Category Archives: Gratitude

Flow: Clogs, floods, parables and Justin Bieber

The main pipe that takes water waste away from our house clogged.

For a twenty-four hour period while we waited for the friendly rooter person to come and clear out the gunk, we couldn’t wash dishes, shower or do laundry for fear of back-up and damage.

Before the clog, I thought of water in terms of supply. That is, how important it is to have water flowing to my house. It also should be a world priority to have water flowing to people no matter where they live. After the clog I realized that water flowing from my house is equally important.

While water was backing up in our pipes, it was flowing wildly in the Ottawa River. Two years after a disastrous flood—one that was supposed to be a “hundred-year flood”—another one came to us, and this one was worse.

The flooding damaged homes, cottages and businesses along the shoreline. Even though the force of the water through one of our bridges was three times that of Niagara Falls, the volume of water flowing to us exceeded its ability to flow from us. Flooding and damage resulted, and that bridge will be closed for weeks because the force of the water could undermine the integrity of the structures.

Still shot from local news - Niagara - 2400 m cubed per second of water, the Chaudiere Bridge, 7497 m cubed per second.
Matt Skube on CJOH News Ottawa with graphics showing the force of water through the Chaudière Bridge.

We experienced what I call the “Justin Bieber effect.” (More on that later.) The community pulled together to fill sandbags and clear up damages. The community will continue that work for weeks and months to come

While all this was happening, I was participating in a series of group discussions about the parables in the Bible. Those stories have been studied, analyzed and dissected for centuries and people still can’t agree what they’re all about. The same story can mean two different things to the same person at different times in their lives.

For me, right now, the parables remind me of flow. They teach me two lessons: (1) There is enough and more where that came from flowing to us, and (2) we’d better share or there will be damage, and everyone is worthy of receiving the flow from us. The loaves and the fishes, for example, can be interpreted as saying, “Never think there’s not enough. There’s enough and more where that came from, and everyone is worthy of receiving it.”

Which brings me to Justin Bieber. As I stood by the banks of the Ottawa River watching the level continue to rise even though there was nowhere else for the water to go, I started to think about flow in terms of abundance and money.

Justin Bieber was a simple kid from Stratford, Ontario. He was adorable, but not well-known, and there was no excess of money in his household when he was a child. Then he got noticed on YouTube. Then important people noticed him on YouTube. Then there was a torrent of wealth and fame that descended upon him, and it was TOO MUCH all at once. The volume flowing tohim was more than the flow from him could handle. The flooding caused damage and the force threatened the structures

Justin needed some sandbags and some clean-up help from community.

This spring of clogs and floods reminds to allow the flow, to trust the flow to provide for my necessities and maybe some fun too, and that if sandbags are needed, community is there.

Here is a video of fun in the flow.

What I learned from my aunt

In honour of my aunt’s 80th birthday, I’m re-posting a piece from a few years ago. Blessings to her again!

A woman on guitar beside a toddler on piano
Aunt Erma and my daughter entertain – 1997

My Aunt Erma celebrates a birthday today. She is a strong woman in a family of strong women. I’m proud to say that when the women in our family have an idea or a purpose, stand back.

From her I learned:

  • How to be authentic – You might not agree with my Aunt Erma’s opinions on any given matter, but you can be certain to know what they are. She never puts on airs or hides her true feelings behind a façade of false politeness. I admire her forthright approach to life and the authentic soul I see because of it.
  • How to tell a tale – My aunt has had many stories published in the local paper, and her writing group—The Henscratchers—published a book. I appreciate her ability to capture life in a story or a poem.
  • How to weather a storm – She has had more than her share of uncommon heartbreaking events in her life—the kind that knock you off your feet for more than a few days. I respect her strength and resilience in bouncing back, picking herself up and carrying on.
  • How to entertain a whole room – Give my Aunt Erma a guitar and some elbow room, and she’ll happily provide the songs for the night. She and her sisters (including my mother) have sung together at community events. I envy her enthusiastic ability to sing out without inhibition.
  • How to teach with calm assurance – My aunt was the kind of teacher who kept order in the classroom and expected the best from her students. She’s petite, so her authority came from her manner, not her stature.

There’s a whole lot of power packed into a diminutive woman in my Aunt Erma. I would say that she’s like her mother in that regard (my grandmother), but I’m not sure she’d like that. .

Like all strong women, she might have ruffled some feathers over the years. More than one person might have shaken their head and said, “Oh, that Erma . . .”

If I can live authentically, inspire with calm assurance, weather life’s storms with strength, live to tell the tale and entertain a whole room with songs, then I will be happy to ruffle a few feathers along my own way.

Book Cover for Pick of the Crop by the Henscratchers
The book published by her writing group.

Because Poetry Month . . . God Kin

From one of my favourite books: The Gift,with poems by Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky. You can see that I have sticky notes on many pages.

Book cover of The Gift

I GOT KIN

Plant 
So that your own heart
Will grow.

Love
So God will think,

“Ahhhhh,
I got kin in that body!
I should start inviting that soul over
For coffee and 
Rolls.”

Sing
Because this is a food
Our starving world
Needs.

Laugh 
Because that is the purest
Sound.

Pussy willows in the wild

Do you buy yourself flowers?

I don’t. The frugal former farmgirl part of me is uncomfortable with impractical spending. Why spend money on a luxury that will die in a few days?

Praises be, I raised a city daughter who thinks differently. She willingly spends money on touches of beauty: plants with character, fresh flowers and unique throw pillows. (Frugal former farmgirl says, Throw pillows? Useless!)

three throw pillows, one with a Harry Potter Marauders' Map
Useless?

Last week my daughter brought home pussy willows.

Boom! She transported me back to my childhood farm near a wooded area where pussy willows grew wild. In my barn-chore gum rubber boots, I’d walk through the soggy marshland in the spring and run my fingers over the soft pussy willow buds.

I wondered how many people in our oh-so-urban society are lucky enough to have such a beautiful memory. I felt privileged and full of gratitude.

My daughter, spending her money so willingly, bought more than fresh flowers. She bought a long-forgotten cherished memory, an appreciation for my carefree childhood, and gratitude for how her different approach to life makes mine richer.

Those aren’t luxuries, and they won’t die in a few days.

Pussy willow buds

Pussy willows in the wild: Ontario Trees

Beating the Odds

I swear I didn’t plan this.

Sometimes when words won’t flow, I use a writing prompt. One of those prompts involves finding a certain page, in a certain book, on a certain shelf.

“Top shelf, third book from the right, page 56.”

I went to my office and looked at the top shelf. Among other books were some that contain short stories of mine. “Huh, what are the odds that the third book to the right is one of those?” I asked myself.

I counted and the Blood Is Thicker anthology, which contains one of my short stories, was third from the right. “That’s pretty amazing,” I thought, “but what are the odds that my story is on page 56?”

I opened the book and flipped to the right page. Yep. My story was there.

The line that stood out: “NOTE TO SELF: Those are pretty good odds.”

The title of my story?

Beating the Odds

I guess I’m supposed to write that even if something seems unlikely, if you set yourself in motion, you might beat the oddsand have a laugh while you’re at it.

Title page of the short story "Beating the Odds"

It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here

There are days when I wish more people could say, “It’s not about me.”There are days when I wonder why people think life should only be about what they like.

I am guilty of it too. But I try to think: “It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here.”

I use it at the grocery store when I’m in a hurry and the person ahead of me is paying cash, counting out every nickel. Patience.

I use it in tense meetings. Conflict resolution lessons.

I use it at church every week.

I’m a member of a progressive, affirming congregation. The foundation of our group is that love and grace are available to all people, but beyond that we don’t dictate what anyone should believe. On any given week an atheist could be sitting down the row from a person who believes in the virgin birth. It’s fantastic!

Our conversations are authentic, and deep, and heartwarming,

And challenging. How to balance the content of a church service for people on such different places on a journey?

  • A service about an Old Testament story:
    • “Why do we even use the bible (small b) anymore? It’s thousands of years old, written by men in a patriarchal time. What does it have to do with me? “
    • “Thank goodness we’re finally talking about the Bible (capital B). It has timeless lessons, and it’s the foundation of our faith.”
  • Communion:
    • “It’s a sacred ritual for me. A reminder that I’m not alone and that I have purpose.”
    • “It’s meaningless to me. A little creepy if you want to know the truth.”
  • The cross:
    • “It’s barbaric. I would never wear one because it brands me as something I don’t want to be associated with.”
    • “It’s a symbol of connection with something greater than myself, the reaching and the grounding.”
  • The organ:
    • “The music resonating through the pipes moves me to the depths of my soul.”
    • “How can people endure that horrible screeching?”
  • A short sermon:
    • “It’s about time. No need to go on and on about things. Just get to the point. “
    • “The minister needs to delve more deeply into the topic.”
  • Children in church:
    • “Oh, the noise, noise noise!”
    • “It’s good to see so many children. They bring the place to life.”
  • The hymns:
    • “We need to sing more of the old, familiar hymns.”
    • “Enough of the blood and the sin songs. Let’s sing something new.”
  • The prayers
    • “Oh my God, the prayers are long. My mind drifts off.”
    • I need prayers. They are my time of centering. It’s when I connect with God, and when we connect with each other and the world.”

Every Sunday something happens that I would not choose to include if I were a member of a church of one. (And what fun would that be?) Every Sunday I have to remind myself that the thing I dislike is exactly the thing that someone there—maybe right beside me—is needing. Every Sunday I say to myself: “It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here.”

There always is. Something authentic, deep and heartwarming.

A pewter communion cup beside bread and a candle
The cup of hope and bread for the journey.