptly remove them after the ceremony and family photos. They sit on the bathroom counter looking for all the world like a one-sided black spider).

I look around at the girls, completely awestruck to be able to be part of their prep time. I've been a bridesmaid a few times, but as the mother of the groom, it is truly an honor and I'm so grateful to experience the giggles and jokes and excitement buzzing between us all. It is especially nice to hear the stories of how certain items came to be, such as the white lace gloves brought from Denmark by Aunt Kirsten which she found in a little traditional shop, with walls of gloves stocked neatly in individual glove-sized drawers.

Now it's time for Henry and I to join Andrew and his groomsmen at the home of Adam's mother. Adam was Andrew's dorm mate and since Rebecca was his best friend for six years, he'd brought her to meet his dorm buddies introduced the two of them. He's become one of Andrew's best friends and is serving as a groomsman.

Andrew presents the guys with personalized gifts: a bottle of house wine from Porter's with a personalized photo label of Andrew with each guy, along with the socks and tie they were to wear for the wedding and another personal memento.

(L to R): Skiing with Robert, posing with Tim,
playing music with Fraser, camping with Adam
Then it's my turn. He presents me with an Alex and Ani (+Energy) bangle bracelet with a "Mom" charm (representing Generosity, Heroism and Love). I'm smitten.

The description on the website says:
A mother's love and support is extraordinarily strong without limitation. The peony, the queen of the garden, symbolically encompasses the maternal traits of healing, love's blessing, and bravery. Embrace the heartfelt connection, strength, and respect associated with the Mom Charm as a token of admiration.
It's such a thoughtful, personal gift and since I know they are available in Calgary, I can add charms and bangles in the future to commemorate other events. Then Andrew gives Henry a special utility knife and Henry gives Andrew an engraved key chain. I give Brent's cuff links to Andrew. I know Andrew loves to dress up when occasion requires and so there will be many times he can use this personal remembrance of his dad.

Andrew then opens the special gift package Rebecca has given him, filled with some very thoughtful and fun items. Then the photographs ensue. You know guys when they have to pose. There is much posturing, nervous laughs, some awkwardness and a lot of bantering, insults and repartee. They all look so handsome.

Could a mother be more proud? I think not. But I do need a glass of water. The house isn't air conditioned and the glow you see on my face is more than just a mother's love.

We all walk out into what is now becoming stifling heat (I still much prefer this to rain!) and we pile into the vehicles aimed toward the wedding venue at Golden Eagle Golf Club in Pitt Meadows.

We drive across the beautiful Golden Ears Bridge. Then meander past raspberry and blueberry fields with their migrant workers harvesting, drive over the irrigation canal and down the tree shaded lane to the lovely venue.

And now, I will pause, and carry on with the rest at a later time. Thank you for reading this far. You must love me or my family to have stuck with it this long.

Isn't love grand?

To be continued...

Photo credits: personal collection except for
bangle bracelet by Alex and Ani
and bridesmaid's dresses by Danielle McHugh

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Happy Birthday, Son

Today is the birthday of my one and only son. (Allow me a brief moment to gush?)

How do I give tribute to this young man who brought so much joy and love into my life and now continues to do so, bringing a beautiful young woman into my life as my soul-daughter and his new wife? I've already blogged about the Mother to Son Blessing I wrote for him at Christmas 2014, intentionally releasing him to this new life. I've blogged and written poems at various points in his life (click on the age links here if you want to wander through those memories):
At age 12 as he was learning to play guitar
At age 13 when I didn't let him go to Jr. High Band Camp
At age 14 that great year with the crazy mountain bike trek we took
At age 15 on that delay-ridden flight to Nashville for his cousin's wedding
At age 17 with a parent's emotion of leaving him at university
At age 20 when he released his first CD
At age 21 when we spent Christmas in Hawaii, scuba diving and all
But, perhaps, the best tribute a mother can give a son should be on his wedding day. So today, on his 23rd birthday, here is the entire Mother of the Groom speech written for their July 31 wedding. I didn't share all of this then because some of it was just a little too personal in that moment, but today you can read "the rest of the story" - as I remember it.

Mother of the Groom Speech

I will never forget the day Andrew picked me up from the Abbotsford airport and said he had some important news. We weren’t five minutes into the trip when he announced, “I’ve got a big secret but you can’t tell anyone. I don’t know how you’ll feel about this, but it’s going to happen, so I hope you’ll be okay with it.”

I’m already smiling but before I can even take a breath, he plows right ahead and blurts out: “Rebecca and I are going to start dating.”

Then he pauses.

I just smile wider and say, “Oh, good! I’ve already told three of my friends that you two were going to eventually get together, so it’s about time.”

He nearly ran off the road. “Really? How’d you know? 

I just shrugged and kept smiling.

“So, you’re okay with this?” he asks.

“Of course. I already love her, so I am very okay with this.”

And then we both smiled very widely for the rest of the trip back to Langley.

The rest is history and here we are! It is such a privilege to have all of you here together celebrating the covenant Andrew and Rebecca made today. Many of you have traveled a great distance and you honor us by being part of this special event. 

I want to specifically thank some special people by name who have influenced Andrew’s life. 

Oly & Dianne Boersma, Garry & Marlene Quiring, Arnie & Cheryl Miller. You are part of the reason Andrew is the man he is today. Thank you for being role models and friends, for being there for us through thick and thin, standing by us on the worst day of our life and for being here now on the best day. 

And I also want to thank my new husband, Henry, for being here, supporting me as I release my only son into married life. He’s been in your corner, Andrew, countless times, praying for both of you every night, and coaching me quietly on how not to be a helicopter mom, hovering too much!

A huge heart embrace to my Nickel brothers and their wives and families: Jim & Shelia, John & Kathryn, Steve & Wanda, and to my Harback family: Brad & Tina and my parents-in-love, Roy and Lila Harback. We have laughed together, grieved together, grown together and you have been encouragers, prayer partners and wise advisors. You have loved us beyond measure and your influence in Andrew’s life is priceless. I am so glad we are family! 

I’m sorry my parents couldn’t have lived long enough to be a part of your life, Andrew, but I think your Grandpa Nickel would be honored that you’re following in his footsteps writing songs and poems.

And my deepest thanks to the parents of the bride: Bill and Karin, you welcomed Andrew into your home during his first year away from his own home and he has been welcomed into your whole family. From the very beginning, you have given Andrew and his friends a safe and welcoming place, not only in your home but also in your heart and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. By the way, I did send him monthly rent money, so if he still owes you any, you’ll need to take that up with him. 

Seriously, though. You have given both Andrew and I a most beautiful gift, sharing your daughter with us. 

Andrew, I remember so much about your life as an only child I couldn’t possibly shrink it into five minutes so this will be brief. Andrew’s due date was on Halloween 1992, but he tricked us and came three weeks later, a healthy 8 pounds, 15 and ½ ounces. Our first challenge was getting him to go to sleep at a decent hour. Apparently this is still an issue. 

I remember your first Halloween as a fireman and making your costumes almost every year after that as you circulated through being Zorro, Fozzie Bear, Batman, Pinkbeard the Pirate, Obi Wan Kenobi, Link from Legend of Zelda, A Tree Pokemon, a Pumpkin, Elvis, Hippie, and Ninja. A career in cosplay really could suit you well.

I remember grade one where you held the hand of your buddy on vaccination day so he wouldn’t be afraid of getting his needle. I remember the day you graduated from grade six and wouldn’t let me hug you in public any more because you were in Junior High now! I remember how your dad tried to make you clean up your room and how you would dog it until he’d do it himself, how he made you study for your driver’s exam so you could get your learner’s license on your 14th birthday and your full license on your 16th birthday. Then it was like you announced, “I can take it from here, I’ll let you know if I need anything.” 

I remember you dragging me up Jumping Pound Ridge on our mountain bikes and how I wanted to quit and you prayed so fervently for God to give me strength and we did it, even though it took so long your dad had reported us as missing. I remember that trip to Mount Baker when we first played ping pong and I beat you soundly and saw that look of respect in your eyes. You had to keep playing me until you finally won a game – what was it, game 17? Then you said we could quit. 

I remember the countless trips to the hockey arena for your practices, to the ski hill for training and competition, to the store for new equipment because you outgrew yours so fast, to Long and McQuade so you could try out the new guitars. And I remember the multiple visits to the emergency room and that one day when I got the call I didn't want from the Ski Patrol telling me you'd been injured during the Moguls Competition and were in an ambulance on your way to the hospital. Those were four very difficult days waiting to ensure your spleen would survive. I'm so glad your body was designed to heal itself! 

I remember taking you to Langley for university, seeing you embrace every new situation with excitement and anticipation. I love hearing you make your plans and tell me about your writing. I love seeing how you make friends and keep them and how you brought your crew to Calgary every New Years. 

I remember the honor it was to have you walk me down the aisle at my own wedding last August and the great touch of carrying a shotgun over your shoulder during the rehearsal. And how you poked at my "carefully crafted eloquence" in your stellar, perfectly-timed, comedic speech, welcoming Henry to the family, making us all laugh until we cried.

I remember all the trips, the parasailing in Europe, the camping trip to Missouri, the ski competitions and hockey tournaments, the plays and skits you starred in, the music you write and sing so beautifully, the great friends with whom you create and have fun and surround yourself. I remember your kindness and love. Always your love.

Andrew, you have become the man your father and I always hoped and prayed you would become. Your dad would be so proud of you. You are positive and funny, articulate and gifted. You are observant, hard working and fun to be around. You make loyal friend and you are a treasured son. I am so honored to be your mother and so glad that you and Rebecca have chosen each other. 

Rebecca – I adopted you as my soul-daughter even before you and Andrew began to date. You have been a strong, steady presence in Andrew’s life. You are gracious, beautiful, organized, great with kids of all ages and you have brought so much joy into our home. I am so glad you’ve chosen to become my daughter in love. You’ve enveloped us into your family and it is with great delight that I welcome you into our family. 

May God give you both the desires of your hearts as you honor him.

Will you all please stand with me and drink a toast to Andrew and Rebecca.

Well, there you have it. Heart on my sleeve and all. A mother's joy. Happy birthday, Andrew. Even though it's still a month before we can be together, today on your special day, I raise my glass to you, my heart so full of gratitude to God for all the time we've had together and for the promise of the years to come. I love you to infinity plus one. 

I thank God every time I think of you. In all my prayers for you, I always pray with joy… being confident of this, that God who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:5-6)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Twelve Reasons You Might Be Unfriended on Facebook

Recently, several friends have declared that they’d had enough of Facebook and were leaving for good. The primary reason for one was that it seemed “Facebook (like cell phones) is very much like a giant angel food cake with thick creamy icing. It provides a huge amount of calories with almost no nutrition.”

I get this. There’s such a volume of frivolous posts to scroll through in my newsfeed or timeline. Even though I’ve systematically “unfollowed” a number of fringe acquaintances, there’s still a ton of verbage (with little substance) to get past before I can find the meaningful connections, informative or entertaining posts I enjoy.

Another friend feels that certain individuals share way too much. It takes the form of sniping, victimhood, emotions, rants, empty-headedness or oversharing of personal activities and information. “What motivates someone to be so confessional and all-revealing, or in other cases, to be so asinine or frivolous?” His conclusion falls within the bounds of Theodore Roosevelt’s famous quote: “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Or along the same lines, from Maya Angelou: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

These friends are leaving Facebook because they don’t like how it makes them feel and/or how it affects their relationship with their family and friends.

I would guess most of us have experienced a negative reaction to a Facebook post. Sometimes, it’s about the one posting. It raises feelings of annoyance, disrespect, cynicism, outrage or incredulity. Sometimes it’s about us. It leaves us feeling targeted, shocked, criticized, minimized, disregarded, embarrassed, impotent to help the other. Any of these can breed frustration and alienation.

Do you respond to these posts? Scroll on by? Or do you quietly unfollow the poster? They’ll never know! Perhaps you unfriend them (which could cause some drama if you know them in daily life or you’re related to them). Maybe you’re willing to stick it out and just hope they grow up or change. If you care about them, do you try to privately help them understand their “over-sharing” is harming their reputation and your relationship?

Not everyone wants to know the intimate or mundane details of your life, your immediate emotional state of mind, the problem you have with your spouse/child/boss/in-laws/police/politician, what you ate for dinner, what bodily functions aren’t functioning, or your views on politics and religion. And that’s just for starters. The things that annoy people on social media are as diverse as the one billion people who use it every day.

I personally choose Facebook as my platform of choice to connect with far-away family and friends, to keep up with significant events and milestones, to learn how to pray for them and to privately message or video-chat with them on more personal matters. It has enabled me to connect with childhood friends, classmates and extended family members I never knew. But while this is my reason for staying on connected on this forum, there are significant drawbacks.

If I feel this way, I figure others do too, so I did a straw poll on my Facebook feed to ask others what annoys them enough to unfollow, unfriend or avoid certain Facebook friends. Here’s a few general categories, with actual examples.

Disclaimer: If you feel this is being targeted at you, it’s not. I have no personal vendetta and no desire to shame anyone. This is an application of the old saying, “If the shoe fits, wear it.” This is an opportunity to examine yourself closely in the mirror and give heed to what, perhaps, you could change about your online persona that may be affecting your reputation and creating significant rifts or irreversible damage to your relationships.

1. The Narcissist

Selfies here, selfies there, everywhere a selfie, selfie. “Here are 159 pictures from my vacation. Here’s one of me, up close, and one of us up close and twelve dozen of us far away and close up and all the rest are of me and us and all of our closest friends and our server up close and, oh, right, I almost forgot, here’s one picture of where we went.”

2. The Exhibitionist

“Look at me! Look at me! in all my pictures with as little clothing as possible. Or notice if I hold the camera at the right angle you can get a lovely view of my cleavage.”

“Here’s a picture of me in the bathroom mirror because it shows my abs so nicely, don’t you think? Of course I’m not telling you how many shots it took (100+) for me to get it just right.”

3. The Manipulator

“Like and share if you agree.”
“If you don’t share and post this on your page, you’ll be cursed.”
“If you’re not ashamed… share this post.”
“Everyone is touched by (insert name of disease here), so post this on your status for one hour to show your support.”
“If I don’t see your name, I’ll understand.”

4. Needy Nellie

“I don’t think anyone reads my status, can you post one word so I know you are reading my posts?”
“I wonder if I said ‘hello’, how many people would say it back?”
“No one in my entire church/community/club/team is helping me. I’m all alone and no one cares.”
“Can I get an ‘Amen’ or a thumbs up or a like and share?”
“Can I get 1 million likes for…(insert issue, cause or little kid picture)”
"I know no one will read this post...... let's find out who my real friends are."
"If you love me you'll comment on this post that I have obviously copied and pasted from other needy friends."

5. Clueless 

“I don’t know whether this post I’m sharing is true, but it sounds like it.”
“I share everything I read because I have no life or opinion of my own.”

6. The Zealot

“Here’s the latest product, ideology, philosophy, theology or cute quote which I like, use or believe is the best thing going and if you don’t like, use or believe the same, I’m on a higher moral plain than you and here are ten reasons why you’re an idiot.”

7. The Troll (aka The Hater)

“I disagree. And if you don’t agree with me, then I obviously haven’t explained myself well enough, so let me just repeat myself. If you still don’t agree after that, well, obviously you’re hard of hearing so let me just RAISE MY VOICE. And if you still are so numbskulled as to believe your viewpoint is right and mine is wrong, I will begin to call you names, use profanity and suggest you are a waste of skin.”

8. The Sales Call

“I have discovered the secret to everything, my life will never be the same, and I am spending the rest of my entire existence on Facebook trying to get you to become part of my multi-level-marketing organization.”

9. The Cryptic

“I can’t believe that just happened.”
“My life will never be the same.”
“I am in utter shock and disbelief.”
“Off to emergency room… pray!!!”

10. The Confessor

“I’ve done something terrible and I have to come clean.”
"Let me just tell you way more than you ever wanted to know about my private life."

11. The Braggart

Female: “Look at what my sweet honey bought me for Christmas/birthday/no reason because he’s just the most fabulous prince ever or because I manipulated and threatened him into it and he knows ‘happy wife, happy life’. LOLOLOLOL”

Male version: “See picture of me posing with hot car, hot bike, hot babes or cold beer.”

12. The Legalist

“Sign this (completely useless and ineffective) petition for (whatever pet issue of the day is creating outrage in my social circle).”
“If you don’t live your life in the way I describe, you are going straight to hell.”
"If you support that other political party, you are an idiot."
“If you don’t hear “Merry Christmas” from every retail clerk you encounter this season, you’re being persecuted.”
“I do not give Facebook permission to….”

* * * *

Well, I hope you had fun laughing with me through the ridiculousness of some of these items. I’m sure others can poke fun at me from their own perspective. The main thing is, let’s use technology in ways that help make relationships grow, not the opposite.

Have you experienced other types of posts that have tempted you to unfriend or unfollow someone?

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Monochrome Saturday

I've strayed a little from this blog being about "living a quiet life" - partly because I'm actually living life in that way at this moment. But today, I share a snapshot, as if you and I were sitting down together in my studio sharing a dark, steaming cup of smooth hazelnut coffee and witnessing these every day moments together. Here's to your health. Here's to this one beautiful, precious life!

My back view in late autumn. The bird feeder sans birds.

Saturday’s monochrome sky mutes all the colours except the garish patio chair covers. Even then, on this cloudy day, they are easier on the eyes. I scan the garden with a keen eye for detail, then settle down on the loveseat (a $200 purchase from IKEA twenty-three years ago), armrests protected with my late sister-in-law’s matching crocheted doilies. The writing studio is a comfy place, accented with bohemian pillows and accessories, wall hangings, motivational quotes, miscellany furniture, and a collected 1860’s arrow back chair paired with a distressed antique white writing desk. The style is shabby chic along the lines of “traditional India meets prairie farmhouse”.

I read. A Real Book. A rare treat in a world of 140-character tweets and three-second SnapChats. And out of the corner of my eye, I watch for birds.

Yesterday a Northern Flicker made his house call, hanging nearly upside down from the eaves until I saw him ("Nature poses just long enough for the right photographer"). It would take me a thousand tweets to describe his clothing. Such a suit he flaunts: a striped jacket over a polkadot vest, a long beak and a crown of red flash. But that beak? I cover my eyes in fear and he flicks away.

The new bird seed draws them. Woodpeckers, Blue Jays, and squirrels. Yes, noisy red squirrels and ugly black squirrels with crazy eyes. Perhaps at night, the mice come also. And the neighbor’s cat. I worry about the possible nesting sites nearby: under the cracked concrete no longer held fast by the bowed retaining wall, or below the neighbor’s deck: squirrel access at eye level where the lattice is broken (not my deck, I just live beside it, another post for another day).

A murderous magpie puffs up double size on the end cap of the back door neighbor's hip roof. “Stay away!” I think, (to the magpie, not the neighbor), recalling the brackish sounds of their fights outside my window pre-sunrise before I removed the third feeder, purchased in ignorance on a whim, where they and the very unwelcome, noisy Grackles, fought to gorge themselves with high-energy suet. Since that’s gone, they’ve generally been scarce. “Good riddance,” I murmur.

But now the Blue Jays have come. Oh, joy! Such coloring! Picking at the crumbs below the wild bird sunflower seed and corn feeder. A pair, unafraid, as I call for Henry to “Look, quick! Jays at the feeder!!” but scatter when I open the patio screen to zoom in with my Canon.

“I’ll give them a refill,” thinks the benevolent side of me, as I step into garden clogs, dismissing any embarrassment at going out in my pyjamas to retrieve the empty seed dispenser (the yard is quite private and if the neighbors do look, they’ll never wanna look again). Once the feeder’s full and back in place, surely they’ll return, so I can finally photograph them! And I must fill it now, when they’re in the yard. (The jays, not the neighbors).

One jay remains in the tree not ten feet away, watching. Smelling, perhaps. Do they smell? How else would they know the food is there? Keen eyesight? Intuition? They are bird brained. What DO they sense?

But after filling the feeder, cleaning up and settling down again with my book, I wait in vain and write this to prove you can lead a Blue Jay to crumbs but you can’t ensure he stays. Human presence, at least mine (was it my perfume?) disturbs any bird, hyper vigilant as they are. Nervous, twitching, flitting from this branch to that. (And I thought I was A.D.D.)! I’ve been unable to determine a predictable pattern on bird activity yet, since I’ve not really tried and I’m only one summer in to this bird observation thingy.

Passerine birds are my most common visitors. Logical, since it’s the category for half the birds in the world. I usually have visitors of black-capped chickadee, sparrow and finch, co-existing happily with the squirrels and not so happily with the cat (who is, of course, violating the city ordinance that cats are not to roam free). An entire sub-system of communication: chirps, tweets, songs and movement, often gracing the the largest spruce in dozens, clustering like pine cones or perched on the tips like Christmas tree ornaments on a holiday card.

And this is my greeting card to you, on a monochrome Saturday, a snapshot of a few creatures doing some Calgary dreamin’ on such a winter's day. I am now going to return to my book, ironically titled: “Bird by Bird" until the birds are back in town.

Photo credit: personal collection

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


In these days we have an abundance of motivational speakers, life coaches, and personal trainers; a plethora of blogs dole out Six Easy Steps to whatever; websites overflow with life hacks, advice, recipes or mantras for healing, freedom and/or success; advertisements promise to solve problems you didn’t even know you had. In all of this noise, sometimes, don’t you just want one person who will spend five minutes listening? Here’s a story about how hard it is to find and/or be that person.

*  *  *  *  *

The three of us lingered over the last bites of dinner. Barely more than acquaintances, we carefully opened up one or two leaves of our story to each other, testing the water before we infused the more tender emotions of our history. Perhaps it was the second drink that lulled me, seduced me into a perceived sense of safety. Oiled the hinges enough to unlock one particularly dark dungeon where I had hidden “The Most Hurtful Thing” ever spoken to me.

Did I dare speak it? Expose my core wound to these fledgling friends? I needed to make sense of it. I desperately needed to know Those. Words. weren’t true. To experience the protection of a caregiver, a warrior-friend, a confidant, who would shelter me from the memory, the continuous hammer blows of condemnation echoing sixteen years hence, bludgeoning every day, until I could no longer stand under the onslaught.

So I spoke.

And heard mid-sentence, that I had grossly misjudged, as one interrupted abruptly with, “Oh, that’s nothing. Let me tell you what happened to me!”

I sat in numb silence listening to descriptors of another’s battle and how they conquered, something like the Good Housekeeping™magazine column: “My Problem and How I Solved It.” My own pain discarded, minimized, trivialized, in light of her greater strength, her triumphant victory over evil.

I came out of my hole and saw my shadow. So will I hide for another six years? Or will I take the time to realize that others have no capacity to measure my story? To evaluate the depth of my wounds. I must self-triage. My pain had made my life unmanageable, therefore, I needed healing. There was no place to set my wound alongside another’s and allow them to measure which was greater. I was powerless over this and had simply mistaken a gentle face for a gentle heart. Yes, looks can be very deceiving. A sugar coated brick. Beauty masking the beast.

Grief still had several stages to process. One day, I might find a safe place to unfold the bloodied bandages and be anointed with the oil of kindness, but it is not here and today is not the day.

*  *  *  *  *

"You own everything that happened to you. 
Tell your stories.
If people wanted you to write warmly about them,
they should have behaved better."
~Anne Lamott

*  *  *  *  *

Uncompassionate people show us how not to be. This event happened over a year ago. I was unconsciously asking for something the other was unable to give. I was seeking one who could listen, empathize and say, “I’m here with you. I know this hurts. Let’s find a way out together.”

There are days when another has asked this of me. And I was unable to be this for them. This was also not the day for that. Two broken people cannot both save each other.

But since then, I have unbandaged and received ointment for this "wound" and it is healing. I have trusted confidants. I am learning to allow space and mindfulness for the grieving process of others and of myself. There is no timetable, no urgency. No expiry date by which we must expunge our lives of the anger, bargaining, denial, horror, guilt or excruciating tenderness surrounding the gaping wound of loss.

I am learning not to expect healing from others.

I am learning not to punish others for not being able to help me carry my grief.

I am learning how to give what I can when another needs a hand.

I am learning to blow a breath of kindness over my own pain and over the heat of another's trauma with my own attentive presence: “I’m here. I hear you. I’m so sorry for your pain.”

I'm learning to not give impatient advice, how not to voice platitudes, cheery gloss-overs or declarations regarding reasons, sovereignty or grace; anything which may diminish the importance and necessity of grieving.

I'm learning to simply say:

“I’m with you.”

If you ask, I will share, if I can, what I can, in that moment; one beggar showing another where to find bread.

Thursday, October 01, 2015


My soul daughter and I

I want to remember these moments, Part 2 

Andrew and Rebecca's pre-wedding week was a rush, literally. We forced ourselves to drive the speed limit while running errands. There’s no point, really, ever, to exceeding the speed limit. I’m learning in my later years to accept the reality that if I am “behind schedule”, going faster is only going to cause more problems, so I exhale, relax and face the consequences. Usually, it’s a false sense of urgency that drives me to think I have to rush, but as my momma always said, “Haste makes waste” and as my daddy liked to quote: “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get”. I'm not sure what that even means, except I know when I rush, I inevitably forget something or drop something and make a mess or get a speeding ticket or (God forbid) even get into a collision.

We arrived in Langley on Monday before the big day Friday. We had already been on the road for a week, sightseeing, visiting museums and wineries and spending some slow, savory time together on vacation, getting ourselves mentally geared up for the rush of wedding week with all its bustle and people. We took a room at the Ramada for two nights, until our VRBO reservation was ready, which we would share with my brothers beginning on Wednesday when they arrived.
Every morning, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we headed over to Porter’s for breakfast. This is the café so capably run by Rebecca's parents. The first day, Tuesday, we met up with my son (the groom), his bride, her mother and several Danish and Dutch relatives who had arrived in town for the wedding and wanted a chance to get acquainted. Such delightful folks. It reminded me again about the beautiful scripture God gave me when I was widowed, which found it’s fulfillment, first in my marriage to Henry and now in Andrew’s marriage to Rebecca - how God “sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6). I still am moved by the sensations of love and laughter and warmth of family that surrounded us that day and the days following.

I spent Tuesday with the groom, running errands while Rebecca was working. While Henry bonded with the bride’s father running various errands, I went with Andrew to look for socks and a tie, and then dropped his vehicle off at the Honda dealership to have the air conditioning serviced. It had broken down during their trip back to BC from Calgary in July. Since the long range forecast for the Langley area included +38C temperatures for the coming week, I couldn’t imagine not having A/C. 

We made a stop at Staples to duplicate some photos and look for a special folder in which the wedding license could be placed for safekeeping. To our pleasant surprise, we ran into Aunt Elsje at Staples, collecting the wedding ceremony programs she had designed. 

They have a lovely cover and back (with photos of the couple) 

These then fan out to reveal three pages inside (wedding party, order of ceremony and lyrics for the hymn), all anchored by a decorative fastener. 

Much love and labor went into this souvenir.

We had a quiet evening taking a dip in the pool and a soak in the hot tub at the hotel before heading for bed. The next morning we packed up and checked out and met Andrew and his roommate, my soul-son, Fraser, for breakfast at Porters. 

This day, Wednesday, found Henry bonding with Bill by visiting Bill’s barber and both having their heads shaved. Bill always keeps this look, and it wasn’t the first time Henry had done this and I really like the look. He says he’ll let his hair grow for “warmth and traction” in the winter but I think the “Mr. Clean” look is definitely hip. The rest of the day included more errands and checking into our lovely VRBO home in Surrey, about halfway between the bride’s home in Langley and the wedding venue in Pitt Meadows. It had four bedrooms and two baths and a kitchen fully stocked with everything but food.  We purchased some groceries and coffee for breakfasts for the six of us who would be staying there.

Danielle, Karin and Rebecca get the royal treatment

In the late afternoon I had been invited to join the mani-pedi excursion with the bridesmaids, bride and her mother. To be included in this event was such an honor and it was great fun to hear the girls chatting and preparing for the big day.  When my brother Jim and sister in law Sheilia arrived later from Colorado, they went out for supper with Henry and then relaxed at the rental house until I returned. Steve and Wanda arrived from North Carolina after midnight, which was nearly 2 a.m. by their normal Eastern Time Zone, but Wanda and I immediately sat down to catch up – oh, the fun of “sisters” after being apart for a year. Wanda stood up for me at my wedding last August.

Centrepieces over Vinyl Record Albums
Thursday was pretty much all business. We had volunteered to take a jaunt to the east side of Chilliwack to pick up chair covers, and then later morning we spent picking up take-n-bake pizza, veggie trays and fruit trays from Costco and delivering them to the refrigerators at Porters in preparation for dinner for family and bridal party after the rehearsal. After that, everyone headed for the venue to decorate and rehearse.

The aunts doing décor placed one part of the centrepieces on each table, awaiting the floral part the next day. Each one was to be adorned by photos of the bride and the groom at the age that equates with the table number (i.e. table one had photos of both of them at age one, table two = age two and so on, up to age 12).

While my brothers and I were practicing our quartet in the blazing sun, Henry was climbing up and down a very tall ladder in the stifling heat of the screened room where the reception was to be, hanging strings of twinkle lights with the help of one of the Dutch cousins. It was likely around +40C up in those rafters and it took several hours, but the result was truly lovely.

Henry and his assistants

Everyone pitched in to put on chair covers, these had burlap ribbons and a daisy tied around each one. I made sure the correct number of chairs was placed at each table. 

Steve, Fraser, Rebecca and Robert handle the chair covers with ease
After the formality of the ceremony rehearsal, we all headed to Porters for pizza and visiting. It was the bridal party and partners, along with any family members who had traveled from a distance. Some of our Harback family was there: Pastor Brad, wife Tina, kids Paige and Max; Andrew’s grandparents, Roy and Lila; his cousin Rachael and her husband and kids; as well as with Rebecca’s Dutch and Danish relatives and my dear friends, the Boersmas, from The Hague. My brothers and their wives, of course, with the addition of my brother, John, his wife Kathryn and one son joined us there – we’d visited them in March at their home in Phoenix and I was delighted they could join us for this special time. 

We all ate, laughed, listened to live music by one of Bill’s bands and shared some special time of getting acquainted or re-acquainted. Everyone was hungry so the pizzas we’d brought disappeared faster than anticipated and once again, Bill saved the day with a few handmade flatbread pizzas for the latecomers. He and Karin are such incredible hosts. I am in grateful awe.

(clockwise) Kathryn, Sheilia, Jim, Roy, Brad, Tina, Paige, Steve, Mark

(L to R) Dianne, The Jensens, Linda

A great time in a great venue for family and friends

(L to R) Brett, Lily, Reese, Rachael, Lila

(L to R) A cousin whose name I missed, Rebecca's Jensen grandparents, Brenda

Simone, Thomas, Danielle, Adam

The groom and Pastor Brad

Back to the VRBO rental home for the evening, we visited a while and then all went to bed. Such a unique and rare privilege, to sleep under the same roof with several family members for the first time in a very long time.

A special interlude that remains one of my favorite memories is when we arrived at the Costco parking lot. We were still sipping our McDonald’s coffee from Chilliwack and Henry parked in the shade and kept the car running so the A/C would keep us cool. He said something to the effect of, “Let’s just take some time to catch up. We’ve been around a lot of people for a lot of time and I’d like to have some time for just you and me.” So we exhaled and stretched and relaxed into some easy conversation. This was a refreshing oasis in the middle of the activity. It was such a wise choice and I am so grateful for Henry leaning into ways we can connect. This was only one among many ways I’ve witnessed in the past year where he is very intentional about our relationship. Even in the middle of a long to-do list or in the middle of a crowd, he lets me know he sees me and appreciates me, reaches out with a quiet word, squeeze, or wink – our own private love-link in the middle of being alive. In every aspect of my son’s wedding prep, he’s been available and helpful in jumping in to do whatever is necessary or release me to do what I needed to do but he also knew we needed to just be still and enjoy each other for a few precious minutes.

This whole week has been about connecting family, sharing love and memories and making new friendships. We’re united in one purpose and it is this sense that I want to re-remember whenever I recall the wedding. It is about the people, the family, the friends who have made our lives rich, who have built into us and encouraged us and held us when we cried and poked us when we got too full of ourselves and above all, loved on Andrew and Rebecca and helped make them the amazing people they are today.

More to come tomorrow… The Wedding Day.

Monday, September 21, 2015

What Do You Do All Day? (Part 2)

I’ve been finding myself in the fast lane with life flying by at breakneck speed. A year of marriage, higher piles to sort and file in the office, the to-do list growing exponentially greater and the primary question in my life being “How will I ever get it all done?” It was starting to stress me out this morning.

In fact, when a friend recently asked, “What do you do all day?” I was startled and a little insulted. I even blogged about it here. To be fair, this person was, perhaps, genuinely curious. She has no idea what my life looks like. She is stressfully employed, hard-working, socially active, and has a significant commitment to care for and support family members. While we have a number of things in common, my life looks nothing like hers and our temperaments and priorities are very different. My reality is, I’m busy All. The. Time. and I have absolutely no idea how I didn’t totally lose my mind when I was employed.

In truth, I don’t know how I did it.

A year ago, I began sensing God leading me to “Be still and know I am God.”

Be still? I had no time to be still.

I was working full time while still processing significant emotional fallout in the grief recovery process and making financial adjustments required due to my late husband’s suicide. I was actively engaged in a weekly cohort to become a Spiritual Director, attending women’s Bible study, overseeing necessary maintenance on my home and working out at the gym 3-4 times per week. I was giving back through mentorship of two women, assisting the choir director, speaking and singing on a semi-regular basis. I was committed to maintaining friendships, dating a new person, getting to know his friends, his family, and planning our wedding. All this, while trying to operate at peak performance in one of the most demanding positions I've ever held. The job was literally making me sick.

Through my work, I organized a “Holy Spirit Encounter” – a few days set aside to meet with God in a quiet setting in the mountains, engaging in quiet worship, learning to hear God’s voice through guided and personal meditation. During this time I sensed very clearly that I was to “Rest”. The scripture Matthew 11:28-30 spoke very clearly: "Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest." I love how The Message translates this:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
I asked how this would be possible given my circumstances and the reply came “Don’t worry. Tell God what you need, be thankful for all He's already done and peace will follow,” (my loose paraphrase of Philippians 4:6-7).

God was saying, “I’ve got you.”

Within three weeks, after much prayer and discussion with my new husband, I resigned my paid job and gave up my seat in the Spiritual Direction cohort. For a few months, I rested and waited. It was the greatest relief of my life. I “worked” at getting healthy and being "still" - no easy task for one who battles adult A.D.D.

After a time, I was drawn to take a writing class – not "work" at all, but rather re-creation. Within a few weeks of the class commencing, I felt a clear and compelling “call” to write a book – something I never wanted to do, nor ever dreamed of doing.  In fact, I often joked I "didn’t have the attention span" to write a book, but God countered with, “You can write it, one word at a time.” I began to set long term and short term goals. And if it takes seven years, like one successful author I recently encountered, then, that’s still okay.

Yesterday, while attending a picnic, I spoke with a couple women who work at my church. One suggested a possible role in which I could volunteer and my response was, “I’m saying ‘No’ automatically to anything new,” (as this has been my determination since realizing how busy I am), but then I flippantly added, “unless money is involved.”

I don’t know why I added that.

I’ve always believed, “If money is the primary motivation, it’s likely that I’ll make the wrong decision.” It comes out of the scripture that teaches “the love of money is the root of all evil.” Not money itself, but the love of it. The preoccupation with money or with the lack of money. The reality for most of us is this: we don’t love money but we require it to obtain the things we need (food, clothing, transportation, education) and to do the things we enjoy (recreation, travel, entertainment) and so on.  Oh, I know there are some who do love money, but that’s not what this post is about.

From the moment I first became a widow, I sensed God saying, “I am your Provider.” And this is clearly evident to me – in every arena, not just financial – God provides. God has always provided, from my earliest childhood memories until today. Not just financially, but physically, emotionally, relationally and spiritually. It gives flesh and bones to the command that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart (emotions), soul (spirit), mind (intellect/philosophy), and strength (physical body). As I surrender all of me, God fills me in all these areas. As I spill my most precious things, my “alabaster jar” given out of love, God takes care of my needs. I empty myself to be filled up with God.

My off-hand remark about money yesterday was based in the question every artist faces: when do I give away my work, time or skills and when do I set a monetary value on them? This is a question every artist has to determine for themselves. The answer lies in relation to what I have budgeted, what I can afford or how I feel God is directing me to spend my resources. Sometimes it comes down to giving all you have, like the example Jesus gave of the widow’s mite. Others may be able to give much more out of their wealth, but she gave everything she had, and therefore, she gave more than anyone.

I know and understand why an organization sometimes hires staff to meet needs and sometimes they recruit unpaid volunteers. The church and many non-profit organizations are very dependent on members donating their time, skills, intelligence, ability, gifts – these are all valuable and irreplaceable – and most organizations cannot exist without them.

My responsibility is to budget how I spend my money and my time, how I give out of my "wealth" or "poverty". If I’m asked to volunteer, it’s a completely different question from being asked to do a job that pays. I donate my time and talents in many areas. I have no problem “working for free”. But when my time is already allocated and a new opportunity is presented, then saying “Yes” means I have to say “No” to something else. It’s a case-by-case decision. 

As it stands right now, my resources (time, money, talents) are fully committed, fully offered to the things I believe God has called me to do. I say “No” to new requests (paid or unpaid) so that I am able to continue saying “Yes” to what I’ve already determined is God’s will for my life at this time. And I know God can change it at any moment, so I hold my schedule loosely, with open hands.

So what do I do all day? Every day?

I say “Yes” to what's in front of me and do the next thing. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Photo credit: #25224381, standard license