Silence is (not necessarily) Golden

I have been dealing with a bout of laryngitis these last several days. I tend to lose my voice just before I show symptoms of a cold, but in this case, it’s likely been brought on due to the smoke particulates in the air due to forest fires in British Columbia. Upsets me that as much as I would like to take advantage of warm, summer days, I’m stuck inside. Thankfully, watching Olympics from Tokyo has kept me well occupied.

Go, Canada, Go!

I have been immersed in the individual stories, those who have won medals, but mostly those who have not. Unfortunately, not all the athletes will win medals, in fact out of 11,091 expected to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, only a total of 339 medals will be awarded across 33 sports. The reality is that the majority of athletes will come back from the competition without a medal. Despite this, everyone competes at the Olympics with a medal in mind, and they strive to do their very best whether they stand on the winner’s podium or not. I am reminded of a great truth from Scripture: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9: 24-27)

The Apostle Paul likely had in mind the Olympic Games as well as the Isthmian games which took place every other year in Corinth for this metaphor to have optimal meaning. His point to the Corinthian church was for them to do whatever they could to win the prize, not as athletic competitors, but running a spiritual race in pursuit of Jesus Christ so they would at the end win eternal glory.

A few weeks ago, we were able to once again return to our local recreation centre after Covid restrictions were lifted. My husband, an avid weight lifter, has set some personal goals to get back in shape after Covid lockdowns. He pushes his limits and strives for more. Me? I walk the indoor track, and basically hope I don’t trip over my own two feet!

I pray I don’t show the same limited effort when it comes to my spiritual walk with God. In truth, I might need to pick up the pace!

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A Sunflower for Sarah

A ray of sunshine has been taken from us.

After a five year battle with metastatic breast cancer, Sarah closed her eyes yesterday evening and opened them in heaven. She was only thirty-eight years old.

We do not grieve as others might at her passing, because we know she is with her Saviour and is already enjoying her eternal reward. Still, we will miss her glowing smile, her courageous spirit, and her unwavering faith in the midst of such adversity over these past few years.

We came to know Sarah and her family over twenty years ago when they moved to Cochrane so her Dad, Wayne, could attend seminary here. Her mom, Rita, and I struck up an instant friendship, both of us enjoying laughter and the occasional practical joke. Rita and I would break into giggles, sometimes during Sunday School class, so our Pastor would warn us that he would separate us if we couldn’t behave. On a ladies’ retreat, Rita found a plastic frog, probably left by a child during a summer camp, and she placed it in the freezer to see what the reaction would be for someone from our kitchen staff finding a frog there. We were summarily banished from the kitchen, so we placed the frozen frog in the sleeping bag of an unsuspecting friend. (Sorry, Ali.) It became a free for all from there, resulting in all three of us tossing sleeping bags in the hallways, and being asked by more polite, spiritually-minded ladies to move our frivolities away from their bed chambers and seek the Lord’s forgiveness for disturbing their solitude.

Sarah and my daughter, Laurelle often “tsk tsked” Rita and my silliness, showing much more maturity at times than we did. Perhaps it initially drew them together, commiserating and embarrassed by their mothers, but also cheering us on as we embraced life and laughter.

I was privileged to work with Sarah, Laurelle, and Sarah’s siblings Martin and Kristen, as one of their Sunday School teachers in those years. Sarah, a couple of years older than my daughter, was always a willing volunteer in all the children’s ministries and soon became a leader and mentor to many of the younger girls in the youth program at church. I remember a mission trip to Vancouver, in 2000, where we assisted an inner-city church with their Vacation Bible School program. One of the first tasks our group of fifteen teens and four adult leaders had to tackle was cleaning up the church for us to be able to sleep there. The church was in a horrible state of disrepair, and the kitchen area downstairs was mouse-infested. It was my first mission trip and I was overwhelmed. Sarah looked at the kitchen, the mouse droppings on the counters and all over the floor and said, “Well, let’s get to work.” For hours, she and the team, scrubbed and swept and went through that kitchen systematically until it gleamed. I was never more proud of those kids! Sarah led the charge, always with a smile on her face.

On that same mission trip, the older youth on the team, helped out in a thrift store the church had opened to clothe and give basic necessities to individuals living on the streets in Vancouver. One evening we went with some church volunteers to hand out hot chocolate and donuts to people on the streets. We had been warned that many of the people we would meet were involved in the sex trade, but they would regularly come and accept the donuts and hot chocolate and chat with church workers who had befriended them in the Name of Jesus. To say I was apprehensive about how I would react, in this so-out-of-my-comfort-zone ministry was a drastic understatement. The church volunteers set up the donuts and hot chocolate station quickly, and within minutes they were handing out the donuts to anyone who happened by. Many of the girls were known by name by the volunteers and they chatted easily with one another. One young woman asked politely if she could have a couple more donuts because her children were at home and this would “tide them over” until she could cook them dinner after “work”. I was filled with compassion for these women, and I could see that Sarah and Laurelle were profoundly affected by the interactions as they offered a cup of hot chocolate and donut to each person. Sarah, with her wide smile, poured a cup for a young woman and said, “God Bless!” The woman had tears in her eyes and replied, “No. God Bless You!”, and prompted by a church volunteer proceeded to share some of her story with us. When she left us, Sarah summed up our emotions by saying, “There but for the Grace of God, go I.” At the debrief at the church that evening, we prayed for each dear one we had met that night. I wasn’t surprised when Sarah was the first one to lead out in prayer.

In Sarah’s grade twelve year, her parents moved to Canmore to start a church plant there. Sarah wanted to finish her schooling in Cochrane, so we agreed to have her live with us for the year, so she could finish high school with her friends. I suppose not having her family near in proximity, Sarah took on the role of “big sister” to Laurelle. I thought of Sarah as my “adopted” daughter and was thrilled to see Laurelle and Sarah’s friendship blossom.

As so often happens, with so many youth and students I’ve known throughout the years, once they graduate, I either lose all contact with them or maintain minimal contact only connecting through social media. After Sarah graduated, and she moved back home, I lost close contact with her family as God moved them in and out of different ministries. Laurelle, however, kept up with all the goings on in Sarah’s life and kept me well informed. Sarah met her husband, Jon and joined him in ministry in the States while raising their three children. At the same time, Laurelle and her husband were church planting, attending seminary, and raising two children of their own. The two girls, husbands, and children often got together, enjoying one another’s company.

One day in 2016, I got a panicked call from Laurelle. She had just learned that Sarah had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Sarah’s youngest child was only a year old. I had battled breast cancer in 2001, and remembered well how Sarah and her family had been part of that army of prayer warriors who had come alongside me and my family during that time. I promised to pray for Sarah, having every confidence she would be okay. Unfortunately, Sarah’s cancer had metastasized and doctors were not optimistic about her long term survival. Friends and family were in shock, but Sarah refused to allow her diagnosis to define how she lived her life.

Smiling through all her surgeries, chemo treatments, and medical procedures, Sarah called herself a “thriver”, and indeed she did thrive. Whenever she connected with Laurelle or me on social media, she was the encourager. She started writing a blog that shared not only her journey with cancer, but her unwavering faith in God. When I went through endometrial cancer in 2019, she and I started intravenous chemo treatments on the same day. She was living on Vancouver Island with her family and had been on a pill form of chemo up to that time. So, we texted each other through our treatments, she lifting me up in prayer while I at the same time prayed for her.

I will admit I don’t understand why things happen as they do. As I started the recovery process, and was again declared cancer-free for a second time, Sarah took a turn for the worse and her army of prayer warriors stood in the gap, begging God to restore her… which He did! Miraculously, Sarah battled back from the brink, and for the next two years, she made precious memories with family and friends, praising God for His tender mercies each day. I admired her strength, fortitude, and her reliance in God. I told her she was my hero, and indeed she was.

Last week, I had the privilege of seeing Sarah during a group Zoom meeting. She wanted friends and family to join her from her hospice bed in participating in the Lord’s Supper with her one last time. I will never forget her smile as she took the elements.

Ernest Hemingway once said that “Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” That statement holds true as Sarah left her imprint on all our hearts. The way she lived life, the way she impacted others with the Gospel, her strength, courage, and of course her beautiful smile. Her legacy will live on.

Please pray for her husband, Jon, her young children, her parents, siblings and friends who loved her.

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Canada Day 2021

Finally, I’ve guilted myself to write today. To be honest, I’ve been just spinning my wheels, not getting enough traction to move forward with my writing or anything else productive, but the burnouts have been pretty spectacular I must say.

My husband will appreciate the “car lingo”, being a muscle car guy and all, so maybe I better start there. Canada Day marked the start of Alberta’s “Open for Summer” Phase 3 of lifting most COVID-19 restrictions province-wide. We decided to take my husband’s ‘64 Valiant convertible (the Canada Car) out to participate in the parade in our town. It was not a parade like in previous years where people would line the streets and large floats and bands would march past. Albertans are just easing back into being in large crowds again after sixteen months of pandemic lockdowns so classic cars, Jeeps, and first responder vehicles cruised around tthe neighborhoods so people could watch from the safety of their own yards. We took our two oldest grandkids with us, and they waved flags and yelled “Happy Canada Day” to anyone we passed. We even had our picture taken for the local paper. Such fun!

My girlfriend had made me a Canada Day scarf many years ago with a beautiful coastal Haida pattern on it. This year I made a point of wearing it to honour and remember the Indigenous peoples in Canada, as we acknowledge the struggles and loss they experienced due to the residential schools they were forced to attend. It is a dark part of Canada’s history that is coming more and more to light after the recent discovery of over one thousand unmarked graves of indigenous children who attended some of these schools. There was talk about canceling all Canada Day celebrations this year. In the aftermath of these discoveries, there has been vandalism and churches burned, and colonial statues torn down because of perceived links to these residential schools. Though I understand the rage some may feel, these kinds of acts do nothing to promote reconciliation. A statement from the government of Canada perhaps said it best:

“The findings of the unmarked graves of children on or near the grounds of former residential schools in different parts of the country are a shocking reminder of the oppression and violence perpetrated by Canada’s colonial institutions against First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. Acknowledging and raising awareness of the atrocities inflicted on Indigenous peoples is essential on the path to reconciliation. Canadians stand with Indigenous communities across the country during this time of mourning.

More than ever, Canada Day is a time for all Canadians to show empathy, understanding and humility. It is also an opportunity to educate ourselves, to reflect and to redefine our relationship with July 1st, while reaffirming our commitment to ending the systemic racism and discrimination faced by Indigenous peoples. We encourage you to learn more about First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. We must learn from the lessons of our past and move forward on a shared path of reconciliation.”

In Cochrane, with the Stoney Nakoda Nation on our doorstep, organizers chose to celebrate Canada’s 154th birthday with the vehicle parade, some smaller outdoor events, a virtual concert and fireworks. However, there was also a vigil in the evening to gather with our Stoney Nakoda neighbours to stand with them and show community support for them. I think it was a good way to spend Canada Day this year.

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