Goliath

She stared fixedly at the return for her life’s labour, scattered in pieces on the ground, blinking back invisible tears as she had nothing left to cry. She tried to count how many times she had faced setbacks and restarted her assignment, but she had lost count long ago. She was filled with overwhelm as she tried to figure out where to begin this time; and she prayed to be exempt from the task. Yet even as she begged for release she knew the answer. Being able to walk away from this calling would be the equivalent of trying to live without her heart.

She took a moment to breathe deep and calm her racing heartbeat.

She acknowledged the pain and faced her fear.

And every time the gravity of the job ahead threatens to paralyze her she reminds herself of His love for her. And as she places the fragile pieces back together she thanks Him for access to His strength. When the realities of her inadequacy and failures surface she embraces His forgiveness. And when the enemy whispers stories of rejection and worthlessness in her ears she fights back with His promises for the future and her value in Him.

Many times it has seemed like the tide would win, washing everything away and sweeping her out to sea. Like a house of cards precariously balanced in anticipation of a hurricane. In those moments the darkness of the storm is not lost on her. As it threatens to engulf her and all the parts she has nurtured she frantically reaches to find a hand hold. Searching blindly in the storm for hope.

And no matter how black or violent the environment around her gets, it is always there. His hope is constantly within her grasp.

A faithful companion.

A resilient gift.

To her from Him.

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Twenty Year Night

I want to start by giving my sincerest commendation to this year’s grads and the people who love them. Being here today is proof of a remarkable individual accomplishment that was achieved though the fingerprints of many.

Also please understand that I cannot properly articulate tonight how honoured I am to be standing here, but trust that my heart is humbled and full.

Time waits for no one and 2018 marks my twentieth year since high school graduation. Recently, as my old classmates started chatting about plans for a reunion this summer, I pulled my old yearbooks off the shelf and started flipping through the pages. Drawn in part by the nostalgia and mostly because I couldn’t remember who half of these people were.

There were lots of messages and comments that made me smile. Many memories that reminded me how fortunate my generation was to be without social media and cameras in everyone’s hands. And lots of pictures confirmed that not much in style or fashion is timeless. But there was one message in particular that stood out to me. It was barely legible, assumably from an acquaintance, and it’s sentiments read something to the effect of, “School is almost over. Have a great life. Never change who you are.” A neither imaginative or heartfelt message though it caused me to think about that girl, not quite woman, from twenty years ago and how much was different now.

There are things about ourselves that we have no power to change. The parts that are genetically ingrained into our makeup and uniquely form us into who we are. But one of the greatest privileges that we share as humans is the ability to learn and change.

When I think back to the past few years I am eternally grateful that I was not the woman I was before. Every relationship and circumstance had played a role in growing my compassion, softening my standards, and bolstering my resolve. I learned that not all my ideas and opinions were unshakable and changing my mind was not a sign of weakness. I was taught the gift of flexibility and how in times of crisis it is a strong ally. I began to understand that it is our authenticity and honesty that pulls us to each other not our perfection.

We are not chained to the past or limited by our previous decisions. As we go through life we can choose a new response to an old situation. We can learn to draw from the strengths of others and be complete in our vulnerability. So that when life breaks our hearts we won’t know defeat. We will instead have confidence that even though wrongs may never be made right, tragedy can be redeemed.

I recently stumbled onto a brilliant quote from a man named Randall Stephenson that reads:

Tolerance is for cowards.

Being tolerant requires nothing from you but to be quiet and not make waves,

Holding tightly to your views without being challenged.

Do not tolerate each other.

Move into uncomfortable territory and understand each other.

I am confident that if you choose to move into this ‘uncomfortable territory’ you will be transformed. If you allow more fingerprints to be impressed into you the ones you can leave on others will be countless.

Good Grief

Grief is not a segment of time or some sort of passage that is endured. It isn’t like eating or jumping where the action is obvious to others and the activity’s starting and stopping is definable. Grieving the loss of a loved one is more comparable to breathing. It is more laborious in some moments and in others you do it in your sleep. Sometimes the only way to even know if someone is breathing is if they are alive.

It isn’t a “crutch” that aids in your recovery only to be tossed when you get over it. It will always be there in everything, silently taking in and pushing out. Done without thought, just a reflex of survival. Making some things inconvenient and even impossible at times; yet even our denial won’t change the fact that there is no choice for grief. Our only privilege is the how.

And this is where you can start to appreciate the gift of grief. It is the continued expression of love for those who are not physically with us. It is their inclusion in the influential occasions they are missing and a memento in the insignificant moments of each day. It is that constant reminder of what you had and the acknowledgment that it was real.

So grief is not the punishment. It is the medal for those they left.

Third

You are third.

God, my boys, then you.

And I wrestle with this order. In those darkest of moments when I panic at the thought of this future alone I justify a minor tweak and attempt to believe that it could work. Trying to rearrange the platform to cooperate; but the fit isn’t quite right. Then as the light returns the error glares at me. My heart spills out and I know that I cannot ignore the conviction of these placements.

And so I surrender. I fall to my knees and weep. Tears of peace, because I know that it is correct and wise, mingled with tears of shame because my weaknesses have surfaced once again. I have allowed the lesser parts to rule my heart and silence that still small voice.

There may never again be someone who recognizes that this is no bronze medal or consolation prize. It appears so contradictory; yet this position is my commitment.

You see the first love is what gives me the capacity to love beyond my human ability. It is the foundation for all my relationships. It is what allows me to connect on a level so much deeper than the surface and enables me to have compassion in the most impossible of situations.

My second love is part of my DNA. It is unalterable and I know that not even death can separate that bond. It is what keeps my selfishness in check, and is the motivation to make an honourable choice not just the uncomplicated one. Always pushing me to pour out every ounce into life and people.

And then comes you. Third place might not seem like the level to aspire for, but in this situation it is no less than gold or silver. Not only are first and second place part of your biggest cheering section, their desire for mutual completeness is matched only by mine. And though they are unable to forfeit their placement, for them the podium is not tiered. They are eager for you to join them in the champagne toast.

Even behind them you are still ahead of me.

The Face

Photo courtesy: Jordan Treder Photography

Photo courtesy: Casey Dandenault Photography

The face is a purveyor of the heart’s secrets. Whether fleeting or enduring, each expression tells a story of its own. Ironically, unless one lives in front of a mirror, they cannot fully know the story that they are telling others. We teach ourselves to suppress the parts of the narrative that we don’t want to share, but eventually a look will betray us. Our visage, like a child, doesn’t always respect our unwritten social framework and guidelines.

The face is authentic and it hates to be dishonest. And when we try to mask the truths of the heart, our profile becomes strained. Never believing the lie and not convinced to cooperate fully.

And what a gift that is; even though it is one that we are so reluctant to accept. When our hearts are breaking, or our expressions are pained, rarely do we seek to capture those moments to look back on. Instead we do our best to hide those unpleasant realities from our countenance as if it could change our circumstances.

Yet it is rewarding to hold the image of agony when you celebrate a new picture; to see genuine joy captured by the lens after witnessing the face of devastation.

The Beets/Beats


Have you ever been taken down by a jar of pickles? Humbled by a simple table condiment? Brought to your knees unexpectedly? 

The evolution of grief can feel like you are on a spiral staircase. The progression isn’t necessarily forward or backward, but there is movement. You go up and fall down, spin round and round, but rarely do you stop.

I have these moments where I feel confident and driven. I can imagine that the future will be bright and picture myself rising out of the ashes. There is a sense of empowerment and strength and I believe that the worst is behind me. Almost as though I’ve reached the summit and I’m enjoying the view. Looking at what is behind me and seeing the grandness of what is ahead. As though the clouds part just so I can catch a glimpse. And that first peek is promising. My heart can almost remember completeness. I feel in control.

I am strong. I am resilient. I am fierce.

I am tough. I am powerful. I am whole.

But as I am perched precariously on my tippy toes distracted by the break in the fog suddenly I am knocked over. Not by a gentle push to help get my head out of the clouds or a tap on the shoulder to bring me back to earth. But a wallop of epic proportions. A hit so hard that my knees buckle, the room turns dark and my arms flail like untethered straps. I’ve not only lost my breath, I have forgotten how to breathe. The blow so hard I cannot even understand how it is possible that just moments before I felt that the world held promise. That elated feeling and memory wiped from my consciousness.

Yesterday that reality came from a jar. After a long and exhausting day, trying to get supper on the table for my family, I grabbed some pickled beets from the pantry and as I tried to open it my frustration grew. Putting every ounce of strength I could muster into my effort, I could not make that lid budge. If I have the world to conquer, how could I let this jar get in my way? And as it became apparent that I was not going to be able to open the lid, that lid became my undoing. The pendulum swing was overwhelming. The anger, self-loathing, and sadness washed over in a torrent.

I am frail. I am weak. I am undone.

I am broken. I am cold. I am alone.

And as I sat there feeling ashamed for still mourning my losses I was reminded that we were never created to be by ourselves. Even when we are victorious at the top, our personal strength is an illusion. It is He who lives within me, and those who stand beside me who are my strength. I don’t need to fix myself, finish healing, and move on. I need to accept this brokenness and be used in it. Though the pain has grown laborious and I relish occasions where instead joy overwhelms, I find the ache is ultimately what drives me to relationship. And relationship is what propels and gives me purpose. It is what brings humility to each day.

And as much as it pains me to say it; may I always have a jar that I can’t open.

If You Could Be Three


“Supper Time!” I call out the back door, “Don’t forget to wash your hands!”

I watch as their little bodies rush to the house, each stamped with the marks of summer. Grass stained knees, mud smeared like war paint, mismatched tan lines, hair bleached blonde, and road rash in various stages of healing.

The noise carries from the back door and I hear them scramble to remove footwear and take their turns at the sink. I visualize the grime of the day literally sliding off them onto the bathroom sink and floor. The stampede finally makes its way to the kitchen table as everyone finds their seat and anxiously looks to see what is for supper.

The shiny hands are folded, and freshly scrubbed faces bowed. Grace is said and mouths then filled. And finally, after spending the entire day trying to keep up with her brothers, it is her turn to lead. Between bites she entertains the table with a tale of today’s exploits. Everyone is raptly attentive because she is a gifted storyteller and because she is greatly adored by her audience. Her eyes glow bright and her facial expressions punctuate each part of the day’s exciting adventures.

Her brothers have to correct her a few times. Though as it is done with such gentleness it is received likewise. The story is slightly embellished; filled with laughter and second helpings. Even in that she must do her best to emulate her big brothers. Were she not the epitome of exquisite feminine charm it would be easy to lump her in with the boys.

Once mealtime is over the table is cleared and the boys take to their neglected chores. She stays to help me load the dishwasher, fill the soap tab, and press the start button. This is one of her favourite jobs. Then she runs off to find her boys. She may be their muse, but they are her idols.

Though it is still quite light out it is getting late and it is time for a bath. She is reluctant to leave her brothers who are on the floor building Lego, a rare treat for her to be included in, but building spaceships and battle stations will have to wait for another day. She attacks the bubbles and water with the same exuberance as the sandbox. Turning the bathtub into a shop of magic potions and elixirs. As I pour the ‘invisible’ mixture over her head to rinse out the shampoo her nose crinkles and she smiles from ear to ear.

Soon she is snuggled in her pink terrycloth towel. With her face, framed by wet hair in ringlets, peeking out the top and ten pink toes wiggling out the bottom. She smells of soap, lavender body lotion and a scent that is all her own. She picks out her bumblebee pyjamas and recounts all the ones she spotted in the yard that day as I brush her hair.

She grabs her blanket and bunny off her bed and runs to jump on my lap. We read a few stories and then I hold her closer as I sing to her. Her eyelids are heavy and her thumb is in her mouth, but when the songs end she says, “Sing Dilly, dilly please Mom?” And I can’t deny her one more song so we sing it together as her head rests over my heart.

When I tuck her in and kiss her goodnight, she giggles as my breath tickles her neck. I kiss her again and again just to hear that sound. Finally there is one last embrace.

Standing at the doorway I gaze at her frame as it slowly succumbs to sleep.

“I love you Madeline.” I quietly tell her.

“I love you too Mommy.” She whispers back.

“Have a good sleep.” I say not out of habit, but to prolong the goodbye.

“Hmmm…” is her reply.

“Tomorrow you will be three.” I offer.

But there is only silence.

She is already gone.

Paper, Wood, Silk

Today would have marked our fourteenth year of marriage. Fourteen years of upholding legal and spiritual vows that bound us together with an unseen thread. On these special days I am acutely aware of my loss, but this morning my grief is exaggerated as I ponder what could have been. Mourning the fact that I will never be a half of those couples that celebrates forty, fifty or even more decades with one constant love.

My whole life I have had the privilege to witness many milestone anniversaries with family and close friends. Large celebrations where people travel great distances to reminisce about the time a specific pair has been together. To laugh at the comedic, cry at the devotion, and marvel at the path two souls could travel side by side. Even as a young woman I knew the road wasn’t like a parade, full of cheering, marching bands and confetti, but rather an endurance race, with rough terrain, harsh weather and just enough splendour to keep you motivated.

And I anticipated that day when my husband and I would be celebrated by all our family and friends. When it would be my love story that would capture the hearts of the listeners. When my history would be told as though it were the olden days. When my husband would catch my eye across the crowd and wink at me as I would mouth “I love you” back. And that look would communicate thoughts and feelings that words never could.

This all because we had put in the time. Coming back to each other humble and broken, time and time again, committed more to us and the covenant we made than to our own desires.

I always felt assured that I had it in me. It was never a question of if, but rather who with. Not in an arrogant sort of way, but with a tenacious, loyal, stubborn mindset. And the life that Colin and I built together only confirmed for me that I would get there. Knowing that our marriage was held safely in the palm of the Almighty there was never a moment of doubt that one day our children would plan that Golden Anniversary party. There was every confidence that we would survive the trek. And not only cross that finish line, but do it holding hands, leaning on each other, and more committed than when we started.

And it breaks my heart that I will not get to be one of those couples now. As I watch marriages fall apart all around me or limp along in mediocrity it is like salt in the wound. Wishing I still had the chance to fight through all the hurdles relationships bring. Missing the frustration of unmet expectations, or the resentment of unnoticed sacrifice. Hurt, disappointment, the mundane, and all the pain. The things that you only get to feel when you have someone in your world that means more to you than your own life.

And it may seem strange that on a day like today that this is what I am thinking of, what I am longing for. But these are the burdens that walk hand in hand with the poignance of such deep deep bonds. You can’t have one without the other. Which I guess makes both sides a privilege.

Really, the devastation of great loss is a testimony of a greater love.

Crossroads


It has been almost two years, on a beautiful Sunday like this one, since I’ve been back. 

It has been said many times that they were taken too soon from this world. Though today has me wondering if those left are just not taken soon enough.