Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Orchestra in My Life

Tonight I was given the gift of going to the symphony.  (Thanks, J.)  As I sat there and watched and listened, I had thoughts about the correlation of the orchestra and the choir to people in my life.  These may not be formulated completely, but here goes.  (And, I'm certain they are not completely original - in that others may have made these comparisons before, but I'm okay with that.)
1)  There are many different instruments in the orchestra, different voices in the choir.  There are many different people who are playing into my life right now.  Family.  Friends.  Colleagues.  (And I am blessed to have colleagues who are also friends!)  Neighbours.  People from the school community.  People from the church community.  Friends of my family.  I could go on, but I won't.

2)  These instruments are sometimes playing all at once, creating powerful music that soothes and calms or music that incites a playful spirit or music that storms the gates of heaven or something inbetween.

3)  Sometimes only a few instruments are playing at once, their gifts shining brightly into my life.

4)  The different groups of instruments take turns playing the melody.  While one group plays the melody and carried the song, the others play the harmony, supporting and deepening the music.  While one group takes the forefront in my life, the others remain playing, but more quietly and in the background.

5)  Even within one group of instruments, there are different techniques used to create the music.  Just as different members of my orchestra play into my life in different ways and at different times.

6)  As the orchestra played, my mind was free to wander and thoughts were free to percolate.  As my orchestra of support has played into my life, I have been freed to rest, to savour, to be fed (and not just physically), and to ponder.  What a gift.

Portions of the lyrics from the symphony -
Mahler's Resurrection Symphony
The loving God will grant me a little light,

Which will light me into that eternal blissful life!


O believe, my heart, O believe:

Nothing to you is lost!

That for which you suffered,

To God will it lead you!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Called to Action

"...I may feel disappointment and the despair may flood high, but to give thanks is an action and rejoice is a verb and these are not mere pulsing emotions.  While I may not always feel joy, God asks me to give thanks in all things, because He knows that the feeling of joy begins in the action of thanksgiving."     Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts (p. 176)

I feel in many ways that I haven't been doing much besides reading, visiting, reading, resting, reading, watching television, and a little bit of walking and sewing these last few weeks.  But then again, when I think of giving thanks as an action, maybe I have been doing more than I thought.  This time of rest is, for me, a time of reflection and time to pause from the racetrack of my life.  And, while the impetus for this all wasn't my first choice, I really feel that I have been able to participate in the action of thanksgiving.  I have been able to see LOTS of positive things about this time.  I have been able to experience LOADS of expressions of love that I can give thanks for.  My mind has been freed of the minutiae of day-to-day living and the constant mental lists of things that need to be done.  I have been freed to see the gifts God gives us every day.  And so I will follow the call to action and practice daily thanksgiving in order to develop and strengthen that habit of the mind and soul.  (And I will take my daily walks outside to strengthen my body, lengthening those as I am able.)

Coming soon: the beginnings of my list of 1000 Gifts - a work in progress

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cancer is so limited.

Cancer is so limited.
Cancer is so limited.....
It cannot cripple Love.
It cannot shatter Hope.
It cannot corrode Faith.
It cannot destroy Peace.
It cannot kill Friendship.
It cannot suppress Memories.
It cannot silence Courage.
It cannot invade the Soul.
It cannot steal Eternal Life.
It cannot conquer the Spirit.

Author Unknown

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Gift of Easter

"When I realize that it is not God who is in my debt but I who am in His great debt, then doesn't all become gift?"  Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts (p. 94)

What more is there to say?  He arose!  He conquered sin and death for us, for me.  The least I can do is live a life of gratitude to Him.  And that is what I seek to do.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

God's Faithfulness

I had a chance to finish yet another book today.  This one has been sitting beside my bed for months now (thanks S.B.) and it was now finally read. Here are a few tidbits from Love Him in the Morning: Reflections on God's Faithfulness by John Fischer.

"We typically ask more of a day than it can deliver; so it's rare that we end a day without coming up short on something."  (p. 31)  So I guess that means we have to adjust our expectations or our efforts, depending on the day.  I remember a different quote from somewhere else - something about I was the best me I could be today.  Maybe that's another way to deal with this issue.

"It's in our regret that we throw ourselves at the mercy of God at day's end and receive the love, acceptance, and forgiveness we so desperately need precisely because we haven't lived up to expectations.  This is a daily requirement because sin is a daily condition for which grace is the daily antidote.  Regret reduces us to unconditional love."  (p. 33)  What a beautiful way to end each day really, to bask in the unconditional love of God.

The conversation below is said to be one Corrie TenBoom had with her father.  A conversation during World War 2.  A conversation where Mr. TenBoom wanted to show Corrie to deal with one day at a time.

"Dad, where are the tickets?"

"We're not at the station yet, Corrie."

We're always asking God for tickets out of the things that might be, and that is one request he won't fulfill.  To be caught in the fear of what might happen is to ask God for the ticket too soon. (p. 54)

It sure is challenging to wait until I get to the station before getting the tickets I need.  I'm a planner and like to have things prepared.  I am learning this spring to try to wait until I get to the station. 

"So when you feel the pressure coming, enjoy the Lord."  (p. 56)

"Faith is an action word.  I've heard the term 'faith in action.'  Actually, there is no other faith.  Faith is action.  Even if faith means waiting, exercising it is still an activity - to wait and not worry.  In fact, waiting sometimes makes the greatest demand on faith."    (p. 72)  And so I wait.  And mostly I don't worry as I wait for test results.  Mostly.  But always knowing that I am not alone and that God provides the tickets I need.

Life is Dessert


"When did I stop thinking life was dessert?....It takes a full twenty minutes after your stomach is full for your brain to register satiation.  How long does it take your soul to realize that your life is full?  The slower the living, the greater the sense of fullness and satisfaction.  The body and soul can synchronize." 
Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts (p. 76)

While the main course I have just been served wasn't exactly what I had ordered, I now have time to enjoy the dessert.  I get to live a slower life for the next weeks, having the time to savour and enjoy.  And a great dessert it is. 

The challenge is this.  How do I make this a way of life for myself?  How do I develop the habits and thinking needed to make this automatic for me?  How do I keep from wolfing down my life rather than savouring it?  Because I do believe that this serving of dessert will end and I'll get a new and changed main course of life. 

My prayer is this.   That I learn what is important in this life God has given me.  That I am able to filter out or simplify those things that keep me from savouring this gift of life, this dessert God has given me.  That I learn to savour the dessert.  And the main course, too.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Surprising Gifts

In celebration of gifts, here are three from today.

My Christmas Cactus is blooming.  Not so unusual as it does bloom several times a year.  BUT it's Easter time and the symbolism of my Christmas cactus blooming at Easter blows me away.  Easter is, after all, the fulfillment of Christmas.  The two need each other for the meaning and the gift to be complete.  What a gift.

A week ago, one of my students brought over a blanket that she and her Grandma had made for me.  She had also had the rest of the class put their handprints and names on it - calling it a hug from the class.  How special that gift is.  I sat out on my front step in the sun this morning, with that hug warming my legs.  Absolutely delightful.  Thanks, J.B.

And the third gift was a quilt that arrived via Canada Post yesterday.  A gift from a former student.  What an expression of love and care.  Thanks, E.K.

Out of darkness

"I drive out of dark and into morning glory.  I awaken to the strange truth that all new life comes out of the dark places, and hasn't it always been?  Out of darkness God spoke forth the teeming life.......

All new life labours out of the very bowels of darkness.

That fullest life itself dawns from nothing but Calvary darkness and tomb-cave black into the radiance of Easter morning.

Out of the darkness of the cross, the world transfigures into new life."
             Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts (p. 96)

Today is Good Friday.  What a day to think about darkness and light.  Many years I have actually planted part of my garden on Good Friday.  (Not this year, though, and not only because of my recent surgery, but also because right now winter still has its hold on my garden and snow still resides on a good portion of the garden.) 

Putting seeds, things that look completely dead, into dark and empty soil is a powerful symbol of Good Friday.  Things that look dead, but will show life in the future.  Things that look dead but have the promise of blessings and goodness.  As we watch and wait, we will see the life coming forth.  That's what Good Friday is to me.  A patch of darkness with the promise of Light Eternal.  Wow!  How incredible.  What an amazing gift.  For all.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

God is in the details

"God is in the details; God is in the moment.  God is in all that blurs by in a life - even hurts in a life."  Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts (p. 54)

I can certainly attest to the trust of this statement.  It is amazing to me to think about how God filled me in preparation for this detour in my life.  That's what I'm calling it - a detour.  And hopefully a scenic detour at that, with lots of delightful surprises along the way.  Perhaps some slow downs for construction, but I want to focus on the delightful surprises.

So - the preparation, or the filling as I headed into the detour. 

First of all, I had 6 months of the attempted biopsies (3 of which failed).  I certainly got used to going to the hospital and the whole admitting process.  That wasn't foreign anymore.

Secondly, (and I've mentioned this before), the fact that my teaching partner and I had changed our monthly memory work and my students spent days saying the passage about bringing all our cares to God and He would give us peace.  Our year plan had that passage for April and we changed it to March.  God was certainly in that detail.  Big time.

Additionally, (and again I've mentioned this before) Grade 4 was responsible for the chapel on community building.  We had asked for the month of April, but were asked to do the chapel in the beginning of March.  Okay, we could make that work.  God was in that detail, too.  I spent lots of time thinking about what it meant to be in community.  And now, I am experiencing in very real ways what it means to be in community.  Learning to depend on others and accept the love offerings and love expressions.  Again, that is God.

The weekend before receiving the diagnosis, a dear friend was visiting from B.C.  and we had decided (with another friend) to spend the weekend in the mountains, in Canmore.  What a way to go into a tough week - with the filling of times of laughter and "communion" with friends.  Yet again, God was in that detail.  This was not something we had done before when this friend had visited.
Two days after receiving the news I had dinner with 4 dear friends, a dinner we had planned quite some time before, and one we had tried months ahead.  The timing of this dinner was perfect for me.  What a blessed time we had. 

The weekend after the diagnosis was received, I was scheduled to go to Edmonton for a family event (see Out of Sight post).  That meant I would be seeing most of my family and could see and feel their love for me.  God was in that detail, too.

One of my sisters lives in Grande Prairie and wasn't able to be at that event.  She was able, however, to be in Calgary the week after my surgery (attending a work conference), so I was able to see her and feel her love and care.  At the risk of being repetitive, God was also in that detail.

A couple of friends had tried to talk me into joining them on their trip to Mexico for Spring Break.  I just didn't feel it was a good idea this year - for a variety of reasons.  Turns out, God was in that detail, too.

Even the delay in surgery (being bumped for a week even after being outside the operating room and meeting one of the nurses) was a time to see God in the moments.  I had spent the previous week getting everything ready: plans for the teacher taking over my class - at least enough to get started, buying clothes that would be loose and comfortable over an abdominal incision, cleaning my house (well, sort of), buying books and magazines....  That meant that for the extra week, I could just be.  Spend time with friends, relax (sort of), meet with my pastor, process, and pray.  I actually went into the surgery much more at peace than I had been the previous week.  God was in that detail, too (even though it meant that I couldn't attend my grandmother's 95th birthday or my uncle's wedding and my mom had to make a quick trip back to Edmonton for those things). 
"God reveals Himself in rearview mirrors."  Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts  (p. 157)

God prepared my heart and soul for this time.  I see that when I look in the rearview mirror.  And I'm so incredibly grateful.  God's been here in so many ways.  Yes, I have felt sad.  I have cried.  I have felt pain (both physical and emotional).  And I probably will feel that way more times.  But, more importantly, I have felt God.  And WOW, that's amazing!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Encouraging Words

I am so thankful for the encouragement I have received, words of God through words of people.  And also The Word of God through prayers and messages from others.
Psalm 62: 6 - 8  "He only is the rock of my strength, my refuge is in God.  Trust in Him at all times... Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us."

Isaiah 41:10  "So, do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you:  I will uphold you with My righteous hand."

Exodus 15:26  "I am the Lord, who heals you."

2 Thessalonians 2:16  "May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word."

Jeremiah 30:17  "For I will restore health unto thee..." saith the Lord.

Psalm 33:20  "We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield."

Philippians 4: 5 - 7  "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ."

"Do not worry about anything.  Instead, tell God everything.  Ask and pray.  Give thanks to Him.  Then God's peace will watch over your hears and minds because you belong to Jesus."

Exodus 14:14  "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still."

Joshua 3:4a  “Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.”

Isaiah 43: 2 - 3a  “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.” 

Psalm 46  "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea......The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress..... Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."

Remember - the bigger the mountain is, the better the view from the other side.  (on a picture drawn by a former student)

I ask our God, our Master, Jesus Christ, God of glory, to give you insight in knowing Him personally, your thoughts to be focussed on joy.  So you can see exactly what He is calling you to be, understand the glorious immensity of His love for you, the extravagance of His work in you.  May you trust Him to give you endless energy and boundless strength.  (a prayer written for me and modelled on a passage of God's Word in a staff devotion time earlier this year)

(song written in a card from a friend)
I have a Maker
He formed my heart
Before even time began
My life was in His hand.

He knows my name.
He knows my every thought.
He sees each tear that falls
And hears me when I call.

I have a Father.
He calls me His own.
He'll never leave me,
No matter where I go.

Peter Kreeft  "Every suffering can be blessed because it hollows out a place in us for God and His comfort, which is infinite joy."  (in a card sent by a friend)

Places to See

I just started reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp yesterday.  (Thanks for the Indigo gift cards some of you gave me - used to buy the book rather than waiting for it through the library which I had been doing.)  And the book totally speaks my language.  She is talking about living in wonder and gratitude.  Goals I've had for the last number of years.

"I wonder too....if the rent in the canvas of our life backdrop, the losses that puncture our world, our own emptiness, might actually become places to see.

To see through to God.

That that which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God whom we endless crave." pg. 22

Wow, that quote in the first chapter hit me hard yesterday.  I am living in one of those holes that splatter our sight, one of those tears in the canvas of my life.  And, I have TOTALLY seen God in it.  In ways I never would have expected and have never understood.

So, where have I seen God in the last 4 weeks?  Because that's all it has been since I received the diagnosis of endometrial cancer.  It's a little scary to begin the list because I might leave something off.  Then again, I can always add to the list later.

1) in the hugs and tears of those I love (and those who love me) when I shared the news
2) in the prayers of those same people, and of the members of the school and church community, prayers that have most certainly helped carry me
3) in the eyes and tears of my students when I shared the news and they asked their questions
4) in the prayers of those same children
5) in the words shared with me through cards, phone calls, e-mails
6) in the non-verbal encouragements through eye contact, hugs, and smiles
7) in the encouraging gifts of meals, flowers, quilting magazines, books, movies, visits (and all the offers that haven't been taken up yet)
8) in the time my parents and my sister were able to be here to look after me (what a long time for my parents to put up with sleeping in my cold basement that doesn't have a bathroom!)
9) in the fact that my doctors pursued the referrals and the testing even though they really thought it was all pre-menopausal "stuff"
10) in the quick turnaround between diagnosis and surgery (despite the extra week waiting due to being bumped for emergencies)
11) in that extra week to just be and spend time with family and friends rather than madly getting things ready
12) in the blue jay mentioned in a previous post
13) in the sunshine on my face when I go for my daily walks (all of 2 or 3 houses to the north and 2 or 3 houses to the south)
14) in the provision of an excellent teacher to take over my class while I can't be there and in her openness and willingness to communicate with me
15) in the gift of medication that can ease the pain and not result in nausea - truly a huge gift!
16) in friends who are willing to do laundry and bring out my garbage
17) in the little home maintenance jobs my dad did for me (things I lived with, but are SO nice to have fixed)
18) in the peace that I have felt, rather than fear (most of the time, that is) - which HAS to be God
19) in the daffodils, tulips, grape hyacinths, and bleeding hearts which are trying desperately to demonstrate that spring will eventually come to this land of the very long winter
20) in the gift of sleep - and even of discovering the ability to nap!

That'll do for now.  And, I think it gives evidence of God showing Himself!  What an awesome God.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Joan and Andy's quilt

At Christmas time I also finished a quilt for my sister and brother-in-law for their 25th anniversary. 

Here I go!

There is something about deadlines that helps me get things done.  With my surgery this week (well, in about 3 hours), I managed to get a few things done.  I finished one quilt that had been sitting around for a long time just waiting for the last little bits (the bits that aren't so fun but needed in order to get to the completed stage).  I also managed to get two others ready for just the hand sewing of the binding (ones that had also been sitting in the pile for a long time).  Good feeling.  And then I had the brainwave that now would be a good time to take my machine in for servicing as I won't be using it for the next couple of weeks.  Hopefully after that I can manage to work a little bit as the recovery continues in a couple of weeks.

These are the pictures of the finished quilt.

So, today is the surgery.  At least that's the plan.  That was the plan a week ago too, and I was bumped for emergencies.  I am happy not to be the emergency.  And the week turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise.  It is amazing how God can use not so pleasant things and turn them into experiences where His grace is abundantly evident.  I hope that I will never forget the strong lessons of these last weeks.

At our school each grade level has been responsible for leading a chapel on a particular concept associated with living our lives for Christ.  In March my grade level led the chapel on community building, so I spent a great deal of time thinking and talking about what it means to be community.  And now I have been able to experience just what it means to be a part of community (and this will continue as I recover after the surgery and I learn what it means to ask for and accept help).  I have been incredibly blessed and surrounded by many communities (my family, my students and their families, my colleagues, my church, my neighbours, and beyond).  All of that support and the incredible grace of God has helped me to this point of feeling calm and peaceful about today.  What a gift.

The memory work that my students had for March was also a huge blessing in that regard.  And - here is God at work again - we had originally planned it for April, but changed it to March.  Philippians 4: 5 - 7 - "Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  I have experienced that peace - and yes, it does transcend all understanding.  Oh, what gratitude I feel for the gift of God's presence, God's faithfulness, and His abiding love.