Safe Crossing

The car had barely picked up speed as it left the school zone when its driver had to yield the right-of-way.  A young mother claimed the road crossing the street with her little ones scurrying behind her.

She stopped abruptly, her instincts sharp, her reactions primed.  The little ones bumped into themselves frantically looking to their mother.  She stepped backward assessing the situation, looking towards her destination then immediately to her little ones. She swivelled her hips, and side-stepped around the little ones.  Oblivious to the pending danger, the little ones ran in a circle bumping into each other again in their unsteadiness.  Then she seemed to gather her focus.  She pulled herself up to a commanding height and turned towards her original destination.  Like the lead dancer fixing a point on the stage, she led her little ones in a confident, decisive exit from the road.  The little ones hurried behind sensing the urgency of her actions.

At the same time the driver in the car ended his impromptu direction to the scene.  He had been motioning to the young mother, encouraging her with silent and friendly gestures while his face changed from pulling his brows together in concern to pulling his smile upwards in joy.

In the course of the crossing another car had stopped in the opposing lane of traffic.  That driver too had watched the young  mother and her little ones.  At the end of the crossing, both drivers looked towards each other, smiled and nodded.

The mother goose and her goslings scurried into the farmer’s field on the other side of the road. Like an audience that hopes for an encore, the drivers reluctantly began to leave.  They had witnessed one of life’s most priceless dances, a mother shepherding her children to safety.

What if the mother goose hadn’t followed her instincts to lead with confidence?  Her goslings might have bumped into each other and scurried away in different directions, lacking the necessary protection and guidance to survive.  They wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn to fly and become the goose they were meant to be.

Lord as Mother’s Day approaches, I pray in unison with mothers everywhere:

“Lord when the moments challenge us and we need to rise up in a confident, commanding manner give us the courage to guide our children as needed.   Lord, in the challenging moments we pray the prayer of David in Psalm 25:4-5 when he said, ‘Show me your ways, O lord, teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.’

As mothers we pray that we may show Your ways to our children.  Help us to fix a point in our minds and our hearts so that at whatever stage, at whatever point, we are guiding our children with confidence and helping them to continually find their safe crossings.

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Praying Through the Mist

This morning a goose landed in our backyard as a lone seeker of refuge.  As the fog settled around him I watched him wander aimlessly behind the dogwood bushes bordering the area designated as the “prospective pond. “ Perhaps he tried to navigate towards the small wetland abode that lies just beyond the cul-de-sac, but unfortunately was thrown off course by the obscuring ground cover.

As I watch, he stops momentarily, allowing the fog to enclose his feet; his feathers ruffle slightly as if he is trying to identify the swirling mist.  He’s listening, allowing the hazy dampness to encircle him.  He waits, perhaps searching for a sense of an uplifting current that would help him arise and be airborne amidst the clouds.

The grayness above merges with the paler layers lurking on the ground.  I try to wipe the window to see the goose more clearly, only smearing a smudge on the glass, not clearing my vision.  When I look again, he’s gone.  Hopefully he discovered a way to rise up and find guidance for his flight.  Maybe he realized he had landed too soon to a place promising a welcome habitat.  Maybe the dampness encouraged him to seek an airstream that would lift him to a higher vantage point.

Following his brief visit I open the book on prayer I am currently reading, The Only Necessary Thing by Henri J. M. Nouwen.  He states, “The discipline of the heart…makes us aware that praying is not only listening to but also listening with.  We stand in the presence of God… with all we have and are: our fears and anxieties, our guilt and shame…our joys, hopes, dreams…in short, all that makes us who we are.  With all this we have to listen to God’s voice and allow God to speak to us in every corner of our being. “

Sometimes when I pray I feel like I have landed in a patch of swirling fog, admitting my mistakes, but still hoping to find the promises I am seeking.  I’m trying to acknowledge the greatness of all God does, while still justifying my prayer requests.  Sometimes I come wanting future plans to be revealed within my timeline, reluctant to wait for God’s designs.

Lord let me be more like a goose grounded in the murkiness of a morning fog, awaiting the right timing to take flight again.  Let me listen to you with all I am. Help me to reposition myself so that I am ready to hear and to find the place where you want me to be.  Lord let me listen like a goose ruffling its feathers sensing the uplift of a low-lying cloud’s hidden current.  Lord may your spirit flow to every corner of my being as I trust in your guidance and love.

I begin to pray, letting myself settle into the presence of God, knowing that He will be with me as I rise through the mist.

Bunny Breakfast Surprise!

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The bunny hops across the downspout over the matted brown grass, landing partially in a persistent patch of snow reluctantly giving up its presence on this early spring morning.


He places his hind legs and tail in the caramel colored camouflage of strewn leaves lost amongst last year’s dead grass.  Leaning into the snow, his nose pokes beneath to scout out a likely spot to forage for food. White fur tufts peek out from beneath his grey-brown coat, tangling their snowy likeness in their struggle to continue their cloaking capability.  The warm weather prior to this last snowfall ushered in the uncovered landscape that prompted the bunny’s changing outer cover, but now he is caught between the two seasons having already tucked away his winter garb.

The bunny peruses and pauses to determine the possible merits of staying in place on the refreshing mound of snow or bounding over towards the trees where his body could blend into the bark mulch, barely noticeable to the next backyard visitor.

Oh darn, he senses my movement through the kitchen window.  Alerted, his ears at attention, he instinctively hops under a spruce tree becoming completely sheltered, covered over by the bending boughs.  I refill my coffee cup, grab my camera and breath gently as if my calming presence could resonate within him, while he huddles and reassesses his next move.

As I watch and wait, I’m not entirely certain that he is still there, the low-hanging branches obscure my view.  Then a twitching nose stretches out to sift through the silence for any immediate danger.

“It’s okay, the yard is safe,” I think as if I could master a mind message to a bunny!

He looks up, seemingly to lock eyes with mine, suddenly seizing the moment to hop forward, flopping his feet firmly over the remnants of snow to a circular, protected area under the lilacs.  I’m certain he sends me a grateful acknowledgement before he bends over to snuffle and sort through the dirt.  He’s found a feast of seeds that only yesterday were scarfed and scattered by the hungry magpies.  I recall pounding on the window in an attempt to make them flee from the bird feeder hanging on the branches.

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At the time I had wanted to shoo them away so the chick-a-dees could enjoy a treat.  Little did I realize then that their magpie chaos would create a delightful bunny breakfast surprise this morning in my backyard.

Next Time?

“Oh, maybe next time,” I say to Dusty, “Here you go, catch it!”

Having missed his target, he anticipates my throw, and runs ahead of the foam disk, eager to jump up and snag it in the middle of a flying leap.  Unfortunately the direction I toss it in doesn’t always match his head start in this race.  Sometimes he’s half-way to the lilac bushes when in fact my forward fling has gone slightly askew, and he is forced to search for his favoured find beyond the fire pit.

Shortly, the resulting hoped for moment occurs, and voila, Dusty captures his prize.  Disk in mouth, he waits for me to venture close to him, but just as I draw near he mischievously runs in another direction.  Eventually he tires, drops the coveted slimy circle and rolls over for a belly rub.  I realize Dusty’s definition of “next time,” means he has happily conceded to a bit of loving after a good run with his floppy toy.

“Oh, maybe next time.”

That nagging word, “next” bothered me when I was growing up.  As the younger of two sisters, 15 months apart, “next” became a worn out refrain.

“Maybe next year you will be tall enough to go on the roller coaster.”
“Maybe next year you can take piano lessons.”
“Maybe next year your hair will be longer to braid in pigtails.”

Why “next” always dragged along that qualifying maybe, I don’t know.  It bothered me for many years and became a haunting phrase in my vocabulary.

So when it happened that my two sons were born 15 months apart, I paid attention to how often I used “next time” or “maybe next year” or “just wait, next time you’ll be able to do it,” especially when addressing my younger son.

However, the Easter when Don and Chris were only two and three, a simple revelation changed my entire perception.  The three of us were sitting at the kitchen table waiting for a few hard-boiled eggs to cool before painting them. I began to read a story about the week Jesus experienced leading up to his resurrection.  My tone of voice and sadness as I explained the crucifixion moved each of them to crawl into my lap as I continued with the unfolding events.

After a bit of pushing and shoving they settled down, looking at the pictures as I read.  Finally we reached the part where the stone had been rolled away from Jesus’ tomb.  I paused so they could see the huge hole in the side of the rock.

“He’s not there.  What do you think happened to Jesus?”  I asked.

At this point, little Chris had stood up on my legs in an effort to hug me tighter around my neck.  From his new vantage point he spied something that his brother had yet to see.  I had my finger tucked into the book, waiting to flip forward for the finale, creating a gap that gave Chris a sneak preview.

All of a sudden Christopher’s face lit up and he pointed.  I barely had a chance to ask again,

“Where do you think Jesus is?”

Chris happily shouted,  “He’s on the next page.”

From then on, I looked forward to thinking about the “maybe next times” or the “next year whens” or the “it will be your turn next.”  I didn’t dwell on the frustrating way that “next” sometimes sounded like a  call to doom as when the nurse holds up the vaccination needle loudly honing in on her “next” patient.  Instead, it became this glorious word that represented hope, and opportunity. I would picture Jesus, hear Christopher’s excited shout, and hold that thought close to my heart, “He’s on the next page.”

Yes, “next” is a simple word I say over and over again throughout my day, one that has a beautiful meaning for me.  I challenge you: how often do you qualify your moments with a “next time,” or “maybe next week,” “next month,” “next year?”  I often say the phrase, “Oh maybe next time,” since it comes forth from habit, from many memories over many years.  But it no longer pulls me backwards with frustration; I let it brighten my outlook as if it always holds a brand new discovery.

This morning Dusty reminded me to be constantly ready for my “next times” whether I’ve got a head start or I need to change my direction.  He showed me how easy it is to admit when I’ve dashed off on a crazy chase, and how wonderful it feels to submit to some reassuring love.

So as Easter enters into another year, I wanted to share my prayers by simply tossing “the next page idea” to all of you.

Dusty and I look forward to continuing our walk with you, page by page.

Moments Like Mary’s

As a mother of sons I awoke early on this day before Good Friday, my thoughts turning to the heart wrenching time of Mary’s moments, a mother near the cross at her son’s crucifixion.

I know what it feels like to share a moment of silent communication between my sons; a moment when only our eyes meet and we know the messages of our hearts.  I sense that Mary’s final moments with Jesus captured a poignant give and take when all they could convey centered on a look between them.  Her devotion and love to her son, His steadfast promises to provide support for her.  She stayed near him, she gave him all she could, a mother’s loving presence imparted in a shared, accepted look.

As I open my Bible to John 19:26-27 I read,

“When Jesus saw his mother there and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, Dear woman, here is your son, and to the disciple, Here is your mother From that time on this disciple took her into his home. “

As he faces death, Jesus demonstrates his compassion to his mother, Mary.  He boldly brings her comfort and protection in her earthly home by securing her future with his disciple, John.

What were Mary’s moments then?

Did she experience flashbacks of her son’s childhood as she cared for him…a wobbling toddler reaching with outstretched arms for her, a racing child running and laughing with his brothers, a serious student seeking knowledge with confidence, a gentle healer bringing solace to the suffering, a teacher daring to challenge the leaders of his time.

What were Mary’s moments then?

I think of the good-byes I have said to my sons.  We usually have a chance to give each other a reaffirming hug ending with a simple “love you, see you later.”  Our emotions tangle our tongues leaving us with one parting pause as we nod towards each other.  I cannot begin to understand how I would say good-bye to one of my sons as he dies before me.  I cannot compare my simple good-byes to Mary’s profound powerful moments.

Did Mary uphold his presence in the final moments breathing deeply to steady her shaking spirit?  Did she hold his gaze in a reassuring rapport that spoke silent words, “my son, I love you; my Lord thank you, I pledge my life to serve others in your name.”

Tomorrow is Good Friday. My prayers pull my viewpoint to a hill outside Jerusalem, where Jesus hangs on a cross dying.  Near the cross I see Mary, her face raised up to see her son.

Mary’s moments… a focused presence, at the foot of the cross.

May I strive to model my faith and trust in like-fashion.

May I continue to look up to truly see Jesus, to share continual moments of communication with him, to gratefully accept his loving compassion and guidance in my life, to strive to find ways to serve others in his name.

May I seek to accept and recognize that He knows, and sees my heart.

I pray for…  Moments like Mary’s.

Walking Through Holy Week

A number of years ago I wrote a special tribute for my father’s confirmation class as they celebrated their 50 year anniversary in the church where they had been confirmed.  I grew up in the same church and was confirmed some 40 years ago. So as I “walk through Holy Week” toward Easter Sunday, I share these simple words, as they remind me that life may change, but my relationship with my Lord remains ever present… Still.

STILL here with me?

Ah yes, the years have rolled on down, our journey meandering, our adventure evolving with you here.

  Here with me.  By my side …STILL.

STILL seeking answers from me?

You haven’t always received what you expected, but in every response we have traveled well together.

  You and I, side by side…STILL.

STILL needing forgiveness from me?

Our conversations have covered much ground, my friend.  I am familiar with you, accepting you.

  Lifting you up to continue on… STILL.

STILL hoping for love from me?

We made a promise many years ago, you and I.  My arms will never close to you.

  Keep reaching.  My arms are open…STILL.

STILL looking for guidance from me?

Let’s never stop on our journey together.  Let us be bold.  With courage let us meet the paths before us with determination, with conviction.

  Carry on with my assurance…STILL.

STILL here with me?

Ah yes, the years will keep rolling on down.  Some like a roller coaster, some like a peaceful walk in the woods.

But my friend, you and I, we will always land together.

  Side by side…STILL.

When the Onions Danced!

A tribute to my Dad, the gardener; and my Mom who creates delicious dishes from the harvest…

The water runs clear over the bunch of green onions as I slice the root ends, slide the outer green shoots smoothly over the white tubes, and slide away the silky casings.  Bare of clumps of mud that would suggest a recent tug of war with the wet ground, these are pre-cleaned onions I found this morning in the vegetable aisle neatly piled between the green leaf lettuce and the parsley. Instead of pulling them from a warm garden bed, I plucked the bunch from its nesting place, setting off a playful tumble toward the parsley.  They had rolled into each other piling up into a suitable presentation thanks to the thin rubber bands that squeezed their ends together.  I easily picked them from the shelf, placed them in my cart… then paused with them while I thought of Dad.

Yesterday Mom’s phone call set off my emotional alarm bells as she shared her concerns.

“Maybe he won’t put in a garden this year.  It’s so hard for Dad to get going, to kneel down and get back up.  I think he’s not doing it because he’s worried he’ll fall over.”

“Mom, without a garden Dad will become depressed.  He won’t enjoy the summer.”

“I know, I know.  That’s why I keep telling him I will help him, but he sits and thinks about how he can still do it by himself.  I keep talking and talking.  Maybe he’ll come around.  Listen here he comes, I have to go.”

After the call I had written green onions on my grocery list and prayed for Dad to accept Mom’s help.  Now leaning against my kitchen sink I breathed in the pungent smell of the wet onions, picturing Dad in his floppy straw hat, carving the garden with his trusty old hoe, tossing out rocks as he clears the ground.  I willed a vision of him in his backyard, tugging on green stems, forcing them through the sticky mud, bringing in a bunch of onions to clean.

It’s not surprising that the idea of beginning a garden exhausts my Dad this year.   At 83 he suffers with the effects of vascular troubles creating limitations on what he can and cannot do.  Preparing and planting a garden seems like an overwhelming challenge to him. But it is his challenge, his duty, his job, his service to his family and friends, his to choose to let go.  He defines this as his responsibility, as clearly as Mom’s role begins when he brings in the harvest to her.  He provides, she designs ways to enjoy the food with the family.  A time old relationship, a pattern that is difficult to change.

It has always been this way.  Dad has planted and harvested gardens in his yards year after year.  He’s worked in small patches, and on large farms.  The winter calms, the days lengthen and the rhythm of nature stirs my Dad, the steadiness of the earth balances his soul.  He’s drawn to digging the soil like the deer that paw through the spring snow to find the first chutes of grass.  Every year he begins with planting onions, the first to sow in the garden, to soak up the spring rains, to seek the earth’s warmth.

As a young girl I helped Dad plant them, pushing the tiny bulbs into their spots, making sure that they pointed upwards towards the sun.  Dad would take his hoe, draw a straight line in the dirt, and place two bulbs along the line so I could see how far apart they should be planted.  He’d give me a little brown bag of bulbs and let me plant my row all by myself.  Because I didn’t like straight rows of anything, I would mischievously imagine my bulbs dancing along the line in the dirt, hopping over it, back and forth, slightly missing, but nearing it within reason.  At least they seemed appropriately aligned for Dad’s inspection before he raked the topsoil over them.  I don’t remember him correcting my “dancing onions,” perhaps he merely enjoyed my company in the garden.

I looked forward to digging my fingers into the dirt to let my onion bulbs create their dance.  In my mind the routine took place on a beautiful outdoor stage, a rainbow arcing above…

“Hey there’s a big one, pull it out and put it in the bucket.”

Dad somehow appeared over me as I daydreamed, just in time to notice when a worm would wriggle free from the soil.  He liked to collect the worms we uncovered to use as bait for trout fishing.  Thankfully garden worms didn’t have the same smell as their counterparts that littered the driveway and sidewalks on rainy days.  I would happily scoop up these worms and plop them into the bucket Dad had filled with soil.  I thought it seemed like a friendly rite of passage for them.  Their service as dirt aerators complete, they graduated to fishing duty.  With any luck they would be the worms I would put on my hook, so that when I wildly cast my fishing line they would be flung free to the safety of the creek bank, free to wriggle away to a new land, to a new adventure.

Onions, I miss those dancing onions in my Dad’s garden.  I even miss the worms squirming in the bucket of dirt awaiting their fishing escapades.

“Guess what I did this morning,” my Dad says, when he answers the phone later that day.

“I don’t know what did you do, Dad?”

“I planted onions.”

“You started the garden?”

“With Mom, she helped me and well, Mom and I planted the onions.”

“I remember when we did that together, Dad.”

“Yeah, well… I’ll get Mom, she’ll tell you all about it.”

That’s probably the longest conversation Dad and I have had lately. He sounds so happy, so relieved.  He found a way to join the rhythm of nature again.  Somehow Mom convinced him that she should help with the planting.  I wonder how?  Well she’ll certainly tell me all about it when she comes to the phone.

For just a moment, I close my eyes, I breathe in the scent of upturned spring soil. I picture Dad in his floppy straw hat, his new garden partner taking his hand as she rises from her knees.  There’s a natural flow in their movements even with an awkward backward stumble. Back and forth they step with each other across the rows of onions they’ve planted.  It’s something new and different, maybe not striking or graceful, but somewhere beneath the soil I imagine onion bulbs swaying to their dance.