Women, Bodies and God


Some things take a long time to write.  Probably because they take a long time to live.


Mary Madgalene Proclaims the Resurrection to the Disciples, Albani Psalter, Hildesheim, 12th century



This is a story about when my body told me it was time to start listening and when I actually listened.


It was dark outside. I had been under the fluorescent lights for two hours. At the gym, under the cavernous ceiling, that old sweat smell everywhere. The clanging of weights and deep whir of the treadmills almost drowning out tinny top forty music that always played.   I was moving from one weight machine to another. And then, my head, in an unaccustomed moment, started to bob. To the music—to that song Hanging by a Moment by Lifehouse (It was 2001, don’t laugh).   And my knees bounced. Just a little, just a few times. I caught myself. I had just danced. Or done something almost like the beginning of a dance—almost, just a little—without meaning to. And then I started to cry.  Right there beside the leg press. Tears welled up. A lot of them.   In that split second my body did something all on its own. It did something I was not in charge of. It pressed up against the wall I had put it behind. and finally got a word in – well, a movement in. And it was a good word, that non-word.


And I’ve never forgotten that moment. Mostly because I cried for a long time beside that leg press and won’t forget how people walked the long way around me. But I also won’t forget that this was when my body told me it was time to start getting better. I was beside myself with surprise.  This was the time my body connected me to something larger than my ability/inability to make it what I thought it should be. It was small but in that moment, that tiny moment of movement, I knew that my body was bringing me back to myself, by doing something it was made to do, completely unbidden by me, starting right then.

And my body brought me back to God. As God was bringing me back to my body. That’s how God’s bringing always works.  We will always be given back to ourselves, the more we are brought into God’s love.  There’s a reason why we give words like reconciliation to this work of faith. That’s why we give words like reconciliation to the work of Jesus, the confessional embodiment of God.  And words like reconciliation are what this, this life, is all about.


Like so many women, I lived and grew in and through a space where our bodies were not accounted for. Not in a real sense. Not in the way that I longed for and we all do. Not in a way that lets us live, truly live within them, as we were made to.  Our bodies–idolized, utilized and commodified on one hand and dismissed, ignored, quieted and despised on the other.  As happens to our bodies, so happens to our personhood.  You can’t ignore someone’s body, not least your own, without negating something of their personhood, their worth as a being, present and alive.

I, and we, emerged into adulthood in a space where what our bodies want to say about us, about life, what we bring to it and about God was at odds with all the narratives we were been given to understand them, the narratives that tell us how to live within these bodies. Narratives from our culture, from our churches, in our families, from our own fears and deep hurts. I’m lucky. This body had never been traumatized even though I knew from a young age to be very afraid of violence against me.  (There’s this joke….”Sure I’d like to meet you after dark but I forgot to leave my vagina at home…”   It actually isn’t funny at all….) But I was lucky. I have also been loved pretty close to the best of my people’s ability. And that has given me a piece of ground to stand on which in turn gave me a chance to be able to see past some of the untruths. But even with that, it’s been hard enough.


This may surprise you, but I am a little intense (ok, that shouldn’t surprise you, I was trying to being funny).   My God-given intensity coupled with a deep grief of leaving, being left by, a community I deeply, deeply loved (another story, completely related, but for another time) triggered something in me. I was very confused about who God was, which meant I was very confused about who I was.  I didn’t have much to define me, my voice was unsure and negated, so I think on some level I turned to the one thing I thought I could and should control—this body. This body was the lower, so it was to be, could be, purified. To be like the higher parts of me, the spiritual, that I was trying so hard to find.


I didn’t eat for a few years. Under the guise of “health” and “godliness” but in my deepest heart knew that I was just starving myself. I melted to 97 pounds. In my last year of university I went to class, read, planned my food consumption and workouts and that was it. And then when my body tried to get my attention by overriding my self-control, it ate food out of control. Which is when I started exercising 3-4 hours EACH DAY. (If you know me now, this is so unimaginable, its almost laughable if it wasn’t so painful). For another few years. I remember talking with someone who mentioned she had been on a long walk by the river and how beautiful it was and all I could think about is how I would never have time for such a thing because all my free time was spent at the gym trying to get rid of calories.  I was at once disgusted and jealous of the luxury of spending time by the river.  And my soul kept shrinking, painfully–it hurt– behind this wall.


The depression was drowning. It may have been there first, tied to what was going on in the church, and the disordered eating was in response to it–our bodies tend to bear the brunt of our quieted voices. All I know is that the end result was I had shut down my body. I didn’t feel much of anything. I didn’t exist in my body even though I spent almost every second of my day thinking about it and trying to work it into submission. I hid myself. I stopped participating in everything I loved. I read and exercised and wrote, mostly at night, because I had stopped sleeping. I hid from friends. I dropped commitments without explaining. I ate in secret, in basements, in bathrooms, after my family had gone to sleep. I remember going with friends to someone’s house where they ordered pizza. And while the girls were watching a movie after dinner, I excused myself to use the bathroom and passed through the kitchen and scarfed down 4 pieces in easily 3 minutes. I hoped no one would notice. Things like this happened many times.   I kept thinking that what I needed was the strength to beat this body finally into submission. This body was to be subjected right? This body was the weak link, right? Getting this …thing….under control was the goal right? I had to figure out how to get it from God, this ability, this control. And then I would make better choices.  And then God would work in me.……Then my ache would go away. Then my longing for a place in this world would be satiated.  But it never was. Not that way.  I hid my mind and my thoughts but try as I might, I could not think my way out of this. God was gone.  I couldn’t find him.  I hid the pain of this deep, deep loneliness. I hid the shame of not being in control.  I hid the shame of not knowing how to live, of not being able to feed myself, of not having a clue what this was all for.


And yet……


Where I want to stay in this story is with this– this is the important part for us to hear– that what saved me out of that dark, dark time is that God turned up and started his good work in the very thing I had been taught to distrust. God didn’t show up by giving me the strength to finally get this body thing under control. God didn’t show up by convicting me, making me feel worse, shaming me into stopping this nasty behaviour.   He showed up by showing me that my body,  a deliberate and inextricable part of my personhood, was good – as it was.  And together we moved towards my createdness, my embodiedness. I did not need to flee from it in fear. That takes a lot of trust my friends.  That I’m still working out.


God showed up in the action of letting go, of which my bouncing knee was the first sign, the first fruits of the work of God–music and the instinct to move that takes over.  As I chose something other than control, the revelation gradually took me over–that it wasn’t my brain nor my will power nor my good deeds that could make me whole.  By letting go and living, in this body, because of this body, as it was, I had been given life.  It was only here that I began to get the smallest inkling of what grace actually is made of.


I was saved through this body. This very one you see when we go for coffee. This very one that you know when we hug. The one I still put a lot of coffee into and I’m learning to let rest.  This is what saved a whole human.  That night with the knee, I suddenly remembered-I was given to remember-my body.  That it was there and that it might want to participate, with joy, in the life it had been given.  That it might want to speak, that it might have something to say.  This woman’s body.  The tears were finally allowed to get out. And something like hope seeped in. I had almost, almost forgotten hope. I had grown so used to fighting and of hating and of being deeply, darkly alone in my own divided being. And Emmanuel, God With Us, gave me hope. In that unbidden movement of my knee.




God got to work, putting a whole soul-body, heart and mind-back together.  Cause he really loves to do that.  That’s his job.


What came after that night was a long, long, long journey back to health and back to myself, back to a wholeness. A paragraph can’t do justice to the length and breadth of this reconciliation, of this redemption.  There are so many parts, insights, conversations, good and bad choices, deep disappointments and many years of good therapy and good theology that came after that night in the gym.

Coming to know the created goodness of my own self, including my body, in all its human weakness, became the way to knowing God, who created it. The movement towards the freedom that comes from being the good creation we were intended, is the movement that the Spirit is always about—because it is a movement back to unity.  The intention of creation is also always God’s end game of salvation and the tell-tale sign of the inbreaking of His kingdom—it is life, in this body, on this earth, fully open and unafraid, in ourselves,  before each other and fully open and unafraid before God.   It is reconciliation. It is reunion. It is a re-membering of what we are and were always meant to be.  A veritable resurrection.


Those seem like high words. Maybe like words that sound good and poetic. I’m never sure if all the words ever do any good.  But at some level I know, and want to know, that words are powerful things. That they can beget true ways through the darkness. But only as they are given form and lived out in and amongst our actual, real-life bodies. And only as our bodies, our whole selves, are in turn shaped by this good Word.


In the beginning God created. Us. All of it.   And it was good. Even as we dug in the dirt, learned fire, needed each other, built towns, learned to live together, knew our brokenness, learned to forgive…slowly.

In the beginning was the Word and it was God. And it was a crying-all-night-baby kind of God.

In Him, all things are being brought into unity. Even our own hearts and our own present bodies as we welcome one another’s physical presence to eat and drink their fill at the Table.

All this is from God, that He would reconcile all things to himself through Christ. All of this, its all his, even you, every cell, every synapse, every bit, drawn into the folds of his being, the embodied and cruciform being we see hanging in all those pictures, that we see reflected even in our own selves.


These old, old words are pinging around my brain even as I try to tell the truth of my body. My woman’s body.


There is a space in the back of your mind, or in the back of your soul, or in the pit of your stomach or the space around your heart (which maybe are all the same thing) where you know your body has been quietly talking to you. Is it in the exhaustion? Is it in the literal numbness of your arms? Or face? Have you been holding your breath? Is it in the tension in your neck? Is it in your appetite, your need to fill your stomach, or your arms, or your mind with noise, noise, noise, noise? What is your body saying? Is it the anger? Is it the sadness? The sleeplessness.  Is it the fog you can’t get out of? What is trying to get your attention? What is the truth of you and God that your being, your embodied self, knows?   The truth of where you are right now. And the truth of where you deeply long to be.


This is work that sounds so, prosaic…the stuff of our very ordinary being… but is life-altering.   I started this blog to write about this very thing—its why I say “our flesh and blood spirituality.” But it’s taken me a long time to even start to find the right words.


But two words stick out the most and are my beacons—like fireworks, like a flare. These two words rise up in the confusing darkness and when I see them, hear them remember them, I am called to the right place.  Like the freaking Star of Bethlehem.

One is Incarnation. The Incarnation of the Word. Jesus. What could it mean that the God of the universe, the Creator of every impulse and chemical reaction, revealed himself in a body – a baby, a boy, a small brown human? What could it mean that the spirit that transforms us into the likeness of what we were created to be does it through the very stuff of our world—matter, bodies, each other? What does it mean that God doubled down his commitment to the good stuff of this world, and of you, with this enfleshed entanglement in our world? That he did it to the point of death. And more tellingly, to the point of resurrection.


The other word is Embodiment. Our embodiment. What could it mean that the God of the universe, the Creator of every impulse and chemical reaction intended that we live out our lives with Him in these bodies?  Every day, with all the ordinariness of blood and sweat and food and family.  We weren’t created bodiless souls–how did we ever think that was the goal?  What does it mean that all of our thoughts, hearts and spirits have our bodies to mitigate them to the world, to each other? What does it mean that we live out our lives in a sacramental way, that enacts the good news every time we do the very stuff that keeps us alive–when we eat together, drink together, every time we remember this body, That Body?


And that is what I want to talk about. All the time. I want to talk about the Incarnation and the Embodiment.   How WE are Embodied creations and HE is the Embodied Author and sustainer and finisher of all of this who just longs to walk with us, in the garden, as the sun goes down.

I want to talk about the tensions and hard places that the real world work of living in our bodies brings up. The disconnect we live in, the brokenness that can not be glibly discounted. I want to talk about what it looks like to live this being-a-human thing out.  But there is also the joy in the trusting amidst the brokenness and I want to talk about that too. And the fellowship. And the deep, deep peace. And the wholeness of His Presence even in the midst of it all. The Reconnection, the reconciliation, the reunion. I want to talk about the Reunion.*


whew….I’m not sure if I’ve thrown enough words at this….(that was gently sarcastic).


Friends, if you want to talk about these words, this Word, which is actually Good News, join me. There are so many ways in which this plays out in each of our lives– what we need to say about this will be completely unique to each of us at the same time as being familiar to us all.

And its time we start saying the words out loud.  The good Word about women, bodies and God.   Take a look at that picture at the top again.


I don’t know how to start the conversation other than by starting it.   I am hosting a retreat day in Calgary with my friend Dr. Angela  who happens to be a registered psychologist who knows a lot about what it means to live practically and live wholly–body, mind and spirit. It will be in Calgary at the FCJ center on November 26, 2016. The cost is $80 which includes lunch and snacks and us and handouts!!! Glorious handouts!

I love handouts.


If you are interested, let me know. I would really love to see you and hear you and have a chance for us to hear God together. It would be a day for discussion and teaching and concrete ways to live this out but also some space for you to be with yourself–your body, and heart and mind—and with your God.

There is so much room around this table.



“The Glory of God is a human being fully alive.”                ― Irenaeus of Lyons


*I recently read Love Warrier by Glennon Doyle Melton and this work Reunion struck me as the most important word in there.


Meditations on Rembrandt’s Christ in the Storm


Christ in the Storm, Rembrandt, 1633


I came across this painting in a book a little while ago and could not stop looking at it.

It was in a book called Contemplative Vision – specifically looking at paintings, visual art.  The author, Juliet Benner talks about about how “seeing” spiritual realities depends on our noticing, our seeing what is around us. Looking at visual art helps hone the ability to stop, notice and see what God is doing—it helps us to see where God is and where we are.


And then I read this a few days later in an article by Amanda Benckhuysen in the Calvin Theological Journal where she specifically looks at the work of Rembrandt. “Art is a way of acting with the world that engages with its materiality such that it illumines something about the world’s depth and reality…Art’s ability to open up its viewers to new ways of seeing and understanding is not only true of the world but also of the biblical text….It brings out the new and unexpected, the hidden and the silenced in the text.”


I was already sensing this, as I looked at that Rembrandt. There is something about this painting that captured me. Something the painter understood about what it meant to be human, what it meant to be in a storm and something he hoped for about God that made me see this story in a new light. And more than just aiding me to “see” this story, this painting opened a door for me to know this story somewhere within myself considerably more intimate than my good, moral-of-the-story analysis had ever done.


I brought the picture to mom’s one afternoon in the spring, just to show it to her. And she said, “Didn’t I tell you how God got me ready for all this with that story?”


I started to pay attention.


And I’ve been sitting with this picture all summer. I’ve had it printed in big and in little – there are multiple copies sitting on shelves around my house. I stare at it a lot.


The following meditation is what it brings up for me but what could it bring about for you? Take time and look at the picture. What strikes you the most about it? What is grabbing your attention? Bypassing our long ingrained habit of only looking for the behavioral takeaway, what is God speaking to your heart about him, his character, his ways, about you, about yourself, about where you are, about how you are in this world?


Look. See.  What can you not stop seeing the most?


Is it the water? Is it the way the water looks alive and terrifying? How it is dark and endless. What would be lost under that water? What is already down there?

Is it how the water washes away any sense of where the boat begins and ends? It washes away their safe place, their only way of keeping their heads above the darkness. The water washes over, gets in, takes over that boat. The water looks cold and rough and like it goes down forever. There is nothing solid about that water, no footing to be had and it makes me nervous. I am a prairie girl and while I love and thrill being at the ocean, there is something about how deep the ocean is that terrifies me. What might be lurking down there? It’s a deep, evolutionary fear – of chaos, of falling, of losing any foothold. Of being consumed, of being lost, of losing breath and hope and the ability to get yourself out. The waves, roiling, make me want to look away but they also catch me up in them. I can’t stop staring at them.


Is it the wind Rembrandt painted? How everything in the picture is affected by the wind? How the wind bends and pushes the boat over, under its invisible power? See the wind unloosing the ties that keep the ship together, blowing strong wood to the point of break. The sails are straining, the boat shifting, unstable underfoot. Notice how the wind whips everything towards those disciples – they can’t keep their eyes open, they have to look away. They can’t see where or what or how they can possibly keep afloat. Its hard to catch their breath.


Or is it the light that catches you? The light and the dark that Rembrandt painted so deliberately.   Is it how the light creates such a beauty in the sky, a beauty completely apart from the trauma of the storm but also because of it. Is it that kind of beauty that invites you; the kind of beauty that gives a hint to the mystery on the other side of what you are seeing?

Look at how the light hits the front of the boat – where those disciples are working so hard. So hard. All their effort, everything they know to do is being done, in the light while at the back of the boat, the disciples in the dark are looking at Jesus.   Why is Jesus in the dark?


Is it the disciples themselves? Some trying everything they know, some working harder than they ever have before. Some looking beseechingly at Jesus and some looking downcast, forlorn, not knowing what to hope for. Some are gazing into the distance, maybe trying to see beyond the storm, trying to see the land. And some are searching the water, the deep dark water. How are these disciples striking you? Is it in how they reflect you? Where would you be in this boat? What would you be doing?


Is it the way Rembrandt painted Jesus, his face lit up in the dark aft-ship? Do you notice him looking at the faces of those around him. He sees them. He grasps, he must grasp, what is happening but there is something in his posture that does not say panic. He is almost in repose, as he would be at the dinner table. His posture says rest. For indeed that is what he is all about in this picture. Christ in the storm – resting. Sleepy Jesus. As if the storm, for him, was no different than the calm.  As if darkness and lightness were the same for Him. For He himself in no way changes, and his presence in no way changes within the two places, between the two. He is the same in that storm as he is at the Passover table. Present and there.



What does this picture hold for you?


For me, as I’ve sat with this picture, meditating on all it could say, and as I sat with mom with this story and this picture over these last few months, I keep staring at the disciple straining to keep ahold of the mast, trying to maintain their hope of getting to shore upright, and I keep staring the disciple staring into the water. I am both of them. Trying so hard to hold together that every muscle aches. But also consumed with what is underneath the waves, what might be right around the corner, with the darkness I can’t see a way around.

And then I can’t stop hearing sleepy Jesus’ voice:

“Why don’t you come to where I am?”

To where you are sleeping? Not doing anything? Watching your loved friends struggle?

“Yes, to where I am. I rest in this time, I do not struggle in this storm, like I do not struggle when I sit back at a table. Because this storm is no different than the calm to me. The darkness is as light to me. I do not change within them – I am here, with you, in all of it, I am. That does not change. So you come over here, and sit with me. And I will show you that I can calm a storm, This storm. The storm.  And I will also show you that I am not afraid of it. And I will show you that your fear is not the end of this story. “


What this picture revealed to me in a way that no “you of little faith” sermon ever could, was the invitation. The deeply personal and known kind of invitation to me to join Him where He was, at rest in his world, at rest in the storm, at rest in the dark, his still presence lit like a firefly.


This painting has then sent me back to the text. And as I read it yesterday I, along with the disciples, heard Jesus say, “Let’s go to the other side.”  He does that doesn’t he.  Invites us to go with him.  But this story, like my story, and like so many of our stories’, goes to a completely unexpected place.  What they thought they were embarking on with Jesus, with all the faith they had, and all the idealism and vision and hope and intention, took a turn they were not expecting.  In all of our lives this happens.  We start, we think we hear God calling us to do something, to start something, to be faithful and trustful and then all of a sudden a squall rises up from the depths and we are suddenly fighting and struggling like we’ve never done before.  We get confused–did God mean for this to happen?  Did He do this?  Did I hear wrong?  What is happening?  Our ways of making sense of this are completely stripped away.   And where is Jesus in this?  Sleeping.  Not even in a “so it seems”kind of way but actually sleeping, at rest, completely unconcerned.

And so then I ask, along with Mark, “Who is this?” Who is this, that we followed out into the middle of the lake, who is at home, at rest, in a storm such as this? What kind of messiah do we follow who is not terrified of the world and its storms. What kind of God is right at home in his creation, even lets go into sleep within it and does not, could not, change in the darkness and in the light?


The one that is with us, drawing our attention to where he always is, to where the light can never be taken out, even in the dark shadow of the storm. The one in whom there is no question of his ability to effect his will, good and restoring, in this world. The one who does not change, even in the awfulness of our lives, but thoroughly changes us in the process of being with us in the bottom of the boat.  The one who invites me to sit with him and watch how he does it, with all the repose of one who offers me some of his food while staring at the sunset.


This is he.  Thank you sleepy Jesus.








A Call to Worship

Worship, in all of its states and ways, serves to open our hearts to our true home, our hearts to our true selves and will always work to infuse this world with the incredible beauty of living with God.  If our worship is a clear seeing, a window cleared of fog, just for a moment, then these are my calls to worship in this season.

Marilyn Robinson’s  novel, Gilead, has been one of the great surprises and gifts in this season.  How have I not read this before?  I am more whole for reading it.


“It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance – for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light …. Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it? …. Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it. I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave – that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm.”
― Marilynne Robinson, Gilead


And this Decemberists song.  I can’t get it out of my head.  We sing it at church because God’s truth oozes from its words.  “If I am waiting, should I be waiting?  If I am wanting should I be wanting?  When it’s all around me.”  This song calls me to the clear seeing, the right direction of my gaze that I am longing for, waiting and wanting for.  To the truth that is already and always there.  That God may give me the courage to know.


A Beginning Song, The Decemberists

Let’s commence to coordinate our sights
And get them square to rights
(Get them square to rights)

Condescend to calm this riot in your mind
Find yourself in time
(Find yourself in time)

If I am waiting, should I be waiting?
If I am wanting, should I be wanting?
And all around me
(All around me)

Document the world inside this skin
The tenor of your shins
The timbre of your limbs

Now commence to kick each brick apart
To center on your heart
Starting with your heart (bright heart)

If I am waiting, should I be waiting?
If I am wanting, should I be wanting?
And all around me
(All around me)

It’s the sunlight, it’s the shadow.
It’s the quiet, it’s the word.
It’s the beating heart. It’s the ocean. It’s the boys.

It’s you, my sweet love (my sweet love)
Oh, my love (oh my love)

And the light, bright light
And the light, bright light
Bright light, bright light

It’s all around me
It’s all around me
It’s all around me



God grant us eyes to see, ears to hear, the work you are always doing–bringing this world, this creation, us, back together, back to you.  And may our participation in it, our delight in it, our pointing to it, our honouring of it be among the acts of incarnation you are eternally about, thatyou are always and forever doing.  Your work in your world, your work in ourselves.  Its all around us, breathed into, offered up.



The Breaking and Blessing


When I saw this picture my husband took this past week in the mountains near our house, I immediately thought of this sentence:

“For there is the thing itself, utterly irresistible, the way to the worlds end, the land of longing, the breaking and blessing of hearts.”

Come on.  That’s a good sentence.


This sentence of C.S. Lewis’ has always stuck out for me. It’s from the memoir of his coming to faith, Surprised by Joy.  I wrote this sentence out on a blue sticky note and had it above my desk for a couple of years. Isn’t it a great sentence? Maybe its just me. I mean, its my kind of sentence – its got a lot of commas.     But it’s an opening sentence, as in, it’s a sentence that opens up…..something…. before you, a world you could inhabit, or maybe just a world that you could look around for a bit.

Lewis wrote it in reference to a view close to his home. A place, a landscape, that was important to him during an incredibly formative time. These words are about trees, and hills and skies. Physical things that hold us in this world, that are, in some way, everything to us—“the thing itself,” “the way to the world’s end,” “the land of longing,” “the breaking and blessing of hearts.”   He describes that place in his life that, if we are lucky, we all have. A place that draws us in, that brings our souls to a farther place than we could ever go ourselves. They call us, these real places. And they hold us.


He wrote that sentence, which is just one sentence in a three page description of the land near his home, within an even larger passage that describes his personal movement from the idealized, the romantic, the “beyond” and “higher” to the real, the earthy, to the rooted. He had made a friend, Arthur, who helped start this movement within Lewis, and had introduced him to “the best of Waverly and the Bronte’s and Jane Austen.” Lewis admits he was hesitant to read these writings – in his youth, and the haughtiness of youth’s idealism, they were too prosaic to incite real passion and growth. But his friend persisted and of this Lewis wrote,


“The very qualities which had previously deterred me from such books Arthur taught me to see as their charm. What I would have called “stodginess” or “ordinariness” he called “Homeliness”—a key word in his imagination. He did not mean merely Domesticity, though that came into it. He meant the rooted quality which attaches them to our simple experiences, to weather, food, the family, the neighbourhood. He could get endless enjoyment out of the opening sentence of Jane Eyre or that other opening sentence in one of Hans Anderson’s stories, “How it did rain, to be sure.”


And Lewis writes that his friend looked for this rootedness, this ordinariness, in the outside world too. While Lewis previously had responded to nature, as maybe we all do, with feelings that came from the wild, or the awe-inspiring, experience of skies and clouds and distance and mountains, of which that landscape most definitely was, his friend also taught him to see more, more of the everything that was there.


“But for him, I should never have known the beauty of the ordinary vegetables that we destine to the pot. “Drills,” he used to say. “Just ordinary drills of cabbages—what can be better?” And he was right. Often he recalled my eyes form the horizon just to look through a hole in a hedge, to see nothing more than a farmyard in its mid-morning solitude and perhaps a grey cat squeezing its way under a barn door.”


And in that movement, that is the movement of all maturity – with God, with spouses, with children, with work – the movement from idealized and distant to very close, very earthy, very ordinary, Lewis saw the beauty that is the truth of God made flesh in this world.   That is, God as the everything we long for and the everything right before our eyes.


Back to the sentence. The part that gets me in that sentence is the phrase, “the breaking and blessing of hearts.” And as I read Lewis here, I recognize that this breaking and this blessing is not only in the big, the distant, the wild and awesome we experience but also in the rooted and the ordinary.


And why its grabbing me especially at this time is how it reminds me of something Walter Brueggemann wrote in The Prophetic Imagination.   Brueggemann talks a lot about how the imagining of God’s prophets truly does bring in new ways of knowing and being – knowing God and being with God. All prophecy works to bring us back to our center—back to God and back to His way, which is the way of his creation, the way of deep knowing, which is the way of each other, each other as God’s also. Brueggemann then writes about the role of grief and amazement in this imagining, in this bringing about a new way of being. How both bring us to a place of the most true, the place where God’s dream for his intensely enduring creation is unfolding.   Brueggemann, first writing this in the 1970’s, connected the spiritual understanding of the women around him to ways of knowing grief and amazement with especial clarity. He dedicates the book to the women around him. Think about that for a minute. What is it about one’s experience, and about women’s experience, historically relegated to the house, to the ordinary, to the children, to the lower, to the hidden, to the earth, that can speak of grief and of amazement?  What is it about the ordinary life with others and life with our very real selves,  that could bring a new, or re-newed, imagining of God’s good creation? What and where, in our daily experiences, rooted experiences, of grief and of amazement, is God’s prophetic voice in our world right now?

Is there something about holding grief and amazement together with our lived-in hands that could lead to “the thing itself, utterly irresistible, the way to the world’s end, the land of longing, the breaking and blessing of hearts”?



In your rooted life of home and commutes and maybe children and maybe work and taxes and endless news cycles and awkward conversations and crises, big and small, joys, big and small, where is the grief calling you to pay attention?  And in all of that, where is amazement calling you, thrilling you, to remember the promises of woven into your heart?  How does God speak through the grief of your daily life? How does God speak through the amazement of it all?

How does God both break and bless your heart? In your real life.


For how you answer that, will be your blueprint for following the movement of the Spirit. How you answer that will be how you follow God, who reveals himself, blooms himself, and calls to you in the very earth of your life. Your life which is his. His good creation – growing new every season, over and over.


I am listening to the grief. The grief that honestly seems so bottomless right now. I have to dose it out. It just hurts a lot and words are pretty inadequate for this. And maybe one day I will be able to plumb some of what this grief is growing in the dark – for you and for me. But for now, it is enough to notice it all and to also be acutely aware that this grief is in every way tied to the amazement. That the rupture in the land and the bridge I eventually find, and have always found, across it are not experienced without the other. And God is inextricably within both.

So I am listening to the amazement too. And this amazement is exactly found within the homeliness of my life – in food, in a text, in my husbands grace to me. In my kids being their whole hearted, very loud selves. In fruit in my fridge. In a house to which I can hold the door open.


I am watching the landscape now as I write this–sky like prayer, mountains cut out in purples and blues against the sky, trees tireless in their reach.   I see the way to the breaking and blessing. And then I see the small flowers, growing in their fragile and subtle season, bringing joy to my dirty kids who are strung out from their life of learning to live with a very important death on top of learning to share, take turns, curb the sass and wash their hands just so much.

And I see the way to the breaking and the blessing—a world I could maybe one day inhabit or maybe I already am – if I just look around for a bit.


Oh Jesus, the way you come, incarnated in the stuff of our real lives—it breaks and blesses without end.


Prophets, its time. Its always time.


On spending time with Brueggemann, with Irenaeus, with Isaiah, with every honest woman I know, and my facebook newsfeeds, a month after my momma dies….

Its intense and its good. Not a time to be afraid of.  Clear eyes.  (Full hearts, Can’t Lose! …..sorry can’t help it.)



Prophets. They call us back. They, these people with words–strong words, call us back – to that great axis of existence. To the steep and Godward heights and depths and also to the broad movement, a slow line drawn across the earth (Irenaeus) They call us back from apostasy and injustice, towards reconciliation with God and reconciliation with each other.  They call us back to loving God and loving our neighbor – who is our neighbor? – It is everyone who needs love– the real life tears-and-laughter, help-and-welcome, kind – not the sequined pillow kind.  In case you missed it, our neighbour is each one of us, no matter how different we are from each other.


We need the voices. We need our prophets and our preachers to call us to imagine that more real world. We need prophets and preachers to tap into the dream of God. We need prophets and preachers to inspire the weavers—the weavers of the fabric of God’s cloak that is This World. To call us out of the violence we accept and to call us out of the satiety and numbness we succumb to. Both, both, both negate our humanity – negate our createdness. They actively fray the heart, your heart, my heart, that God made so delicately, so intentionally. They actively dis-integrate your heart, my heart. They actively bring death to what was created alive. – Do not fray and denigrate and slowly kill your heart so lovingly made with thousands, millions, BILLIONS of years of God’s presence woven into its beautiful creation by either actively or passively negating life. Do not negate God’s incarnated presence – in yourself, in others, through violence or indifference. Both violence and numbness are determined by what we long to grasp for ourselves, they are the broken ways we try to protect our heart forgetting that there is nothing about having a heart to protect – these hearts belong to God and they belong to this world, that is to each other – There is nothing grasping in Jesus and nothing protectionist and everything that opens hands, ready to embrace, ready to hold that heart with ten thousand years of growing and beholding love within that reach.


Hear the voices calling you back to that axis with their grief. They are the echoes and reverberations of all the prophets calling us to see the destruction, the ripping grief that is coming and that is now here. Hear the voices calling you ahead, calling you to look up with their amazement, to see the astonishing beauty of living here now. They are echoes and reverberations of the promises that were woven into our own hearts since the dawn of time.   Listen to the grief and listen to the amazement (Bruggemann).


He is always on the side of his creation – all of it. In such times as these, which is all times, every time humans have existed in their brokenness and in their dear hope, these are the times we pay attention to the grief and to the amazement.   And in these times,  something like a door opens up before us to that dream, to that more real world that is actually this one,  to that weavers workshop with all the color you could imagine spreading out before you.  Open it and walk in, dear friends.  It what we were made to do.




A Really Good Story


So I’ve been thinking about posting my mom’s eulogy on my blog for a couple weeks  now. I can’t believe its been three weeks already since the memorial.

Because it is a story that means everything to me I want people to read it.  And because it is a story that means everything to me I don’t want it to just hang out on the internet, just waiting and exposed, then forgotten.  So I am posting the eulogy for about a month and then I will take it down.  It is a precious and tender story that I want you to know.

I want you to read it because I want you to know my mom in the way that she knew herself.  I want you to know what made her tick.

I want you to read it because I want you to see your own story within it.

I want you to read it and I want you to know LOVE.   I want you to know that you are seen and you are not alone – whatever and wherever and whoever you find yourself to be.

I want you to read it because I want to remember my mom.  Because its so surreal that this has happened and that she is not here and that she will only be thought of from time to time by all of us going forward.  I want her life to linger in the way that good stories linger and in the way that good stories can become a voice in our heads, speaking up when they have something to say. Speaking up when we need it most. Speaking up when we are least expecting.  Speaking because she was and is a life that spoke.

Read it with a glass of wine and a prayer.  Thank you everyone near and far for all your words of love and peace to us……….Big slow sigh.


Wendy’s Story

So I’m here to tell you the story of Wendy, the story of your friend, your sister, your grandma, your heart and wife, our momma. We are going to tell the story of this woman who was kind to you, who made you laugh, and who probably exasperated you and who challenged you with her very clear and discerning eyes. She also probably encouraged you without condition, who, if you were honest with yourself to her, probably pointed you to Jesus in a real and life-changing way and who, if you were lucky, made you dance uncomfortably in her living room with the music turned way too loud. It would take every one of us telling the story of Wendy that we knew to each other to get the fullest picture of her. We could be here all day, it was a really good story and its Author is a really good storyteller. But we also want to have a chance to talk and laugh and remember mom together with food so Dad told me I couldn’t talk for too long.   I’ve whittled it down to 40 minutes…..


So the story of mom starts when she was little.

She was a curly headed girl, quiet and intense and watching in a time and place that was not always kind to her. One night, when she was very little, she dreamt about a dark black bear in her room, in the shadows at the end of her bed, trying to devour her. The next morning, she was scared and alone. She went into the fields and found a tree, a chestnut tree and she sat there. And there, There, my friends, is where He first came to her. God announced his presence to her like he does with us all, as that sense that we are not alone, that sense that we are known, in that sense where we know we are seen. She told me often of that time in the tree. Because of all that her life threw at her, all the half-truths and brokenness that she lived through, (that we all do) this moment was the moment she knew to be the ground of her life. In her little kid fear and terror, this Love made itself known to her – with no agenda other than to bring her close, to bring her to His own self, and to show her love. If there is anything you need to know about mom it is this story – everything she was and did was grounded in this experience of love, a love that came and found her in the chestnut tree.

She grew up in the Comox valley, mostly in Courtney, in a small house on the edge of town. G and E Peterson had 5 kids, P, her older sister, mom, the second girl, J and then D, her troublemaking brothers and her youngest brother B who was lost too soon. She didn’t talk a lot about her growing up years—we heard a few stories about her brothers chasing her with snakes and how she went to school with Kim Catrell and about accordion lessons, but we knew there were probably both struggles and laughter. But she loved camp and one day at camp, she found that the Jesus they were talking about WAS THE SAME love that wrapped her up in its arms that night in the tree. And she also found that she could sing.

Mom moved to Alberta when she was 19 where she found herself living with her newlywed sister, in an apartment just off Elbow Drive where at the same time, a young R found himself also living with his newlywed best buddy in that same apartment. These two kids, dad slept in the living room and mom slept on the kitchen floor…..Mom was pretty open with how much Dad annoyed her when they first met – and He just got a kick out of her and thought she was cute. And, they found themselves wanting to be with each other so much that they started dating in February 1975 and were married the following August. She loved his cool, bass playing self. She loved his quietness and strength. He loved her fire and her strength. He loved her uncontainable self.

My parents marriage would be, from both points of view, the defining relationship in both their lives. It was where everything about who God made them to be and how God brings people into unity was practiced and lived out – with very real struggle and with very real and immense grace. Anyone who spent anytime with them knew they adored each other and this came out of 40 years of choosing each other and welcoming each other. They were curious about each other and each other’s points of views and were willing to learn to be wrong sometimes. And they just got better and better together. Four weeks ago, 41 years after their first days together in that small apartment, my parents had some pictures taken and the photographer asked them about how they met. They laughed and looked at each other and mom said something about how they were an odd couple. And dad, a few beats later, with a smile on his face, said, “mismatched” while mom looked at her hands with an inscrutable smile that held a lifetime of knowing in it and held a lifetime of loving and being loved better and better within it. Their love is more than a testament to God’s grace—it is exactly an icon of who and how God is in this world. It is a picture through which we see how God works and how we are only transformed into something that looks like the love of God through the real world of real relationships. And this is the gift of Rob and Wendy and it probably deserves 10,000 words about it but it is the gift that we got to witness from the front row.

These two crazy kids had two kids of their own and settled in the up and coming new neighborhood of Midnapore, on the edge of Fish Creek. Mom loved Fish Creek and they didn’t live more than a two minute walk from it their whole married life. Mom needed to be in Fish Creek a lot – and I think it was because it was big enough to hold all of who she was.

Chris and I were loved children. Raised with humor and openness and the occasional spanking and mouth washing with soap. We were allowed to talk and explore.

Mom always said she wasn’t creative, she didn’t like to sew or do anything crafty, but she most definitely was a creative parent. Mom was a creative discipliner – once when Chris and I were fighting she decided to tie us together with socks until we learned to work it out. Once when she was tired of us leaving our stuff around after being continually told to put it away, she gathered it all up into a garbage bag and “threw it out..” (she didn’t really but hid it in the basement). I remember once she discovered that I had just swept the dirt from the kitchen under the hall rug instead of putting it in the garbage and she made up a long song, sung in her best opera-ish voice about how I should “be sure my sins would find me out.”

She was also creative in the first aid department. I remember choking on my food one day and she quickly rushed in to do her version of the Heimlich manouvre which was to grab my ankles, hold my up above her head, shaking me up and down until I threw up…. That was mom…not really known for her small or calm reactions….

She prayed for us and sat outside our schools for untold days praying for us and our friends. She dreamed about us from the time we were little up until last week, especially Chris, and she was always calling him with a dream she had about him. And I think it was her way of telling him he was seen and known by her and by God.

I know mom struggled a lot during our little years with fear and depression and loneliness. She lived what a lot of women live out in silence—the exhaustion and depression and anxiety that comes from constantly caregiving but with something gnawing in her gut for the next thing. It’s a testament to her and her praying self and that Love that would not leave her that even while going through all this, we were happy and normal and thriving kids.

When we were little my parents stumbled onto this tiny church that met in an equally tiny blue house in Bridgeland, The Garden. There they found a home where both of them would be affirmed in their gifts and where both my parents would find lifelong friends – friends that are still constantly around and haven’t let more than a few hours go by without contacting mom and dad in these last few weeks. This church affirmed my mom’s gift for leading worship. Together, my parents would lead this church from the front, and I got to see what church leadership looked like in the right and equal way of Jesus. She wasn’t just allowed to sing but was encouraged to lead and she did it so well. It was this time at The Garden, where mom led from her heart and sang about that Love that met Her with confidence that laid the foundation for my own conviction and the conviction of my daughters that Jesus has indeed created us exactly as we are to participate in Him and speak and sing of Him with all the songs we might have. The Garden was good and fruitful, in that season, for mom.

As we grew up, so mom grew too. She started going to school. She completed all ten grades of the Royal Conservatory of Speech Arts. Her voice was mesmerizing and she powerfully learned how to use it. She took so many courses – Dad jokes that she could have a master’s degree by now with all she undertook to learn – art classes, writing courses, English courses, Religious Studies courses, Conflict Resolution and Small Business and Entrepreneurship Certificates. She settled in Early Childhood Education and got her diploma at Mount Royal. She became one of the best preschool teachers around, working and teaching at Lakeside, at Bright Beginnings, At Master’s Academy, at the YMCA, at Mount Royal College and lastly at Learning Experiences. We were proud of who she was in the community. She had such a passion for teaching kids about their social selves and their emotional selves and for teaching parents what it means to shepherd them through their crucial early years. I run into people all the time who knew mom as their kids’ teacher and everyone of them is grateful to her for how she was with their little people. Even the outpouring of love from mom’s colleagues in those last couple of weeks, with food and kind words showed us the impact she had because of her gracious presence with those kids. And even I, as a mom to little people, know how extremely lucky we were to have her voice in our lives – Reading to them with her beautiful voice, loving and praying for them to know God even as they come to know themselves in this world. If there is one thing I don’t’ want, its that I don’t want to parent my girls without her. She is the person I could call and she could remind me of their goodness. She could call me back out of my own confusion and exhaustion and frustration and call me back to loving them for their own God-given beauty. And I see so much of her in them – their uncompromising devotion to a loud and passionate life.

The thing with mom is that she was deadly smart and loved to read and loved to learn. And when you start reading, you usually start growing. Without a doubt I know that God led mom and dad both to come across some books that echoed their own hard questions and helped to change their lives. And this in turn gave my brother and I the greatest gift of our adult lives – the ability to ask questions, hold tensions, live into gray areas. They asked hard questions about their faith and they held tensions of belief and doubt, the tensions of belonging to a group and also being able to challenge some of the things that did not make sense to them any longer, some of the things that didn’t make sense within that love that kept meeting her. And it was hard and a lonely time for mom. Maybe we could call it Mom’s Dark Night of the Soul, maybe we could call it God hiding her under the shadow of His wings. Maybe we could call it that mystery of transformation that happens underground, and the only recourse is to wait for God to meet us. Uncertainty, asking questions, finally acknowledging that we don’t always have the answers is a scary thing, but it is THE thing that finally enables us to let go and let something else in, someone else in to our hearts.

No matter what this time was, the result was this: That anything that did not belong to the love of God, to that love that brought her to Himself so long ago, was let go of. And then Mom, never one to let herself be tied down and defined, found that she belonged to something much more than she could ever imagine during this time and it was good and it was hard and it was grace.

In the last years, Mom did things she had always been afraid to do, especially with her very bad back that had plagued her for years. Her and dad went to Italy and she was terrified her back would act up or she would be stuck and in pain in a foreign country but it ended being a beautiful and life-giving time for both of them. Even last year, and this might sound small but it wasn’t to her, she got herself in a bathing suit, walked down a 100 foot cliff and went kayaking in the Okanagan with dad. She was so proud that she got in that little boat, that she lived instead of being afraid of getting hurt.

And then 5 years ago she finally decided to do it and called the FCJ Centre downtown and asked if they could recommend a spiritual director for her. She wanted to trust someone with herself and her not so ordinary life with God.

God brought her a soul friend, in C—— her spiritual director, and a community with the Living From the Heart course, that restored her in very real ways. We all would say this, that in the last 5 years of her life, her soul and her mind and her heart were transformed into something soft, life giving, trusting. Dad would say that she even threw less things at him when he was being stubborn….real transformation. And she would say and did say that this transformation happened because of love. She would say that finally she found that she was not defined by fear, was not changed by her own willpower, or by saying the right words over and over. She could finally articulate that she was not saved by having the right answers and forcefully standing behind them but by stopping, by letting down her defenses, and by being loved. And that was what this community showed her in very real ways, holding her words, her experiences, her heart with love.

5 years ago, mom wrote this in a journal that we found a few days ago:

“I exist to bring the beautiful, loving energy God into this world…I can’t fix myself or this broken world—yet I can say YES to God’s voice and loving energy in my life moment by moment. I am no better and no worse than anyone else. My life experiences have taught me and are still teaching me that grace and mercy are ALIVE and PRESENT in this life. That love does truly cover and redeem a multitude of sins – that all of this healing is God’s gift to us – to my world, to what He has created. I say YES to this gift and also thank you.“

And we can attest that she lived truly did live into this transformation and her spirit blossomed in beautiful ways. She smiled so easily these last few years.

In the fall of 2015, mom and dad were planning a trip to France for the spring. They were thinking about retirement. They had just celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary and both their 60th birthdays. Mom was struggling with her back, it was acting up on her again.

And then December came and through a series of normal tests to find out why a lingering cold would not go away, we got the news. We found out on December 13 that mom had lung cancer. That night, her friends of 35 years gathered in a house in Midnapore and prayed for them. And then on December 24, we found out that it was the worst news we could get – it was terminal, it was extensive, there was no treatment they would recommend that would have any effect.

Because we had known of the cancer and mom had to be careful not to get a cold, and because my beautiful children are walking virus factories, we weren’t going to have a Christmas celebration, at least not until we were all feeling better. But then we heard this news. We all wept and sat stunned. And then we woke up the next morning, my brother and his girlfriend came back from Edmonton and we pulled together a beautiful last minute Christmas feast of frozen soups, frozen veggies, potatoes, frozen spring rolls and phyllo pastry appetizers. We drank wine. We were together–despite the inevitable colds, despite the inevitable everything, we were together. And it was our very best Christmas, our very best celebration of that time when God came very, inconceivably near.

And mom began walking down the road towards this door and we all tried to keep pace as best we knew how. She was honest with how she felt – scared but at the same time , strangely prepared – like all the reconciliation and all the redemption of her past was coming into a fruition with this. And at every point on this road, every single point, there was no moment where she was not aware of that love, His love.

When she was in the hospital around Easter, a dementia patient wandered into mom’s room in the middle of the night. And mom woke to voices yelling in the hall and this person looming over her in the dim light and mom panicked. She was drugged, she could barely breathe and was tied up in so many tubes, fumbling for the nurse call button. And God pressed into her. In that moment, she heard His voice. Tangible, knowable, there. “I am with you” she knew in her bones. “You are not alone” she knew in her racing chest. “Don’t be afraid,” He said to her mind, to her body, to her deep soul. “You are always mine.”

Before she even knew to lift her head, she was already surrounded. Before she could think to say the words, she was already held. All the questions and hurt and joy and exhaustion of a life lived were heard, were covered, and were brought in close to the beating heart of that LOVE she couldn’t seem to shake.

Mom felt fear but, as she told her friend R and I one afternoon, she also knew that the fear took up room that LOVE wanted to be filling within her. And so she kept going and kept talking about God’s unimaginable love for her. And for us.

A week before mom passed away, she took a dramatic turn. We knew it was different this time. Her pain and the physiological anxiety that comes from not being able to breathe was suddenly unmanageable. The doctors prescribed heavy drugs that made her sleep a lot. But she at least could sleep without pain and without panic. They told us it was time to pack for hospice. And so we started to sit with her. For hours, Dad, my brother, me, her spiritual director, her dearest friends, the girls, would come to be with her. To hold her hand. I never ever want to forget what her soft arm felt like. On Saturday, June 18, we had been planning to have one last family dinner at mom and dad’s house, before she went to the hospice. I was out shopping for it when I got a text from dad to come right away. We went and found dad sitting with mom who had been unresponsive for a few hours. He sat there looking at her, wiping her eyes and her lips with tissue. Her breathing was intensely labored and the nurse came, did some response tests and confirmed that she had indeed slipped into a coma. We sat with her, J and my husband and the girls came and talked to her. Her spiritual director came and told her that falling into love was hard work. Her brother and his family came and kissed her. Everyone talked with her for awhile, taking turns at the head of the bed, holding her hands, feeling her skin, holding her in loving vigil.

We were all there, in the room, when at about 7 pm she sat up suddenly. Her eyes flew open and with struggling words she said she wasn’t ready to go yet. That she had stuff to say. And she said this, “You are my everything.” And “I love you guys.” And we all got to tell her we loved her, to her open eyes. And my daughters gave her pictures they drew and spread them out on her legs. Everyone got to say their words to her, got to tell her she was so beautiful, she was so loved, she did this life so good. We got to pray and have communion together. Eventually, most everybody went home and my brother and I stayed the night.

She died early the next morning, just slipped away, surrounded by her adored husband and lucky, lucky son and daughter—our family, the one thing she was ok with being beholden to. And we felt loved. By her. By each other, by God, the Author and Finisher of all of this – He was there too with his big, big invitation, for us and for her, to let go and to let love come in.

It was the hardest day but probably the most beautiful of our lives. Because it was filled to the unimaginable measure of the fullness of who God is in this world. It was a day where we saw exactly what God does in this world.

Mom’s story, Wendy Anne’s story, closed as it began, written in love, held in love, drawn out to its fullest through love, being brought back to health and unity in love. And her story holds a place within that big story of the world, that story we find in Jesus if we look with eyes changed by love.

She continued in that journal post from 5 years ago:

“ I have been seen and known in all of my brokenness with all of my “stuff” and have been loved and cherished, not abandoned or punished.

I have been accepted, nurtured and lovingly guided through the stages of my life – I would like to give this “knowing” away to someone else now.”

And this, this story, is what she has given to us and given to you. The story of her life, lived, within the call of God’s love. All the brokenness, all the hurt, all the fear, all the missing of the mark that is abundant in every one of our lives and was in hers, was brought in, gathered up before this love that sees us, calls us, always holds us close. These are not empty words, even if we don’t understand the fullness of them yet but words to be lived into , as Wendy did. She lived into what that love called her to – a life of the hard work of letting go and knowing love with the author and finisher of her faith—a life where God was as much with her in the chestnut tree as in the young church, as in the questions and heartaches and fear, as in restoration and redemption, as in the valley of the shadow of death. He always came to her and He always found her.

Mom would say now “ well enough of that….doesn’t anyone just feel like dancing?” and she would be off turning up the music and being….well, ….Wendy. And we can remember her, knowing she’s off dancing, vividly with her LOVE. And probably asking him if he could do anything about the ridiculous gender bias in scriptural interpretations….

As you, and we, continue to remember mom and remember Wendy, just know that she was seen and so are we. She was not alone and neither are we. She was loved to her fullness and so are we.

She Who Has Ears To Hear

My mom passed away 19 days ago and I wanted to share my mom’s eulogy here.  It’s the story of Wendy, the story of her and God.  And it’s a good, good story.  And I wanted to share it today.

Oh Today, a day of pain and anger, after many days of pain and anger, filling my newsfeeds, justified anger, 100’s of years of anger and shame and sadness.  Maybe even a day where we clearly saw into the many millennia of hurt that we have done and still do to each other.    A day where, even if we are far removed from any of what has happened, we can not just keep going on with our good lives without something at the back of our minds saying – this is not good news…..where is the Good News….this, none of it, is it.  A day where we have to acknowledge our very real positions of privilege that we, each of us, have in reference to someone else.  A day of so, so many words and no one knows if they will help.

A day where it is good and right to celebrate the goodness of our ordinary lives and it is good and right to acknowledge our points of blindness as we go about our ordinary business.  A day where it is good and right to start change where change is needed.  And it is needed.  (I found this to be good to read. Read or better listen to these words and the response to them. )

We will never any of us do this perfectly.  The only thing we can do is listen, listen, listen to real, real, real people.  Over and over.


Listen to my momma.  The process of writing a mom’s story, for the reason of her memorial, is one that a daughter pays attention to.  And she speaks to me in all of it. Her life mapped out in real, alive detail.  Her life, where the love we all desperately want to advocate for today, is what she knew and what she leaves us.  And she came to know this love only through the real work of choosing face-to-face welcome, face-to-face compassion, face-to-face reconciliation and all that comes from letting go because she knew herself to be loved.    I am just continually struck by how hard a work love is, how hard making love, creating love, in this world is – hard because it will take everything out of us to choose to stand down and hear the other person right in front of us. It will lose us our life.  And then I am continually struck by how the fruit that comes from THAT PLACE of conciliation is the fruit of God’s good world – that is the good news I need to hear today.

As I wrote the above paragraph, getting ready to share this eulogy, my 4 year old daughter made friends with a sweet, bespectacled four year old boy  here at the play place we are at.  His hair is a different colour than hers; her skin is a different colour than his.  And they are running around playing tigers.  She has come up to me multiple times to tell me how much fun she is having with her friend.  He told me his name was Ahmed.  I passed by his mother’s table and just smiled and said how much fun my daughter was having with her son.  And she smiled and said she liked watching them.  And then she invited me to sit with her, her table was big.  And there was this strange longing that I think we both had.  A longing to know that the bewildering darkness of news websites and instagram comments was not the last word,  a longing to know that this real life connection we were choosing was indeed the truth of the world.  A longing to make a new friend.  And we just talked.  We spoke of raising kids, good husbands who worked long hours, grandparents – and I mentioned that my mom passed away two weeks ago.  And she looked at me and cried with me. And we talked about how to help kids through grief.  She talked about how she missed her mom so desperately sometimes on the other side of the world. We talked about how we felt lonely sometimes.  And she eventually got up to take her boys home for naps.  She hugged me – the hug of someone who has known you for a long time.  A fortifying hug.  A welcoming hug.  She told me that my mom’s prayers for my girls are still at work and would always be.  She told me she would pray for peace for me.  I told her that she was an answer to prayer today.  And I cried.  And so did she.

God always is at His work.  No matter the dark – dark is as light to him because he is always at work within it, always renewing, reconciling, bringing into unity.    And He does not change because of the dark.  I see this in mom and her life of growing into wholeness and I saw this in the way-too-loud play place.

And I have to see it in the chaos of my home of growing humans.  And I have to see it in the big, big waves roiling around my own heart.

And where I see it, where we see it, this always-upon-us work, we have to tell of it – as witnesses and participants in this good news.  And call upon the darkness to move aside, to be still,  in the way that only those who have been most buried can tell us needs to happen.  She who has ears to hear…..

I WILL write my mom’s eulogy here. Tomorrow.   It is something that I want everyone who knew her to read.  But today I will sit with this gift of God in a tiring, bewildering, heartbreaking day.

Hala, my new friend’s name is Hala and she was a messenger of peace and it was good.






Those Birds

Last year, the first spring we lived here, we noticed that a pair of black capped chickadees were nesting in the wooden beam across the front of our house. They would flit in and out through a knothole, busy with their little lives. One Sunday in June we noticed a flurry of activity and realized that the babies were leaving the nest. Little chickadees were everywhere, in and out of the big spruce out front. In a couple of days they all had disappeared, off on their little chickadee adventures, I suppose.

Earlier this year we noticed a couple chickadees were again flying in and out of the knothole. I was happy to know they were back.


We got home from church this past Sunday and my husband noticed a dead bird among the spruce tree roots, one of the chickadees.   We went inside to eat lunch, planning on doing something with it afterwards. After lunch, my husband saw something fall to the ground from above, a little baby chickadee. It couldn’t have been more than a few days old. Its eyes hadn’t really formed and it didn’t have all its feathers yet.   We tried to figure out what had happened – did it fall out by accident? Maybe we were wrong and  their nest was actually in the tree and the wind pushed them out? We could hear a lot of birds squawking in the tree above our heads but couldn’t see where they were.

Then we buried the two birds in the backyard. We chose a spot under a leafy bush, out of the way and dug down through some roots and rocks. We placed the birds in with a shovel atop of a bed of grass and leaves the girls gathered and covered them back up. The girls were quiet. My 4 year old put her hands to her chest and said, “Dear God, please let the birds come back to life someday….But not when they are under the ground.” Then she looked confused and I could see the wheels ticking away, that dark understanding coming over her. My older girl said she felt really sad and a few tears came as she leaned into me. It was hard – the little birds looked so helpless. We are so far removed from the lives of these creatures, to see one in its wholeness, in its whole creature-hood was something new. We saw how their feet curled, little tiny talons, like little pins. We saw how the feathers on their underbelly were different than the feathers on their tails. We saw the little baby bird’s skin under its wings, skin that shouldn’t be out in the open, it was red and tender and vulnerable and hard to look at.

I thanked God for their little short bird lives and the girls wandered away.



We came around the front again and noticed movement under the bench that sits under the trees. We noticed, in an unexpected, fast turn, a little fluffy baby bird was attempting to hop around, sticking close to the bench legs.   It looked a little more developed than the earlier baby bird but still wasn’t bigger than than the circle my thumb and forefinger make. Its eyes weren’t fully formed, its beak a thin, pointy line that didn’t look like it should even be able to open. But eventually it started cheeping. And it continued to hop around blindly, attempting to use its wings, beating them against the dirt as its balanced wavered. It eventually hopped into a little thicket of dead spruce branches the girls had collected for a fairy house. My older one went and grabbed some long grass from the side of the house to place on top, shielding it from the wind.   She and I sat there a long time, in this new part of the story, wondering about the little baby, wondering at what happened. She really wanted to move the baby into the bushes but I wasn’t sure that would be a good idea.

Suddenly, the mother bird was there and started to try to feed the chick. The baby was blind so she had to get right in front of it with her grub and nudge it a bit to open up. Within a foot of us, she came to feed her baby.  I was filled with relief–the mom was here.  She would know what to do.


And something of the holy flooded that moment watching this momma bird being incredibly brave, flying so close to me and my girl, to take care of her baby.   She had known the whole time where the baby was, she didn’t miss a tragic beat, she was on it. That baby wasn’t alone.

We sat with this scene a long time, watching the mom flit down with seeds and little bugs to give her baby.


Then….we noticed the other birds.

Another pair of birds was hanging around the tree. They looked like chickadees but a bit bigger with brown caps (I think Boreal chickadees if my internet search is correct). They started flying up to the beam and into the knothole and the momma chickadee would try to fly after them but always deke away before entering into the beam. And then, as my girl and I watched, a flurry of feathers pressed against the hole, then skin and little legs and in a quick, sickening moment, we saw the bigger bird shove another little baby out of the knothole.

It fell with a quick, light thud. I don’t even know if I heard the thud but we felt it. It lay motionless on its side, beak slightly open for a good few minutes. My heart sank as I realized that all the birds had been pushed out, killed and displaced by the bigger birds. The bigger chickadee we found first must have been the daddy bird, killed trying to protect the nest and then the babies were tossed out one by one. My girl said, very quietly,…”It’s a bird war…..why would they kill the babies though?” Her little heart saying what humans who have been loved should always say—why would they hurt the babies? My husband muttered, “It’s not that different from humans…” and I felt like weeping. Over the baby who died, over the helpless birds on the ground, over the confused but determined momma just trying to feed them, over the disposability of these lives. Over how close this hits to our human experience…..and I cried over just so much.


The third dashed baby bird eventually teetered onto it feet and tried to move around a bit.   It hopped towards the other bird. The momma came and tried to feed it too. Then she spent the next hour coming back and forth between her stashes of grubs and her two babies – feeding them, doing all that she knew to do for them.


As it got dark, we realized that the birds couldn’t stay out in the open. The wind had gotten very cold and very rough. It was going to start raining.   So I looked around for something to put the babies inside – something where the momma could still find them and get to them but where they might be a bit safer. Brad drilled a hole through the top of an old beside table. We placed it on its side on the ground and put the babies inside of it. It was open to the ground and open to the top. We filled it with grass and twigs and pinecones and tried to make it nest-like.  I put on latex gloves and carried their weightless bodies into the shelter.  These tiny balls of tiny feathers just sat there, trembling and bobbing with each rapid breath they had to take.   We covered the top with boards and a tangle of spruce branches but left a couple spaces so the mom could either squeeze through or at least hear them and maybe figure out the hole in the side.

Then we prayed for them and went to bed.


The next morning I got up early and was thrilled to see the momma bird sitting on top of the little bird box as soon as I opened the curtain. She was going in and out through a space in the top and the hole in the side.   The other two bigger birds were there too – flying in and out of their new nest. If I didn’t know how it transpired, I would be thrilled to have a nest being used in my front yard, but now I can’t really look at those birds with anything other than a bit of fear and anger, which is strange to say of chickadees, I know…..


The little baby birds didn’t make it through the night. When we got into the car for school we checked and two little birds lay amongst our attempt at a nest. Their feathers weren’t fluffed up, they were flat against their bodies, which had deflated and were almost flat against the ground. They really were so small. My four year old cried and said, “but their little feet were so beautiful!” And they were; little blue-purple feet, delicate and curled. You don’t get a chance to see chickadee feet up close very often. I guess it was just too cold and they were too little and the fall was too traumatic.   But holy smokes my heart was sad.   Like plummeting sad.   And then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t – there was a part in me where I knew that this wasn’t my world, my driving, texting, cooking, cleaning human world, that these birds belonged to. There’s a part that distances myself quickly, that says, This is nature, this happens all the time.


But then there is a part of me that lives in their world. When the 7 year old and I were sitting on the bench watching the momma feeding her birds, of course my mind went to that verse, “See the birds, they do not store or house food but your heavenly father feeds them.” My father, their father. We live on this same world. Do not worry, you are seen where you are. You are provided for. Providence.


If I put our very human injustice instinct and all the questions that brought up for the girls aside, what was providential to me about this was how a week ago I prayed with friends for ways to start talking about dying with the girls. I prayed I would know what to say and how to say it and when to start saying it. I prayed for their little hearts to understand and have some sort of context for what is happening to their family. And then this happened.  Four little birds died before our eyes.   And then we had many, many little conversations about death. About how our bodies and our life are connected. About how bodies contain our life and when they can’t work anymore, we die. The bodies stay behind but the life goes out from them when the bodies can’t house it anymore and how this is just all part of what it means to be alive. We talked about how everything dies – trees, birds, humans, stars. The 4 year old brought up the stars – she really likes space stuff and told me all about how when a star dies its life turns into a black hole. Which has always struck me as terrifying, but for her, she just finds it so cool.  We talked about why we are so happy to live and what is good about being alive. We talked about how we would feel if we lost someone like the mommy bird lost her family – but only a little bit for now.    It was ok to talk about death in a way that reverenced it, in a way the girls connected to, seeing those little birds and being little, created birds themselves. But it was distanced from them too, in a good way for now. They shed a few tears but mostly kept moving.   We opened up the little grave and buried the other two birds in it. We packed down the earth and put stones around it. I found it telling how instinctual it was for the girls to want to stand there and be quiet for a few minutes.


Nothing is going to mitigate this for us, for them. But there is a bit more ground to stand on for them, some context for them to understand with. And we won’t and can’t be afraid to talk about the end of life – it does these babies no service. We will be smart about when we connect it to their real lives but this past weekend showed me that I don’t have to figure it all out myself.  I maybe only have to pay attention to the details.





Sitting With Mom

I haven’t written a lot about this time in my family, this time with my mom. I think probably because it is a feat in itself to live through this.

I am also hesitant because I am keenly aware that it is not only my story. It is my brother’s story and it is my grandparent’s, aunts’ and uncles’ story. Mostly it is my dad’s story and my mom’s story. And for everything that I am feeling, I know that I don’t have a clue what this must be like for them, for them to wake up every day knowing that this is their last chapter together.

I am conscious of how this is not only my story to tell.

I am also aware that for everything I am walking through, so many people have had this happen to them. And I don’t want to say anything that might hurt or alienate someone who has had a different experience. I am conscious that the act of recording everything could, if done badly, cheapen the reality of this kind of loss.


But for all that, I still feel the urge to write it out, for myself and for others. Because for all of what this season is for us, it is bigger than us too. In the midst of the sadness and exhaustion, there seems to be this voice rising up and an arm pointing out past the crowd, like John the Baptist, pointing to what we all desperately want to look for.

“See? There. Look at Him over there. Just look. What’s he doing? What is he going to do? “

Mom is hearing that voice. Even in the clamor and confusion, she keeps pointing up and out past herself – in every conversation we have, she always adds, “But God was there.” “ But I knew the presence of God here.” “But He spoke to me.” “But Jesus calmed me down.” And if for no other reason than to be that arm pointing to that hope, even when I don’t feel it, I still have write it out.


For anyone who might not know, mom has terminal lung cancer—that small percentage of totally random lung cancer not caused by anything environmental. It was discovered at stage 4 and chemo was an iffy proposition from the start, even from the oncologist. They told her she could do it and it might give her a few more quality weeks. Or it might not. It was up to her.

That is neither here nor there anymore as her body has since developed a blood clot in her good lung, greatly diminishing her capability to breathe and function, let alone recover from chemo.

So this is where we are at – all of us. Watching this 61 year old, spicy as hell woman, shrink before our eyes, sitting in one spot for hours a day, sometimes able to smile and talk and laugh and sometimes struggling to breathe. A palliative nurse comes most days. Mom is surrounded by 80 feet of orange and clear plastic tubing, connecting her to oxygen 24 hours a day. We are getting used to not tripping on it as she moves around the house. We all call or visit her everyday and ask how she is. I know she feels pressure to say, “I’m doing alright, I’m doing better, its all ok.” And I know that we desperately would love for those words to be the truth of the situation. But we call her everyday, knowing that each day is one day closer to “that door,” knowing that she feels awful – more awful than we can imagine – and we call, inwardly hoping, and mostly not knowing what else to do or say.  We call and visit and sit with her because that is what there is to do.


Its been 4 months since we heard the news on Christmas Eve. All the emotions have crowded at the door and then moved on in. Fear. Anger. Sadness. Exhaustion. Grief.   Confusion. They surface and then submerge at different times on different days. I find I can be fine, even happy and engaged in one setting, and then a complete zombie an hour later. I just can’t balance all the things I have to do right now. I’ve heard grief is like this. I’ve heard that it’s ok to crumple. But it feels scary and panicky. I feel like I can’t let go because then I won’t have anything to hold on to. And I feel like stakes are high. I have this shrieky voice in my head that says, If I let go, what will happen to the girls. Who will feed them? Who will make sure there is enough toilet paper in the house? Who will make life normal, life good, how will life be life if I fall apart?

It’s mom. I mean, its MOM! She has driven me completely bonkers. She has made me so angry and incredulous. She has loved me without condition. She has said the most perfect thing imaginable when I was so incredibly sad and confused.

Mom, my tiny brunette mom, is the connection I have to this world – she is why I am here, like a lifeline to the earth, she is the connection through which I am rooted in this time and this place. She is the person who cares about my kids as much as I do and gets the way I worry about them. She is that safe person who sees them in their honest awfulness and their deep beauty and desperately wants the best of love for them in this world too. One day, while away leading a retreat, it hit me that I don’t want to do this, parent, without her. I’m not sure I can. I don’t want to maneuver my way through the world with these two girls without mom’s voice to calm me, to help me, to remind me why they are amazing. And I collapsed in the woods from the impact of knowing that day is coming.

Every time I talk to her I can’t help myself from thinking, “How much longer will I have this?” When we called her on my daughter’s 7th birthday and she sang happy birthday to her over the phone, I had to leave the room – her gentle voice whispering through the phone connecting with her grandbaby – I couldn’t help but know this was the last time this would happen for E.

Day after day, the realization of the hole that is coming, that is even now being hollowed out in my heart, hits me in new ways. And yet we still have to do life, we still have to keep going. That is the crazy bit of death. That life surrounds it still, infusing it with meaning only because we have to somehow figure out how this death is a part of our life.


We are doing it though. We are being WITH each other. It is a great gift just to BE with mom. We have spent some nice hours together. We have meandering conversations about the best way to fill hot water bottles, then moving into her end of life directives and where she wants to die. Then onto what colors look best with her skin color and then we talk about the songs she wants at her funeral and then, very importantly, if there are new Father Brown episodes on Netflix.

The hard stuff has to be amongst the just-plain life stuff. That is the gift of BE-ing, the gift of BE-ing WITH each other. That we can sit with all we have to sit with and let this knowledge of her death nestle amongst the other gifts of life too. We don’t have to deal with death as we deal with tax season—it is not something you can just get done. Its not something you can really do anything about to make it go away, to make it go away sooner. We can, though, let it make a home among the menu planning and writing birthday cards and hugs and watching Father Brown and let it all be.


There is no way through this other than THROUGH this. Remember that bear hunt book when you were a kid… “We can’t go over it, We can’t go under it. Oh No! We’ll have to go through it.” **


Through THIS.   And maybe the gift of doing this with little kids in the mix, for me, is that I can’t escape it. I can’t run away on the weekends, I can’t live a different life. I have to stay here and go through this. I have to wake up and call mom and hug the girls and make lunches and break up fights and clean the sink and go on field trips and learn how to change the oxygen tanks and be alive and aware during the pain of it all. And I’m not sure if I am doing it well. I am missing details and I am tired and I keep forgetting to call someone I keep saying I’ll call. I forgot to sign the girls up for soccer in time. I have 17 junk drawers…. I watched a season of The Good Wife in 4 days…..        I am living through what to do when all of it does overwhelm me, when the girls are screaming in the car, in traffic, in 30 degree heat and I suddenly have a panic attack or when I accidentally kill a bumblebee I’m trying to help escape the house and I can’t stop crying about it. I am noticing what I need to do when it is too much – sleep, look out the window, be alone, be with people, read, write, ask for help.


And I am seeing gifts too, gifts like how community forms and grows in unexpected places, and how a meal given in a bag in the schoolyard grounds me and helps me breathe more than any mindfulness exercise. Or how the kids are so excited about the pink trees everywhere on the way to school. Or how many amazing authors there are in the world and I just need to read them all. Or how mom and I just get a free pass to spend a lot of time just sitting together. The gifts of this time are shimmery and bodily and they wait for me. They wait for her. It’s a grace.


Mom keeps talking about God. In the valley of the shadow of death, she is not alone. If there is one true fact of this time, it’s that she is not alone. He is palpable to her. When she was in the hospital around Easter, and she was closer to death than we knew, a dementia patient wandered into mom’s room in the middle of the night. And mom woke to voices yelling in the hall and this person looming over her in the dim light and mom panicked. She was exhausted, coming out of a drugged sleep, she could barely breathe and was tied up in so many tubes. She didn’t know what was going on and was fumbling for the nurse call button. And God pressed into her. In that moment, she heard His voice.   Tangible, knowable, there. “I am with you” she knew in her bones. “You are not alone” she knew in her racing chest. “Don’t be afraid,” He said to her mind, to her body, to her deep soul. “You are always mine.”

Before she even knows to lift her head, she is surrounded. Before she can think to say the words, she is held. All the questions and hurt and joy and exhaustion of a life lived are heard, are covered, and are brought in close to the beating heart of the love she can’t seem to shake. To the beating heart of a God who will always be her beginning, who will always initiate, who will always draw the best out of her with love, who will always call to her, inviting her to join him for an evening walk.

“See! Look at Him over there. Just look. What’s he doing? What is he going to do? “

He is taking away the brokenness of the world. He is putting things back together. He is sewing up what was torn apart. In ways that only great love and great suffering can do, he is present to the bringing back of ourselves, bringing us back to his heart, by bringing us back to each other. I can see his living heart of love for his creation, for even my little mom, gathering her up into a love that brings peace, like a mom gathers her tired child into her arms.

These are the gifts of this time and maybe they will be enough.   Enough to keep me looking out for them. Enough to keep getting up and keep calling mom and keep loving my incredibly gracious husband and keep hugging those loud, just so loud, girls.  They are enough to keep me walking through it, keep me sitting with it.   They are enough to keep my head above water, anyways.




**(I was reminded of this book when our church did a sermon series during Lent , “ The Parable of the Tanking Economy”– the whole series, Worry, Fear, Loss, Lament , was good so if you ever get a chance….)




John Calvin on Hospitality, Dignity and the Power of Recognition

“Therefore, whatever man you meet who needs your aid, you have no reason to refuse to help him. Say, “He is a stranger,” but the Lord has given him a mark that ought to be familiar to you, by virtue of the fact that he forbids you to despise your own flesh (Isa. 58:7). You say, “He is contemptible and worthless;” but the Lord shows him to be one to whom he has deigned to give the beauty of his image. Say that you are nothing for any service of his; but God, as it were, has put him in his own place in order that you may recognize toward him the many and great benefits with which God has bound to you to himself. Say that he does not deserve even your least effort for his sake; but the image of God, which recommends him to you, is worthy of your giving yourself and all your possessions.   (from Institutes 3.7.6)


“We should not regard what a man is and what he deserves but we should go higher—that it is God who has placed us in the world for such a purpose that we be united and joined together. He has impressed his image in us and has given us a common nature, which should incite us to providing for one another. The man who wishes to exempt himself from providing for his neighbors should deface himself and declare that he no longer wishes to be a man for as long as we are human creatures we must contemplate as in a mirror our face in those who are poor, despised, exhausted, who groan under their burdens….if there come some Moor or barbarian, since he is a man, he brings a mirror in which we are able to contemplate that he is our brother and our neighbor: for we cannot abolish the order of nature which God has established as inviolable.”   (from Corpus Reformatorium)

(Both of these quotes were found in Christine Pohl’s Making Room: Recovery Hospitality as a Christian Tradition)