Walk a mile in the North African shoes

IMG_0430Thoughts from North Africa …. as the third call to prayer goes out.

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Welcome to Tunisia, “Mahrahabba (welcome) You are not tourist here, you are our guests, you are family.” Right hand pats the heart three times, as the man in the red checkered scarf looks deep into my eyes. I wonder if he is hoping for a large tip.

Ancient roman ruins abound in this country, as do artifacts from generations since. Coming from Canada, where anything over 200 years old is considered ancient, I can hardly fathom the large stone blocks fashioned into the massive amphitheatre  that held up to 35,000 spectators in the third century. “The monument of El Jem is one of the most accomplished examples of Roman architecture of an amphitheatre, almost equal to that of the Coliseum of Rome.”  (Unesco World Heritage -El Jem.)

IMG_0336What was it like to live in ancient Roman times? … I could only imagine as we viewed the arena. The gates of life and death were pointed out to us at a previous site, as the guide explained how the animals, prisoners, and gladiators were brought into the arena, likely to face their final battle … they may have been killed in the colosseum, but apparently were not devoured in the presence of the audience … that surprised me, but perhaps that was something offensive to some of the more sensitive members of the audience?

What was it like? And what is it like to live in this transitioning country today? I have not been here long enough to answer that question. I am taking it all in. Tunisia has been described as post revolution—in fact today is the anniversary date of the revolution. When speaking with some of the locals, I ask through a translator, how has this revolution impacted the ordinary person. Many say they have not seen any benefits yet, as prices have risen and unemployment has increased.

I sit with my daughter, we have been invited to taste zagoo-goo, a special dessert made for the prophet’s birthday. (Two holidays fall in sequence: the prophet’s birthday on Monday, and the revolution anniversary the next day.)  The dessert is made from a paste of ground nuts and a creamy thin overlaying. To my surprise it is not as sweet as it looks—it looks like it should be chocolate pudding with whip cream, decorated with sprinkles.

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Two months ago, this neighbour  serving zagoo-goo asked my daughter:  “What is it like to live with love?”

A profound question.

What is it like to live with love? The question haunts me, it speaks of the deepest longing we have as a human being. For the lady, it was equated into the love of her husband … but it seemed to go deeper. This country is enchanting, the mix of ancient and modern, and yet the eternal question …

What is it like to live with love?

 

(Photos by Jocelyn)

Does goodwill extend to dogs?

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Is Christmas only for kids and does peace on earth, good will extend to the dogs?

December brings a kind, seasonal spirit. The song asks “Why can’t we keep Christmas every day of the year?” And the reality is that Christmas brings stress: family isn’t always fun to be with, expectations are high, people are traveling, budgets get blown … the cause for headaches increases with the social obligations.

I am privileged to spend Christmas with my sister’s family this year, and delighted that small children are involved. Her eight year old grandson is losing his belief in Santa, he has pieced it together that when Santa showed up on Christmas Eve, grandpa was in the bathroom. When my own children were small, we didn’t fuss too much about Mr. Claus, we kind of let him be … his mall lap was sat on, hopes whispered into his ears, we have the pictures. I had not wanted all the components of Christmas to be lumped together, and then outgrown … like the magical man that can visit all the children of the world in a sleigh on one night. (About as realistic as the nativity scene?)

IMG_6361My own grandchildren are living in N Africa, and they are not bombarded with seasonal slogans, no music piped in at the malls. Everything is focused and intentional on their part, the country does not celebrate Christmas. Yes believe it or not, the western way of doing Christmas is very western, and very consumer driven … And the true Father of Christmas has invited us to become like little children-to come with eyes wide in wonder, and embrace the most unbelievable gift given for all—Immanuel, God with us.

And what about the dogs? How did that get into the picture … well in the Oregon country side where I am Christmasing, the neighbor has three dogs, two dobermans, and a small yapper …. My sister and I went for a walk, and to our nervous surprise, the dogs circled us, bared teeth … I was just thinking that they were not looking or feeling very friendly, when I felt this sharp pain on the back of my left leg as one dog darted behind me. “I think he bit me!” I exclaimed to my sister and he had. We talked to the owner—we told him that was a serious offence, and her grandkids were coming the next day … we wanted to be able to walk the country lane. My thoughts of goodwill were lost in the moment.

The culprit

The culprit

So does peace and good will extend to all? Do you extend good will to a dog? If so, what does that look like? The peace and joy of the season gets challenged daily in December and the coming year. So, who let the dogs out?

Merry Christmas to all!!

Decemberings-Bah, Humbug

DSC_0067I woke early, disturbed by churning thoughts around getting ready  for Christmas. In light of past rushed Decembers (when I organized concerts and had many more child and work related events) preparations are minimal this year, so initially I wondered—why the angst? The present angst distracts me from the true meaning of Christmas, and affects how I focus on what is most important, even on my to-do list.

This morning my response was to listen to Steve Bell’s “Ready My Heart” song.                                                                                 (CD Christmas Feast, lyrics credited to Lois Shuford)

 Ready my heart for the birth of Immanuel
Ready my soul for the Prince of Peace
Heap the straw of my life
For His body to lie on
Light the candle of hope

Let the child come in 2012-12-05 17.27

HOPE is the largest gift of Christmas and it is a gift meant for all.

As I look outside I see the winter’s beauty, but also recognize the icy shroud that surrounds many people’s hearts, especially those that have been snowed under by grief. The power of hope shall not be kept in fancy wrappings. It can be most present in the midst of angst, grief, and disappointment.

                          IMG_2439The Beauty of a frozen waterfall, the tragedy of an icy heart.

Light the Candle of Hope

He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.

Roy L. Smith

 

THE BIG PICTURE – size small

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       In the end what matters most

             How well did you live

            How well did you love

      How well did you learn to let go.              Balinese proverb

I get these moments of great clarity when I feel as though I have conquered the mystery of life. The younger I was for these aha moments, the more open I was to accept them. The experience that comes with aging has clouded my clarity with skepticism.

While it was still dark this morning I woke with a sense that I should write down some of these thoughts I’d had … and then I realized I have often felt that way, and frequently I have written the ideas down. Sometimes I have been delighted, at other times I wondered what made that seem so brilliant in the night?

Breathing, living, loving …. as I mix this into every day life of eating, sleeping, interacting, I see that we are all searching for a deeper meaning, for more aha moments … I think we want our lives to be a part of something bigger. (I want to stay in the AHA)

One of my favourite walks takes me up a ridge, and from where I can see the Rocky Mountains span the horizon. When I have these times of feeling too suppressed in my little life I climb the ridge—I call it my perspectives walk.

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A bench waits for me, it overlooks the town and the mountains in the distance, and I ask God to have tea with me. Often I just sit there, sometimes I read, sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I write …. but I need to ponder the vast solid rocky mountains, the bigger picture … and when I look down at my town, I see the little vehicles like Tonka trucks along the roadways, busy little ant like people scurrying about with all the tyranny of the urgent, and I am reminded of the verses:

I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from  Psalm 121 NIV

For even if the mountains walk away and the hills fall to pieces,                                                             My love won’t walk away from you      Isaiah 54:10 The Msg

After pondering the truth of these words, I am able to descend, for I have gained a new perspective on the immensity of life. I carry those words with me … till next time …  like everyone else, I have a standing invite to sit on that bench. And what surprises me is how seldom it is occupied. 

A Pacifist at Remembrance Day

imagesThe Pacifist at a Remembrance Day Ceremony

For once she arrived on time to an already packed out gym, standing room only as hundreds of townsfolk came to the Remembrance Day service; not a poppy-less coat in the crowd, thanks to the young girl guides handing out programs and poppies, camouflage garb mixed with the stiff jodhpurs of the RCMP.

Her Mennonite hometown never had this large a turn out. Apparently Mennonites don’t dance and they don’t go to war. …  Only after my father had died, I found out that he had wanted to join the Canadian Air Force as a young man during the Second World War. His father would have none of it, as the church did not allow for going to war; it believed in the call to peace. And in a not so peaceful manner my father fought with his father, but obeyed. Very likely the departure of a dream.  Because conscription was the law, my father was given the option to become a conscientious objector (CO) and was assigned to work at the CO camp at Clear Lake Mb. Many Mennonite boys were allowed to stay at home and continued to work in the farms, a few defied their churches and signed up to become soldiers for Canada’s army, experiencing the rejection of their communities for their choice.

This day she came as an observer, to honour those who had died for her country’s freedom. “Freedom is not free,” she heard. Veterans of any war were asked to stand, she quickly tried to count the number, at least eighty, possibly a hundred. The bag-pipe and drum band led the procession of young cadets, aging vets, and current military recruits. Next to the men in kilts, white plumed hats and elegant capes bobbed, representing the British pomp and ceremony.

John Cotton who had fought in the Korean War, spoke with the authority and cadence of  a BBC radio announcer as he told his story …. “the Chinese came over the crest, wave after wave of men—I had never seen so many men. We engaged them we cut them down, they retreated we advanced,” words devoid of emotion, “our grenades were better than their grenades. We kept our machine guns going until they became so hot, we had to change the barrels … round after round. They outnumbered us seven to one, but we cut them down.” He did not glorify the war, he did not justify it, he gave us his description in neutral blood free terms. The war was fought sixty years ago, and he remembers it every day, and his final strong words to the crowd: “I shall never forget these men as long as I live, and I hope to God you won’t forget either.”

A processional led the throng down the hill to the town’s cenotaph, for the 11 am silence,  followed by the laying down of the wreaths. Two red and white planes circled overhead. The observers were invited to add their poppies to the wreaths. She waited her turn. Two young cadets stood in position, at either side of the cenotaph, large rifles pointed down, their eyes fixed above the crowd. She had lost a son the age of these recruits, and she knew the pain. She may be a pacifist, but she recognized the sacrifice others had made.

The sad reality hit her—many of the casualties of war are still alive. 

Autumn Prayer for the Loss of a Son

Eight days ago, my friends lost their son.  The next morning I sat by the river, feeling my pain, their pain, the accumulated pain of loss, too many children gone before their time. And the leaves  rained down as I sat on my bench, and the river water flowed … flowing, dropping, life-cycles and ancient rhythms continue endlessly . . .

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Fallen Leaves

Another leaf falls

while one hangs on for autumn splendor

dropped from a lower branch, less travel time.

Rebirth, the unfulfilled promise, waits for its time

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

Another child gone and winter sets in.

I pray an early spring for those in the season of sorrow.

A line from his tribute: We are left with a raw gaping agonizing hole in our hearts which nothing can fill, even though we know he is safe in God’s arms.

Human tears are older than the rain.

Not another Bloom Where You are Planted?

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After the flood devastation of 2013, the landscape of Southern Alberta has changed forever. (Till the next “Hundred Year Flood.”) Boulders have been moved by the flood waters.  Tonnes of rocks have been lifted and moved. Trees uprooted, relocated.

Majestic and special spots have been altered forever …. “Danger, the bank has been undercut” read the sign on my favorite bench, before it was removed for safety reasons.

IMG_3439Undercut Bank along the Bow River

These are small issues compared to the loss of homes and property. A week after the waters had poured over its banks…. roses bloomed where flood waters had raged.

Some of the land I’d stood on a week prior, was now laying on the receded river bank fifteen feet below me. The vegetation had moved down as well.

In Banff National Park, wildflowers bloomed this past summer; but I wondered where blossoms would be showcased next year.

Bloom Where You Are Planted, takes on new meaning.

What about Bloom Where You Have Been Washed To, or Where The Wind Has Blown You, or Where You’ve Been Shoved  or Bloom Where You Have Fallen?

Grief like a tsunami ravaged my life in 2005 …  and now I, along with many others,  have been given a new twist to that bloomin’ challenge. I have not been tenderly replanted, I have been washed up on a different shore. Can I still bloom?

There is much beauty to be found every where, even in this new territory of loss. How do you meet the Bloom Where you Have Been Planted challenge?

The post-flood roses were more beautiful than ever.IMG_3445

Desire’s Journey-is it worth the trip?

        THE JOURNEY OF DESIRE              Image

I spent the weekend camping in the mountains. Alberta has some majestic scenery & I feel privileged to experience it. The book I brought along was John Eldredge’s  “The Journey of Desire,” sub title – “Searching for the Life We’ve Only Dreamed Of.”  I bought the book  at a second hand store, although it was in new condition. The inscription read:  “Mom & Dad,  Love M   2006.”  No underlined sentences, no dog eared pages, no coffee stains, NO signs of wear – I wondered if my eyes were the first to read it – even the newness of the book, reinforced the premise of the first chapters I read. The heart longs for something more in life, and then as disappointments come, we abandon the journey for deeper meaning and settle for ‘getting on with life.’ Gerald May writes “There is a desire within each of us, in the deep center of ourselves that we call our heart … Our true identity our reason for being is to be found in this desire.” (The Awakened Heart)

But Eldredge says too often we lose hope after cumulative disappointments in life,  and begin to accept a life of resignation and complacency instead of pursuing our heart’s desire. And in Christian circles we label these people dreamers, full of youthful idealism, and consider it a sign of maturity to suppress the inner longings.  Do I stop dreaming because it is easier to live with disappointment than dashed Hope?

These words challenge me, as I know my life is not what I expected or wanted it to be.  My heart aches with understanding alongside stories women have shared about the closed doors of their hearts, because it is too painful to risk.  I long to live a passionate life, to seek out beauty, to see the wonder and mystery in this thing we call life. I do not want to settle for superficial.  (Although is super part of superficial?)

The challenge for me, I pass on for you to think about …. WHAT is it you want? Have you listened to your heart? Sitting in the beauty of the mountains, my heart longed for more. Do I dare the risk of entering that journey of desire?

I’d love to hear any thoughts you have, or perhaps you have also read the book.

IMG_5314Mystical Mountains near Exshaw