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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.

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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.

**********

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 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.

I walk up the steps to the Post Office, and when I pass through the doors I avert my eyes. I know the plain white sheet of paper is for her. I don’t need to read the notice. I already know that the funeral is today at 2:00.

Again, it came too soon and too abruptly, and its hard to make peace with it. She had barely retired. Her husband and family will miss her. She was loved. She was part of the community.

She loved to read, and we exchanged books from time to time.

She spoke softly.

She washed the torn skin of each of my boys at one time or another, smiling at them in the tiny hospital room. Holding, counting stitches, bandaging, marvelling at whatever crazy stunt had precipitated the injury.

As I leave the Post Office I glance at the stark, white notice. I think it should at least be printed on pretty paper. It should be printed on soft pink paper with a border of flowers, perhaps.

The end of August and I feel a little sad. The end of summer and I feel the loss. As the leaves fall and the grass dries and the sun’s visits get shorter and shorter, I mourn just a bit. The way you mourn what has been loved. Summer’s funeral is near and this year I remember her in eulogy.

Summer was a sweet friend. She arrived fresh and green and full of promise. She offered long, hot days with very little wind, and nights of booming thunder and crazy skies of streaking light.  She was days of busy friendship, and days of quiet aloneness. She was a picture of transformation, captured gratefully, photo by photo. She was boys with all their cape-wearing adventures. She was baby birds and baby goats and baby grasshoppers and growing up.

She was flower and fruit and harvest.

She was loss and sorrow, and she was starting over.

She was plans carried through, and plans left unfinished.

She was what she was meant to be. She was a season in my life. She has filled my treasure box with memories and she will not be forgotten.

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 carried her home,” Tyson adds. “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. And 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 our’s, 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.