Thursday, April 13, 2017

Re-membering Saviour: The Story of God's Passion for His People

First Alliance Church Choir and Orchestra with New West Symphony and Chorus
Directed by David Klob and Humberto Vargas
April 12, 2017 - Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Last evening was the second of two concerts of the oratorio work, “Saviour: The Story of God’s Passion for His People” by First Alliance Church Choir and Orchestra with the New West Symphony and Chorus. It was one of those events that becomes a lifelong memory, filled with transcendent music and the over-arching themes of God's love, mercy and faithfulness in the face of human rebellion, alienation and sin.

An event like this engages over 140 musicians and technicians coming together to deliver a profound and satisfying project with excellence and joy. The 1,500+ people who listen from the auditorium also enter in, creating a sense of unity and ensemble which I have not yet seen duplicated in any other forum. The lobby remains crowded for a long time after the concert; people lingering, visiting, in no rush to end the evening, communing with friends and sharing our individual impressions and experience from this worship experience.

Another musician on the west coast, singer-songwriter Carolyn Arends, shared a comment on her Facebook page from someone who attended one of her concerts this week, and it echoes what I saw happening for us last night. His feedback was, “Thank you. That was so connecting. I came here scattered - just disconnected from running around doing work and life - and now I'm leaving here integrated again.”

We left as an integrated whole last evening. We were many individuals coming together, and though each one of us had our own voice, our own part, and they were all different – together we were unified in harmony. As Ephesians 4:3 urges, we worked diligently over three months of preparation and during two performances to “keep the harmony of The Spirit in the bonds of peace.”

Ann Voskamp reminds us of a deeper truth that comes when we unite in worship of our Lord: that our “dismembered” and scattered parts are actually “re-membered” and made whole again.

“…all the brokenness in the world begins with the act of forgetting — forgetting that God is enough, forgetting that what He gives is good enough, forgetting that there is always more than enough to give thanks for. “

She goes on to remind us though we forget, though we're prone to chronic soul amnesia, God never forgets us, never abandons us, never gives up on us. He has written us, our very names, on the palm of his hands, written even me right into himself -- though we forget, God re-members us, puts us and the broken bits and members of us back together again.

As an individual, one who is part of a great whole, part of the re-membered body of Christ, part of this ensemble of musicians who lift our limited voices in gratitude and unity to pray:
Dear Lord, Thank you, that "we are re-membered in You --- You who engrave Your love letter to us right into Your skin.... right into Your beating heart. In the name of the only One who ever loved us to death and back to life again... In Jesus' name... Amen.”

Concert Photo Credit: Greg McCombs, used with permission
Scripture Photo Credit: accessed via Ann Voskamp Facebook post

Thursday, March 16, 2017

There, There

It was not natural to have come from there. Yes, write about it if I like or anything if I like but not there, there is no there there. ~Gertrude Stein
One winter’s night while scanning through old photos, I counted up all the places I’d lived. While I lived in the same home for my first 18 years, I moved eleven times as a university student, living wherever was available during each semester break or summer. I've lived in twelve different places since that time. A total of two dozen homes. My realtor says the average time one spends in any house is 2.5 years. Apparently, I am average.

What follows is a rough draft highlighting most of the places I've lived in Canada and a few snatched memories. Time for today does not allow me to flesh it out as I would like, or as Rainer Maria Rilke said, in Letters to a Young Poet, "...describe all these with loving, quiet, humble sincerity, and use, to express yourself, the things in your environment, the images from your dreams, and the objects of your memory. If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches." I hope to call forth these riches in a future memoir. What follows here is "just the facts, ma'am."

After marriage in 1981, I moved to a small town where my husband lived on the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan.  He had located a "starter apartment" but within a year we moved to a newer, more spacious location. During our second year, a roomy bungalow owned by family friends came up for rent and this is where we will begin.

I invite you to walk down memory lane with me, reliving these places for which there is no longer any there there. While I could not tell you all of these addresses which at one time were part of my intrinsic identity, these places shaped me. While greater shaping was done by the people in those homes and the activities around them than by the walls, I look back on most of these buildings with something akin to fondness. Not everything, but most. This is not the case for everyone, but it is the case for me.

53 Alberta Crescent, Lloydminster, Alberta

The best part of this home was that our friends Pamela and Murray lived right around the corner. Here Brent and I bought our first new car together and adopted our first dog, Munchkin, thanks to the influence of Keith and Diane who had already adopted the sibling, Muffin. Brent's dad planted the large garden in the back yard but, unfortunately, we were hit with severe watering restrictions that summer and about the only thing that survived were the potatoes.

The house had been owned by retirees and more retirees lived on either side, so they kept immaculate lawns, gardens, flowers and kept a close eye on things, if you know what I mean. I loved the tiger lilies in the large back yard and the weeping willow in the front, except in autumn when raking the leaves was an endless task. I cherish the memory of many suppers shared with family and friends, relaxing on the patio, going home for lunch, hosting young couples' Bible study, and enjoying the roomy basement with lots of storage and a cold cellar. I didn't care for the purple walls in the master bedroom, so that was the first change after we purchased the house in a private sale one year later.

We were young and the appeal of consumer goods led us into debt rather quickly. After about three years, the taxes, maintenance costs and high interest rates on our sizeable mortgage and car payments were becoming a heavy burden. We decided to downsize and rent for a while.

Marshall, Saskatchewan 
Six months from spring to fall of 1985. No landlord in Lloydminster wanted pets in their property, so after a long search, we found a 2-story townhouse in a tiny hamlet east of town. The thing I loved about this place was the endless prairie right outside the door. However, the stay was short, because the drive was long and the commute wore thin within a few months. Not to mention the persistent odor in the spare room which helped spur our departure.

5207 51 Street, Lloydminster, Alberta

One-half block away from the Provincial Building, where I worked for Alberta Social Services, this tiny house came available. We could go home for lunch again. Lots of yard for the dog, roomy parking area, small and dated but quaint. We lived here two months before Brent received a promotion and transfer to Calgary. We moved in January 1986.

4319 48 Street NE, Calgary, Alberta

In the '80s, many people walked away from their houses when the values plummeted and mortgages were higher than the value of the property. The provincial government was on the hook because they had ensured the mortgages. So they offered hundreds of these homes for rent, then later for sale at a reasonable amount. We rented for several years, then purchased, and later sold again at a significant profit. It was 1,500 square feet on two floors with a finished family room and storage space in the basement, a "chimney stack" house we called it, but a roomy, smart design. We said goodbye to Munchkin in this house but spent January 1986 to March 1992 here. On one visit, my dad built a shed in the back yard and evened up those front steps - heavy concrete stones which were all wobbly and awry when we moved in. Quite the labor intensive project.

By this time, Brent's parents were tiring of living in their motor home year round, so they used our place as home base during the six months when they were not in Arizona. In spring of 1992 when we were expecting Andrew, it was time to up-size our living space.

115 Rivervalley Drive SE, Calgary, Alberta

Location, location, location. This is what my realtor warned when I asked his opinion on this show home we'd fallen in love with. A new development in Riverbend with estate homes, but this one was a corner lot on a busy street. Again we followed our hearts instead of our heads and purchased the gorgeous property. The snow shovelling and traffic, the noise of nearby construction, as well as finishing the landscaping nearly finished us off, along with the lack of sleep as new parents. After two years, Brent accepted a job in the middle east, so we sold at a loss because the market was down again and took an apartment downtown until he had to report for duty in three months time. 

The Downtown Apartment

It was a temporary arrangement. Top floor, only blocks from Brent's office and a stone's throw from the river pathways. But noisy with sirens, crowded parking, no in-suite laundry and so many people sharing the common spaces. Odd thing was, once we started telling others about our imminent overseas move, they warned us to reconsider. We re-worked the numbers and did more investigation which led us to see that it was not as financially viable or secure as we had first been led to believe. In the meantime, circumstances improved greatly at Brent's current job, so he decided not to change jobs.

Well. There we are, downtown. Not an ideal situation with a young toddler. We celebrated Andrew's second birthday and Christmas 1994 but received the hammer blow of my mother's terminal cancer diagnosis. I had a car collision coming into downtown which totalled the vehicle, then a scary incident of physical assault by a mentally challenged male resident in the elevator, so I was done. Like a mother bear, I went on a rampage looking for a house and by the end of that month, only four months into our six month lease, we moved again.

28 Templeby Crescent NE Calgary

Andrew called this place our "brown castle." It was a haven. Four bedrooms, fully developed bi-level with a family room and roomy kitchen, a big yard, a swing set, gardening space and a garage. We were close to our church where I was choir director and Andrew attended playschool. It was mercifully close to several of my closest friends who had children Andrew's age. Based on all that was happening, I was experiencing depression but did not know it at the time. However, my friend Anna taught me to garden, so I enjoyed several summers of glorious flowers, a yard for Andrew to play, a next door neighbor girl who babysat, a sense of true community amongst our neighbors and a reprieve from the crazy busy life of the city centre. I even tackled the heavy lifting of leveling those concrete block steps in front because they were uneven and wobbly. We replaced quite a few floor boards on the deck and repainted. I had another collision (not my fault) which totalled our second vehicle. We bought our first piano here and Andrew had his first croup (or asthma) attack, requiring an ambulance call, and later on, he enjoyed his first trick-or-treating experience. My mom and dad visited on her 80th birthday before the cancer had really taken hold. I would lose her a year later. It was precious time.

We moved north to Rainbow Lake the summer after she died. I have pictures somewhere but need to close this for today. We spent 4 1/2 years there, got our dog Tickles, then traded her for Bernadette, lived a lot of life, Andrew discovered video games (Legend of Zelda), developed a love for snow, learned to skate and play hockey, Brent became a supervisor, I had my gall bladder removed and depression officially diagnosed, some joy, some real pain, then returned to Calgary in 2001. Since the financial benefits of living in the remote north made it possible to get a larger home than we could have otherwise, we bought a big place in Riverbend only a two minute walk from the river. I thought I'd found the house I would live in until my death, but in 2008, Brent insisted on moving to Douglasdale. The mountain view convinced me. I've been here ever since.

It was close to my job, offered better schooling options for Andrew, near our church. We became empty nesters here, I started and ended three jobs, buried Brent and Bernadette, took in a boarder, then married Henry. Life is more settled, we have both retired, we have no desire to move. This is home, and here, love resides.
It is a funny thing about addresses where you live. When you live there you know it so well that it is like an identity, a thing that is so much a thing that it could not ever be any other thing and then you live somewhere else and years later, the address that was so much an address that it was like your name and you said it as if it was not an address but something that was living and then years after you do not know what the address was and when you say it is not a name anymore but something you cannot remember. That is what makes your identity not a thing that exists but something you do or do not remember. ~Gertrude Stein

Quote source: Wikipedia

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Mental Wellness Requires Wholistic Wellness


Though I know now I experienced postpartum depression, I was not officially diagnosed with depression until three years later. Shocked and in denial, I begrudgingly tried an anti-depressant. A debilitating panic attack (my first) immediately resulted, so I discontinued the medication only to hear the doctor apologize later for giving me the "wrong" prescription. I chose not to try another. My case was mild, episodic, related to hormonal changes and seasonal affectation. I experienced moderate relief from using a type of birth control which is no longer offered due to its many negative side effects. It helped level the mood swings but didn't solve the fits of rage.

I took many steps one at a time to move from darkness into light and from little self care into personal health management. It included naturopaths, medical doctors, psychologists, a 12-Step Support Group, a personal fitness trainer, Bible Studies, many supportive friends, small groups, lots of prayer and meditation. Now that I'm post-menopausal, I take a naturopathic supplement that increases tryptophan, exercise 3-4 times a week, pursue hobbies I love, watch my nutritional intake (a constant battle) and avoid stressful situations or intense movies, TV shows, music, even news. I still see a psychologist when necessary. Due to many changes in my life, including re-marriage and retirement, I feel like I am flourishing now more than at any time in my life. This was my journey. Your results may vary.

My first husband died by suicide after a long battle with chronic pain, depression, anxiety and OCD. You can read about some of that journey and how I moved out of my own anger and depression in these posts:

A Walk Down Memory Lane
Hold On
The Lie of Despair
January Inventory

Our bodies are so complex, the medical community segments their studies but has yet to combine effectively across disciplines. If I could advocate for anything, it is for more wholistic study of patient care, including the biological, hereditary, physical, mental, emotional, relational, situational and spiritual aspects. There is no one cause, no easy button, no silver bullet solution or spiritual "quick fix" for mental health challenges. We are a whole person and need comprehensive, wholistic care along with compassionate, non-judgmental support from our health care providers and spiritual caregivers.

Hope Prevails. My story "ends" well, but I still encounter triggers so I can never let down my guard. Some stories have ended very badly. If you are in a dark place, remember to breathe. It is a lie that it will always be this way. Nothing is permanent, even if it feels like it. Please tell a trustworthy person what you are experiencing.

Know this: You may have depression or anxiety, but it does not define you. You are not your disease. There is help and there is always hope.


Monday, January 02, 2017

One Word 2017

Do you have #OneWord for 2017?

What is it?

The #OneWord movement began as far back as 1999 and became a best-selling book. Co-authors Jon Gordon, Dan Britton and Jimmy Page have been living and sharing the power of One Word since 1999. 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 2017.

How do I find it?

I don’t want to get so mired down in the process of finding my word and “doing it right” (whatever that means) that I give up, so I’ve kept it simple. I looked at what others have named for 2017: 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 that has piled up on my driveway. I needed to move them all out of the way to clear a path to sharpening my own focus.

My Word

Previous words in past years have included gratitude, presence, love. Each year the word is different and reflects the context of my current life. A few words that have lingered in my vision for 2017 include: discomfort, remember, tradition, laugh, build… but I have settled on my word for 2017:


As so many people have looked back on 2016, they seem to continually focus on the bad things that happened, “what a horrible year it was,” and all the celebrities that died last year. News outlets have become fear mongers and purveyors of bad news.

My own mind, negative narrative, self-talk, the inner mean girl, the enemy of my soul or just sub-conscious fears and anxiety like to rise (especially at night) and point out all the catastrophic things that can come of imagined realities. I can focus on worst case scenarios, or I can choose to tell myself the truth and seek out what is good.

One thing I know for certain is this: whatever you are looking for, you will find. 

If you continue to look for evidence that things are bad, there’s plenty out there. I also know if you look for things that are good, there’s even more evidence of that. Here's some initial thoughts:

God is good.
The first words recorded from God’s mouth were “It is good.”
God withholds no good thing from us. (Good by God’s definition, not mine).
God has shown us what is good: to seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God.
Look for the good, because whatever you are looking for, you will find.
Good is a four letter word.
Assume good will.
That’s good. 
Be good.

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 last year: 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. On the next New Year’s Day, open the jar and read them.

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.

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 many have found helpful.

I’ll leave you with this video from YouTube. It’s good.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christmas Traditions: New Year's Cookies (Portzelky)

This was my mother's tradition. Here's a link to a similar recipe from Mennonite Girls Can Cook. I like this version, and the four pictures on the page show you the stages and the various ways the Portzelky can look. The name is from Low German origins, but Mom only ever called them "New Year's Cookies." It's basically a homemade donut taste or a deep fried raisin fritter. To. Die. For.

Every New Year's eve, if we were not on the road singing, my momma would make these, then once they'd cooled a bit, she'd gently shake them in a bag to coat them with one part each of granulated sugar and icing sugar. Once in a while, she would make a glaze for them, like a donut glaze, but usually she'd shake to coat them so the family could partake of them one batch at a time - we weren't that good at waiting for the entire pan to be full. She would make so many that she'd use her big blue and white speckled enamelware turkey roaster to store them in, usually lined with wax paper or paper towel to absorb some of the oil.

Mom preferred to use Crisco Shortening, as less was absorbed by the dough as it cooked and she could filter it afterwards and re-use it. She would melt and heat the Crisco over the gas burner in her large stock pan and fry about a dozen at a time, turning them halfway through. Getting the heat setting just right was critical. Too high and the outside would be too dark while the inside remained gooey. Not hot enough, and you'd end up with the fritters absorbing too much grease. Mom usually had the right touch for the temperature!

I don't make these. I've never attempted. Now that I limit my consumption of wheat, I wouldn't likely even eat them, should I attempt to make them. However, since they were such a sweet, delicious memory from my childhood, I still think of them every single New Year's Eve without fail, and of my mother with great fondness.

Photo 1 Credit:
Photo 2 Credit:

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Traditions: Remembering the Past

2016: Rebecca's first Calgary Christmas, discovering Betty Lou's Library

It's my tradition to look through past memories during the quiet days after Christmas celebrations are over and before New Year's Eve/Day festivities begin. Wandering through my digital photo library today, I pieced together a chronological list of past Christmas locations and activities. Where digital records don't exist, printed photographs may, but this is not the day for locating them. If you celebrated with us and know which year and/or have photos, I'd welcome them! In the meantime, here is a brief not-quite-thorough summary of the last 59 Christmases.

2016, Calgary: Rebecca's first Christmas in Calgary and her first white Christmas
2015, Calgary: first Christmas Eve/Day without Andrew (he came for New Years)
2014, Calgary: first Christmas with Henry and our sons; my first real tree
2013, Hawaii: scuba, snorkel and explore the Big Island with Andrew
2012, Calgary: facing a “new normal” as a widow
2011, Calgary: first Christmas with Brad and family in 17 years
2010, Calgary: actually shop Boxing Day sales
2009, Calgary: celebrate at home, ski Sunshine w/friends, then Mt. Baker w/Andrew and friends
2008, Calgary: celebrate at home, then ski Revelstoke with Andrew and friends
2007, Hawaii: multi-island cruise with family and in-laws, prep for January house move
2006, Calgary: host the in-laws after nephew’s wedding
2005, Calgary: recover from big theatrical production
2004, Calgary: to Valleyview with in-laws right after
2003, Calgary: Hueftle family visit
2002, Calgary: first Christmas after Dad Nickel passed
2001, Calgary: after Thanksgiving in Missouri
2000, Rainbow Lake: prep for January move to Calgary
1997, through 1999, Rainbow Lake: and elsewhere (no digital records)
1996, Rainbow Lake: first Christmas in the north after August move, first Christmas after Mom died.
1995, Calgary: only Christmas at Templeby Crescent after February move
1994, Calgary: in temporary downtown high rise apartment after October move
1993, Calgary: prep for house sale
1992, Calgary: with a brand new baby boy on Rivervalley Drive
1991, Calgary: last Christmas on 48 St NE, prep for move in March
1987, through 1990: Calgary, Nebraska, Missouri: no digital records
1986, Calgary: first Christmas on 48 St NE
1985, Lloydminster: in temporary rental; prep for January move to Calgary
1984, Lloydminster: prep for (temporary) March move to Marshall, SK
1983, Lloydminster: first Christmas on Alberta Crescent
1982, Lloydminster: first Christmas in second apartment
1981, Lloydminster, first Christmas living in Canada in first apartment
1980, Lloydminster: got engaged
1976, through 1979: Springfield or Omaha
1958, through 1975: traveling/singing with family
1957, Springfield: my first Christmas, four days old

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve

"One day, every trembling heart will face the same way."

This year we sang in choir for two of the four services at our church. My son and daughter-in-love are here, having arrived in time for my birthday and returning to their home on Christmas night as other family and a wedding commitment follow soon. We are quietly celebrating together with Henry's sons, another soul-daughter, and a buddy of one son whose own family doesn't have a Christmas eve tradition. He was with us last year too, we're so happy to make this an annual thing!

Rebecca is thrilled to have her first Christmas in Calgary, and got her wish that it would be a white christmas! It's been snowing all night and all day, snowfall warnings in effect, but it is so beautiful.

Last night we all four went to the Flames game vs. the Canucks and enjoyed high energy play with a home team win. Perfect prep to launch us into Christmas weekend with joy!

Andrew has taken ill, having been going a blistering pace with two jobs and attending university, plus recovering from concussion and whiplash from a major car collision eight weeks ago. His immune system must have noticed things had slowed down and decided influenza could come to visit. Bummer. Some turkey soup, tylenol and a good nap are the order of the day. In the meantime, Rebecca and I are sitting quietly listening to holiday music, sipping wine, as she works on a cross-stitch project.

My dear husband has his own long-standing family Christmas eve tradition: ordering take out Chinese food for Christmas eve supper. "I don't want you to have to cook, nor anyone to have to clean up after." We just want to enjoy each other and celebrate the season together over a meal.

Our tradition afterward is to gather around the tree and share gifts, beginning this year with my decidedly new tradition of giving tree ornaments that suit each person. I began last year by proposing to Andrew that we exchange ornaments annually that remind us of a memory we have shared together. This year I've added to my tradition the beginning of what will be annual, giving each person an ornament that reminds me of something I know about them, their interests or their personality.

Then the longstanding tradition from both families is to exchange gifts and perhaps play a few games or watch a favorite Christmas movie.

Tomorrow is our second year to serve as emcees for the annual Christmas Dinner at the church. One of our catering staff organizes volunteers who prepare a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, games, activities, and small gifts for about 300 people: anyone who is alone on Christmas day or can't afford to make a turkey dinner of their own. The guys from Teen Challenge come, single folks, bus loads from homeless shelters, and anyone else. Last year there was a musical family who sang and led us in carols. There was also a photographer who took Christmas portraits of all who wished to have one.

The snow continues to fall. I am grateful for the presence of Christ and the love of family and friends. I pray God's peace and joy will be yours in abundance this weekend and throughout the coming year. Thank you for being part of my life. You bless me in ways you will never know.