Shades of Yellow

It’s definitely been a while since my last blog post. I wrote one, it just didn’t make the cut. Then I re-wrote it and well, I’m contemplating if it makes the cut. Here’s the thing, I’m at a place in my life where I’m wondering if I should just live it…not necessarily write about it and post it on the internet (for a while anyway).

Mike and I agreed if telling our story helped even one person, it was well worth it. I know it has helped many people and I am humbled and overjoyed about that. I continue to hear from people who have found my blog and/or my book and I’ve made many connections. I also occasionally look at my blogger account where the majority of my blog posts exist and see that it’s still getting hundreds of hits a month from all over the world (alswithcourage.blogspot.com). That’s pretty cool.

Along with helping others, my blog has helped me – it’s been cheap therapy, so thanks for reading! Seriously though, it’s been one lesson after another. The Lord has spoken to me as He has directed my writing. He has used it to strengthen my faith, to help me grow and heal and know Him more…and I am so thankful for that. This experience has been such a blessing!

So finally here goes – my revised (three times) blog post. I anticipate a lesson or two for me by the time it’s complete and I hope you enjoy. The title has changed a few times, but the smile that comes to my face ultimately makes the decision. It’s called, ‘Shades of Yellow’…

I’ve never had a cup of coffee in my life. I go out for “coffee” with friends sometimes and weekly with my parents and sister, but I choose a different beverage. Not tea because I don’t drink tea either, sometimes just water.

I remember from a young age, my parents being coffee drinkers. It was common to see my mom with a coffee cup in hand during the early hours of the day. She would often forget where she placed her coffee as she went about her morning routine. It’s actually a great memory. A few times, I asked for a sip and with a sour face, I’d say, “How can you drink this stuff?” She told me it was something you had to acquire a taste for. That’s when I learned the meaning of “acquire a taste for” and wondered why anyone would want to acquire a taste for coffee.

A few months ago, I went for coffee with a new friend. “Coffee” turned into dinner and a three and a half hour conversation. It didn’t take long for me to realize he’s the type of guy who could sweep a girl right off her feet. I went home and searched my closet for heavier shoes. Later, I wondered, “Was that a date?”

I was barely eighteen when Mike swept me off my feet. After our first date he wanted me to be his girlfriend. I told him I was too young for a serious relationship. He didn’t try to talk me into anything, instead he took out one of my closest friends. He knew I’d be at his place with his roommates and others that night socializing, so he came in holding my friend’s hand. I was infuriated and when I took him aside to confront him, he replied something like, “You chose to be unattached.” His plan worked, and by the end of the night, I was his girlfriend…that was almost thirty years ago.

I grieved the loss of Mike over the course of his illness and I’ve grieved throughout the seventeen months since he passed away and even though I still grieve, the Lord has recently given me new hopes and dreams causing me to believe I could fall in love again.

It’s amazing how God can redeem things, including hopes and dreams. God has proved this in my life many times.

At the author event I was a part of back in April at Whitby’s book store in White Rock BC, the three of us authors there were asked what inspired our book titles. I shared that when I wrote my blog post, ‘Hold On and Let Go’ in February 2014, I thought it was the perfect title for our story and imagined it on the cover of a book someday (it became ‘Hold On, Let Go – Facing ALS with Courage and Hope over a year now already). Anyway, in this post I mention how God redeems things. Here is part of the post:

“People say what a difficult time we must be going through, but I don’t feel like that at all. It’s been difficult at times, but not necessarily a difficult time. It’s been a time to grow and to learn. It’s been a time to put things in proper perspective. It’s a process for sure, but we are learning to hold on and let go. We let go of things in our lives that hinder and distract us like worry and fear and hold on to things that enhance and beautify our lives like faith, hope, and love and all the other wonderful outpourings of the Lord.

Good things come from bad things all the time. That’s how God works. He redeems things. God has done it with ALS in our lives a lot. I am constantly reminded of the Bible verse, Romans 8:28, which says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Not long ago, I received a message from Leah’s mom, Katrina. She said, “I was talking to Leah this evening about her favourite colours and she told me that they are green, purple, and red. She also said that she loves yellow too because its Granddad’s favourite colour. It’s the colour of sunshine, and it’s a happy colour. She told me that when she used to pick candies from his candy bowl she always chose the yellow ones.” In another message, Katrina told me that Leah was still saving her yellow candies for Granddad.

I really appreciated this message, but the way Leah remembers the story isn’t quite right. This is how the story goes: When Leah was little, she would always choose the red, purple or orange coloured candies. Mike would take the yellow ones because the yellow ones were her least favourite. Leah eventually assumed that Granddad’s favourite colour was yellow. Mike wasn’t actually fond of the colour yellow. I found that out one day after painting all the rooms in our house various shades of yellow. While standing there with a paint roller covered in something called ‘Lemon Twist’ or ‘Sunshine on My Shoulder’, Mike passed by and said that he never was very fond of yellow.

Anyway, Leah continued to save all her yellow candies for Granddad long after he stopped eating. She would come in and hand Mike some yellow skittles or a yellow sucker that I intercepted and put in a dish and kept in a cupboard. Soon, she just took them straight to the cupboard. The collection of yellow candy grew over time…there was even a yellow feather in there. The dish was a little gift of sunshine and so is our darling Leah. She is our precious treasure! (Leah recently turned 7)

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When my good friend Karen Acaster brought up the topic of “love” in conversation a while ago, I told her I wasn’t going to look for love, but if love found me, I was open to it. When I think back on our conversation, my heart didn’t necessarily agree with that statement the way my head did. But recently, its like the Lord opened the curtains of my heart and various shades of sunshine poured in. In that same conversation Karen talked about Mike’s love for me and how amazing, how deep, how selfless it was and how happy he’d be if love found me again when I was ready. I just smiled. I had no idea my heart was being made ready, and since then has come alive with the butterflies that now reside there again.

Shortly after the “coffee” date with my new friend, I contemplated the unexpected connection we had and I was experiencing some mixed emotions to say the least. I was looking for some advice…for my beloved Mike’s advice. I said to God, “What would Mike tell me?” Without hesitation, I heard, “You are worth far more than rubies. Remember what you are worth.”

These words come from Proverbs 31:10-21:

”A woman of noble character who can find?

She is worth far more than rubies…

She is clothed with strength and dignity;

she can laugh at the days to come.

She speaks with wisdom,

and faithful instruction is on her tongue…

“Many women do noble things,

but you surpass them all.”

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;

but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised…”

It’s funny because this Scripture crossed my mind while I wrote my last post ‘Good Men Empower Women’. It’s wonderful advice to pass on to all the women in my life.

So to Leah, and my girls and all the young women and not so young women in my life, and to me, remember what you are worth. You are worth far more than rubies!

Feeling valued beyond words and overwhelmed by God’s extravagant love, I give thanks to Him for His healing power and the hope and joy He’s poured in to my life, and for all of His provisions. He knows my needs far better than I do and He is always faithful to provide… and He continues to redeem things.

Only the Lord knows what my future holds concerning my writing (and everything else in my life of course). I love writing and don’t plan to give it up but wonder if this is a good place to end (or just take a break from) my ‘ALS With Courage’ story. Maybe it’s time to start my next book. I’m praying about it and in the meantime, you can reach me on Facebook or here on my website.

To all of you who have been touched by ALS, you are like brothers and sisters to me and to everyone – friends and family and those I’ve never met, God bless you all! Thanks for your encouragement, support and love!

“Each of us may be sure that if God sends us on strong paths, He will provide us with strong shoes and He will not send us out on any journey for which He does not equip well.” Alexander Maclaren

Happy Birthday to my mom (June 1). Here is another wonderful memory of my mom and coffee: My mom and I have done a lot of painting together. Not pictures, but walls…you know, rooms. We have painted each other’s places (way more mine than hers). We have painted a bunch of rooms in my sister’s homes and some for friends. It’s always been so much fun. And when I think of those times, this is what I see – my mom with a paint brush in one hand and a coffee cup in the other and a huge smile on her face and tons of laughter. She’s a woman who lives to help her kids and grandkids and others… She’s a woman of noble character. She is clothed with strength and dignity. She speaks wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She is a woman who fears the Lord, a woman to be praised. Thanks mom and dad for your steadfast love and all your prayers and encouragement!

Thanks Elanna for all your help with my blog – for editing, title suggestions and for being such a great ear!

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Pictured my mom, dad, Elanna and me at the ALS Society of BC recognition night. I was so honoured to receive the Exceptional Advocacy award.

I’m speaking at Alderbrook Church in Abbotsford, BC on Sunday, June 12 at 10:00am. If you are in or around Abbotsford, I’d love to see you there. Consider this my invitation to each one of you. Adlerbrook Church meets at Columbia Bible College –  2940 Clearbrook Road.

This Sunday, June 5 is our annual ALS Walk in Port Coquitlam. Join team “I Like Mike” at Riverside High School – Registration at 10:00, walk starts at 11:00. If you can’t make it and want to make a donation, you can do that here: albs.ca

Saturday, June 11 is the ALS Walk in Abbotsford. We will walk in honour of good friend Neil Hemming who sadly passed away on April 13. Again, donations can be made here: albs.ca

 

Good Men Empower Women

For the last few months, I’ve been alternating my wedding band from my left hand to my right hand. I’ll put it on my right hand for a while and forget about it and then without thinking, I’ll slip it back on my left ring finger and eventually notice it’s there. It’s definitely the most comfortable there. It fits nicely into the grove that has been worn into that finger for 27 years. There’s an indentation there that I thought would never disappear, but it’s slowly fading as the ring spends more time on the right side.

When Mike and I picked out my first engagement ring and wedding band we weren’t preparing for a long engagement filled with elaborate wedding plans. We were getting ready to board a flight to Los Angeles for an elopement …  a “shotgun” wedding. It was a quick decision and the rings were just a necessity. We were young (I was only 19) and had a small budget, so I just settled for a nice set … not my dream engagement ring. On our tenth wedding anniversary, I decided I had out grown the set, not physically but I was older and my little diamond looked a little out of place on my more mature finger. I didn’t pine for a bigger diamond, I told Mike I didn’t need a diamond at all. We put the “two months salary” (or whatever the jewelry store commercials suggest you spend) towards bills and groceries (like always) and I just got a band. A lovely gold band, simple and pretty with a faint swirly design etched on it. At twenty plus years of marriage, I was wearing more silver jewelry and was casually looking for a silver, or preferably white gold ring. I wanted something with a heart on it (I’ve got a thing for hearts). Sure enough, at one of those kiosks, while at the Toronto airport (after spending time there with Mike’s family) on our travels to Bulgaria (for Mike’s stem cell treatment), I found exactly what I had in mind, at the cost of $18.99, and I’ve been wearing it with pride ever since.

Just before Christmas, I taught a type of fitness class I had never taught before: a Barre class (pronounced “bar”). It’s a blend of Pilates, ballet and strength moves. I’ve had the Pilates and strength moves down pat for years, but the ballet was something new. I attended a workshop and a few classes before I taught Barre and I fell in love with it right away.

(This does have something to do with my wedding ring, so please keep reading)

During that first class I attended, there was a moment in particular that caught me off guard and it had nothing to do with grand plies or arabesques. When the instructor asked us to position ourselves in front of the mirror and to place our hands on the bar, I lost sight of everything except the assembly line of diamond rings. Every left hand on that bar had a glow, not every one was a diamond but every ring finger was taken. It was like a special wives club, meeting at the bar … the ballet bar that is and I felt a little like an imposter.

I watched in slow-motion-like every time all the lovely hands returned to the bar. All those hardworking, hard loving, wonderful, wife hands, coming together into place to give thanks, to praise, to escape, to run away or whatever, at the end of a long day.

There were definitely times over the years that I wanted out of the “club”. Who doesn’t want out on occasion? But for the most part, I was a happy member. Here’s the bigger picture: for more than half my life, I was a wife and that’s who I was. So not to be one all of a sudden, was bizarre.

Funny thing is that in so many ways Mike prepared me well to be single. He taught me to always look on the bright side (I try). He taught me to laugh a lot and to laugh at myself, to not be too serious. He encouraged me to go after my dreams, to not be afraid to fall on my face … that it’s okay to make mistakes. When I worried, he would say, “Have you prayed?”, or he would remind me that our children were safe and well so nothing else really mattered. He knew my strengths and helped me become stronger. He knew my weaknesses and was never critical. He knew my greatest “love” was Jesus and guided me back to Him when I went my own way. Mike gently led and directed me to be independent (but dependant on God) and strong – to be the very best “me” I could be. He empowered me!

This “new club” is not so bad. I’m feeling more and more comfortable here. That’s what I say as I move my wedding band to my right hand.

PS – I’ve been encouraged, well directed, loved and empowered by a wonderful man my whole life: my dad. My dad and mom are my biggest cheerleaders and have been a constant source of support, love and prayer. Thanks dad and mom! And thank you to all the men out there who empower the women in their lives – daughters, sisters, friends and wives… We thank you!

Good men help make the women in their lives the best they can be.

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Happy Birthday to my dad! (Mar 30) You make “78” look great! Keep up the excellent work!

I’ll be at Whitby’s Book store in White Rock on Sat April 2 with two other authors to discuss our books and our thoughts and beliefs on Spirituality. It’s short notice, but local friends, if you are in the area, please come by. Here is the info: Whitby’s Author Event – Trust the Mystery of love and Spirituality

And of course the link to my book: Hold On, Let Go – Facing ALS With Courage and Hope

A Dark Cloud and a Silver Lining

I’ve been resisting writing this one for a while. I haven’t been eager to talk about it, but I’ll just say it right out: there has been a dark cloud. Mostly throughout January and February (although, it’s still kind of hanging around). Your first thought probably is that I live in the Greater Vancouver area, so of course there has been a dark cloud; there have been many, many dark clouds. The fact that it is grey and rainy a lot here during this time of year, doesn’t help, but if you haven’t guessed yet, I’m talking figuratively about a dark cloud. You know, one of those heavy, low-lying kind, that follows you (just you) around all the time.

Throughout January, I prepared to tell Mike’s and my story to a group of clinical counsellors at an information and recruitment meeting for the ALS Society of BC. The ALS Society provides free counselling to anyone affected by ALS, so they rely on counsellors to volunteer their time. Executive Director (and friend) Wendy, told me later that day, that it was a very successful meeting; they had more people sign up to do this good work than ever before. I was so pleased to hear that, but preparing for, and presenting that day was very emotional for me. I read some blog posts to the group and really emphasized Mike’s positive attitude and strong faith while trying to give them a realistic glimpse into the cruel world of ALS. It was weighty indeed but like I’ve told Wendy a few times, “How ever I can help; whatever I can do for you and the ALS Society, please just let me know.”

It’s a similar conversation I’ve had with my friend Darryl who has ALS. He sent me a message recently (it was actually a beautiful picture he had taken). I asked him how he was doing. This was his reply: “I almost wrote you earlier in the week – Sunday and Monday were bad days – but then decided against it. It might be too painful to talk about ALS specifics”

My reply: “Please feel free to message me anytime day or night. ALS is so painful, but I’m in for life. The good Lord provided the support, love and help we needed when we needed it and I want to be there for others.”

The presentation for the ALS Society was just one thing but there were other contributing factors to the heavy mixed emotions of my dark cloud. I’m not sure if I can pin point them all, but these are probably some: grief, a little bit of regret, doubt, some sadness, anxiety, fear and worry. “Fear” and “worry” always lead to guilt and conviction, especially considering I’ve been shouting from the roof tops that, “I’m trusting in the Lord with all my heart!” Well, from my roof top anyway and from a number of blog posts over the last few months. “Trusting the Lord” is something I’ve emphasized in all my writing and recently in my speech for the Apologetics Canada “Thinking” Conference I spoke at on Mar 5.

Under this dark cloud of heaviness, I really felt God encouraging me to stay there. I think I heard Him say, “Don’t run.” I wanted to run (still do). Like other times, I just wanted to escape, and quickly, but this time, more than any other time, I felt like I was suppose to embrace all those “ugly” feelings and find God in that mucky place.

It’s a bit of a battle zone there though. Can anyone else hear the negative voices? You might think I’m really losing it now, or you might be a little relieved that you aren’t the only one who hears negative voices. A few of mine sound like this: “You can’t do this on your own.” “You are going to fail.” “God has rescued you every time, but this time, He might just want to teach you a lesson.” “You can trust Him, but you should still be afraid.” “You aren’t worthy of God’s love or anyone else’s.” The negative voices could also be called “lies”.

Leading up to the Thinking Conference, I heard these lies: “This is a mistake.” “No one wants to hear what you have to say.” “Who cares?” “You are such a fraud, such a loser, such a fake …” Ironically, my speech title was ‘Worrier to Warrior’.

The dark cloud along with all those icky feelings is one thing, but the voices are like a torrential downpour, like a pelting of fiery darts … at night, in the dark, all alone. Oh my goodness, where is He? And then you start feeling around for God and calling out to Him and thankfully He is there. So much relief. But the fear doesn’t necessarily disappear.

Sometimes it feels like He’s not there at all, but like Pastor Bradley said in a recent sermon (sermon series titled: “Living the Psalms”), the Psalmist cries out to God, “Where are you?” And even in that despair, there is hope. We have to ask Him where He is … has He forgotten me? But just by asking, we know ultimately He is there, even though we don’t see, feel, or hear Him.

Ultimately, He is there. And that is where my trust proves stronger than the negative voices. That is where hope and even joy is stronger, and I can’t be separated from those things or His love … and I’m so relieved.

For the past four weeks, Pastor Bradley from Open Door Church where I go, has been preaching about embracing the emotions/feelings God gave us. Changing our opinion that “sad” isn’t “bad” and that God can really be found in our sorrow. The timing was perfect for me. It was kind of like Bradley handed me an umbrella and this message: Don’t run … enjoy the storm (or something like that). A message similar to the following one from Oswald Chambers:

“When you are joyful, be joyful; when you are sad, be sad. If God has given you a sweet cup, don’t make it bitter; and if He has given you a bitter cup, don’t try and make it sweet; take things as they come.” – Oswald Chambers, from Shade of His Hand.

It reminds me of what I told Pastor Art, (who led Mike’s memorial service) when he reminded me that those who mourn will be comforted. I replied, “I’m not going to try to be happy and I’m not going to try to be sad. I’m just going to be.”

God gave us an array of feelings and for some reason, most of us only want to feel happy, we resist sadness and any other emotions that don’t make us “feel good”. But here is the silver lining: we really get to know God in those dark places – the sad, scary places. I guess we can curl up and die there, but if we look for our Lord, we will more likely grow there. We have a tendency to call out to Him there, we get to know Him better there … and that’s the silver lining!

My friend, grief councillor, inspirational speaker and author of ‘In the Cleft: Joy Comes in the Mourning’, Dana Goodman was also a Breakout Speaker at the Thinking Conference. Her experience with grief and sorrow goes deeper than the average person’s. She lost her first husband, her oldest son and mother-in-law to cancer and her second husband was also battling cancer when her oldest son was diagnosed with the deadly brain tumor.

Dana and I were both giving our talks in the same area of the church, upstairs at the end of a long hall (the speakers were spread out in different rooms through out the extremely large venue). She and I chatted before the sessions began and both confessed we were nervous no one would show. Then she told me that she knew people would come because during the main session, the session everyone attended, the question was asked to the hundreds of people there, “Who is experiencing sorrow?” She said that many people raised their hand. Then she smiled and said, “Yay for sorrow.” I echoed, “Yay” and we high fives. (Check out her blog here)

I certainly don’t invite sorrow, but I’m trying to learn from Mike. He taught me something extremely valuable that I will never forget. Shortly after he was diagnosed, he thanked God for the things he wanted in his life and the things he didn’t want, like ALS. He said that ALS would teach him to fully rely on God. So, like a good student, I’m giving thanks for the things I want in my life and the things I don’t want, like grief, struggle and strife.

“The discipline of dismay is an essential lesson which a disciple must learn. But when the darkness of dismay comes, endure until it is over, because out of it will come the ability to follow Jesus truly, which brings inexpressibly wonderful joy.” – Oswald Chambers, from My Utmost for His Highest.

Spring officially starts on Sunday and we’ve been experiencing more sunshine and blue skies, but regardless of the weather outside, I can feel the dark cloud lifting off of me. I wish I could say I’ve enjoyed my time under the dark cloud, but I haven’t. But, I have drawn closer to the Lord and that has definitely brought me joy (and I hope it’s brought Him joy as well).

I know this is getting long but I’m almost done. I just really want to tell you this cool story. You know those negative voices I told you I was hearing before the conference? Well, the night before the conference, I received a Facebook message from someone I didn’t know and through it God showed up in His usual perfect timing to help me battle the lies.

It started like this:

“My name is Chris Ryan and I wanted to write to you to share my experience over the last year. First let me give you some background. My beautiful bride Heather passed away in August of 2015 from Lung Cancer. In June 2014 we found out that the cancer had metastasized to her brain and formed 8 tumors. She was given months to live and all they could do is radiate to try and shrink the tumours to prolong her life…”

Chris’ message was filled with joy as he continued to tell about his wife’s determination to prove her oncologist wrong and how, after she battled long and hard, when there was nothing more doctors could do for her, they decided to make wonderful memories together and live life to the fullest.

“…It was while in hospice I experienced two of the greatest gifts that Heather ever gave me. The first was while sitting having breakfast one morning she turned to me and said, “I can see Heaven and it’s beautiful and I want to go there.” This conversation lasted a couple of minutes and when I tried to lay her down she was trying to get out of bed as she wanted to walk to Heaven. I told her you will walk to Heaven when Jesus comes to take you by the hand. The second gift, as she was taking her last breaths, I was holding her hand and it was warm to the touch, then in an instant it went bone cold and I felt her spirit leave this world to be with Jesus in Heaven…”

Of course by this point, I’m crying like a baby and then this:

“So the reason I am writing is to share with you how important a role that you have played in my healing from the loss of Heather. In June of last year, I was in House of James bookstore in Abbotsford to look for a copy of the Bible on CD. While I was there looking around, your book literally called to me from across the store. It was on the shelf with about 30 other books but yours was the only one that I could see. There were two things that intrigued me the most. One was the picture of you and Michael and how much love and joy exuded from the cover. The second thing was the title, “Hold On, Let Go.” I picked up your book and perused it for a few minutes and put it down and said I’ll get it later. I went back the next day and the book was gone, sold out. At that moment I went to the counter and ordered your book and two weeks later I received my copy. I felt that I could learn something from your book to give me insight on the pending death of Heather. I brought it home and put it on my kitchen table and there it sat for three months. Everyday I looked at it on the table and I feared picking it up to read it because my mind wasn’t there yet and ultimately the timing wasn’t right. Through the passing of Heather in August, through her service in September your book sat on my table as a reminder to read it. I then took a trip to Ontario for the month of October to visit relatives I haven’t seen in upwords of 20 years. I took your book with me and began reading it on the flight. I continued to read it over the next week until it was finished and I could feel all of the emotions that you were expressing as it was what I had been feeling. Watching your life partner slowly fading right in front of you can be difficult, however it can also be beautiful if your faith in God is strong enough. The combination of your writing, Michael’s writing and the mixture of the Bible and the words of Oswald Chambers strengthened my resolve to not let my loss take over me…” 

“… It is because of my faith that I have been able to handle my loss. I have joined your blog and your writings continue to bring me joy and comfort. I had people worrying about me and my daughters around Christmas time. After reading your blog post, “We had Christmas” I realized over the last year with Heather that these would be our lasts of everything and now we go through the firsts without her. I had one of the best Christmases I have ever had as I too, felt that it was Heather’s first Christmas in Heaven (as well as my Dad’s as he passed two months before Heather). That thought brought me so much joy and I wouldn’t have thought about it that way if I hadn’t read your blog…” 

“… So I’m writing you to thank you. Because of your insight I have been able to look at things in a more positive light. I am a better person today because of Heather’s love and God’s love and I feel complete joy in my life…”  

Wow, right? Talk about timing! Thank you Chris! And thank you everyone who has let me know that my blog and/or book has been helpful … I really appreciate it!  Mike and I said that if we could help a few people, or even just one person with our story, it would be worth it.

On March 29 2012, I posted a blog post about the book of Psalms called, ‘A Really Good Book’. Check it out here.

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Picture of the Fraser River taken from the Port Haney Wharf

Psalm 5:11,12: “But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favour as with a shield.”

Love Is In the Air

I begin this fresh blog post with the topic of “love” on my mind. Not only is Valentine’s Day almost here but I’ve fallen hard for a special someone. So, I’ve got “love” as a starting point and I’ll just let my fingers do their thing on my lap top key board. It feels good to start something new.

I’ve been working on my speech for the conference I’m speaking at in Abbotsford, BC on March 5. It’s an Apologetics Canada Conference called “Thinking” and my title is, ‘Worrier to Warrior – finding hope, joy and courage after a terminal diagnosis’. I’m not much of an improviser; I like to have almost every word that I’m going to say written down, leaving just a little room to improvise (plus, I’ll read a few excerpts from my book, ‘Hold on, Let Go’). So, needless to say, I’ve been working on it for a long time and praying about each word and how it will be heard.

I’m afraid that my title might give the wrong impression. It might make people think I have it all figured out. Like I’m some kind of “Wonder Woman” and when they find out the opposite is true, they might boo…maybe even throw a tomato or two. Seriously though, it is the opposite of a “Wonder Woman” story and more of a “Living hopefully, joyfully and courageously with a big lump in my throat” story. A “Totally relying on God, trusting in Him, falling down and getting back up again, I could never do this on my own” story. It’s an “Expose your soul, be completely vulnerable, just let go…He’s got you so be brave” story. All good titles and now I’m a little disappointed about the one I chose.

Anyway, back to my blog post, turning to a new page and writing about something else is refreshing, so here goes…

I start my “love” story at my lovely round glass table by my big living room window with the beautiful scenery in my peripheral view. Glen is on my lap.

I don’t think I’ve said much about Glen in my blogging, but if you are a Facebook friend, you’ll have seen a picture or two of him. Glen is Madison’s dog. When we were talking about moving from my sister’s house, Madison told me she really wanted to get a dog. Even though she adored the couple of pound dogs she has had in the past, she said this time she was going to get a dog of her favourite breed, a pug.

She found him on-line in Oregon and the breeder thankfully met her at the US border with him when he was eight weeks old. He fit in one hand. He struggled with walking because his head was heavier than his body and he kept falling over. He was the cutest thing you’d ever seen….all those wonderful wrinkles, those big bulging eyes and that cinnamon bun swirl of a tail that sits on the top of his back end. He’s getting bigger and isn’t quite fitting on my lap the way he did but he makes it work as best he can with his limbs and head spilling over.

When Madison told me about getting Glen, I was apposed to the idea. I thought about my new floors, the fur and dirt and puppy accidents and the chewed up stuff. I definitely expressed my concern, but here is something else I was concerned about that I didn’t mention: the love.

I thought about the love I’d feel for this little one and then one day I’d have to say good bye. Like I have done before with pets, including our dog Isla who I watched take her last breath and of course, same with Mike. Deep down I was terrified to love this little guy but I used the excuse of fur and dirt and puppy pee.

I could see that Madison had already fallen for him, so I had no choice but to open the door … and down came the wall when this little fur ball walked in.

I guess I had started constructing a wall to keep out the love, because what i’ve learned over the years, especially the last couple, is that love can really hurt sometimes and what do we do to prevent hurting? We put up walls, we close doors, we try to keep the hurt out. I guess I thought I’d just never let myself love again, whether it be another puppy, another man, or new friend. But to be courageous, you have to be vulnerable and if I want to stay true to my “vulnerability equals bravery” theory that I “preach” in my speech, I have to open the door. It’s tough but love conquers all…right? Shouldn’t love trump fear? My head says yes, but my heart still says, “Ouch,” a little, but we’re getting there.

So far, Glen hasn’t brought any hurting, only joy and healing. Regardless of the potential pain, the lump in my throat and the dirty floors, I have fallen in love with Glen, and I shall continue to conquer my fears by living hopefully, joyfully and courageously by being vulnerable and trusting God with all my heart.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” C.S. Lewis

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This is Glen. He is wanting up on my lap again. I usually give in and don’t get much writing done. He just loves being with people. He’s a great cuddler. Madison is his number one person  (I’m so happy they found each other) and I think I’m a close second, but he loves everyone and everyone loves him. Everyone in the family has pretty much fallen in love with Glen. It’s funny and cute how much my dad loves him. He’ll call and ask how Glen is and what he’s up to and is he coming over soon etc.

Speaking of my dad, he is leaving again for Malawi on March 4th. We are all so happy my cousin John from Manitoba is going with him. They hope to drill two wells, feed the orphans and check in on some building projects. My sister Elanna and I went to his AGM (Annual General Meeting) last week. We really enjoyed our time with him and some of his board members, hearing his report of all the Project Wellness happenings from last year and about his hopes and dreams for this year. We are just so proud of him and my mom for all they have done to help others, with God’s help of course and they give Him all the glory. They are also so thankful for everyone who gives and has given to their charity. All the work they do is based on donations/fundraising.

On my dad’s first trip to Malawi, he noticed how the women worked really hard. He still talks about it and how the women worked much harder then most of the men. He talks about how they would walk for miles and miles with large buckets of water on their heads and babies on their backs, often without shoes on their feet. At the end of that first trip, my dad  said to a group of those woman, “I  saw what you were doing and I’m coming back to drill you a well.” He was back (after some fundraising and other preparations) only two months later, drilling the first well. When he tells the whole story, of how he met the driller and everything, I still get goose bumps. The two wells this trip will make a total of 33 wells drilled. And that my friends, is quite a remarkable love story.

I wish you lots and lots of love and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Also, Happy Birthday to my youngest daughter, Madison (on the 14th) and to Mike’s mum, Sheila (also the 14th), it’s her first birthday in heaven. Happy Sweet 16 to my niece Michaela (on the 16th) and my oldest daughter, Erin (on the 20th).

At the “Thinking” conference on March 5, I’m one of 13 “Breakout Speakers”. We all say the same speech twice so the attendees hear two Breakout speeches, choosing who they want to hear that day after they have listened to a couple of key note speakers. It’s going to be an excellent conference and I’m so honoured to be a part of it. This link takes you right to the Breakout sessions: http://www.apologeticscanada.com/conference-2016/abbotsford/breakouts/

 

Chasing a Rainbow

I set one goal last New Years and that was to keep Mike alive for as long as I possibly could. He died five days later. I guess you could say I failed that one miserably… not really. Sometimes God’s plans get in the way of our plans and whether we like it or not, His are always better than ours. Sometimes I agonize over the fact that I could have done more but God is so much bigger than I am and greater than anything I could or couldn’t do for Mike. He took Mike in His perfect timing. Case closed.

On January 5, we celebrated Mike’s first anniversary in heaven. I use the word “celebrate” loosely. I booked the day off and my sister Elanna had the day off, so we went to Fort Langley. There were other places we thought of going, places Mike liked, but I couldn’t get the Fort Langley cemetery off my mind. Mike loved it there. He loved cemeteries. It must have been the history buff in him. He liked walking around reading the headstones … the names and dates. He would guess the type of life the particular person lived and stuff like that. It was raining, so Elanna and I didn’t go around reading headstones, but we enjoyed our time there reminiscing about Mike with a few tears and lots of laughs. We spread some of Mike’s ashes in the area, mostly around big lovely trees. We also browsed in the shops and had lunch at Wendel’s (Bookstore and Cafe). Mike would have been very pleased and same with his mum, she liked the shops there too (she liked all shops anywhere and everywhere).

After Mike died, I tried to not make plans, set goals or dream dreams. At times, I wanted to forge a path and plow ahead, but as difficult as it was, I resisted most of the time. This is what I wrote in my post, ‘Conversations With the Man I Love’ from September 21, 2015, “I’m trying to just “be”, so He can do a work in me but that’s not easy. My high expectations say, get up, clean up, make your bed, get going, but I’m trying to be still. I feel I’m supposed  to learn the discipline of ‘Don’t just do something, stand there.’ Instead of what comes more naturally;  ‘Don’t just stand there, do something.”’ There was healing in not filling my life with “things to do”. The only thing on my ‘List of things to do’ was to rest in the palm of His hand and trust Him on a deeper level.

In the evening of the 5th, I took Erin (my daughter) up on her offer to teach my Pilates class and I went for a long walk. I didn’t think about where I was going, I just went. It wasn’t late but it was dark. I live in a “sketchy” area of town but I never feel nervous there. About an hour into my walk, I found myself on a street that does make me feel a little nervous. After being startled by someone (totally innocent), I picked up my pace and took the first right down a road better lit. I ended up behind someone smoking, so jogging, I crossed over and stopped abruptly right where my foot landed on the sidewalk, safe on that side. The little Christmas lights in the window of the store I was now standing in front of got my attention, along with the paper Canadian flags that hung across the top. The books lined up in rows almost pressing against the crystal clear glass, drew me closer. “Ken’s Bookcase” in sticky letters smack dab in the middle of it all, and I still didn’t get it. God was speaking to me, but it took me a few minutes before I heard Him. I had passed by this little used bookstore a few times before and I had been inside once – many years ago. I had gone in to check out the Bibles. I was interested in having a different version to compare with my ‘New International Version’ (before I used the internet for that sort of thing). I still remember that hard cover with jacket gem on a high shelf squished in-between others less brilliant looking. It was a Woman’s Study Bible, practically new. I pulled it down and examined the weight of it, the scent of it, the sheer genius of it. Then I opened it and a sunbeam or something like that shone from it. I recognized the hand writing of the inscription on the front page immediately. It was my good friend Colleen’s writing.

I wrote about Colleen and her husband Chris in my book, ‘Hold On, Let Go’. Colleen and Chris were our business partners for five years. We owned and operated Fitness Works together, a fitness studio (from 1994-1999). In my book, I describe these two as a little older than us and very wise friends, and spiritual mentors. This is what I say about Colleen (from Chapter 10, pg 167), “Colleen has a really good sense of timing. She listens to that little voice in her, prompting her to call or send a message. When she calls me early in the morning and suggests we pray for my parents who are out on the mission field, I don’t ask why she is calling so early or let her know she woke me up, I just agree.” Colleen always was and still is up to the Lord’s work, so finding this Bible she gave to a young friend who I also knew, was not a shocker.

I actually kept the Bible for a little while and beautified my own bookcase with it – exploring it on and off. I wasn’t seeing Colleen on a regular basis at the time (this was shortly after we closed our business) and kept forgetting to give it to her. I eventually took it to her and told her the story. Regardless of that, and how the book got in the store and why, I don’t doubt for one minute that the Lord directed my steps to that little book store that glowed in the dark on my walk the other night. God wanted to remind me that nothing gets by Him. That He is the orchestrator of the universe and that He placed the stars in the sky and named them; He covered seashores with tiny grains of sand. It’s nothing for Him to get a book back in the rightful owner’s hands or cure a dying man… according to His plan – it will be, or not.

When 2016 was fast approaching, I did what I felt I should, I started setting goals, planning and dreaming. You know, like a “New Year, New You” idea. But then I said in my head, “Hey, “this” you is ok. This you is on the right track. This you is doing just fine right here in the palm of God’s hand.” Besides, I am a “new” me considering 2 Corinthians 5:17, which says, “Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (New Living Translation). What more could I ask for?

Plus, when I look back on last year – the year of one goal that failed miserably – more happened than I could ever imagine. I finished a college program, graduated and started a new career. I became an author, a speaker and a spokesperson for ALS. I moved into a beautiful new home, by the river with a spectacular view – a dream (I didn’t really dream) come true. I went places, met people and did things I couldn’t have planned had I tried. These were God’s plans, not mine.

So this New Years, I’m only setting one goal again. Don’t worry, I do have hopes and dreams (hopes and dreams are imperative for joyful living). I also know I have things I need to improve upon in my life and I’ve made a mental note of those things, but the only goal I’m writing down this New Years – the only one I’m setting in stone, is to stay as close to Him as I possibly can; to stay put in the palm of God’s hand. I’m just going to keep trusting Him.

On the 6th of January (the day after Mike’s anniversary), I got up early like I do most mornings and got ready for work in case I got called in. I figured if I didn’t get called in, I’d go to my friend Keri’s fitness class at 8:50. When I didn’t get a call and had some time to spare, I sat in front of my living room window and watched the sun come up. I thought about the day before and contemplated God’s faithfulness and His mercies that are new every morning. As the sun burst forth, so did joy in my heart. I praised Him for a while before I noticed the lightest drops of rain floating through the air. This is when I “burst forth” and scrambled to get my things together knowing somewhere was a rainbow out there. I grabbed everything I needed for the class and ran up to the roof of my building to see about a rainbow. Sure enough, on the other side of my living room view, there it was … just so beautiful. The other half of the rainbow was in full view at the end of my street that I walked up to go to Keri’s class at the Rec Centre. I kept zig zagging across the street to see it from the best angle.

I apologized as I ran in to class a little late. Keri and I both said at the same time, “Did you see the rainbow?” The class was fantastic as always and again at the end, I said I was sorry for being late and added, “But I was chasing a rainbow.” Keri said, “There’s your next blog post title.” I told her I was thinking the same thing.

Rainbows remind me of God’s promises, His unconditional love and faithfulness and, unlike rainbows, you never have to chase those things…they are right there…He is always right there.

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Lamentations 3:22-23 (NLT)

“The faithful love of the Lord never ends!

His mercies never cease.

Great is His faithfulness;

His mercies begin afresh each morning.”

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Mike’s birthday is today (Jan 16th). Happy Birthday to our dearest Michael! We have now experienced all the “firsts”. You see them coming and don’t want them to come but want them to be behind you at the same time. They are all behind us now, but I can’t say that makes it any easier. We are blessed to be doing quite well nonetheless. Thanks again for your support and prayers.

Here is ‘Conversations With the Man I Love’ in full

Keri is also a writer/blogger. We encourage each other to write from the heart courageously. Here is the link to her blog, Keri On. Her last post, What If?, was written with so much vulnerability, I loved it!

Here is a link to an upcoming Apologetics Canada event I’m speaking at in Abbotsford BC, March 5. My speech is titled, From Worrier to Warrior – finding courage, hope and joy after a terminal diagnosis.

Here is the link to my book, ‘Hold On, Let Go – facing ALS with Courage and Hope’

Lips Are For Kissing

I have almost forgotten what a kiss on the lips feels like. Once in a while, my granddaughter Leah gives me a kiss on the lips. It’s so sweet because I usually turn my head so she can plant one on my cheek, but she follows my lips with her pucker and I get the softest, sweetest kiss right on the lips.

On Christmas Day, my two and a half year old great-nephew, Xavier, planted a couple on me and I was like, “Oh yah, LIPS … they are for kissing.”

It’s kind of weird when you think about it, kissing that is. It’s weird but it’s absolutely wonderful. It’s been a while for me (I’m talking the romantic kind of kiss now) and with New Year’s Eve approaching, I’m thinking about it more and more. Plus, I’m a real sucker (no pun intended) for all those made for TV Christmas romance movies and for the classics too (classics in my books) like ‘When Harry Met Sally’ (Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal), ‘You’ve Got Mail’ (again Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks), ‘Family Man’ (Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni). All of which I’ve watched over the last couple of weeks.

Anyway, at some point during Mike’s battle with ALS, he lost the ability to really lay one on me, so it’s been at least two or maybe close to three years since I’ve had a good one. I really wish I could remember the last really good kiss – the last full lip lock, total embrace, when his lips reached out for mine and vice versa. I guess it doesn’t matter. What matters is, we had lots of them. So my advice to anyone interested in my advice: kiss! Kiss a lot. Really plant one on him (or her) … and let your lips linger.

Happy New Year!

As you can see below, Mike loved getting kisses.

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PS – Thanks for the prayers and well wishes. We had a really nice Christmas and I hope you did too. In my last post, We Had Christmas, I said that I was pretty sure I was going to be okay and I was okay (for the most part). I think we all did well. It obviously wasn’t the same without Mike, but it was good.

Below, Christmas day – my sister Elanna receives a kiss from her husband Peter. He washes dishes and gives good kisses.

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All of us on Christmas day – Peter, Elanna, Michaela and Luke, my parents and us. Mike’s good friend, Ron also joined us along with our niece Heather, her husband Frank and their kids, Kaelyn and Xavier.

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Madison, me, Erin, Nathan and Leah

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We Had Christmas

I’m not the ‘feeling sorry for myself’ type, but recently I was a little tempted – it lasted for about 3 seconds. I was walking home from the Rec Centre, where I teach fitness classes, just enjoying the evening and minding my own business, when all of a sudden I remembered it’s my first Christmas apart from Mike. It was like, “Oh yeah, this is my first Christmas without him (I should be really sad).” But sadness didn’t have a chance to enter in because this was my next thought, “It’s Mike’s first Christmas in heaven!” Whomp, abundant joy. For a minute there, I was walking on air. I felt like dancing … I definitely danced on the inside, although I wouldn’t have looked that out of place had I danced down the South end of 224th St.

I should also mention that it’s Mike’s mum’s first Christmas in heaven too, which is pretty cool for these two!

I’ve had a few friends express some concern for me as we approach Christmas – it being my first Christmas apart from Mike. While I really appreciate the care and concern of family and friends, I honestly think I’m going to be okay. This is what I have to say, “We had Christmas.”

I’ll never forget the man I met a few days before my book signing at Save On Foods back in April when my book first launched. I was there to meet with my friend Shelley who invited me to do the book signing. She and I were going over the details of the event when a costumer she knew well came over to her to say hello. She introduced us and told him about my book – Hold On, Let Go. He was a friendly and jokey guy, but as soon as he heard my book was about my husband who had ALS, his smile disappeared. He shared that his wife also had ALS. He told us she passed away years ago and he proceeded to draw us a picture of their experience with the disease. Understandably, he was still very hurt. Unfortunately, he was bitter and angry. It wasn’t a pretty picture. ALS of course isn’t pretty, but this man and his family had experienced complete devastation with this illness. There was no indication of peace or joy … just sorrow and grief.

While comparing stories, this man told me his wife passed away just before Christmas. The last thing he said to me when he left the grocery store was, “You had Christmas.” I replied gratefully, “Yes, we had Christmas.”

We had many wonderful Christmases and last Christmas was extra special. Here are a few words from my blog post, ‘Typical Mike’ from December 28th 2014:

“It’s been a unique Christmas. Some things are the same, but some are very different. Mike says this will most likely be our last Christmas together here on earth so we are clinging to the moments and making this Christmas an extra special one … or I should say God is making it extra special. 

“We are having a wonderful time with family, but our times alone are extraordinary. The tender moments between sessions of suctioning and uncontrollable coughing and bowel care, are sweet. Its like there’s this glow around us. Maybe it’s all the Christmas lights I put up this year because Mike loves Christmas lights, but it’s a special glow, like angels are among us. It’s been a time of last words, and everyday I wonder why I’m so lucky to be able to say good bye like this. Nothing will go unsaid.”

When I wrote that post I had no idea of course that Mike would pass away only eight days later, but I knew in my heart it was our last Christmas together. I trust that everything that was meant to be said was said, although I have sometimes questioned over these eleven months if it was. It doesn’t matter now though, it was a wonderful good bye … and this year he spends Christmas in heaven.

We had Christmas, so please don’t be sad for me. Yes, there will be (more) tears over the next few weeks, but the joy far outweighs the grief (like most of the time).

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This picture is from our last Christmas in our house on Mountainview Cres – Dec 2011. The tree was always such a big deal for us. This year, Madison started us off with a Charlie Brown tree (a true Charlie Brown tree that came in a box with Charlie’s picture on it and everything) which I love and when I heard we weren’t allowed to have a real tree in our new apartment, I thought the little Charlie tree would do. But Mike would want us to have lights, so I found something a bit bigger. Still a little tree, but one I put lights and birds and a few ornaments on. I’m pretty unmotivated this year to do what I usually do at Christmas as far as decorating, shopping, baking etc but there are lights. If Mike is looking, surely he will see the two lit stars in our big window. I hung the same stars last year and told Mike I’d leave them up for his birthday. He wasn’t here for his birthday but we kept the stars up until Madison and I moved in August.

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This picture is one of the many Christmas cards I made over the years. This is when I actually used real scissors and glue to cut and paste.

Check out my post ‘Typical Mike’ in full. It’s about love and forgiveness and it’s my most read blog post.

Did you catch my last post ‘My Big Fat Awesome Legs’? It’s about self perception, God’s unconditional love and a little bit about world peace. It opened up the door for some interesting conversations. A days after I posted it, I went back and added a paragraph toward the end addressing my “teaser” “Jay”. Jay wasn’t a bully or a terrible person, just a regular boy with some bad communication (like all of us sometimes).

Anyway, thank you so much for continuing to tune in to ALS With Courage and for all your encouragement, support, love and prayers.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a joyful New Year!