There’s No Place Like Home

“Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’”  John 14:23 NIV

Isn’t it true?  I remember watching the movie “The Wizard of Oz” as a child and seeing the main character Dorothy get tossed into a bizarre world by a tornado.  She travels through this strange and scary land, making friends along the way who accompany her as she tries to find her way home.  And though she loves her new friends and they tug at her heart, the instinct and desire to go home is stronger.   And as she clicks her heels and repeats the words “there’s no place like home,” I feel that same desire for her and for me.

I visited family over the past couple of weeks.  It was great.  My sister Jackie opened her home to me, so I was able to visit with my hilarious niece Olivia and also visit with my Dad who lives in a facility near her home in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  It can’t be easy having a visitor for nearly two weeks – especially one like me who operates on a totally different schedule given even the two-hour time difference between Alberta and Michigan.  And after a semester of school requiring very late nights…well, let’s just say I felt sorry for my hosts!

When I arrived, Jackie and Olivia both had food poisoning or the stomach flu, so I put off visiting Dad as I did not want to contaminate him in case I picked it up.  Olivia was even cute while throwing up; after the sixth time, she shook her head and woefully expressed to her mom:  “I just can’t take it anymore.”  But after a couple of days, all was well and we carried on with the activities associated with the anticipation of Christmas.

Meanwhile, I visited Dad.  When I arrived there, all the staff were wearing masks.  The stomach flu bug had hit the facility and most of the residents on the first floor had experienced it.  Many of the staff did as well.  It had eked its way up onto the second floor, but luckily never found its way to my dad.  And so, I visited for lunch.  Dad has three table companions – Richard, Harriett and Steve.  Richard is a very physically fit probably 75-year old man and I had met him on my previous visit there.  Harriett was a new member to the table and I was told that she is Richard’s girlfriend.  She is a beautiful, gentle lady with an appreciative sense of humour – we bonded on that.  Now, Steve is probably 80 years old, is stooped over and uses a walker in a shuffling sort of way.  He is Jewish and has a stereotypical New York Jewish accent and way of expressing himself that I love.  He eats the healthiest of all at the table with a plate of fresh veggies always set at his place.

Both my Dad and Steve suffer from dementia, which makes for some interesting conversations and communication issues.  As they settled down to eating, Steve asked me who I was related to there, and when I indicated my dad, he said in his wonderful Jewish way, “Well, you are lovely lady.  A lovely, lovely lady.  Really.  Believe me.  It is wonderful you’re here.”  He went on at some length and internally, I chuckled.  Sometimes, dementia is fun.  A few minutes later, I inquired of the lunch group if any of them had been sick.  Both Richard and Harriett said “No.”  Then I asked Steve if he had been sick.  And he said, “What, you want me to be sick?  Fine, I’ll be sick.  Whatever it takes to make you happy!  It’s all about you.”  And again, he went on at some length.  I was mortified!  No amount of assurance on my part that I was merely inquiring as to his health was productive.  I was meaning to express concern and consideration and instead managed to offend Steve.  Sometimes, dementia is more of a communication challenge than anything else!

Luckily, Steve forgets things from day to day, whereas my dad will often hang on to some memories.  You’ll hear more about that a little later.

Meanwhile, Olivia and I were coloring buddies in the evening and made plans to play more.  On Thursday, I visited Miss Kristen’s house where the Little Lamb’s Daycare that Olivia goes to is run.  One of Miss Kristen’s children – Sophie – is a friend of Olivia’s and she and Olivia and another little girl (I forget her name, but she was adorable) and I made Christmas sugar cookies.  I have to say, whenever I visit a daycare and attempt an activity, I marvel at the capability of the people in charge.  Honestly, Miss Kristen, like my friend Harriett in Edmonton, is amazing!  A simple activity like making cookies becomes very complex in the world of children who want to go first, or want to make the biggest cookie, or want the cookie cutter than one of the other kids has, or want the sprinkles that one of the other kids has, or want to eat massive amounts of cookie dough – you get the picture!  We had laughter, tears, angst, worry, manipulation, whining, competitiveness, warfare, apologies, yelling, etc., all in this one event of making cookies!  Oh my goodness – those kids are a bundle of energy.

Friday night, my sister’s Mom’s group came over for a little Christmas celebration.  I had managed to pick up a spiral ham for $11 – that’s right, marked down from $27!  And I made a pasta salad as well.  And the ladies all brought great dishes, from fabulous cheese dips to a snickers salad; the food fare was great.  As was the conversation.  I had brought Kristen Fersovitch’s CD – “Songs from Home” – and a tin of Singing Christmas Tree mints for the gift exchange that night, since these ladies have been praying for Kristen and following her story.  Many expressed how inspired they are by her faith and that led to sharing testimonies.  What a wonderful gift God gives to us with our testimonies that allow us to inspire each other and build up our faith.

Saturday night I babysat Olivia so her parents could go out for a much needed date night.  We had a great time!  We made Peanut Butter Blossoms (you know, the peanut butter cookie with the Hershey Kiss on top) as I had found a simple recipe online.  And when Olivia struggled with rolling the dough into a ball because she kept pressing too hard, we made up a rhyme to help.  “Around and around, but don’t press down.”  And then we turned it into a silly dance while chanting, “Not down!  Not down!  Not up, not down!  Not up, not down!”  You probably had to be there to fully appreciate this.  We practiced karate chops while yelling out “Hiya!” and then snuggled on the couch while watching Jim Carrey’s “The Grinch”.  Finally, we read a bedtime story and Olivia was off to bed.  It was truly a good time.

Sunday, I went to church with Jackie and Olivia.  They attend a Catholic Church in Ann Arbor.  The musicians did a fabulous job – the voices of the singers were beautiful.  The priest gave a five-minute sermon, which left me wanting more.  He spoke about reading the results of a survey that concluded that people would be happier with an extra hour of sleep each night than they would with a raise, or promotion or something like that.  He said it depressed him because he realized he would be getting neither the extra sleep nor the raise!  And then he went on to talk about the happiness that Jesus brings into our lives.  As we left the church, I realized the first service at my church in Edmonton would just be starting, and I found myself wishing I was there.

On Christmas Eve, I braved the shopping scene at Barnes & Noble and picked up a CD of Rachmaninoff for Dad for Christmas and shopped for ingredients to make a pea soup with the ham bone.  I thought about the last time I made that pea soup, at Bob & Joce’s home in Edmonton one Easter.  I longed to experience Christmas Eve at church in Edmonton.  It is always a wonderful evening of Christmas Carols and an “afterglow” at Bob & Joce’s.

Christmas Day found me picking up Dad to take him up to my sister Judy’s home near Lansing, Michigan, about an hour and a quarter from Ann Arbor.  Judy, her husband Scott and her two daughters, Stephanie (along with hubby Ryan and son Emmet) were all in attendance as were my sister Karen and her husband Kurt from Tennessee and Scott’s mother Paula.  It was good to see everybody.  We had a great ham dinner with sides of potatoes and a corn bread casserole.  Then we played Apples to Apples, which was loads of fun.  I was supposed to have Dad back at University Living between 6 and 7 pm, but I could not resist keeping him out longer since he was having a great time.

As it is, I got him back at about 9:15 pm.  He was not happy to be dropped off.  I had arranged for help to get him out of the car.  Unfortunately, Dad has a dislike for the ladies who came to help him.  Probably because they are the ladies that typically have to put him to bed.  He is fairly immobile, so needs a lot of assistance to get to bed.  That being the case, he is subject to the schedules of the facility.  They managed to get him out of the car and into his wheelchair.  I grabbed his gifts from the car and we proceeded to enter the elevator.  He cleverly grabbed onto the rail and would not let go in the elevator in protest – one of the helpers reached to prevent him from grabbing it, but was too late.  I was a little surprised at the helper’s lack of creativity to get him to release the rail.  I simply held out one of his gifts to him and he released the rail to hold the gift.  Honestly, this is not rocket science – I could have held out a grape or a Cheezit and been as successful.  Even those with dementia respond more to kindness than force.

We got to his room and they decided to let him settle down for a while and get reoriented before putting him to bed.  He was livid with me and was expressing it openly.  “Why are you dropping me off here?  I want to go home.”  I said, “But Dad, this is where you live.”  He replied, “You don’t understand, I want to go home!  Where your mother lives!”  Ah.  Yes, I could relate to that.  My mind reflected quickly on the home my mother made for us for the Christmas season – cinnamon boiling gently on the stove, walnuts and almonds to crack, eggnog, needle-pointed stockings hung by the chimney with care, card games or scrabble games at night.  Mom passed away five years ago.

“If you leave me here, I’ll never speak to you again.”  Perhaps the time working in a nursing home while in high school helps me to not be hurt by these types of incidents.  I realize it is not “Dad” speaking, but rather Dad’s dementia.  I will say that there is a certain sadness that descends on me when this happens, but it is more a sadness that I can’t do something to make things better.  And I have to admit that it crossed my selfish mind that it was just my luck to be the one dropping him off and being hated for it!  But I ended up reasoning that I was the best person to do that given that I live so far away anyways.  Others living closer need to not be hated as they offer more care for him.

I finally left and returned to Jackie’s home and told her about the day.  She assured me he would forget about it, but I wasn’t so sure of that.  The next day, Jackie, Olivia and I went to see Dad, and my fears were confirmed.  He was still livid with me.  With Steve, Richard and Harriett all in attendance, Dad explained to Jackie in a very gossipy tone, “You won’t believe what she did.  Listen to this.  Last night, she dropped me off at some University place on the corner of…what corner was it, Kath?”  I replied, “Dad it was this corner!”  Finally, the director of University Living came in – she is a very pretty blonde that Dad loves to flirt with – and she managed to convince him that I had dropped him off at “that other place” because she was supposed to be there waiting to help him.  Problem solved.

As I climbed onto the plane yesterday to return to Edmonton, I thought about the time spent in Michigan and was very grateful that God had given me the opportunity to go there and experience Christmas with family.  I began to think about what January in Edmonton would look like for me.  There are so many unknowns for me right now.  I have to admit to being a bit concerned as I look to straightening out my life.

My friend Madlen picked me up from the airport and we caught up while we did some shoe shopping, and grabbed a coffee on the way back to my place.  She dropped me off at about 3:30 pm, and as we climbed out of her car, the peace of being home came over me.  There are lots of problems to solve.  But in that  moment, with the sun shining directly on me and the peace in the area surrounding me, I realized “there is no place like home.”

Thank you, Lord, for gracing my life with your peace.  Thank you for making your home with me, even though I may forget about it from time to time as I struggle through life’s challenges.  I thank you for drawing me back to you, providing an earthly home, a church home and family, and filling me with the anticipation of a home like no other to come.

First Love

“When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”  Luke 2:17-18

It has been a very tough year.  Very rewarding in many ways, but also disappointing in many other ways.  I’ve made new friends, heard a lot of music, traveled and worked with a world class orchestra, bonded with my niece, served at my church a little bit, took several seminary courses among other things.  On the other hand, I haven’t had sufficient employment in over a year, my house is out of order, my devotions have slipped, my road rage has increased, and stress has creeped – no, stormed – into my life again.

About three weeks ago, with three papers, a sermon and a final exam still to complete, I was asked if I would volunteer for the Singing Christmas Tree which was being performed at the Jubilee Auditorium here in Edmonton, Alberta.  My heart leapt inside me.  It leapt because I was asked to recruit volunteers to sell Singing Christmas Tree merchandise and specifically a CD that was recently made by an Edmonton singer/songwriter and friend, Kristen Fersovitch.  Kristen’s voice touches me in a special way, and her story touches me further.

Immediately, my mind traveled back in time to Christmas 2003.  I was in the palm of God’s hand as I traveled from Michigan to see the Singing Christmas Tree and meet the people who had led me to Christ earlier that year.  That was my first Christmas, and I was in love with Jesus.  There is no other way to say it than that.  Here is my journal entry for December 13, 2003, just to give you an idea:

“Christmas is coming early for me this year.  It feels very Christmas-y, too, sitting in this airport in Minneapolis.  There are some very large flakes sort of drifting around outside the airport windows.  I feel surrounded by his love, his grace, his holy spirit.  This trip is with him.

I feel as if I am standing in the palm of his huge hand as he lifts me up and transports me across nearly 2000 miles.  But first, he brings me close to his face, and his wise eyes gaze into mine and comfort me.  I raise my arms in a big V to worship him – maybe to claim a victory of faith in him – this trip.  He grins and nods.

Then he brings me to his chest and I reach out to touch his heart through the white linen covering him.  Such a large heart.  My tiny little hand rests upon it and feels the beat of the blood pumping through it.  Long ago, he shed that blood so that I might live.  His blood flowed out of his body, out of his heart, and in essence poured into my body and my heart.  And when it flowed into me and settled in my veins, his blood gave me new life.  His blood flowing into me carried his body, his heart, and his love.

When we accept these gifts we are also given a light and a certain opportunity, too.  An opportunity to shine the light along the path to the kingdom for others.

He lifts me back up to his face and smiles at me.  Then he touches my little heart with his finger.  I open my heart and feel my blood willingly leave my body and flow into him.  His life for me; my life for him.  That’s the deal.

Then he gently blows me off the palm of his hand to see if I will fly…”

And so I flew to Edmonton.  The next day, I went to Central Tabernacle and spoke at church.  And then, I saw the Singing Christmas Tree for the very first time.  What an amazing show.  I could go into detail about the people involved in the Tree. But it was one particular group singing one particular song that spoke to me that day.  Kathy, Kennedy and Kristen Miller sang “Your Presence for Christmas.”  This mother and her two daughters harmonized seemingly perfectly together – I was stunned with the beauty of their voices and the beauty of the song, which basically says, “Lord, I want your presence for Christmas.”  Honestly, they touched my heart.

A week later, I was baptized behind the Singing Christmas Tree – a truly unique experience.  Pastor Bob and Central Tabernacle were tremendously generous to me and filled the baptismal at a very inconvenient time for the church.  I studied about baptism the entire night prior to that.  An excerpt from my journal on December 20, 2003:

“As I go down into the water, Jesus, let me remember that you gave your life on the cross for me.  Then let me die with you.  Completely.  I would have the water turn black with my sin if I could, Jesus, but I know that sin will forever be within me.  And I know that even if I could expel my sin into the water, the water would be clear as I come up out of it because your blood will have washed away whatever sins were deposited there.  You are the only one that has the power to redeem my sin – I can’t do it nor can Pastor Bob.  As I come up out of the water, Jesus, let the miracle of your resurrection and the grace of your forgiveness strike me as I am reborn in your holy spirit.”

My first Christmas was an amazing experience spent in the presence of Jesus and the people at Central Tabernacle.  I had been telling everybody I met about Jesus since I met him in June, and I continued on my way back to Michigan from Edmonton.  Stewardesses, co-passengers on the flights, people in the airports, bookstores, etc.  In fact, I was almost late for my plane because I was busy telling the story to someone at the B&B where I was staying.  This was the experience of my first love, and I could not help but share the good news with others.  And I remember being surprised that as people listened, they seemed amazed.

Visuals of these experiences flew through my mind as I pondered volunteering for the tree this year.  But I also thought about the schoolwork I had to do and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.  I felt a familiar nudge, and it only took a few seconds to decide to return to my first love!  It seemed like the right thing to do.  And I figured if it was the right thing to do, I would know it by God helping me get through all my schoolwork anyways.  I lined up volunteers for the merchandise table and got back to my schoolwork until performance time.

I was filled with anticipation as the first performance approached.  All of my volunteers showed up and were excellent!  I saw many familiar faces as many of my friends are involved in the Tree.  We managed to secure seats for the performance and as the light dimmed the sense of excitement was almost too much to bear.  John Cameron opened this show “The Perfect Gift” in fine form and all the first half performers were fantastic.  Intermission was filled with cheer – people were on a high and getting into the Christmas spirit.

Back for the second half, and yet more great performers.  I particularly liked the Twelve Days of Christmas performed a cappella by twelve men.  Beautiful voices.  And then, the moment I’d been waiting for – first, Kennedy Miller sang a beautiful song for her sister, now Kristen Miller-Fersovitch.  And then, Kristen glided gracefully across the stage in a beautiful blue gown.  A lot has transpired since I first saw Kristen sing with her sister and mother in 2003.  She is now married to Mike and has three gorgeous boys – Beckett, Tayven and Lincoln.

A couple of years ago, she was also diagnosed with terminal cancer.  That is all I intend to say about that, because frankly, she doesn’t identify herself with cancer.  Rather she identifies herself with living everyday meaningfully with a fully expressed faith in Christ.  Really, Kristen is one of the most dynamic people I’ve met – there is a radiant energy around her that infuses those around her, including me.

Her performance at the Singing Christmas Tree was breathtaking and again, my mind traveled back through the years to 2003, and I marveled at God’s work in her life.  After the performances, she would come out and sign CDs and I could see her energy touching others.  When you are standing for Christ in a Christ-like manner, you beckon people to him.

For the rest of the performances, I sat out and studied in the lobby of the Jubilee.  Sunday night finally rolled around, and as I was cashing out in the staff room, Kristen came and her dad came in.  I could not believe how energized Kristen seemed to be after a long weekend of work!  We chatted for a while and then it was finally time to leave.  I had purchased one of Kristen’s CDs finally on Sunday and as I drove home, exhausted yet somehow exhilarated, I listened as “Songs from Home” spoke to me for the first time of many in the last week.

All of the worries, all of the cares, all of the burdens, all of the schoolwork to be done, all of the family strife, all of the weight gained, all of the health issues, all of the failure – all of these things led to many tears shed this past year and this past week.  More than have been shed in quite a while.  Certainly, these are not proud moments.  But over the last couple of days, as this music has seeped into my heart, and I listened to the first song on the album – “Hold on,” I began to feel some strength return to this weary body.  The words infused my mind.  “Hold on, don’t let go, you might figure out you’re stronger than you know…”

I had to give a sermon in one of my classes a couple of days ago, and the text for the sermon was the Christmas Story, the story of the announcement of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds.  That was their first Christmas, and we read about the results of their newfound faith in Jesus in Luke 2:17-18 above.  They spread the good news!  It didn’t matter that they were outcasts, dirty, and the lowest of social ladder.  I thought back to my own first Christmas and first love and how Jesus just had to be shared.  As Kristen sings in her song “Christmastime,”

“I’ve got this joy in my heart something I cannot hide
It brings me hope, it brings me peace
It’s come and changed my life
And though my heart may be broken
And my world may seem destroyed
That precious child He has brought me joy.”

Lord, I thank you for Kristen, her voice, her life, her music that pours from her heart on the inside and radiates beauty on the outside.  Thank you for inspiring her to inspire others, including me, to return to their first love.  I pray you bless her, comfort her, heal her, and love her this Christmastime as she celebrates life in Christ with family and friends.  Amen.

Lavender Mornings and Periwinkle Nights (Reposted)

“So I tell you, don’t worry about everyday life – whether you have enough food, drink, and clothes. Doesn’t life consist of more than food and clothing?”
Matthew 6:25 (New Living Translation)

Lavender Mornings and Periwinkle Nights

I hate the snow. I really hate the snow. Let me qualify that a little. I hate driving in the snow. When I get up on a workday and look out the window and there is snow for me to contend with, tears come to my eyes as I anticipate the stress of getting to work that day. Stress caused by the multitude of drivers on the roads that don’t appear to recognize that snow creates a condition requiring a slower and more cautious pace of travel. Stress caused by knowledge that I am going to be honked at for quite some miles as I make my way to work. Stress caused by the feeling that it just doesn’t seem right to risk my life to get to work, but that is the reality and the way of life today. Everything may be sacrificed for work. Work is top priority in this 24/7 world.

I was lucky this past Thursday. It had snowed enough Wednesday that school was closed the following day. Since it had taken me an hour and a half to get home from my job at the school district the night before (and generally, it would take 25 – 30 minutes), I breathed a great sigh of relief when the call came that school was cancelled on Thursday. Then I proceeded to catch up on e-mails, read, clean and make some calls. I met a friend for lunch, and as I drove out of my complex, realized 8 Mile Road was still not cleared. It was treacherous, in fact, and I was thankful again that I did not have to face it in all the traffic earlier that morning. All in all, Thursday was a great day – a snow day.

To make up for missing work Thursday, my department had to work Saturday. Saturday morning, I got up early, showered, dressed for work, packed a lunch, and with some trepidation, exited my apartment. It was a lavender morning. You know, where you walk outside in the twilight just before dawn and with the snow and the cloud cover and perhaps just a hint of light from an early sunrise behind the clouds, everything was twinkling and lavender. Flashbacks to childhood moments when we lived in a small town in rural Vermont came into my head. A moment when I was alone in the backyard building a snowman; alone until my mom came out to help with a big smile on her face. A moment when I had walked home from school between huge walls of snow and the tears rolled down my face because I was so cold. And when I reached our house, I knocked on the door. Mom opened it and I cried “I think I have frostbite!” I remember she laughed and pulled me in and fed me some warm soup or hot cocoa to get me warmed up. But I remember most being warmed by the warmth in her eyes and in her laugh. Those were lavender moments.

It snowed all day Saturday while we were at work and I felt some stress build up through the day – what would the drive home be like? Another hour and a half obstacle course filled with loud horns and obscene gestures?

I left just as the sun was setting. The roads were not bad at all and there was very little traffic out there that evening. As I got closer to home, the scenery changed from industrial to suburban, the sun disappeared, and nighttime descended. It was a periwinkle night. You know, the kind of night where it seems almost as light as day because the moon illuminates the clouds and the snow with its ethereal bluish light. Another flashback to Vermont. Mom asking me if I would like to do something very special one night – go ice-skating on a pond with a few other girls and their mothers. And I remember being so very excited as we left, bundled up in snowsuits, hats, mittens and scarves. In my young mind, I was sure it was midnight at least, but it was very light out. And here I was getting to ice-skate at midnight with “the girls”. That was a periwinkle moment.

Thank you, Lord, for a mom that provided lavender mornings and periwinkle nights to those around her throughout her entire lifetime. Thank you for her beautiful smile, her lilting laugh, her unfailing grace that allowed her to be joyful in all circumstances. I marvel at the beauty you create in this world, which my mom captured both in her spirit and in her artwork. Beauty that inspires treasured moments like these with my mom that I can call to mind when I begin to feel stressed during everyday life today.

In loving memory of:

Ann Marie Brown
1937 – 2007

St. Francis Speaks To Me

It had been too many years
Since your little flowers beckoned to me
With tantalizing views of God’s love
Lived in the life of the littlest friar.

I could not hear you then
Your voice too pure for filthy ears
Your heart too humble for haughty reflection
And a love too strong for indecision.

Lady Poverty set you free to live in this world
Nursing lepers as they healed you
Reminding the birds of the love of our Creator
Piecing together the broken puzzle of the church.

Familiar wounds appeared five times
On hands that softened life’s blows on the sick
On feet that left bloody footprints on the path to Christ
And in the side of a body slim enough for the narrow gate.

Shall I listen, dear Francis, as you speak to my heart,
With haunting words demanding response,
“I have done what was mine to do;
May Christ teach you what you are to do.”

Kathy Brown, 2012