Sunday, November 19, 2017

Country Roads bringing us home

Joanne writes:
I had the opportunity to go see my parents a few weeks back with some of my siblings alone. Meaning just me… alone in my van without children or my sweet husband or the dog... just me.
It’s a back road kind of drive from Stratford to Tilllsonburg and it’s the kind of travelling I like to do when I get to drive alone.  Rolling fields of harvested crops, farm fresh smells, and open spaces.  The trip was the first one since we learned the news that spots were found on my mom’s precious brain.  It had been an emotional night, and now I took to the road alone with coffee in hand and Fernando Ortega’s album Home to accompany me. 

I love mountains, and I dearly loved our BC mountains.  The majestic beauties surrounding the place I had called home for 14 years (7 years as a single DiGiovanni and 7 years as a married Lakin).  Snow capped or not, I longed to be there among them.  To quote John Muir, “The mountains are calling and I must go”.  It is not that I am a skier or frankly a hiking fanatic, it is how the mountains make me feel.  They call something out in me.  I feel humbled and inspired and protected by the rock and trees, the lofty climb, and the lovely valleys.  I feel small and secure and see God’s beauty engulf me as I hike or sit or stand in their company.  And now, I drive past endless fields with horse and buggies sharing my road as I go to be with my mom with an unwelcome diagnosis and fear of what the next months will bring.

Our family left British Columbia knowing that this was our time to come back.  Many were perplexed on how we could leave such beauty of the glorious west coast.  We had made a home there, it was the only real home our children had known.  We had a great church community, and friends, and jobs were enjoyed and valued. And yet we left it to move back to small south western Ontario, it just didn’t make sense to some. 

As I drove that Saturday it made sense to me.  Deep down in my gut I knew that this was my "such a time as this" moment.  Did I want to embrace the next stage my parents had no choice but to walk?  I could have chosen to do it from far off but now, only 64 km away, I was very aware that this path would be a hard one, a sad one, and a challenging one.  I wanted to bolt and take any other road than the one I was heading down.  Could I be present to those I loved dearly in these sorrowful moments?  To watch as my mom slips away from me and my dad and my sisters and brother and all the lives she touches daily.  This road would take me to it.  I wanted more time, abundant health, and moments for my children to have relationships with my parents; the years I was away weighed heavy on my heart.

Maybe it was the last track of the CD that made me slow way down and unclench the steering wheel.  The gravel side road greeted me as I stopped the van to absorb my surroundings.  It was lovely looking and still. 
My view at the side of the road
Far off silos and fenced in cows, wide fields and distant forests.  Everything was so still and I had such a feeling that I could breath.  For a while now my mind had not been at rest, worry and plans filled my moments and deep calming breathes felt like a luxury not afforded to me.  But there I stood beside the van, staring at beauty in the simple single road, and I felt peace. 

I felt gratitude that I had this moment.  I felt sadness mingled in with joy. I felt a sense of security that only God can give- not in a way that I had imagined for myself.  Those who know me well know that one of my favourite scriptures is Psalm 18.
David speaks of crying out to God in his distress and His rescuing God hears him and comes down to him.  God draws David out and sets him before Himself.  Verses later David is empowered by the Lord to take on his enemies and comes out triumphant.  David continues to praise the Lord for His unfailing kindness to him.  The verse that arose in my heart as I breathed in and out as Fernando sang out the last stanza of “Give me Jesus” was this…. “ He brought me out into spacious places; He rescued me because He delighted in me”  [or the Message Translation “ He stood me up on a wide open field; I stood there saved, surprised to be loved”]

He brought me out.  His timing.  Out.  Not hidden.  Spacious place.  Wide open where I could extend my arms and breathe.

He rescued me – took me up from a harmful place in my mind- because He delighted in me.  Because He delights in me.

I got back into my van turned my music off and set off to my parents' home. 

I entered that home with tears and embraced my mom with absolute thankfulness that I could make the drive and be so close to do it.  I sat and listened and laughed as my sister and brother reminded us of childhood memories.  I helped my dad make lunch and serve the woman who has spent decades serving us.  The hard doesn’t disappear, however being in the presence of cherished ones in this present situation is life-giving.  The future is unknown and scarfs have been purchased to manage this new stage of cancer.  We hug and cling to one another and say our byes for now cause it's getting late. And yet …. I am thankful for my back roads that bring me back home.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Lessons in Waiting

I have never been one who waits well.  Whether it be a line up in a public restroom or in the past waiting for the right man to arrive, I have been restless in waiting.  I blame my perspective on what it means to wait... and to wait well. My concept of God and my reasons for Him making us wait has been skewed. I have seen waiting as a punishment.

I have seen God as an exhausted parent who has been drilled and grilled by a cranky child desperately wanting to get to the desired location. God’s response in my mind would be WAIT!!!  You can hear the frustration and annoyance; and then the child waits with dread for the arrival.

There is very little joy in this kind of waiting.  There is no anticipation, excitement or what we can discover behind door number 2 or even better what can I learn in this time about our Good Father and about myself.  Nope I haven’t liked waiting but as the years have passed I am learning that God’s tone, that imagine in my head, is not the truth about who He is.  It is not an accurate picture of a loving God who sent His only son for us, for me.

I have felt like I have been waiting for this BC life of mine to begin. Meaning maybe that I would be settled in my heart and spirit surrounded by a community, enveloped into a "family" because my family seem is so far away. There has been many wonderful moments and lovely people God has woven into our path yet still I  have been resentful in my waiting.  I have been bitter and angry lately with Distance and illness with family in Ontario. Waiting in silence and at times alone has been hard and I have questioned God's decision for sending us here. Reminding him frankly that as a family we embarked on this journey. The response I have heard has been wait. But this past summer I heard the wait differently.  It wasn't an angry fed up with your questions wait but a calm loving wait and it took me off guard. I heard it with my heart and I tried, truly tried, to rest in it. What I began to notice in myself was that hope grew...maybe just a little, but I had enough to get slightly excited. In the fall we became members at our new church CPC (Cedar Park Church) in Ladner. We had to get up and say a few words about ourselves like what we would like to receive from this community and what we could bring to this body. Not something I love to do but earnestly I took the task to heart and shared my heart, broken and bitter but with hope for our future. I left the stage lighthearted and excited genuinely about what God was doing.

Slowly I sense a ripple of change. My work place is a haven of great women and I thank God daily for the opportunity to have such employment. I am making connections at my local gym, silly but relationships with encouraging women and I leave laughing and thankful for this community. 

As Christmas Day comes to a close I have been able to see God differently with my waiting. Not the angry WAIT! But as an excited parent with a smile in his voice and eyes ready to open a door where Christmas is laid out ready to explore and enjoy. His wait is loving, He is loving. He walks with me into that room, sometimes lovely boxes of great surprises awaits me. This super one... A woman from the church wanting to get to know me and we go for coffee and we hit it off! So much so she and another friend want me join them in the women's ministry at the church. That's a crazy unexpected gift. I am reminded that I had to be patient to receive it, that maybe it wasn't ready when I demanded it months before.  God's timing is just perfect.  With all this said I still wait,  we all do. I still wait from far off as my mom continues with her chemotherapy. My heart and head hurt as I wait with loved ones in sickness and pain and job loss and the uncertain futures. I need to remember that voice of our father. It is a loving one.  He is not mad or uncaring. Pausing to remember, to breathe, to soak in, to hunkered down times of waiting can be good, hard but worthwhile. I love the and yet in the bible....God knew that we needed the hope, the hold on, I am here.  So this is where I go as the this year draws to and end. Hold on Joanne, I am here, I dispel all darkness, I got this and you and that family of yours regardless of the housing market and the crazy expensive city you are in. I have your mom and dad, and the family you left behind.  Isaiah 43:19 "See I am doing a new thing, now it springs up do you not perceive it. I making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."

Blessings as we enter a new year. Taste and see that the Lord is good.
From our home to yours,


"I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing."
T.S. Elliot

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Secular World vs Christmas

Or is it Santa vs Jesus?

Ladies and Gentlemen...
In this corner, in the red shorts, we have an old, rotund, generous man with a thing for Reindeer and chimneys.  And in this corner, in the linen shorts, the incarnation, God become flesh, Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God.

It sometimes seems that way this time of year, doesn't it?

Our kids are now preparing for their Christmas, sorry, Winter Holiday presentation at school.  Atticus' class was rehearsing their song "Here Comes Santa Claus"  and the kids were informed that they were going to have to change some of the lyrics so as to not offend anyone.  (Let's pause for a moment of "What?!  You've GOT to be kidding me.")  Yes, they had to change "hang your stockings and say your prayers" and they of course had to jettison "Let's give thanks to the Lord above because Santa Claus is coming tonight." 

So yes, "Here Comes Santa Claus" is not secular enough for our present culture.

On one hand, I get it.  There are Jewish and Muslim kids in the school too, and we need to be sensitive to them, but sometimes, it really does feel like the Babe in the manger is being drowned in consumerism and cultural sensitivity, and that the secular world is winning.

Then there are times that the God of truth comes breaking through the secular world.

Beatrice was playing a game on the computer - the games usually have some annoying synthesizer music in them that I ask to be turned off, so that I can hold on to whatever sanity I have left, but I was not yet at this point. I was cleaning in the kitchen, and I found myself singing "give thanks with a grateful heart."  I stopped, and listened, and the tune seemed to be coming from the game Beatrice was playing. Sure enough, the chicken-pot-pie game was playing out "give thanks with a grateful heart, give thanks to the Holy One, give thanks because He's given Jesus Christ his son."

Don't believe me?  Check it out for yourself by clicking here.  (There is a different song at the beginning - also familiar, but I can't place it.  You actually have to begin the game to hear "Give Thanks.")

This is not a christian website or game company, (that I know of.)  I just feel like God was reaching through it to me.

Maybe it's not about who wins the Christmas battle, maybe it's about balance?

Yes it's true that it seems at times the secular world is crushing Christmas, and I need to fervently hold on to truth and meaning.

But it's also true that the God of the universe can speak through the chicken pot pie video game, and remind Andrew while he is cleaning the kitchen to have a grateful heart.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Questions and Answers

It is the 18th of August.  So tomorrow will mark one year since my dear friend Matt Auten died.  A year ago today, he was still playing with his two boys at the beach, and he probably smooched his lovely wife Amy.  But that was a year ago, and much grieving has followed.

I'd like to share a glimpse of that process with you.

Not long ago, my pastor spoke on Psalm 121.

He taught about how the Lord watches over us, and keeps us from all harm, and I thought, that's just not true.  I sat and brooded on this until I wanted to scream.  I thought about Amy and the boys and how this sermon would sound to their ears.  I thought of my friend John Hall, who was sitting just a few rows over from me, and how his brother Rob was killed on a missions trip when the compressor he was working on blew up, leaving his wife and kids to fend for themselves in an African village.  I wondered how he processes this.  (And I may still ask him.)  I felt like muttering bullshit bullshit bullshit, but I just sat... and stewed.

At the end of the sermon, our pastor wrapped up by talking about how safe we are in God's hands, and then we stood to sing, and I just stood there with my hands on the chair in front of me, but I don't know if I was holding on to it for dear life, or if I was trying to break it.

I wanted to throw that chair.  I wanted an answer.  Why is this Psalm even in the Bible?  It shouldn't even be in there!  Explain this!

Then something happened.  I felt arms around me and they weren't Joanne's.  Big, strong, literal arms.  Someone was hugging me.  I looked over my shoulder to see a guy I'll call Pete.  Pete is probably the biggest guy in our church; a 6'4" contractor, and he is hugging me from behind.  He says, "I just felt like I was supposed to do that."  I thanked him, and he patted my shoulder and walked away.

Pete is not my friend.  He does not know me.  I have probably only spoken to him two or three times, ever.   And this kind of random hugging thing does not happen in my church.

I smiled through the tears in my eyes as I thought, God, aren't you funny.  You don't answer my questions.  You do not explain.  You simply remind me of Your presence.  And You choose the biggest arms in church to deliver your message.

I feel like I am only left with echoes of Job's response, and I place my hand over my mouth.
Questions With Answers, by Matt Auten

Matt has a beautiful song, 
Questions With Answers, and it seems to me, that at the time Matt wrote it, that God was giving him similar answers.

Matt, I miss you my friend.

Your story has ended, but mine continues, yet your threads are still weaving their way through mine, and I am grateful for that.

Your life was a gift and your death was and is a wound in my life and both continue to bless and hurt and shape me.

"Our wounds are part of who we are
And there is nothing left to chance
And pain's the pen that writes the songs
And they call us forth
... to dance." 
     - Michael Card

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Thoughts on Weird Moles and Warriors

Deep breaths and deep knee bends were my father’s cure for sickness. What it really did was take your mind off your upset tummy and help you think about something else.  As a child I would be touching my toes in tears as my father would remind me to do just one more.  His knowing presence calmed me; that I would be okay as I exhaled.  Even if I had to lunge to the bathroom, eventually I would be okay, and this too would pass.

That morning, and the days before my appointment to see the specialist for the moles on my foot, I did a lot of deep breathing.  I cried a lot and I listened to music a lot more than I have in a while.  Worship before battle.  My mind was in a battle and I knew it.  I would join in with Kari Jobe's "Forever" as I washed dishes, clinging to the sink, knowing the Lamb has overcome.

In that particular worship session, God reminded me of a picture that I was familiar with.  This, interesting enough, would be my third time watching this same home movie.  It was a knight on a horse charging forth in battle.  I could see things being cut down like one would swipe the heads off dandelions with the fluff spraying around.  The path was straight and the knight determined.  I also knew there were others following after; almost tethered to the rider. Forward forward forward heaving with battle, and joy. The warrior finally removed its armour and to my amazement once again, it was me.

Andrew came with me to my appointment, which I appreciated so very much.  His presence was calming as we travelled up in the elevator and as we walked to doctor’s office.  It was surreal. 

The dermatologist was young; a young woman with a kind face.  She knew about my moles and we discussed why my doctor had sent me, and the reason for such alarm with the placement of these moles.  "Let's take a look" she said.  I didn't want a biopsy.  I wanted the news to be so dull that it wouldn't even be needed.  That is how I was praying, and I knew that is what others were praying as well.

“These look fine" as she put her fancy magnifying glass away.  I let out my breath and broke into tears. Thank you thank you thank you.  "We won't need to biopsy these." "Are you sure?" I stammered.  "Yup.  I am sure and I will tell you why."  The kind young doctor then informed us of the abcde of moles and importance of a yearly check-up because melanoma is on the rise.  I did my best to stay present but I was having trouble knowing that I had a new lease at life. 

Yes, this may sound drastic for some, but the journey of waiting, then going, and then hearing her say that it wasn't cancer!!!   That was such a battle for me.  All I can speak of is my journey through what I feared.  It sounds simple and probably trite but I found myself examining my life and stumbling forward.  Thank you for your prayers for my preparation for this journey of mine to this point.  I am certain there will be other roads of preparation for me, and my journey continues, bumps and dark corners and all.  Yet!  There are brilliant moments of beauty.  Deep breaths refocusing your vision and heart to what matters.  Jesus, there in those moments.  At times I did not see Him and I felt that I did not hear Him but I clung to the truth that He is with me always.

The Lamb has overcome.  If I had to have a biopsy, He has overcome.  If it went the way I feared, He has overcome.  Forever He is gloried.  Forever He is lifted high. Forever He is risen.  He is alive.

Thank you for your prayers from the bottom of my heart right down to my deep knee bends.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Rachel, Bruce, and Jimmy

You've heard about them.  Perhaps too much, and I should just leave it be.  But I will blame Jimmy Fallon.

I won’t call this a rant, and will try to keep it to an observation… an observation that was crystallized in a moment of Jimmy’s monologue on The Tonight Show.

We know the stories.  Bruce Jenner is going through the transition of becoming Caitlyn Jenner, and the media is celebrating his transgender process as courage and authenticity.

Rachel Dolezal, president of the NAACP in Spokane Washington, was found to be white, and not of mixed African American heritage, as she had led people to believe.  And the media is tearing her apart as a fraud.

In Journey Canada, we teach about the current popular mindset of Essentialism... that if you feel something, it is a part of your essence.   This mentality says that to be an authentic person, and true to your essence, you should act on those feelings.  If you feel attracted to the same gender, then that is who you are, you are gay, and you should act on those feelings.  If you feel you are the wrong gender, then you are, and you should change it.  It is even seen as a moral obligation, and if you do not act on those feelings, then you are not being true to who you really are.

This mindset is dangerous and precarious.  Feelings are fickle.  Feelings change.

The observation I want to make is an obvious one.  Why is Bruce Jenner championed as an icon for authenticity, while Rachel Dolezal is shamed as a charlatan?

As I said, I blame Jimmy Fallon for making me write about this.  Joanne and I thoroughly enjoy Jimmy, and one night, in his opening monologue, he made the following joke:

“Rachel Dolezal stepped down from her position as president of an NAACP chapter after it was revealed that she was a white woman pretending to be black. Now her brother says he knew about it but she asked him not to blow her cover. Unfortunately, her cover had already been blown by God when he made her a blond-haired, blue-eyed white lady.” – Jimmy Fallon

This is the obvious hypocrisy in the media and our current culture.  Didn't God make Bruce Jenner a boy?  But Jimmy would never dare to make a joke about that.

Bruce feels like a woman, so our culture thinks it is a part of his essence.  So he should act on altering that.  But Rachel feels black.  She has been referred to as “Transracial.”  One news site quoted her tweet:

She has a point.  Why is it okay for Bruce to feel like he has the wrong genitalia, and not okay for Rachel to feel like she has the wrong skin?

Culture points at her and laughs.  Look at her!  Ask her mother!  She’s white!  But I'm sure if we were to ask Bruce Jenner’s mother, she would say that she gave birth to a boy.

There has been much talk and writing about our culture and our view of sexuality and identity.  Some have said we are on a slippery slope.  Others have said that we have slid down the slope and made camp at the base of it.  I would have to say we are leaning toward the latter.

God help us all.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Hard Week

It has been a hard week.  One definition of hard is “requiring a great deal of endurance or effort”.  I felt like I have been pushing a rope (to quote my father) which is a tough thing to do.  Realizing that most of my woes were in the material realm, I have truly tried to laugh them off. The desire to be light-hearted was there but the muscle to walk it out well... well, I have been lousy at it.  

It started with our GPS (which I love because I am greatly map challenged) being stolen in broad day light from our co-op. It then led to Beatrice’s new purple Crocs being stolen right in front of her sweet eyes as we played at the beach. Followed by a parking ticket after I emerged from a prayer meeting, (I did laugh out loud at that one then shook my fists).  A trip to the walk in clinic for an aching jaw which then proceeded to me getting a referral to a dermatologist for a biopsy for 2  new unassuming moles on the bottom of  my toes.   Well that one started to press on me.  Hard.  Another hard, googling “what do new moles on your feet mean?” Yikes!!!
Fear was awakening in me again.  It has been a sleeping giant in my life for most of my days.  He was roaring loudly. Dread was dragging me under.  The slippery slope for me was fast approaching.

The next hit (that sent me into a pit of self-loathing) was when I opened up my monthly Master card statement.  Usually this doesn't freak me out.  Since I have started my new job (God’s miracle for Joanne at Harmony Dental Studio)  Andrew and I have committed to not using our credit cards. We are taking up the daunting challenge to get out of debt.  Our cards have been for special cases only.  I use mine at Great Canadian superstore to get the points which at Christmas time I use to buy all my Christmas goodies and baking needs.  Back to the point. I open the bill and almost fall over.  I felt ill, truly ill.  Someone had gone shopping on my card! 

To shorten this story my card was no longer in my wallet and someone had access to my pin (how, I have no idea) and was taking large daily amounts of cash on my card.  The securities operator on the Mastercard hotline was of very little help to me due to the reason that the thief had my card and my pin and it seemed unlikely that the fraudulent spending would be reversed.  I sat on the phone with this stranger and openly wept.  $8400 was something my husband and I could not pay back.  It wasn't me.  I did not do this.   I felt abandoned and violated.  I questioned the whys, which are never helpful. Was this pay back time for me?  I felt out of control and instead of  praying for guidance and taking deep breathes and doing knee bends and trying to speak truth, I fled on my bike and cried and sweated out to God.

I wish I could report that all was lifted as I worked my way through the gravel dike pathways but it didn't.  I did however return to one of my favourite Psalms, number 18.  Verse 6.  “In my distress I called upon the Lord and cried to my God. He heard my voice out of his temple and my cry came before Him into His very ears.  Verse 16 He reached from on high, He took me and drew me out of many waters (in the message version it states sea of hate)and He delivered me from my strong enemy and from those who hated and abhorred me, for they were too strong for me, And then verse18 they confronted and came upon me in the day of my calamity , but the Lord was my stay and my support  He brought me forth also into spacious places. He was delivering me because He was pleased with me and delighted in me.“

He was and IS pleased with me.  He delights in me.  Does yucky stuff like stolen Crocs and parking tickets, biopsies and theft happen?  Sadly yes.  Will justice reign on planet earth?  Maybe not.  But I will choose to declare You Lord are my Rock and my Fortress and my deliverer. You are my keen and firm strength and my shield. The horn of my salvation and my high tower.

I will still ask for mercy and abundance of health as I obediently go to my doctor appointment for the biopsy on Friday July 3rd at 9:15am.  I pray that these moles or just that, moles and nothing more.  I pray that the charges for our card will get fully 100% covered and that our family does not have to carry the weight of this bill.  I pray that my faith would increase, the truth would prevail in my heart and mind, and that I would boldly speak the word of God to myself and let that ooze onto the lives of my children.  That I would walk my journey well, whatever it looks like, and that I would live as someone who knows that the creator of the universe delights in her.

And I pray I would forgive the person who stole our GPS and that I would learn to read a map J. Thank you God that north is mountains  and west is water  the south is the USA and east is where my beloved family and friends are.  May you know His goodness and love for you personally this summer.