The Perfect Gift

Posting this again on Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas!

Learning to live with open hands and a happy heart


This is a picture of the nativity scene that I put in place every year at Christmas time. As you can see, it is rather humble in its appearance, with fading paint, an angel with a chipped wing and a two legged sheep whose other legs broke off years ago. It’s appearance is far from perfect, but it reminds me every year of my story and my relationship to Christmas.

One Christmas, when I was about 11 years old, I told my mother that our Christmas decorations were incomplete as we didn’t have a nativity scene.  After all wasn’t the birth of Christ what Christmas was all about?  How could we have a perfect Christmas without it?  So I took it upon myself to go to the local department store to purchase this set.   I remember that it cost me a substantial amount of money, but I was proud of…

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The Answer

It was exactly what I needed.

Earlier this week I spent the afternoon walking in the woods with a friend, followed by time spent in prayer and Scripture.

As my friend and I walked through a wood filled with the beauty of autumn colours, I continually marvelled at God’s daily gifts to us in creation, whether in the majesty of a multi-coloured maple tree or the sweet smell of pine needles or the crisp sounds of leaves as our feet hit the paths.  As I talked with my friend about some things that I had been struggling with, I marvelled anew at what she would call her “simple faith”. Even in the deepest discussions of troubling situations, either hers or mine, her face and her demeanour eventually return to joy. The sparkling eyes, the easy smile; they are for her the more natural state.  Her Redeemer lives in her very being. No question about it.


I returned home to pray and read my Bible.  By the time I closed my Bible, I had returned to a peace and joy that I hadn’t felt for several days.  I realized that each piece of that afternoon: the beauty of nature, the mentoring and love of a faithful friend, the power of prayer and Scripture was orchestrated by God to converge into feelings of confidence and assurance.

This week He was pursuing me and giving me what he knew I needed in the way that only he can give.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

I thank God that he has shown me again that because of the cross, I am no longer meant to live my life as a Self-improvement project. That by myself, on my own power, by my own intellect, I can’t create or sustain peace and joy.   Daily I need to die to self, and rest in Him.

Are you going through a time of discouragement?

Talk to him. Trust in Him.  Hold fast to his saving grace.  Stand on his promises.  Know that he is in control and that he will use multiple experiences in your life for your good and his glory.  Truly, truly, rest and wait on him.   And as the psalmist says,

Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long. Psalm 25:5






Photo credit: tommyscapes via / CC BY-NC-ND


A Love Letter to My Daughter


Dear Daughter:
Yesterday was the anniversary of your marriage.  One of those milestones of life. In your 30 years, you have experienced many milestones, more than the brevity of your years on this earth can imagine. Within a period of 5 years you were married, gave birth to two children and the miscarriage of another, experienced the diagnosis of your husband’s cancer, its subsequent remission, its savage return, and then his death. When you were born to us as our third little girl who then grew into a vivacious and engaging young woman, we could never have imagined that your life story would have enfolded in this way.

I know that yesterday was hard for you. The return of the children to school after summer holidays, another milestone with a new school and new classes, coincided with the date of your marriage. You describe so well how these “anniversary” events can trigger and affect the grief process in ways that are unpredictable and perhaps unexplainable.

I was glad to be with you yesterday and to have spent the last week with you and your two lovely boys. How rewarding it is to serve the three of you!  I love to complete and check off the items on your to-do list. Scrubbing, organizing, shopping, washing, child caring, preparing meals: all the things that you do on your own on a daily basis. Delighting in lessening your load, if only temporarily.

From outward appearances, it can look as if you carry parenting, work and homecare responsibilities alone.  But you are truly not alone, because you know and claim the reality that God is your partner in all your endeavours, guiding you in your decisions and in parenting the particular children he gave to you.  He also gave you a particular godly, intelligent and loving man as a husband and the two of you built the foundation for these young boys, with Christ as the cornerstone.

In completing items on the list, I have added one more:  “Tell your daughter that you love her, how thankful you are for her faith and how hard she is working with God’s help to raise her children”.

And so, I want you to know how fine a young woman you are.

I want you to know how your strong faith has inspired my faith and so many others.

I want you to know that I admire how focussed you are in seeking God’s wisdom to raise two godly, intelligent young men just like their mom and dad.

I want you to know that like the title from a popular children’s book says…….I Love You to the Moon and Back.  Yes, I love you to the moon and back, but I also love you on this earth and in the world to come because of the promises of our First Love.  He has promised us that we will be together with Him, forever!


For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

School’s Out For Summer

Learning to live with open hands and a happy heart


Although  the first day of summer was on the 21st of June this year, for most of us it officially starts with the last day of school.  Here in Ontario where I live, that day arrived mid week for students.

Sweet freedom for some adults and children, dread for others. And those opposing feelings don’t always correspond to the age of either group.  So first the adults:

Although it’s true, that for some parents. “It’s the day I dread all year” ( a quote of a dear friend of mine), for others, it’s the freedom of no more school lunches to prepare, no more school related paperwork to read, to respond to, to file and often to lose!  For most parents, there will be plans to enjoy the warm weather and scheduled holidays, but also the challenge of summer child care arrangements and the challenge of more unsupervised time…

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I’m not there, yet …..

I am not an athlete.  My family will be chuckling when they read this and perhaps wondering where this post is headed.  So, perhaps it’s better to describe myself as “not having a personal history of athletic accomplishments”.

The rest of my immediate family including my sons-in-law do have a history of athletic accomplishments.

Not that I have anything against sports, in fact I am impressed not only by athletic performances but by the joy that I have witnessed when my family members and sports enthusiasts revel in their chosen sport.  I attribute my lack of historic participation to several things:

• Growing up in the U.S. prior to Title IX. If you peruse my high school yearbook, you will see pictures of boys participating in a variety of sports. The girls? Cheerleaders who cheered the boys on. And yes, I did try out, but didn’t make the cheerleading squad. In 1972, the Education Act in the U.S. was amended by Title IX which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.   I wasn’t aware of this legislative influence until many years later when I compared my lack of sport participation with my Canadian sisters-in-laws and friends of similar age who grew up mere miles away in Canada.  They participated actively in any number of sports.  Although the original intent of Title IX was more general, its impact profoundly affected the participation of women in high school and collegiate sports.  Young girls and women in the U.S.  today participate in sports of all kinds from gymnastics to hockey.  It’s hard now to imagine a time when this wasn’t the case.

• My tendency toward perfectionism. If I couldn’t achieve excellence naturally or easily, I opted out.  Success at academics was natural and easy, so that’s where I placed my interest.  Needless to say, I hadn’t developed a “growth mindset”, something that educators and parents today are focusing on for their students/children.  I had a fixed mindset with a belief that you either had talent or you didn’t vs. having a growth mindset where analysis of performance and corresponding hard work and the adaptation of strategies is within every person’s capabilities.

• It was a different era regarding parental involvement in kids’ activities.  Parents in my childhood were working hard and using all their resources just to keep us fed and healthy.  I have often said that if the activity cost a quarter and we could walk there by ourselves, my sisters and I were in.  So actually, I did participate in some sports. Swimming lessons in a freezing cold outdoor pool didn’t result in much skill but we could walk there. Dance lessons with Miss Augustine cost a quarter, and yes, we could walk there.  Neither activity was sustained after a couple seasons. My perfectionism or lack of a growth mindset persisted again.

That being said I believe that my sisters and I had a very active childhood, with fond memories of playing with our friends in the neighbourhood from dusk to dawn on our summer vacation.

But…..there is hope. I have found a sport that I love. I am on a team. Yes, a competitive team.

My sport is a summer sport in Canada but I actually participate in Florida in winter.


Dragon boating. A vessel with 20 paddlers, a steer and a drummer.

To paddle at a competitive level requires fitness and skill. I participate with a fabulous group of people who are competitive, friendly and encouraging. Paddling in sync, proper technique, with paddlers maintaining a proper weight and fitness are critical to a successful boat. There is much for me to learn and I am just at the beginning of my paddling career, which considering my age, may be short, but I thank God for this gift.

And later today, I will be playing golf, a sport that I took up a couple of years ago. Golf is teaching me humility, the importance of analysis and practice and golf like paddling gives me an opportunity to enjoy a group of fellow “athletes”.

Throughout my lifetime , I often have imagined what it would be like to participate joyfully and successfully in sports. When I anticipate Christ’s return and his restoration of all things, I wonder if along with the joy of seeing him face to face I might be playing soccer or shooting hoops or skiing fearlessly down a majestic heavenly mountain.

Today I am thanking him for earthly blessings in my latter chapters of life.


And golf.

Two Countries

Nearly a third of my posts on this blog  have been written while I am travelling by train.

The forced confinement of the train “forces” me to write as it eliminates many of the distractions that I so often attend to rather than write. In fact, one of my friends said when we were talking about my schedule for this week, “Oh goodie, you will be writing again!”

Encouragement and accountability at the same time!

For the majority of my train travel, I have been fortunate to be sitting alone which allows me plenty of space both physically and mentally.

But this morning, I was surprised to see that on this nearly empty train car someone was already sitting in the seat next to my assigned seat.

I soon discovered that the passenger next to me was a Canadian citizen who had lived and worked for many years in the U.S.  He humorously described himself as having a platinum green card.

We had a lively discussion about our mutual experience of living and working in both countries and how privileged we have been to have this experience.  I had been pondering a writing topic and my travelling partner unknowingly helped me to choose.  He departed the train much sooner than my destination, and so, as I sit alone now, I have been thinking about my knowledge of living in the U.S. and Canada.

As a bit of background, I grew up in central New York State, completed high school, earned my undergraduate degree, and worked for several years in public education before moving to Ontario, Canada in 1977 upon my marriage to my Canadian husband.

All of my family still live in the U.S, and we recently purchased a property in southwest Florida which we travel to in the cooler months. Our Canadian home is on the St. Lawrence River in the Thousand Islands region and I can look across the river at northern New York State.  So even though I now have spent many more years here in Canada than in my birth country, I travel to the U.S often, typically crossing one of the several international bridges between the two countries. I feel as if I straddle two cultures, similar to the bridges that straddle the geography.


My conversation on the train today  made me reflect on my move to Canada in 1977 and the similarities and differences that I noted as I acclimated to a new country.

There were certainly lots of things that were similar; so many that at first, I wondered if there really were any differences.

But I soon observed:

As an American, I had assumed that the prime minister in 1977, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, yes the father of our current Prime Minister in 2016, Justin Trudeau, was admired by Canadians.  I was surprised to hear derogatory remarks about him.  And in fact Canadians seemed to have less respect and admiration for the office of Prime Minister than we Americans had for the role of our president.  Canadian respect and admiration  seemed to be reserved for the Queen, whose picture I would see in public buildings everywhere. That took me by surprise.

I knew that Canadians punctuated their speech with eh, rather than huh, but they did that a lot, a whole lot.

I was delighted to find exclusively French channels on T.V. or radio. I didn’t understand a word, but the French music in particular, seemed well, terribly romantic.

If you ordered tea in a Canadian restaurant, it was assumed that you wanted it hot, and served with a choice of milk and sugar, never lemon. And it was black and wonderfully strong.

Canadians spelled some English words differently.  Words like neighbor, color and savior were spelled with the British spelling: neighbour, colour, saviour.  I can remember my first elementary school teaching job in Ontario: the challenge of learning new spellings, the confusing affect of my American accent on the teaching of phonics to Canadian kids, and passing out “scribbler” notebooks rather than loose leaf paper to my students.  For my American teaching friends, these are lovely paper notebooks of various styles and sizes depending on the age of the student and the task required. Very cost effective and user friendly.

The news in Canada, on air and in print, was quite different from the media that I had grown up with.  I couldn’t figure out the difference at first, but I slowly realised that Canadian news reporting had more of an international scope.  Not only was I hearing and reading news about Canada, but I was hearing about current events in other countries including the U.S.   In retrospect, U.S. news seemed to be dominated by, well,

And Canadians eat a lot more salmon salad sandwiches than tuna salad sandwiches.

I soon realized that these differences although small, were differences . As I began to learn more and more about my new home, I was increasingly aware that I didn’t know much about Canada, because I had learned so little about Canada in my American education.   I couldn’t remember learning anything about it in school and like many other countries of the world, Canada never “hit the radar” of American news.

I also began to learn that many Canadians perceived that Americans not only didn’t know much about Canada and Canadians but at the same time didn’t appear to be very interested in learning about their northern neighbour.  And yet conversely Canadians felt that they knew a great deal about their neighbour to the south.

An interesting dilemma and one that I can reflect on from ” both sides of the bridge”.

But, more on that in a future post.

The Journey

imageI love travelling by train; it’s relaxing with its comfortable spacious seating, usually good wi-fi, and a chance to do some reading and writing without any distractions. The staff are usually quite friendly and helpful. And the hot tea is great.

Yes, I love travelling by train, until this morning.

As we left the station, the porter began to check in with each new passenger to scan the code on their paper or electronic tickets. I found him to be exceptionally friendly, and I quickly ensured that my phone was open in order to expedite the scanning. As he scanned my ticket, I waited to hear the lovely beep. No beep, but a puzzled face. He kindly informed me that I didn’t have the right electronic ticket on my phone. The ticket that I had showed him was for next month. I told him that I was positive that I had booked today’s ticket and could distinctly remember the booking price. Perhaps I needed to scroll further through my inbox.

As I searched and searched in all my folders for the right receipt, I asked him what the train’s policy is when a person is on the train without a ticket. Would they make me get off at the next station?

He laid out my options:

I could check with customer service to see why my ticket wasn’t available.

I could keep searching my phone.

But, in order to continue travelling, he would need my credit card to pay for a new ticket and unfortunately there were no longer any tickets at the discounted rate that I had “booked” last week.

Gulp! Twice the price!

Instantly, I felt hostility against the train company.

Instantly he didn’t seem as friendly to me any more.

Instantly, I realised that the next leg of my journey and my return ticket will also be at this much higher fare.

And as I handed him my credit card, I could feel my anxiety mount.

I immediately went into strategizing mode.

Look harder for evidence that I actually booked the ticket. Check with my credit card company to see if there was a record of my presumed charge. Look at alternate cheaper transportation. Google that cheap bus service that I had travelled once before (first and last)!

And then, pray.

As my anxiety immediately lessened, I wondered once again, why I so often seek my creator’s help last. Why I depend on me rather than Him?

I’m not sure what the solution will be. But I know that no matter the result, I can trust in his strength in every circumstance.

“I sought the Lord and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears”. Psalm 24 ESV

Soon I will be arriving at my destination to spend time with my much loved daughter and son and my two wonderful grandsons.

The sun is shining and the tea is good.

Most of all, God is good.