Living as a Beloved One


We spontaneously dropped in on friends last evening. This area of the United States is not fond of spontaneous visits. Much better to plan. But planning gets wearisome and so we decided to go against the cultural norms. We arrived on our friends doorsteps as they were finishing dinner. 

We picked the right people. We were welcomed with arms open and ended up staying for over two hours. 

Soon after we arrived, their youngest child, Francy, came into the room. Francy hasn’t seen us in over a year and she is little. She walked into the room, took one look at us, and ran up to us bursting with smiles. Golden ringlets falling over her face, she jumped into my husband’s arms, hugging him tight. 

I watched, astonished. Here was a child completely secure and utterly loved. She had no fear of rejection or dismissal. She jumped into Cliff’s arms with complete abandon, certain that she would be welcomed. 

In recent weeks I’ve been thinking about God’s love.  Intellectually, I know God loves me. I know, by heart, verses that confirm this. I know it as fact. But as life has become more and more complicated, my heart does not believe.  I do not trust that I will be welcomed with open arms. I do not throw myself, with utter abandon, into the arms of God.  Rather, I approach him as I approach New Englanders; tentatively, warily, uncertain of the response.  

Francy’s entrance reminded me that it hasn’t always been like this. My approach to God hasn’t always been wary and uncertain. There was a time when I, like Francy, threw myself into the arms of God. In those moments, my head and heart connected — the verses that I knew by heart became a living reality. I knew, in the deepest place, that I was loved. 

What if I truly believed– and lived — as one loved by God?

What if I walked in the security and confidence that a child, secure in the love of a parent walks? 

I know instinctively that my life would be different.  Delight, goodness, warmth, compassion, joy, honesty, truth — all those would be characteristics that flow from a life lived in light of the love of God. I would not do things to gain favor. I would have no need of self-promotion. I would walk in security. 

How much I am missing

This weekend I have time to reflect and pray. Time that I haven’t had in a while. As I reflect on God and his love,  Francy’s face keeps on popping up in my mind, like a slideshow on repeat. 

“God, help me to be more like Francy. Help me to walk as a beloved one.” 

The Photo Albums of Our Marriage


Our love, our marriage is like a series of photo albums that is kept through the years. 

The old albums show the beauty and arrogance of youth. We were young and lovely. Best of all, we knew everything. The smiles and laughter shine through every picture, every page. The trip to Egypt and Pakistan to get engaged, the wedding in July with 200 people from all over the world, the short shorts on our honeymoon. Even the faded photos can’t deny the sheer joy of it all.

Then came the kids. Blonde-haired and blue-eyed for the first two, clear evidence of the strength of your genetics. Then darker-haired with brown and hazel eyes for the next three – as though we were in competition. But we weren’t. They were so incredibly cute and bright and fun – a unit of littles all connected through blood and family. People would stop to watch our unit pour out of a little red Zastava car. We were like an Egyptian family that fit as many as possible into whatever vehicle we had. Those photo albums make us laugh. We laugh through super man pajamas and picnics at the Pyramids. And our kids? They were so perfect! Not like other kids.

But then there’s the photo album that we sometimes want to keep hidden. The photo album that feels heavy with pain. These were the hard years, the ones where we didn’t know we would make it. This album is sparse – no one wants to view photographs of the hard years. The camera is put away and all energy goes to survival. A few photos make it in, evidence of the strength of our commitment, of sheer grit and determination. The grace is that even those photos show sparks of joy, like life could throw us all kinds of awful, but we would defy the naysayers, we would make it. This album shows the stain of tears and the bruises on knees bent in prayer. But family still continued through beach trips to Sanibel Island and Harry Potter Halloween costumes; through prom glamour and community theater productions. Because you just can’t stop family. Because what God joined together, let no one separate.*

The albums continued through college trips and cross-country moves; through late night phone calls and times of crisis. We looked in envy at younger families with their perfect kids, because we remembered what it was like to know everything and to have perfect kids.  But even as we envied, we loved what our kids were becoming: Passionate young adults with hearts that beat hard for justice; young adults with creativity coming out of their pores.

And now we’re in a new album. The pictures now are less of us and our five, and more of – well, just us. This is the album where we learn how much fun we still have, the album where we begin to dream again of far off places, of making a difference during this time of our lives. In this album, the prayers for our children take on new urgency and meaning. They are creating their own albums, and we are desperate for those albums to last. 

Through all of these photo albums, we glimpse the mystery that is marriage and we shake our heads in awe. As we watch while all around us marriage is stripped of its mystery, boxed into a man-made definition where love is the main ingredient, we remember the photo album that is our marriage. We remember the Garden and we desperately look to the wedding feast of the lamb. A feast where our albums fade into insignificance as we celebrate that greatest mystery of all — the wedding that will last into eternity.

Happy 31st Anniversary to the man behind the blog!

*Matthew 10:9

A Love Story Begins At Box 25, Willow River, BC

mailbox-

A Love Story Begins……by Robynn

Lowell and I are getting ready to celebrate our 21st  anniversary on May 7th. Our twentieth was lost in the shuffle of death and memorials and details last year but we are redeeming our 21st! Lowell has already booked us into a bed and breakfast for a weekend getaway in the romantic Atchison, Kansas. This little story seems appropriate….

Through all the years of moving around western Canada and then across the globe to Pakistan and back again, one thing stayed the same: Grandma and Grandpa’s address and phone number.

Theirs was the address (Box 25, Willow River, BC) and phone number we used for our permanent address on the countless forms and applications we filled out.  It was our pivot point. A place we always returned to. A fixed spot that didn’t move or change.

This meant a great deal growing up in South Asia. There was comfort in knowing we had such a place in the universe.

But it mattered even more, after I had left Pakistan, graduated from high school, and felt a particular type of vulnerability. I was untethered, unmoored. I wasn’t from anywhere any more. It was unsettling. In the midst of that though, I still had an address I could use, a phone number I could call to mind.

College applications, and later, job applications had Grandma’s address and phone number written on them. I used that number in filling out visa applications when I went home to Pakistan to visit. I used that number in my attempts to apply for a credit card. I used it for drawing entries in a silly quest to win round the world airline tickets, or free laundry detergent for a year.

Years later it was the address and phone number I gave out to a particular Lowell Bliss, a man I met at a training program in New York City. He was on his way to India to study. He suggested we keep in touch. I gave him Grandma’s address. I was on my way there, to my fixed spot, my permanent place. I would eventually catch up with whatever Lowell might send me.

On the way I stopped to visit my dearest Auntie Carol, in Kelowna, when I got a call from my Grandma. A letter had arrived from the mysterious Lowell Bliss. Auntie Carol and I were squealing on one end of the line. Wouldn’t Grandma please open it and read it to me over the phone? Mary Doerkson was in the middle of giving Grandma a permanent. We could nearly smell the intense chemicals all the way in Kelowna. Grandma opened the letter painfully slowly. She put her glasses on and began to read. The only thing is Lowell’s writing was difficult on first glance to read. Grandma struggled through, “Mary…what does this say?” Mary would stop rolling hair into curlers long enough to peer over Grandma’s shoulder. They sounded words out, they squinted, they guessed. Each passing line successfully read was met with screams and sighs and squeals and silliness from Auntie Carol and me.

I had intended to linger in Kelowna a day or two with my aunt and uncle….but it seemed of utmost urgency that I press on quickly for Willow River to retrieve the letter and Lowell’s affections. We threw my things, strewn around my temporary room, into my suitcases and rushed to the Greyhound bus depot. Auntie waved me off with tears in her eyes and excitement for me in her heart. Grandma, hair freshly (and tightly) curled, met me at the bus stop in Prince George with Lowell’s letter in her hand.  I hugged grandma tight, and dove into the letter first thing. I understood why she had struggled to read it right. His handwriting was impossibly tiny and at odds with the paper. But I read his heart and his intentions and so the love story began–

There at Box 25, Willow River, BC.

Photo credit: http://pixabay.com/en/mailbox-letter-postbox-post-357668/

A Word about Kindness

flowers with quote

A word about Kindness by Robynn 

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. It’s not a day I really grew up celebrating. I have vague memories of exchanging Valentine’s Day cards with classmates when I was especially young, before we ever left for Pakistan, when I was eight. Hallmark’s reach didn’t quite extend to Pakistan in those days. Boarding school wasn’t in session, consequently our classmates were scattered the length and width of Pakistan. Perhaps mom and dad gave us cards and candy? Perhaps my brother and I made cards for each other? If so, I have no memory of it.

After Lowell and I got married we settled in South Asia where Valentine’s Day hadn’t quite caught on. A few years into our marriage card making companies discovered a large untapped market. Love and affection on card stock was suddenly available at every Archie’s store in every city or town. By the time the cards were available and the promotion of such sentiment was normal, Lowell and I had already established our Valentine’s Day routines, which are simple and basic, and flies in the face of the norm.

Lowell and I exchange cards. We don’t get candy for each other. Only rarely have we gone for flowers on this day—and that only in India, where flowers were readily available and inexpensive. We don’t purchase elaborate gifts: no jewelry, no tvs, no cars (I’ve seen each of these advertised, ‘in the name of love’).

Usually first thing in the morning, we greet each other with a tender kiss, we declare our love for each other. Those routines happen every morning. On Valentine’s Day we give each other cards. We read them in front of each other. We hug and we remind each other of the affection we have for each other and we thank each other for the card.

When we first came back to North America, nearly eight years ago now, Valentine’s Day was a tremendous surprise! I had no idea it was such a big deal! I was taken aback by the advertising, the hearts hanging in every store, the excuse it became to sell computers and couches, dishwashers and necklaces. I was enormously cynical that first year. The second time February 14th, came by, my response had shifted, ever so slightly. I was still negative and full of mockery, but a little teeny tiny part of me now had expectations. It really might be nice to get flowers. As soon as the thought bloomed in my mind, I immediately and sincerely rolled my eyes at myself. Good grief! Flowers are expensive and even more so on February 14th. How ridiculous! Year three came and with it a tangible yearning for some attention, some visible sign of affection…perhaps a ring? Or dinner out? Or flowers and a ring? The sarcastic scoffer Robynn took long minutes to show up, and when she came she was pouting a little.  Our fourth Valentine’s Day we had our sweet morning moment, as we had done every year since our marriage in 1994, and then we fought and I cried. My want outweighed my reason. I had been converted by advertisers and culture. I had been ruined. 

At some deep level I had been convinced that the February 14th mattered more than Feb 11th or 27th, or July 18 or October 22nd. I had been duped.

What I didn’t remember on that horrible morning, February 14th, 2011, was that I am married to a perpetually perennially kind man. He doesn’t wake up in the morning on Valentine’s Day and feign affection for me. He truly loves me. And he shows it all year long.

When we first got married Lowell asked me what my worst chore was. Without hesitating I said I hated making the bed. He told me from now on he’d make the bed. And he’s made the bed every single morning since. Seven thousand, five hundred and fifty three days later and he’s still making the bed. Lowell makes me coffee or tea when I need it, or just because he knows I’d appreciate it. Hundreds of times he’s suggested going out for a cup of coffee, because he knows that I know that means an uninterrupted conversation and conversation is what connects my heart to him, it’s what keeps our marriage open and honest, it’s what keeps our hearts close.

Lowell hasn’t checked out. In the chaos of parenting three teenagers, he remains present to his children. He engages them. He enters their world. As their mother, that means the world to me.  It’s true with me too. He is curious about how I’m doing. Every day he asks me how I am and he waits to hear the answer. Three or four times a week we have deep conversations of significance.

This year with Valentine’s Day looming large I offer you kindness. Our world would be radically different if people were kind to one another. Children would thrive in a kind environment. Employees would work harder, I suspect, if employers were kind.

Marriage seems a good place to start. Because as odd as it may sound, I think kindness tends to wane in a lot of marriages. Daily kindness is hard work. It’s intentional and it takes effort. It requires seeing the little things, it requires action. And we get tired. Husbands work hard. Wives work hard. Routines become ruts and we follow in them rigorously. We remember each other, but we forget to be kind.

On the morning last April of that day that my father-in-law was suddenly killed in a tractor accident, he showed sweet kindness to his bride of nearly 58 years. He cut some of the flowers from her garden and brought them inside for his wife who wasn’t doing too well. He filled a green glass with water and he stuck the flowers in the water. He placed the bouquet in front of her on the coffee table and said, “I thought you might like to see these.” A little earlier in the week, my mother in law asked him what he would do if he had a day off from caring for her. Would he go to coffee with some of his buddies? Would he go into town? What would he do? He said he’d just go up into the woods to cut firewood. He loved the outdoors. He loved the quiet. He loved those woods. And on that day, last April, after bringing her flowers, after making sure she took her three o’clock pills, she kindly suggested to him that he go cut fire wood. She would be fine.

He never returned.

Unknowingly, they said goodbye to each other with acts of tender kindness.

His youngest son, found his body pinned under the tractor, that was pulling a trailer too heavy with all the firewood he had cut. The trailer pushed into the tractor on a down hill slope and the tractor flipped and slammed Larry’s body into the earth he loved. He died suddenly, enjoying the afternoon he’d been given.

The flowers stayed on the coffee table for over a week. They wilted and drooped and dropped their blossoms before any of us dared to throw them away. They were his last words to his wife. They were the kind gift of a long love.

By all means, if celebrating Valentine’s Day is part of your kind habit towards your partner, then certainly, celebrate it with joy! But I give you this: the year is long and often difficult and Valentine’s Day comes only once. Learn to love well, intentionally with gentleness and large doses of kindness spread throughout the whole year.

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness… (Col 3: 12-15 The Message)

Picture credit: http://pixabay.com/en/porcelain-vase-vase-bouquet-deco-402200/ Word art by Marilyn R. Gardner

Belva’s Blue Platter: A Story of Redemption

This summer I said to Robynn “Any time you’re ready to write more for Communicating Across Boundaries I’m ready to have you!” I meant every word of it. While I can’t make promises for Robynn, we may hear more from her this fall on CAB. For now enjoy this beautiful story of how loving care and vision restored a platter.

Belvas platter 2

Belva’s Blue Platter: A story of Redemption by Robynn

This summer when we were sorting out my mother in law’s kitchen, a blue and gold trimmed platter was pulled out of a cupboard. Who wanted this? My mother in law dismissed it with a chuckle. With mom coming to live with us I imagined I would now be the one cooking the Thanksgiving and the Christmas Turkey. Mom often had the platter carry the sacred meat to the feast. I would take the blue platter. It could continue to serve its purpose. I asked my mother in law to tell us the story of the platter. Where did it come from?  That’s when we learned of the mud-hidden, basement-buried treasure that she had found all those years ago.

Nearly twenty years have passed since my mother in law and her three sisters in law cleaned out the old farm-house where her in-laws had lived and raised their family. The women sorted and divided, they purged and pitched. It was an enormous job and emotional work. Stories were told. Memories were dusted off and placed on the table before being packed away again. Knowing the four of them, I know they cried and they laughed until they cried, while they worked.

In the basement of that tired old house, my mother in law, Belva, discovered buried under years of dirt and dust, a forgotten platter. Mysteriously it was caked in mud. She took it upstairs and washed it off. To her delight, a blue bordered, gold trimmed china platter came to life under the washing water. Assuming it was a family heirloom, she asked Lois, Coralee or Carol if they’d like to have it. They waved her off and she tucked the platter into her pile of things to bring to Kansas.

No one is quite clear on where that platter came from. Grandma Bliss evidently wasn’t too attached to it for it to end up buried in the basement. One sister-in-law, Coralee thought maybe Grandpa bought it from the Ravenna flea market. Apparently Grandma was always a little disgusted by the amount of “treasures” he’d cart home from his weekly expedition to the market. Another sister-in-law, Carol mused that perhaps it had come from a neighbouring abandoned farm, when Grandpa had purchased the entire estate. No one really knows and neither Grandpa nor Grandma are around to confirm the plate’s past.

This is the story of redemption. Lives are covered in sorrow and bitter circumstances. Pearls are hidden in salty mire and hardened exteriors. Jewels are deeply entombed in the dark earth. Love sees potential and redeems. Gently, tenderly, under the faucet of grace, love washes away the dirt and darkness and reveals glorious blues and gold trims. The platter was tossed aside until Belva picked it up. She recognized the potential, she did the work of restoring it and she welcomed it to the table.

I like this story. It means something to me these days. The platter is now displayed with joy in our dining room. The 24 carat gold reflects the sunlight streaming through the windows, patiently waiting for the holidays when it will be needed. The platter speaks to me of purpose. It whispers quietly of hope. It inspires me to hold on to the promise of redemption.

And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness—
secret riches.
I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord,
the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name. Isaiah 45:3

To Love is to Hurt

to love is to hurt

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” CS Lewis – The Four Loves

*************

It’s Sunday night and the house is dark and quiet. A cool breeze is coming in from the open window and watchful cats curl up on the window ledge, nocturnal beasts carefully observing an outside that they will never reach.

It has been a full weekend. Reconnecting with friends through visiting, playing games, and a long walk by the rocky coast. A Pentecost service, remembering that day so many years ago when the Holy Spirit, like tongues of fire, came down. My dad’s 88th birthday and me absent from this momentous occasion, the result of a life lived far away from those you love. A manuscript delivered in the mail on Friday evening, opened today, and reviewed with fear and trembling. And a long talk with two of our children, both home from college for the summer.

It all crashed down on me well after I was supposed to be in bed and asleep. Despite the full, glorious weekend, I’m caught in a vice-like grip of worry for those I love. Crashing against a tired body was a tired heart, a heart lost in tears that quickly dried in the cool breeze, only to come again with more force.

And it came to me again, like it has thousands of times in the past, to love is to hurt. To love my kids is to hurt for their pain, to rage at some of their choices, to delight in their successes, to weep at their tragedies. To love my adopted country means to weep that a group of terrorists brutally attacked the airport, killing and wounding many. To love means to get tired from caring, to feel weary from listening. To love is to hurt.

But I have known in the past what an ice-cold heart feels like, the numb apathy that accompanies it, and I will pick this pain any time, every time. Because this pain is proof that my heart is alive, alive with God-given feeling. This pain is proof that my life is full, full of people and places that I love. This pain is proof that I desperately need God, God to reach through pain and worry with a promise of redemption. Because to love is to hurt.


Stacy is away from Dubai this week, visiting Houston. She says this about today’s muffins: “I’ve made cinnamon and brown sugar muffins for tomorrow’s post, using buttermilk and melted butter, so they are extra moist and delicious. Bonus: The house smells terrific!” Head here for the recipe for Cinnamon Brown Sugar Buttermilk Muffins. To love is to make people muffins!

Picture Credit – http://pixabay.com/en/mourning-woman-sculpture-360500/

 

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Mercy Triumphs Over Justice

call the midwife 2In Season One, Episode 2 of Call the Midwife, we have an overwhelming picture of love and mercy.

The beginning of the show has us at a clinic watching women come in for their regular maternity check ups. A couple walks in, he – older, she – clearly uncomfortable. The midwives check her and give her a perfect bill of health, but they are uneasy and intuitively know something is not right.

Throughout the show we are taken to the home of the couple, privy to the conversations between midwife and patient. But still we don’t find out much – just that she is surprised she is pregnant and worried about something.

Toward the end of the show the woman is in labor. And it is while in labor that we find out why she is worried. She is worried that the baby will be black –  the husband we have met is white. And we are suddenly part of her story, part of the drama unfolding onscreen. What is going to happen? The birth is imminent – what will the outcome be?

The midwife with complete authority reminds the woman that there is a baby coming whether she likes it or not: “I don’t care if it’s green, red, or orange. Your child’s heart rate is dropping, and I need you to start pushing. Now.”

In all the pain and work that is childbirth, the baby is birthed….and the baby is black. It’s obvious that the husband, so excited by this pregnancy, so zealous for the welfare of his wife, so ready to welcome his son into the world, is not the father.

And we don’t know what is going to happen. Will he rage and accuse? Will he leave or throw her out? Will he demean and demand?

At this point there are two midwives, a doctor, the mom, and the perfectly formed, healthy newborn in the bedroom together. The husband is outside, taking a much-needed cigarette. The doctor heads outside and stands silently with him, revealing nothing, just waiting alongside. And finally the midwife comes to tell the husband he can come see her, come see the baby.

And so the dad rushes in.

All is silent as he looks at his son. None of us can breathe as he takes in the obvious. All of life hangs on this moment.

The man takes the baby in his arms. “I don’t reckon to know much about babies” pause “But I can see how this is the most beautiful baby in the world.”   

And so we breathe. For a moment we were the pregnant woman – would he accept or reject? Would we see mercy, or would we see justice? In that instant mercy and love triumphed. Sacrificial love, love that bears a cost, takes a stand; love that would forgive and move forward.

And we respond the only way we know how, with tears, relief, and a small sigh of gratitude escaping our lips.