AscensionA few nights ago, my tabby coloured cat, interspersed with lovely shades of brown, passed away with almost no shadow of warning. Ascension, or Gorgeous as we sometimes called her, was 14 years  old. She came to live with us when several of my daughters encountered some people outside a pet store who had a small abandoned kitten to find a family for. Ruthmarie and Andrea failed to mention to their Dad exactly what they were bringing home. He said her little squeaks sounded like a bird’s. However, she was a fully-fledged feline and we fell instantly in love with her.

To our knowledge Ascension had not been ill. Except for a little extra stiffness in moving around, she did not look like an older cat. Her fur was glossy and thick, and as the alpha cat, she had no trouble maintaining her position. The day she died, Ascension appeared to be fine until around suppertime. She was lethargic but that had happened before. We made sure she had some water and my daughter, Andrea, settled her comfortably in her bedroom.

Sometime around 2:30 a.m. Andrea came to our bedroom door and said there was something terribly wrong with Ascension. We brought her to our room and I lay down beside her. She had a short spell of convulsions and then was still. I kept my hand on her, certain she was still alive. My husband had to do the hard part and convince me that she had slipped away, with me crying and telling him not to take her  from me. He put her in a little box and I cried inconsolably. She was very much my cat and I wonder if I will ever get over feeling the way I do now.

We all experience loss and it is never welcome. Losing something or someone is highly personal and unfortunately, one loss can trigger feelings from  a host of others. Over the past few years, there has been way too much of it – the deaths of family members and friends, the unforseen  breakdown of a close relationship, and a temporary loss of identity and purpose as roles shift and self examination takes place.

We also grieve for the losses of others. Dementia, for example, takes a terrible toll People lose a loved one twice: the gradual, downward spiral until the person is not longer him or herself and then death itself.

Since I am in the grieving stage, this all sounds like doom and gloom, but there is hope. Some losses require forgiveness and understanding. Some require fresh ideas or altered paths to travel, an inventory of what is next in life. We never really get over the deaths of those we love but as many have pointed out to me, we may have wonderful memories to sustain us, as I do with Ascension.

My mind keeps going to Paul’s words in Philippians 3:8: “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things” (NIV). Perhaps Paul is saying that none of these earthly losses compares with the joy of knowing Christ in a personal and intimate way. He is the one who gives us peace and holds our hand in the storm. Our own losses also enable us  to comfort others, to really understand their pain, even if the actual details differ.

And, as several friends have pointed out to me, Ascension is immortalized in a story I wrote and had chosen for publication in Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon, edited by N.J.Lindquist. How many cats have a claim to fame like that?

If you are grieving be gentle with yourself, put your hand in God’s and know that he will never let it go.

Thanks for listening.








100th Anniversary of the Halifax Explosion

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion. We remember not only a devastating  casualty of war but the courage and compassion of the Halifax people and their ability to rebuild from the ashes of tragedy.

As a tour guide, I told the story of the Halifax Explosion as we travelled from Agricola Street to the Hydrostone area in the North End. This is my story.


Remember the three red and white smoke stacks that I asked you to keep in mind as we drove down Citadel Hill? Now I am going to tell you the story of the Halifax Explosion.

The early morning of Dec.6, 1917, during the First World War,  seemed no different than any other. Adults went to work or attended to household tasks and children walked to school. The Halifax Harbour was bustling with ships. The two principle characters in our story are the Mount Blanc, a munitions ship from France, under Captain Medec,  and the Emo, a relief ship headed to New York City, under Captain Fromm. The Mount Blanc was like a sailing bomb, carrying such dangerous items as TNT, picric acid, gun cotton saturated with nitric acid, and benzoyl, which was placed in secured barrels on the deck, away from the other explosives. Normally, such a ship would have flown a red flag to warn people of danger but Captain Medec did not want to fall prey to enemy vessels.

On the evening of Dec. 5, both captains were anxious to complete their missions.  Captain Medec wanted to enter the harbour and  join a convoy of vessels which would give protection sailing across the ocean, and Captain Fromm was in a hurry to exit the harbour and load his ship with relief items in New York City.  However, the captains were stalled because the submarine nets, created to keep out German U-boats , were already in place.

The next  morning both Captains were eager to be off. They both travelled towards the narrows, where the smoke stacks are, but because of some blundering decisions, crashed into each other at 8:45. The Mount Blanc caught on fire. It proved  impossible to put out and both crews abandoned their ships.

Few people knew how much danger they were in. They stood at the waterfront, watching the burning vessel. Children looked  out through the large school windows. They were no different than us, full of curiosity about an unexpected event.

Curiosity soon turned to terror. At 9:04:35 the Mount Blanc exploded, the biggest explosion caused by man  before the atomic bomb. Approximately 2,000 people were killed and 9,000 injured. Windows were shattered and slivers of glass damaged people’s eyes. Many wooden  houses caught on fire and people were stranded underneath the boards. Halifax immediately took control, calling in medical help from doctors, nurses, and  student doctors studying at  Dalhousie. People without homes were taken in by the Armouries, factories, churches and homes. A flood of help arrived  from other provinces and  countries. Can you guess which was the first city to send in supplies and medical help? I will give you a hint. It was a city in the USA. You’ve got it! Boston, Massachusetts! Each year, Halifax sends Boston a gigantic Christmas tree, as a thank you to the people of Boston. The tree is placed in the Boston Commons and beautifully lit.

When my husband and I decided to move to Nova Scotia, 17 years ago, we  read a novel called “Barometer Rising” by Canadian author, Hugh McLellan. The book is a fictional account of the explosion. A comment that has always remained in my memory is that we often remember a smaller event because of its juxtaposition  to a larger one. For example, many of you can likely remember exactly what you were  doing or where you were when you heard of the death of a loved one. During the night of Dec. 6, a ferocious snow storm hit the area. This made the task of finding family members much more difficult. There are many winter storms in Nova Scotia but this one is remembered because it is part of the story of the explosion.

There were several trials but finally the Halifax Explosion was judged an accident.

Here we are now at the Hydrostone stop. This area was completely destroyed. New houses were built of hydrostone, a fire resistant material. Look at the lovely green area and the many interesting shops. Much work was put into reconstruction.

Postscript  for reader:

Halifax has proven to be capable of handling major disasters. I am a transplant from Ontario,  but am proud to be part of an outstanding community. On Dec.6 we need to remember the people who died, and all those who showed great bravery,  provided aid and rebuilt the city.

Lest we forget.















Lest We Forget

In the hallway near the office of the school I teach at are large pictures of two young men, former students, who died in Afghanistan. I have often paused to look at the faces of these men and ponder what their lives might have held for them. What were their ambitions? Where would their lives in the military have taken them? How did they die? Did they have the chance for last thoughts or words? How many sunrises would they have  seen, if they had chosen a different walk of life.

Many of us take life and freedom for granted. Not on purpose, but we sometimes go about our days dwelling on mundane details and missing the beauty that is all around us. When a close friend died this year, I realized that I had just assumed he would always be with us. Life doesn’t work that way, of course, but we prefer not to dwell on its ultimate reality.

The young men who look so full of life in their pictures made a choice. They were well aware of the ultimate sacrifice that might await them. Yet, they still decided to put the good of others before themselves.

On Remembrance Day, we think of those who paid the cost for our freedom. We think of their families. We think of all the blessings that we have.

Lest we forget.






“Your Mother’s Day gift is over-the-top,” said my youngest daughter, Susanna, as we prepared for our small charges to arrive for Sunday School. My children are normally thoughtful and generous but I had no idea what this gift might be.

After church we enjoyed lunch together. There was a special aura of excitement about my gift and the family urged me to open it.  A pretty spray painted box sat on the coffee table. Inside was this:


20248304_10159088014280156_25602449842744537_oMy daughter, Andrea, with her creative flair,  had  made up a piece of cardboard  to look like an airline boarding pass.  It included a picture of my sister, Brenda, and I. Although my family and I had left Ontario to move to Nova Scotia 17 years ago,  there were times when I greatly missed being “home.” I called Brenda and put my cell on speaker phone so everyone could hear her reaction. We were both very excited that I would soon be flying to Ontario.

The  timing was perfect. Perhaps my children sensed that I needed time away to process all that had happened over the past few years. There had been too many deaths, too many losses, too many changes, and with them questions I couldn’t adequately answer.  I needed my sister. I needed to go home.

Right from the start, my trip began filling me with a sense of peace. My close high school friend, Marie, met me at the Toronto airport. We talked about her adjustment to retirement and mine to my swiftly emptying nest. I had been asking myself, “If I am not a full time mother, who am I?” I am extremely blessed with my five adult children and their life partners but sometimes miss the little ones who sat on my knee. Marie is using her artistic talents to help with her life changes and over the week, I gained a new motivation to put a pen to paper (translate keyboard and computer). After having a delicious lunch together, Marie drove me to my sister’s home in Brantford.

I  hugged and hugged Brenda and was thrilled to see my brother-in-law, Mark, and nephew, Ben. The next days were filled to the brim with activity. I met some of Brenda’s friends, people who were bravely coping with difficulties in their own lives. Several friends from university days made trips to visit me. In both cases, I had not seen these dear friends for more years than I care to admit. We had reconnected on Facebook but to actually see them, hug them, catch up on their lives and meet one friend’s husband was an indescribable experience. We were older (well that happens) but essentially the same people. I asked them how they had coped with their children leaving home. When we were in university we likely talked a lot about boys and future husbands but this time we talked about our kids and past or present careers.  I was touched and reminded, as I had been the summer before when visitors arrived,   that no matter how much time goes by, those who are truly your friends will remain so. Karen and Beatrice, we will not let so many years go by again!! My family and I also had a wonderful visit with my husband’s sister and brother and his sister’s husband.  I felt very impressed with an important  project my sister-in-law is undertaking. She has the same drive my mother-in-law had.

On the weekend, we drove to Owen Sound,  the city where Brenda, Mark and I grew up, the place I think of as “home.” We stayed with Mark’s mother, Donna, a  lady who is quite an inspiration with all her  interests and activities. On Saturday  morning she drove me to Inglis Falls, Weaver’s Creek Falls and Harrison Park. I was struck by the sheer beauty surrounding Owen Sound. Even though, I had been back to Ontario  on a number of occasions, this time I felt more than ever that I was home. In the afternoon, we sat  in Donna’s backyard, which includes an immense flower garden, a pool  and waterfall, and visited with my cousin, Cindy, her husband, and a close friend of mine from elementary school who I love to see when I am in Owen Sound.   Cindy’s brother, Doug, had died the year before, too young and  very unexpectedly. It is  not easy to accept that one of the five “cousins” is no longer with us. Brenda, Cindy and I needed this chance to be together. 20294041_10159081441570156_6279791281752930520_n

The next day was the hardest but also brought a sense of closeness. Mark’s brother and his wife drove to Owen Sound and we went out to the cemetery to visit Sarah’s grave. Mark and Brenda’s daughter, Sarah, had died nearly three years ago. This had  marked the beginning of the things I was struggling with. She was only 31, just months older than my first child. Sarah’s grave stone had just been put in. We took solace  in being together again as a family, all feeling the same emotions in our love for Sarah Jane. I kept my arms tightly wrapped around Brenda, as Mark did a beautiful service, emphasizing the resurrection of the dead. Yes, some of us cried, but we gained a greater sense of closure.

Shortly after the service we returned to  Brantford and the next morning Mark drove me to the airport. I didn’t want to leave my sister, didn’t want to leave Ontario. For that brief week, I had felt so strongly that I was home again. I still didn’t have all the answers, but something  deep in my heart was starting to heal. Brenda’s courageous and accepting attitude towards life had touched me. My friends had reminded me that true friendship never fails. We had come another step forward in our grief over Sarah’s death.  I don’t know what the future holds but God impressed upon me the verse, “…Be still and know that I am God…”(Psalm 46:10, NIV). He knows all the answers, what is ahead, and shows His love for us every day.

And when I saw my daughter, Hannah, at the airport in Halifax, I  knew I was home!









The Road to Emmaus

Two men travelled to the village of Emmaus, seven miles distance from Jerusalem. The most momentous events in human history had just occurred. For three years, Jesus, a carpenter’s son, had healed the sick, raised the dead, taught the multitudes and gathered a group of disciples to carry on his mission. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, the Messiah. He drew massive crowds, which filled the religious  leaders of the time with anger, jealousy, and since the Jews were under Roman occupation, probably fear. They stirred up the same crowd who had laid their coats and tree branches on the ground just days before to welcome Jesus as king, to call for his death by crucifixion. He was flogged and hung on a tree, left to die as a common criminal.

Now rumours were circulating that Jesus was alive, risen from the dead!

Did  the men understand what had happened, that the destiny of mankind would never be the same? It appears not. They met a man on the way whom they failed to recognize. At first, this man seemed to have no idea what had transpired in Jerusalem. Then, to their amazement, “he explained to them  what was said in all  the Scriptures concerning himself'” (Luke 24: 27b, NIV). Something stirred in their spirits but still they had no idea who the stranger was.

They stopped at a house and  the man broke bread and handed it to them. Then suddenly, they recognized that the stranger was Jesus and the stories of his resurrection were true! In their confusion and disappointment, they had not realized that Jesus had been sharing with and teaching them, as they were together on the road.

We all travel the road to Emmaus. Things happen that we don’t expect, can’t comprehend or have no answer to. Jesus is always with us but do we always recognize him? Perhaps we need wisdom but don’t recognize God’s voice, even though the answer is right in front of us. We need comfort and fail to see all the little blessings God sends us each day.We are in grief or pain but don’t hear the small voice speaking words of love to our spirits. Or, someone needs our care and we walk by, not realizing that God is calling us to extend our hands and hearts.

For some reason, this story holds great appeal for me. God has answered prayers in ways that I could never have anticipated.  Sometimes, when I listen, I can sense his spirit assuring me that he has the problems I face well under control, that it is only a matter  of waiting.

Look for God on your own road to Emmaus. He will be there, drawing you with his love, comforting you in times of sorrow, pouring out his blessings and giving you the wisdom you seek. Ask him to reveal himself to you and he will break bread before your eyes.

Christ has risen, and because He has risen, all things are possible!







Valentine’s Day

16707425_10158230254290156_4180565611012105938_oHappy Valentine’s  Day from snow bound Nova Scotia! More people may be shovelling than having romantic dinners  today,  but we can  still choose to focus on  love and friendship. As my husband and I shovelled, we laughed with our neighbours, making the task much easier, more like an occasion than a chore.

Sometimes life is just hard. Relationships shatter, often for no apparent reason. People hurt each other and find it hard to forgive. Dreams fall apart or do not play out as we had hoped. Loved ones die. Life’s problems and heartaches sometimes make it necessary to live one day, one moment at a time.

However, we were never meant to live our days in sadness or despair. The Psalms are full  of action words such as: sing, rejoice, praise and worship. There is a time for grief but also a time for dancing. God loves us. He will never let us down. Situations will change and we will walk with a lightness of heart again. Keep smiling. I have heard it said more than once that smiling confuses the devil.

Today might not be the perfect Valentine’s Day. However, you can laugh while you are shovelling, dance in the snow, think of those you love, and remember that spring is not that far away.

Happy Shovelling….I mean, Valentine’s Day!


Darkness and Light


Perhaps at no other time than the Christmas season are we as aware of the contrasting presence of darkness and light. The nights grow long as we head towards the winter solstice. Yet, the dazzling array of lights on homes and businesses both dispels and is  accentuated by the darkness. People turn off the lights  in their homes so they can better see the beauty of the lit bulbs on their trees. Churches may hold candlelight services, or their equivalent, on Christmas Eve, which focus attention on what the light stands for.

2016 has held both darkness and light, in varying degrees, for all of us. As I reflect on my own experiences, I am reminded of the opening lines of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….” Darkness  has come to me this year primarily in the form of loss. Our family could never have anticipated that my cousin, Doug, at 56, would be diagnosed in August with a rare form of cancer that would take his life just weeks later. When my aunt phoned me, I was strengthened by her sheer sense of courage in the midst of losing her son. Her words created light in my heart.14333103_10157432478945156_35679603554883442_n1

2016  has also brought unexpected joy.  During the summer and fall, we had wonderful visits from friends we had not seen for some time. One visit was such a surprise that I didn’t catch on when my friend sent me a picture of herself  near a Nova Scotia sign! Two of the other  families  were from Saskatchewan, where my husband pastored several churches  over 30 years ago. It was amazing, the sense of going far back in time, the thrill of making new memories while remembering the old.

Although I don’t know what 2017 will bring, I am believing for a year of brand new possibilities and dreams fulfilled. Doug’s story has not ended. Before his death, he was able to hold his first grandchild, a beautiful baby girl, in his arms. She will soon celebrate her first Christmas. Darkness has no  substance or power; only light does. When darkness invades, the solution is both simple and profound. Seek out the light. Believe that joy will come in unexpected ways and dispel the darkness, as the Christmas lights brighten the December skies. The shepherds discovered this joy in the fields, while doing their customary job of tending sheep.” An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them….”(Luke 2:9, NIV). The angel announced the birth of the Christ child, who brought light to the world. The shepherds responded in trust and worship. Let the Christ child be your light as well. 2017 is going to be awesome! The “best of times” is yet to come!

Merry Christmas!






Paper Scraps

I have a very close friend who hates writing letters, e-mails, texts or anything remotely connected with print. However, when she and her sister, Kathy, go on holidays, Kathy kindly takes on the role of Marie’s amanuensis. Marie dictates and Kathy writes, throwing in a few comments of her own, such as her severe lack of compensation. Marie is highly talented in other art forms. During Marie and Kathy’s last holiday, Kathy sent me a picture of Marie’s latest  endeavour.


In Kathy’s words, “It may look like one picture but it is hundreds of small pieces of paper or pictures that are glued together to make a picture of her vision of the view from the cottage that we are staying at. The pictures are from hundreds of magazines that she’s bought to collect cottage, sky, deck and tree pictures from. She then cuts pieces from those pictures to create her vision of the cottage. It even has a cat! I can verify that she has spent at least 10-15 hours at my place this spring cutting out pictures and colours from magazines and then she has spent over 10 hours putting it together here. It truly has been a labour of love for her and she is pleased with the results so I thought I’d share her work with you.”

Marie’s work is breathtaking. I can’t imagine the patience it would take to create a complete picture from tiny pieces of paper. Marie takes what seems to be insignificant or torn and brings wholeness and  beauty. She is a creator, with a clear vision of the potential these scraps of paper possess.

Isn’t that what God does in our lives? We can’t see the whole picture. Some of the pieces may seem missing, ripped or meaningless, and we can’t figure out how to incorporate them into something significant. We can’t find the missing pieces, the solution to a problem, a way to bring more healing and happiness to others.

Just as Marie saw the final picture put together,  God sees it in our lives.  He knows the end result. He knows which pieces fit and which to throw away. He wants nothing but the best for us. We simply need to listen to his voice and let him direct us as the scraps are assembled.

I don’t worry when Marie doesn’t write to me. If I push hard enough, such as putting: “To my elusive friend, please write back” in the e-mail subject line, sooner or later, I will hear her voice or get a reply. As well, there is her faithful sister,  who sacrifices some of her holiday time, to be Marie’s personal secretary.

Marie puts the pieces together, a job she is good at not only in art but in her relationships with others. When our own lives don’t make sense, it is  because we don’t  see the finished product, but we can trust that God is in the business of placing each scrap in its proper place.











The Butterfly

Yesterday, I was talking to my sister on the phone, when I looked out the window and saw a gorgeous butterfly flitting through the leaves of my husband’s lemon tree. “Go and get a picture of it,” Brenda said. The butterfly didn’t stay long enough for the picture but the scene created a picture in my mind.

A number of years ago, when we were  living in a tiny apartment, my husband’s lemon tree appeared to die. There was no sign of  life, just a bare stick. Finally, I decided that I would discard of this dead tree and put a new one in its place for a  Father’s Day gift. The tree had other ideas. Before I could carry out my plan, a tiny spot of green appeared. It was a very small beginning, hardly noticeable, but now we have a healthy tree, that has actually had to be cut back several times.

Butterflies are my favourite symbol. Inside the dark cocoon a lowly caterpillar grows into a beautiful butterfly. Life out of death. Joy out of sorrow. Hope out of despair.

We all go through periods in life in which it  seems as if dreams have died. Perhaps they are too remote,  too impossible, too painful to fix. We don’t have the answers or the foresight we need. We have tried our own solutions and they haven’t worked.

When I saw the butterfly hovering about our lemon tree God spoke to my heart. The dreams you cherish are still there, waiting for the right time to be revealed. They are not dead. I am in control  of them. 

Whatever you are facing, don’t give up. Your tree will bloom. Your butterfly will land in its branches.










The Finish Line

13307231_10156961266475156_458387478405197081_n“As soon as we go around this corner, Mom, you will see the finish line,” said my daughter, Hannah. We were walking a 5k in the Scotiabank Bluenose Marathon. Hannah could have run the 10k with ease, but she signed up for the 5k walk to be my guide and encourager. We rounded the corner and saw the big arch of the finish line. Then something odd happened. As we approached the end, I had this horrible fear that I wouldn’t be able to finish, that my feet would not carry me any further. Why?

A young woman on my Sunday School team said the arch looked further away than it was and that the last stretch was uphill. Technically it was a more challenging part of the route. This was not really surprising. It is often just before a major accomplishment, significant  change or restoration, that we encounter the greatest resistance.

Sometimes, we can see the finish line ahead but at other times, we have no idea how close we are. This is when we are most tempted to quit. This is also when we need to keep putting one foot in front of the other and refuse to back down. I once had a dream, during a difficult period of my life, that I was riding a bicycle towards a destination. I was not sure of my physical ability to ride the bicycle nor of my knowledge of how to get to the place I was heading. I just knew that if I  kept riding, I would arrive.

Situations can come unexpectedly into our lives. They may seem so bewildering and hurtful that we have no ready answers,  That is exactly the time when God wants us to keep walking, keep walking, keep riding, keep riding, trusting him that the outcome of our journey is entirely in his hands. We will reach our destination. We will come through the finish line.

Hannah and I walked through the arch together, holding hands, and feeling the triumph of completing our race. The sense of dread, that I wouldn’t make it to the end, was only a feeling. Reaching our goal was well attainable but if I had stopped walking, I would never have finished my course.

Refuse to quit. Never give up. You may be way closer to victory than you think.