Friday, November 11, 2011

String Around My Finger, Poppy Over My Heart

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

When I was a little girl, attending my school’s Remembrance Day services, I wore my annual poppy with great pride but little understanding. I was happy for the peace of my beautiful Canada, and I was glad all the soldier-killing wars were far away and long, long gone.
They certainly seemed long gone. Surely, they’d never be necessary again.

Yesterday, decades later, I attended my school’s Remembrance Day ceremony, along with my students. I’m thankful my school chose to emphasize the solemnity and significance of the occasion. I’m glad my students seem much more aware of this day’s meaning, than I was at their age.
I’m sorry, though, for the reasons this day is so relevant to them.

In our day, in our time, Canadian soldiers – both men and women now – are once again travelling to dangerous places around the world, deliberately sacrificing family life, home comforts, and, potentially, their very lives, because of their commitment to keep peace for other people.
The Bible says, “Greater love has no one than this, that one should lay down his life for his friends.”

Our peacekeepers define “friends” very broadly. They consciously, intentionally lay their lives on the line for people whose names they don’t know, whose mother tongues they don’t speak, and whose political histories they’ll never fully understand.

During the two World Wars, Canadian men often joined the armed forces after being drafted. Most went willingly, but usually only after they’d been told to go.
In this decade, the Canadian government no longer requires peacekeepers to join the armed forces. What’s remarkable is that, driven by their own commitment to make the world a better place for others, they go anyway.

Today, with my heart and eyes full, I pause.
I remember.
I say, “Thank you!”
And when tomorrow comes, I pray I will remember then, too.
·         Reenie

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Two-Handed Praying

We’re all familiar with Jesus words: “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it.”

Yet, eventually, we all come up against the uncomfortable truth that God doesn’t always do what we ask Him to do.
When that happens, some of us get mad at God and stop talking to Him entirely. We figure we’ll teach Him a lesson by giving Him the silent treatment.

Others of us don’t walk away from Him entirely, but we do stop praying for things we want and need, and for Him to do anything in and through us. He’d likely say no, anyway, we think, because He seems to like giving us only hard things. So we keep walking alongside Him, but all communication has ceased.
Some of us want to keep praying, but we’re so confused by God’s methods that we play it safe. We pray only for things that are within the realm of our imaginations. We don’t ask for much...and we don’t get much in return.

I suggest we continue to pray... but to exercise two-handed praying.
With one open hand, we must continue to ask God for what we need... and want.

The Bible book of James says, “You don’t have because you don’t ask.”
Jesus summed up at least one of His parables with, “You should always pray, and not give up.”

The Bible also says, “Nothing is impossible with God.”
Only God knows (literally) the things He’d like to give us, or do in us, or in the lives of others...but He hasn’t – because we haven’t asked.

So we should pray for things we need and want, good things we want God to do. We must ask, ask big, and keep on asking.
With the other open hand, we pray in surrender.

Jesus also taught us to pray: “Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
Later, on His way to the cross, He begged His Father to let Him escape the agony ahead. But then, “Not My will but Yours be done.”

Yes, we must pray in surrender, letting God do what He wants and accepting that His ways are better and wiser than ours.
But we must not surrender without asking! Surrendering without asking is resignation, which quickly creates a cold, hard heart.

And we must also not ask without surrendering! Asking without surrender is acting like a spoiled child, demanding God give us everything we ask for, claiming we know best.
But when we pray with two hands, open hands, we ask great things from a good God...and we trust Him to do what’s best.

We see Him do amazing things in response to bold prayers.
We hear Him say “No” in ways we realize are the very best.

We also trust Him to be good, to give and to do good things.
And we trust Him to lovingly withhold what is not-the-best.

So let’s have no more one-handed praying.
No more closed or selfish hearts.

Two open hands.
Ask and surrender.

Watch and see what God will do.

-- Reenie
Thanks to JH for helping me clarify the points in this post.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

If You Don't Do It...

Three young women were asking each other,
"Do men like strong women... or meek women?"

The woman who introduced the question is capable. She's independent. She's strong.
And she's confident...about everything except her single status.

What she was really asking was:
"Should I change who I am, so that a man will like me?"

Her friends offered various perspectives, none of them providing much wisdom.

I wish I'd told those women they'd been trapped into believing a lie.

The lie is that we have to be a certain way,
we have to do certain things...
in order to be loved romantically,
in order to be married.

it's easy for us, ahem, older folks to tell young women they're wonderful and beautiful just as they are.
It's so obvious they don't need to be like anyone else.

But sometimes we who are older are not that much wiser.
We get stuck on the same lie, though usually in a different form.

Lots of us
-- old and young, male and female --
believe we have to "be" and "do" a certain way.

Otherwise, we think,
we won't be good enough to "win" a romantic relationship,
deserve a good career path,
or earn society's approval in general.

Sometimes, we think,
those who don't conform
don't even deserve to have good friends
or the love and blessing of their families.

But no matter how old we are,
how much experience we've gained,
no matter how wise we should be...
if we believe these things,
we've been trapped by the same lie.

The TRUTH is that God didn't make us to be all one way.
He didn't make us to squeeze into our society's mold,
or live up to anyone else's standard.

The God of the Universe planned for each of us to be unique,
and He wants us to stay that way.

Therefore, we shouldn't focus our thoughts on figuring out what the world tells us to be,
and becoming that.

We shouldn't make it our aim to be like our most popular friends
or our most ambitious co-workers.
And we certainly shouldn't try to be like the people on the magazine covers.

Our noble and lofty lifetime goal should be become the best person God made us to be.

Not always easy,
but perfectly simple.

If God made you to be the nurturer, the caregiver, in your family and circle of friends,
but you're always trying to be the entertainer...
who will do the caregiving?

If God made you to be the entertainer,
but you feel guilty for not being the caregiver...
who will do the entertaining?

If God made you to be a thinker who shares wisdom borne of experience,
but you get jealous because the entertainer gets all the attention...
who will pass along the wisdom you've learned?

If God made you to be an artist, the creator of large and messy projects,
but you spend your life longing to be an organizer whose house is always spic-and-span...
who will bring your creative beauty into the world?

And if God made you to be a teacher...
an organizer,
a courageous leader,
a change-maker,
an encourager,
a gentle supporter,
a coach and guide,
a fixer,
a builder,
a designer,
a friend with a listening ear...

but you waste your time and energy trying to be someone else...

who will do the job of being "you"?

YOU are precious and wonderful.
God designed you
and created you uniquely,
just as you are.

You're not perfect,
and you're not complete.

I'm not either.
That's why we need each other.

So, I beg of you...
let's become the best YOU and ME that we can be.

let's care,
and encourage,
and entertain,
and share wisdom,
and support,
and lead,
and repair,
and build,
and create,
and make a difference...

Let's, each of us, fill the one-of-a-kind shape God designed for us to fill.

Together we'll be complete.
Together, we'll do awesome things.
And, together, we'll be just about perfect.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Setting an Example

I went for lunch with my teenaged nephew BB the other day.
He chose a restaurant in downtown Calgary,
and I agreed only because it was a holiday,
and I thought it would be easy to find parking.

We found a space in a privately-owned lot,
and then I tackled the automated payment system.

I slipped in my credit card,
then waited for selections.
Eventually, it offered several,
and I punched "holiday rate", expecting to get a cheaper-than-usual hourly rate.
Instead, I was charged $12 for our intended two hours of parking.

I wasn't happy, but it seemed there was nothing we could do to change it.
We waited for the machine to produce the receipt.
And waited some more.

I was getting a little hot under the collar
when a parking company employee drove onto the lot.

I quickly made sure to tell him exactly what I thought of his system.
I didn't yell, and I didn't use any words my mother would disapprove of,
but my tone left no doubt that his system stank.

To his credit, he immediately left his car,
helped me re-navigate the system,
and pay a more reasonable rate --
only $6 for two hours.

I expressed my concern (same polite words; same unmistakable tone)
that the system would now charge my credit card twice... or even more.

But again, there was nothing else I could do.

As we walked to the restaurant,
I was still muttering fiercely in the same unmistakeable tone.

But BB,
my young 16-year-old nephew,
who had listened to his "mature" auntie complain up one side of that system and down the other and then start all over again --
BB responded to me with words that were gracious and patient.

I pointed my finger at him and said, "YOU are showing a much better attitude than I am."
But I returned to my complaining a couple times more.

BB expressed understanding of my frustration
but was always gracious.

As he continued to respond gently and quietly,
I finally said,
"Okay -- I'm going to stop complaining now."

And, strangely, when I stopped complaining,
my attitude about everything else improved, too.

A couple thousand years ago, Saint Paul advised his young protegee, Timothy:
Don't let anyone look down on you because you're young.
But be an example in life, in love, in faith and in purity!

I guess the lesson is still current.

Thanks for the example, BB!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Worst Thing About Teachers

The best thing about teachers is their humanity.

They have a remarkably personal ability to build a caring, one-on-one relationship with each individual student.

They can adapt the very same lesson to fit each student’s unique learning needs.

Teachers have an amazing capacity to give everything to their students
every single day.
Then, in evenings and on weekends, they keep giving more.

Teachers know their students’ feelings are fragile.
They also know their students need firm boundaries.
They can be gentle and tender-hearted one moment,
and no-nonsense firm two minutes later.

They’re always learning –
new strategies, new content and new insights about their students.

Teachers stretch themselves a little further,
give themselves a little more,
work a little harder
and persevere a little longer, 
hoping just a little more effort will make the difference for one of their students.

The worst thing about teachers is their humanity.

Teachers have a lot of patience...
but sometimes they run out.

They keep on giving...
but then they get exhausted.

Teachers take care of students, colleagues and parents...
but also need time to take care of themselves.

They’re always learning new ideas...
but there’s a lot they’ll never know. 

Teachers love each student...
but they have to work harder at loving some than others.

Teachers are professionals...
but they'll never be perfect.

Teachers' gift... and their that they're only human.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


In the midst of a conversation about unfulfilled dreams, my wise friend pointed out that one aspect of her life is nearly perfect. “I have such a great roommate,” she said. “And I admit God goes largely underthanked for that.”

Her cool, new word – underthanked – stuck in my head and didn’t let go. I, too, must admit God goes underthanked for many of my blessings.

I try to make a habit of saying, “I’m thankful.” Unfortunately, I usually follow it with a “BUT”.

As in, “I’m thankful I live in a large, world-class city... BUT commuting takes so much of my time!”

Or, “I’m thankful I’m healthy... BUT I wish I were slimmer.”

And, of course, “I’m thankful for my freedom as a single woman... BUT some things aren’t fun to do by myself.”’s the start of my new Thank-You-With-No-Buts list.

Thank You, God...
For giving me five terrific nieces and nephews, and for how they’ve changed my life.
For my solid family, and for my parents who’ve been married for 50 years.
For my friends who are so loving and loyal they dropped everything to take care of me when I needed it.
For all the educational opportunities I’ve had – and still have.
For the freedom and opportunity to travel – and safety when I do.
For giving me gifts and skills that I enjoy using – and for giving me enjoyable work.
For giving me very good health – and for allowing me to recover from illness.
For my own home, where I’m safe, warm and comfortable.
That I live in a country which has no war within its borders.
...where I, as a woman, have the same freedoms as men.
... where I can worship openly without fear of persecution.
... where I can trust the law to be mostly just.
... where I can vote... and make a difference.
... where I have excellent medical care available, at hardly any cost.
Thank You, God!

-- Reenie

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Plays Drums at Centre Street Church

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and teacher, is well-known for being executed by the Nazis for his role in a plot to assassinate Hitler. What is less well-known is that Dietrich was also a highly-skilled musician. In his large family, where everyone sang and played musical instruments, Dietrich’s siblings said he was the best pianist of them all.*

A young man who plays the drums at Centre Street Church, where I attend, resembles a young Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Like the Dietrich of 70 years ago, our drummer has a fair, round face and light-colored hair, and he wears round wire glasses. Whenever I see this young man on stage, I imagine for a moment Dietrich Bonhoeffer is playing drums in church today.

That makes me think of how church music has changed from 1930’s-40’s Germany to 21st century Canada. If Dietrich Bonhoeffer were expressing his worship through music in 2011, perhaps he’d be playing drums instead of the more traditional piano. Very likely, he’d be playing a much different musical style.
But some people, sincere Christ-followers, will be uncomfortable with that suggestion. The hymns used in the German church when Dietrich Bonhoeffer was alive, were worshipful and sacred, they feel. They have a hard time believing that the music sung in today’s Canadian churches is worshipful. After all, the music is so much faster and louder. The songs are less rhythmical, and many of them don’t even rhyme!

Let me assure you – I won’t claim that all of today’s church music is worshipful. But nor do I believe all traditional music is worshipful either.
Worshipfulness of music (if we can call it that) has nothing to do with volume, tempo, beat, or the era in which it was written. A song’s worship value depends solely on the truths contained in the lyrics.

To each generation, God has given a new way to worship Him through music. Thousands of years ago, the Psalmist said God had put a new song in his mouth. (Psalms 40:3). Today, God is still doing that for those He’s gifted to compose worship music.
Now we who are, well, older, or who have different musical preferences, don’t have to like the new music. We are, however, called to love the people who are making the music.

We are all members of the Body of Christ. At all ages, in many languages, and through the music of every generation, we worship Him together. And He is pleased.
*Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy; by Eric Metazas; published by Thomas Nelson.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

A young friend of mine shared good and surprising news with me today. For a few months, she’s been heavy-hearted about a major rift between mutual friends, friends who were once close and loved each other dearly. The good news is that the friends are taking steps to reconcile.

The surprising news, my friend said, is that God is using her to bring about the reconciliation. Her own family, she added softly, always called her “The Problem”. Whenever there was a family conflict, they said it was her fault, no matter what anyone else had done. With tears in her eyes, she said, “They call me the problem. But I’m actually the solution.”

At some point, all of us need to learn what my young friend is learning: not to believe everything we’re told about ourselves.

Most of us don’t have to think hard to remember a negative label someone -- parent, teacher, coach, friend -- has given us.
Lazy. Dumb. Procrastinator. Selfish. Uncooperative. Class Clown. Troublemaker. Rebellious. Delinquent. Unwanted. Loner. Loser. Nervous. Shy.
Any of us have probably acted in all of these ways at one time or another, but that doesn’t mean we will be that way forever. If someone else has been so ungracious as to call us that, we mustn't let their words define the way we choose to act now.

Some of us have also been given “positive” labels.
Smart. Pretty. Outgoing. Athlete. Good Worker. Artist. Funny. Energetic.
These labels seem nicer than the ones in the first list, but they can put unwanted pressure on us. They leave some of us feeling we must always be smart, outgoing, pretty or athletic, in order to be worthy of the title... or worthy at all.

The truth is, each of us is an assortment of desirable and not-so-desirable traits. None of us behaves in any particular way all of the time. When we accept that, we give ourselves – and others – room to grow, and we can become the unique and diverse people God planned for us to be.
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart."
--  From God to the Prophet Jeremiah.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Impact of Inscribe Christian Writers' Fellowship

In the summer of 2000, I received the Fall Conference brochure from Inscribe Christian Writers Fellowship. I looked longingly at it, for I’d been receiving it for several years, but had never been able to go. That summer, I felt the Lord was not only saying, "You may go," but "You must go.”

Phil Callaway, Linda Hall, and Janette Oke were the speakers that year. They were inspiring and challenging, and, 11 years later, I still remember much of what they said. But the weekend's greatest impact came after the conference, when I went for a walk with fellow conference-attenders, Jessie and Janet. They knew each other well, but I’d met them both that weekend.

As we walked, I chattered on about my life, and Jessie and Janet were polite listeners. I told them I’d been teaching Kindergarten in public school and writing Sunday School curriculum for my church. The church writing job was over, and I felt the Lord was directing me to do more writing, but I didn’t know what.
As I talked, it seemed Jessie gave Janet a “significant look”, but I thought she could just have turned her face to the side to catch her breath in that afternoon’s ferocious wind.

Then Jessie started talking. She’d written Sunday School curriculum several years before, she said, and had recently been asked by the same company to write on a new curriculum project. She’d told them “yes”, with two conditions: 1) she wanted to write for the Kindergarten to Grade One level. 2) she wanted to work with and mentor a younger writer.
Ah. It wasn’t my imagination that Jessie had been giving her friend significant looks. I’d taught the age level she wanted to write for. I had experience writing Sunday School curriculum. And I was looking for writing opportunities. Her prayers were being answered right before her eyes.

Jessie immediately invited me to join her in writing a sample try-out unit. She was excited, and I was pleased, but I was determined not to get my hopes up. I told myself, “Nothing will come of it.”
I’m very thankful I was wrong. Jessie and I wrote the sample unit and were hired to write for the project, with one small twist: Jessie decided I could write on my own. (A few years later, as we told someone else our story, she said, “It was a God-thing. Laureen didn’t need a mentor.” It seemed God had orchestrated it all just to bring me into the project.)

Over the next six years, I wrote eleven units of curriculum for that company. It was satisfying and challenging, frustrating and joy-giving. It taught me a lot, and, of course, made me a published author. And it all started by attending Inscribe’s Fall Conference.
This fall, I’ll attend the Fall Conference for the 12th year in a row. Not every experience has been as dramatic as the first one, but each conference has provided just the impact I needed at the time: A kick-in-the-pants to make time to write when I was letting the rest of life crowd it out. Encouragement to persevere when I felt discouraged and wanted to give up. Instruction, information, and direction from those who were further along the path. And, always, the fellowship of other writers who are working hard to use their gifts for God’s glory...just as I am.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced is the easy-to-read memoir of a remarkable little Yemeni girl, Nujood Ali, who was both married and divorced before she was 11 years old.

10-year-old Nujood had just started her second year of school when her father announced he’d accepted an acquaintance’s request to marry her.

“One less mouth to feed,” Nujood heard her father tell her mother. Besides, the 30-year-old husband had promised “not to touch” Nujood until she was older.

Yemen’s vague child-marriage laws permitted the marriage and their religion seemed to encourage it. Two weeks later, the men of both families got together and signed the papers.

Immediately, Nujood's husband broke his promise “not to touch” her, and he beat her every night to make her comply. She cried to his family for help, but her mother-in-law only told her son to beat Nujood harder.

The story might stay there – as it does for many child brides around the world.
But Nujood is no ordinary little girl. How she fought for – and won -- a divorce is astonishing and inspiring.

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced will open your eyes to the prevalence and horror of child marriages in so many parts of the world, but it will do more than that.
The courage of this one little girl, and the kindness and conviction of the adults who helped her, will also give you hope: when we perform simple acts of bravery and kindness for those who are vulnerable, we truly can change our world.
By Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui, published by Three Rivers Press, New York.

-- Reenie

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Principal's Award

My little friend, Todd, has autism. He’s overcome many autism-related challenges, but following directions and doing what an adult tells him to do are still very hard. And since school life consists chiefly of those two things, school has been a tough place for Todd.

From Kindergarten to Grade Four, Todd fought school every single day. He fought getting ready, getting into the van to ride to school, getting out of the van, and walking into class.

And every morning, as his parents got him into class and drove away to work, they wondered if they’d get another phone call from the school, telling them their son’s behaviour was once again out of control, and they had to come and pick him up now.
Teachers and support staff worked hard to help Todd, but it got worse, never better.

A year ago, when Todd finished elementary school, his parents feared middle school would be an even greater disaster.
As the school year began, their fears seemed justified. Todd resumed his daily going-to-school battles with intensity.

But his parents noticed that this school did things a little differently.
First of all, they narrowed their objectives for Todd to one – that he would enjoy school.

They also asked for, and listened to, Todd’s parents’ perspective on his challenges.
His parents noticed that this school treated kids with special needs like part of the student body, rather than an addition to it.

Over time, they saw the school staff try out lots of different strategies to help Todd, but if an idea didn’t work, they’d try something different. They didn’t give up.
They were grateful for the school’s approach – and amazed when Todd began to respond differently.

His going-to-school battles became less frequent and less intense. They received fewer calls from the school, telling them to pick him up early. Remarkably, Todd began to tell happy stories about school.
His parents and teachers had achieved their impossible goal. Todd liked school!

Fast forward eight months. In May, Todd’s parents were thrilled when his teacher gave Todd the monthly Grade 5 classroom award. She told how Todd would get up in class and dance, encouraging his classmates to dance with him. She spoke of the joy Todd gave to her and his classmates and expressed her gratitude that he was in her class.
Todd – giving joy to his classmates? Todd – a delight to his teacher? It seemed too good to be true.

Then, in June, at a school-wide award ceremony, Todd received an even greater honor -- The Principal’s Award – for making the greatest improvement in school.
It was like the fulfillment of a dream – a dream they hadn’t dared to imagine.

When I asked Todd what he’d done to earn the Principal’s Award, he said, “I had to wait in line.” His tone emphasized that this is hard work! When I pressed him for more, he said only, “I think we’re good.”
In a strange way, it seems appropriate that Todd has no real idea why he won the Principal’s Award. I believe he’s not the one who did most of the work.

The school staff who honoured Todd with the award should have been the ones to receive it. He only reaped the benefits of their commitment and determination, while they gave him the credit.
Since the beginning of time, that's what teachers have been doing.

Thank you, teachers! 

-- Reenie

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Let All The Children Come

If you’re a teacher or ministry leader who wants to include children with special needs without radically changing the program for everybody else, Let All the Children Come To Me: A Practical Guide to Including Children with Disabilities in Your Church Ministries is for you.

I was drawn by the book’s title and then hooked by the preface -- a retelling of each author’s personal connection to a child with special needs.

What brought me to devour the entire book, refer to it frequently and recommend it often, is that it’s quick-to-read, easy-to-follow, and loaded with practical information.

Each of the authors -- MaLesa Breeding, Dana Hood and Jerry Whitworth – is a specialist in the field, and could have written an important (but perhaps boring) reference book on the subject. Instead, their book presents inclusion in a way we can all understand, motivates us to work toward that goal, and gives us practical tools and strategies to accomplish it.

The authors are clear about their conviction that every child can learn, so it’s our duty to teach them. At the same time, they emphasize that “good teaching is good for everyone”. The best inclusion is inclusion that meets everyone’s learning needs.

The book’s tools include lists of strategies for encouraging positive behaviour, a chart of the strengths and learning styles of multiple intelligences (ways of being smart), and descriptions of the challenges faced by students with specific types of disabilities. There are many, many more – all as useful when teaching typically-developing children as when teaching children with special needs.

I strongly recommend this book, but with one small “disclaimer”. In contrast with the book’s overall tone of warmth and acceptance, there are a few places in which the authors use language that makes me wince.

For instance, in Jerry’s retelling of a Bible story (p.21), he describes leprosy as a “dreaded, ugly and usually contagious disease” and a “disgusting affliction”. We now know leprosy is not highly-contagious, and, more than that, I think he could have used words that are more appropriate than “disgusting” and “ugly”.
On another occasion, MaLesa says of a young lady with cerebral palsy, “Looking at Sarah is almost painful.” Here, too, she could have used more sensitive language.
These isolated, regrettable word choices contrast with the book’s prevailing message that every child is precious and we must allow “all the children to come” to a life of faith. One of my favorite passages says “The first duty of (the teacher of the child with special needs) is to look at her as a whole and complete child of God...She has as much to offer us as we have to offer her.”
With that, I wholeheartedly agree.
-- Reenie
(Let All the Children Come to Me: A Practical Guide to Including Children with Disabilities in Your Church Ministries; MaLesa Breeding, Dana Hood and Jerry Whitworth; NexGen, Cook Communications Ministries, Paris, Ontario, 2006)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ten Summer Tree
For the past ten years,
I’ve watched a slim young tree pass through the seasons
on the other side of my kitchen window.
It shades my house in summer,
drops yellow leaves in fall,
and stands silent through long Alberta winters.
When the world opens its eyes in spring,
my tree wakes up to produce tiny green buds.

Its neighbors quickly move into full-leafed glory,
but my tree gets stuck in the tiny-bud stage.

During the tree’s first few springs, I concluded, at this point, that the tree had died.
But, just when I’d given up,
the miniature buds would dramatically unfurl into a grand green canopy overnight.

This month... this week... today...
after a winter that was even longer than usual,
trees everywhere are waving leaves in celebration,
showing off pink and white and red blossoms,
and casting sweet, indefinable scents onto the air.

My tree has no blooms and casts no scents, sweet or otherwise.
Its bits of green are still tiny.

But, because of our years together,
I know my tree is growing and preparing.
It just doesn’t show off the work til it's complete.

As I wait for the morning when I’ll see the fruit of my tree’s hidden labor,
I feel my life is like my ten summer tree.

I’m in a year of professional limbo, accented by months of intriguing health issues.
It feels like winter –
all my leaves fell off months ago,
and I’m waiting, dormant, to see what life will bring out in spring.

I know my tree will soon explode into green for its tenth summer,
because I’ve seen it happen nine times before.

God has already guided and provided for me in many seasons,
so I trust Him to do it once again.

As long as my winter lasts,
through weeks of wondering and days of waiting,
I'll choose to trust Him.

I will trust that,
once again,
He'll show me a new path to take,
give me strength to do what needs to be done,
and use my life to offer good and beauty to the world.
-- Reenie

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Not Relationship Material?

People familiar with autism and Asperger Syndrome -- as well as those who aren't -- may enjoy a movie I watched recently.

The title character of Adam is a young man who lives alone in New York, and works as an electronic engineer.

A pretty young teacher-writer named Beth moves into Adam’s apartment building and begins to build a friendship with him -- at least, she wants to. Sometimes it seems he wants to be her friend, too. Most of the time, his actions make no sense.

When Adam tells her he has Asperger Syndrome, she tries to convince herself he’s “not relationship material”. Instead, when she researches AS, she understands a little better how she can relate to him.

And, as you’ve already guessed, Adam and Beth fall in love.

I enjoyed Adam’s sweet, surprising storyline.

Hugh Dancy does a convincing job of playing a man with AS – minimal eye contact, social awkwardness, a rigid adherence to rules and routines, and difficulty picking up social cues.

Beth, played by Rose Byrne, responds to Adam with compassion, along with a genuine desire for him to love her in return. Her gently persistent love for him is a comforting reminder that people who have AS can be deeply treasured by others, and can give care, encouragement and love in return.

I was encouraged by the movie’s messages that people who have AS can overcome social and emotional challenges, form mutually meaningful relationships, and make valued contributions through their work.

Adam will lovingly introduce many people to the challenges of living with Asperger Syndrome, although, unfortunately, some will then be falsely-confident they know everything there is to know about it.

I must also say that, as one expects from Hollywood, this movie doesn't support all of my relational values.

Nevertheless, Adam is worthwhile, heart-warming entertainment for anyone who applauds people who overcome every kind of challenge.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Truth Will Out

Four-and-a-half weeks ago,
when a mild headache suddenly exploded into head-clawing pain,
I called 911,
and earned an ambulance trip to the hospital.

It was the third time in my life,
all in less than a week,
that I’d experienced that kind of pain.

Calling 911 on myself,
and the ambulance ride --
those were brand new.

Both the male and female paramedics seemed competent,
and, as far as I could tell, they did all the “right things”.

But of all the medical professionals I’ve encountered in past weeks,
they weren’t exactly the kindest.
They were somewhat brusque,
dismissive of my pain and fear,
and surprisingly oblivious to the comfort it would have been to have a loved one near.

As we rocketed over bumps and potholes,
I lay writhing on that narrow bed
gripping the bedside as tightly as possible with my IV hand.
The first medications they administered did nothing to relieve the pain.
My eyes covered due to extreme light sensitivity,
I could see nothing but darkness.

When we’d started our trip,
I’d called out,
“Is anyone back here with me?”
The male medic told me he was,
but even with the assurance of his presence,
I felt alone and terrified.

A few moments later,
after carefully considering it,
I asked the medic if he would hold my hand.
He responded with some surprise,
“You want me to hold your hand?”

To his credit,
he took two of my fingers –
the only ones not occupied with IV and monitor and clutching the bed --
and grasped them in his glove-tipped ones.
Only for a second, though,
for he soon excused himself.
“I’m just trying to get some paperwork done.”

So I released my reluctant comforter to do his paperwork.

In due time,
he finished his paperwork,
his driving-partner delivered us safely to the hospital,
and they handed me over to the care of Emergency Room staff.

Days later,
when I was safe at home, recovering,
the memory of the hand-holding incident floated up to me.

I’d been in so much pain.
so distraught,
so desperate for comfort!

The memory of the paramedics' dismissive tone makes me ask myself:
how many times have I,
as I teacher,
dismissed a child's emotional needs
because I had to "get paperwork done"?

Now that I’ve returned to the classroom,
that question is with me every day.

At the same time,
the memory of that night brings laughter,
for it hints at something I thought was long-hidden:

Regardless of my claims that I’m an independent, single woman,
despite the fervency of my assurances
that I’m delightedly content with my single state --
I’ll go to extreme measures to have a man hold my hand. :)

-- Reenie

Monday, May 9, 2011

Words from the Wise

My friend, J, celebrated her 65th birthday last week.

The first 65 years of her life have included living with a spouse who had a long-undiagnosed mental health issue, and who then had a massive stroke that left him with severe disabilities and needing consant care.

About her husband's stroke, J said, "Someone said to me, 'What a tragedy,' but I said to her, 'I prefer to call it a challenge, rather than a tragedy. A tragedy looks back, but a challenge looks forward.' "

Then my brave friend mused, "When I look back, I think the most valuable things in my life were the hard times. Those were the things that enabled me to relate and bring comfort to other people when they're going through their own hard times."

Wise words from a courageous woman. I hope I can speak so boldly when I turn 65.

-- Reenie

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Invisible Mothers
A week from today,
     we’ll send sweet cards,
     make long-distance phone calls
     and buy bunches and bunches of flowers.

Many mothers will be honoured and praised and cheered.
They deserve every bit of that, and a whole lot more.

But there are women among us,
     also mothers,
     who won’t receive cards,
     or phone calls.

These women won’t receive praise or honor.
No one will rise and call them blessed.
They're invisible.

They are women who used to be mothers,
     but lost children -- to death, to marital break-up, to estrangement, to abduction.

They are women who gave their hearts and lives to raising children,
     but received only pain in return.

They are women who tried to become mothers,
     but were stymied by infertility, miscarriage, or failed adoption....or all three.

They are women who gave birth before they were ready to be mothers...
     and placed their children for adoption,
     so their child could have a mother...
     and another woman could have a child.

They are women who were unexpectedly pregnant and chose to abort their babies...
     and have carried guilt and sorrow every day since.

They are women who dreamed, expected, and longed to be married and have children,
     but for whom God had other plans.

They are women who quietly, lovingly, sacrificially mother other people’s children...
     and are called aunt,
     big sister,
     and friend
     but never ever “Mother”.

They are women all around us.

     We see them every day.
     We admire them.
     We laugh with them.
     We benefit from what they do.

But, somehow, on Mother’s Day,
     they slide into the shadows.

They are Invisible Mothers.

This Mother’s Day,
     let's pray God opens our eyes
     to see the longings, sorrows and sacrifices
     of all the mothers...
     even those who are invisible.

-- Reenie

Friday, April 29, 2011

I Don't Want to Forget

I’ve learned some fresh lessons over the past weeks of illness.

I’ve gained a clearer understanding
of how isolating and emotionally debilitating chronic pain is,
and have a new heart-deep empathy for my friends
who deal with invisible pain every day.

My eyes have been opened
to the speed with which sickness or injury
can squeeze a busy, independent, productive, out-going life
into an existence of uncertainty, frailty and fear.

I’ve been jolted alert to the reality
that much of what I usually consider essential-to-my-schedule
is so very, very non-essential.
And I've learned that rest is essential...
as well as wonderful.

I’ve learned that
the presence of God with me is real,
even, or perhaps especially,
when I'm too confused to think anything except,
“Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.”

I’ve realized over and over again
– as my friends and family members "dropped everything" to take care of me
--that those who say they love me,
really truly do.
And that I have friends with whom I can entrust my life.

three weeks since my illness began,
I'm cautiously hopeful that I’m starting to get better.
I believe I am getting better.
I fervently pray,
along with those who've prayed so fervently for me... 
that I'll soon be completely, fully well.

When I'm well once again,
when I'm strong,
when I'm productive,
and when the calendar events press in once again...
I'll celebrate my new gratitude for the simple gift of life.

And when I'm well,
when I'm celebrating life...

I pray I remember the lessons I learned in the darkness.

-- Reenie