January 2012

I spent some of my growing up years in Yellowknife, in the Canadian Northwest Terrritories. I worked there, off and on, during high school and also, before, during, and after university. Poverty, in Yellowknife in the 1970’s and 80’s when I was there, was very much in your face. I mean, it was this crazy place where some people made ridiculous amounts of money, and some people spent the night sleeping on the Post Office floor. I remember going to my Saturday job at Joan’s Fashions in the old YK Mall, and my first stop would be the Post Office. Often, I would have to literally step over sleeping bodies to get to the mail box. Most of them, I knew by name. Everyone knew them by name. They were the town characters. Local drunks.

I especially remember Margaret Thrasher. A big woman, with a red face and a loud voice. Her husband was a small man who usually walked a few steps behind her. I’ve thought of Margaret often through the years. Once, she ran for mayor and sold her campaign posters for $5.00 each. She had a son named Ray who was adopted at six months old and who was renamed Eric Schweig. Schweig became an actor, most notably playing Uncas in the movie The Last of the Mohicans.

Margaret was a character, that is for sure.

Margaret drank too much. I know alcohol and other addictions played a huge role in her life. I don’t know all the things that played huge roles. I don’t really understand it. But I remember talking about it. I remember talking about it, once, with my dad.

We were talking about poverty, and First Nation stereotypes, and why people stay in a poverty situation when there is so much opportunity, and how surely in this country anyone could get a job if he wanted to. And Dad told a story about a conversation he’d once had in the north with a woman he was working with.

At the time, Dad was a retired elementary school principal and was working as a consultant with the Department of Education. He was on a committee consulting about something educational, and a First Nation woman was on the committee with him. They got talking about these things, these poverty things, and Dad said something like, I grew up poor. My parents didn’t have much, but I still was able to go to school and have a career and make a living.

And the woman said something to Dad that I’ve never forgotten. She said, Yes, but your parents didn’t expect to stay poor, and they didn’t expect you to stay poor. Their poverty was circumstantial, not cultural, and they expected you to be successful.

Am I wrong in thinking she was talking about the difference between hopeful and hopeless?

And that idea, that there is a culture of poverty, has influenced my thinking and my attitudes towards marginal people groups since.

Dad, in his post last week, talked about dignity in the face of poverty. He talked about Victor, a poor man with a poor education and poor future prospects. But Victor wanted different for his children. He had hope.

And hope, I think, births dignity.

I’d like to have a visit with Victor. I’d like to know what motivates him, in his circumstances, to be chairman of the Parents Association and to exemplify, as dad wrote last week, what it means to make do with what you have, to be gracious when you receive, and to do your part in making good things happen for your community.

I’d like to learn from Victor. I’d like to take what he has discovered, and share it with others.

Is hopeful dignity something that can be learned?

*** posted by Janelle


Today’s post is part of the My Dad and Me series here on the blog. Check back next Tuesday to read more of Dad’s thoughts as we continue this conversation. Click the link at the top of the page to read previous posts in this series.

I’ve been wondering, lately, about the creation. Those first few chapters on Genesis which outline the beginning, the way of it all, the foundation. I imagine it sometimes, God speaking and light sparkling and waters moving and life springing. My husband hopes that when heaven is realized and time is no more, he will be able to see the whole expanse of history and creation will be a thing to be experienced, or at least watched like a great movie.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking of creation and wondering about some things. About how it happened, you know? And that thing with Adam and Eve, at the beginning in the garden with God, and the pointing out in scripture of the fact that they were naked, has intrigued me. And not only that they were naked, but that they were naked, and unashamed.


Weird, but beautiful. I mean, I can’t imagine walking around naked and unashamed. What innocence and joy. The garden, that time of close communion with each other and with God, the way it was meant to be … oh my! Heaven!

But it didn’t last. There was temptation, and there was a giving in to temptation. Sin. And the first response to that action, the first negative emotion felt by man, was awareness of nakedness. May I call it shame? And Adam and Eve covered themselves.

Shame led to covering. And to hiding. And to fear. And to blame.

And we’ve been doing it ever since.

May I just say that we are all walking around naked, and that we all are well-acquainted with shame. And we hide and we are afraid and we blame.

But may I also say that hopefully, gracefully, we will help each other as we daily clothe ourselves with Jesus, with love, with forgiveness. In grace, let’s help each other out of hiding, let’s hold each other’s hands when we are afraid. Let’s help each other look to the light.

We don’t need help feeling guilty. We don’t need encouragement to feel shame. These things come naturally. Our role, as human companions, is to encourage each other turn away from shame and to focus on love. On Jesus. On grace. And, motivated by love and grace, to love and be graceful.

This is why he came. This is what the kingdom is about. This is the gospel.

We started the New Year off quietly. It was a Sunday, but we didn’t go to church. We stayed at home and worked some and rested a little, and we ended the day with communion. Just the family, around the kitchen table. My husband talked about the simplicity of the remembrance, and we passed the lefse and the grape kombucha from blessed hand to blessed hand. Sharing the feast. Starting the year together.

I took pictures, even though Lyndon said it was distracting. I took pictures because I wanted to remember.

When I was younger and busy with the babies, we lived in the same town as my grandma. I’d pile us into the old car, once a week or so, and we would go and visit. And the bigger boys would race down the hall to her room while I came more slowly, with the baby and the bags. And we’d sit and talk and look through the old pictures and remember.

I was there on a Sunday once. A Sunday afternoon, sitting on the edge of her bed with the baby in my lap and the boys on the floor. And a woman from Grandma’s church came, smiling and gentle, with communion for her. She spread the little banquet out on the small table, and she invited me to join.

And I said no.

I said I’d already had communion at my church earlier that morning. But the truth is, I was caught off guard. I had been raised in a certain way, in a certain fellowship, with certain ideas of truth and the right way to do things. And Grandma’s way was different.

So I sat and watched as Grandma and her friend took the bread and the wine together, and I heard Grandma say this is as close as we can get to Him in this world. And I saw her close her eyes and pray and commune.

And I’ve wished, ever since, that I’d accepted the invitation. I wish I’d said yes. I wish I’d shared that moment with her. I wish I’d learned earlier in my life to move past the well-intentioned message of my early faith education.

The message that kept me from sharing communion with my grandmother when I had the chance.

Yesterday, I cancelled our land line and our clumsy internet service. We are a cell phone family now. It has surprised me how free and unencumbered this move has made me feel.

I feel untethered. I feel like I did when I was younger and I wanted to travel the world and sleep on the beach and just live. Without all the rules.

It’s kind of cool.

I have just finished reading Janelle’s latest blog posts and once again I am proud, impressed and humbled that she would want to do a blog with me. One of the reasons I said I wanted to blog with her was because I wanted to “finish strong”. As I read her post it’s toughest in the middle, I thought that is really what finishing strong is all about. It’s continuing to spend time doing – being in the middle. It might be shovelling my neighbour’s walk, making the morning coffee, driving my grandson to practice when his parents are both at work, or just being available to another person.

It might also be going to Mexico to assist in the construction of classrooms for Indigenous children in small communities in the Baja.

The two classrooms we went to build this year would have been finished without my help. I did saw and measure (sometimes in that order) and drive a few nails, but I received  much more than I gave.  In the next couple of blogs I want to talk about what I learned.

This year we met Victor, a small man with a very large smile, two young children, a grade two education and the desire for his children to have more.  He is the chairman of the Parents Association and exemplifies what it means to make do with what you have, to be gracious when you receive, and to do your part in making good things happen for your community.

At the end of the project we enjoyed a feast prepared by the community. Speeches were made, gratitude expressed and Victor eloquently summed up what had taken place.

Now our children will be able to go to school with dignity.

This year, once again, I learned about dignity in the face of poverty.

*** posted by David


For more information about the organization with which Mom and Dad partner in their Mexico trips, go to True North Helping Hands.

Dad and I plan on making Tuesdays our day, so I’ll see you back here in a week, when it will be my turn to post on the My Dad and Me segment of the blog. Hmmmm, what should I write about?

I am home late from BookClub and the house is dark and quiet. I’m not tired – good food and inspired conversation will do that to a person – and I quietly steal upstairs to brush my teeth and wash my face, and I grab a quilt to take back downstairs to the couch. I walk to the stairs, and a door opens a crack. And one of the most beautiful faces in the world peeks out at me.

Can’t sleep, Buddy?

No. I’m having terrible sleeps all the time. I hate the night.

I walk into his room and smooth the blankets on his top bunk. He climbs back up and sits on the bed, cross-legged in his jammies. Charlotte’s Web is playing on his cd player.

Is something bothering you?

Well … ya … He stumbles over the words he doesn’t really want to say, the fear of which he doesn’t want to admit.

Tell me what you’re thinking.

And out it pours. A rush of words and tears and fears. The flood hits me hard, full in my mother heart. I am drenched with his pain and I ache with the damp of it.

And the sum of it all, the fear he is wrestling hard in the alone dark, is death. Because children die all the time, don’t they? So why not me?

I am at a loss. Because he’s right. Children die all the time. Terrible happens. Even with all the prayers for those hedges of protection, even with the faith.

I think of the book I’d just come from discussing, the echo of it still in my ears. Sarah’s Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay. The story of a ten-year-old Jewish girl caught in the terrible Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup during WWII in France. The story none of us had ever heard before.

I think of the awful truth of the Canadian roundups. The Japanese into camps during the war, the First Nations children into residential schools.

I think of children living on streets, and in dumps, and in orphanages. And I know my boy’s heart. I know the overwhelming, heart-breaking, knee-buckling truth with which he wrestles.

I look into the teary face of my precious ten-year-old boy and I have no words. I have no bright and cheery answer. I nod my head slowly, and I hold his eyes with mine, and I say I know. It’s hard. There are many sad things that happen in the world. And sometimes all we can do is love and trust and hold each other’s hands when we are scared.

I gather him up, all arms and legs and scruffy hair and fast-beating heart. And I pick up his pillow and he takes his quilt, and we go down to the living room together. And we make the living room a living room, with the lights on and the couches cozy and a drink in his hand. And we watch The Fonz and Richie being silly for a while and laugh a little, and then we dim the lights and pray and sink deep into soft blankets.

And sleep comes.

This isn’t the post you’re expecting. You’re expecting something sweet and Norman Rockwell-ish, about a mom making a cake or cookies or something, and then letting her children lick the bowl and the spoon and the beaters. With a few pictures of the darlings enjoying the treat, even. And Mom, in her apron, smiling in the background.

Nope, this isn’t that post.

This is the post about the tired momma who sometimes feels a tiny bit under-appreciated and overwhelmed. The weary wife who took to heart an off-the-cuff comment made by her husband. The woman who can let herself feel a tad lonely at times in a house full of men. This is the post about having a long day, of focusing on the negative, of staring at the half-empty glass, of being moody and knowing it and still being it.

This is the post about the mom who made her kids’ favourite Flossie’s Chocolate Sheet Cake … and then licked out the bowl – all by herself.

You aren’t designed to work above your head. Your eyes face forward. That means you  have to tilt your head back and look up, way up as the Friendly Giant used to say, to see what you are working on. And your shoulders and arms are great for doing the work in front of you, but oh they get tired and sore when they are asked to do the work above you.

Working above your head is no fun. Just ask these guys. And it’s something you can only sustain for a short time. Because you weren’t designed that way.

Working within your design is the most productive, most joy-producing, most satisfying way to work. You can grunt your way through the rest of it, the stuff you weren’t designed to do, and you can even have a good attitude about it because it has to get done.

But whenever possible, as often as possible, do the stuff that fits you. You’ll be happier, and the people around you will be happier.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my like, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Steve Jobs

We’re in the middle of our renovation. We started strong, full of energy and excited. But after several days of work and mess and water being turned off and the washing machine not hooked up, we’re a little weary. We’re in the middle of the project and that’s the least exciting place to be.

The middle is where the work happens. It’s the plodding, unexciting, I-just-want-to-be-done-with-this place. It’s the nine-to-five, the halfway point in a long journey, the daily grind. It’s where the squishy, uncomfortable, not-so-fun stuff happens. The monotony.

The middle is the fourth day of scraping the old cement floor in the basement bathroom

Even in the middle, though, there are moments. The finishing of the living/dining room floor. It looks beautiful. The visits during “coffee break”. The fun of seeing the bathroom floor taking shape. The joy of a hot bath after two days of no water. The silliness that comes with monotony and tiredness, like the rule that anyone working in the basement bathroom must speak with a Scottish accent.

In the middle, I think, it’s important to stop for a break now and then. A mini Sabbath. A moment to look up from your work and catch your breath. To pause and sit and gather strength.

And while you’re in the middle, don’t forget to celebrate the small victories along the way.

A few more days of The Middle, I think, and then The End will come rushing at us, like a plane landing or a baby birthing. A final flourish.

But today, well, today is another middle day. Most days are.

Every worthwhile accomplishment, big or little, has its stages of drudgery and triumph; a beginning, a struggle and a victory.


After the venison roast and and baked potato wedges and quinoa pudding, we sit and visit and laugh until the kitchen chairs get too hard. We move into the living room, push aside the renovation mess and make a little room to sit. Tyson hands Clint a guitar and we’re off, playing and singing and laughing some more.

It’s beauty in the mess, the sound of music and joy. I look around at the faces of my family and these friends, so beloved, all of them. And I’m grateful.

Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy …

Psalm 98:8

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