Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Walk a Mile in My Shoes?

I’ve had them several years. Custom orthotics made to specifically fit my flat feet. Sometimes I wore them, sometimes I didn’t, because switching between boots, shoes, and runners was a hassle. I finally caved and bought a second pair of orthotics to make things a bit more convenient. When the knee scope on March 30 triggered a tear in an ankle tendon, my feet needed all the support they could get, so I started wearing orthotics faithfully, inside and out. No sexy strappy summer sandals for me.

(Poor Henry, he really likes when I wear sexy shoes, but here I am, wearing sensible, supportive shoes, day in, day out. "I am strong woman," I say, flexing my biceps and speaking with a deep, thick, Slavic accent. "Musht wear shturdy shoes; goot to pull du plough.")

One day I couldn’t find the second pair. I looked high and low, in every boot, in every shoe, but the second pair had completely vanished. Sigh. Back to switching the first pair between different footwear every time I changed.

On a day when I had a number of errands to run, I was in a rush, and chose not to take time to swap the orthotics out of my gym shoes. I wore my good Clarks Wave walking shoe instead and tossed my workout shoes (with the orthotics) into the gym bag in the back of the vehicle.

One of my errands was at Costco. I didn’t think much of the beep I heard when I tossed my keys into my purse, but when I returned later to my vehicle, my heart stopped for a split second as I stood and surveyed the scene. The back hatch was sitting open (perhaps triggered by my remote key fob) and my gym bag was gone. A crime of opportunity that would yield almost no value to the thief but would cost me a great deal of money to replace. It held my swim gear, workout clothes, runners and, of course, the pricey custom orthotics. My only pair.

I ordered new ones, limped through life for the three weeks until they arrived and began swapping them out again. Snowboots are the hardest but they have become a daily requirement in Calgary since the snowfall started before Christmas. Boots are good. I often left the orthotics in them and started walking barefoot in the house again.

And enter gradually increasing foot pain to the point where, today, I was inspired to look once again for that illusive disappearing pair of orthotics I’d lost last winter. Again, I searched all the boots in the garage: hiking boots, rubber boots, old winter boots, even older Sorells, and really old (like 20 years) snowmobile boots. Remember those big white heavy padded knee high not-so-stylish-but-oh-so-warm monstronsities?

Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zip. Zero.

Then I started in on scouring the hall closet. Rain boots, Harley boots, two old pair of Clarks Wave walkers (sure fit me like a glove), two pairs of Uggs. Really? Why?

And there, then, finally, in the deep recesses of the back side of the closet behind the shoe rack, I find ONE orthotic, laying loose. Could it be?!!! Excitedly, I dig further. Eureka!!! Praise Jesus!

Rejoice with me, for I have found the matching pair which was lost!

There are so many lessons here:
  • clean up the closet
  • give away some shoes and boots
  • don’t be too much in a rush 
  • always wear proper footwear
  • be careful how you handle your key fob
  • listen to the still small voice prompting you to look once more…
That's all well and good, but really, this is a blog post about joy. Taking time to stop and savour this precious, simple, little gift that will make life a little more comfortable, a little less hassled. And that is worthy of gratitude.

Thanks for listening in. Do you have a "rejoice with me" story?

One Word 2018

Do you have #OneWord for 2018?

What is it?

The #OneWord movement began as far back as 1999 and became a best-selling book. It is a personal choice to find, choose, or receive a theme for the year that is represented by one word. Resolutions don’t work, but many have found that #OneWord gives them the focus and simple clarity to make sustained life change over the coming year.

This post is not about the book. It's about my choice of #OneWord for 2018.

How do I find it?

Don't get so mired down in the process of finding your word and “doing it right” (whatever that means) that you give up, so keep it simple. Look at what others have named for 2018: hope, focus, anticipate, soar, fearless, enjoy, attentive, commitment, light, release, embrace and on it goes, as unique and distinct between humans as each individual and different snowflake

My Word for 2018

Previous words in past years have included gratitude, presence, love, good. Each year the word is different and reflects the context of my current life. This year the word came to me even before my birthday in December. Like a gift:


It was inspired by this article: Go Deeper, Not Wider.

Ways to Keep #OneWord In Mind

There are numerous options, but I have to find what works for my temperament and attention-deficit tendencies.

I love the idea my friend Kendra used in 2016 and I used with great delight in 2017: Establish a jar to collect good things that happen during the year. Put brightly colored note paper and pen beside the jar and write down the good things that happen each day, each week, or whenever you think of them. Or just put things in the jar that remind you of something good. (In the case of OneWord, I will include this year things that related to pursuing depth in my life). On the next New Year’s Day, open the jar and read them. This was a wonderful experience for me in 2017.

Make some kind of artwork with your #OneWord and hang it where you’ll see it every day. Perhaps a poem, a painting, a carving, glasswork, quilt, 3-D print, Lego build – the list is endless.

It’s a great idea to blog or journal around my #OneWord theme. It’s likely that I will write about the phrases above and other variations on the theme. Perhaps not. Either way, it’s all good.

Download and print the OneWord promise poster found here.

If you want to know more

There is a book. I haven’t read it. It’s better that I keep things simple. But if you want to check it out, go to

I’m not trying to persuade you to do this or suggest this is an “Easy Button” to life change. It’s simple a clarifying tool that I have found helpful.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Things I've Learned: 2018 Edition

The turning of the calendar page often brings reflection, even personal inventory. Here, I offer you a collection of thoughts, meditations and lessons from this hard fought life. Feel free to sample, test, and take what meets your hunger for this present time.

Everyone changes, everyone grows
Seek growth in yourself, acknowledge it in others. Think how different you are from where you were 5, 10, 15 years ago. Aren’t you wiser now? Different? Would you always, forever, want to be viewed by how you were then? No? Then allow the same of others. Let your view of others escape from those carefully-guarded pigeon-holes. Extend grace.

Whatever you are looking for, you will find. 
If you continue to look for evidence that things are bad, or that others are falling short, that’s all you will see. But if you assume good will, good intent, and ask yourself “what’s good about this?” or "what does this make possible?" then you will readily begin to see hidden gifts and the potential for joy.

Give spontaneous tributes
Have you given a tribute lately? Give it now. Tell others what you appreciate about them. Even small things. Say it while that person is able to hear what you love about them. Set aside the petty trivialities of how they aren't doing things "the right way" (read: your way) and praise them for what you'd miss if they were gone. Say it now. Today. Repeat tomorrow. Don’t wait for their funeral. Trust me on this one.

Give compliments
Even to strangers. Your server, that harried clerk, the bus driver, the people who are usually faceless. See them. Tell them something specific about how nice they look, their kind smile, their patience, their efficiency. I've even told strangers they look amazing, and you should see them blossom.

Youth and beauty are not accomplishments.
Let’s eliminate the practice of judging whether or not someone has “aged well.” Youth and beauty are temporary by-products of time and DNA. You can’t control either. (1)

Beware the double standard 
We are apt to be far more severe with others than ourselves. We judge others by their performance, which is clearly seen to be faulty, while we measure ourselves by our intentions or ideals, which, while undoubtedly excellent, often result in no performance at all. (2)

Strengths can become weaknesses when overused.
Strengths, taken to their opposite extreme, can compromise performance, sabotage relationships and even derail a career. (3) My strength of "problem solving" becomes a problem if I walk into every situation thinking, “What’s wrong with this?” and then begin to internally criticize, or worse, actually give unsolicited advice.

Seek simple. 
We often get so mired down in the process of “doing it right” (whatever that means) that we never get started doing it.

Keep a Joy Jar.
Grab a scrap of paper and write the date and one sentence about something positive today. Put it in a jar, box, container. (something you already have). Do the same tomorrow.
Or whenever something good happens. Put in the ticket stubs from that great concert or movie. Then at the end of the year, on New Year’s Eve or Day, dump them all out, read through them, enjoy the flood of memories and surge of gratitude for the joy-filled life you’ve had this year. (4)

Keep your own solemn vow.  And keep it to yourself.
Promises or resolutions spoken out loud may trick the brain into thinking it's already accomplished what was spoken. It releases the reward endorphins in our brain so we get the sense of accomplishment before the promise is actually fulfilled. As a result, we don't do the work necessary to actually keep our promise or reach our goal. Honor yourself enough to keep your vows. (5)

Be Present
Don’t make a future list of what needs to go away or come to your life. Stop trying to fix your past. Promise yourself only one thing this year: be present. Speak it only to yourself. Whisper it: "Be present." In every moment, in every situation, in every joy, with every difficult person: be present, focused, attentive, fully engaged. Make this agreement with yourself. (6)

Is it possible you are starting the New Year with an anxious heart? The early Christians used what is called a “breathe prayer” to help those situations. It is simply this: As you inhale, say the words “Jesus Christ is Lord” to yourself, then, as you exhale say the words, “Lord, be my peace.” Repeat this pattern until you feel the tension lessen or go away completely.

When we live in the awareness 
of our desperate need for God, 
we are filled in unexplainable ways. 
~Brad Harback

Attend to the one who provides every good and perfect gift. God doesn’t intrude. Look for God, invite God, open your heart to the one who rescues, redeems, heals, restores, comforts, guides, loves and fills us in unexplainable ways. Today, if you are feeling anxious, give the “breathe prayer” a try, and may God’s peace be with you.

Inhale: "Jesus Christ is Lord."
Exhale: "Lord, be my peace."

1. Original quote here.
2. Inspired by this article and this scripture.
3. From this article on managing your strengths.
4. Thanks to my friend Kendra for the Joy Jar idea.
5. More here about vow keeping.
6. More about being present here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Result of the Love of Thousands

I've never been particularly intrigued by my ancestry. I enjoyed the anecdotal stories, but didn't spend time researching family history. However, today, inspired by a question from one of my nephews, and by the listing of Jesus' genealogy in the Christmas story, I dug out both my parents' genealogies and discover the following names in my lineage.

Unruh (both sides)

My maternal great-great grandparents were born in Ostrog, Russia, great-grandparents in Poland, grandparents in Kansas.

My paternal ancestors originated in West Prussia @1750 AD.  In 1893 great-grandparents left South Russia and sailed to North America. Their 9 year old son died during the transatlantic voyage and was buried at sea. My grandfather was 14. The family landed in Quebec, then continued via train to Kansas where they settled near other family members who had previously migrated.

Of all the people I have encountered in my life, I often sensed there might be relatives among them. Even Henry's family surname and mine were listed in the same community in the 1700s. I think I have Facebook friends that share many of the surnames in my list above. Six degrees (or less) of separation, indeed.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

But I Don't Want to Be Still

"Why is it that when we speak to God, we are called pray-ers but when He speaks to us, we are called schizophrenic?" ~Lily Tomlin
Let all mortal flesh keep silence
and with fear and trembling stand
Ponder nothing worldly minded
for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descended
our full homage to demand.
My life is noisy. Rarely in any given day do I keep silence. Even now, as I sit in the early morning, with the waning "super moon" still high, the ambient noise invades. As the rotating earth allows the sun to speak light into the morning, the house breathes and creaks. Furnace hums. Grandfather clock ticktocks. My body speaks: tinnitus in my ears, an allergic sneeze. Creation groans: the Northern Flicker comes in search of suet, non-migrating geese fly their arrow overhead, rush hour traffic builds a wall of red taillights likely related to the sirens that woke me. An impatient driver squeals out a u-turn toward a self-devised detour.
It’s a shushing we resist. Reach for the radio. Pick up the iPhone. Plug in the earbuds. Turn on the TV. Whistle a happy tune. Check social media. Talk to oneself. Even the ever-so-brief prayer time at the Tuesday Bible study ramps up with chatter instead of reverence and supplication. Our brief foray into listening prayer had to be guided, met with strong resistance, was forgotten soon after.
“Be still and know I am God.”
Even in intentional silence, when I “still” my body, my mind is still noisy. Searching, thinking, Googling. In the writing of these few words, I have searched out the answers to at least two questions, learned a new musical phrase, and the origins of the hymn first quoted. This is part of the drawback of using a laptop for word processing: the internet is a click away. Thus I am not mentally silent. Not listening, but asking, talking, questioning, resisting. I have a curious mind. Love learning. Want to know. This is a compulsion paired with Attention Deficit Disorder. Silence seems a horrific distraction. An impossible quest. Even now, the dog barks two doors down. I wonder if he’s neglected.

Pink and blue watercolor stretch the sky. The earth exhales.

Humans abhor silence like nature abhors a vacuum. Or is it just me? I want to speak into the silence, make sense of the noise of the day. Even meditation begs an object. Ignatius Loyola was on to something with the Examen but even after professing and attempting to "follow God" most of my life, I have not yet disciplined myself to regularly (habitually, daily) invite God into my busy mind.
Let all mortal flesh keep silence
Silence pairs well with love. With all my heart. soul. mind. body. If I love something, I give it my time and attention. If I love someone, I listen. When my spouse and I need meaningful conversation, we turn off the TV and look at each other. I don’t seek out conversation in the theatre or at a concert. The person talking incessantly at the Diana Krall concert last night disrespected everyone with her lack of silence.
And with fear and trembling stand
Am I afraid of what I may hear? Noise helps drown out pain, the memory of failure. But is it also, perhaps, a barrier to grace? Perhaps loving God with all my heart, soul, mind and body means I embark on the quest to learn how to be fully silent before God: quiet my heart, still my soul, rest my mind, relax my flesh, so that I can hear Love.
For with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descended
The blessing is God's presence. Emmanuel, "God with us."
Our full homage to demand
I shall begin today.

If you wish to embark on your own quest, consider clicking the links in this blog, practice a bit of silence today, and join me tomorrow to share what you learn?

Monday, November 27, 2017

Recommended Reading List: Fiction

I was brought up “in the fear and admonition of the Lord" in an area of Missouri known as “the "golden belt buckle" of the Bible Belt. My folks instilled a love of reading in me, and my library included Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Boxcar Children, Hardy Boys, the encyclopedia, Reader’s Digest, the Bible, Danny Orlis, and other primarily Christian titles.

As a child, books occupied my free time. In grade three, my teacher, dear Miss Snyder, sponsored a contest to see who could read the most books throughout the school year. I won the award but was somewhat non-plussed when my prize was… wait for it… another book. Even then, I felt reading had to be for some ultimate purpose beyond just the love of reading.

I read ravenously as a teen, chewing through mysteries and “Christian romance” novels, until I entered university. The academic research and reading load was so great, I simply burned out on reading as entertainment and set it aside. As an adult, reading became utilitarian. I focused on self-help and how-to, but hardly any fiction, with the notable exception of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, of course. As my own child grew, my desire was to cultivate a love of reading in him also. We read together, I read to him, and my library expanded to include children’s classics, youth, comedy, graphic novels and YA books. Other than that, my exploration into the fiction genre has been quite limited and unfulfilling. Something was missing. I decided in retirement, it was time to change that.

So, I asked my Facebook friend, John D Blase, for a favor in compiling a recommended reading list of Fiction titles. As an author, poet and editor, John seemed the most credible literary candidate within my circle to help with this. Being the thoughtful and approachable gentleman he is, John responded in fairly short time, recruiting input from his own Facebook friends and followers.

Here was the criteria:
What are the top seven fiction titles you believe every person of faith should read? These would be titles to stretch your mind, challenge your worldview, crack you open with beauty, inspire you, bring you to tears or belly laughter or both. If you can't conjure up seven, at least try for four. And remember - fiction.
John started with his top titles and many of his friends responded. You can read the raw data on Facebook here. I collected and sorted those recommendations, which initially included 153 titles but I excluded a few nonfiction that snuck in and where a recommended book was part of a collection, I combined them. What follows is the list of books that received nods, sorted by number of mentions, then by author. I have included the title, author, year originally published and, in some cases, the sub-genre. At the end, I include the list of books only recommended by one person, sorted by Title.

Disclaimer: This list is not a personal endorsement of any title. If you'd like this list in an Excel spreadsheet to sort and expand on yourself, click here to access a copy in Dropbox. Typographical errors may exist.

Enjoy, and happy reading.

11 Recommended
Peace Like a River, Leif Enger, 2001
Gilead Triology, Marilynne Robinson, 2004

8 Recommended
All The Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr, 2014
The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1880, classic
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, 1960
A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving, 1989

7 Recommended
Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis, 1956
The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell, 1994, scifi (has a sequel)

5 Recommended
Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis, 1949, fantasy
East of Eden, John Steinbeck, 1952
Les Miserables, Victor Hugo, 1862, classic

4 Recommended
Space Trilogy, C.S. Lewis, 1943, scifi
Godric, Frederick Buechner, 1981
Lord of the Rings trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien, 1954, fantasy
A Ring of Endless Light, Madeleine L'Engle, 1980
Silence, Shusaku Endo, 1966
Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry, 2000

3 Recommended
The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver, 1998
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith, 1943
The Power of One, Bryce Courtenay, 1989
My Name is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok , 1972
Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh, 1945
Harry Potter Series, JK Rowling, 1997
The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood, 1985
The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd, 2001
The Confessions of X: A Novel, Suzanne M. Wolfe, 2016

2 Recommended
Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton, 1948
The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas, 1844
Selected Stories, Andre Dubus, 1995
The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas, 2017
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1943
The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis, 1945
Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk, 1996
Hyperion, Dan Simmons, 1989
The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor, 1971
The Violent Bear It Away, Flannery O’Connor, 1960
Son of Laughter, Frederick Buechner, 1993
Lilith, George MacDonald, 1895, fantasy
Phantastes, George MacDonald, 1858, fantasy
Robert Falconer, George MacDonald, 1870
Tenth of December, George Saunders, 2013
Returning to Earth, Jim Harrison, 2007
Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamilo, 2006
Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly Barnhill, 2016
Benediction, Kent Haruf, 2013
Eventide, Kent Haruf, 2004
Plainsong, Kent Haruf, 1999
Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery, 1908
The Giver, Lois Lowry, 1993
Love Medicine, Louise Erdrich, 1984
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle, 1962
Don Quixote, Saavedra, 1615
Anything by PG Wodehouse, P.G. Wodehouse, 1900-1970s, humour
The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck, 1931
Beloved, Toni Morrison, 1987
Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner, 1987
Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner, 1971
Book of the Dun Cow, Walter Wangerin Jr., 1978
Anything by Wendell Berry, Wendell Berry, 2000
Hannah Coulter, Wendell Berry, 2004
Life of Pi, Yann Martel, 2001

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

My Father's Poems

Some of you know I was born and raised in a singing family. I was the last of eight children and the only daughter of a preacher-poet father and missionary-minded stay-at-home mother. I have never known anyone who worked harder than my folks, both who were raised on farms by parents who instilled in them the very strong work-ethic of their Mennonite ancestors. Dad, as a pastor, teacher, preacher, inventor, mechanic, songwriter and poet; Mom as a nurturer, servant, laundry-tamer, canner, cinnamon bun baker, reader, letter-writing, pot-roasting aficionado. Yet while they worked tirelessly, both my parents were Contemplatives in their own right. They both spent many long hours (together and alone) reading and studying the scripture, and down on their knees in prayer, interceding for their family, friends, needs, wisdom, and for the Gospel to advance in the world.

From the time I was 18 months old until I was 19 years old, our family travelled and sang at various churches, camps, nursing homes and community events across the USA and Canada. By the time we stopped touring and Dad accepted a pastorate, we had visited 47 states and seven Canadian provinces. During that time he wrote hundreds of poems and songs of faith and comfort, and the family made seven vinyl recordings (and one cassette tape) with an average of 18 songs on each album. We also published a song book and a poem book of favorites, including a number of Dad's original works under the auspices of "Radiant Light Enterprises." We traveled under the name "The Nickel Family Singers."

To honor the desire of my oldest brother to preserve our father's legacy, I accepted the task of transcribing all our Dad's poems to make them more widely accessible. I began posting them on a blog called, "My Father's Poems." Well it grew, as these projects tend to do, and as I was seeing the end of the stack of my dad's poems, I  expanded it to include some of his songs, sermons, and now, I've begun to create videos of our family recordings, linking them to the lyrics on the blog.

As for our musical style, Dad valued four part harmony and lyrics based firmly upon scripture. His poetry style uses traditional meter and rhyme, fashioned after a century of the hymns that had become so dear to him. Though we lived smack dab in the center of gospel music country, the family sang more "hymnal" style than southern gospel. In our later ministry years, as contemporary Christian music began to explode, the younger offspring did introduce music from their generation into our programs.

With all that as background, I'm happy to share a bit of nostalgia with a video I created to go along with one of the songs we recorded, "Peace Like a River." My brothers fell in love with this song from a Blackwood Brothers' recording. It was recorded by the older boys' quartet on our third album. Enjoy!

Click here to go to the video and blog post: "Peace Like a River"

If you like what you hear/see and want to explore more, click here: My Father's Poems. Read older posts, Search by subject and key words, or Subscribe in the right side bar to receive new poems and songs by email as they are published.