We had a late batch of kittens, born a few days ago and hidden away in the bale stack out by the barn. Safe, momma kitty thought, from all the dangers. Tucked away, deep down in a nest she’d obviously prepared for them ahead of time. It took Carter two days to find them.

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Four beauties, tiny and precious and fragile.

The next day, one was dead. Looks like momma had accidentally rolled over on it and suffocated it in the night.

The day after that, Carter brought the little black and white one to the house, and by the way he was walking, fast but gentle, it was a sure thing something was wrong.

Can I warn you? This is nasty.

The baby had a hole in it, a perfectly round hole drilled through its soft, baby skin, and there were maggots. Yes. Gross.

A fly had taken a nasty bite out of her and laid eggs, and baby was being eaten alive.

It took dad and son and tweezers and alcohol and about an hour to remove the evil and clean the wound and the baby cried the whole time, poor thing.

When they took baby back, they checked the other kittens and found one perfectly fine, and one with so many holes in her there was no hope of saving.

Two kittens left, one sick and one fine, and Carter is vigilant about checking on them. Sick baby has made a few more trips to the house, a few more treatments with tweezers and alcohol and salve, and today she seems quite well. The wound is healing and she’s nursing and Carter is praying, and we are cautiously hopeful.

And I’m thinking this morning about compassion, and about raising compassionate kids, and I’m thinking about the mom who asked the questions …

How do we do it? How do we raise kids who are compassionate and caring and who think about others in a world like this? How do we teach kids to be kind and giving when the world teaches them to be selfish and thoughtless?

I’ve thought about this a lot.

At the time of the conversation, we were discussing big things. Hungry children and orphans and third worlds and natural disasters. And we were planning big things. Mission trips and service projects and, you know, going and helping.

Since then, we’ve done some of that. Some going and some helping, and it’s been good. I’ve loved being able to serve as a family that way.

But I’m thinking, as my boy leaves for the barn this morning to check on the kittens – I’m thinking compassion is perhaps built on the small things. Maybe compassion is learned in the barn, or on the playground, or wherever a family spends time.

Maybe this is what Carter is learning, although he probably doesn’t know it.

He’s learning it’s not fair. Life, I mean. Things happen that don’t make sense. Poor baby kittens didn’t do anything right or wrong. Why did one kitten suffocate? Why did one kitten become so sick it died? Why was one kitten healed? Why was one kitten safe and whole and untouched?

I don’t know, Son. But you helped where you could and you did what you could and you walked through death and pain, and a baby lived because of your willingness to touch the yuck.

He’s learning to be tough. Not to be uncaring or unfeeling, but to have a thick enough skin to do what needs to be done and to let go of that about which he can’t make a difference.

Yep, it’s hard to lose a battle. But you won’t win every fight. If you can’t handle loss, you’ll quit and you won’t experience the victories, either. Life is not perfect, here on this earth, and no matter how hard you try, you won’t win every time.

He’s learning the sweetness of  leaving it in God’s hands.

You pray and you hope and you trust, and you do what you can. That’s living faith, Son.

Living by faith. It’s not for the weak.

Maybe compassion is just that, though. Learning to live by faith, daily. To touch the needs in front of you, no matter where you find them. In a barn, on a playground, in a classroom, in a friend’s living room. You pay attention, and notice the vulnerable, and you try to be the hands and feet of the saviour you love.

Picking maggots out of the belly of a two-day old kitten? Yuck. But maybe that’s exactly how you teach a kid compassion.

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I remember the commitment I made so many years ago, the long walk up to the front of the church building on a Sunday evening to give him my life and my love always and to make him my King and the walk into the water and the words spoken over me by my dad and the going under and the coming up and the newness of the new life I’d heard about my whole life.

And how it wasn’t long before the new wasn’t new and I’d messed up and made mistakes and said sorry more times than I could count.

I remember standing at the front of the church, at the beginning of it all, you know, before God and everyone, and wanting to do it right. To love and honour and cherish, till death did us part, and feeling the sting of failure before the week next was barely spent.

I remember finally getting pregnant, after the long wait and the wondering if ever, and thinking this gift, this precious life,  would be treasured, every minute of every day. And then one day I lost my mind a little in the chaotic mess of real life and I spoke harsh words and the mommy promise was broken then and over and over through the three boys and the many years.

I wish I could remember better.

I wish the promises made at the beginnings were better remembered in the middles of it all.

I am thinking of a man today. A man I didn’t really know – had only just met, actually. His name was Trent and a few days ago we were singing together around a campfire on the shore of a beautiful northern Saskatchewan lake. He was leading songs for the kids, silly songs with silly, made-up verses, and then, in a blink, he was down.

This week Trent’s wife and two boys will attend his funeral. They will put their new lives into practice as best they can, and their friends and families will help them as best they can, and life will go on … as best it can.

And I will try to remember better.

I will try, after the cold water shock of seeing how quickly it can all change, to celebrate and cherish and love those to whom I’ve made these promises.

This is the gift I’ve been given by a man I barely knew. The reminder of what really matters and what really doesn’t.

Wishing peace and love and the hope of Jesus on the family of Trent Konecnik, today and in the days to come.

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.

my beautiful grandma, Gladys Hanson

my beautiful grandma, Gladys Hanson

I remember conversations with my grandmother in her nursing home, me on the edge of the bed trying to keep track of two busy little boys. 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. About  the way things used to be and 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. It always moves me to tears to hear an old Johnny sing 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.

Ain’t No Grave … Johnny flips us off 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.

This is a repost of something I wrote a couple of years ago. Still love stories. Still love the sound of old people talking. Still love old Johnny singing his heart out.
Bella in the sun

Bella in the sun

I’m alone in the house when my oldest comes in and, without any preamble or bush-beating or the slightest hesitation, tells me she’s dead. “She got hit on the highway,” he says.

“Who found her?” I ask, and when he tells me it was Colton, my heart cracks open a little. He’s found death so often on the farm.

“He carried her home,” Tyson says. “It’s not pretty.”

I take a towel from the bathroom, one of the nice ones, and I go outside to find my two youngest men with their dad, standing over her little body lying still in the grass. I hand the towel to my husband and put my hand on Carter’s bent head and I reach over to hug my tall, middle son.

“I’m so sorry, Colton,” I say and he nods and the tears fall on his sweet face. I want to take him inside and wash the red off his hands and take off his blood-stained clothes and bathe and jammie him like when he was five. But he’s fifteen and ten years makes a world of difference and all I can do is to stand with him.

We watch as my husband wraps her broken body in my green towel, freshly wind-scented from the clothesline. We gather at the spot chosen, and I can’t help but cry as all three of the boys take turns with the shovel and the pile of black dirt grows beside the hole.

“Find a stone,” says my husband to Carter and Colton, and they leave, mission-focused. When they return, sharing the burden of the carrying, he looks at them and quietly says, “That’s a good rock for her grave, boys.”

In my mother heart I think they shouldn’t have to be carrying broken love in bloody hands or digging black holes or finding rocks for graves. And I know there are big, sad tragedies out there – bigger and sadder than ours – but this is the tragedy that is breaking my boys’ hearts and mine today, and it’s big enough.

With the hole dug and the rock chosen, sweet Bella is laid to rest and Carter and Colton say their tearful, heart-broken goodbyes while the oldest stands a step away, leaning on his shovel, because that is how he is.

“She was a good dog and a good friend, and it’s okay for you to be sad,” my husband says. And the hole is filled and the rock is placed and I watch as my youngest writes his puppy’s name across the stone, and Colton takes the pen and adds, you were loved.

She was.

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It’s been a year and there is a new dog on the farm, but today I’m missing the sweet little poodle who loved to cuddle on the couch, who jumped crazy all over us when we walked in the door, who followed me down the back road when I went for summer walks, who chased grasshoppers and snapped at dragonflies, and who loved us like only a dog can.

Time speeds, faster and faster it seems, and I am remembering the sweetness of boys running and climbing and a little dog barking and chasing, and the memories are kind.

I am reading the online chatter, the tweets and headlines, and it doesn’t take long to realize something bad has happened, again, and I make myself read deeper to discover the tragedy, if only to pray over what I am sure will be many sad and hurting people.

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I’m expecting the news before its confirmed. Children lost, people lost, homes lost. All lost to a wind and in just a few minutes, lives changed. Forever May 20th, 2013 will be remembered for the tornado that devastated the community of Moore, Oklahoma.

It’s been all over the place. Photos, tweets, news casts, blog posts. Even without television, it’s inescapable, and I’m drawn in. I’m in tears over the woman whose dog climbs out from under the rubble while she is being interviewed on a news program. I’m amazed by the man who films the scene around him as he emerges from the storm shelter, his house a pile of toothpicks, and utters, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.

But I can’t watch the parents. I can’t click on anything with the words elementary school in it. I know it will be bad.

I can hardly go there, to that mother place of not knowing where is the child.

These big tragedies, they overwhelm me. I know people in Oklahoma. I have relatives there. A friend’s daughter was teaching in her classroom full of children a mile from where the tornado touched down. I ache, from a distance, with the hurting.

I’m tempted, in the face of all this big sadness, to fall into despair for what is so wrong. To forget who I am and where I am in the face of who they are and where they are and what they’ve lost.

On May 20th, 2013, I am with my family and we spend the day outside, together, cleaning up from winter and getting ready for summer. Mowing grass and raking up debris and burning up the old, dirty mess left after months of snow and ice, and I’m thankful for the blisters on my hands and the dirty children around me. I fix soup for lunch and we sit around the table, whole and complete and united in our messiness. And when the news filters its way into our day, I weep over the cinnamon buns as I mix them and butter them and roll them out for the ones who are mine, and it all becomes treasure to be held close and carefully polished.

And when my youngest comes to me, a clutch of baby mice in his barely baby hands, and asks what to do, I can’t even speak. They are just mice, left behind from the cleaning of the barn and mice are killed regularly around here. He already knows, but they are babies and they are helpless and he feels sadness for their fate.

It’s okay, Mom, he says, and he goes out to do the thing that must be done, and I am weak for the hard things, big and small, faced this day.

Around the world, on May 20th, 2013, grandparents passed and mothers miscarried and children cried and cars crashed and winds destroyed and there was hurt and devastation and sadness.

Tragedies, some of which were made public.

None of which was ordinary.

Continuing to pray for the hurting, the devastated, and the sad …

I met him in 2001 when I moved to Calgary. When I agreed to officiate at his funeral, the title of a book, Longing for a Homeland, written by my friend, Lynn Anderson, kept going through my mind.

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He was born in 1974 in South Sudan. When he was a very young man, soldiers from the north shot his father, who died in his arms. He was shot too, but he escaped into the bush and eventually made his way to an Ethiopian refugee camp. He finished his elementary schooling there and received a scholarship to a United Nations high school. After he finished high school and some college work, he went to another refugee camp. In 2000 he was granted refugee status to Canada, and made his way to Calgary.

I believe his heart was still in South Sudan though, the Promised Land as he called it, and in 2007 he returned for a year. When he returned to Canada he was ill and didn’t completely regain his health.

He died on November 28, and on Saturday I stood behind a podium looking out on 150 or so South Sudanese and talked about Searching For a Homeland. Because he spent most of the thirty-eight years he lived doing just that. He lived and loved and cared and learned and worked and searched and didn’t give up. People helped him along the way. And those who did learned and cared and loved. He found his home land – not in power and prestige or wealth or property, but in a place where people are able to practice their faith and be respected for who they are. His search began in Africa, moved to Ethiopia, then to Canada and ended in eternity.

His search led me to reflect on mine.

The journey is what is important and it has led me to a place where I feel loved and am able to love in return, where I can help and accept help, where I can learn and share and be blessed by people from many countries and cultures. It has led me to a place where I am confident that, even with all of my warts, God loves me and I am free to love and accept others with all of their warts and idiosyncrasies.

My prayer is that you too will be blessed as you search for your homeland.

 

I’m thinking this morning, this cold and snowy Remembrance Day morning, of the family of a thirty-four-year-old mom. We were at her memorial service yesterday, Lyndon and Carter and I. Her son is eleven, the same age as Carter and a friend of his. And Lyndon works with her dad.

We’ve been thinking of this family so much these past weeks. Carter has prayed for them and continues to pray for them at every opportunity. And he always says the same thing.

Please be with this family. Help them to soldier on.

This is the theme of Remembrance Day for me, this year.

Sometimes life is sweet and carefree.

Sometimes life is sweet and difficult.

And sometimes its just plain hard, and the best you can do is soldier on.

At his mom’s memorial, Carter’s little friend gave a small speech. He shared the ordinary of his mom – that she was always late, that she loved to dress nice and look nice. And then he, with childish eloquence, stated,

“I didn’t think it would be over by the time I was eleven. I didn’t expect that. You don’t want to be me, that’s for sure.”

These are the words haunting me this morning, as I get ready for a Sunday of Remembrance. As we prepare to participate in the ceremony in town with the laying of the wreaths and the quoting of the poems and the bugle call at 11:11, and as we spend time later at church remembering the one who died for us all, and as we spend the afternoon at a farewell for special friends who are moving away.

These words remind me that life is uncertain and often full of loss and pain. That sometimes, it doesn’t seem to make much sense.

Today, these words remind me that we must all, in our own ways, soldier on.