Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace

Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;

streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.

Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.

Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
mount of thy redeeming love.

O to grace how great a debtor

daily I’m constrained to be!

Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;

here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

The wind rustles golden grain, swaying so it sounds like tinkling bells.  Tiny cymbals.  I roll down the window as I drive up the lane just to stop for a spell and listen in on nature’s symphony. The air laden with the smell of dust and a dry grassy scent. The clouds are piled high and fluffy.  Beauty surrounds every angle from which I gaze.

My heart is part wonder, part sorrow.  There is always beauty in sorrow.  And it takes every effort to tune into the grace we have been afforded when our minds so easily slip,  so quickly bend toward the stress.  Our hearts must be trained to see more than meets the eye.  We must look with discernment for what lies beyond.  What we see is not all there truly is.

There is so very much more.

I walk into the barn and take in the musty smell of manure and hay and dust and years worth of sweat and hard labour.  I follow him as he paces the length of the barn and back again.  We lean into one another.  I wrap my arms around his chest and feel his beating heart.  What is our life work worth at the end of the day?  What legacy do we leave to those following in our footsteps?

How will we be remembered?

I step back, standing just upon the threshold of this doorway leading to another life and take in one last view before I turn away toward the sunlight and warmth of the day.

How is it that we are able to tune our hearts to sing grace even when the cords of those same hearts wring with pain?  Daily, we must train our minds to think on these eternal graces: love, joy peace.

Grace sustains in the midst of trouble.  Holding us, enabling us, propelling us forward.

There are streams of mercy, never ceasing at every vantage point. Our lives a song- only we can decide how that tune will be sung.

May our songs of praise be ever heard, our lives a melodious hymn of gratitude. For our blessings outnumber even our wildest dreams, our greatest aspirations.

Fight for Joy…

We walk through a shorn grain field- all prickles and stumps, toward the thirty-acre stand of stalwart hardwood that situates itself behind our property. Sun streams unfiltered on our head and hands, warming us as we stroll. Our feet scuffle along through the brittle roughage that remains rooted to the earth while our eyes remain fixed on the tree line just over the horizon that awaits in the peaceful quiet of the wooded center, serving as a promise. A promise of what is yet to come.   But first, we will push our way inward through brush and saplings, through tall grass and undergrowth that will slap and poke at our legs and hands leaving marks and tufts of some unknown weed on our pant legs. Young tree branches smack our arms when we forget to keep watch. We trip and stumble.

It is a struggle to push through. Yet we labor through this minor inconvenience for the joy that awaits. For the promise that is the sun trickling down like a waterfall through the branches of a reddened maple. Or for the delight that is a bed of leaves arranged just so on the forest floor. Daughter catches hold of a tree and swings around it dizzily as if it were a Maypole. I later find her gathering fallen leaves and fern growth in her little hands which she brings to me declaring her intent. We are to put them in a vase when we get home with a little water and voila! An instant bouquet will have been formed.

But all this, still yet a promise as we struggle through the entry point, as we manoeuvre our way along through the narrow passageway that leads to more. Sometimes we have to fight for the joy.

And didn’t the pastor say as much in his prayer? That he would have us fight for joy, contend for delight? He would urge us to not give up when the going gets tough, when the contentment starts to vanish. We must fight all the harder for joy when things are hard and life is challenging. Joy might seem elusive but it still lays waiting for its claimants to find it. To declare it as their own.

Joy is nothing special if it always comes to us easily.

For those things and people in life we have cried over, longed for, carried on about, cared for, thought deeply about, prayed greatly over, hoped for, believed in, desired for, sought after and belabored on behalf: those are the things and people that will illuminate our understanding of joy, piece by painful piece. Little by little. What will bring us joy is that which we have sacrificed for, one way or the other. What we will have invested in deeply. The returns might not always be as forthcoming as we might hope in the short-term, but the long-term investments are mostly more than worth the blood, sweat and tears.

So we press on.

Fighting so that we can find joy, have joy and live joy with the ones we love right now. Fighting so that we can live joy for the ones we’ve loved (past). In the life we live (present). In the life we plan to live tomorrow (future). But always fighting so that we can experience joy- right now and again tomorrow. We can’t change yesterday but we can fight for today, fight for tomorrow. And we fight knowing that what we’re struggling for is worth the effort.

Because joy is always worth the fight.

So I fight daily for joy- believing: hope against hope that the struggle is worth it.  And I watch the joy begin to grow, inch by precious inch.  One day at a time.  One small gain made after the other.  Knowing that I will always find joy if I keep my heart open for it.  If I keep my heart tender.

Just do the next right thing…

Just do the next right thing.

She walks the shoulder of the road, feet slapping pavement every once in a while.  Light shining all around.  Air fresh and clean with the on-again-off-again afternoon showers.   And in the bushes, a rustling of some kind of small creature.  A bird?  A mouse?   The fragrance of fresh-mown grass hangs in the air like a delicate cloud.  Sweet and pungent.  And she thinks to herself that sometimes one is fearful of the unknown.  Of the ‘what next’?  For we want to know what lies around the bend.  What twists and turns are waiting for us up ahead.

But then she remembers.  We are called to simply do the next right thing.  One foot in front of the other.  Steady and sure.

Because in this life, one can never truly see what lies in wait around the bend.  Our eyes don’t work like that.  They see what presents itself directly before us.  And past the twists and turns, we are blissfully unaware of what lies ahead.  And isn’t that the comfort?   That comfort of one step at a time.  Nothing more and nothing less.  Knowing that we are only asked to what we are able.  And we are only able to do what can be done right now.  And sometimes knowing that what must be done is not always as important as doing it.  Doing something.   And doing it with surety and conviction.  Knowing that God only leads us to places that He’s already been to first.  He knows the way.  And our job is to put foot in front of foot.  And follow the path that we are on.

And just do the next right thing.

On wonder…

Herein is the essence of wonder.  I have just spent the last hour and a half reading a philosophy book entitled Recapturing Wonder, on the topic of renewing a disillusioned spirit and finding wonder and enchantment in the reality of day-to-day life.  It is a good read.  Refreshing.  After my retreat from reality, as I took my book and secluded myself at the log cabin down by the river (so as to secure a slice of peace and quiet), I drove back home to the zoo.  And when I drove in the driveway, I found my youngest playing with a long piece of rope, one end tied to the branch of a chestnut tree while the other she pulled taunt toward the ground.  I never even asked her what she was doing, for I had no sooner come around the side of the van when she hollered to me, “Mom, can you tell me how to do this?  I am trying to make myself a monkey bar!!”  Ah, but of course!   Whom other than a child would think of doing this.  For children have in their possession that rare and special quality, spawned from an active imagination, that is the beauty of childlike wonder.

Would that I could capture that sense of wonder and bottle a bit for myself.  But unlike a child, I would probably hoard it, placing it high on a shelf for safe keeping.  Wonder is meant to be spent, generously poured out in abandon.

Life is filled with wondrous moments, within reach and available for the pleasure and enjoyment of those willing to take risks and to those who avail themselves to life lived in the moment.  We are wise who spend all we have on what is rare and precious, knowing that while the cost is great so too is the reward.  Life is also about cost-analysis.  Is it really worth it?  And at what price would I be willing to pay?

We played at a new beach on the Island’s western shore today.  My husband loves new, undiscovered back-roads beach sites.  So as we turned right to drive down the dusty lane that is the access road to Donahue Beach, he leaned toward me and said he thought this was going to be a nice beach.  When we pulled in to park our van, and witnessed the splendour of the waves pounding the shore, he added, “See, I told you it would be a nice beach!”

Indeed it was.

The waves crashed in endless succession, foam tips dissolving into a continuous torrent of energy.  It is alluring, that force and display of power.  The children wasted no time running full tilt into the water and had a glorious time jumping headlong into the waves.  One after another, they gave themselves over to the natural thrill unmatched by any manmade attraction at a theme park or fairground.  It was pure joy for them, and quiet joy for me.  Joy can be gained through secondary measures, as I have had experience.

While older ones got their thrills from the waves, little ones played on the shore.  Building castles from red gritty sand, moistened by salt water that inched ever closer to their creations.  And mothers and fathers watched attentively, while safeguarding the perishables necessary for sustainment throughout the afternoon.  Heavenly.

I snapped picture after picture until my camera card would hold no more.  And yet, was unable to do justice to the beauty and majesty of it all.  The sheer glorious wonder of the vast ocean’s length and breadth. The power exuded in even one wave pounding the shore.  Sand, water and sky painted on an endless canvas.  Evidence of Intelligent design.    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  And the essence of that beauty is contained in the soul.  How can my soul not but sing? My soul, my soul must sing.

For beauty and pleasure and wonder and awe are rare and exquisite gifts.  And through my enjoyment of these, wonder has been renewed.

Joy in the river…

Why do Mom’s cookies, eaten straight up from the cookie jar, taste best when indulged as a bedtime snack?  Gingersnaps, rolled in sugar.  Pressed with the hand, perhaps and then baked to perfection.  These sitting on this mahogany table, tempting me until I cannot resist, have crackles like tiny rivers running randomly across their golden tops, intersecting one another and then branching out to their upturned sides.  The rich scent of ginger meets my nose.  Tender pieces of moist, doughy goodness with each bite.

I need to find the cover and close the jar before I eat the whole lot of them.

And yes.  I have eaten far too much today, but it was all so good.  I can describe my encounters with food in such detail that one might think it is all I have to think about.  I made a delicious carrot cake this morning topped with maple butter icing; it was for Sarah’s 8th birthday party this afternoon.  It is moist and chock-full of REAL carrots.  So delicious.  As my father-in-law says, “Tastes like more.”  Then for a bedtime snack this evening, we had fire-roasted hotdogs over a campfire made from driftwood, followed by gooey s’mores on Celebration cookies topped with milk chocolate squares, melted underneath molten white lava.  Unbelievable.  Can one stomach contain even the thoughts of another ingested morsel ?  Alas, it is summer and that is the way of the summer.  Food and fun go hand in hand.

And what a day of fun it was.  We spent the majority of the day at the Gard family’s log cabin, nestled at the foot of a long, dusty clay lane in western P.E.I.   A quick turn to the left and a few bumps more, and there you are: destination, Hill Billy HavenHill Billy Haven, or as we call it ‘the Cabin’, is a log structure built circa 1970s.  It is one large room with a loft over the part of the cabin that once served as the dining area.  Opposite the loft, and at the far end, is a large stone fireplace built with sandstone rocks from the beaches of surrounding areas.  Many a lazy, peaceful evening has been spent playing games of Rook and cooking marshmallows at the base of that sturdy fireplace.

The beauty of the Cabin is you never have to fuss.  If food falls on the floor, no one jumps to get the broom or a cloth.  Everyone comes in with shoes on, the dirtier the better.  We sit around a makeshift table on fold-up camp chairs, underneath the dim light of a propane lantern.  And we never give a second thought to clean up or the like.  To be at the Cabin is to feel relaxed.  It is the inherent nature of the place.  It is why we come so often and stay so long.  It welcomes, doors flung open to those who grace its humble presence.  It always beckons you to come again.

The view from the stone steps of the Cabin is spectacular.  Second to none.  Through the overhanging branches, one can view far up river to distant cottages and potatoes fields, across to wooded brush and then past that to the newer, swankier lots where people have built homes on the river for their jet skis, sailboats, Catamarans and speed boats.   One can walk the length of about 10 meters and find oneself on the precipice of a cliff, created by erosion of the land.  Tree roots do their level best to keep nature at bay.  Down the rickety staircase and across the shell-strewn beach.  And on to the bath-water warm swirling liquid of Mill River.  Dirty, smelly, choked by sea grass, oyster shell-littered yet beloved Mill River.  How do we love thee?  Let us count the ways.

For starters, I have spent some of the most relaxing moments of my life on that river.  Yesterday, we idled along in the boat until we came to our cove.  Husband threw down the anchor, and the family swam in view of the Cabin.  The kids had a field day jumping off the back of the boat.  Our oldest tried his hand at tubing, while the girls enjoyed swimming and jumping off the stationary tube.  I stayed on board and read a book.  Pure, unadulterated pleasure.  One of the small pleasures of my life that I shall try to keep from feeling guilty about.

Mill River is beautiful.  On a sunny summer afternoons, when sitting up river on my in-laws property, we watch the boats do circle-eights up and down the river while we sip juice from rose colored tumblers.  And in the winter, we bundle everyone up in their warmest gear and throw skating jamborees complete with blazing bonfire.  There is always hot chocolate and cookies to keep our spirits up, whilst we skate another lap through the plowed maze shoveled by those so inclined.

I have been thinking.  I often want to go away from all of this.  Choosing to deliberately find rest and relaxation in other destinations far from home.  But living here is really like living in the Promised Land.  When those complaining  Israelites asked to go back after they had entered that land flowing with milk and honey, how deluded were they?  They had arrived in a place of exquisite beauty and providence, and yet.  It was not enough.  That is me much of the time.  I want what I do not have, and choose to willingly resist that which is mine for the taking.

This land, land which stains the feet an ocher red.   Land which meets water in thin places, sand bars stretching out dangerously into the water like jagged spikes.  Land of ancestors and future home to children’s children.  Land of promise and blessing.  Land of hope and potential.

This water, muddied by clay.  Cooling my children on this hot summer’s day.  Water with power to lift and to pull.  Water where children learn to be buoyant, tentatively striking out on their own from the shore, gaining confidence with each stroke that takes them away from me and closer to the raft.

Sky which meets land and water and creates a trio of unmatched harmony.  It is the simple things in life that bring the greatest joys.  As I am learning each and every day.  It is joy at its basic that is most precious.  And wise we are to realize this before it slips through our fingers like sand.

Good Enough…

There are days when joy comes sparingly.  When despair sets in, and disappointment robs me of the present, the immediate.  When I fall from grace.  When I succumb to pain.  And I am left empty.  Today is such a day.  And I am very aware of all that I am.  And all that I am not.  Of all I have, and all that I have lost. And then I feel my age and the bones seem brittle, the body weak.  My hair graying, my skin translucent in places, blue-ish veins lie like intersecting highways beneath pale skin, and then it is mottled in other more visible places- on hands and shoulders exposed to the unforgiving sun’s radiation.  I worry about my fair skin tone and am not as easily seduced by the sun as I was even a few years ago.  My legs bear the scars of my younger years, when pregnancy took its toll.  The skin on my belly, soft and flabby, now sags.  My heels are cracked and peeling.  Hands scarred, fingernails short and blunt out of necessity. The eyes are dark-rimmed.  And sometimes.   There is a hollowness inside.   And I realize: my life is half over.  Or maybe, it is three-quarters over.  Or who really knows, but God?   And since the only thing I know for sure is that I am closer to the end today than I was yesterday, I must needs make peace with who I am, where I am.  Depressing as that may be.  Or, maybe enlightening.   Perhaps that is all I need to push me out of this black hole.  Towards the light.

And it is when I am at my lowest that I can hear my heart whisper.  And it calls me to persevere.  To keep searching for joy.  To never give up.  And so, today, I make a list.  Of all that is good in my life.  Even when it seems there is nothing.  And I must find the good in the midst of the pain because to fail to do so is to fail in my pursuit.  To find the joy in the present.  So that I might live out this day in peace and contentment, for the things of today are all that I am required to take charge over.

To be content and full, I must seek the good.  And so, I begin.   The good.  This moment, I am feeling that there is goodness to be found.  Of course there is, I know in my heart there is always something I can praise.  I am sitting out in the open air, under a pine tree, within which two little birds are flitting about.  A later, there are four.   I wonder if they are looking for that stuff of which to make their homes.  How easy it must be to be a bird.  The sunlight falls unevenly through the branches.  The water, directly before me, is swiftly drifting westward with the brisk breezes.  The clouds are sparse and low-lying.  The air feels fresh.  It is quiet, save for the dogs barking across the road.  The dog owners chatting it up about breeding dogs and the like.  Smells of dinner waft across the way until they reach my nose, reminding me that it is mid-day, and mealtime yet again.  I am not hungry.

This moment is peaceful.  I am starved for quiet reflective time in which to think.  And now that I have it, I feel like a child in a candy store.  What to do first?  I pour a mug of steaming coffee and inhale the brew.  Nothing like a cup of fresh coffee sipped in the open air.  I finish a novel part of a trilogy that I began during March break.   Four months later, I am finally finished.  I allow myself the time to read for pleasure- a luxury in my world.  Freedom is what I feel this morning.  And freedom feels good.

I have time to come and go as I please.  I start another novel, this one more complicated than the latter, but I like the language and the twisting plot.  I like to think that my brain is getting exercise.  I read, and then later write at liberty, for no one is calling me to do this, or that.  I hear no voices.  Only that voice in my head telling me that it is okay to let go.  To give in to my inner craving for solitude.  To embrace this freedom, for it is hard-earned and has been long-time coming my way.

For me, solitude is another blessing to add to my list of that which is good.  Freedom and solitude.  Blessings of the day.

As a mother, I have made myself into a living martyr.  I have sacrificed myself for my children and for the greater good of my family.  Even hours ago, when I told Husband that I needed this alone time, I still felt guilt for not attending to the children.  I was ready to jump in the van with them when they left.  Conflicted and guilt-ridden, I could feel anger riding up my neck.  In that moment, I wished I could just let it all go.  And even now, I still feel the desire to give up that which binds me.  This noose of duty that threatens to strangle me.  I impatiently said I would go along for the ride, but my heart was telling me to stay.  I am not one who makes plans decisively.  I waffle back and forth each time a decision comes up, no matter how minor, and then feel like I am going to scream with the frustration at my dilemma.  Why must I make mountains out of molehills?  Perhaps it is the infrequency with which I feel I have freedom to make such decisions.  I squander my time, knowing this opportunity may not come again.  I don’t want to waste such valuable breaks from reality.  And so, I weigh and consider every opportunity I have to be alone as if it might be my last.  The noose tightens.  I wish I did not feel so duty bound, so strangled by responsibility.  I wish I was not so caught up in living up to that stereotype I have ingrained in my psyche, those images of mothers sitting on pedestals.  When in reality, I am only driving myself into the ground; I am the furthest thing from an angel, as my family could certainly attest to the fact.

I embrace my imperfections and realize today that it is okay to be fallible and frail.  It is good to be weak.  For I am human.  I will never attain that which I seek- perfection is out of my grasp.  I am good enough just as I am.  I may not be all that others are or accomplish what others have achieved; and I may not meet the needs of everyone within my charge.  I may have only the resources to meet the bare minimum, and nothing more.   But I am not required to fill up those voids.  I am only required to fill the voids in my own life.  And if I can live my life out in peace and find the freedom to be all that I was intended to be, then that is enough.  I can feel fulfilled in knowing that I have lived my one and only life to the fullest.

So then:  what is good?  Goodness is all around me.  For this I believe: that God is good.  The Author of good.   The Giver of good.   And if I have been given eyes to see that if God is good, then so is this.  This life, this time, this opportunity.  I have oft been blinded to it by my own expectations of myself.  For life and breath and health are good.  Love and suffering are good.  Freedom and responsibility are both good in their own right.  The rush, the hustle bustle of the daily grind- the busyness of life.  It is good.  The moments of reflection make me see that all is good.  And I can embrace the difficulties in my life because they are part of me and they shape my identity.

It is all good.

And the good that I see right now, in these quiet moments, will inspire me to do this again.  To seize the day.  To embrace those opportunities for solitude when they present.  To rid myself of guilt.  To allow myself the pleasure of being a person, not just a mother.  To throw away silly expectations and see myself for who I really am.  Just a mortal.

To see life for what it is, that brings me joy.  And to know that life is pain and suffering, but it is also goodness and truth.  Even if but for brief moments.  Short interludes.  That is the one ‘good thing’ that tops my list.  And it will enable me to see beyond to so much more.  And to continue my pursuit in spite of it all.

On gratitude…

It has been said a thousand times over.   To have the best life, to live out a life of excellence superior to the mediocre to which we so easily ascribe in the daily grind of the here and now, one must practice gratitude.  Gratitude.  Giving thanks for who I am, where I am, with what I am.  Needing nothing more, nor in want of less.  Grateful for the life I have been given.

Gratitude.  Such a world of possibility, a world within a word that holds the keys to both meaning and understanding.  The keys to life. So much room for discovery, so much I do not know nor see with my mind’s eye.  Uncovering the wealth of life and its many gifts, therein lies the key to becoming gratitude in its many forms.  And I am ready for this discovery to begin.

I am grateful today for this: the freedom to let go and let be.   As I am trying to do here at this humble little campsite in Cornwall, P.E.I.

Camping so far has been a whirlwind of activity.  We are into the sixth day, and I finally feel like I am starting to unwind.  It was an adventure from the very beginning, what with the madness of packing for a month only the night before we were set to leave.  I was filing a report for work mere hours prior to pulling out of the driveway, camper in tow behind the ½ ton, with the kids and me bringing up the rear in the van.  Every square inch of available space used, and then some.   Nearly missing the empty sign lighting up the gas gauge.  Then, unpacking six-hours worth of luggage, Rubbermaid totes, boxes and strewn odds and ends that ended up hither, thither and yon throughout three vehicles.

Good times.

And now, work and the hectic pace of life as it was seems a distant, hazy memory.  When crazy work and extra-curricular schedules have been all I eat, sleep and breathe for the last year.  To relegate it to a compartment in the brain matter is telling.  I never even brought along professional literature to read on this camping trip- more than I can say for last year’s stint at this very campground, when I would sneak back to the camper during movie nights to read my textbooks.

It is freeing to let go and let be.

We are in limbo somewhat with the camper.  Our camper- it has been with us through thick and thin.  One wonders if it is on its last legs, what with all the repairs we had to make just to get ole’Bessy in ship-shape for a month at the KOA.  As I write, she sways in the wind, gusts coming off the water in heaves.  White caps decorating the waves in mid-summer attire, perfect for a day of sailing.

The girls and I are settled for a cozy day inside (Daddy and Oldest are making the trek back home today to mow the lawns and attend soccer this evening, both of which will be activities conducted in the rain.  Um, no thanks, I’ll pass on that one.)  The girls are contentedly playing for a change, and I am enjoying this peace within the confines of our twenty-four feet of available space.  We had listed the camper for sale so as to up-grade.  One month in this canvas get-up was originally thirty days too long for this gal.  However, I am re-thinking the whole plan as I am finally settled in, and I have organized a bit so as to throw some perspective on the whole camping experience.  From this vantage point, life would be a whole lot cheaper (we would be out about ten grand if we up-graded), easier (we would be un-packing whilst the buyer was waiting to purchase and pull out with ole Bessy in tow) and less complicated (we still have to budget for the rest of the summer, so let’s be realistic here: is it really worth it to get a camper now that we are already settled into our first of four weeks?)

To make a decision to not sell and embrace camping done ‘tent-trailer’ style, is also freeing.   I am grateful for the twenty-four feet of space I have.  It is home away from home.  I can live with the creaks and whistles through the cracks along the walls, the dampness in our bed covers at night.  The rain taps over my head a steady rhythm, and it brings comfort.  This is my opportunity to let go and let be.

So, the highlights so far. Those for which, among uncountable others,  I am humbly grateful.  Visiting with extended family.  I love being close to my Mom and Dad, my brothers and sisters and those Maine cousins who just left yesterday morning, whom I was able to see every day because we are camping here in Cornwall.  The pool.  The kiddos are becoming little fish, and are all quite competent in the deep end.  The relaxed pace of life.  Like I said, it is a bit of an adjustment, but I could get very use to living life in the slow lane.  The proximity to Charlottetown.  I love that stores are only ten minutes away. TEN MINUTES, people!!!!!  I can hardly contain my excitement and the adrenaline rush I get just thinking about that little fact.  The beautiful water view I have when looking outside my door- that mouth of water that opens up into the Charlottetown Harbour known as the West River.  Yesterday, it was a sea of glass.  Today, it is a swirling mass of energy befitting those hardy sailors brave enough to set out in small water craft trying to catch the stiff breezes of the day.  I prefer to watch and admire her strength from afar.

My own dear immediate family tucked in together under one tiny roof, safe and sound inside sleeping bags guaranteed to keep little and big ones warm even on the most frigid of nights.  These children of mine- they will not always tag along.  There will come a time in the not-so-distant future when Husband and I will coax and plead against hope that one or more might come along for the ride.   For old time’s sake.  I cannot think of those times being old times yet.  I am here.  And right now, so are they: my infuriating, wonderfully strong-willed, beloved Fearless Foursome…

For life, breath, and a mind to grasp this moment in which I can choose to be grateful, I give thanks.  I am humbly mindful of all I have been given.

Gratitude.  Giving thanks for who I am, with what I am, where I am.

I can, and I will.  Be grateful.  For all this, for all that is yet to come.  It is my soulful offering.


Joy in small moments…

I broke a fourth tooth in less than a year, all while eating a bagged lunch the other day.  A lunch that my husband had prepared for me, nonetheless.  I was eating alphabet pretzels when the tooth crumbled, in case you are wondering- creating a taste sensation of unparalleled proportions as it mixed in with all the other crunchy bits and pieces in the process of being swallowed down gulp at a time.  I had originally purchased the bagged snack/teaching tool for my students so as to make learning fun. FUN, I say.  Just like I was having now that my appetite had suddenly vanished.  Glad my little friends never had the joy of eating these tasty little morsels, as they are like crunching on driveway gravel. Particularly when mixed in with enamel.

I have been a bit of a cranky Mama bear lately.  And for good reason.  Turns out I have been grinding my teeth into gunpowder while trying to catch a few zzz’s in the process.  The dentist today remarked on the extreme power in my jaws which would have been flattering if he hadn’t had my mouth propped open with a two-by-four made out of a cotton ball and a piercing bright light shining on the gaping hole in there, further magnifying my chipped teeth and swollen gum line.

I look like a light-weight boxing competitor who has seen better days.  And indeed I have.  Seen better days, that is.

Life is all about perspective, right?  So with that in mind, I set out this evening to find a little piece of joy in nature so as to cast some illumination on an otherwise expensive ($2,200 worth of upcoming dental work), depressing (there goes the camper we were going to buy) and discouraging (I am wondering if false teeth are an option for a 38 year old mother of four) day.

I took a walk sans children, husband or friends.  I set out with a view in mind, that being the picturesque Mill River winding its way gracefully along the shores of red clay in Western Prince Edward Island.  It was for me, more of a pity party at first.  Poor me, why me, why now…yada yada.  Then, I began noticing a few things.  A  fuzzy caterpillar, and then another, crawling along the side of the road.  The elegant lupins, just beginning to emerge in hues of pink, fuschia and indigo.  A broken clothespin.  How did that arrive in my path?  The Queen’s Anne Lace, stooping to touch soft grass growing beneath.

And after a few more moments, I drew my gaze up and far down the path I was travelling, and the view of the water quite took my breath away.

The deep blue of the river, gently lapping the red sandstone. The road leading fishers to a point of entrance.  A boat floating tranquilly in shallow water.  The jagged rock underfoot.  Wooden staircases from cottage lots down to the shore.  A black dog, standing still and free in the river.  The sound of a lawnmower in the distance cutting blades of green summer lawns.  The smell of the water- pungent salt mixed with sweet algae. The beauty of the evening, soon fading to twilight.  This glorious evening of an almost-summer day.

And in the beauty of these moments, these brief interludes of time, in between reality past and reality future, I realized that I could be happy.  Right now.  I did not have to make a promise for fifteen minutes away, nor did I need to make compensations for the misery of hours ago while under the drill of my watchful dentist.  I could just commit to right now.  This was pure, unadulterated happiness.  To be alone in nature in blessed quietness. Does it get any better than this?

When we allow ourselves brief moments in which to feel joy, we find happiness is not so elusive.  And what makes us happy will in turn bring us joy in wave after wave of memory, as we return to that place of pleasure again and again in our minds.  Like those waves on a shore formed of red clay that I experienced tonight.  Our memory, that collective of sounds, sights, triggers and emotions that help to form for us reminiscences of those freeze-frame windows in time that we hope never to forget.  It is a gift.

We touch the face of joy, those of us who can live out our days as small moments rather than large time periods.  I can say I have had a bad day, but really I had a few bad moments.  Those moments will surely lead to more unpleasant moments in the days to come, as I seek to remedy these chipped and broken teeth.  But, there were moments in this day that were pure pleasure.  The moments right before bed when I cuddled with each of my children, one by one.  When I snuggled the youngest, read with the next in line- my middle child, when I kissed the warm forehead of my oldest daughter, and shared a laugh with my very oldest, my son.  Those moments are just as much a part of my day as were those horrific ones at the dentist’s office.  And so, I choose. JOY.

Again, and again and again.  I choose joy.  In the small moments.

Because that is not too much ask.  And I can commit to something small like a moment.

Running the race with joy…

I am cross-country skiing across a field of sparkling white snow.  The sky is a wash of blue watercolour, dotted with clouds and drenched in sunlight.  The evergreen trees provide a canopy overhead as I push along down the trail. It is a glorious day.  I want to soak this all in, this seeming quiet solitude, wherein woman meets nature.

Except for the small fact that I am not woman alone.  Behind me, lying with his back on the ground whilst still attached to skis, is my son.  He is moaning about the fact that we took the long course, and how much further will it be until we are back at the ski shop?  I try to put the contrary sounds I hear coming from his direction right out of my mind, pushing on in spite of his angst.  All the while, I am expounding the benefits of nature and the wonder of the pristine trail before us.  He is not buying it.  About the second hill, neither am I.

I have managed to do the snow-plow stop for each and every slope I encounter, enabling me to also feel a sense of pride.  He assures me that cross-country skiing is much easier than downhill skiing, and that the fact that I have not yet fallen is really no major achievement.  He says this because he has been downhill skiing once and is now an expert.  I have been reduced to a ninny on planks holding onto two telephone poles as ski supports.

Yes, this is the life.

We come upon a straight-away, and my son notices a speed sign.  “We can only go 30 km/h.  That’s okay; we’re only going about five,” he remarks.  I say nothing for a minute, thinking he is joking about the slow rate we had undertaken thus far, due to all the stops and starts.  As well as to his general disinterest in doing what he considers to be the long trail.  I turn around, and look at him.  “That’s the speed for snowmobiles,” I emphasize.  “Oh,” he says, not a trace of sarcasm in his voice.  As if to say that we might very well encounter a particularly peppy skier en route who just might happen to have jet engines hidden inside his ski boots.  I hide a smile.

The Bible talks about our lives being like a race.  I can totally relate to this one, as anyone who knows me can attest.   I am up like a shot in the dark, albeit a canon perhaps rather than a bullet.   I am fired up nonetheless.  It is a race to the shower, then off to the upstairs bathroom and down the hall to grab the article of clothing closest to my reach inside the closet.  The race quickens its pace as I try to pass the baton on to my children encouraging them to join me on the course, they run at a different pace than  do I.  I lengthen my stride as I round the bend in the first lap, and it’s off to make beds and help children decide outfits for the day.  Then, another lap as I leap hurdles to get kids dressed and out the door and off to the various destinations of the day.  Sometimes it’s difficult to experience the wonder of it all, the running of the race, I mean.  One might say you could even lose the joy, that sense of awe in running the race of one’s lifetime.

So, it was a bit of an exhilaration and a literal breath of fresh air today when I was able to take to the great outdoors and grab a bit of a break from the rat race that we sometimes call life.  But isn’t it funny how the race continues even when you think you are on hiatus?

The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favour to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. (Ecclesiates 9:11, NIV)  I take from this that we cannot run away from the reality of our life or our destiny no matter what we try to use as an escape.  Life has a funny way of catching up to us.

The thing about the race we are called to run, that great race of life, is that we allow our bodies and minds to be present in each moment.  Many times, the race will be brutal and each footfall, hard-earned.  Those times are many and we should not expect that the race be an easy one.  It was never promised to be such.  There are other times, when for us, we will be given a second-wind and the race will seem almost effortless.  We can run without pain and exertion the course set before us.  For other runners, this will be just the time that the race becomes more difficult, and we need to be sensitive to these contenders.  We too have found, at points along the way, the race to be difficult; thus, as our raceway has challenged in times past, so will it challenge us again.  The race is full of surprises, the greatest of which are those that allow us to joyfully celebrate our victories in overcoming our weaknesses.

We stayed the ski course, he and I, stopping several times along the way to boost morale.  It is such an amazing accomplishment to finish the course, when you have questioned whether or not you could even make it around the first bend.  We coasted down the last hill, and glided to a stop in front of the ski shop.  I almost suggested another round.  But as all those who run the race know, a good runner knows when to untie the running shoes and call it a day. Even when those metaphorical  running shoes happen to be a sweaty size 7 1/2 ski boot.