Finding Healing in His Presence

It’s mid-afternoon and I stand in the middle of the grassy yard, eyes transfixed on the movement of light dancing all around me on the ground.  The maple branches are caught in a lyrical dance that fools and I cannot stop watching this masterpiece before me.  

My daughter runs past, asking, “What are you doing, Mommy?”  By this time, I’ve pulled out my phone to try to capture this magic.  It’s hard to explain that it’s not so much the shadows and light that I’m taking pictures of, but the feeling in which I’m enveloped.

This late summer trickery takes me to another backyard, another time period, and another mother.  It calls me in to reflect on time now lost and people now passed.  The dancing light lures me in like a cosy bed on a cool day.  It’s familiar, comfortable, mystical and it feels like time has stopped.  

My daughter stops and asks me again, “What are you doing, Mommy?” She peers at the screen on my phone and positions her feet and legs in the frame to capture herself.  “Look at me!” she exclaims.  Two and a half and full of life and joy and expectancy.  

The light draws me in and she pulls me out – a lifeline in the grief that has poured another wave over my head since returning to my hometown.  She leans over and presses the button to take a picture on my phone over and over again, except it’s still in video mode and the result is a small collection of millisecond videos.  She insists on playing each one.  She laughs and skips off to play with her big sister.

Why am I capturing light when the picture of beauty is in these two beings who grew in my womb?  Why am I so distracted?  Why am I entranced by the movement dancing from tree to grass to bush to shrub?  Its ethereal nature draws me in like the intimacy of the Holy Spirit nurturing my soul.  It’s like a gift from God, communicating His very presence with me.   

Henri Nouwen once wrote, “Each day holds a surprise.  But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us.  Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or joy.  It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.”

In this holy space, time stands still.  God’s presence is loud but gentle, His voice firm but loving. He picks up a little piece of my heart that had broken off and makes it whole, along with the rest of me.  

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I often find that the Lord speaks to me when I’m out in nature.  How has God been meeting with you lately?

Transition Discomfort

Several weeks ago, I decided I would move away from hosting my blog on WordPress. I had researched several other options and decided on a host with a good reputation. The reviews I had read made it seem like the transition would be easy peasy lemon squeezy, like the saying my five-year-old has recently picked up. I filled in the forms, gave consent to make the switch and almost immediately regretted my decision.

After furiously reading more in-depth about transferring my domain to a new host and my website to a new server, I was still grasping to understand what I was attempting to do. It felt like it was a big mess and I began to doubt my decision to move. I looked up the 30-day refund policy, while still communicating with the technical gurus at the new server.

It took some time, lots of calming essential oils and tweaking but it finally seemed like my website would happily survive in its new place.

Just over a week ago, our family made an international move from our place of service, and my husband’s home, in Thailand, to my homeland of Canada. We both felt led by the Lord to make this move and had peace despite many details that were not yet clear. We had good goodbyes, a lovely send-off at the airport, fairly uneventful flights, and warm embraces when we eventually arrived back on Canadian soil.

The messiness of adjusting to something new can be uncomfortable or confusing or both. But if the Lord is in it, we trust Him that the outcome will be worth it.

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I remember that when I first moved to serve in Thailand in 2005, I was so overwhelmed.  On the drive from the airport, through the busy city to my organisation’s office and guesthouse in Bangkok, I felt panicked and flooded, like the streets, flooded from the late afternoon’s deluge. Days later, after sorting out my visa and work permit in the capital, we drove north for a few hours to Lopburi.  I felt like a fraud.  There I was in Thailand, where I felt for YEARS that God had called me to be, and I DIDN’T WANT TO BE THERE.

There.  I had said it – in my head, at least.

We were orientated to our new city and language school, and my roommate and I were given the keys to our new home.  I cried each day.  Wept quietly.  But I knew, without any doubt, that the Lord still wanted me there.  He still wanted me to follow Him.  He still wanted me to serve Him in the on-going work in seeing the Lost come into His Kingdom in S.E. Asia.  He was still with me.  But it was uncomfortable, lonely, and I was still overwhelmed.

Years later, another female colleague shared with me her story of when she arrived on the mission field.  Our stories were very similar.  She wept regularly in that first year.  And, like me, she pressed on.  In fact, both of us, unlikely missionaries, ended up marrying nationals and forever entwined our hearts and lives with Asia.

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Sometimes the move to something different, to somewhere new is as easy as changing your shirt to bear the cooler weather.  Sometimes, it’s as difficult as clinging onto the Lord’s hand as you, begrudgingly, inch forward.  Sometimes, there is immense joy as you enter into a season of change.  Sometimes, there is unexpected grief.  Sometimes, it’s a combination of all of these things.

Hudson Taylor, founder of China Inland Mission (CIM) in 1865 once wrote, “I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize the Lord is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest positions He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult, His grace is sufficient.”

Just as the sun paints an everchanging picture on a landscape, so will we grow and adapt in whatever it is that He has called us to.  There is beauty in each new scene, even though darkness is not absent.

As Paul gave encouragement in his letter to the Roman believers,  so I include this verse to encourage you and me both: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (15:13).

When You’re Homesick for a Place or People who are No Longer There

I’ve been reading my way through the “Anne of Green Gables” books and earlier this week I came across a great quote from L.M. Montgomery in “Anne of the Island.”  It was the scene when Anne and one her good friends and roommate from the past three years, Phil, were taking one last walk through their rental to say goodbye to the house. 

Anne wondered if old dreams could haunt rooms – if, when one left forever the room where she had joyed and suffered and laughed and wept, something of her, intangible and invisible, yet nonetheless real, did not remain behind like a voiceful memory. 

“”I think,” said Phil, “that a room where one dreams and grieves and rejoices and lives becomes inseparably connected with those processes and acquires a personality of its own.  I am sure if I came into this room fifity years from now it would say ‘Anne, Anne’ to me.” Montgomery, L.M.. “Anne of the Island.” Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.. 1943. pp. 221-222.

There was something about that house and those rooms and the lives they lived in there that made it seem like their happy little existence would go on living forever, despite empty rooms and absent friends.

I feel the same way about my mom’s house.

Before my mom had passed last September, she told us that she wanted us to sell her house.  There were many reasons why she felt that way, and, at the end of the day, she would let us decide what we would do but she wanted us to know how she felt.  In the end, we did sell it and it sold quickly.

The new owners have been busy making it their own, so our former neighbours and dear friends tell us.  They’ve been tearing out flooring, bathrooms, a chimney, redoing the electrical system, getting rid of all the brick downstairs, and the wooden panelling, converting the kitchen to a mud/laundry room and moving the kitchen back to what used to be our old kitchen before our family renovated the house 24 years ago. 

While I’m sad that the house will have changed so much, I am curious to see the finished results.  I like knowing that new life has been breathed into it.  I’m also relieved.  My mom’s house is no longer the same and forever it will, in my mind at least, be the last place where our family lived and loved and pressed on despite the sorrow that enveloped us.

I can’t go back to her old house.  She’s no longer there.  And the house is no longer the same.  Life has changed.  But there’s a conversation I dream I can hear from the other side of the hedge and fence.  I dream there is laughter and a face full of joy.  I’m homesick but it’s for a place and a person who are no longer there.

As I think about my situation, I’m sure there are others, involved in missions work and or in secular vocations, who can identify with me, as well.  For those serving cross-culturally and preparing to go back to your passport country for the summer or longer, you may be facing the reality that loved ones are no longer in your hometown.  Friends and family may have moved away or, in some cases, have passed away.

So what do you do when you’re homesick like this?  What do you do when you’re homesick for a place and people who are no longer there?

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1. Grieve your loss(es).

There’s so much that could be said on this point that I could write a book.  And maybe I will.  But not today.  For now, I’ll suggest that you give yourself space, time, and self-care as you grieve the loss of your significant people or person and your special but changed places.  Be kind to yourself in this season.    

2. Take time to pause and express thankfulness to God. 

Thank Him for your past, present and future and for the people He’s put into your life and will put into your life.  When I thank God in this way, I’m able to grieve with hope and joy.  Despite what seems like an oxymoron, joy and grief can and do co-exist.

3. Redeem a place with new memories.

The pain of your loss may be overwhelming and paralyzing, at times, and may be heightened when you are back in that place and your person or people are no longer there.  Don’t be afraid to enter those spaces again, but, when you’re ready, begin to make new memories there.  Initiate creating community and new adventures.  Invite friends to meet for a picnic at a park where you used to go for walks with your loved one.  Start a new Christmas tradition, while infusing some of the precious traditions you shared with your loved one.    

4. Create your pile of stones.

In the Bible, God’s people often built or did something to cause them and their descendants to remember a specific act of God.  In the book of Joshua, chapter four, the people of Israel constructed a pile of twelve stones as a testimony of what God had done to bring His people into the promised land.

“And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” (Joshua 4:2-24, ESV)

There are a lot of ways to remember how God has helped you, provided for you, counselled you and shown his love for you.  You could make a physical object, like a pile of stones, or a painting or sculpture.  You could take a picture of a place, person or event, frame it and place it somewhere in your house where you would take notice of it frequently. The bathroom?  The kitchen near the sink? On your bedside table?  Choose what works for you.  Another way of remembering is through words – journaling or writing a poem or even a book.  Ask the Lord how to show you how to commemorate your loved one or place.

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This list has no time limit and there is no one method for accomplishing each of these steps.  They do not need to be done in chronological order and may even be done simultaneously.   

I suggest that you invite a friend to journey with you in the process.  Find someone who can listen well and love you as you share about your loss(es).  You may find it helpful for them to keep you accountable for some aspect of your journey.  Try journaling as a way to process each step.  I find writing a cathartic experience and I appreciate looking back and seeing how I’ve grown and what I’ve learned along the way.  Maybe you will too.

But most of all, know that you’re not alone in missing someone who is no longer in your life.  You have good company with people who are also grieving various losses.

We may be homesick, and that’s okay.  May it not end there.  Let us look to the future, into Christ’s face.  

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:16, ESV

The Perspective of Returning Home

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I recently looked back at some of my early blog posts, dating back a little over thirteen years ago. I was in the middle of preparing to go to the mission field and, as I read, I was reminded of the many ways that the Lord prepared the way for me. I was single, young, determined, adventurous, and possessed a heart full of faith to follow the Lord where He was calling me. Now, all these years later, I am married with two small children, not as young as I used to be, just as determined, more cautious than adventurous, but still with a heart ready to follow Jesus as He prompts me through His Spirit.

We are heading back “home” to Canada this coming August and I am unsure whether to call it home or not. My mom passed away last year and my dad twenty years before that. My sister and her family live two hours away from where we’ll plant ourselves, and many of my close friends now live scattered across Canada.

Someone asked me recently about what was waiting for us in Canada, assuming we had jobs lined up and a place to live. “Oh,” they replied when my response was negative towards both of those things, “so you’re just waiting on God to see where He’ll lead you?”

The unknowns in my present are just as intimidating as they were when I was anticipating moving to SE Asia. But the difference now is that I have almost thirteen years of experience of walking through unknowns, following the lamp that the Lord’s provided to show the path in front of me, and the regular discipline of reminding myself of what is true.

I know He is El-HaNe’-eman – “faithful God” (Deut. 7:9 ESV). He never changes and, despite circumstances around us being uncertain, He is unwavering in His character.

I know He is Eliezer – “my God is help” (Exodus 18:4 ESV) – and Ebenezer – “stone of help” (1 Samuel 7:12 ESV). I’ve experienced His provisions countless times and often in the most surprising ways. Like Samuel in 1 Samuel 7:12, I have set up various stones – some real, some in my journal, and some through a picture or other creative means – in my life as a way to honour the Lord and remember how He has moved to help me and others around me.

I know He is Immanuel – “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14, 8:8, and Matthew 1:23 ESV). This has been the biggest reason why I’ve been able to persevere in serving the Lord. I have never had to tackle any task, assignment, follow-up visit, language and culture lesson, visa trip, immigration question, sickness, home assignment, dangerous road, sermon or annual reunion conference by myself. He has always been with me and will always be with me. Despite Satan’s attempts to convince me otherwise, I was never alone in that village in the wooden house, never forgotten in that mountainous assignment, never left behind when my husband went off to work and I was home alone with our children. His presence has satisfied my soul, calmed my anxieties and empowered my heart.

So, I anticipate returning home with great expectations of the Lord to remain the same. I know He will lead us through new challenges and adventures, He will provide exactly what we need (and sometimes what we may think we want) and when we need it, and He will remind me that He is with us and will continue to be with us through it all.

Home has changed. And I’ve changed too. I don’t know what home even really means anymore except for it to be the place where God invites me to be, too.

If you’re returning home for the summer or for longer, which testimonies of God’s goodness is the Holy Spirit reminding you of so your soul may be strengthened?

Five Minute Friday: Include #FMF

Ever since my daughters were born, as a part of our day, we would often call my mom via Skype while we were eating breakfast.  I’m sure it wasn’t the most thrilling conversation for my mom but it was such a normal interaction and it made it feel like she was close even though she was half a world away.

When my husband and I would see notifications on Facebook letting us know that Mom had “liked” or “loved” our most recent posts and pictures, we knew my mom was up late, favouring her night owl tendencies.  She would be faithful to leave a comment of encouragement on whatever we had shared.  We used to joke about how she “liked” everything but deep down we truly were appreciative of her efforts to connect.

Now that my mom is gone, having passed away last September, it feels abnormal to go through a breakfast without calling her.  It feels empty to not see her comments and likes on Facebook.  It feels sad that we no longer receive cards in the mail from her.  It feels strange that she’s no longer just half a world away but actually in heaven.

But we’ve found ways to include Mom in our everyday.  We talk about our visits to her in Canada.  We sing songs that were the old reliables that my mom would sing to my daughters on Skype.  My daughters draw pictures to put in a journal for Grandma.  I tell my daughters that this book or that toy or this stuffy or that dress was from Grandma.  I include extra details throughout our day that help us connect to the memories of my mom.  It doesn’t give the allusion that she’s still alive but the memories give us the full picture that she was both my mom and my daughters’ grandmother but, ultimately, the Lord’s child.

We include memories of my mom in the everyday so we don’t forget.

Unassuming Rebels

 

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Photo credit: @fotografie_thomaswilken

In my mom’s backyard garden, there was always a persistent patch of Forget-Me-Nots.  Those tiny blue buds were a happy sight each spring, bursting forth with jubilation and triumph over their successfully large plot in a non-garden area in the yard.  They were planted, with good intentions, in the middle of a grassy spot and they did their thing – they spread.

 Every spring after my dad died, my mom would dig up a fistful of Forget-Me-Nots, roots and all, and would take them to the cemetery where my dad’s ashes had been placed in a columbarium.  There was a small, orderly garden plot directly across from the plaque behind which my dad’s urn sat and my Mom would faithfully replant those Forget-Me-Nots in new soil.

The cemetery had strict guidelines for items placed at graves, in front of columbariums and in the garden plots scattered around the grounds.  They were firm that you were not allowed to plant anything yourself but you could pay the cemetery to plant trees in memory of your loved one.  We did that one year with a black walnut tree – much like the ones in the yard where my dad grew up on his farm, outside of Wallaceburg – and they stationed a small plaque at its base identifying that it was my dad’s tree.

While the tree and the plaque were nice, there was something to be gained that was satisfying for the soul through the act of replanting these flowers. My Mom would defiantly plant those Forget-Me-Nots each year, without fail.

Yesterday, was the anniversary of my dad’s death.  Twenty-one years have passed and my mom, after her own Cancer diagnosis, joined him in heaven last September.

I may not be in Canada this spring, but when I’m there in the future, I hope to continue not only the small rebellion of planting Forget-Me-Nots, but also little acts of love that will help me remember and honour my parents.  They were quiet protesters in their own right, advocating for the voiceless, the poor, the sick and the oppressed.  Their names may never enter history books, but they left a legacy of kindness and love and of sacrificial giving of themselves.

Those tiny blue blossoms.  No matter how hard the winter, they are resilient, persistent, and multiply joy.  May we weather storms of life in an equal manner.

Day 27: Overcome #write31days

There were two weekends during Mom’s last summer when she declined so poorly that the doctors told us that she likely wouldn’t make it another day.  Twice she defied their words.  Twice she bounced back from death’s door.  Twice we said goodbye (let’s be honest, we did that countless times, each and every time we saw each other or spoke on the phone) for what we thought was the last time.  Twice she rallied on.

A month before she died, she had one of these weekends where it seemed very evident that she was dying.  Her doctor prepared us and explained to us what to expect, as did her nurses.  But Mom improved and surprised us all by living another three to four weeks.

It was painful to hear her say in those last weeks, “I’m trying to get better” because she couldn’t “get better.”  She had terminal Cancer and as much as I prayed for a miracle and believed God COULD do it, I didn’t know if He WOULD do it.

Mom’s efforts in small things like brushing her teeth on her own, or eating a full meal became the everyday miracles.  Pushing her around the gardens outside and sharing a blueberry muffin with her were miracles to me, to us.  Every day became a gift when we knew our days with her were finite.  Every day we conquered mountains.

Day 26: Change #write31days

I remember after my Dad passed away, twenty-one years ago, that I envisioned our family like a stool.  Initially, our family had four secure legs, but after my Dad died, and after some time to process the loss and grief, I could see our family as a three-legged stool.  It was different.  We had to reposition ourselves.  But after these adjustments (this makes it sound so easy), we would be able to stand.  My Mom, my older sister and me.

Now with my Mom gone, I don’t think that analogy works anymore.  Not because I feel like I can’t stand but because I can (although hurting and missing my Mom something fierce).  My sister and I both have our own families, but beyond blood relatives and married-into-the-family relatives, I feel that we have a stronger sense of the community that is also a part of our family.  If we were still a stool, we’d be one with more than a hundred legs.

We called my Mom’s support group, Team Becky – maybe that’s what we still are even though she’s now gone.

Day 25: Because #write31days

Because I got so far behind on these posts, I am now in March still working away on finishing my month of  #write31days because I WANT to finish for the sake of finishing and I WANT to keep a record of my heart in grief and love and joy.  I had been post-dating the posts but I will now just post on the date I post them in real time.

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Because we risk love, we risk hurt.  Because we choose love and choose support and choose walking into the suffering with our loved one we are confronted with pain.  
There is pain in watching your Mom suffer and die.  But because she chose joy in the midst of suffering, I battle with choosing joy myself.  Because she was full of grace and kindness and love and thinking of others, even up to the end, I think I can choose to practice being those things and doing those things more.  Because she loved chocolate, I will always remember her when I enjoy some chocolate with my daughters, my husband, or my friends.  Because she grieved her husband, my Dad, for the rest of the days of her life, in sometimes a crippling way, I want to feel all the feels, grieve all the grief, cry, shout, mourn in all the time it takes, but also choose life and joy and love and laughter in the midst of my grief.
It’s because of who my Mom was that I want to be like her, and, at the same time, not like her.  I think she’d understand that.  She always wanted me to learn the good from her, and allow her to propel me past the outer limits of the sky.  Because I do believe she wanted more for herself.  And now, in heaven, she is whole, is complete, is full to the brim and overflowing with love, joy and Jesus.  

Five Minute Friday: Motivate

I don’t remember my Mom wearing a lot of embellishments or even jewellery when I was growing up. I can recall certain large chunky necklaces from family pictures when I was little, or some from later in life for a party, but it wasn’t really her thing.  But around the time she became a Grandma, she began to buy and wear clothing with sequins and sparkles on them.  She confessed that she did this so that her grandchildren would be motivated to sit on her lap and spend time with her.  Well, I have to say that this was a well thought out plan and also a successful one.  My firstborn, my Mom’s first Granddaughter, was delighted to play with the sparkly neckline on my Mom’s shirts.

Now, about four months after my Mom passed away, we still refer to any highly decorated shirt as a “Grandma shirt.”  And my daughter chooses those types first from her drawers.