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“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.”
I admit I didn’t want to write it; two days before Christmas, and a million other things to do.
I admit that writing it was a struggle; I wrestled over what I had to say for a day and a half, and then finally wrote it in the wee hours of the morning on December 23, when sleep eluded me.
I admit that I finally wrote it out of nothing more than a grudging awareness of the need to be obedient.
And you know what? I learned a lesson.
This piece, headlined “The nice road to Santa and the difficult path to Christ” was published over at the Holy Post, the religion blog of the National Post newspaper, December 23. The editor there wrote me on the morning of December 24 to say that it had gone to number one – not just on the blog – but up against every other story on the newspaper’s web site for that day.
Sometimes, lessons are hard learned.
And sometimes, God teaches us lessons, and then gives us a gift.
This lesson came with a gift. And I am grateful.
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
… if you don’t believe that, it changes nothing. If you do, it changes everything.
“Light shines in the darkness, there we are aware of it.
What good is light or learning unless people can enjoy it?
In darkness, in suffering, they shall see the light.”
- Meister Eckhart
I’ve mentioned previously that one of the things I love most about the work I do, is the people I have the good fortune to meet in the course of that work.
These five were standouts.
I’m one of the fortunate ones. And if you’ve had children in North America – indeed, if you were born here – then you are too.
I’ve had four pregnancies; three were relatively uncomplicated, healthy pregnancies, which led to three relatively uncomplicated labours, resulting in the delivery of three wonderful human beings: two girls, one boy. They are the joy of my life.
The fourth pregnancy, which didn’t progress beyond 10 weeks, left me with a sense of loss for the little one I never got to hold. It also reinforced in me – for all time – a deeper appreciation for the miracle and blessing my children represent.
But I’ve learned in recent years that even the relatively “minor” complications that I did experience – and there were a couple with each baby – were in fact only minor because of the context in which they occurred; namely, they occurred here in Canada, and not for instance, in Uganda, Yemen or Ethiopia.
Were it not for the fact that I had ready access to trained medical experts, and inexpensive but necessary drugs and equipment, those few, minor complications could well have claimed my life or the lives of each one of my three children. It’s a humbling reality that even still – many years later – has the power to make me pause and give thanks.
And it’s a reality I know to be true, because of conversations I’ve had with Dr. Jean Chamberlain Froese, an obstetrician/gynecologist who works on the front lines of unsafe motherhood.
Jean is founding executive director of Save the Mothers(STM), an international organization that trains professionals from developing countries to improve mother and child health. They do this by offering a two-year Master’s in Public Health Leadership program, focusing on each student’s specific vocation and sphere of influence. Currently operating in Uganda, they’ve trained more than 100 working professionals there over the past few years, including politicians, lawyers, journalists, teachers, and members of the faith community, who are now working to bring about the societal change necessary to make a difference on this important issue.
An assistant professor at McMaster University, Jean spends four months of each year in Hamilton, and the remaining eight months in Uganda, where under her leadership, STM has become the primary advocacy organization for maternal and child care.
Jean tells me that in a typical North American city, fewer than one in 4,000 women will die from childbirth, but in sub Saharan Africa, the number is one in 16. The main reason is that mothers don’t have proper skilled attendants at delivery.
I’ve had the inspiring experience of interviewing this remarkable woman on a number of occasions. (She’s a petite powerhouse who last year was honoured by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada with the prestigious Teasdale-Corti Humanitarian Award. You can read an early profile I wrote about her if you scroll to the bottom of this page.)
Jean, her journalist husband Thom Froese and their three beautiful children are in Uganda at present, so I’ve been sending them news up-dates regarding Stephen Harper’s recent decision to champion the cause through the G8 this June. In an email last week, Jean expressed how significant such support is:
“I can barely share the news with people here without choking up, thinking of how important this decision is,” she wrote. “I’ve slugged through the field of maternal mortality for the past 14 years and honestly, this is the first time where any kind of significant Canadian attention has been showered on this modern day tragedy. I am learning more and more that maternal and child health is very related to politics in developing countries and one must convince policy makers in those countries of its essential role.”
Keep on slugging, Jean. Breezes of change are starting to stir.
… who knows what Christmas is all about?” asks a wee little boy in this classic cartoon.
Thank you to my friend Belinda at Whatever He Says for reminding me of this lovely, poignant little bit of television history, that wraps up truth in such a simple package, it gives me goosebumps.
Got a minute-and-thirty-two seconds?
Then feast your eyes and ears on this:
That little guy on the right; he glows in the dark. Apparently.
Now you, too, can have your very own Lego built model of the “Holy Trinity.”
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.