Monthly Archives: March 2014

When I Look At You

 Written: March 09, 2014

IMG_2814cTravelling through Alberta, after a trip to the United States, I made a stop in Lethbridge to visit the hospital where my youngest child had been born in 1986 and I had spent that month in 1987 learning the healing that comes when broken people reach out to each other. The hospital had changed with bright new facilities and tall tiered windows. It was hard to imagine, as I sat there, the old chipped tiles and meandering stairways I came to know in that second visit there.

The psych ward was on the third or fourth floor of the old hospital. It was strange to me to think that only a year before I had been a floor below for the birth of my daughter. Now she and her brother and sister were staying with people from the church while I shared a room with a stranger there in that hall of confusion and sadness. Bingo and jigsaw puzzles seemed to be the staple entertainments on the floor but through a locked door, down a winding stairway, through the back of the kitchen and out through a neglected weedy corner led us to the outpatient center where we would participate in group therapy and crafts such as painting ceramics to be fired.

Between activities several of us began to get to know the stories that had brought us here. We even talked of dreams of what we wanted to be in life, and hopes of what we would be able to do when we got out. There was the woman who could not get over the grief from her daughter’s death, those whose homelessness or troubled home situations enhanced their depression. Others struggled with a number of other mental illnesses but what we held in common was the knowledge that for that time, we could not function effectively in our outside worlds. We could interact with the day clients but somehow, our knowledge of being those who couldn’t go home at night kept us together.

Being one of the “inmates” as we would often laughingly call ourselves didn’t come with ready made labels of strength so the woman’s comment caught me by surprise. “When I look at you,” she said to me, “I see an eagle locked in a cage.”

Her words caught something in me stirring it to life. In my most broken someone saw strength, just strength that was trapped and limited by some constrictions. Her observation opened up something inside of me and when we went on walks, I began looking at the sky instead of at the ground. I began to see the world with fresh eyes, hopeful eyes. I began to look at my surroundings and see the details I had once cherished around me.

This renewed way of seeing led me to the next surprise. Crossing through the weedy patch behind the kitchen, a caught a hint of violet in the grass. Going to look I found a small bed of tiny flowers the size of a baby’s tiny fingernail. I gathered a small bouquet of them between my fingers and carried them up to the floor where I dumped out a coffee creamer container to make a tiny vase for them. Filling it with water, I set it on my dresser. Those flowers held more peace to me than any bouquet that had been brought by well-meaning visitors. Others came to see the flowers, this tiny gift from right where we were at.

Two other women on the ward and I had reached a place in our treatment where we could get out on a pass for a few hours. Needing to do a bit of necessity shopping we went to a local strip mall. There is something heady in being out of  the confinement of the ward without someone watching over us. We were giddy with laughter, cracking the stupidest jokes we could think of. “Watch it,” the third woman quipped, “If we keep this up people are going to think we belong in the looney bin.” Of course this would just crack us up more.

Heady from our outing, we talked about our silly humor over dinner that night playing with the ongoing joke about being inmates.

The woman who lost her daughter cut in on the fun. “No,” she declared firmly looking straight at me. “You can never be an inmate. Anyone who can see flowers where the rest of us only see weeds can never truly be locked up.” Her words calmed something in me, settling hope that I would find a way back home.

When I left my final day, I  knew that many of those I met there would be strangers again. We came from different towns, few of us living in Lethbridge. We would be travelling to outpatient sessions once or twice a week from our corners of the province, some, like me, being  transferred to other mental health groups and finally to support in my home town because of certain blocks created in getting care for my children while I finished the therapy.

I would begin finding my way back to life again, doing as much as I could, failing to make it without a week’s stay with my children in a shelter and then spending time attending another church where I was not being pressured to lead activities I was not yet mentally able to be in charge of. I would find out that those in my church who had the medical know how to help me when my daughter was having breathing problems had stayed away because I “wasn’t the kind of person” they wanted to be around right then. Depression had become a separator. I would do my pastor’s wife duty of staying in relationship to these people in the way they would accept it but it would be the other pastor’s wife, Merna, who was temporarily back in town from chemo therapy treatments who would continue to encourage my strength by inviting me to get together to sew dolls for our daughters.

She and I attended a women’s conference in Banff, sharing a room since I already knew about her wigs. She bought me a journal as we left to encourage me to always keep letting my words dance. I would get to go to her and sing her favourite praise song in the last days of her life when she no longer had a voice to sing. All those who had walked this journey would leave their mark of hope on my spirit, ready for the times when God needed them there for the story that wasn’t finished in my life.

*Some of the poems related to the time in this story can be found at:

I once was told that in all lives these moments exist, just that somehow I was able to see them. Right now, I think what I am going through is a grief and recognition of how that missing piece I learned on my last day with my dad impacted all the other stories of my life. They are coming in such deep waves of memory that I am having to write just to keep my head above water.

My faith is flooding back as well though, Denise, because deeply tied in these memories is a story of God reaching beyond the rigid limits of my religion and family to reach me with what I need.

I am going to write my toughest one tomorrow. I am not sure whether or not I will even directly link it though I will post it on here. I am listening to Pentatonix “Say Something” It is so much a song that touches that story and the words that answered.

I don’t know what you all are thinking about what I am writing but it will end. There is just a bit more story to go to lay this to rest..


The Siren Calls

imagesEAHM18EMbI read the labels one by one searching and finding the one that fills my senses with delight. I taste its smoothness in the act of seeking, memories anticipation of what I long for. Delayed delight is placed with reverence into the cart with the other groceries. Carrots and lettuce, a variety of fruit, 1% milk, cheeses with skim milk, 0% fat Greek yogurt, whole grain breads, skinless chicken breasts, pickled beans and beets, mixed legumes all slide aside to make room for this crowning glory wrapped in the purple and gold of royalty. My shopping is done.

I roll my cart into the checkers stall unloading the items of my store scavenger hunt, checking them against my list to see if I have gotten them all. With watchful eyes I check the prices registering before my eyes and see the bagger placing them in the bags. Last of all, tilted against the milk carton, he places my treasure. I swipe my card, key in my numbers and pushing the cart make the journey to my car.

Driving home, I can almost smell it wafting through its wrapper, swirling out of the crowded bag.  It tempts me with just one taste, almost singing within the taste centers in my brain. At the red lights its aria of longing crescendos to that high barely resisted note. Luckily the light turns green before I can surrender. My hands grip the steering wheel and I keep my eyes turned to the road. I cannot risk a glance as the bag with its siren song growing with intensity from within.

I have made it. Pulling into my parking stall and turning off the ignition, I reach over, taking bags in hands and make the trek to my door. The waiting is reaching its end. Soon …. soon …. I would be able to silence the siren’s song.

I am determined to play this out to the end. I take the bags into my little kitchen and make sure each item is put in place. Slowly the food finds its resting place until the only thing left on the counter is that piece de resistance robed in its purple and gold.

The time has finally come. I take the tasty treat into my hands and head for the living room where it can finally be enjoyed.

imagespThe purple robe is pulled off first and placed in careful creases on the trunk that serves as coffee table. Slowly I unwrap one end, carefully guarding against a tear.

There it is in all its glory — rich, dark, fragrant, sweet bitterness filling the air. Dark chocolate! The darker the better. I count its squares anticipating future moments of delight.

imagesD3DELL0CbThe soft silkiness of the chocolate pleasures my fingers as I carefully snap off two squares. The isolated squares are placed aside as with careful reverence I rewrap the shrinking treasure. Wrapping it again in its robe, I take those two small offerings.

The gentle flowing richness melts in rivers on my tongue.






I was a social little girl the year I turned 8. I had my imaginative alone moments though. Perhaps a book held me captive in another world. Maybe I was so captured by the movement of some bug or the shape of some length that everything around. And there was the time I decided to be a fashion designer and drew pages and pages of dress designs that looked almost identical but were colored in the most glorious designs. But that was the moments. The center of joy for me was playing with friends.

In grade school we were still young enough for cops and robbers or adventures in the wilds of the world or unpacking our cases of Barbies and clothes for one more day in that high fashion paradise. A few of us also loved the giggly flirting with the boys in our grade by visiting with them while they chased snakes in the empty lot. When they would put them in our hair to send us off squealing, I would err by taking the snake off my head and looking at it. Or maybe it wasn’t an error. There was more than one little boys who would walk me home from school and stay to play chase with our street group. Paul even held an Easter craft contest in our class. When I got first prize for my basket, he whispered in my ear that he had the contest so he could give me a present.

So when my birthday neared I was excited thinking about who to invite to my party. Only, every time I asked about a party I was told that my parents were going to be too busy that day, I would have to wait. Mom and dad both worked so I knew that was a part of life. That is okay, you can still plan and dream while you wait.

When the day came I was sent out to play because everyone was going to be busy and I would just be in the way. Only, they forgot some details for a social little girl. They invited all the neighbor kids who were not going somewhere that day over to the house to help with what was keeping everyone so busy. Even my books, bike and drawing pads were out of reach.

I had heard the whispers so knew that whining about it wasn’t a good idea. I found out for sure when, bored, I risked going into the garage to see if there was something I could do to help and saw them blowing up balloons. One of the people there quickly jumped up and pushed me back out, slamming the door in my face.

I went to the house and, being more wary, yelled in to ask my mom if I could go see Joyce a few streets over. Not now, was the reply. You need to stay near home.

It was the most miserable day of my life. All my friends from the street were either away or busy at my house. I leaned against the wall forlornly, knowing that I wasn’t allowed to feel mad because, it was easy to see that they were making the surprise party I had heard whispered in the night between my sisters.

Finally my other friends started coming to my street and rushing to my house. No one stopped to talk to me as I smiled and tried to chat seeing them. They were in a hurry. By the time they came to tell me it was time to come home, the anxiety in me because I didn’t feel the excitement I was supposed to feel was at an all-time high.

“Surprise!” They all yelled gleefully as I was led into the back yard. That I had already learned the use of a pasted on smile came in handy that day as we played the games and had the cake and opened the presents was something they never guessed as a giddy anxiety exhilarated my energy. I can’t imagine I was as gracious about it all as I would like to think. My memory of that party was a feeling of franticness in my laughter, and trying too hard at the games. I can remember the background of others around me in a blur of self-blame as I struggled to feel the joyfulness that was supposed to be a part of that day.

Somehow, when I hear the word “Surprise”, my instinct is not joy but is searching the faces of those around me to get the clue as to how I am supposed to feel about this. I never have been able to enjoy surprise parties though I am always glad when I find people have prepared ahead by giving the guest of honor a happy activity to be involved in while preparations are made.

In the Weaknesses

It was easy to see there was something different about the child. The little girl’s eyes moved rapidly from place to place, her head turning and jerking at odd intervals. Even her hands curved and twisted around each other as the girl moved forward and backwards in her seat never seeming to come to a rest. She would look up her head rocking in an unfinished nod, down and to the side in a similar jerky rocking. Her eyes never seemed to quite focus on any one thing or person.

I turned to look at her mother standing, twisting her hands together, tucked as deeply toward a corner as she could be and still be available to go and settle her daughter when she would get out of her seat. This was Sunday School music time. The children were expected to sit and sing the songs or stand and do the motions when asked.

Her daughter did not seem to be able to follow the directions and I could see the wide-eyed wariness in her mother’s face as she glanced at the other adults in the room. Her stooped shoulders told more of the story. She had been criticized in the past for her daughter’s lack of proper manners. She held herself in the brittle defensive stance of one who was ready to be reprimanded once more about her daughter’s behaviors.

When the children left for Sunday School classes, she did not go upstairs. Using my own toddler’s busy-ness as an excuse, I stayed behind as well, engaging her in conversation. It was nice having her come and visit us. Where was she from. Did she have any other children? Did she have a church in her town?

She quietly answered all the questions but did not ask any of her own for quite a while. Then she asked a strange question. Did I ever consider having another child?

It was at this place I chose to step out of my pastor’s wife’s friendly script and answer with the honesty of the mother with my experiences. “I don’t know. I went into post partum depression after my second child and I am not sure I can handle going through that again.”

Her head jerked up and she stared at me with wide shocked eyes. “You mean Christians actually have problems?” she queried.

I took the risk and told her how discouraged I was and how incompetent I felt as a parent after having felt like the best parent in the world after the birth of my first. I told her of the times I set my baby in her crib while she cried, closed the door and curled up in the hall shaking because I felt so helpless and didn’t know what to do to help her. I told her how I would pull myself together and go back to her. I told her how I feared my own inadequacy, of the reality of my own mother’s style of discipline and my fear that I would make similar mistakes if I couldn’t find my way through this. I felt having another child might be too much of a risk.

In the following convresation she opened up to me about the differences she saw in her daughter and the responses she had from others in her church when she would try to talk about what was going on , She talked about her own fears of failing to meaure up. She would get lectured about not praying enough, about not trusting God enough, about “kids grow out of” it, about needing to be more positive, about not having enough faith. “I quit going to church,” she admitted. “I just coudn’t take anymore.” She had only come to church today because her husband asked her to come along. Since it was a place they had never been, she took the risk.

I never made it up to the service that day — one more criticism for those judging my wantingness in being the pastor’s wife I was supposed to be. But that was one that brushed right off my back. “What you do for the least of these, you do for me.” My place of worship that day was with a young desparately hurting mother. And the worship only came because I let go of being a “positive” role model and chose to speak as a real struggling person who also had a faith to hang on through what was not an easy time in life.

We hugged when she left. And she thanked me for helping her find faith again. As always, it was in the weaknesses of my life that Christ shown brightest.

The Dancing Place

No one knew how young they were when first they met in the dancing place. He entered from the east and she from the west. The trees arched above in cathedral splendor. The floor was the elegance of rustling leaves, hardy grasses and moss. He smiled, she smiled. They laughed and skipped in the leaves. Neither knew who first suggested the dance.

Over the years they would meet. The children changed with time, hair and clothes, features maturing. The trees and grasses made way for walls and parquet floor. No one quite knew how that particular place was chosen to be the dance hall. The years pass by in the swirl of the dance yet always when it ended he would leave to the east and she would leave to the west.

During the war she would enter alone. No one spoke, wondering what she would do. Turning her face to the east she raised her arms for the dance and swirled. His mates remember a particular night the artillery silenced inexplicably and he stood turning his face to the west. Holding up his arms he silently danced. No one talked about it, and for some strange reason, this act passed without the normal comrade banter.

When next they met on the dance floor, he entered in a wheelchair. His face held a sad hope, acknowledging his broken body and the years between. Wrapped around his shoulders was a red robe given him in memory of his heroism. When she entered she looked at him with the smile of welcome that broke the icy bitterness growing around his heart.

They danced through the years only on that one night, leaving each time through their separate doors. No one knew why or what their lives held, but they would meet for this one dance. That she would bend her stance to the wheel chair and later changed arm holds to accommodate crutches then cane would simply become a part of their ritual.

The last time he enters the hall he is old and wizened. His body curls up into itself and his trembling, age spotted hands can hardly hold up the red robe that drapes his shrunken figure. There is a sad certainty in his rhumy eyes. This time he would dance alone. Those who bring him wheel his chair into the center of the room and step away. He would still have this dance. He would dance to remember.

Suddenly a pale shadow of a woman appears before him. She is old like him and yet her skin is unwrinkled, her body tall and straight. “Did you think I wouldn’t come?” She asks him with the easy smile he has always known.

She walks to him and holds out her arms in the dancing embrace that had swirled through their lives. He can barely lift his arms so she gently lifts them in the flexibility that had always played a part in this moment. He closes his eyes and they begin the dance one last time.

The slow clumsy movement becomes a dance of glory, the wheelchair soon left behind as they dance. Their bodies grow backwards through the years until they are children again, dancing in the cathedral of trees.

This time when the dance ends, they do not part. Arm and arm they walk toward the door opening in the north line of trees and leave the dancing place together.

I Choose

The Project
30 September, 1993

I tried to make it.
I didn’t understand the directions
But you thought I knew

Now you tell me I made it wrong—
That I didn’t want to
Because you asked me to

Don’t you know
I want to please you?
But I can’t see
What is in your mind

Tell me!
Help me know!

But don’t ask for me—
Ask for what you want of me.
I don’t fit your plan.

“You can do anything you want to do” was the encouragement I got from my mom throughout my life. What a powerful image of support to a child! With one catch. If it didn’t come out the way she thought it should look, I obviously “didn’t want to do it” because she had asked me to. I soon learned the unfinished part of that affirmation. You can do anything you want to do as long as you do it the way I want it done.

Life became a guessing game with isolating and painful consequences for guessing wrong. I learned early that is was “my fault” if something didn’t work out. I hadn’t tried hard enough. I was being stubborn. I just didn’t care. I was obstinate, or the one said to me only two years ago, I was “always a sassy brat.”

I learned to choose relationships based on what I thought was affirmation. Somehow my unconscious mind seemed to key into people who had fixed demands that seemed to be clear cut but usually weren’t. I stumbled along having success in some places and failures in others then moving on with my family where failure to fit in was the norm.

I say I am addicted to running because it is true, I do run. But much of my running has been from me. When I have moved from something I couldn’t cope with, I have usually locked it away, like my drawing, and only opened it up when some writing topic allowed me to look at it and ask myself why I stopped drawing.

What I didn’t ask myself was why I kept going to a class where the teacher’s style created such a dicotomy between what I could see and what he was calling good drawing. Why did I keep going when the criticisms were more about not meeting his ideals instead of not being able to do the skills? Why did I stay until I reached a point of running from me?

IMG_2415Two years ago when I chose to show my parents my painting skill, I hardly completed the background when my mother began to tell me what the painting had to be. Okay, it was for my mom and dad, so I began to paint in what she wanted.

My flexible mind began to warm to the change, seeing how I could create something beautiful that honored my mother’s wishes.

“Stop!” my parents chimed together. “Don’t add anything more or you will ruin it.” I looked at my picture. I looked inward at what I knew it could be, and with a sigh I remembered the rule: “You can do anything you want to do as long as you do it the way I want it done.” I let the painting go, defensively painted a second with a firm but rigid idea that they couldn’t change.

The third ended up broken in the garbage when my mother started her demands again. I couldn’t do it. The artist in me was not willing to bend her vision to the will of the one I had bowed to in fear for so much of my life.

Today I made a new choice. Today, I turned to the siren’s voice in me that sweetly lurred me into staying in a negative situation. Today I turned down the volume of that voice and made a new choice. Today I quit my guitar lessons, not because I am running from me but because I allowed myself to accept the chasm between his style of teaching and the descrepancies in his comments and what I had come to learn.

still singing 3I chose to accept that my goals had validity and that one teacher did not have the total say as to whether or not I could accomplish my goal. I honoured my truth even when he denied the disparaging words he said. I chose to step away from a harmful situation, give myself time to regroup, and believe that I can find a teacher who is in tune with the type of music that I am seeking to learn. I took the risk of believing in myself.

Today, I made the choice to quit my guitar lessons while I still had the desire and the drive to play. I did it with as much grace as I could but I chose to stop running from my dreams into the expectations of others.

I have the great book of Celtic tunes to dig into when I get home. My fingers are itching to play for the first time in weeks.




Why Edmund?

And Edmund, for the first time in this story felt sorry for someone besides himself…. Soon Edmund noticed that the snow which splashed against them … was much wetter ….. At the same time he noticed it was much less cold.”
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

They have been travelling for hours through the cold. All his plans have backfired. All his dreams of glory given by the White Witch have been shown as lies.

And now, Edmund – the betrayer, the spiteful liar, the vocal skeptic – sees hope in the form of a Christmas feast, and hears the Witch disparage the self-indulgence of such merriment. When the small squirrel dares to stick up for the gift from Father Christmas she silences the feast, turning them all to stone.

Edmund is powerless to stop her. He reaches the place where he can no longer deny what he has always known — the witch has no good will to offer any creature. His heart is touched by the need of another and his eyes begin to see.

It is after this event, in the context of Edmund’s story that the “thaw”, the lessening of the witch’s power over the land begins to show the signs of spring.

Why Edmund? Edmund had failed to measure up to the situation. It doesn’t matter what any of the others did or didn’t do to him, he is the one who kept choosing to accept the witch’s power. Edmund is the antihero who had let everyone down, even, it turns out, himself. When the beauty of the new spring emerges, shouldn’t we see it through the eyes of those who have been faithful? Why Edmund?

Leave the Edmunds of our lives stumbling and slipping in the muck of the change! He made the choices that got him there, let him deal with it on his own. Why Edmund? Let him be expendable! Aslan would still be living. Aslan is powerful enough to bring the spring! Isn’t that enough? Just think of the grief that could be bypassed if we could write Edmund out of the story!

Too often that is the way we view our own lives. Those places we deem as failures to measure up to the code of our faith, those antihero moments should be shut away, their storyline cut off so that we can speak of the glorious victory we have in Jesus. If we speak of them as all, they should be derogated with blame, not surrounding by the sounds and sights and scents of a burgeoning spring!

Why Edmund? Why the “unloveable” or “disfunctional” parts that I have labelled and hidden over and over? So much energy is needed to hide the “unworthy” in my life if I am going to be able to even consider any chance of believing I can be the child of a King!

Why Edmund? Because shaming ourselves in the guise of repentances accomplishes nothing. Until the Edmunds in my life can stand with the rest of me before my Aslan, my God, I will never be the complete person God meant me to be. I will never know the truth as long as I am hiding parts of me to appear worthy, I will never know the abundance of spring in my life until all of me has been freed to walk in the light of the One who already knows me and wants to make a miracle out of my life.

It has been the work of years learning that God’s love is not only for those parts deemed lovely or worthy in the eyes of the Christian community, or even in my own eyes. I am God’s creation. I can’t be all I am meant to be if I banish parts of myself or imprison them so they won’t cause further damage.

Only as the whole of who I am can there come the end the reign of the powers that call me unworthy, that keep me from knowing what is “abundant life”. Only by standing in the wholeness of the one I am can I truly come to know “the truth” meant to set me free.

I think I am finally beginning to see.