A deceitful tree

It’s been weeks—months really—since I’ve opened up this blog to write. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to; it’s really been due to the unfamiliar sensation that I haven’t been able to. “Unfamiliar” because throughout the course of my writing life I have, for the most part, simply gotten down to the business of writing whether I felt like it or not. (I’ve learned that great productivity awaits those who are willing to work.)

No, I think the problem has been this pandemic; all of the sameness of pandemic living for the past year—I happen to live in a region that holds the distinction of having been the most locked-down in all of North America—is finally having its effect on me. This introvert is calling “Uncle!” I’m tired of the lack of novelty, the dearth of celebration in pandemic life. I want to be with family and friends again.

And yet. There is always that “and yet,” (which I understand as the gentle nudge of the Spirit within that prods or convicts me to not remain fixated on my complaints and sorrows but to look for God’s blessings in the midst of them) it has also been a time with more time for introspection. Introspective by nature, I have relished the unprecedented opportunities to learn about myself, God, and others as I’ve had increased time to walk, and freedom to be in nature than pre-pandemic life allowed.

For example, just last week, on one of my daily walks, I chose a freshly repaved and winding path through a small wooded park in our neighbourhood. As I walked and thought and prayed, a tree that I must have passed thousands of times caught my eye in a way it never has before. I am a firm believer that God speaks in diverse ways—including through His creation, so I paused and examined it more closely. Walking around its circumference, I took a couple of photographs—including the one at the top of this page. The ground was still March-soft and damp, and my shoes accumulated clods of mud that had to be scraped off—but it was worth it because that tree had something to teach me.

The trunk facing the path was split and appeared to have been hollowed out by animals or insects. There was evidence of disease, decay, and pain in the hollow. It wouldn’t take much to topple this probably once-healthy tree, I realized. I felt sad to see it.

But from the other side, the trunk still looked broad, vigorous, sturdy. Healthy. I would never have known the truth of the tree if I hadn’t looked at the other side.

Still, it wasn’t until this morning, that I suddenly knew why that tree had called to me. I am reading Paula D’Arcy’s Gift of the Red Bird, and in it, she writes of a long-ago encounter with some Indigenous people: “Observe and listen to nature, they believe, and the Great Spirit will teach you about your own nature and the truths for which the heart is hungry.”

With that single sentence, I remembered the tree. I thought about how what seemed to be strong from one perspective was disastrously weak and fragile from another. I considered how people can be like that tree—presenting an outside version of ourselves to the world that is very different from the reality of what exists on our insides. I thought about the importance of protecting our insides—physically, emotionally, spiritually—by what we feed our bodies and by what we allow our minds and souls to feed on.

And I thought of the word “integrity,” in all its shades of meaning that amount to wholeness, goodness, and incorruptibility, and how the tree—while appearing to be all of those things from one angle—was actually exactly the opposite.

Bird Lessons

birds on the ground surround a crab apple tree

The following post was written by a friend who wishes to remain anonymous. I have been encouraging this friend to impart the wisdom and lessons of her life by turning them into written words and sharing them. But doing so is a scary thing that requires a certain vulnerability. Following is her first attempt. She’s given me permission to post this little reflection here. If it speaks to you, please take a moment to indicate that it does, by commenting, sharing, or liking this post. I promise to pass along every one of your encouragements to her. Perhaps together, we can convince her to write again.

It has been bitterly cold the last few days. 

In our yard, we have a crab apple tree that is old and gnarled. There are always some leftover crab apples that I step or slide on in warmer weather. Many times I have implored my husband to have it taken down. 

But maybe I am wrong about that, because this morning, as I stood at my kitchen window, I looked out on more than forty starlings and robins.

I never knew they hung around together, but here they are in the tree and on the ground, eating the apples with gusto. There is a feast here for them!

I stood and watched them for a long while, enthralled, with their attentiveness to this provision. I could not help but think about the references in the Bible to how God cares for birds.

I am reminded of Matthew 6:26: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

And Matthew 10:29: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of the Father.”

As I watch them they are oblivious to where the food comes from—I even wonder how they knew to find it here. But they are being satisfied and kept alive by what they did not sow or work for. God’s hand has brought them here and feeds them.

So often I stand at this same window and look out with anxious thoughts and worries. Worry about the pandemic and how long it will last, will I succumb somehow to this dreaded disease? I think about how long it has been since I last saw some of my family who live so far away and if and when I will be able to see them again. I think of financial needs, retirement, health struggles, friends who are going through troubles and tribulations, those who are suffering mentally, emotionally. Sometimes these thoughts and worries threaten to overtake me. But then I see and look at these birds—God’s creation. He cares for them so lovingly and generously, will He not also care for me? Doesn’t He promise to?

Looking out at them stills my heart, replaces my fear with faith and restores my confidence in the God who provides and who I want to love and trust.

These birds have almost stripped the tree and are now on the ground getting that last of the harvest … they do not know that I have a plan, that I will spread the ground with peanuts and continue to help them through the winter. 

Will not God also spread a feast and provide for my needs, the Word tells me I am so much more valuable than even these little birds?

60 lessons learned over 60 years

60th birthday card

Adult birthdays have, for the most part, wafted past without much fuss for me. I’ve dreaded a few. (I remember 35 being particularly tough, for some reason.) More often they would come and go like a slight breeze on a summer’s day, barely causing any noticeable disturbance at all. But when the birthday card pictured above fluttered in on last week’s mail—a gift from a lifelong friend who celebrated the same milestone birthday herself just two months ago—I became teary at her thoughtfulness. The unexpected whiff of emotion, it turns out, was a harbinger of the gale to come. For soon, I was thinking about the reality that on January 25, I will turn 60.

Sixty sounds old, even to me who’s just about there. Certainly older than I feel. And yet, I know I’m fortunate to achieve the milestone. Too many people don’t even come close.

To mark the occasion, I decided to jot down 60 lessons I’ve learned from living this long. It’s a way of acknowledging that I’ve genuinely learned some stuff along the way, and I believe that some of what I’ve learned is worth sharing.

So here’s my list of 60 random lessons, in the order in which they occurred to me:

  1. Progress, not perfection.
  2. Love people for who they are, not for who you wish them to be. (Thanks, mom for teaching me this one, again and again.)
  3. Fresh flowers make any room beautiful, and any mood brighter.
  4. Raising a good dog is work, but it’s worth it.
  5. Building a good marriage is work, but it’s worth it. (Here’s an earlier list of lessons I’ve specifically learned from marriage.)
  6. When the world feels wrong, a walk outdoors can help it feel right again.
  7. Self-discipline and good habits can help to build a happy life.
  8. Observing a weekly sabbath or day of rest is actually a form of self-care.   
  9. Rather than focusing on what you don’t have, giving thanks for what you do have turns resentment into joy. 
  10. Gratitude, over time, can build contentment.
  11. Contentment, over time, can build your savings account.
  12. Love is more than a feeling, it is a choice and an act of the will. Making the deliberate choice to love when the feelings aren’t there can make the feelings follow.
  13. When in a sad place it’s okay to pour out that sadness on trusted friends who can be counted on to get you laughing or at least help to put things into perspective. And if they can’t help, then it’s okay to turn to professionals. Over the years I’ve sought professional help from caring pastors and from counselors. Every time, it made a difference.
  14. Giving generously to church and charities hasn’t always been easy for me. At times, I’ve given grudgingly. But as I look back over a lifetime of charitable giving, I believe that giving consistently even when I haven’t really wanted to, has been good for me. (See #7)
  15. Building and maintaining a friendship is work, but it’s worth it.
  16. I have no memory of life without God. All these years of walking with Him has shaped who I am and given my life meaning and purpose. Decades ago, a friend told me that he thought faith was a crutch. It’s a crutch I’ve been thankful for.
  17. Making my bed is work, but it’s (usually) worth it.
  18. We don’t know what we don’t know. Remembering this truth can be key to humility.
  19. There’s more that I don’t know than I can possibly imagine.
  20. Pride and ego get me into trouble every time. When I’m certain of my convictions I tend to forget #19.
  21. When I don’t understand, it helps to remember that God does, and God can be trusted.
  22. I believe #21 is true because I believe God loves me and every human being—passionately.
  23. I believe #22 is true because of Jesus.
  24. Raising children is work, but they’re worth it. Part of the payoff comes from seeing them grow into adults you enjoy and are proud of; another part is grandchildren.
  25. Life is hard. And in one way or another, it’s hard for all of us. When I’m confronted with people who are difficult to love or even just to be around, it can help to remember that life may have been harder for them. Whenever possible, give people the benefit of the doubt.
  26. Cooking a tasty meal for family and friends brings joy. 
  27. Running out my kitchen door to my little garden, picking some fresh vegetables and herbs for a meal or a salad brings me a crazy amount of satisfaction. A garden is also work that’s worth it.
  28. Family can make you crazy. But it’s a gift to know that there are people on this earth who will always be there for you, no matter what. Through thick and thin. Even though you make them crazy too.  
  29. A soft or gentle word really can turn down the heat.
  30. What we believe matters because it determines how we live.
  31. It’s never too late.
  32. Forgiveness can feel impossible. But if you persevere, you may be pleasantly surprised to realize it’s not.
  33. If you don’t want to lose the ability to do something, don’t stop doing it. (Thanks to my mother-in-law who taught me this one.)
  34. There are many ways to live a life, but we only get one life to live.
  35. Character matters. In partners and in politicians.
  36. Truth matters. Keep your mind and heart open to the search for it because it can be found in surprising places.
  37. Don’t defend lies just because you may have previously believed them to be true. Doing so discredits the one who called himself “the way, the truth, and the life.”
  38. The heart is deceitful. It’s easy to fool yourself into thinking you are better, more righteous than you are. Regular self-examination can be a good antidote. 
  39. The heart is deceitful. Allowing words of self-condemnation to exist on a playback loop in your brain will lead you into dark places. You are a child of God, dearly loved by Him, created for a purpose. Honour that.
  40. When you’re confronted with hard truths about yourself remember that these things are also true: mercy, forgiveness, and grace.
  41. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. (Thanks to my dad for this early lesson.) Over the course of my lifetime, my own learning has led me to expand the principle and modify it: if you give something your best, then if you fail, at least you can honestly tell yourself you gave it your best. 
  42. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly. #41 might lead you to think that some things are not worth attempting. You’ll miss out on a lot of life if you tell yourself that. If something is worth doing, it’s also worth attempting, even if you know you’ll do it badly. 
  43. Losing weight is hard.
  44. If you fall off the wagon today, remember that tomorrow is a new day, and you can start again.
  45. The “to-do” list is never done. A healthy life will mean regularly ignoring the list in order to make time for more important things. 
  46. Hardship and pain make some people better, and others bitter. Choose better. 
  47. When something has served its purpose in your life, it’s okay to let it go.
  48. Not everyone will love you—or even like you. But you can determine in your own mind to love them anyway. (See #12).
  49. If you love to sing, but lack talent in that area, then make a joyful noise—even if only in the privacy of your own car, your kitchen, or your basement (during online church in the midst of a pandemic). (See #42)
  50. We’re stronger than we know. It helps to remember that during times of testing.
  51. Life is a gift. We show our appreciation for it by stewarding well the time we’ve been given.
  52. It’s good for the soul to get outside of the city every so often, to go outdoors after dark, throw your head back, and marvel at the stars. Take along a pillow so you don’t get a crick in your neck.
  53. God can heal what is hurting, restore what is lost, and repair what is broken. There is always, always hope.
  54. Travel. Just do it.
  55. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. The same principle works for writing a book, running a marathon, earning a Master’s degree, and almost anything else that seems formidable. Break it down into bite-sized pieces (or achievable steps), and then tackle it one “bite” at a time.
  56. For years, your children’s lives are yours to steward. But they will grow up, make their own choices, and walk their own journeys. And when they do they will still need you to root for them, believe in them, and pray for them. 
  57. Where is God in the suffering? Working through His people. Want to see less suffering in our world? Then, get to work.
  58. It’s easier to clean up the kitchen as you go than to leave a great big mess for the end. It’s easier to clean up the kitchen before bed than to face a sink full of dishes in the morning.
  59. There’s always more to learn.
  60. Life is full of surprises. When I was young, I never imagined myself living to 60. But here I am. And I am thankful to have arrived.

Lessons from my grandson

Baby hands holding hair extension

One of the realities of living in a social media age is that in this time of COVID-19, even though our social interactions are limited in the physical sphere, it’s easy to see when people are struggling. Some put their anxieties on display by literally posting about them, others ask to be seen by sharing an endless stream of selfies, while still others evidence their worry and fear through political rants or argumentative comments. And there’s much about which to be anxious: lost loved ones, lost jobs and livelihoods, the sense of lost time and experiences, and of times that will never be regained.

It was this sense of the fleetingness of time that prompted my husband and me to pack our winter coats, boots, and mitts, late last month, load the car with a month’s worth of essentials, and drive the two-thousand kilometres from our home—through Ontario’s blazing fall colours north of Lake Superior, and on to Winnipeg. After months of yearning, the time had come to jump through whatever pandemic hoops we needed to jump through in order to get to know our now eight-month-old grandson.

The “hoops” included three days of driving, two nights in hotels, and two weeks isolating in an Airbnb. But we were strongly motivated; not only did we long to spend time with our first grandchild, to know and be known by him, but we also hoped to demonstrate some practical support for his parents. They’d resolutely accepted the hand this pandemic had dealt them, but we knew it couldn’t have been easy caring for a newborn with no family or friends to provide even a moment of respite in all those months.

A gesture misunderstood

The day we arrived, Davy held up his arms to me in what I interpreted as an invitation. My heart leaped with joy. My daughter’s daily FaceTime calls had clearly allowed him to see me as someone familiar. But as soon as I took hold of him, he burst into tears, shocked I suppose at the realization that my once disembodied face and voice had the power to separate him from his mother.

Fortunately, he warmed up to us quickly and we’ve had a wonderful visit. My husband has relished pitching in and helping out around the house by doing minor repairs in between bouncing Davy on his knee. I’ve loved joining my daughter in the kitchen, taking long strolls, spoiling them all just a little bit, and playing and cuddling with my grandson. I’ve been thrilled to sense his growing trust in me, to perceive him relaxing into my arms as I read to him, or to feel the weight of him grow heavier as I sing and rock or slowly dance him to sleep. These experiences have been such gifts.

Other gifts

But there have been other gifts too—gifts of watching Davy with his parents. He is closely bonded, and deeply secure. When upset, he likes to soothe himself by stroking his mother’s long brown hair the way some children stroke a blanket or stuffed toy. If he goes for too many hours without clutching her tresses, I can see him, like an addict, grow antsy for his next fix.

On a recent shopping excursion, as I pushed his stroller he started to fuss. It was getting close to nap time, and I became aware of a new sense of urgency in my daughter as she recognized it was time to head home. We were only a short drive away, but we both began to wonder if we would make it before he completely erupted.

When circumstances bind and blind us

You see, Davy dislikes his infant car seat—even when he is rested and his tummy is full. He is an active baby and he hates being immobilized. In the enforced rear-facing position he cannot see his mother. He doesn’t understand that she secures him there to keep him safe. And he cannot know when he is buckled in how long the drive will last—or that he will soon be home with her again, released from his confines, and taken up into her arms.

So it was in a moment of motherly inspiration—or desperation—that on our way out of the mall, my daughter dashed into a dollar store and purchased a cheap hair extension. Climbing into the back of the car with him for the trip home, I unwrapped and offered the ridiculous thing.

The moment he gripped it, his crying stopped. It was instantaneous. Stroking and pulling at the hair he murmured contentedly, the whole way home.

He was unhappy. He was in a situation beyond his control. He couldn’t see or touch his mother, and he needed to. But that hairpiece served as a sensory reminder of the comfort she brings. And it was enough.

Amused and amazed as I watched him clutch it and listened to his purring, a long-forgotten song lyric came to mind:

When you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.

It had been years since I’d thought of the song, maybe even decades, so it seemed inexplicable that it should come to me then. When I got home I looked it up.

A pandemic hymn?

Here are the complete lyrics of the song called, “Trust His Heart”:

All things work for our good
Though sometimes we don’t see 
How they could
Struggles that break our hearts in two
Sometimes blind us to the truth: Our Father knows what’s best for us
His ways are not our own
So when your pathway grows dim
And you just don’t see Him,
Remember you’re never alone

God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind
So when you don’t understand
When don’t see His plan
When you can’t trace His hand
Trust His Heart

He sees the master plan
And He holds our future in His hand,
So don’t live as those who have no hope,
All our hope is found in Him. We see the present clearly
But He sees the first and the last
And like a tapestry, He’s weaving you and me,
To someday be just like Him

God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind

I’ve been singing it to myself ever since.

Singer-songwriter Babbie Mason popularized the words of the refrain, which are thought to have originated in this sermon, “A Happy Christian,” by nineteenth-century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

It is, I think, a perfect song for this time of the pandemic. If you are struggling right now because life is too hard, because you are scared or grieving, or anxious because there is so much going on in our world over which you have no control, I invite you to have a listen. And maybe also to remember my grandson.


“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28 (RSV)

The Minister’s Wife

Front cover of The Minister's Wife

I was in middle school when I started babysitting for the minister and his wife at the little United church in which I was raised. George and Lois were still just a young couple with a baby boy when they enfolded me into their family. George was academic and bookish, Lois was lively and fun. He patiently answered my many questions about our Christian faith on drives to and from their home for babysitting appointments, she often had home-baked treats waiting. He was passionate about liturgy and readily loaned me books from his own library, she was pretty, had her own career, and adored her family and friends.

I quickly loved them—together with their son, and the daughter and the dog who soon followed. It wasn’t hard to do. They felt like a second family to me, taking me to their cottage in the summer, allowing me to witness the realities of clergy family life, which turned out to be not so very different from my own family’s life. Just like my family, they were not perfect. But they were good people.

I’ve long thought that George’s sophistication, encouragement, and teaching together with Lois’ transparent and joyful faith helped to set the foundation for my own faith journey in the years that have followed. The way they built into my life is no doubt part of the reason I have continued to seek out the various ministers and their wives—in the churches I’ve attended—for wisdom and friendship; I suppose I’ve been inclined to associate the people in such roles with George and Lois’ goodness and grace.

I don’t know when I first learned that my friend Karen was a minister’s wife. I don’t remember if it was a fact that she revealed to me soon after our friendship began to blossom, or whether that information was some time in coming. But I am certain that knowing she occupied that role would not in any way have given me pause to reconsider our friendship. If anything, it probably only made me want to know her more.

Karen is warm and real, loyal and honest, funny and fierce—all of the qualities that make for a good friend. And her newest book, The Minister’s Wife: A Memoir of Faith, Doubt, Friendship, Loneliness, Forgiveness, and More contains all of the very best of Karen.

In it, she reveals, “Being a pastor, and being married to one, is a complicated life and vocation. People may put you on a pedestal: They assume you are better, nicer, kinder, and more holy than you are. Or they may skedaddle: They assume you are unkind and judgmental, or just weird.”

In truth, they are none of those things, because of course, ministers and their wives are just people on a journey, trying to do their best in the life to which they feel called. Like we all are.

I’m grateful for Lois and George’s friendship long ago, for Karen and her husband Brent’s more recently, and for all of the ministers and minister’s wives I’ve been privileged to know in between. My life has been richer because of them.

If you don’t know a minister or a minister’s wife, maybe you should think about changing that. If you read Karen’s book, I think you will want to.






On pie, plans, and principles: or, “how we launched our book”

pie buffet

It was our first time ever hosting a book launch. We’ve been to a few such launches over the years of course. You probably can’t be a passionate reader or a writer with writer-friends and not wind up attending one or two. So when it came time to planning our own book launch for Craft, Cost & Call: How to Build a Life as a Christian Writer, we had a few ideas about how we hoped things might go.

The launch happened this past weekend, and looking back, I believe that things went well.

I think what helped them to go well was that we tried to let our plans be guided by our principles.

As people who believe that we are called to love others as ourselves, I can see in hindsight that it was the principle of loving others that drove our decisions. Not consciously. But as I reflect on the weeks leading up to the event and the event itself, I think it was the desire to try to treat others as we would want to be treated that shaped and undergirded most of our choices.

What kind of atmosphere would we, ourselves, most like to experience at such an event? (Relaxed fun with candlelight.) How long would we want to have to sit? (Not long at all.) What sorts of things would we most enjoy hearing? (Definitely not the authors droning on and on.) Should we serve food and beverages? (Yes, of course.) Should we do a hard sell? (Definitely not.) Should we sign books? (In advance, so as not to keep people waiting. Although, truth be told, we also wanted to avoid the awkwardness of sitting at a table if no one actually wanted to buy books.)

Again and again, we came back to the realization that even though our book launch would be a celebration of something that we had done—we did not want it to be “all about us.”

So we invited other writers to tell us a bit about their writing lives, to read portions of our book, and then to respond to it. A fire blazed in the fireplace, candlelight flickered throughout the room, dinner jazz played on the sound system, and our guests visited with us and with one another and feasted on a delicious pie buffet.

As for Karen and I, once the first guests began to arrive, we relaxed and delighted in the visible reminder that we are blessed to have people in our lives who care enough to show their support and come to a party celebrating this thing that we have done. And yes, we sold some books. We also enjoyed our guests. We ate pie. Our cups overflowed. Our hearts are full.


Announcing: Craft, Cost & Call: How to Build a Life as a Christian Writer

Craft Cost Call book title

I had forgotten the sheer joy that could come with crafting words into meaningful sentences, the exuberant rush as paragraphs and pages poured out from some inner well deep within. But this new book, Craft, Cost & Call represents the most writing fun I’ve had in recent memory.

Like dancing to a favourite song when no one is watching, part of that experience came from the fact that there was no client on this project. The only people my co-author and I were striving to please were our book’s eventual readers.

The other part of writing with abandon no doubt came from the fact that my co-author happens to be a dearly loved friend. Karen Stiller is a woman I admire greatly. Anything done with a friend can be more fun than doing it alone, especially when you laugh together as much as Karen and I do. We believe that ours is a friendship that was heaven sent; it began more than a decade ago when my name literally popped into her mind one morning while she was applying mascara. She subsequently reached out to me with a partnership opportunity, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now, our history will forever include this little soon-to-be-published book, Craft, Cost & Call : How to Build a Life as a Christian Writer. 

It was years in the making, not only because we worked on it together for that long, but also because it represents the sum total of decades worth of all we’ve each learned so far about what it means to earn a living as writers who are also people of faith.

I’m proud of this little book. I’m thoroughly delighted with the outcome. It gives me deep pleasure to think of passing along some of the hard-won lessons learned through decades working as a freelance writer. And I’m thankful for the way that working on this project together with Karen not only took my writing to new places—reminding me of the joy to be had in practicing this craft I believe I’ve been called to—but because it took my friendship with Karen to new places too.

When we thought we were getting close to the end of our writing, we sent the manuscript out to some other writers we admire and asked for their feedback. We were encouraged and overwhelmed by their enthusiastic response. Read their kind words of endorsement here.

Then we invited my daughter Jenna, an illustrator, into the project. Her drawings add a touch of whimsy to the book’s pages. Our hope is that readers will experience as much delight during the time they spend immersed in this book, as we did in writing it.

Craft, Cost & Call is our thanksgiving offering to the community of writers that has nurtured us over the years, and to the community of writers of faith who are yet to come.





Cropped shot by Felix Koutchinski, unsplash.com

The Christian practice of forgiveness is another one of those topics I approached with just a teensy bit of dread. I’m old enough to have learned a few things about myself in the course of a lifetime of forgiving, not wanting to forgive, asking for forgiveness, not being forgiven, and being forgiven when I felt unworthy of it.

I’ve learned, for example, that not wanting to forgive someone—thinking that they’ve hurt me so deeply or intentionally that they don’t deserve my forgiveness—can lead to an ugly sense of self-righteousness that blinds me to my own faults and failings. Unforgiveness quickly roots and grows into a huge plank in my eye. I’ve also learned that there’s a thin line between lack of forgiveness and self-deception; that I’m capable of being pleasant towards someone who’s hurt me—in an “aren’t I doing well to forgive them?” kind of way—then consoling my still-present hurt by talking about it to others. Like eating a bowl full of Hallowe’en candy, one peanut butter cup after another, such gossip feels good in the moment, but leaves me feeling sick afterwards.

These are not pretty things to acknowledge, let alone to put into writing.

But on the up-side, I’ve also learned a few things about the actual practice of forgiveness. Here are five of them:

  1. Forgiveness is essential: Christians believe people were made for relationship, but we are broken. Invariably, we hurt one another.
  2. Sometimes we need to forgive again and again. And then again. And again.
  3. Sometimes forgiveness is easy. Sometimes it’s so hard it can seem impossible.
  4. Even when it seems impossible, prayer, time, and deliberate acts of love for the one who has offended us can make forgiveness real in our minds, and in our hearts.
  5. True forgiveness requires acknowledging our own brokenness and need for forgiveness. It means resting in the fact that God alone is worthy to judge both the other person and me, and that God can be trusted to judge fairly because He loves us both equally, whether we both love Him back or not.

Small potatoes

Those are five things I’ve learned. But when I read L. Gregory Jones’ essay, “Forgiveness” in the tenth chapter of Practicing Our Faith, I was reminded of a few more.

The first thing Jones reminded me of is that the things I’ve had to forgive over the course of my life are small potatoes. “Thinking about forgiveness—to say nothing of finding the courage to practice it—can be difficult,” he writes. “Merely to consider this practice causes us to think about horrifying evil: slavery in the United States, or the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, or individual acts of rape, child abuse, and domestic violence.” Or, we might add, acts of terrorism against defenceless victims. “It is difficult to comprehend the depths of pain and suffering in such situations,” Jones says.

There was a time in my life when I thought that even considering the possibility of true forgiveness in such cases was inconceivable.

I don’t any more.

I’ve read about Truth and Reconciliation in Rwanda and about the Charter of Forgiveness issued by Canada’s Indigenous peoples. I’ve visited an Amish community in Pennsylvania where a deranged shooter took an entire school hostage, killing children and himself, only to have the parents of the victims express forgiveness within hours of the tragedy. I’ve read about Corrie Ten Boom and interviewed people like Kim Phuc. I’ve seen that forgiveness leads to healing, restoration, and hope, like sunshine in March leads to the buds on my magnolia bursting into beautiful blooms in May.

But I honestly can’t fathom what it means to forgive in such circumstances. I feel a little afraid to even think about it, to be honest. Afraid that I might one day find myself in a big potatoes kind of situation. And that makes me realize I’ve still got some learning to do, that learning the practice of forgiveness—that practicing the practice of forgiveness—as Jones points out, is a lifelong process.

The alternative, in Jones’ penetrating words is leading a life of “chilling apathy … loveless indifference … where people rest content with low-grade bitterness rather than struggling to transcend it.”

However his essay also offers help for discerning a way forward. He writes, “If we are to grow in the practice of forgiving one another, we need also to come to a better understanding of the shape of Christian forgiveness, of God’s practice in forgiving us.”

I’ve learned that forgiveness is shaped like a cross.

Some time ago, I was struggling with a deep sense of betrayal as a result of the actions of someone else. As I was journaling and praying about what to do with my feelings, I got a mental image of Jesus on the cross, praying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Suddenly, I knew in a way that I’d never known before that his prayer concerned me, because it was for my sins, too, that he died. “They know not what they do”  applied to me. How often had I gone about my day-to-day life not thinking about the full impact of my words or actions on others, and so sinned against them and against God? How many people had I betrayed, without realizing the impact of my betrayal? “You don’t become a Christian and stop being a jerk overnight,” as one writer friend puts it, and we’re often incapable of knowing what we don’t know. It’s harder to see the jerkiness in ourselves than it is to see it in others. But that day, I saw it in myself anew, and recognized that I had been forgiven, which caused me to realize that I, in turn, could pray, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,”  on behalf of others.

That’s surely why Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” It’s intended to be a daily confession and request for forgiveness because Jesus knew we’d need to offer up such prayers every day.

So it was that on that particular day, in that moment, the plank fell out of my eye and I confessed the way I’d been nursing my hurt by ruminating on it. And for the first time in a long time, I felt truly free.


Practicing My Faith, Part 11 – This post is eleventh in a series and part of a culminating project for a course I am taking on Spiritual Discernment and Theological Reflection at McMaster Divinity College with Dr. Wendy Porter. For context, read part 1 and part 2.

When a desk is more than a desk

It may sit in my office, but it will always be “Wendy’s desk.”

It is only a desk, a piece of furniture, an inanimate object. And yet, this desk—which came into my possession over the holidays, and which my husband, our son, and I set up in my office on New Year’s Day—feels like so much more.

It belonged to a friend who passed away in July. Wendy was 63 when the cancer she’d fought for four years finally claimed her.

When I visited Wendy’s mom, Lois, one afternoon just before Christmas, she offered the desk to me, saying it was one of the few furnishings remaining from those that had once filled her daughter’s artfully decorated condo in midtown Toronto. Lois expressed gratitude that family had been able to absorb most of Wendy’s possessions—many of which were, like this desk, antiques that had been in their family for generations. “But no one could use her desk,” she explained.

Wendy was a writer and editor who cared passionately about writing from a Christian perspective. Committed to excellence in all she did, she spent untold thousands of hours at this desk, carefully crafting written pieces for publication. She and I became colleagues and then friends over our mutual passions for words and family, and our shared Christian faith. 

As I looked at the lovely little desk, empty and gathering dust against a wall in the large garage on her family’s farm, I yearned for my friend. I thought about all the time she had spent working on its flat surface. I ran my fingers over its scratches and wondered to myself if somehow, the very grain of the wood of which it is composed might have absorbed some of the essence of who she was. 

Wendy was a woman of strong character and of equally strong opinions, and both of those things came through in her writer’s voice. Since her cancer diagnosis, we had emailed each other almost daily, sharing news of our lives, our hopes and fears, and our prayers. After four years of that kind of contact, her death left a significant hole in my life. I miss her vibrancy, her friendship, her voice. I miss her

More times than I can tell you I’ve thought since she died, “I should write to Wendy about this!” or, “I wonder what Wendy would say about that?” My thrice-weekly commutes in to Toronto for work have felt lonelier; I used to use my commuting time to compose lengthy emails to her or to read her replies. The city is emptier without her in it.

The last six weeks of Wendy’s life, she was in hospital, and I was privileged to be a part of a circle of her close friends who helped to provide care for her there. We took turns visiting—all coordinated through a spreadsheet in Google docs—in order to feed her tiny bits of home cooked food, comb her hair, fetch her ice chips and warm blankets, read to her, sing hymns, and pray. And in the process of caring for Wendy, that circle of her friends became friends with one another. 

It was as if in allowing us to care for her, she completed her life’s work by giving us all one final gift of friendship, through making it possible for us to connect with each another. 

My life is richer for having known and loved my friend, in her living and in her dying. 

So, on that December afternoon, I told Lois I would love to have her daughter’s desk as a remembrance of the friendship we had shared. 

I like to think that Wendy would be pleased to know that her little desk now graces my own office, and that I will be using it to continue the kind of work to which she devoted her own life: writing and editing for various markets from a Christian perspective.

Later, on the evening of our visit, I called Lois to tell her that we had arrived home safely, and to thank her again for Wendy’s desk. I told her that there was nothing of Wendy’s that could possibly mean more to me, to which she replied, “It’s almost as if it was passed over by everyone else because it was just meant to be yours.” 

A new day

Photo by Cristina Gottardi

The poet Luci Shaw has observed that “There’s immense power in small things. An atom. A seed. A word.”

I would add, “A realization.”

You can live a lifetime with one understanding of a thing, and then in a moment, that understanding changes. And the power and potential for transformation is almost unlimited.

I have a person in my life I have found difficult to love. Years of offences both large and small, of hurts and wounds I felt as a result of that individual’s words or actions towards me, the necessity of having to forgive again and again; it all added up to a certain hardening of my heart, and to my expressions of love toward that person being done out of duty.

I have had to exercise deliberate—rather than spontaneous—acts of care for them, because I knew I was supposed to love. And I confess that I long ago concluded that my heart would never follow.

In church on Sunday, our pastor preached a sermon in which he spoke about the new commandment that Jesus gave to his friends as his life was nearing its end. “Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus said. (John 15:12)

But what does such love look like? In defining it, our pastor turned to the Bible’s famous love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, and its words appeared on the large screen at the front of our church. Although I have read and reflected on that chapter so many times I could almost recite it from memory, as our pastor read its verses aloud, one sentence jumped out at me. And it was as if I was seeing and hearing the words for the very first time.

“Love keeps no record of wrongs.”

In an instant, I realized that the record of wrongs I have been keeping against this person is years long. And I understood that love, real love, would let that record go, would tear it up into tiny pieces, burn it to ashes, and scatter those ashes to the wind, never to be thought of again.

I woke up this morning sensing a new beginning, and a new feeling of love (yes, a feeling!) in my heart for that person. And while the sun has not yet started to peek over the horizon as I write these words, I know that a new day has dawned.



A small gesture, with great meaning

“No, no, no! I’m fine,” she insisted when he stood up to offer her his seat. But he had already vacated it, and was moving out into the aisle of the lurching commuter train to make way for the pretty young woman.

He gestured to it. But she hesitated. He was old; what was left of his hair was thin and grey. And he was stooped. He held his left hand aloft, his left elbow bent at a 90 degree angle as if it was hurt. Maybe it had been – in an accident or as the result of a stroke at some point in his past. She must have noticed.

But he was also dapper – if ever the word applied to a man it applied to him – dressed in a tidy, if mildly ill-fitting (ever so slightly over-sized) jacket, button down shirt and tie that looked like they might have fit him 20 years ago. When they would have been fashionable. When he wouldn’t have been stooped. When he wouldn’t have favoured that arm.

“I insist,” he said gently, but firmly. And even as he swayed with the rocking of the train, his voice was steady, solid, resolute.

And so, she weakened. “Are you sure?” she asked, probing, inviting, no – willing him to renege on the offer. But he merely nodded, and reached out for something to grasp, steadying himself.

So she sat.

It was the simplest of exchanges, the smallest of gestures, all over in the span of less than a minute of measured time. But I watched it happen.

And I marvelled. Was it my imagination, or was he standing just a little bit taller and straighter than he had been a moment earlier – before she had accepted his modest act of chivalry?

Or was it just that all of the other men on that train, the younger men than the one now standing solo in the aisle gripping the handle on the seat back for support, seemed to get a little bit smaller? To shrink down in their seats. To stare straight ahead, or out the windows, or at their phones. Anywhere but at the man who, through a kind gesture, had reminded us all of another time. A time when self-sacrifice was valued above self-interest, and when things like manners and gentility mattered.


“Either life is holy with meaning, or life doesn’t mean a damn thing.” – Frederick Buechner

Gratuitous and intentional insult

I am not a political animal. But there are some things that happen on the political stage that just cannot be ignored. Donald Trump’s self-described “locker room” talk is one of those things.

I am a Canadian. And U.S. politics have, typically, engaged me even less than the politics of my home and native land.

But I am a woman. And I have two daughters. And if writing about my experiences can in some way contribute to a wider conversation about the need for human beings to treat one another with courtesy and respect – regardless of gender – and for our political leaders to be people of integrity who model that kind of respect, then they will be words well written.

I was 16 the first time a man “moved on” me (to use the words of the U.S. presidential candidate). The man was in his 40s, and in a position of authority. He had offered to give me a ride home and while en route, he reached over and took my hand. I didn’t like it. But I didn’t pull away. I was confused; why would he want to hold my hand? He was married. I didn’t understand. But I didn’t pull my hand away. I remember being afraid I might offend him.

At the end of the ride he leaned over and kissed me. On the mouth. I remember getting out of that car as fast as I could, and wiping my hand across my mouth as I walked away. I remember feeling like I’d been covered in slime. But I told no one. I doubted myself, wondering if I was just misinterpreting his actions. I blamed myself for not pulling my hand away. But I tried to avoid being alone with him after that.

I was 18 the next time it happened. Just walking down the street in Toronto. A busy street. A teenaged boy walking with his friends approached from the opposite direction. I remember he was obviously younger than me. Maybe 14, 15. But as he passed he reached out and grabbed my crotch. I remember hearing his laughter. We were just two people, passing each other on the street. It was all over in a heartbeat. But I felt humiliated. Embarrassed. Horrified. What made him think he had the right?

The next time I was 23. A colleague at work – another married man (also well up into his 40s), made a pass at me. Shocked and revolted, I lashed out. I pushed him off of me. But I remember feeling betrayed. I had liked the man, trusted him. I avoided him after that. I doubted my own judgement. I wondered if I was too trusting.

Three separate incidents, each of which I’ve told myself over the years, was not a big deal.

And yet each one of those incidents is stamped on my mind, because each one left me feeling just a little bit violated. Those men (and that boy) deliberately “moved on” me, taking something from me – even if it was only a little bit of innocence – that they had no right to take. Apparently, your mind doesn’t let you forget things like that.

It causes me to believe every single one of the women who are coming forward now, saying that Donald Trump once made a “move on” them.

If he did what he is alleged to have done to each of these women, he may have long since forgotten about it. But they haven’t.


“The human body is sacred. Most of us understand, even if we don’t think about it, or have a vocabulary to talk about it these days, that the human body is not just a piece of meat or a bunch of neurons and cells. The human body has a different moral status than a cow’s body or a piece of broccoli. … Because we have this instinctive sense, we feel elevated when we see behavior that fuses the physical and spiritual. … We feel repulsed — a little or a lot — when the body’s spiritual nature is gratuitously and intentionally insulted.” – David Brooks





Reality … augmenting not required


It was Saturday, and a beautiful day for a drive and a picnic, so we packed some sandwiches, loaded Percy (our border collie) into the car, and found a small town park located on the bank of a meandering river.

Scoring a table under the canopy of a large maple tree, we settled in to visit and nibble our lunch. A gentle breeze stirred the leaves. We had to hush Percy repeatedly for not-so-gently barking his excitement at the passing dogs, geese and people strolling by. The geese and the people seemed to be out in droves, but were, for the most part, ignoring one another.

Nearby, 15 or 20 young men and women stood clustered under an ancient oak. To a person, they stared intently at cell phones. Throughout our visit, others approached them – walking alone or in small groups of twos and threes – but each in a similar posture: cell phone raised, head tilted down, eyes focussed intently on the tiny screen.

It didn’t take us long to realize we were witnessing the Pokemon Go game in action, and like amateur anthropologists, amused ourselves watching those who’d come to the same park that day seeking to capture mythical creatures rather than a picnic spot.

Soon a young mother approached, arms outstretched pushing not a cell phone’s buttons but a stroller. Her baby wore a white bonnet and sunsuit, tied at the shoulders, the colour of the sky. The baby kicked her legs in that happy way that babies do when they’re anticipating something lovely, then leaned forward, straining, yearning to escape the confines of her seat.

The mother parked the stroller not far from us, spread a blanket on the grass, then set her little one down on it with a sippy cup. Later, the mother carried her daughter in arms over to see the river, pointing out the ducks, geese and seagulls. They stayed there as long as we did.

When it was time to leave, I walked over to admire the baby and say “hello.” The little girl looked up at me as I greeted her and responded instantly with a broad smile. My heart melted.

She was a beautiful baby, 9 months old, her mother said. Pudgy and soft looking, with chubby thigh rolls, long eye-lashes framing big blue eyes, and white fuzz from now absent socks clinging to the underside of her toes, she positively sparkled with delight at my hello. Her mother seemed equally happy to engage, and told me her little girl loved being out-of-doors; that was clear, for she had seemed entirely happy and content the entire time.

I felt captivated: by the baby’s delight at my cooing, and by her innocence.

Packing up our picnic and walking past all of those people staring at all of those tiny screens, it occurred to me that maybe I had found the most precious of all the treasures hiding in the park that day.


“Our unwillingness to silence our phones often amounts to an effective silencing of our own insight as we edge out of our imaginations the time required to actually experience it.”

– David Dark, Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious


A much-needed thing

Cave Quest VBS Logo


I admit I had mixed, somewhat ambivalent feelings going into this week. Feelings that combined thoughts of:

I know I need to do this,


but it will be hard, 


but it will also be fun,


but I’m getting too old for this.

It was Kidz Kamp at our wee little church – that five-day period that rolls around each summer during which scores of community kids descend on our church property for a fun-filled, day-camp-in-the-suburbs-in-their-own-neighbourhood kind of experience.

Our church has been staging Kidz Kamp for years. Known to an earlier generation as “VBS” (or Vacation Bible School) the week always includes songs (led by an energetic youth band) with lots of dancing in the aisles, games, crafts, videos, enough cheering and hollering to give even the most devoted leader a headache, and Bible stories told in thoroughly dramatic fashion. The planning, work and preparation required to pull it all off are enormous.

This year, 115 campers attended the camp which followed the Cave Quest curriculum. Offering oversight were some 60 leaders – including adults (“Senior Leaders”), teens (“Junior Leaders”) and pre-teens (“Leaders-In-Training” or LITs). An army of other volunteers (featuring many of our church’s most senior citizens) worked behind-the-scenes to provide everything from security to first aid, drinks and snacks.

Kidz Kamp today is a well-oiled machine; it is a wonder to behold and to participate in. The sheer organizational efficiency required to pull it all off in a way that keeps everyone happy and safe is breath-taking. From pre-planned traffic routes – moving the various groups of kids from station-to-station and activity-to-activity inside and outside the church at 25 minute intervals (from 9 a.m. to noon each day) – to the creative crafts that were pre-planned, pre-cut and sorted into bins.

Our group was the “Rubies” – six lovely girls ages 8 to 11 plus a Junior Leader, an LIT and me.

I realized on Day One that I was not the only adult who went into Kidz Kamp feeling tired, a bit overwhelmed, wondering what I’d gotten myself into, praying for the mental capacity to be able to remember all my campers’ names, and for the energy, good cheer and patience to get through it all.

And I realized today on Day Five – as I felt a surge of genuine affection for each of my young campers and co-leaders, along with a teensy bit of regret that the week’s end had come – that God had answered our prayers.

Ours is a challenging world, and these are trying times. Growing up cannot be easy.

Teaching kids that God loves them, and that He will be there for them through good times and bad is not just a good thing; it is a much-needed thing.

At the start of the day today, my LIT presented me with a hand-made card, thanking me for being her senior leader and saying she hoped we would work together again next year.

Hand made note card

Hand made note card to me!

I have to say: I hope we do too.

Here’s a link to one of my favourite songs of the week, “My Hope Is In the Lord.”




Looking elsewhere

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

— Fred Rogers

We’ve been experiencing a hot, dry summer here in southern Ontario. The kind of summer that entices cicadas to celebrate with concerts while the day is still young, but compels most everyone else – who can’t flee to a lake or poolside – to choose instead the artificial hum of air conditioning. It’s been the kind of summer that turns grass golden and brittle, until it crunches like crackers beneath your feet.

For those who follow the news (and who can avoid it?) it’s also been a summer of shock and sadness. Too many innocents – indeed too much innocence – lost in the midst of too much violence. It’s almost enough to make a person lose sight of all the goodness and beauty we trust is still here. But maybe it’s precisely at times like these that we have to train our eyes to focus elsewhere for the beauty that surely still exists.

Take the grass for instance: it’s a shame about the grass. But the same conditions that persuade lawns to go dormant at times like this permit other plants to thrive. Captivating plants like chicory with its delicate sky-tinted petals, and exquisite Queen Anne’s Lace. Such subversives appear to wait in secret anticipation of the moment when, presented with just the right opportunity, they shoot upwards to reveal their hitherto forgotten existence; and seemingly overnight send long stems reaching, reaching.

I’m thinking about these wily weeds today; they’ve been in evidence everywhere recently as Percy (our family’s border collie) and I have taken our walks. Strong and resilient, they prosper in spite of the drought that makes the grass all around them appear to die. And I’m thinking their example has something to teach us.

The secret of these plants’ success against the odds is their roots; tough, swollen and deeply penetrating, they tap into sources of nourishment and sustenance far beyond the limits to which the threadlike roots of the little grass plants can reach. The loveliness of such weeds and wildflowers is there for anyone with eyes to see: frothy blooms in shades that nourish the soul surrounded by feathery green foliage, made all the more obvious, even, by their now brown and brittle surroundings. The fact that no one cuts the grass while dormant, ensures invasive neighbours thrive.

It is the oppressive heat and wretched drought that not only encourage weeds and wildflowers to flourish in fields and along roadsides, but enable them to do so.

I think Mrs. Rogers had it right.