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“At the point where hope would otherwise become hopelessness, it becomes faith.”
My Ethics & Character class this week featured a guest lecturer, addressing the subject of bioethics. As part of the class, he played a video that featured brief profiles of two couples. Each couple – during their first pregnancy – had learned through routine ultrasound that their developing fetus had “abnormalities.” One couple – whose developing female child had heart defects – chose to terminate their pregnancy. The other couple – whose developing male child had severe physical deformities – allowed their pregnancy to proceed to term.
I’ve been reflecting on their stories all week. Both couples spoke of anguish. The couple that chose abortion expressed anguish over the difficulty of making their decision to abort – and continuing emotional pain even years later. The couple that gave birth to their son spoke of the gift they feel he has been to their lives – even as they admitted to the daily anguish of being witness to his suffering and caring for his special needs.
The topic of abortion has been much in the media this week, and with every story and opinion piece I’ve read, my mind has gone back to those two couples – and to a time when my husband and I also received uncertain news in the form of results from a routine ultrasound.
And as I’ve mulled this subject over, I’ve found it sadly ironic that the Canadian Medical Association Journal notes it is “Canada’s deep-rooted respect for diversity” that is leading to ethically questionable choices about “the kinds of people we want as children and the kinds of people we feel should be born.”
Sixteen years ago, I was 35, and pregnant with our third child. Shortly after our routine ultrasound at 18-weeks, my doctor delivered the news that the sonogram had revealed choroid plexus cysts on our baby’s brain. He explained the possible connection with Trisomy 18 and Down Syndrome, and said that the only way to rule out any chromosome abnormality would be through amniocentesis.
I knew there was a higher risk of miscarriage associated with amniocentesis and so declined the test. My husband and I considered the child I carried as a gift from God, and we trusted that God would enable us to parent this little one well – no matter what the challenges – when the time came.
I won’t pretend we didn’t worry. The next 14 weeks of the pregnancy were emotionally and physically challenging; in addition to our concerns over the ultrasound’s findings, I also developed gestational diabetes, which necessitated injecting insulin several times a day. But my overwhelming recollection of that time is of being sustained by the belief that if God gave us a child with special needs, it was for a reason, and He would somehow enable us to meet those needs, whatever they might turn out to be.
The 32-week ultrasound revealed the cysts had disappeared. And we rejoiced.
Our healthy baby girl was born 8 weeks later. We named her Jenna.
I’ve seen many different meanings for her name, but the one I like best is “God’s grace.”
“Such things come from God and from Him alone, and … before Him there can only be subjection, perseverance, patience – and gratitude. So every question ‘Why?’ falls silent, because it has found its answer.”
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer (writing in a letter to Hans von Dohnanyi, from Tegel prison, 1943
There have been seasons in my life when God has seemed very, very quiet. I have found such seasons difficult. Life feels dry, and faith plods. Spiritual disciplines become more about the discipline than the spiritual, a matter of going through the motions. The worst part of such periods is not knowing when they will end. Wondering if maybe this time – they won’t.
But there have also been times when I’ve seen God everywhere and in everything. Fool that I am – even such seasons as these are not without concern – for I find myself worrying that reveling in them too much might bring them to an end.
And then there are moments when God seems to intervene. Intervenes so obviously, so directly, it knocks the wind right out of me, leaving me breathless, gasping and on my knees, thankful for God’s mercy and grace.
Such was my experience today.
Our youngest, Jenna, was diagnosed with idiopathic adolescent scoliosis in the spring of 2010. Her first X-ray – in July of that year – revealed a curve of 19 degrees. Six months later, another X-ray indicated the curve had progressed to 25 degrees. At that point, our doctor referred her to the scoliosis specialists at Sick Kids hospital. It took until June, 2011 to get an appointment. By then, the X-rays revealed her curve had progressed to 35 degrees – but, they told us, Jenna had stopped growing so there was nothing that would be done.
Seeking another opinion, our doctor arranged for Jenna to be seen by the specialists at McMaster Children’s Hospital. They agreed with the conclusions of the doctors at Sick Kids, but arranged for Jenna to have an MRI to ensure there were no underlying medical conditions which might have caused the rapid progression of her curve. A follow-up appointment with a neurosurgeon assured us there were none – and the minor degeneration and bulging in a couple of her discs was no cause for serious concern, but the specialists said they would continue to track with Jenna for a while to ensure there was no further worsening of her condition.
Today was our first follow-up appointment. Jenna had another X-ray of her spine and then we went in to see the doctor.
“I have good news for you!” she said. “I’ve looked at this X-ray every which way and the only way I can read it is 23 degrees.”
My jaw dropped. Scoliosis doesn’t reverse itself. How was this possible?
“The only thing I can think of is that the June X-ray was wrong,” said the doctor. “We’ll bring Jenna back for one more appointment – six months from now – just to be sure this miracle is what it seems. If everything’s ok you won’t need to come again,” she concluded, offering me the Kleenex box.
We fairly floated out of the hospital. The curve labelled “moderate” in the fall is now considered “minor.”
It was only once Jenna and I were in the car that I told her that a dear friend of mine – named Jana (the woman for whom Jenna was named) had prayed for her this summer, in the wake of that 35-degree result. My friend is a woman of stronger faith than mine, and when she prayed that God would straighten out Jenna’s spine I remember thinking, “I love my friend and I’m grateful for her prayers, but I don’t think God works like that.”
I never mentioned Jana’s prayers to my daughter until today. “I didn’t think God worked like that,” I explained.
“Apparently, He does,” Jenna said.
Apparently, God does.
You can attribute this experience of ours today to a mistake or a miracle. I find I don’t need to give it a label. I don’t need to know “Why?”
I just need to give thanks.
Even Mother Nature decided to celebrate moving day in Kingston.
I use the term “moving day” loosely. No one sent a memo. No official writ was dropped declaring Saturday April 30 as the day by which the entire city – or at least the entire student population of the city – must move. But move they all did, or rather, they all appeared to.
Throughout the area known affectionately by locals as “The Ghetto” (street after street of rundown houses with crumbling walkways, overgrown shrubs and crooked porches that surround the Queen’s University campus) every available parking spot – and then some – was occupied by vans or trucks or cars towing open box trailers.
Longhaired girls in short shorts and flip-flops, flip-flopped their way down sidewalks two-by-two, under burdens of tables and mattresses. Boys dressed in jeans and t-shirts flexed biceps while hoisting desks and bookshelves into U-Hauls. And middle-aged parents with put-on patience helped transport sons and daughters out of one phase of life and into another.
We were moving our oldest daughter out of her third-year abode – with its four roommates and more drama than our Drama major cared to endure – and into her final year home – with its one roommate and promise of peace.
And throughout it all, the sun shone and the air warmed and the birds sang and the sky turned the most beautiful shade of robin’s egg blue, delivering the first really spring-like day since spring had arrived more than a month earlier. It was as if the weather itself had chosen to cooperate, foretelling the brightest of futures.
“Celebrate endings – for they precede new beginnings.”
- Jonathan Lockwood Huie
It’s been a season of intense busyness and I admit I’ve found the past few months both emotionally and spiritually challenging. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in 50 years on the planet, it’s that it’s often the most significant challenges in life that lead to the greatest growth in character – and to new depths of understanding of the goodness of God.
That’s certainly been true for me in recent weeks.
But in the midst of the challenges, there have still been delights. One of the most delightful: my eldest daughter Stephanie has given me yet one more reason to feel proud of her. She’s begun a blog with a friend – called Cooking With Tea – that combines some of her favourite interests: her love of good food, exotic teas and whimsical words.
Stop by, pay them a visit, then consider liking Cooking With Tea on Facebook! You’ll gain access to wonderful original new recipes, illustrated with beautiful photographs, and have a place to interact with and encourage a brand new Canadian blogger!
I’m planning to pay a brief visit to our son, Mark, tomorrow. He’s living and studying at a university campus about an hour’s drive from home; so it’s close enough to personally deliver the occasional care package.
Mark is mad for bananas, always has been. During his high school years, he could easily polish off four or five as an after school snack. So it’s not surprising that of all the muffins I make (and I seem to make a lot of muffins), banana chocolate chip are his favourite.
Knowing I’m going to see him tomorrow, I thought I’d take a batch along. This is a recipe I got from my sister, and the only modification I make is that I usually substitute whole wheat flour for the all purpose variety. They’re fast and simple and make a tasty snack or a nutritious treat for a breakfast.
Here’s how to make them:
Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
1 3/4 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. chocolate chips
1/4 c. oil
1/4 c. milk
3 medium bananas, mashed
Place first five ingredients into a large bowl. Mix thoroughly, then make a well in the centre.
Beat egg until frothy. Mix in oil, milk and mashed bananas. (I like to just throw the oil, egg, milk and banana into my mini-blender and blend.) Pour mixture into dry ingredient well. Stir only to moisten. (Batter will be lumpy.) Fill greased muffin tins 3/4 full. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 20 – 25 minutes.
Yield: 12 – 14 little tastes of home!
“My disclaimer.” That’s what I called it. For years it hung in our front hall, in a place of prominence, where anyone who entered our home would see it. It hung over a long wooden shelf with hooks – that my father had made for us – the place where my husband and I would toss our keys or the mail, and the kids would hang their coats and backpacks.
I stitched it – when our oldest, Stephanie, was only two and our second, Mark, was just a baby – from a cross-stitch kit, as a creative diversion. But mostly, I stitched it because I loved the words. They read:
Some houses try to hide the fact that children shelter there.
Ours boasts of it quite openly; the signs are everywhere.
For smears are on the windows, little smudges on the doors.
I should apologize, I guess, for toys strewn on the floor.
But I sat down with the children and we played and laughed and read.
And if the doorbell doesn’t shine, their eyes will shine instead.
For when at times I’m forced to choose the one job or the other,
I want to be a homemaker. But first, I’ll be a mother.
All under the heading:
It served as an excellent reminder for me during those “growing-up-years” of what I wanted my priorities to be. I had friends and neighbours who were much better housekeepers, and at times I’d find myself succumbing to the peer pressure of their immaculate standards. But I was never able to figure out how to keep a spotless home without completely stressing out my family, so I’d keep those feelings at bay by reading my disclaimer.
I’ve read those words so often I doubt I’ll ever forget them.
But there is a time for everything. And two years ago, after we repainted our front hall, I knew my disclaimer’s time had come. It had served its purpose. My children were no longer small – in fact they were teenagers – and to imply that I’d only recently “sat down” with them and “played and laughed and read,” would be not just inaccurate but dishonest.
So I packed the stitchery away thinking that perhaps one of my daughters might want it some day, and I began to think about what should take its place on the wall in the hall above the shelf.
That space remained empty for more than a year. Inspiration is not easily found or replaced, and I knew I wanted something that would be just as affecting for my family’s next stage of life. But what would fit a family home that now regularly experiences more arrivals and departures than Grand Central Station?
Last summer, I found it. Covered in dust, high up on a wall in a small bookstore, I read the words of promise and blessing engraved on this wooden plaque:
“Journey” it says. And then, this verse from Psalm 121:8, “The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
Here’s one from the archives … enjoy!
In the midst of a season that involves so much busyness, bustle and time immersed in crowds, I have a favourite Christmas tradition that soothes my introverted soul.
Every year about this time, I like to take a few minutes off – by myself – to gaze at a photograph in my son’s baby book. And I remember.
It’s a group shot. Seventeen people are dressed ridiculously in bathrobes or burlap, artificial beards covering their chins, towels concealing their hair, dollar store tinsel encircling their heads.
My husband Doug stands up front, draped in an orange tablecloth. I sit beside him, wrapped in a blue shawl.
We face the camera. But to a person, we look not at the photographer, but into a wooden manger on the floor in front of us. There is tenderness in every eye, an expression of wonder on each face.
My infant son lies in the manger on a bed of hay. Eight months old, he sleeps soundly. His face is peaceful, his blond hair shimmering. One small pudgy hand peeks out through swaddling blankets.
I remember the moment captured by the photograph as if it happened yesterday.
We had been asked to play the Holy Family in our church’s Christmas pageant. Mark was the youngest baby in the church at the time, and our choir director wanted a real infant in the performance. All Doug and I would have to do, he said, was walk from the back of the church to the front—in costume and carrying our son—then remain there for some narration and a few carols.
I remember hesitating. Mark was far from a newborn; in fact he was walking, running everywhere, and his high energy levels had earned him the nickname “Mark the Spark”. Did the director want to risk having a baby Jesus who stood, babbled or bounced on his mother’s lap throughout “Silent Night”?
But the director persisted. So we agreed.
Pageant day dawned, and stress descended. My normally cheerful son was teething and feverish and out of sorts; he fussed all day. By the time we donned our costumes at church I was tired and overwhelmed, and Mark—past due for a feeding—was howling in protest. With only minutes to go before our walk to “Bethlehem,” I found a quiet spot to nurse him, and breathed a desperate prayer. (I don’t remember what I prayed, but I imagine it went something like, “Help!!!”)
Mark fell asleep. It felt like my very own Christmas miracle. Cradling him close, I joined Doug just in time to walk down the aisle.
Mark slept on. But he was heavy. Afraid to shift him in case he should wake up, my arms ached. Song after song, reading after reading. I remember looking longingly at the empty manger; it seemed a shame to waste it. So just before the pageant’s end, I gingerly placed him there, and felt relief spread over me as his little body settled into the yielding hay.
Relaxing for the first time that day, I gazed at my son in the soft glow of the candlelit sanctuary. And as I relaxed, it occurred to me that the whole point of our family’s participation in the pageant was to illustrate this one central fact of human history: the Son of God became a baby too. I had been so consumed fretting over my own baby that day, I’d almost missed the lesson: the enormity of the real Christmas miracle.
Divinity became humanity. Willingly. Jesus left the side of his Father in heaven, and clothed himself in human flesh to become a helpless, needy, dependent human baby. A baby who teethed and toddled just like my son. Just like all of us. He did it because of his great love for us. He did it, as Tim Huff writes in Bent Hope, “to promise the hope of abundant life, before he sacrificed his own.”
It’s a wonderful story. I believe it to be true.
May we reveal its truth in the way we live. And in the way we love one another.
Have a very Merry Christmas.
They’re called, “Nuts and Bolts.” When I was a young girl, they were a family Christmas tradition – and a personal favourite of mine. I loved them for their crunch and flavour, and for the way my mom’s kitchen smelled as she roasted them. I loved to play with them as I ate – attaching the Cheerios to pretzels to make dumbbells, or stacking the Shreddies into towers. But truth be told, I suppose I also loved them because they represented a very special treat that made me think of happy, cherished outings alone with my mom.
As one of four children, it felt special and significant to have one-on-one time with mom. Even if it was only a quick trip to the bank or shopping, it must have felt that way to my mother as well – because she always seemed to know how to turn such excursions into small celebrations.
One of the ways we’d celebrate such times was to top them off with a once-in-a-while indulgence. I remember outings that would feature ice cream or piping hot french fries – sprinkled liberally with malt vinegar – and wrapped in a paper cone. But my favourite was warm Nuts and Bolts, freshly roasted and packed in a tiny cardboard box, from a little business a short bus ride from our home, called “Jim’s Nut Shack.”
I suppose I was destined to continue the tradition of roasting the tasty snack mix in my own home each Christmas.
When our children were small, Nuts and Bolts – packaged in pretty boxes or gift bags tied with colourful ribbon – made affordable gifts for teachers and friends that the kids were proud to give because they’d helped to make them. Nuts and Bolts freeze beautifully and preserve their freshness best that way. But usually, they wouldn’t last long enough to make it to the freezer, and we’d wind up roasting them throughout the Advent season.
Our two oldest kids are both coming home from university this weekend to help trim the Christmas tree, so in anticipatory celebration of their homecoming, I made a batch of Nuts and Bolts for us all to enjoy as we decorate.
Homemade Nuts and Bolts
- 1 box Cheerios cereal
- 1 box Shreddies cereal
- 2 1/2 cups unroasted, unsalted peanuts
- 4 cups pretzel sticks
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp seasoned salt
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
Combine cereals, pretzels and peanuts in a large roasting pan. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Add Worcestershire Sauce and spices. Drizzle over cereal mix in roasting pan and stir well to evenly distribute. Roast for 1 1/2 hours – stirring well every 20 minutes. Serve warm, or cool and store in airtight containers.
“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”
Confession time: I’ll be turning 50 in a couple of months, and as that number looms so does the realization that I’ve long since passed my physical “best before” date. It truly is all downhill from here. The best I can hope for is to slow the inevitable decline.
I want to slow it. I’ve had the blessing of knowing what it feels like to be in great physical condition – I was a passionate runner throughout high school – and I also know what it feels like when my body gets soft, squishy and lazy. I much prefer the former feeling; unfortunately it takes work – hard work – as well as time, and plenty of it.
But an approaching milestone birthday can be an incentive-generating thing, and so a few weeks ago, when a friend invited me to consider joining her at Boot Camp I didn’t have to think long about it.
It’s been brutal. Honestly. Now in our sixth week of a ten-week camp, there hasn’t been a single workout I haven’t dreaded beforehand, groaned throughout, collapsed after, or, felt thoroughly proud of myself for completing.
Last night, as I was plodding along on the longest run I’ve run in years, my breathing fell into a lovely rhythm and I surprised myself by feeling better than I thought I had the right to. And then I remembered the feelings of elation that came the last time I worked so hard to get my body into shape, when I trained for and ran a half-marathon.
That was 8 years ago. It was a life-changing experience. I loved every kilometre. But after completing it I vowed one was enough and I’d never do another. So the day after the event, I sat down and penned 25 things I had learned from the experience.
If you’re thinking about getting your body into shape, perhaps some of the thoughts below will help to inspire you!
25 Things I Have Learned From Training For A Half-Marathon
- I can do something significant that mere months ago I would have thought impossible.
- The sound of snail shells crackling underfoot as I run on a spring morning can induce guilt – but not enough to make me stop running.
- It’s more fun to run with someone to talk to.
- I can talk while I run!
- As spring turns to summer, snails disappear only to be replaced by leaping grasshoppers.
- Having strangers cheer for you at a finish line feels astonishingly good. Having family and friends there to cheer feels even better.
- My coach and Woody Allen are right – 80% of success is just “showing up.”
- When sweat drips into your eyes, it stings.
- It’s easier to get out of bed for my morning run if I’ve laid out my running clothes the night before.
- My husband’s admiring glances and compliments at my newly toned runner’s body make all the miles and sweat and pain worthwhile.
- A foot massage never feels as good as it does after a 15K run, except maybe after a 20K run.
- Gatorade can taste delicious!
- Nothing can compare to the feeling of running 21K in middle age – and passing a teenager as I approach the finish line.
- I am happier, healthier, less stressed and more positive about life in general when I’m physically active than when I’m a couch potato.
- When my skin feels like sandpaper after a long run – it’s because of the salt left behind after the perspiration has evaporated! Amazing!
- Stars never looked so beautiful as during a 6 a.m. run on a crisp, clear October morning.
- My husband and kids are not only supportive, they’re proud of me!
- It really is important to drink lots of water.
- Running on trails – along meandering paths, through leafy forests and alongside graceful streams – is like candy for the soul.
- Endorphins are one of God’s better ideas.
- I can run in the heat without fainting, in the rain without shrinking, in the cold without freezing and for (at least) 13 miles without keeling over!
- There really are enough hours in the day! I can accomplish more when I’m fit than I ever would have had the energy to accomplish when I’m not.
- Completing a race in my 40s can be just as exhilarating as winning a race at 17.
- Runners are nice people.
- I can run! When I consider all those in the world who physically cannot, I recognize that I am blessed. And I find myself praying, “thank you God!” with every step.
Creamy Pumpkin Pie Squares
It’s something generations of moms have known; when home is a nice place to be, then people want to be there!
I had the wonderful blessing of growing up in a home that was a nice place to be. I’ve tried to replicate that for my own husband and kids. And a big part of my strategy for creating that kind of a home has involved food; always having plenty of good, nutritious, home-cooked food on hand, and filling the house with delicious aromas whenever possible.
As Thanksgiving weekend approached – and I looked ahead to my kids coming home – it was bothering me (ever so slightly) that our weekend plans meant I wouldn’t be cooking a traditional turkey dinner. So in order that the house would still feel like Thanksgiving, I threw together a batch of this scrumptious pumpkin-pie-like dessert in time for the kids’ home-coming.
If you’re not up to baking pies this weekend – for whatever reason – I highly recommend this recipe. I’m not kidding when I say I “threw it together.” It tastes like a lot more work than it is. A cousin first shared the recipe with me years ago, when she served it cold, cut in tiny squares at a fall shower. It’s fast and easy to make – (takes about 20 minutes from start to popping it in the oven), and it fills the house with that luscious-spicy-pumpkiny-scent that will have everyone wandering through the kitchen asking “What smells so good?!” Be prepared to smack away a few fingers, because everyone will try to talk you into snitching a nibble now.
1.5 c. all purpose flour
1 c. finely chopped nuts (I like pecans best)
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar, packed
2 tsp. ground cinnamon, divided
3/4 c. butter
15 oz (approx. 450 mL) canned pumpkin
1 tin Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp. ground allspice (I used pumpkin pie spice)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 T. all purpose flour
1/2 c. shredded coconut
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In medium bowl, combine 1.5 cups flour, nuts, sugars and 1 tsp. cinnamon. Add butter. Mix until crumbly. Reserve 1 1/4 c. of the mixture. Pat remaining mixture on bottom of ungreased 9 X 13″ baking pan.
2. Meanwhile, in large mixing bowl, combine pumpkin, milk, eggs, remaining 1 tsp of cinnamon, allspice and salt. Mix well. Pour evenly over crust. Mix reserved crumbs with 1 T. flour and 1/2 c. shredded coconut. Sprinkle evenly over pumpkin mixture.
3. Bake 30 – 35 minutes or until set. Cool 10 minutes. Serve warm. Refrigerate leftovers. (But if you invite friends and cut the pieces large – I can almost guarantee there won’t be any!)
“If the Divine Creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony.”
- Fernand Point
It was a good night. A great night. A night I’ll always remember, not for its smiles but for its tears.
Yes, its tears. They belonged to my husband Doug, pictured below surrounded by his kids.
I snapped this photo later the same evening – precisely because I wanted to remember “the” moment that I saw those tears – forever. And since I didn’t have a camera on me at “the” moment, I settled for snapping this shot a couple of hours after the moment had passed.
I could probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my husband shed tears in the quarter of a century we’ve been married. It’s not that he’s not in touch with his emotions. It’s just that he is, typically, a pretty even-keeled fellow. It takes a lot to make him emotional to the point of welling up. But well up he did on September 17.
September 16 is his birthday. And while Jenna (our youngest) and I did our best to make it special this year – and Doug put on a brave face – we all knew it just didn’t feel like a birthday because almost half of our family of five was missing. With Stephanie and Mark – our two oldest kids – both out of town at different universities – he wasn’t expecting to see them until Thanksgiving.
But unbeknownst to Doug, the kids had cooked up a special surprise, and on the following night – a Friday – our two university students both managed to get into town without their dad knowing it. They’d reserved a private booth at his favourite restaurant (Japanese), and they waited there for our arrival.
When Doug got home from work, Jenna and I told him we’d planned some fun after a long hard week and he was not to ask questions. So we piled into the car, and drove to the restaurant. He was clearly charmed at being thus ‘kidnapped’ – and when we pulled into the parking lot he exclaimed, “Sukiyaki?!” with obvious delight.
But it wasn’t until we stepped into our private booth – and he saw Stephanie and Mark there, and heard their exclamations of “Surprise!” that shock yielded to those silent, joyful tears now etched permanently on my memory.
The three kids paid for dinner that night, a sacrificial gift for poor students. It was a wonderful evening, topped off with birthday cake and stories and laughter back home.
Why did their thoughtful present mean so much?
Because it was their presence that was the real gift. My husband loves our kids. He’s proud of them. And there’s little that brings him greater joy than to spend time in their company, hearing their news and telling them his.
I’ve been reflecting on that fatherly love ever since. And in the midst of my reflections, it occurred to me that maybe that’s just how it is with God.
The Bible tells us He loves us. It gives Him great joy when we spend time with Him.
And ultimately, what He wants more than anything is for all of His kids to simply come home.
Luke 15:20 “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and … he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
- The Parable of the Prodigal Son, as told by Jesus to illustrate God’s amazing love for us
This oil painting has hung on the wall in the hallway of our home – in fact, on the walls of the hallways of every home my husband and I have shared – for 24 years. It was a gift from a former co-worker who painted it for us. His name was Joern.
Joern was a lovely man, quiet and soft-spoken, small and stooped of stature, with thin grey hair. He worked as a court artist for the same Toronto television newsroom I worked for in my 20s. Court artists are needed in Canada, because cameras aren’t allowed in courtrooms. So newspapers and television newscasts rely on these gifted folks to sketch the faces and profiles of the accused and their counsel, victims and Crown lawyers, to help tell the stories of the legal battles that rage on – far from the eyes and ears of the general public.
I remember the day, shortly after returning from my honeymoon, when Joern approached me. He said he wanted to paint my wedding portrait. “I like to paint,” he explained almost apologetically. “It’s good practice for me. Just bring in a photograph and I’ll make a painting for you.”
It was a generous offer – one that took me completely by surprise. But I told Doug – my new husband – excitedly of Jorn’s kindness and he helped me select a few photos that we thought might be appropriate for Joern’s work.
This is the photo I first offered to Joern. Our wedding album isn’t huge. Wedding photos were costly in those days – (are they still?) – and for budgetary reasons our selection was limited to the 20 or so photos that made it into our final album. But this photo has always been one of my favourites. There’s something about the moment it captures – on September 21, 1985 – which even today, can set my heart to soaring with a mere glance at it.
We’re laughing – obviously – over some long since forgotten joke – but there’s a warmth, a tenderness and an intimacy captured by the photographer that I’ve always loved.
But Joern didn’t love it. “No. This is not good,” he said when I offered the photo to him. “Twenty-five years from now, you will look at this painting and it will make you sad,” he said. “You will say to each other – you don’t ever look at me like that any more. We need a photograph of the two of you looking straight out at the camera.”
So I offered him this shot. It’s obviously a formal, posed photograph, and I loved the way the photographer had arranged my dress – and the fact that the flowers in the background were at their peak that September afternoon.
But “no,” said Joern. That photo wouldn’t do either. The shot was simply too wide. He preferred something closer – a shot that would be formal, and yet one that would capture our expressions. He needed practice, he explained, on painting faces. Our wedding portrait would help him to practice.
So of course, we gave him what he asked for. He was the expert – after all – and it was an incredible gift he was offering to us.
The portrait took Joern a year to paint. Throughout that year, he seemed to delight in giving me little updates as to its progress – and once, as if to tantalize me, brought in a photo of the painting – sitting half-finished – on his easel.
He presented his masterpiece to us as a gift – for our first anniversary. I remember having him and his wife to dinner at our little townhouse – when he brought the finished painting along.
A fascinating fellow – Joern had served as Rommel’s photographer in the Afrikakorps during the Second World War. My husband is a military buff and so enjoyed Joern’s company and stories enormously. We had a lovely evening.
I lost touch with Joern when I left the newsroom to take a job with another media company. But often, as I’ve passed by our portrait, I’ve thought of him and wondered what became of him.
If I could convey a message to my old friend? It would be this: “Thank you for your labor of love and friendship, Joern. It’s held a place of honour in our home from the day you gifted it to us, and we cherish it still.
“But you were wrong about one thing: it’s been 25 years, and we still look at one another with smiles on our faces and love in our eyes. And we can still set one another to laughing.”
It’s been a busy, glorious summer. A summer that held time and fun with family and friends, long lazy beach days and book days, BBQ’s and gardening, excursions and work. Now our two oldest kids (yes, two!) are settled at university and our youngest has begun high school. And I’ve started to think about posting occasional thoughts here once more.
As a way of “getting back into the swing of things,” I thought I’d share another favourite recipe. This is one my daughter Stephanie asked me to be sure to send her, when she headed back to her “second home” to prepare for the start of her third year of university.
Every year, my small backyard garden seems to outdo itself in producing one certain thing. There are years that are great for tomatoes. Other years will be outstanding for peppers, egg plant or cucumbers. But this year was definitely the year of the zucchini!
The whopper at left – held aloft by my daughter Jenna – greeted us in the garden after a two-week vacation. I promise – we were only gone two weeks – and I’m positive there were only fingerlings on the plants when we left for our holiday.
Over the past month, I’ve harvested at least eight mega-zucchinis and countless smaller ones besides. We’ve enjoyed them grilled, battered and stir fried, in soups and sauces, breads and cakes. I’ve also given several of the moderately sized vegetables to friends, and tucked away 21 cups of the stuff grated in the freezer for winter baking.
But I think our favourite way to eat zucchini has been whipped up in this recipe for zucchini muffins. Try them warm, slathered with thick, deli cream cheese. Heaven!
- 3 cups grated, fresh zucchini
- 2/3 cup melted, unsalted butter
- 1 1/3 cups sugar
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- pinch salt
- 3 cups all-purpose flour (I like to substitute half the all-purpose flour for whole wheat)
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 cup walnuts (optional – but we enjoy them)
- 1 cup raisins or dried cranberries (again – optional, but the cranberries make these muffins prettier and seem a special treat)
Method: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the sugar, eggs and vanilla. Stir in the grated zucchini and then the melted butter. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the zucchini mixture and mix in. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, nutmeg and cinnamon. Stir these dry ingredients into the zucchini mixture. Stir in walnuts, raisins or cranberries if using.
Coat each muffin cup in your muffin pan with a little vegetable spray or line with papers. Use a spoon to distribute the batter equally among the cups, filling the cups completely. Bake on a middle rack until muffins are golden brown, and the top of the muffins bounce back when you press on them, about 25 to 30 minutes. Set on a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes, then remove muffins from the tin and let cool for another 20 minutes.
You might want to make a double batch as they’ll vanish quickly!
This blog has been lying fallow, a consequence of the fact that I’ve temporarily stepped into a rather consuming full time role for one of my clients. At the end of a long, full day of writing and thinking and organizing, I find I have little creative energy left over for anything but home and family.
But it’s also a consequence of the reality that eldest daughter has moved home for the summer, and as I considered her my primary audience, the need to share stories and news via this venue seems almost redundant.
If you’ve visited over the last few weeks hoping for up-dates, thank you for your time, interest and loyalty, and my apologies for letting you down.
I expect to blog sporadically over the coming months, and hope to pick up the publishing pace here once again, in the fall.
“I shall live badly if I do not write, and I shall write badly if I do not live.”
- Francoise Sagan
Beautiful, aren’t they? The magnolia bush in our front garden recently burst into bloom and the sight is one that can keep me lingering at our front door – absorbing its splendour – on the busiest of days.
I’ve always loved magnolias, in spite of the fact that their extravagant beauty is so short-lived. But we didn’t plant a bush of our own until several years ago, when my youngest daughter gave me a whole new reason to appreciate the lavish pink blossoms.
It was Mother’s Day – when Jenna was only three – that magnolias took on – once and for all time – a special significance for me.
One house in our neighbourhood had three large magnolia trees on the front lawn, and that spring, as Jenna and I walked her older siblings to and from school, I told the kids they were my favourite. I remember walking past that house every day, and pointing out the buds as they became swollen and bloomed, then rained their petals onto the lawn in a carpet of candy floss pink.
A couple of weeks later, on Mother’s Day morning, the kids prepared breakfast in bed for me then clambered up on the bed to shower me with gifts. Jenna offered hers last. It was a special secret she said – one she’d obviously taken pains to wrap herself. I remember the look of eager anticipation on her face as I gingerly opened the tiny package.
There, nestled in the wrappings, was a brown, shrivelled, dead-looking thing. I admit I was surprised – and couldn’t quite figure out what it was. Some kind of flat worm? A long-since expired, dried out caterpillar? I didn’t know what to say or how to react – so, confused – I remember looking at Jenna hoping for a clue. Her expression had changed from one of excitement and hope to shock, disbelief and confusion.
“Honey! What’s wrong?” I remember asking, searching for understanding. “What is this?”
“It was a magnolia petal,” she said, her words coming out in sobs. “I picked it up for you when you weren’t looking. I know you love them. So I wanted you to have one of your own.”
Of all the Mother’s Day gifts I have ever received, that dead magnolia petal is one of my most cherished. I saved it, of course, tucked away in a tiny little decorative box. It’s disintegrated into not much more than crumbs now. But I still can’t bring myself to throw it away.
For every time I see that crumpled brown petal, and every year when our magnolia bush springs into bloom, I am reminded, again, of how very much I am loved.