Monday, 18 February 2013

dust bunnies, mortality and legacy

I keep thinking back to Ash Wednesday, when I received ashes on my forehead. I walked to the front of the silent church, and as the pastor marked the sign of the cross in ashes, tears came as my eyes met hers. "Remember you are dust," she told me, "and to dust you will return."

There I was, marked for death.

I kept the ashes on my forehead for a good 5 minutes before I smeared them off. Accidentally at first, but then with great vigour finished off the job. I wanted it off. I was finished with that curse of death.

It's not something I think about often. I don't think that I fear death (not too much, anyway), it just doesn't usually hit me square in the face. There are more messages out there that remind me of my possibility and my life than my mortality. Or the mortality of those closest to me, especially my children.

We visited a young friend in this hospital on Friday, and each day has brought more questions about mortality. Why do children get cancer, Mom? Why were some people in the Bible healed and others weren't, Dad? Mom, why can God bring Jesus back to life but not our guinea pig?

There is nothing like visiting a children's hospital to remind me of frailty and of our ultimate lack of control. I get choked up imagining my own children in their place - an uncertain future, lives cut too short, and I desperately want to protect them from it. I don't want them to be marked for death. I want to control.

That's a piece of Lent for me - giving up control, and surrendering my living and my dying. Realizing that I'm not just a giant dust bunny, but a beloved creation of God, made by precious, God-infused matter. The ashes remind me of my mortality, but also ask a simple question of legacy:

what do you want to do with this one, glorious life? 

Friday, 15 February 2013


It's been 3 days into my Lenten experience with quiet, and I love it. Although I'm realizing that my 10 minutes of quiet are not so quiet. They're still - I force myself to just sit, cup of tea in hand - but they're not quiet. My brain can be so noisy.

It's like excavating. Digging down, through the chatter, to a wiser word. Because the chatter sounds like this "there's so much to do and so little time and why do I have to do all the chores in this house and woe is me and I'm still not done that and need to add that to the list and why do I say yes to these kinds of requests..." and so on. When I dig down, here's what I hear:

There will be enough time.
There is hope.
You are not alone.
You are enough.
You are deeply loved.

I love this quote from Mother Teresa:

"We need to find God. He can not be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature, trees, flowers, grass all grow in silence. See the stars, the moon, and the sun how they move in silence. The more we receive in silent prayer the more we can give in our act of life. We need silence to be able to touch souls. The essential thing is not what we say but what God says to us and through us. All our words will be useless unless they come from within. Words that do not give the light of Christ increase the darkness."

Some photos from a magical, frosty quiet time this past Sunday morning along the Conestoga River:

Thursday, 14 February 2013


I must sound manic - going from a darker post yesterday to one about celebration today. But that's life, isn't it? Not manic - but a mixture of light and dark.

I was asking a wise friend how to raise resilient, kind, and caring children, and she gave me some interesting advice: Celebrate. Fill them with joy.

Hospitality is something I'm working on, and during Lent want to find ways to be more intentional about it. Since we moved to our new home this past summer, we have hosted at least one celebration per month. Some gatherings have been bigger than others: family Bollywood dancing, kid Bollywood dancing, steel drum band, a kids' outdoor fall festival, a meal with some of Derek's Master's students, and dessert with some undergrad students. It has been a lot of fun to have this variety of gatherings, and I'd like to keep that up if we can.

I even want to go so far as to have a guest book - not for people to sign, but to keep track of our hosting experiences. Crazy but true. I want to record these joy-filled celebrations so that they can fill me with even more joy as I look back on them.

And I want to find smaller ways to celebrate too, as a family. One idea that I got from Gretchen Rubin's Happier at Home was to have simple but celebratory breakfasts. To decorate the table when the kids are in bed, then have a holiday themed breakfast. We had a lovely one on Christmas morning:

 and now I've got one ready for the feast of St. Valentine this morning: white table cloth, red plastic cutlery, heart-shaped tins with red heart gummy candies inside, a heart-shaped candle, and a special thrift-store valentine-themed-stuffed-animal on the kids' chairs. Total cost: $2.00.

Here's what holds me back from being hospitable and hosting celebrations:
1. untidy house
2. lack of cooking skills/confidence

And here's my plan for attacking those silly things:
1. clean, and enlist others to do so as well
2. get take out :), just have desserts and appetizers
3. stop worrying so much about what other people think.

A work in progress, as always.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013


I woke up with this number in my mind: 40.

40 days of Lent.

40 years of age.

I wasn't so OK with this new age until I made a plan for celebration - that Derek and I would go to a lovely bed and breakfast up north for a night, followed by some snowshoeing and spa decadence on the actual b-day. Then 2 days later, we had some folks to our house for an evening of grooving to the happy rhythms of a steel drum band. It was a wonderful way to start my 40s. I even got to learn how to play a scale on the steel drum! I think I'm almost ready to play at the Santa Claus parade now.

in the cold plunge pool
and of course, the family Bollywood dance
This milestone has been cause for more introspection than usual. How do I want to go forward in these next years of my life? How can I live more fully? Yesterday I mentioned some reasons I don't feel particularly adult-like sometimes. I'm sure there are other mistakes or omissions from my 30s and earlier too. A while ago, I was walking down the sidewalk and heard 2 women behind me. One said, "There are 2 things you need in your 30s: a good tailor and investment pieces." I almost laughed right there. There I was, in the last months of my 30s, and I had managed to make it through without either.

Back to 40; I'm getting sidetracked. I love how the number 40 is used in the Bible to mean "a long time" - Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness, 40 nights on the ark, 40 years wandering in the wilderness. For those who observe Lent by giving up certain foods or drinks, Lent can feel like a long time too. But I want to do something in Lent that will lead to a lasting change in my journey. This year, I want to walk through the shadows - remember the dark - during this Lenten period.

Maybe it's because the first thing I did this morning at 6:00 am was to read an email from a friend who has a 6 year old son. She is an incredibly strong mom, and she is walking with her son through a very dark time: he is battling brain cancer. Her email this morning showed hope, and courage, but I had to blink back the tears as I read the dark. The prognosis of possibly only a few more months.

My eyes froze on the words. No. How can this be?

All of my stupid worries pale so much in comparison to this desolate pit.

Psalm 40 has long been a favourite, especially U2's version through song.

"I waited patiently for the Lord, he inclined and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord."

The chorus of this U2 version is reminiscent of Isaiah 6, crying out to God in agony.

"How long to sing this song? How long? How long?"

I love this mixture - walking the tightrope between patient prayer and urgent plea.

This evening I will put on ashes - though they make take the form of oil if I can't get myself somewhere that has ashes. And I'll remember the dark. The sick, the hungry, the depressed, the cancerous ills among us.

And I'll pray - with patience and with urgence.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

s-t-r-e-t-c-h my word for 2013. It came to me as I lay in the eucalyptus steam room at the Scandinave Spa in January, celebrating my 40th birthday. Stretch. Breathe in the good. Sweat out, breathe out, the bad.

I've been putting off a blog post because now that I'm in my 40s, I should probably be really insightful and wise. And I just can't come up with anything to fit that bill. So I'll just write.

I sometimes catch myself and say, "You're not in high school anymore" or "You're an adult, Rebecca" because sometimes that's just so hard to believe. There are things that I haven't done yet - like wear high heels, or roast a turkey, or enter one of those shops that say "adult store" - so I think that I can't possibly be 40 yet.

But I want this year to be one of stretching, of exploring new things and new pieces of me. Our family is getting excited about a trip we'll be taking in May - we'll be heading to Benin, West Africa for a month. That will be a wonderful stretching experience, I'm sure.

I want this year to be one where I pay more attention to my body - to walking, running, breathing in and out, being more aware. So starting the year hopping from hot tub to cold plunge pool to solarium rest room was simply divine. I highly recommend it!

During this season of Lent, I want to stretch too. Stretch myself by being quiet, at least for 10 minutes a day. This sounds ludicrously simple, but it usually just doesn't happen.

Here's a website that I love the looks of - 40 acts - so creative and a fun way to focus this Lenten period.

I also want to write one card - simple, not long - to one person each day of Lent. If you'd like to be one of these people, contact me with your mailing address, then watch for a card to appear sometime before Easter!