Still Walking

It’s about time for a walking update for my figurative “Walk Across Canada”  It’s been a struggle to sit down and tally up all the kilometers lately with all the fun Springtime activities and the school year winding down and soccer practices and games going on.  We had such nice weather in May, hot and sunny.  It was like an Indian Summer in the Spring.  Then we got the usual rainy cool weather for the last bit of May and first half of June.  Crossing fingers that it warms up and the sun stops playing peekaboo and stays out for a while.

In my Walk I’ve reached Calgary, Alberta around May 10th or so.  In the last month I’ve walked just over 450 km.  So if I was hypothetically walking along the Trans-Canada Highway east from Calgary I would be about 5 kilometers shy of reaching Gull Lake Saskatchewan and not far from reaching Swift Current, SK.  (This flat land walking must be easier!)  CalgarytoGullLake,SK

I would have past through Brooks, Alberta and Medicine Hat, Alberta (not far from the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, which is unique in that it’s an area that wasn’t touched by the glaciers that covered much of Alberta and Saskatchewan.) and crossed over the provincial border south of the Great Sand Hills. (the second largest sand dunes in Saskatchewan next to the Athabasca Sand Dunes Provincial Park). One day I will go explore both areas and have some adventures.  But for now my goal is to get across Canada (figuratively of course).

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Looking up Gull Lake Saskatchewan I found that it is known for it’s wind turbine farms  now and back in the day it was the head quarters for the 76 Ranch, for which most of southwestern Saskatchewan can credit to for giving it a start. The 76 was a massive ranch that spanned tens of thousands of kilometers.  You can read about the history of that ranch here and here. Isn’t it neat how these little, modest, unpretentious towns can have such cool nuggets of interest when you dig beneath the surface?  You really can’t judge a “book by it’s cover.”

Which reminds me of  video I saw recently that floored me for that very same reason.  An unassuming, almost shy 13 year old girl on America’s Got Talent.  Give it a listen and she’ll knock your socks off!  I just can’t get over the sound that comes out of her mouth, it just doesn’t seem possible!

Sometimes the most unassuming, small and insignificant things in this world are actually the most fascinating and surprising under the surface.  You just need to be willing to set aside your prejudices and assumptions first.

Okay!

That’s all for today!

Enjoy your weekend!

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Bedtime Questions that Got Me Thinking 2

This is the second part of a thought direction I took after having a conversation with my son at bedtime.  You can read that conversation at the beginning of the original post here.

Direction 2: There is far more to Truth than just Facts.

Truth.

What is truth?

You can spend a lifetime trying to figure that out.

When I was a young child truth could be anything that I felt in my heart was real.

When I was a child I was told God loves me. For me at that time God was as real to me as my parents. I talked to Him like some people do an imaginary friend.

For my son, when he was little, his stuffed animal was real—and still is in many ways.

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As I grew older and went to school, my understanding of truth shifted to become whatever could be proven scientifically or with archeology. Truth was solid and tangible facts—it was objective.

Sticking with my example of my belief in God, because I had grown up believing God was real and loved me, I had to find a way to objectively prove my subjective beliefs (mind boggling I know). So I spent years and years of studying the Bible and books on Apologetics and how others proved what the Bible said to be true (A couple that come to mind are Evidence Demands a Verdict and the Case for Christ).  I was learning how to defend and prove the Bible and God within my belief system. I was quite excited about all that I was learning, and I’m sure, rather annoying to people as I informed them of all I now knew to be “true.”

Then I left home and started living and working on my own in various Christian and “secular” places. My peers and I called that, leaving “the Bubble”. As in, we were no longer protected from the influences of mainstream culture and whatever evils and sinfulness that were about lurking to ensnare us and pull us away from what is true”. I remember a sketch given to a group of us at youth group where I was told to stand on a table and try and pull someone else up onto the table. I was able to do it with some difficulty. Then someone was told to pull me off the table and they were able to do that rather quickly and with little extra effort. The leader explained the purpose of that sketch was show us that us Christians were on the ones on the table and the whole world would be trying to pull us off of it and it is much easier to pull someone off a table than to bring someone up onto it. We were advised to be extra careful and vigilant and to surround ourselves with people already up on the table. Oh boy! I think I took that to heart for a while. At least that Table image has stuck in my head for over twenty-five years.

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I was an innocent and naïve girl when I headed out into the big wide world, though with a strong sense of what I knew to be “true and right”. I was confident in my understanding of God is absolutely true and God loves me and all the Bible theology, facts and doctrines I had saturated myself with for over eighteen years.

Then a funny thing happened. What I understood to be true came under attack, and not all of it stood the test. Science started to prove some things in the Bible differently, or opened it up to suggestion and wasn’t as clear-cut as I had thought, and I had to change or adjust my beliefs.

I began to discover that there was so much more to truth than just being objective and factual—there is also subjective truth. At first I was afraid and reacted with fear to new ideas of thought. I would debate them into the ground, holding tight to what I believed or thought to be right and true—eyes squeezed tight shut.   I was not going to be shaken or pulled off table! Just because so and so said this, didn’t mean they were right! They were just haters. I was right! They were wrong! I knew what was true! They just didn’t have all the facts yet! I would endeavor to convince them! With eloquence and lots of knowledge, I would win them over to my way of thinking, and they would come to believe the truth. The truth would set them free! They would be saved!

Until one day I was dogmatically debating with someone over some bit of theology that I held to be absolutely true and right and was angry and exhausted, nearly in tears, vibrating with indignation and an urgency of concern for their eternal soul. I looked up and could see that she was in the exact same state—both of us clinging to our beliefs and what we held to be true and deeply hurt over not being understood.

She threw her hands up in complete and utter frustration, with tears streaming down her cheeks and said, “We can debate until we are dead on the ground and neither of us is going to change what we believe to be true.” And I felt a punch in the gut as I realized she was right. I wasn’t going to change my mind, no matter what she said. And neither was she. And our relationship was severely strained over this.

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I had spent most of my adult life trying to get people to see the truth of how I saw things to be true and realized after many years of dead ends and spoiled relationships that it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter one bit! It didn’t make a difference other than destroy my friendships, and creating walls and barriers between us.

So then what was I to do with what I believed to be true? How when I offered it to others it was damaging and created wide moats between us? Could what I believed be untrue after all? Or was my method of expressing what I believed to be the truth faulty? Did I need to rethink and come at things from a different angle or perspective?   Maybe there were parts of what I held to be true that were actually false? Maybe what was true for me wasn’t true for others? But then, if that’s the case, can it really be true at all? Can it only be true for some and not for others? If I believe in an absolute truth or a universal truth—one that stands for ALL of humanity, then doesn’t that mean what is true for me, MUST be true for others?

These questions have been rocking my world for years.

All I can say is that I’ve been on a journey—a long—sometimes painful—journey that is discovering (or maybe rediscovering) that things can be true beyond just facts in the physical reality.

The other night I was watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and I burst out into laughter because apparently Indiana knew this! In the movie he’s giving his students an introduction to his archeology class: Archaeology is the search for fact… not truth. If it’s truth you’re looking for, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall.”

I’ve often been gifted with the ability to see truth in metaphors or by pictures, in stories, and through fiction—truth that applies universally to us all as human beings. For a long time, while recovering from devastatingly painful experiences this is the only truth I could handle. I no longer cared about proof or facts; I needed something that gave meaning to my existence. I needed answers to the why. I was only able to glimpse truths from “the corner of my eye” so to speak—it was there but not easily pinned down.

Over the years I’ve come to understand that truth, whether you know it factually or meaningfully, needs to be lived out. It doesn’t matter how much truth you know if you aren’t living truthfully. I could debate with others till I was blue in the face, and it made no difference, changed nothing. Only truth lived out changes things.

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Jesus said, “I am the Truth, the Way and the Life.” (John 14:6) I’ve always wondered, how can a person be Truth? Not just true, but called Truth? Is this supposed to mean that his existence was true? Or that his reality is true? Or that his words are true? Or is it that he lived truthfully? I don’t have the answers by any stretch, but for me in this time of my life and my understanding, if I’m following Jesus and believe in what He said and did—that God is real, God is love, God loves you and God loves me, then I need to live into that truth—express that truth by growing in wisdom. Living in such a way that brings people together not split them apart, that shows them love and kindness and health. Living with an outgoing concern for another’s well being, without needing to be right, in control, or forcing them to conform to my way of thinking.

Sometimes this looks like being me being merciful even when someone is taking advantage of me. Sometimes it looks like me being firm yet kind by setting boundaries while maintaining both of our dignity.

Sometimes this looks like me not retaliating to insults and slander. Sometimes this looks like me standing up against cruelty or bullying—championing the weak and vulnerable in a way that is not violent or retaliatory.

Sometimes this looks like me not thinking I’m better than someone and pointing out their flaws and faults and where they’ve messed up. Sometimes this means me being courageous and standing up to say the hard thing that needs to be said because it will be beneficial for their growth and health.

Sometimes this looks like me being gracious and generous to someone who might not deserve it. Sometimes this looks like me accepting help when I need it myself.

Sometimes this looks like me changing my thinking about someone who I’ve always regarded as having brought about their own troubles (ei: drug addicts) or are simply living wrong or sinfully (ei: LGBTQ community). Sometimes this looks like speaking up on their behalf. Sometimes this looks like shutting up, remembering I don’t know it all, and listening without judgment or the need to assert my own opinions. (ei: racial matters)

Sometimes this looks like me giving up my rights, in order to benefit someone who might need a hand up in life—or make it safer for them without worrying about my own security (ei: refugees, or gun-control issues). Sometimes this means looking for solutions to big problems from completely different angles and perspectives that I naturally wouldn’t consider.

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I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the Apostle Paul, because I identify with some of his faith journey. He was a man who was brought up to believe passionately in God, had a midlife redirection from God, and came to see truth in a whole different light. The way he came to see truth after he met Jesus comes out in an impassioned poetical speech in his letter to the Corinthian Church. Look up 1 Corinthians 13 and you’ll see how he explains you can know everything and have it all right and yet be nothing (pointless) without love.   For him, Truth was a person and that person was Love.

While sitting that night on the kid’s bed with him talking on and on about how his friend saw things only one way and that her way was true and right, I saw myself in that little girl. I saw how I clung to a truth in a way that I understood it and wasn’t going to be shaken. I saw that I was no longer afraid of being pulled off “the Table”, that there was no Table to worry about. I saw how life experiences and wide variety of people and a greater education will shake you up, but that’s not a bad thing because it has brought me beyond those stages of limited personal truth, and rigid factual truth to a truth of wisdom—a way of living. And now I’m trying to figure that truth out—what it looks like to live it out. And I’m going to get it wrong and mess up and hopefully come to a greater understanding beyond what I know now.

So I said to the kid, “Just because it’s not in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s not true. (“Thanks mom! I’m going to tell her that tomorrow!”) “Wait hold on! But the Bible does tells us about someone who is Truth—who embodied truth and showed us how to live truthfully.” (“That would be Jesus, right mom?”) “Yes and the Spirit, kiddo.”

Then the kid had to go look up what embodied means. I’m sure he’ll find a way to use it in an alien/galaxies context that’ll impress his friends!

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Bedtime Questions that Got Me Thinking

The kid loves to talk to me at the very end of the day as he’s snuggling down under his comforter. It never fails, that he wants a heart-to-heart when I’m struggling to stay awake and just need to fall into my own bed. I’m done. Just done at that time of day. So rarely do I have the patience or the kindness to sit and let him ramble and spill out all the thoughts and concerns that fill his nine-year old brain (Trust me, there’s a lot of them!) Though the none-sleepy part of me delights in his wild and wonderful imaginings and creative understandings of how he thinks the world works and how culture works and how people relate. Oh how I wish my mind wasn’t constrained by time and this feeble physical body of mine!

The other night he was fairly vibrating off the bed as he had had an intense debate with neighborhood friend a year older than him and who happens to go to the same church as us. Apparently they got into quite the argument over whether there are aliens in different worlds (of which my son is quite adamant that there must be life besides us and his friend is quite certain that there is not and Earth is the only place to sustain life because God created only us.) My son found that every time he would try to have his friend consider an idea to be a possibility, the other kid would respond with Bible verses to show that it couldn’t possibly be true because it didn’t say anything about it in the Bible.Hummingbird

At bedtime my son was telling me all about this and finally blurted out with great frustration, “Just cuz it doesn’t say it in the Bible doesn’t mean it can’t be true. Like the Bible never says that God created planets and galaxies and yet we know there are galaxies out there! Yet she won’t even consider that there might be things we don’t know that exist out there just because it doesn’t talk about them in the Bible! She just keeps saying it’s not true! But how can she know for sure?”

I was floored, partially by how he’s already getting into such deep thoughts and discussions with his friends and also how he’s so much further ahead of where I was at that age in thinking outside of the Box, or the Bible. He debates his peers like his dad debates me with me—with great exuberance—challenging their points of views with radical ideas and coming at things from a different angle. His friends have come up to me and asked me how he happens to know so much about so many things. (Uh, YouTube?) I’m thrilled to hear that he likes to learn things and share his findings with his friends—though of course he’s still at a tender age and misunderstands or misrepresents some things and has a ton of learning yet to do, which is quickly obvious to an educated adult. (And he’s just as stubborn to cling to his own ideas even when presented with evidence to the contrary—just like his friend)

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This little conversation caused my thoughts to spin off in a couple of directions and I’ve been spending the last week trying to figure out how to write these thoughts into one blog post. I don’t think I can, so I’ve separated it into two sections that will be in two different posts but are connected to the root of this conversation I had with my son at bedtime: 

Direction 1: (Using Ignorance to Keep People under Control)

I thought how education is so very important, and how lucky our kids are to have an education! Recently I was given a draft of a book to read about a man who was born a slave and grew up as a slave in America and eventually escaped to freedom in Canada. This book is titled The Road to Dawn: Josiah Hensen and the Story that Sparked the Civil War and is written by Jared A. Brock and should be available to read soon. It’s a book that gives a deep probing look into slavery in America prior to the Civil War, by following the story of one man—Josiah Hensen—who was in part the inspiration of the character Uncle Tom, in Harriet Beecher Stow’s infamous and controversial novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, though which many Americans of the time were first given an emotional picture of what slavery looked like. This picture of cruelty to human beings kindled strong anti-slavery sentiments within them, which in turned caused them to cry out for change. This book by Harriet Beecher Stow is considered one of the straws that “broke the camel’s back” for causing the Civil War. It also continues to be a controversial thorn for many Americans to this day. (I must confess that I have never wanted to read it because of the negative reviews I’ve heard over the years, yet now I’m intrigued, especially since I’ve been informed of the back story and the motivation that Harriet had for writing it. She is a woman of valor and to be highly commended.)

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While I was reading The Road to Dawn, there was a section that talked about how slave owners would do certain things in order to keep their slaves under their thumb, both physically and psychologically. One of the biggest ways to exert control over their slaves (who weren’t considered—legally—at that time, fully human beings, only partially human, like three-fifths or something crazy like that) was to keep them as ignorant as possible. This didn’t just mean not letting them go to school so that they could learn to read, this meant right down to the nitty-gritty of knowing who they were as an individual.

“Slave owners discouraged the recording of the birthdates of the slaves, because one of the most effective tools of slave oppression was ignorance. A slave with knowledge of the wider world is a slave who can cause problems. A slave with a memory of the past and vision of the future is dangerous.” (Jared A. Brock “The Road to Dawn”, emphasis mine)

This struck me. We’ve all heard the saying, “Knowledge is power.”

Therefore, it seems, one way to stay in power is to nurture ignorance in those you want to be underneath you. Sometimes this is so subtly done, other times it’s more out in the open—and yet often goes unchallenged by the masses. (Why?)

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I have read many other accounts of people or nations keeping knowledge accessible only to a small group, and inaccessible to the majority as a way to stay in power and control. One book I recently read that demonstrates this happening in my own country is the Canada Reads Winner for 2018 “Forgiveness” by Mark Sakamoto, with the Japanese people during WWII. It’s an excellent and compelling read that clearly shows how people can use ignorance and fear to get their way.

There are so many examples of this happening throughout history and in our day and age! One striking account that I vividly remember reading about is the story of Malala Yousafzai, the girl in Pakistan who was shot in the head because she was a girl going to school and refused to stop. She survived (miraculously) and works to this day to bring knowledge and awareness of how women and girls around the world are being barred from an education. In her country, women were not to be educated. In many countries around the world this is a common thing—women are not allowed to learn beyond the basics of housekeeping. They are kept in ignorance on purpose! This makes me so angry!

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I am so thankful that I live in a country that provides and encourages girls to go to school, because I certainly love to learn—especially through reading! I have been greatly enriched and broadened in my life by books. I have lived a very privileged and comfortable life, and so cannot confess to know what it feels like to be oppressed and denied basic human rights. Yet this thought of keeping people in ignorance in order to control them made me think of the church culture I grew up in and how there can be a subtle but powerful control being exerted on people’s thoughts.

Let me give a little personal historical context here: I grew up in a small western Canadian town in the middle of the prairies. This town happened to have a large well-known Bible School Campus in which my family was heavily involved. (Side note: You’ve heard of PKs—preacher’s kids—and MKs—missionary kids—well I’m a BS kid—Bible School kid—we were called “Peebs” by the “Townies” which was phonetically saying our school’s acronym of PBS) It was a largely religious community, with a sizeable percentage of the people not just involved with the Bible College, but also in the surrounding area—professing and highly active Christians.

My town was clearly divided into the North and the South. The Christian-side and the Non-Christian side. There was Us and then there was Them. I grew up with clear, defined divisions of people based on spiritual beliefs.  We knew the Truth and they didn’t.

Growing up, it just was what I knew; the Bible was threaded into every conversation and dictated every thought, action and deed. Everything we did and said revolved around the Bible and church. I went from Kindergarten to Grade Twelve in a private Christian school and had a strong “biblical” education, with a decidedly creation-based approach to everything scientific. I was strongly encouraged to read only books by certain authors who came at things from a Protestant Christian perspective.

Everything in life was approached through the lens of the Bible. My perspective was strongly: I follow the Bible and only the Bible and the Bible is the Word of God—inspired and infallible and absolutely true. Which basically meant that it couldn’t be wrong or have mistakes. (???) So I grew up learning to defend the “Truth”. I was armed with the Sword of Truth and the Shield of Faith.

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But I love to learn! And I love to ask questions! My dad says that I would follow him around and ask questions non-stop from the time I learned to talk. Questions, questions, questions! All the time, everywhere, about everything. And I’m not content with platitudes, or half answers, or small answers, or just the facts. I want to know beyond just the Whats and the Wheres and the Hows, I want to know the Whys? And Why answers are often convoluted, there might just be a thousand of them!

As I grew up I could no longer be content with just being told this is the only way to read and interpret the Bible. It was implied that the tradition I grew up in was the only true and pure perspective. However, as I matured, I accumulated more knowledge and experienced a broader selection of cultures, lifestyles, faiths and I realized that I had been kept in a state of ignorance that the church culture I was raised in maintained through fear tactics. Such as: “We’ve taught you what is true and right and if you believe anything or anybody else, you will be wrong (and go to Hell).” Or, “We believe the Bible is God’s inspired Word and anybody who believes differently is misguided and baseless.” Or, “If you dabble in anything other than the Bible, you will be deceived by the world, it will suck you in, and you will end up in hell.” Or “Jesus is the only way to God (which in actuality means, “OUR” WAY, the way we think and believe is Jesus’ way), so if you go any other way, (go against OUR WAY) you won’t get to God and you’ll end up in hell burning for eternity. Pretty much everything came back to ending up in hell! Fear 101 of the church culture I was raised in. (But why? I would ask. “It doesn’t make sense . . . if you take this verse and that verse . . . it doesn’t add up. See that’s the problem with too much Bible verse memorization! You become far too educated for most people’s liking.)

Remember that childhood song? “Oh be careful little eyes what you see”. There was very much a strong censure on what was acceptable material to put before my eyes.

I was steered to books that confirmed my denomination’s way of thinking.   Books in the library had blacked out sections of what was considered radical or worldly thinking. (And OMG “swear” words like Gosh and Golly). And if I mentioned a book that was by an author that didn’t believe the “right” or “true” way, eyebrows were raised and I was pulled aside and strongly cautioned to not read anything by that author, because they were known to be heretical in their thinking, and I might be persuaded to let go of the truth and follow their wrong ideas and end up off the straight and narrow path that leads to righteousness and heaven.

As well, I was encouraged to stay away from certain people or areas of town, because I might I fall under “worldly” influences. I was advised not to attend certain denominations of churches because they didn’t teach the Bible truthfully, had women pastors (“So unbiblical!” insert sarcasm), let just “anybody” take communion, and or (gasp!) baptized infants. I was cautioned against engaging in conversations with people of different faiths or religions but if I did, to know my Bible inside out and have it close at hand. I was schooled in how to lead people through the “Romans Road” gospel message and given “practice” opportunities by taking a bus to the nearest big city to hand out gospel tracts to street people, so they could be educated in how to be saved (the right way) from their sinfulness and go to heaven. (Oh how earnest I was!)

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I still see shades (some strong and some more subtle) of this happening in the Christian culture around me today—a heavy coaching on how the Bible must be read and understood and what to steer clear of. To be “in the world” but not “of the world” is a mantra I hear often. Yet it still seems that the church tries to dictate what is acceptable or not acceptable for Christians to think.

Another way I see this happening is with men being taught that they are the “Head of their wives”. Now I’m not going to get into a debate over this teaching here, but I hear so many Christian men using this reason to shut down their wives and not allow them to think for themselves. They control what they read or refuse to consider ideas they wish to explore—basically treating their wives like uneducated, ignorant children. Often the excuse I hear is that they are worried their wives will be swayed to think differently, as in believe what isn’t the true way. This is so subtly done, that I’m pretty sure most men don’t even realize they are doing this, because this is what they’ve been raised to do by the church. This is happening in a country that is educated!  It’s all so very insidious!

Even now I’m questioned by well-meaning Christians for my choices of what I read because they are worried for my soul, or that I’m being drawn into sin. Maybe their worry is that it will tear me away from God or that I won’t trust in Jesus and that I will no longer go to heaven when I die? Seriously?!

I wonder though if it is more likely that they have an underlining fear that I will stop seeing things the way they do, which will makes things uncomfortable for them, because then they might have to consider their own beliefs.

So I ask:

Can anything thinkable or unthinkable drive a wedge between me and Christ’s love?

Can expanding my knowledge in different ways of thought or view things from other perspectives ever be a bad thing?

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I have found the more I read from differing perspectives and learn about other cultures and approaches in the Christian faith and outside of it the exact opposite of what these well-meaning Christians fear is happening in my life, in that a greater compassion and empathy has been nurtured in my heart for God and His vision. The more I know, the less disillusioned I’ve become and the more hopeful I am. And this hopefulness is drawing me closer to the heart of Jesus.  And of course, the more I know, the more I realize I didn’t know, and still have more to know.  The learning never ends!

My hope and prayer is that we in the church will not continue to promote ignorance or fear by avoiding differing thoughts, or cultures, or voices, but that we will welcome new fresh perspectives that challenge stagnate ways of thinking. That the unnecessary and inconsequential will be stripped away and the vital remain unencumbered.

My prayer is that we will not continue to use our influence or power to keep others in the church in ignorance as a way to force them to conform to our way of thinking. My prayer is that we will not let fear of “others” and “different” keep us divided, but let go of it to find new and fresh ideas and better ways to create unity and peace in our communities.

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Who Moves Me? The Valorous Lisa Penninga

It’s been a whole month since I last posted stats for my Figurative “Walk Across Canada” so I thought I’d better get on that!

I’ve walked 344.61 km in the last four weeks (1529.74 km to date). It’s spring, so not only am I walking, I’ve added cycling into my days. But I’m not counting my cycling kilometers for this, though part of me is tempted, because my walking kilometers have stayed fairly consistent with my wintertime kilometers, even though I’m being more active.

As I’ve noted in previous posts, I’ve passed by Jasper, AB and will now being tallying my kilometers from there instead of Prince Rupert. From Jasper I decided to walk down the Icefield Parkway towards Banff, passing by the Columbian Icefields. It’s 288 Km from Jasper to Banff. So I reached Banff about 2 weeks ago.

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It’s another 125 km to Calgary. So from Banff I would have headed east through Canmore and out of the mountains and foothills towards Calgary along the TransCanada Highway. By now I would have reached Calgary having walked a total of 434.74 km from Jasper.JaspertoCalgary copyNeat! I’m back in my home province and it’s only taken me about 4 months of walking at an average of 12 kilometers a day (that’s about half the kilometers a day I need to be walking to make it across this country in a year.) I should just quit doing everything else in my day and concentrate on walking more! My dogs might love it, but I think my human family might not.

Okay enough of this technical stuff.  I’ve decided it’s time I write about another person who moves me–physically and emotionally.

Who inspires me to keep walking on the days I just want to curl up on a couch and be a potato?

Who moves me?

A tenacious, lionhearted, fiercely beautiful woman in Alberta does! Her name? Lisa Penninga. I met Lisa years ago on a random camping trip. I had been invited by a friend to join a group of moms and their kids at the Kootenay Plains Calvacade Campground west of Nordegg, AB for a weekend of camping. I didn’t know most of the people there and felt a little out of place. That evening after the kid was tucked in his bed in the tent, instead of sitting around the campfire socializing, I decided to explore the area and go for a hike. Lisa joined me. We hit it off immediately! Soulmates when it comes to being out in the wilderness! That hike instigated a sort of friendship that we’ve managed to hang on to even though we don’t see each other face to face very often. We’ve met up now and again over the years since, but mostly spin in our own circles, with Facebook keeping us in touch.

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Since I first met Lisa, she and her whole family have been rocked hard. Shaken down to bedrock. First Lisa was diagnosed with a type of arthritis (Psoriatic Arthritis with the Spondylitis Component to be exact) that strongly inhibited her active lifestyle. I don’t fully understand what it’s like to function with a debilitating disease like arthritis, but I can imagine. Thankfully she has used social media and blog posts to inform me what it’s like to have arthritis in a “young” body and to be a mom with a crippling disease of the joints that requires being on drugs and steroids in order to function and which in turn compromise her immune system. It’s so not good to be a mom with kids and a compromised immune system! Not good at all! My heart aches for her!

Then her young active daughter McKinley, came down with the disease as well—when she was only nine! Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis was a diagnosis, but I’m sure they are still trying to figure it all out and trying to get a handle on it. (Recently I heard that she’s taken a mighty turn for the worse and is really struggling.) Really not good news! Absolutely no fun at all for an active kid! Now there are two people struggling in the family with a crippling and draining disease.

More awful and sad things have happened to this sweet family in the past couple of years, but I won’t get into that right now. Please, if you are the praying type, I know they would appreciate all of your prayers on their behalf. Trust me. Those prayers are a lifeline for them!

Lisa is a warrior! A beautiful, tenacious, valorous woman! A true Lionheart! She fights day and night for her families health and advocating for children and others that struggle daily in life like them.

Last year, she promoted tirelessly the Walk for Arthritis to start up in Red Deer, AB and to have people come out and join her family to raise money for the Arthritis Society. I responded to her call because I may not be able to help or do much in life, but I can walk. And that day was greatly encouraging for me and for my son (who had his eyes opened to the hurts of others), and for everyone who was involved.

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Waiting with the kid for the Walk for Arthritis to start
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Walking with Lisa

In large part, her story and her pain motivate me to keep walking. Some days, I dread going outside and walking—usually because the weather is bad, or my body is tired, or I’m just so sick of doing it. Yet, I rise and I go. I walk, because at some point on that walk I will think of Lisa and her daughter and how they love to run, to hike, to play sports, to cross-country ski and yet often can’t. For them it’s not a matter of mind over body. For them their bodies give them no choice. More days than not they will struggle just to get out of bed and go down the hallway to the bathroom, or require assistance like braces, tensor bandages, canes or crutches, wheelchairs, and drugs and steroids to just be able to do what I can do easily and naturally, without having to think about it.

So who moves me? Lisa does.

Lisa, who gets up and keeps on moving even when her joints are swollen and on fire.

Lisa, who courageously advocates for her family’s health and well-being.

Lisa, who still plays hard on her “good days” and keeps on moving despite the pain.

Lisa, who clings devotedly to God and places her trust in Him, even when the worst continues to happen.

Lisa who finds joy and hope, even amongst the ashes of broken dreams and plans.

Lisa, who continues to humbly accept help and support, when everything inside her, wishes she could be the one giving the help instead of always needing it.

Today as I walk each step is a prayer for you Lisa, and all those others who cannot.

So I strongly encourage whoever is reading this:

If you can walk, get out and WALK.

Smile. Breathe. Move.

Give thanks! You can walk! How wonderful!

Pray for those who can’t.

Join a Walk for Arthritis happening in the coming months near you.

Or sponsor someone who is doing the Walk near you.

In fact you can sponsor Lisa herself if you click here.

You can also read some of her story on her own blog here.

Tell me about someone who moves you, I would love to hear!

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Tending My Garden

Yesterday dawned sunny and clear, a rarity here in the coastal mountains, and I had the urge to tidy up the flowerbeds around my house. It’s spring after all and about time for a thorough cleaning. We moved to this house near the end of last August and I was impressed with amount of thought and care that had gone into making the raised perennial flowerbeds that surrounded the house.   However the yard has sat untouched over a full year now, and it’s all overrun into a tangled, over-grown mess and needs serious attention!

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I’m a bit overwhelmed. It needs a whole lot of TLC! Every single flowerbed needs to be thoroughly reworked. And there are a lot of beds! Trees have died and need dug out. Cedar shrubs, maple trees and perennial bushes need heavy pruning. And the tall German Iris’ have taken over everything in sight—their roots a heavy dense mat that is hard to dent with a shovel.

I’ve been digging and hacking, cutting and tearing, sweeping and raking for days and now I’ve one large flowerbed mostly fixed back up; though I’m sure as things grow I will discover what I missed and what needs attention in the future. I’m uncovering flat stone pathways that have been grown over and cute little markers. I can see that the original gardener had tended this garden with loving creativity and great enthusiasm. I hope I can do her work justice. I’m no gardening expert, but am relying on advice and information I’ve gleaned over the years.

I’ve learned to not be shy with the clippers. Some of the trees needed a heavy pruning and now look a bit sad and ugly. However the hope is that in a few years the harsh cutting-back will bring forth new growth that is sorely needed—often in areas that were thin and sparse. Like my grandpa always said, “if the top of a tree is growing too fast or thin and tall, cut it off and it will force the bottom to grow out more dense and full.”

This reminds me of another Gardener who talked of a pruning that needs to happen, to cut off the dead and diseased wood to encourage new growth and fruitfulness, but I think He was referring more to people and their spiritual lives.

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As I was digging and sifting out roots and throwing stray earthworms back into the soil, I thought of how much of my faith journey has been like this lately—a sifting and sorting; a slow, dirty, messy and often painful process. The garden of my soul, overgrown and out-of-control, desperately needing a caring and diligent hand to put it back in order. Some spots might need a complete overhaul and new stuff planted in place of the old. Sometimes there just needs to be a dividing, loosening or trimming, with an addition of fresh soil and fertilizer bring about new growth and vitality. Healthy prolific blooms and fruitfulness is the goal.

It won’t look the same as it did originally—both the garden and the landscape of my soul. Of course it won’t! First it was hacked out of untamed wilderness and given boundaries, a shape and a plan. Back then it was all neat and orderly, small and contained. But then it will have grown and expanded, filling in the empty spaces, becoming fuller and richer. All of the trees and shrubs will be much bigger and more mature—hopefully like I’ve grown in wisdom, and expanded in my skills, knowledge and experiences. Some trees and bushes will have died and need to be removed completely—like certain habits, and ways of thought as well as some understandings of God need to be eliminated. Some plants will have thrived—to the point of taking over and crowding out the weaker ones. Yes the garden (and us) will never be the same as it was in the beginning—but with proper attention and guidance it can be so much better!

So often I hear people saying they want to return to how it was before. You know, the before I’m talking about? Like back when—before your eyes were opened and ignorance is no longer bliss. Before calamity, or devastation, or heartache befell you. Back when things made sense and were simple and fresh and neat. It’s like we think BEFORE is ultimately the ideal state to be in and we just need to get back to that. If we could only return to how it was before . . . and stay there, we say with great longing, and look back with rosey-coloured glasses, forgetful in our nostalgia. It was better back in the old days.

 

And yet, I wonder, should we be always aspiring to return to before?

I was reading in Genesis that in the beginning the earth was brand-new. It was immature and wild, naïve and raw, and needed nurturing, subduing and tending. So God made a garden and put humans in it and told them to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28) This makes me think the Garden was just a safe place to “practice” with the intention of eventually going out into the whole wide world and create order out of the disorderly.

I thought of how many times I’ve heard people say that we just need to return to how it was in the Beginning! But I think they’ve missed the point. The point wasn’t to stay within the Garden’s boundaries, but to expand beyond—to become master gardeners of the whole earth. But instead of staying and apprenticing under the Master Gardener, rebellion happened. Now knowledge and wisdom is learned the hard way, through mistakes and failures, pain and suffering, heartache and dying.

I don’t believe God’s intention has ever changed to create a beautiful and bountiful garden out of this whole entire world. I have a great hope that He is redeeming even now this over-grown tangled up, horribly matted mess that we’ve made of it. I also believe He still wants to train us to garden alongside Him—to teach how to bring about order and abundance and fruitfulness.

But we need to understand that the work will be hard and unending—care and attention will always be needed. For gardens never cease growing and changing. There is never a time when a garden is finished or reaches a static perfect state, and the work will finally be over.

As I tended my garden today, I realized the work will never be done, but eventually it will become easier and more satisfying. With diligent care and attention it will flourish and be a place to not just to labour in but also to enjoy; a place to play in and rest in and delight in. And it will be far better than it was in the beginning!

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Walking and How To SAVE ____

Well I’ve been procrastinating in posting my latest stats for my hypothetical Walk Across Canada.  My life has been busy lately.  The sister and her family drove out from Alberta to celebrate Easter with us.  They stayed eight days and filled my house with lots of noise!  Happy laughter, exciting squeals, mad shrieks, sleepy whines.  It’s lovely and tiring all at the same time, to go from a quiet existence to a tumultuous one.  I was sad to see them go.

Now on for my stats.  Since the last time I posted back on March 15, I’ve walked 342.43 km at an average pace of 6.25 km an hour. My total to date is 1185.13 km. So if I was hypothetically walking east from Prince Rupert along Highway 16 towards the Alberta border, I would have reached Jasper early this week.  I would have passed through the scenic Robson valley and the small town of McBride, BC (which if I could only find a reason to live there I would, as it appeals greatly to me with it’s open valley bottom rimmed with lofty mountains on either side––perfect for a small ranch with horses and chickens and garden!)  To learn more about McBride click here!

PRtoJasperI would have walked through some of the most gorgeous mountain scenery in Canada (in my opinion).  It’s not as well know of course as Jasper and Banff, Alberta, but I find the Robson Valley and Mount Robson quite spectacular.  Last summer I stopped on my drive out for a quick hike into Overlander Falls near the Mount Robson Campground.  I plan on exploring the area more when I get the opportunity.  I would love to do a few more longer hikes into the back-country.

Eventually I would have crossed over the provincial border into Alberta, the province of my birthplace and what I consider my home province.  I’m a prairie girl through and through, but mountains are my second home.  Closer and closer to Jasper I would see great swaths of normally green forest now a browny-orangey-red of dying pine trees.  Evidence of the pine beetle wrecking havoc.  It’s sad to see.  Other patches show places where forest fire has ripped through.  The highway is tighter here and the valleys narrower and deeper as the mountains walls rise up steeply.  Ponds and lakes glitter brilliant aquamarine and rivers foam white as they tumble over rocks and boulders.

Jasper is smaller than Banff and a little more isolated.  But I find it busy and crowded.  Too many tourists for me.  I have enjoyed stays in the off season, but haven’t had much opportunity to explore in the summer.  I’ve explored Malign Canyon in -30, enjoying the spectacular ice falls.  Malign River starts at Medicine Lake and flows through a limestone network of underground streams to come out in Malign Canyon. I was intrigued to hear that scientific experiments have been done and they discovered that water disappears into underground channels and has reappeared in far off lakes one of which was Pine Lake (near where I grew up in Central Alberta) which is a heck of a long ways away.  Apparently there is a whole network of underground rivers and what not that extends hundred of thousands of miles around. JaspertoBanff

I’ve decided on my figurative walk that I would turn south towards Banff and travel along the Icefield Parkway through some of the most iconic and scenic National Parks of Canada.  Jasper is 1095 km from Prince Rupert.  I’ll start charting my way from Jasper, AB now.  From Japser I’ve walked 90.13 km.  I will have passed by Athabasca Falls (one of the most well-know waterfalls in the park and very impressive despite not being very tall) after 32 km.  Sunwapta Falls at 56 km and would be 8 km short of reaching the Glacier Skywalk in the Columbian Icefields which holds the largest expanses of ice south of the Arctic Circle.

Last summer I drove past the Skywalk a couple times and considered stopping and trying it out, but for the mad amount of tourists there and the fact that I wanted to keep driving. The glaciers can be visited in the summer and one can go on tours that takes you up on them in glacier buggies with massive tires.  The great sheets of ice are impressive even though they are shrinking. Scientists are trying to figure out how to stop or slow down the shrinking rate of the glaciers. Which reminds me of what my son was up to this week.

My son this week has turned activist.  His mission is to save endangered animals.  He and his friends have been reading up on animals that are in peril of going extinct and they have spent hours drawing posters and coming up with a group name.  They decided on S.E.A.  (Which stands for Save Endangered Animals, of course)  Their poster features a few animal drawings and a blurb about why they are endangered.  It also says to contact them for more information on how they can help save these animals.

So I asked him what he’s going to tell these people when they contacted him.  He didn’t know what he was going to tell them exactly, he just knew that he needed to do something––anything.  “Raise money or something, mom.  They can give money and we can save them.”

I thought about how our children are learning to “save” things by giving money.  It seems to be the go-to thing.  Give money to Save Animals, Cure Cancer, Fix Climate Change, Stop Poverty and Bring about World Peace. More money, more solutions right?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

I showed him a site that is marketing BEE Earrings that will SAVE THE BEES.  I looked everywhere on their website to see where and how that money they say they will use to save the bees is going to be used. I couldn’t find anything.  I wonder if it’s just a ploy.  Preying on people’s sympathies. He was very upset that people would take advantage.  I asked him how he could do differently with his SEA program.

He had to do some hard thinking and decided he needed to do his research and background work first.  That deflated him a bit and I wondered if I was doing the right thing by pressing him.  I asked him, what we could do to save the bees without giving money to buy unnecessary trinkets.  His ideas centered mainly on lifestyle change (drastic ones of course because that’s how kids think), such as getting rid of our vehicles and stop using pesticides and the like.  He was totally willing to do it!  Now he just needed everyone else to do it too.  I personally don’t want to give up my vehicle, I’m kind of attached.

Change how we live is hard to do.  Especially when it requires us to be unselfish and to make sacrifices.  We would far rather give money than change our lifestyles. And because there are so many many worthwhile and necessary causes out there in this world, it becomes rather overwhelming to know even where to start when it comes to changing our lifestyle.

In trying to teach my son.  I realize I’m teaching myself.  Some thoughts we discussed in how to help save endangered animals (which can apply to many other things such as missions or humanitarian aid or curing diseases) are:

Pick one that’s close to you, or that you are passionate about. (Closest to home is sometimes the easiest to get yourself physically involved with, my son decided to focus on the Vancouver Island Marmot)

Educated yourself, read up on what you would like to help or “save”.

Research how others are going about saving these animals.  And then do your homework to see which one is actually making a difference.

See if there are practical changes you can make in your lifestyle that will help.

Raise awareness among your peers––by not shaming or pointing fingers (this is what he decided his posters and S.E.A. group would be about, bringing attention that there are endangered animals, to his friends and schoolmates).

Bring it to the attention of your community or government, if possible.

Only then, give money when it’s going to places it will be effective. (which means do your research on the groups or organizations).

Sometimes, a cause or need arises and you feel strongly you need to give too or lift a hand.  Sometimes that is exactly what you need to do.

Any other thoughts on how we can Save the _____________ ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trying to Make Sense of a Tragedy

A terrible tragedy happened the other day that has captured the attention of my nation. A bus carrying a hockey team to a playoff game crashed with a semi-truck and 15 people were killed. My immediate thoughts were of the anguish of the parents and families. My second went to the bus driver. My third to the community.

I am a mother of a son—an only son—and I can imagine the terrible shock and devastation of receiving news such as this. Blindsided. Their whole world imploding.

I have driven a school bus in the past and can conceive the horror of something such as this happening (though hope to never truly know). It’s a bus driver’s daily fear.

I have lived in small towns that have been hit by sudden and terrible accidents. It’s like a bomb has gone off and it’s shocking and heartbreaking and horrific; the wreckage and carnage is left permanently imprinted on the people involved.

The whole of Canada is in shock and mourning.

Everyone I know is trying to show his or her support in some tangible way. Hockey sticks left on porches. Green t-shirts or jerseys are being worn. Honorary badges grace Facebook profiles. News posts and updates are being shared hourly. Vigils held. Fundraisers. Lights on national monuments changed to green and gold. Flags at half-mast. You name it, it’s like the whole country is jumping on a bandwagon of grief and support for this community and it’s wonderful to see everyone trying in their small or big way showing support for the grieving and devastated community of Humboldt Saskatchewan.

As I scrolled through my Facebook feed among all those sympathetic articles, I saw a lonely post about a couple moms who are starting a support group for parents who have lost a child to substance overdose.   And I wondered how they felt. They lost a child but there is little or no show of support for them. Thousands of parents across this country have lost children to overdoses. Thousands upon thousands in the last couple of years. It’s at epidemic proportions.  It is touching every community in this country.

And yet I don’t see hardly anyone banding together to support these grieving parents. They are isolated and left alone in their grief. No one is putting up giant needles on their doorsteps. Or badges on their Facebook pages. Little is done in the way of fundraising or vigils. Instead there seems to be a conscious effort to sweep it under the rug.  As if, out of mind, it can’t touch us.  (Until it does.)

But that’s different, you might say.

And . . .

But they did it to themselves.

They deserved it.

They knew what they were doing could kill them.

You might even be outraged: It’s shameful and dirty and not even on the same page as innocent, valorous, hard-working teen-aged hockey players!

I’m quite sure I’m not even covering half of what these parents hear people say about their children.

But I sit here and I wonder.

Would it make a difference to me if my son died in a tragic bus crash (part of a hockey team) or if he died in an alley all by himself from an overdose?

My first and emphatic thought:

The most important thing to me, would be that he died. This is what would matter above all to me.

How he died is what matters to everyone else.

And unfortunately that is what seems makes the difference in how people show and give support.

It seems to me that some deaths are deemed “acceptable” in society and others are considered unacceptable.

Some deaths are almost glorified.

Everyone tries to be a little tiny part of it in some way.

(Why? This phenomenon baffles me as I hear people talk about the tiniest of connections they have with someone involved in a tragic death, as if this makes it more important somehow—or them more important by association or something of that sort.)

Some deaths are considered shameful.

Everyone steers clear of being involved.

(Why? Is it because we don’t want to be tainted? As if by association we will be brought down into the ugliness and mess?)

Consequently, some grieving parents are surrounded by a whole country extending condolences, support and prayers and others are left isolated and alone in their grief—forgotten or avoided, maybe even shunned.

Death is death.

It comes for us all.

One way or another.

And leaves it’s wretched mark.

My point in writing this is not to knock the outpouring of prayers and support for the people of Humboldt, SK. but to hopefully draw attention to the forgotten people in our own communities, the ones nearer to us that may silently be stumbling around in their grief and shame over their child’s death. The ones who are trying to make sense of a death that happened in a more disgraceful way.

Maybe we need to ask ourselves:

What do we hold in our hearts towards them?

How are we treating them?

My hope is that we will be ever more quick to come alongside these parents (no matter how their child died). To we would check our judgments and assumptions and understand that it doesn’t matter so much how they died, as to the fact that they died.

That we would be prepared to reach out and support and pray for them, never to leave them alone or forgotten or slandered.

That we would in some sense help to wipe away the sting of death.

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