August 2011


It is a request I often make. That of faithfulness. I beg for it, in fact. For myself, for my husband and my marriage, for my children.

Faithfulness. That part of the fruit of the spirit that is tucked in between goodness and gentleness.

And it occurs to me that this thing called faithfulness, this bit of spirit-life that I long for … it is a time thing. A journey thing. It is the cumulative benefit of a life lived by faith. It is steps, one after the other.

It is a wife who continues to live and pray and minister and trust, though her husband’s unfaithfulness has left her alone.

It is a mother who reads, again, the story that brings the giggle. And then reads it again.

It is a woman who prays for her co-workers, her boss, her clients. And then prays again.

It is laundry and dishes and meals and bandaids and hugs. And then … again.

It is a woman who shares her heart, her story, her journey with another needing encouragement.

It is prayer in the midst of the unknowing.

It is faith made active.

It is getting up each day and accepting that day’s mess.

It is getting up each day and accepting that day’s joy.

It is getting up each day.

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Joining, today, with this community …

My confidence, when it comes to decorating, or being crafty, or, heaven forbid, choosing paint colour, is pretty much non-existent. I’m not one of those women who just sees things, or knows the colours that work, or loves looking through home decorating magazines. I like to make friends with these women though. Because I need the help.

But it’s something I’m working on. I think this is something I can get better at. I think I can improve my making-things-beautiful skills. With practice.

As I read around the web, I am struck by the number of blogs dedicated to this. To making things beautiful. And I’m amazed at the different ways women promote this. There are some truly talented and creative women in the world.

For me, things work best when there is a story attached. I like to know why that picture is hanging on the wall, not just that the colours matched the sofa. I want to feel something when I look around a room. So, one of the ideas that has been tumbling around in my thoughts for a while is the idea of framing life. The idea of looking at things as if there is a frame around them, or actually putting a frame around something I love.

I’m going to start with some photographs. How hard is that? I’ll look through and print off some photos that mean something to me, put them in some frames, and hang them on a wall. Easy peasy. And then I’ll take a picture of my pictures, and I’ll post it here. There, I’m committed!

I was actually thinking about all of this last night. I was in the living room with the kids, reading and thinking, when Carter jumped up and ran to the window. We have old windows, the kind that are divided into small squares of glass. Mom, come and look, he called. And when I did, I saw moths, pressed up against the glass. Ten or more of them, all different sizes and colours, framed in the window. I thought of going for my camera, but instead we just stood and looked at them. It was living art.

Beauty, framed.

Sunday morning. Potluck is made. Crockpot perogies and rice crispie cake. I’ve showered and dressed and, if you count scraping out the cake bowl, I’ve had breakfast. In a few minutes I’ll wake the boys and we’ll get ready. Dressed and brushed and cleaned, and we’ll go to church. It’s what we do. Our routine. But it’s the first time to meet with our church family here in over a month, and it feels a little strange. Like going back to school in the fall, or something.

This summer I’ve been wearing an ankle band. It’s one of those things you buy in bulk to give away to kids at camp or Sunday School. Mine is from our Vacation Bible School in July, and it says, Watch for God. I grabbed it from a pile of leftovers after the VBS was over, and I’ve been wearing it since. And all summer it has reminded me to watch. While we were on vacation, or visiting friends, or navigating shopping malls, I’ve tried to keep that thought in mind.

And I’ve seen him! I’ve seen him in the faces of relatives at a family reunion, and in mountain lakes, and in children’s play.

But on Sunday morning, in the rush and the routine and the looking for clean socks, I must remind myself. To not lose him in the midst of it all. So I pause, and reflect, and pray, and write a few words … and watch.

And it will be wonderful. Because HE is.

We used to do this before we had kids. Go out for breakfast on Saturday morning. Back then we lived in Regina and the choices were many. We knew which place served the best waffles, or where the coffee was freshest. And then came the children and the breakfasts were no more.

Lately, though, we’ve been breakfasting again. We are small-towners, now, so the choices are not as plentiful. But it’s not as much about the food, anymore. Its more about a chance to be together, have some time alone, look at each other, talk to each other … connection in the midst of distracting lives.

So, in a few minutes I’ll dry my hair and collect my husband from the yard where he is shooting his arrows into a bale, and we will drive into town and have poached eggs or bagels or maybe the special, and I might have a latte but he’ll have plain coffee, a cup and a half. And he’ll tell me about his week and the boss that keeps messing things up and the jobs that were hard to do because of the wind, and I’ll tell him about the boys and the weasel they caught and kept in a cage in the garage for a few days. And the connection that has been stretched because of time apart will be reinforced again.

This is an important part of our marriage. A continual coming back and reconnecting. This is, I suppose, relationship.

He starts, always, with a long explanation. Like he wants me to know that there is a reason he is asking this question. Like, maybe I will pay better attention and give him a more thoughtful answer if I understand the importance of this question he is asking me.

Yesterday, while we were cleaning the kitchen together, he asked the heaven question. Mom, what do you think heaven will be like? And I gave my I don’t really know for sure but it will be wonderful answer. And his eyes lit with that light that only his eyes have, and he nodded and said Yes, it will be wonderful. I think it will be beautiful and just fun all the time. And he reached across the almost forty years between us and hugged me hard. And I kissed the top of his head and whispered my love.

Heaven. Holding love in my arms.

I love this ten-year-old boy. I love his wild heart and crazy questions and small worries. When he was almost ten, he thought he was too grown up to say bedtime prayers with his mom. But for the last few nights he has asked me to pray with him again. Oh my, the privilege. And I know it won’t last forever, so I treasure each time. I pray with my eyes open, watching his face, his changing-into-a-young-man face, and I just love.

And I know there is a reason for it. There is some fear or hurt or anxiety that has brought him back to his mom and the comfort of her prayers. And sometime soon there will be a question. It will start with a long explanation of where the question is coming from … maybe something his brother told him has caused a worry in his heart, or perhaps his imagination has caught up with him again … and then he will ask and I’ll share and we will go on.

When I think about simple life, which I do often, I think about less stuff. Reduction is, I suppose, a great part of simplification. Living more with less. You’ve heard the clichés.

But the stuff I do have, the things I treasure, I have a relationship with. These things have a story. So even though I try in my life to shed an attachment to things and focus on people, I do have me some stuff that I love.

I have a blue bowl that I often put fruit in. I like to place it on my kitchen table. Right now it is full of nectarines and pears. My sister Kathy gave me this bowl as a wedding shower gift. Every time I take it out of the cupboard, it reminds me of her.

I have a set of mixing bowls that came from my mom’s mother. I use these bowls all the time, and I never fail to think of Grandma when I do. Mixing pancakes or cookies is more because of that connection.

On a chair in my dining room sit two old hymn books. In one is the name Pearl Lidbury and in the other is the name EJ Lidbury. My grandma and grandpa. I sometimes page through these books and think of the hands that held them and the words that were sung from them. Grandpa’s book falls open on its own to No. 185, Just As I Am. In the front of his is tucked a Christmas card from his brother Frank in England. Grandma’s book holds a handmade card that my dad gave her. Greetings to my very dear Mother, it says on the front. And on the inside: On Mother’s Day, May 11, 1947. To My Dear Mother, From David. These things are special.

My computer sits on a little table that Lyndon and I found in the garage of the first house that we bought in Regina. My father-in-law tightened shaky legs and carved a drawer handle and stained it dark, and it has provided some use in every house we have lived in since.  It has survived this marriage journey with us over the years, and while it is a little worn and chipped, it brings me a small joy to sit at this table each day and find words to share.

These are just a few of the small treasures that bring me happiness and a sense of connection. I could live without any of them. But I love them. Their stories enrich my daily life.

Joy in a blue bowl.

Love in a small table.

History in a hymn book.

I didn’t hear of his death until I turned on the radio in the car on the way home from Regina yesterday afternoon. Jack Layton died yesterday morning. Cancer. Like everyone else, I was shocked and saddened. Like everyone else, his letter has touched and inspired me. This is it:

August 20, 2011

Toronto, Ontario

Dear Friends,

Tens of thousands of Canadians have written to me in recent weeks to wish me well. I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughtful, inspiring and often beautiful notes, cards and gifts. Your spirit and love have lit up my home, my spirit, and my determination.

Unfortunately my treatment has not worked out as I hoped. So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.

I recommend that Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel continue her work as our interim leader until a permanent successor is elected.

I recommend the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the New Year, on approximately the same timelines as in 2003, so that our new leader has ample time to reconsolidate our team, renew our party and our program, and move forward towards the next election.

A few additional thoughts:

To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer.

To the members of my party: we’ve done remarkable things together in the past eight years. It has been a privilege to lead the New Democratic Party and I am most grateful for your confidence, your support, and the endless hours of volunteer commitment you have devoted to our cause. There will be those who will try to persuade you to give up our cause. But that cause is much bigger than any one leader. Answer them by recommitting with energy and determination to our work. Remember our proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions and making sure no one is left behind. Let’s continue to move forward. Let’s demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.

To the members of our parliamentary caucus: I have been privileged to work with each and every one of you. Our caucus meetings were always the highlight of my week. It has been my role to ask a great deal from you. And now I am going to do so again. Canadians will be closely watching you in the months to come. Colleagues, I know you will make the tens of thousands of members of our party proud of you by demonstrating the same seamless teamwork and solidarity that has earned us the confidence of millions of Canadians in the recent election.

To my fellow Quebecers: On May 2nd, you made an historic decision. You decided that the way to replace Canada’s Conservative federal government with something better was by working together in partnership with progressive-minded Canadians across the country. You made the right decision then; it is still the right decision today; and it will be the right decision right through to the next election, when we will succeed, together. You have elected a superb team of New Democrats to Parliament. They are going to be doing remarkable things in the years to come to make this country better for us all.

To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.

And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

All my very best,

Jack Layton.

Jack Layton

*********

Thank you, Mr. Layton. As a politician, you accomplished some amazing things. But the legacy you leave with the final paragraph of your farewell letter is what I will remember you for. More than the rest, these words will endure. This message will live on.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

Would you laugh if I said that learning how to be simple-minded is one of my goals?

When we were away on holiday, a dear friend who just started reading my blog commented on my recent Simple Life post. The gist of her comment was that while I write about living a simple life, she sees my life as busy and … not so simple. And sometimes, she’s right. Life does dish up a full plate. It is inevitable that rural life with three boys and a husband that works away from home during the week will not always be a smell-the-roses kind of experience.

We have barely unpacked from our trip to B.C., but today I am packing up again for another road trip. The boys and I are driving to Weyburn where we will meet Lyndon. Hotel tonight, friend’s daughter’s wedding tomorrow, visiting with friends in the evening, staying over a second night in Weyburn and then heading to Regina on Sunday. Spending Sunday night in a hotel with Lyndon and then he is back to work on Monday. The boys and I head back home on Monday, stopping in Moose Jaw so that Honda can install some thingamajig in the Pilot to make the engine light go off.

Kinda crazy, I guess. But this way, Lyndon’s driving requirements on the weekend are reduced to only a couple of hours. We will get to see him more. We will have more time to visit friends. And we get to feel like we are still on holiday.

Even a weekend like this is about simplicity, though, I believe. Because how I think about the weekend makes a difference in how I experience the weekend. Simple-minded.

So, I’ll not think I need to go and buy something new to wear to the wedding. And if I don’t have time to buy a gift, I’ll be okay with just putting money in a card. I’ll look forward to the chance to see and visit old friends. I’ll enjoy the drive. I’ll pray for two beautiful young people who are starting a new life together.

I’ll polish the treasure.

I love hearing an old person talk. I love the wavery, quavery, whispery quality of an elder’s speech. I love the direct, no-nonsense approach of so many of them. Like, time is short so let’s get to the point! I appreciate the wisdom of their years. I enjoy the back in the day stories they tell.

I remember conversations with my grandmother in her nursing home, me on the edge of the bed trying to keep track of two busy toddlers. She, in her big chair by the window, her mighty geranium plant on the table beside her overshadowing the room. How many blooms does it have this week, Grandma? She loved to drag out her old, bursting-at-the-seams photo album. She would page through it while we talked, sharing bits and pieces of the past. She told me about her Ma, and the old farm, and the way things used to be. She talked about the way things had changed. She had opinions about women and relationships and money and church. I loved that she was open to sharing her thoughts.

In the last few years, she was interested in the recording of things. She taped my mom and others singing with her. It seemed important to her to leave something vocal behind. Something more than the photographs.

As I grow older, I am recognizing how priorities and interests change. The farther I go, the more I treasure life and desire to live it well. I am thankful to older men and women who are willing to share their stories, their journeys, with me.

I am like my grandma in some ways. I, too, am interested in the story. The sound. It is important to voice things. To say them out loud. Stories are the glue of community. Being able to tell your story is a gift that you give. It is an opening of the door to others. It’s an invitation to relationship.

Johnny Cash is a good friend in our home. We all love his music and his story. Recently, we bought his last studio cd, American VI. I listened with tears as an old Johnny sang about how the grave wouldn’t be able to keep him down, and how death wouldn’t have victory. In an old man’s voice, he sings out his faith and his confidence.

He gets to the point.

*** he does “gesture rudely” at one point in this montage. But, this is part of his journey. It is part of the truth of who he was, which makes the story of who he became so beautiful.

Two weeks, three kids, and a family reunion. Throw in the Crow’s Nest Pass (a lovely drive, if you’re not in a hurry), a missing kid, and losing my shoes in a river, and you have the makings of a fantastic holiday. From Saskatchewan to British Columbia and back. Here is my version of the traditional family vacation slide show. Feel free to nod off.

Most interesting person met on the road:

This woman. We were fuelling up in Lethbridge, Alberta, and she rode in on her bike with this large black dog in the front bike carrier. I stared. Lyndon chatted with her for a few minutes and discovered she had biked from Montreal. Montreal is a long way from Lethbridge. No idea of her destination or if she even had one.

Best hotel:

Hands down, the best hotel we stayed in was the Days Inn in Penticton, B.C. It was serendipitous. Lyndon booked it on points, not knowing anything about it. Turns out it is located right across the street from where people put into the channel with floaties for the seven mile float down to Skaha lake. SO much fun. In fact, the channel float definitely wins in the category of The Most Fun We Didn’t Expect To Have. If you are in Penticton on a hot summer day you definitely have to float the channel. But, back to the Days Inn. Our room opened into the courtyard, in the middle of which was the outdoor pool. We were a half a block from the beach and the skateboard park. We stayed three nights. Perfect.

The biggest fright:

We lost Carter in Penticton for almost an hour. We were at the hotel and he had gone for a swim in the pool to try out his new wet suit. Lyndon was outside and saw him getting out of the pool. A few minutes later, Lyndon came into the room where I was getting ready for the day and asked where Carter was. And the search began. We looked everywhere. Twice. He was nowhere. I phoned the front desk and the hotel staff started searching as well. He was finally found, in the room next door to ours, by one of the cleaning staff. Apparently he had lost his way on the way back to our room from the pool, and had gone into the room next door by accident. The door had been left open while the room was being cleaned and he wasn’t noticed.

Carter was wet from the pool so he stripped off his wet suit and crawled into bed and started watching television. By the time he realized something was awry (perhaps the lack of luggage and family members were his first clues?), he was trapped, naked, in the bed. Thankfully, it is now just a funny story but for awhile I was a frantic momma pleading with God for my baby’s safe return.

The family reunion:

This was a Kemp reunion. Lyndon’s mom’s family. It was held at a beautiful little bible camp near Lumby. Apparently, Lyndon and his brother Darren had attended a camp there when they were teens. As the story goes, they spent a day there before they were “asked to leave”. Something to do with them having a little bit of trouble following the rules. Imagine.

Anyway, the DVM camp was a lovely spot to spend a couple of days. Here are the reigning patriarchs and matriarchs of the Kemp clan. Lyndon’s mom, Marilyn, is in red and next to her are her brother Wayne, sister Viv, and brother Norm.

The most relaxing:

After the reunion, we met up with Lyndon’s Aunt Merry in Vernon and went to Dee Lake for a couple of days. We stayed in a ninety-year-old log cabin and enjoyed some quiet days playing in the water, visiting, and reading. The boys fished a little, kayaked, and snorkeled. My favourite moment was the morning we left. Merry made coffee and she, Lyndon, and I sat down on the beach and watched the sun come up over the trees while a family of loons fished for their breakfasts. Beautiful.

The best field trip:

On our last day in Vernon, we went with Merry to Davison’s Market and Planet Bee. We’ve been to these places before, and they are favourites.

Best “catch-up” visit:

We stopped for a night in Salmon Arm at Lyndon’s cousin Michelle’s house. When our boys were small, we spent about a year living in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan at the same time that Michelle and her husband Dave were living on a pig farm near there. We home-churched with them during that time, and those days remain some of Tyson’s and Colton’s favourite childhood memories. Dave and Michelle had, then, five boys and also homeschooled, which made for some wonderful gatherings. It was great to spend some time with them again.

It was a lovely holiday. Lots of time together, and with friends and family. We did lots, saw lots, laughed lots. And so, for the finale, the final category. Because really, what vacation with boys would be complete without …

The best wedgie:

Don’t feel too sorry for him. He deserved it.