Category Archives: Photography

Dandelions, snails and milkweed are wonder-full

snailI just came in from digging dandelions out of my front lawn. You might think this would be a curse-word inducing experience, but not so. I dug those dandelions out of my front lawn reverently.

Some kids helped to give me a new perspective on these determined plants.

One morning last year I took my Sunday school class outside for a “Wonder Walk.” As we explored our grassy areas and the NCC property nearby, I encouraged the children to consider the two sides of wonder. I asked them to celebrate the things in the world that they thought were wonder-full, and I encouraged them to wonder about things they didn’t know.

The children found wonder in some big, easily noticeable things like motorcycles, our Ottawa city bike paths, and trees. But their search for wonder also prompted them to stop and examine their surroundings closely. They celebrated many things that would normally have passed unnoticed, like a bee in the wildflower garden and a snail still in the shell. We peeled open a milkweed pod and touch the silky white seeds. We invited the monarch butterflies to find the milkweed cluster.

milkweed

The children also wondered about many things we take for granted. The hydro tower, for example. How exactly does hydro work? I celebrate the light that comes on in my house when I flick a switch, but I can only describe in broad terms how the power gets there. Water is involved, I know that much.

Dandelions peppered the grass beneath our feet that day. We bent close and marvelled at the intricate yellow flowers. We respected the dandelions ability to persist. We appreciated dandelions as food.

Yes, the kids and I agreed, dandelions are wonder-full.

They don’t bother me, and I dig them out of my lawn out of respect for my neighbours, who don’t enjoy them quite as much. But my new perspective makes the job a little easier. Each one I dig up gets a little nod of respect, because I know I’ll never win the battle. No matter how thorough I might be, there will always be one dandelion more.

And that is pretty darned wonder-full.

dandelion

Easter Saturday: overlooked but, oh, so important

hummingbird-of-hopeOne of the most memorable Easter sermons I ever heard preached had nothing with Good Friday and the complexities of who killed Jesus and why. It didn’t mention the empty tomb or celebrate the renewed presence of Jesus on Easter morning. It didn’t really have much to do with Jesus at all. It was about Easter Saturday and what the people did in the time in between.

Really, it was about us, and what we do with the overlooked but, oh, so important time in between tragedy and triumph.

Easter Saturday: the metaphorical day after loss. The day when the pain is raw and fresh, and we don’t know yet about the joy to come. During the time in between we can’t see joy. We can’t see how it will take form in our lives. We look to the future and see more of the same.

The preacher of this sermon urged us to remember the Easter story during difficult times. When we survive the initial shock and turmoil and find ourselves in the desert of grief that follows, we can keep the flicker of hope alive.

Be watchful. Look for it. Joy will come with the dawn some Easter morning.

Answer your own prayers: Pray in present tense

Some years ago I read a valuable piece of advice: frame your prayers in the present tense.

You wouldn`t believe the difference it makes.

Six years ago doctors diagnosed my friend, Lynn, with terminal cancer. She was 41 years old with two young children. The news shocked her, and her family and friends. Prayers bubbled up from all of us, because in circumstances like that, prayers just happen. They can`t be helped.

My first prayer was for Lynn to live. Then, when I read the present tense advice, the prayer changed to “Lynn lives.” With a shock I realized that my prayer was already answered! No matter what happened the next week, or the next month, or the next year, at that moment, Lynn lived. My prayer changed from a plea of desperation to a celebration of gratitude, a “seize the day” motivational expression of wow. It took me out of the victim role, passively waiting for an outside force to act, and put me in the active role of celebrant. It encouraged me to savour every moment with my friend.

So many prayers come out of on-our-knees times of desperation. “Powers that be, please give me the strength to get through this,” we pray. But if we change that to “I have the strength to get through this,” instead of feeling helpless and overwhelmed, suddenly the strength we seek infuses us, and we rise from our knees renewed.

Now, I can hear the shouts of protest now. Critics will say, “Lady, you are crazy. What if I don’t have a job but desperately need one? If I say, ‘I have a job,’ I don’t suddenly and miraculously have a job.” True. But, maybe if you say, “I have a job” you will go to your next job interview with calm assurance instead of discouraged desperation. Maybe that will help.

Or someone else might say, “What if I want a red Porsche? If I close my eyes and say, ‘I have a red Porsche,’ when I open my eyes, there won’t be a shiny car in my driveway.” True, but if you say, “I have a red Porsche” over and over again often enough, maybe it will motivate you to start setting the money aside in a special fund. Maybe you’ll start browsing used car sites until you find the right one. Maybe it will help.

If you pray in the present tense, you might be surprised how often you answer your own prayers. The present tense:

  • opens our eyes to the gifts of the moment
  • infuses us with strength we didn’t know we had
  • relieves our stress and desperation and fills us with calm assurance
  • motivates us to work toward a goal.

A year ago yesterday my friend, Lynn, passed away. I grieved, for sure, because I missed my friend. I watched two teenagers lose a parent. I watched her husband lose a spouse and become a father/mother overnight. It was hard. But it was just that titch better because I had spent the previous five years celebrating her life in present tense every single day.

rainbow

A lesson from Hank Aaron on love and hate

Hank Aaron’s number 44
Photo courtesy of BaseballBacks

This summer my family travelled to Cooperstown, NY to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. While there, I spent some time in the Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream exhibit.

I paused for a long time in front of a display of letters written to Hank Aaron. Two letters mounted side by side caught my attention. The first expressed gratitude to Aaron for his gracious demeanour during an interaction with that person some time before. The second was filled with hate. The writer wished for Aaron’s failure and referred to him as a “niggerman.”

Decades after the letters were written I could still feel the vibrations emanating from each. The first radiated gratitude and appreciation; the second emitted hatred, anger and resentment.  My eyes shifted back and forth between the two letters.

Love / Hate.
Gratitude / Anger.
Appreciation / Resentment

What I realized then was, the letters had nothing to do with Hank Aaron, who he was or what he did.

The letters were all about the people who wrote them. One person lived with gratitude, joy and appreciation; the other person lived in anger, hatred and resentment. The gratitude or the anger lived in them, not in Hank Aaron. He was going about becoming one of the greatest baseball players that ever lived, no matter how they felt about it.

I reflected, then, on my own life, for I have received plenty of love, gratitude and appreciation, and I have received anger and resentment, too.

When I consider the people who give me love and appreciation, I see that that’s how they choose live, day in and day out. Those who dish out anger and resentment live in a constant swirl of stress, anger and bitterness.

Standing there, looking at contrasting letters penned to one of the all-time greats, I realized that who I am and what I achieve has nothing to do with the people who express their opinions about it.

http://baseballhall.org/hof/aaron-hank

Put your hands in the air

Last week my friend Paul put this post on Facebook: “WHY WHY WHY Do we need yet another song in which the DJ tells us to put our hands in the air like we just don’t care?”

I laughed.

Then I got to thinking. (I’m annoying that way.)

Our family room wall features a collage of family photos depicting highlights from the lives of our family over the years:

First at bats:

Successful completion of that double black diamond slope at Kicking Horse, BC:

A triple water ski pass (no hands):

And the joy of a snake wrapped around a neck:

When my son scored his first hockey goal, one of the other fathers (a professional photographer) captured my son’s hand raised in victory AND the hand of the referee raised to signal the goal:

In many of the pictures on our wall, we have raised hands.

The “Because I am a Girl ad campaign for Plan International uses the slogan: “Raise your hand if you believe every girl has the right to an education.” A raised hand also signals  desire to take action in a positive way, to take part, or to answer a question.

When we picture people putting the hands “in the air like they just don’t care”,” we imagine people dancing with joyful abandon.

Raised hands indicate victory, positive participation and joyful abandon. All good.

On the other hand (pun intended), if people sit on their hands, or lower their hands, it means they have failed, or aren’t willing to take action, or don’t know the answer and are afraid to venture a guess.

Sometimes, when I’m feeling sort of blah, I sit on my couch and look at the raised hands in our family picture, and I feel better just looking at them. Sometimes,when I’m feeling sort of blah, I raise my hands above my hand, and I feel better just doing it.

Try it, and see how it feels.

Barry’s light

On Christmas Eves in the past, my friend Barry drove his large flatbed trailer downtown so the Shepherds of Good Hope could use it as a platform for their Christmas Eve services. My friend Barry helped clear the snow off the neighbourhood rink every year. He coached hockey, organized dances for the Knights of Columbus, served on school councils, and collected for the Cancer Society and March of Dimes. He lifted, toted, barbecued, organized, and gave and gave and gave.

He was big and strong and so rarely sick that if he ever did go to the doctor for, say, a tetanus shot, the medical staff had to dig his records out of the archives.

A year and a half ago nature raised a mighty hand and swiped. Barry was gone at age 46, victim of an extremely rare and viciously lethal form of lymphoma.

Oh, how we ache with missing him.

Barry had an enthusiasm for Christmas lights.

His house was a colourful array of blinking strings that he always seemed to hang on the stormiest, windiest night of the year. Barry also had an enthusiasm for Rubbermaid storage boxes—stacks of them. When he died, without Barry there to brave the storm, his family toned down their Christmas lighting. Our household was the lucky recipient of two large Rubbermaid storage boxes full of Christmas lights and bulbs.

Last year my husband dug out Barry’s boxes and hung our lights for the season. He placed the bulbs in a particular colour sequence: red, green, yellow, blue, white; red, green, yellow, blue, white . . .. When he finished hanging the lights, he plugged them in and sat in one of the chairs on our front porch to appreciate his work and savour the joy that Christmas lights bring. As he sat, a light began to blink. It made him think of Barry, and he smiled. He told me, and I smiled. And then we didn’t think about it again.

This year my husband dug out Barry’s boxes and hung our lights for the season. He placed the bulbs in the particular colour sequence. When he finished hanging the lights, he plugged them in and stood back to admire his work. As he stood there, one yellow light began to blink. Once again he thought of Barry and smiled—a warm moment of connection with his friend, just for him. But, not wanting to leave one inexplicable blinking light on the string, he dug through Barry’s box for a replacement. Every bulb he tried blinked. He came into the house to scour through our boxes for extra bulbs. We had red, blue, white, green—every colour but yellow. He climbed the basement stairs and called out to me, “Barry’s haunting me. All his yellow bulbs blink.”

It seems to us Barry wants to make his presence known.

And so, one yellow bulb blinks on our string of Christmas lights. We call it “Barry’s light.” Every time I arrive home in the evening and see Barry’s light blinking at me, I feel the enveloping warmth of one of his powerful hugs, and I feel that our friend Barry, who is gone, somehow still shares Christmas with us.