Friday, November 13, 2015

The Gift of Time

The Christmas holidays are fast approaching. For many of us, this means an enchanting season filled with yuletide shopping, colourful-house decorations, and get-togethers with family and friends; a time to revisit and enjoy those long-held traditions.

But for others, especially amongst the elderly in our community, the hustle and bustle of the holidays can be a lonely and mournful time, leaving them feeling forgotten and susceptible to the “holiday blues,” which can trigger the grief of their losses, such as the loss of a loved one or good health or the heartache associated with losing their own home as well as their own Christmas traditions.

In my 25 years' experience working with the elderly, I had seen, many times, the sparkle in their eyes that implied a past life of freedom and agility. One such experience took place at the Sears Annual Seniors Event, a heart-warming experience that brought family and friends together before the holiday rush, an entertaining night out in the lives of our elderly, who might have otherwise felt forgotten, if it wasn’t made possible by the many dedicated volunteers. 

This event would kick off with a little shopping, stopping along the way for some yummy holiday treats and a chit-chat, followed by the enjoyment of a local bands rendition of some well-known Christmas carols. As we joined in for a singalong, the magic began to happen. From the clapping of hands, to the stomping of feet, to the footloose and fancy-free dancing, for a couple of hours, the elderly were lost in their own little world. Maybe for some, it was a flash back to their youth, and, for others, maybe it was a time away from their loneliness. Whatever the case might have been, they were living in the moment, no doubt, and it was breathtaking to witness.

Sometimes we forget that behind an elderly face is a life well-lived. It's a life that has contributed much to our society; a life that desires love and affection; a life that, in many cases, has survived the war and the Great Depression as well as the heartache of having to outlive their child/children.

Let's put away our I-phones and become more mindful of our physical surroundings. Let's get back to more face-to-face interactions that our previous generations enjoyed. If possible, let's in the midst of all the hustle and bustle this year, find ways of enriching an elderly person’s life by giving them the gift of time. It costs nothing. It asks for nothing in return, only that we show up and be present with our presence. And who knows, if it hasn’t already, it may awaken a passion in you that extends well beyond the holiday season. 

Our time is precious to us, but if we spend a portion of it at the feet of our elderly, we well, most assuredly, find great wisdom there. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Being Grateful for the Now

Today is a gift and that’s why it’s called “the present.”

We spend so much of our lives seeking and longing for things that we forget to appreciate all it holds for us today. The past is the past. Our future hasn’t happen yet. The only thing we have control over is how we live our lives, right here, in the Now. 

When I read about the tragic death of Anna Whiston-Donaldson’s twelve year old son, Jack, four years ago, it saddened me to the core. His death not only sent me to my knees in desperate prayer for Anna and her family, but for my own, as well.

Our daughter, Heather, had come out gay a few years prior to hearing about Jack’s death. And life was really, really hard. Derick and I were distraught and gripped by feelings of confusion, (mostly, over religious views) and it had put a strain on our family, not to mention how it was damaging mine and Heather’s mother/daughter relationship. 

Anna's story of her dear, sweet Jack made Derick and I more appreciative for the Now. It forced us to look at our heart, bring together all that was close to us, and hold it closer. It helped to lift us from our own losses and difficulties, changing our perspective on things. After all, our daughter was still alive.  For the Donaldson’s, however, their world would only become darker. 

In the rawness of her grief, Anna poured her soul on paper, bringing forth her book Rare Bird, which was published last year, and became a New York Times best seller. 

I have read Rare Bird. It’s not a scary book about death. Anna openly wrote about the loss of her son, how her family found their way out of the darkness of grief, and back into the light of living; she openly wrote about how in the rawness of her devastating loss, her faith and love for God was tested, but found the strength to hang on. Anna’s words will bring you to tears, but they will also make you smile, as you come to know Jack and his family. 

Rare Bird taught me a lot about life, grief, faith, and trusting God in the storms. It taught me that the past holds both fond memories and sorrow, and that God purposely designed us to not know our future, but it’s living in the present that truly forges our path to this future. It taught me that when we show up and be present with our presence, whether it’s with a smile, a hug, or a listening ear, we are a channel of light, love, and compassion for others. But more important, it taught me to cherish what I have in the Now. 

Jack would of been sixteen today. He is deeply missed by his family and friends. And that will never, ever change. 

As for Anna, she continues to show up each day with her presence. Even through her grief, she is a beautiful channel of light, love, and compassion for others. 

You can read more about Anna’s story on her blog at Inch of Gray. She is also on Facebook.

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Fullness of the Empty Lot

My inset into our church's Roots and Wings Newsletter for Oct. 

I grew up in the sixties and seventies, in a small, secluded town, along the coast of St. Albans, Newfoundland. The bright, blue, two-story home that I once lived in with my eight sisters and five brothers have since been demolished. Today, the lot sits empty and overgrown. All that’s left is a collection of memories.

When Mom died back in 1987, I emotionally disconnected from my hometown. Dad had gone to live with my sister, Margaret, in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and except for the few times that my sisters and I had taken him home for a visit, I opted to stay away. During those years, I held onto the memory of my own families’ last visit with Mom, which took place one month prior to her death, remembering how she glowed when she danced with our daughter, Heather, and held our son, Patrick, for the first time. I may not understand all of God’s ways, but I believe, without a doubt, He gave me that time with Mom for a reason. It's a memory that I will always cherish; a moment in time where we not only bonded as mother/daughter but also as two loving mothers.

Over the last few years, I often find myself reminiscing and writing about my childhood, thinking about the hardships our large family of fourteen had to endured, even though, in some ways, life was much simpler back then. We had the freedom to explore, take on new adventures, and allow our imaginations to run wild. During the summer months, time was of no essence. It wasn't uncommon for my younger siblings and me to leave home in the morning, lunch in hand, with the stipulation that we return before dark. 

“Take care of the little ones, Joyce,” Mom would yell as we headed up the driveway.

 “I will, Mom,” I’d yell back.

Today, my siblings and I are orphans. Dad lost his fight to congestive heart failure three years ago, leaving the life that we had together with our parents no more than a memory. There are days when I feel the sadness and loneliness, associated with an orphan's grief, rising up on the inside of me. Then I sit down to write, because writing is a big part of my resurgence of thought. It sparks a magical inspiration in me; it’s the magic of a little girl who comes to life in a new light. And as I write and dig deeper into my memory bank, whatever I am met with along the way, whatever rises up in my body, soul, and mind, there in the midst, even amongst the tears, I find joy, I find laughter, I find happiness, as well as pain and regret. But most importantly, I find an incredible sense of peace; the true essence of my awareness; it’s an epiphany of sorts that love is not earned in this life, but freely given, with no strings attached.

And perhaps this peace comes from knowing that both of my parents are finally together again. Or perhaps it’s because I am fully aware that my childhood, empty lot don't represent an empty life, heart, or mind. What it represents is a part of my personal history; a glance back into the makings of my inner soul; a realization that good memories are to be cherished and the bad ones forgiven, if not forgotten; a realization that if we try to do our best for one another in this life, that gesture of love will move us forward. 

This fall season, the deciduous trees will once again shed their leaves, causing them to look bare and lifeless, only to burst forward in the springtime with new life again. My childhood, empty lot does the same for me. On the surface, it looks overgrown and empty, but in my imagination, I bring it back to life; a life filled with the hustle and bustle of belonging to a large family. And it's a memory that fills my heart with thankfulness.

During this fall season of Thanksgiving, are there things that you need to shed or look at in a new light? What are you most thankful for? 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Mother/Daughter Mission Trip Experience

In the summer of 2005, my daughter, Heather, and I went on our very first mission trip to Galena, Mexico. We had heard from many people that the Mission Field was life-changing. But being that it was our first trip, we weren't sure what to expect, and neither did we have any expectations to be used by God in a particular way. All we knew was that we were going well outside of our comfort zone.

During the first few days in Galena, Heather and I quickly discovered that our mission trip was indeed going to be life-changing as well as overwhelming at times. We not only had the privilege of serving alongside some truly, amazing people, but we also witnessed poverty at its worse. In no way were we prepared for the extreme, living conditions that we saw in the small, secluded, mountainous villages in the surrounding area. It was heartbreaking to see the little children and their families living is some of the most desperate situations imaginable.

One of the villages we visited outside of Galena.
I read somewhere that contentment is an inner rest and peace that comes from being right with God and knowing that He is in control of all that happens to us. That's what we witnessed amongst the people in Galena, especially in the poorer villages. Despite the immense poverty that surrounded them, there was a wealth of spiritual contentment, peace, zeal, and deep faith. It was some of the most memorable interactions that captured our heart and have stayed with Heather and me to this day.

The people of Galena also reminded us daily that materialism meant nothing to them. What mattered most was the basic fundamentals of life, such as food, clean water, shelter, and some form of health care. It was all of the things that Heather and I had taken for granted back home in Canada.

But regardless of the hardships that surrounded Galena, for a short time, our mission team was given an opportunity to be God's light, to pierce through the darkness, and change lives. Still today, I wonder about the spiritual progress and well-being of the people that came to Christ during our mission trip, because it was evident that the battle against the powers of darkness lurked in the shadows of their city and villages, including the practices of witchcraft. And my hope is that our team did leave a lasting impression for the people, to not only help them continue to fight the darker forces, but to also help them realize that they can do all things through Christ who strengthens them.

Nevertheless, it was a great opportunity to do missions and serve God alongside my daughter. It did indeed change our life and brought us a new perspective of what it truly means to be content.

Sometimes life calls us to lose ourselves in order to find ourselves. 

They loved getting their picture taken.

Cheese!
Heather and I fell in love with this little, blue-eyed girl.
 Everyday, her mom, Rosy, would touch and admire our shirts,
 so we left her most of our clothes.  
We couldn't forget our dear elderly. 
Waiting to open gifts. It was amazing what brighten their day. 
A fun day of Art. 
 I took care of this little one each morning
so her mommy could participate
in the Adult Bible Study.
 And I wanted to bring her home!


My beautiful daughter and her little friends. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

My First Inset Into The Roots and Wings Newsletter


Roots and Wings is a newsletter that our church publishes 3-4 times a year. This newsletter is a way of keeping everyone informed about what goes on at Burns Presbyterian Church, especially those in our community that can no longer join us. It's also a way to share our life experiences with the congregation.

Derick and I have only been at our church for two years, and through the Roots and Wings newsletter, we were able to look inside the history as well as the life and work of the people at Burns.

In Dec, Rev. Charlotte asked me to consider writing an article for Roots and Wings, which was to be published around Easter. Upon much consideration and prayer, I casted my fear aside and humbly accepted. Below is my first public inset into this newsletter.

                                                      The Bread Maker  

My mother made bread daily growing up. Not only was it a stable for our diet, but the cheapest, practical way to feed our large family of fourteen. 

I am sure many of us can relate to fond memories of our mothers and grandmothers homemade bread. One of my favourite memories, as a child, was coming home from school to the house filled with the aroma of Mom’s fresh-baked bread. I would slump onto the couch, and eagerly await for her to slather a thick slice with molasses. It was mouth-watering to say the least.

At the age of ten, Mom taught me how to make bread. It was a wonderful bonding time, as she gladly took me under her wing to demonstrate the rhythm required in working and kneading the dough. And without a recipe, just a pinch of this and a sprinkle of that, she took a large pan of flour and transformed it into a big doughboy. I was in awe as I watched her soft hands, which never seemed to tire, knead and fold the dough to perfection.

When the process was completed, Mom gave the doughboy a big slap. “Why did you slap it?” I asked. “For good luck!”she replied with a smile. I could tell by the glint in her eye that she was proud I wanted to learn the art of bread making at such a young age. 

But just as we need bread to nourish our physical bodies, we also need Christ, the true bread of life, to nourish our souls. He is the antidote, the staple in our faith walk, and the Bread that holds us All together. With His gentle hands, He kneads and transforms the finest ingredients into our lives, making us unique individuals for His purpose. 

As we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection this Easter and the upcoming 180th Anniversary of Burns Presbyterian Church, we need to also remember the trail blazers, both past and present, because they were and are the bread markers for Christ. Without them, the message of the true bread of life would go stale, and His church would falter.