Campfire Musings on Life

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“Ohhhh!” A spark snaps from the embers and sizzles through the fleecy fabric of my shirt. I have a few sweatshirts and jackets that have been similarly annointed.  It’s just one of the hazards of sitting too close to a campfire — something I’ve been doing on summer nights for decades.

Fire

I love a campfire… its cheery crackling,  flickering colours, and toasty warmth. Oh, and S’mores, foil-wrapped potatoes (or cobs of corn) baked in the coals, flame-charred popcorn… what’s not to like? Fire is wonderful… that is, if it doesn’t get out of control. When I see scenes of forest fire devastation on TV, or drive through areas of blackened sticks that were once lush evergreen trees, and crumbled foundations of what were once homes, I am reminded of how fragile our control is over life and the environment.

Something else on television reminded me of that this week, too — the posthumous video made by Canadian microbiologist Dr. Donald Low, an advocate of assisted suicide. He isn’t the first dying person to argue for ‘the right to die with dignity’, that it’s his body and he has the right to say what happens to it and how his life will end. The weakness in that argument, at least from my perspective, is that our bodies are not ours. Even those who don’t believe in God can’t say they chose to be conceived, when or how they would be born, or what bodies they would have for the duration of their lifetime.

Life is a gift.  I didn’t always see it that way, but as a Christian, I’ve come to understand mine is a gift from God, infused with uniqueness and lent to me for my life’s duration. It is to be used much as in the Parable of the Talents* where the owner’s gold was put into the care of his stewards during his absence, to be used wisely and not wasted.

At life’s end I trust that the knowledge he has given to those in the medical profession will be used to keep me as comfortable as humanly possible until God decides it is my time to return to him.

Dignity isn’t found in legal lethal drugs. Who needs dignity, anyway. After all, what was dignified about the way we came into this life?

*

I push my camp chair back a bit from the fire. The flames mesmerize me with their layers of colour. The hottest blaze blue and fiery embers darken, while newness flashes yellow white. Tiny flicks of rich colour feed from an unknown source, burn brightly and are soon gone.

Even as I loll in the welcome warmth, the bucket of lake water sits close by, ready to douse any wayward sparks. I may not have control over lightning strikes, but I am responsible for this circle of fire created by my own hand.

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“Do you not know that your bodies
are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you,
whom you have received from God?
You are not your own.”

1 Corinthians 6:19
* Matthew 25:14-28

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Remembering Sara

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“At times our own light goes out
and is rekindled by a spark
from another person.
Each of us has cause to think
with deep gratitude
of those who have lighted the flame
within us.”

(Albert Schweitzer) 

Light

Two years ago today a very special light went out in our world. Sara Frankl, known around the blogosphere and by her family and friends as Gitz, died. She had a disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis, a genetic, systemic, autoimmune disease.

Sara was a person who had every reason to complain, but instead she chose a more positive route. On her ‘Gitzen Girl‘ blog she said, “I’m just a girl who used to write for a magazine to make a living, and now writes a blog to make a life. Extremely blessed, well-loved and choosing joy while learning that homebound doesn’t limit your life, just your location.”

Sara & Riley

(Sara and her Riley, borrowed with thanks from the Gitzen Girl blog)

In one of her later blog posts she explained that she was allergic to most of the drugs the doctors would have liked to give her, and “the one medication I take for the disease [other than the pain killers] I can only take in a limited amount before my white counts drop to a level the doctors aren’t comfortable with. In other words, I’m stuck. And I’ve exhausted every option. And yes, I’ve tried homeopathic things that were worse for me than any drug I’ve ever taken. I spent years fighting, and I will always try what I can in the future, but accepting what is, living with it, embracing it and finding joy in it is the only way I know how to live a productive life.”

She was a light in so many lives, right up until hers flickered out. But her life continues to inspire. It was because of Sara that my focus word in 2011 was “Joy“. That year hers was “Praise“. Through her I found Ann Voskamp‘s ‘A Holy Experience‘ website and later, Ann’s book, ‘1000 Gifts‘ that urges us to thankfulness by living fully and counting small everyday joys.

The (in)Courage community created a video about her for their online conference last year… ‘Sara’s Story‘. When you have a half hour to spare I encourage you to watch it. Or hop over to SoundCloud and listen to her sing. I hope you’re provoked to Choose Joy for yourself.

I’m remembering Sara today.

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“In the same way,
let your light shine before others,
so that they may see your good works
and give glory to your Father
who is in heaven.”

(Matthew 5:16)

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A time for prayer

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“Where flowers bloom so does hope.”

Lady Bird Johnson

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My thoughts today are with my nephew, David, and his sister-in-law, Carole. David was diagnosed earlier this year with an inherited disorder called Hemochromatosis that causes the body to absorb too much iron. By the time it was diagnosed, irreversible damage had been done to his liver and it was determined his only option was a transplant. However his health deteriorated further, and he was admitted to the ICU of Toronto General Hospital two weeks ago. Two days ago it was decided he was strong enough to proceed with the transplant. Carole is donating 70% of her liver to him.

My prayer is that the surgeries will go well today, and both of them will make a full recovery. Amen and amen.

~

UPDATED AT END OF DAY #1:

“David and Carole are now both back in ICU after a successful liver transplant. Carole is doing well. The next days will be critical for David because of his heart.  Thank you all for your faithful prayers and support. Please continue in the days ahead. “

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Smokebush (Cotinus coggygria)

“The ‘Amen!’ of Nature is always a flower.” 

Oliver Wendell Holmes

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“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”

Romans 12:12

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

Romans 15:13

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Finding the bright spot

Daylight Saving Time wasn’t a problem for us. My hubby systematically turned all the clocks ahead during the previous evening and we went to bed an hour early without really noticing. Judging by the attendance at church on Sunday morning, however, not everyone fared as well.

There were a number of empty seats, and I overheard a lot of mumbling about lost sleep, the struggle… the reluctance… to get moving in the morning, and more than the usual grumbling about the drizzle after a much-too-brief sunshiny Saturday. Then in the sanctuary I found this exquisite bouquet on the chancel. A small note in the bulletin said it was placed in celebration of a child’s first birthday. I don’t imagine those parents got any more sleep than the rest of us, but they had found a reason for joy and shared it.

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The news broadcast last night told the story of a young woman whose joy was to sing. She has developed a rare form of throat cancer and yet she’s found a way to make the best of the situation while she waits for surgery.

I know people who are discouraged and/or depressed for many different reasons, but I also know others who are in equally difficult circumstances but still manage to find something, however small, on which to focus and glean joy. Ann Voskamp, author of ONE THOUSAND GIFTS, has suggested the answer to surviving our bad times is to express thankfulness. It sounds outrageous, I know, but she’s right.

“Eucharisteo—thanksgiving—always precedes the miracle.”

“…life change comes when we receive life with thanks
and ask for nothing to change.”
*

Joy isn’t an emotion, it’s a choice. I remember first hearing that from Sara Frankl. If you don’t know Sara’s story I hope you’ll take the time to check out this Dayspring video, Sara’s Story – Final. For years before she died Sara kept a blog. At a time when she needed much, she gave of herself to everyone she encountered. Her blog is still being maintained by her family, but on its sidebar you’ll find Sara’s own words:

I’m just a girl who used to write for a magazine to make a living, and now writes a blog to make a life. Extremely blessed, well-loved and choosing joy while learning that homebound doesn’t limit your life, just your location.

Ann Voskamp talks often about choosing joy, too, and has created a Joy Dare Collection of little cards that you can print out for each month with reminders to search for specific joys each day… to help us make a habit of looking for the tiny moments of joy that otherwise may slip past unnoticed.

As I step into this new week I am once again aware that no matter the circumstances, there is always joy. The choice is mine whether or not I will look for it and be thankful.

How about you? Can you think of at least one thing for which to give thanks today?

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“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.”

Psalm 9:1a

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* Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

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A Sense of Home… in life and writing

Home. It means different things to different people. For some the word brings a building to mind, or perhaps a country. For others maybe it’s more abstract… a yearning for the place of a childhood long past.

For many more it’s a refuge from the demands of the world… somewhere to retreat at the end of the busy workday.

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That’s my house up there on the left in the ‘Google Earth’ screenshot. I admit it doesn’t look like much from this perspective – a blob in a clearing carved out of our two-and-a-quarter acres of woods and marsh – but it’s our little sanctuary.

Last week my hubby was in hospital, and after a “Code Blue” episode I recall a moment when I prayed, “Please let him come home.”  For me, home meant safely back within the security of our family unit. God could have interpreted that request quite differently. I’m very glad he didn’t ( ! ) and hubby is now here at home with us and recovering well.

We’ve lived in fourteen different places during our 50+ years of marriage – in an assortment of apartments, church manses, and houses that we’ve owned. Each one became our home.  People like to say, “Home is where your heart is,” or “Home is where you hang your hat.” Personally, I think home is anywhere that God is a welcomed presence within the family, as he is here.

For those of you who are writers, whether you’re writing Christian fiction or not, what part does home play in your stories? Is it just a generic backdrop or have you established a personal sense of home for your characters?

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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

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“I sing in the shadow of your wings.”

My eye caught the movement as she flew close to the windows in a wild arc around our L-shaped upper deck. The first few times I was sure she would collide with the glass, but so far she hasn’t.

I believe it’s a female House Finch and she may be searching for the birdfeeder that came down a few weeks ago, when it suddenly became a bearfeeder. Or she may be curious about the birdy reflection that always greets her. Although finches tend to be quite gregarious, she always comes alone.

Sometimes she lands on the roof first and later hops down, but often as not her perilous swoops take her directly to one of two hanging flower baskets just outside our family room windows.

Today she stayed for several minutes, and when I went for my camera, she watched intently. I felt guilty because I suspect she was hoping for a handout.

Sorry, little gal, there’s nothing here. But God has provided lots of goodies for you out there in the garden and woods.

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Ms. Finch made me think of the bird songs and nature sounds that accompany the music on CD my Aunt Norma has been listening to in her hospital bed for the past five days. And that reminded me of how God provides for us. What he gives is not always what we might prefer, but it meets our needs.

This evening my aunt finally underwent surgery. She was prepared to accept whatever God had in mind for her, although she’s always anticipated living to be one hundred. Apparently God felt she should have that chance, and he brought her safely through the surgery. I am so thankful for his grace and mercy.

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“Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.”

Psalm 63:7

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“Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches.”

Psalm 104:12

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Plots and Subplots (and a request for prayer)

My intention today was to post about how subplots can pop up in the middle of a story, providing interesting diversity… much like the sword fern in the midst of this patch of cranesbill.

Instead, my thoughts are with a much loved family member who is in hospital awaiting emergency major surgery. The pink cranesbill blossoms remind me of her blog which is also very pink: Noni Grace: Random Thoughts and Reminiscing.

Rather than give you a post on writing today, I would be most grateful if you would take time to whisper a little prayer for her.

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 “Do not be anxious about anything,
but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:6-7

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Word Games and the Writer’s Brain

That smile said he knew he was winning.

After more games than I’ll embarrass him by counting, my hubby finally won a round of Blokus. It’s a game of strategy using game pieces of varying shapes that must be fit together with only their corners touching. The player with the least number of pieces leftover at the end wins. There’s also a classic version for up to four players.

The product description says, “Blokus encourages creative thinking and has received a Mensa award for promoting healthy brain activity.” I’m not sure I’d want my brain analyzed before, during or after a game, but I’m for anything that may improve its health.

As a gamer, I don’t always plan many moves in advance, but as a novelist, I strategize while I’m working my way through scenes and plots. Thinking ahead. Figuring out moves that will thwart or mislead. Planning twists, turns and where to add conflict or drop red herrings. My brain can use all the help it can get!

Word games of various types are recommended as brain stimuli, and may even help slow down the advance of dementia.* I’ll sometimes fiddle with magnetic words to get creative thoughts moving. I play the occasional game of Scrabble, too, but my 90-year-old neighbour puts me to shame. Not only does she regularly play Scrabble on her computer, but she works on Sudoku puzzles and six to eight crossword puzzles every day. I don’t know what my mind will be like at ninety, but as the cliché goes, hers is sharp as a tack.

My hubby may not be eager for a re-match, resting on his laurels and all, but I’m ready for another round of Blokus anytime. My novels will thank me for playing.

How about you? Do you enjoy word games? Share your secrets for keeping your mind sharp.

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Alzheimer’s Reading Room

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Barbed Beauty and a Bicycle Ride

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Sunny buttercups and their many memories of childhood. Bouquets clutched in tight fists, holding one flower under my chin waiting to be told how much I liked butter. We thought the fields dotted with floral sunshine were beautiful. No one told us that the invasive weed known as Creeping Buttercup was poisonous when eaten fresh by cattle and horses. Now I understand the rusty barbed wire surrounding the fields. Barbed beauty – an oxymoron.

The day this photo was taken I was attending our church picnic. Our choir director arrived a little later than the rest of us who had driven the twenty minutes from the church… riding her bicycle. Ellen Lewis takes every opportunity to get in a ride because she’s been in training for a full year to participate in this weekend’s Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer, benefitting BC Cancer Foundation.

Some of her reasons for participating are posted on her page of the Conquer Cancer website. One of those reasons is her brother who is a cancer survivor and who also participates in the ride each year. But what she doesn’t mention is that she has never done anything athletic like this before, and when she signed up for the ride, she also made a commitment to get in shape and lose weight. In less than a year she has reached her goal, a weight loss of 128 lbs.  That kind of determination and commitment is a wonderful thing.

Cancer is an ugly disease – I can tell you that from personal experience – but amid that ugliness there is hope. I know that sounds like another oxymoron, but the hope is evident in the monumental fight to find a cure, and in people like Ellen who are helping to make it happen.

I wonder if there’s a connection between the colour of those buttercups and the riding gear being worn by Ellen and her team. Nah… probably not.

If you’re one to say a prayer, add yours to mine for her safety and the success of the ride – it will be a grueling two days this Saturday and Sunday, as she joins the thousands of other cyclists riding between Vancouver, BC and Seattle, WA.

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June 21 Update

 Ellen and her team safely completed the ride along with over 2700 other riders. She exceeded her original financial goal and raised $4,136, while her team, led by her brother Sam, raised an amazing total of $61,237. Well done!

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Saying the Occasional “No” Without Guilt

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Daylight dwindles into darkness, and Wildwood Acres settle for the night.  Birds hush in their hidden sanctuaries and the only sound is a lonely tree frog somewhere in the marsh. Before falling into stillness, the breeze opened up the clouds and left tomorrow’s promise in the sky.

This is usually my time to settle in for a couple hours of writing, but I’m weary… too weary to be creative. It’s not that I did a lot today. It’s more what I didn’t do that weighs on me. There is a troublesome website that needs significant upgrading, a garden that at the rate I’m progressing may take me all summer just to get un-winterized, writing projects that are lagging… and then this evening’s request for sandwiches or cookies to donate to an upcoming church ‘do’. Nothing outrageous.

Sometimes it’s the little things that overwhelm. The bendy ‘last straw’ that winds the mind into tangled chaos, and shuts down ambition.

Writers know all about the Inner Critic who tries to sabotage our best written efforts, but I’m convinced that his twin brother takes up residence somewhere in my calendar. A voice nags that I really ought to do this, I really should do that, I absolutely must, must, must perform to perfection. And if – heaven forbid – there’s a blank space in my daybook, I’m obliged to fill it with some worthy chore.

When I can’t convince myself to move into overdrive and push through the ‘To Do’ list, I’ve found it’s best to just stop. I give myself permission for an hour of daydreaming, or an entire do nothing, guilt free day. Guilt free is the Rx!

Last week on The Pastor’s Wife Speaks blog Jeanette Levellie posted on the topic, “No is not a four letter word.” It reminded me of a day long ago when a concerned friend gave me a recording by David Viscott, MD, entitled, “Learning to Say No Without Feeling Guilty.” A couple years later its message was reinforced by another friend who pointed out that we are creations of God and as such ought to treat ourselves with care and respect.

With that thought in mind I’m closing the laptop and heading off to bed. The website will wait. The writing will, too. This creation of God needs sleep!

How do you handle a schedule or responsibilities that push you to the brink?