Peace and quiet

This blog will be quiet for a few days while Marci and I enjoy some hiking in the mountains (hopefully, if we aren’t rained out or smoked out by forest fires!).

IMG_6770

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My favourite songwriters #9: Larry Norman

The father of Christian rock music was definitely a flawed character, but he wrote some awesome songs. Here’s my favourite:

http://larrynorman.com

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Meadowvale (a prequel to ‘A Time to Mend’): Chapter 21

Link back to Chapter 20

This is a work of fiction; I haven’t yet finished it, and it will probably get revised after it’s finished. It tells the story of Tom and Kelly’s marriage; readers of A Time to Mend will know that it will have a sad ending, but hopefully it will be a good story.

We met Becca in Saskatoon around supper time on Sunday July 19th; she had finished school on the Friday, packed on Saturday, and come straight to us the next day, flying by way of Toronto. The plane was full, but she was one of the first people through the door into the arrivals lounge; I saw her immediately, dressed in tee-shirt and jeans, with a backpack on her back and a single suitcase in her hand. “There she is”, I said to Kelly.

“She’s cut her hair!” Kelly exclaimed.

“Yeah – it’s almost as short as yours!”

Kelly laughed; Becca’s dark hair was indeed cut boyishly short, and it made her look younger than her sixteen years, although she was now taller than Kelly and almost as tall as me. She saw us standing together, smiled and threaded her way through the crowd toward us. When she got to me, she threw her arms around me, and I hugged her and held her close.

“Oh God, Tommy, it’s so good to see you!” she said, gripping me tight.

“Good to see you, too, little Becs”, I said.

For a moment she didn’t reply, and then, in a voice full of emotion, she said, “You haven’t called me that in a long time”.

“I know”.

She released me and turned to Kelly. “Where’s Emma?” she asked.

“We left her with Ellie and Joe”, Kelly replied, holding out her arms. “Do I get a hug too”.

“Oh yes!”

The two of them held each other tight for a long moment, and I heard Becca whisper, “Thank you so much for letting me come”.

Kelly leaned back, smiled at her, and kissed her on the cheek. “I don’t think I can introduce you to people as my baby sister any more”, she said with a grin; “When did you get to be so tall?”

“It helps that you’re kind of short”, I said to Kelly.

“Well, I guess that’s true!” she replied.

“You look so well”, Becca said to her; “Are you feeling all right?”

“I feel fine; don’t worry about me. Now, have you got everything?”

“This is it”, Becca said, holding up her suitcase; “I thought I’d travel light”.

“Good idea”, Kelly replied.

“What do you need, Becs?” I asked; “Coffee? Supper?”

“We ate and drank on the plane from Toronto”.

“Right – shall we just head out of town and straight home, then?”

“That would be fantastic!”


Becca rode in the back seat, and she slept most of the way to Meadowvale; it had been a long day for her, with two flights and a two hour layover in Toronto, and I knew her body clock would be messed up. Kelly and I held hands and talked quietly all the way home; she had been spending a lot of time outdoors since the warm weather arrived, and her face and arms were deeply tanned. She was still wearing her ball cap, although her hair was about three inches long by now.

We pulled up behind Kelly’s truck at the back of our house at about eight o’clock; Becca yawned, stretched, and said, “Did I sleep the whole way?”

“You sure did!” Kelly replied as she got out of the car. “I’m going to walk over to Joe and Ellie’s and get Emma; Tom will get you settled in, okay?”

“Of course”.

It was a beautiful summer evening in Meadowvale; the sky was a clear blue, the sun was still high in the west, and a gentle breeze was lifting the branches of the trees. I could hear our neighbour’s children in their back yard, and through an open window somewhere the faint sounds of a radio playing country music. Kelly kissed me on the cheek and disappeared around the house on her way to Joe and Ellie’s, and I opened the trunk and lifted Becca’s bags out.

“So this is your new house?” she said as we walked up to the back door, with the deck beside us.

“This is it”.

“When did you say you moved in?”

“The first half of May”.

We went in the back door, and I kicked off my shoes and climbed the three steps to the kitchen. “We haven’t quite got the basement fixed up yet”, I said, “so you’re in the guest room on the main floor. Sorry – it would have been cooler for you in the basement, and I’m afraid we haven’t got air conditioning”.

“I’ll be alright”.

“It gets pretty warm at nights here in the summer”.

Kelly had finished decorating the guest room a couple of days before; it had a double bed, a dresser and an easy chair, and a built-in closet, and there were vertical blinds hanging at the window, which looked out onto our front yard and the street beyond it. A bookcase stood against one of the walls, crammed with books stacked two deep on the shelves. Becca put her suitcase and backpack on the bed, looked around slowly, and said, “This is nice”.

“Well, it’s not quite as fancy as home, I know…”

She shook her head; “I’m so glad to be here, Tommy. I don’t care how fancy it is at home, I just needed to get away”.

I put my hand on her arm; “Kelly told me what happened”, I said softly.

“I haven’t told her everything yet. At the moment, I don’t even want to think about it”.

“Okay. Would you like a cup of tea or something? Kelly’ll want me to make some for her; she often likes peppermint or chamomile tea at this time of night”.

“That sounds good. The facilities are across the corridor, are they?”

“Yeah, they are. Okay, I’ll leave you to settle in; come out when you’re ready”.

“How far is it to Joe and Ellie’s from here?”

“A five minute walk there and a fifteen minute walk back”.

She raised an eyebrow, and I grinned and said, “Emma’s into this walking business in a big way”.

“Oh, I see!” she said with a smile; “She’ll want to walk home”.

“Yeah, and Kelly never rushes her”.

Her eyes searched my face for a moment; “Is Kelly really okay?” she asked.

“Yes, she is, but you’ll notice that at the moment she’s got very little patience for anything that doesn’t involve the people she loves”.

“Well, she wouldn’t have, would she?” She turned to her suitcase, unzipped it, and said, “Have you got a shower in your bathroom?”

“Yes”.

“Do you mind if I have a quick one while we’re waiting for Kelly and Emma?”

“Not at all; help yourself. Oh, and I’m sorry about this bookshelf; we’ve got so many books, and we haven’t got all the shelves up in the basement yet, so we’re a bit short of places to store them all”.

“I’m not bothered”, she said. “I’ll enjoy looking through your shelves, actually”.


When she emerged from the bathroom, Kelly and I were on the living room floor playing with Emma. We were surrounded by plastic farm animals and dinosaurs, and Becca laughed and said, “She’s big!”

“She’s grown a bit since the last photograph”, Kelly said with a smile. “Did you find everything you needed?”

“I did, thanks”.

We got to our feet, and Kelly picked Emma up. “Em”, she said, “this is your Auntie Becca”.

Emma looked at her doubtfully for a moment, but Becca didn’t hesitate; she held out her arms and said, “Hello, Em – are you going to come to Auntie?”

To my surprise, Emma immediately reached out to her. Kelly passed her over with a grin; “She’s not normally this friendly on the first meeting”, she said.

Becca took her in her arms, smiled at her, and said, “Shall we be friends, then?”

Emma looked at her for a moment, and then nodded solemnly, and we all laughed. “Well, it didn’t take you long to win her over”, I said.

Becca smiled and kissed Emma. “What does she like?’ she asked; “Stories, games, videos?”

“All of those”, Kelly replied, “but in a few minutes I’m going to give her a bath and put her to bed. There’s some little books she likes over on the corner table, if you want to try sitting and reading to her. I’ll pour the tea; do you want some, Becca?”

“Yes, please”.


The next morning I got up around six-thirty, pulled on jeans and a long-sleeved shirt to keep the mosquitos away, and went out for my half hour walk as usual. There were already a few trucks moving on the streets of Meadowvale, on their way to the Travellers’ for early morning coffee, or getting an early start on the day’s work, and I acknowledged a few waves as I worked my way around the perimeter of the town. The sky was a clear blue, and I could tell it was going to be another warm day.

When I got back to the house at around seven-fifteen Kelly was making tea in the kitchen and Becca was holding Emma on her lap and encouraging her to eat a slice of toast and peanut butter. I grinned at them; “So the human alarm clock strikes again, eh?” I said. “How long has she been up?”

“About half an hour”, Kelly replied sleepily as she poured the hot water into the kettle.

I put my arm around her and kissed her, then turned to Becca and said, “How was your night?”

“I woke up for a couple of hours around four, but I’d fallen asleep again when I heard Emma. I was afraid I might have woken you up earlier on; I got up and made myself a cup of tea at about five o’clock”.

“Didn’t hear a thing”, I replied with a grin. I turned back to Kelly and said, “Do you want to go and have a shower? We can cover things here”.

“Sure; thanks”. She shuffled off down the corridor, and I grinned at Becca and said, “She’s not a morning person”.

“That’s got to be hard when you’ve got a human alarm clock”.

“Yeah – I try to get out for my walk really early so I can be here when Emma wakes up, but I don’t always make it in time. Do you want some more tea?”

“Do I? I could murder a cup of tea!”

“Coming right up”. I poured tea for us both, put one mug down in front of Becca just out of Emma’s reach, and then sat down across from her with mine. “Do you want me to take over with her?” I asked.

She shook her head; “I like this kid”, she said.

“Good; she seems to have taken to you, too”.

“You must have done a lot of this sort of thing when Kelly was sick”.

“Yes – last summer when she was having chemo, I pretty much took the morning shift. Fortunately, being a teacher, I had July and August off”.

“Tell me about chemo, Tommy”, she said; “Is it as bad as they say it is?”

“Well, I think you’d be better to ask Kelly about that; I watched it, but I didn’t go through it myself”.

“Will she mind? I wasn’t sure whether or not she’d want to talk about it”.

“I don’t think she’ll mind, not with you, anyway”.

“I’m afraid I was rather taken up with – well, with what was going on in my own personal life last summer and autumn; I didn’t do a very good job of keeping in touch with you through Kelly’s chemo”.

I shook my head; “We were hearing from you about once a month until this spring some time; we were always glad for your letters and pictures”.

“I’m afraid they kind of dried up after about March”, she replied apologetically; “I’m sorry about that. And I’m sorry I didn’t ring you more often last year; I really wish I’d done a better job of being there for you both, especially Kelly”.

Down the corridor I heard the sound of the shower starting up. “Honestly, Becs, this time last year she was totally absorbed in what was going on with her own body. She’d just had major surgery, she’d lost her dream of having a big family, and she was right in the middle of a deep, dark depression. She was having chemo injections every three weeks, and she’d had to stop nursing Emma because of it. Believe me, some days she barely noticed me, never mind who was writing and who wasn’t”.

“It must have been awful, Tommy”, she said.

“It’s not an experience I’d care to repeat”.

“I don’t think I realized how depressed she was after her surgery, and I didn’t really connect the dots about the chemo and her having to stop nursing, either”. She reached over and put her hand on mine; “I feel so stupid”, she said; “The least I could have done would have been to write and call you regularly”.

“Don’t worry about it”, I said; “I’m glad you’re here now”.

“Me too”. She looked down at Emma and grinned; “Wow, look at that peanut butter mug! Maybe Auntie should find a face flannel and wipe it”.

“Hanging just beside the sink”, I said, pointing her in the right direction.

A few minutes later Kelly came back into the kitchen, dressed in shorts and a tank top, her hair still wet from the shower. “Thanks”, she said to me as I poured her a cup of tea and passed it to her; “I feel a little better now. Does anyone want any breakfast?”

“Sit down and drink your tea”, I said to her with a grin; “I’ll get it. Is everyone okay with toast and peanut butter, or is anyone hankering for eggs or anything?”

“I could enjoy eggs” Kelly said with a smile.

“Me too”, Becca added.

“Right then”, I said; “I’ll get busy cooking!”


We spent the day quietly, playing with Emma in the house or in the back yard, walking down to the Co-op for some groceries and a coffee at the deli, and just enjoying conversation together. In the afternoon we went to the swimming pool and spent a couple of hours in the water; Kelly and I played with Emma in the splash pool while Becca swam some lengths, and then she offered to take over for us so that we could have a bit of time in the main pool together. Once again, Kelly and I were amazed at how quickly and completely Emma had taken to Becca; “She must recognize the genes, I guess!” Kelly said.

When we got home, Becca took a nap for an hour or so while we were getting supper ready; Kelly cooked a spicy chicken curry, knowing from our trip to England that Becca enjoyed Indian food and never got it at home. We were just finishing up the dishes when we heard the back door open, and Joe called up to us, “Anyone home at the Masefields?”

“Follow the smell of curry”, I replied.

Joe and Ellie and their children came up the stairs and crowded into the kitchen; little Emma was excited to see Jake, and the two of them quickly went into the living room to find the toy box, while eight-month-old Jenna was still sleeping in Ellie’s arms. Joe held out his hand to Becca; “You’ve cut your hair since the last time you were here”, he said.

She smiled; “I did it last month, actually”, she replied as she shook hands with him.

“You look really different!” Ellie said with a smile; “Any particular reason?”.

Becca flushed; “Not really”, she said, avoiding everyone’s looks.

Kelly shook her head; “No, I don’t buy that for a minute, Becca Masefield! I miss my long hair every minute of the day; I don’t believe you just did it on a whim – there has to be a reason”.

Becca shook her head silently, but I smiled and said, “She’s got a reason; she just doesn’t want to make a big noise about it”.

Kelly stared at her; “You didn’t do this for me, did you?”

Becca nodded reluctantly, the embarrassment plain on her face. Kelly said, “You cut off your beautiful hair for me?” She went over to her and put her arms around her. “Thank you”, she said softly; “You didn’t have to do that!”

“Well, I thought you must be missing your hair, and I didn’t want to make you feel bad; mine was about three feet long”.

“I know – I saw the pictures”. Kelly stepped back and looked up at her; “Becca, I can’t believe you did that”, she said, shaking her head in wonder; “Thank you so much!” She kissed her on the cheek, then turned to me and said, “This sister of yours is a class act!”

“I’ve always known that”, I said, smiling at Becca. “Nicely done, Becs”.

“Thanks, but could you all stop embarrassing me now?”

We laughed, and Kelly said, “Tea, anyone?”

“Is there any iced tea in the fridge?” Joe asked.

“There is actually”, I replied, “and it’s home-made. Shall we take it out on the deck and light some citronella candles?”

“Brilliant idea!” Ellie replied.

“What are citronella candles?” Becca asked.

“Well”, I replied, “the theory is that they keep mosquitos away!”

“Oh, right!”


We sat out on the deck with Joe and Ellie for an hour or so, sipping iced tea and talking quietly. Becca didn’t have a lot to say, but I could see that she was enjoying just being part of the Reimer family circle, where conversations were relaxed and friendly and the emotional dynamics were simple and straightforward. Eventually Joe and Ellie excused themselves, saying that they needed to get home to get the children ready for bed, and not long afterwards I took Emma inside, gave her a bath, read to her for a little while, and then carried her out to the deck to say goodnight to Kelly and Becca, who were still sitting out there in quiet conversation with the citronella candles burning around them.

“I’ll come in and put her to bed”, Kelly said apologetically.

“No need”, I replied; “she’s fine with me. You girls carry on doing whatever it is you’re doing, and I’ll come out and join you again when she’s asleep”.

“Are you sure?”

“Of course. Give Mummy a kiss, Em”.

Emma gave Kelly and Becca hugs and kisses, and then I took her inside, put her in her bed, and sat in the living room for a few minutes until I was sure she was asleep. By now it was about nine o’clock, and I boiled a kettle, made three mugs of hot chocolate, and took them out to the deck. “Am I interrupting?” I asked as I set the mugs down on the picnic table.

“Not at all”, Kelly replied with a smile; “Come and join us; we’re just talking about holiday plans”.

I sat down with them, picked up one of the mugs, and glanced at Becca; “Is there anything you especially want to do?” I asked.

“I’m just happy to be here with you”, she replied quietly; “Kelly was talking about doing some travelling next week, and that’s fine with me. I’ll be glad to go wherever you want to take me and see whatever you want to show me”.

“Well, we definitely have to take you up to Jasper”, Kelly said; “That’s where I lived when Tom and I first met, and it’s breathtakingly beautiful”.

“Of course, we won’t be able to do the hikes we used to do”, I said, “not with Emma”.

“Well, you and Becca could do a couple of longer ones; I could stay with Em”.

I shrugged; “Maybe. We can all see the Icefields, and Maligne Lake, and Athabasca Falls and that sort of thing”.

“And we could ride the tramway up Whistler’s”, Kelly added.

I looked at Becca and said, “And then there’s Prince Albert National Park, where Krista and Steve live, and the Edmonton Folk Music Festival”.

Becca laughed; “You haven’t inflicted any miserable folk songs on me yet!” she said.

“Well, there’s still plenty of time!”

“We should see if anyone’s in town for a singaround Friday night”, Kelly suggested.

“Now there’s a good idea!”

“What’s a singaround?” Becca asked.

“We get a few musicians together”, Kelly explained, “sit them in a circle, and then we go round the circle, with people sharing their songs. Tom introduced us to the idea here, and we’ve got a good regular group now”.

“Owen and I used to go to them sometimes in Oxford”, I added. “Ours were mainly folk singarounds, but here we get lots of variety”.

“Well, it all sounds great”, Becca replied softly, sipping at her hot chocolate and looking out over our back yard. “You’ve got absolutely no idea how nice it is to sit out here with you two and have a relaxed conversation, with no emotional manipulation going on, and no one criticizing anyone or judging anyone”.

“Mum does her best, Becs”, I said.

“I know she does”.

We were quiet for a minute; I was looking at my sister and wondering what had happened to the little girl who used to sit drinking hot chocolate beside the Christmas tree with me. She was still gazing out reflectively over the back yard; “I like this house”, she said softly, “and especially this garden. What made you decide to move?”

“Well, we’ve wanted to buy our own place since we got married”, I replied, “but interest rates were high and we couldn’t really afford it, and then Kelly got sick and we had too much on our plate to even think about it. But this year, things were better”.

“I got a clean bill of health”, Kelly said with a grin.

“And I got my legacy from Grandma and Grandpa Masefield”, I added.

“Oh right”, said Becca; “mine’s still in a trust fund”.

“It just felt like a good time for a fresh start”, Kelly said. “1986 was a tough year for us, and we wanted to put it behind us and move on”.

“Ah”. Becca frowned thoughtfully, glanced at me, and then said to Kelly, “So you’d rather not talk about your…”

“About my cancer?”

Becca nodded; “Sorry, Kelly – I don’t want to upset you”.

“I’m not upset, and I don’t mind talking to you about it if you want me to”.

Becca was quiet for a moment, and I could see that she was struggling to decide what to say. Eventually she looked up; “I really wish I’d made a better effort to keep in touch with you last year while you were going through it all, Kelly. I feel like I should have been writing and ringing you a lot more often that I did”.

“I know you had a lot going on in your life, too”.

Becca shook her head dismissively. “Studying for my ‘A’-levels and going out with Peter? It hardly compares with what you were going through”. She hesitated, then said, “Were you scared?”

“Yes”.

“Was it – if you don’t mind me asking – fear of…?”

“Fear of dying?”

“Yes”.

“I guess there was some of that, although I don’t think I’m especially afraid of death. I didn’t want to leave my husband or my baby, that’s for sure”.

Becca was quiet for a moment, looking down at the mug of hot chocolate in her hands. Eventually she looked back at Kelly and said, “I’m sorry, I’m sure someone must have told me this already, but if they have, I’ve completely forgotten it: How did you first find out you had cancer?”

Kelly frowned thoughtfully; “I started having troubles a couple of months after Emma was born; I was losing weight everywhere except my middle, and I was starting to feel really bloated. Then I started getting a recurring bladder infection, and then pain in my left side – a sharp pain that came and went. I had some ideas about those symptoms – that’s the problem with being a nurse, you’re always second-guessing yourself when you get sick – and I thought I might have ovarian cysts, or maybe diverticulitis. It was the pain that really scared me; it got sharper as the weeks went by, and it kind of took my breath away. I didn’t know what it could be; I was terrified of having to go into hospital and being separated from Emma, but I wasn’t thinking yet of any sort of danger to my life. I knew young women do get ovarian cancer occasionally, but it’s very rare, and it never occurred to me that I could be one of them.

“Eventually Tom found out what I was going through and he insisted I go to our doctor. He talked to Owen, too, and Owen was the one who warned us about the possibility of dysgerminoma. Do you know that name?”

“Not really; I read it in Tommy’s letters, but I didn’t really know what it was”.

“Dysgerminomas are germ cell tumours; they’re most often found in the ovaries, and they typically attack younger women. All the statistics were against my having it; only one percent of ovarian cancers are dysgerminomas, and you only get them in both ovaries about ten percent of the time. But Owen had recently seen a case of it, so he told us to make sure that an oncologist was on hand if I had surgery, which we did. Our doctor referred me to a gynaecologist, and the gynaecologist thought the growths were ovarian cysts, but when they did the surgery on May 26th last year they discovered it was cancer”. She smiled grimly; “I woke up after a six-hour surgery with no ovaries and no uterus. That was hard for me to take in”.

“Did you know it might happen?”

“Yeah, I did. My gynaecologist had told me that she wouldn’t know for sure until she got in there, and that’s why we wanted an oncologist on hand, just in case it was cancer. We always knew it was a possibility; we’d talked about it together, and we’d even given them permission to do what they thought was best. But in my heart, I’d never really believed it would happen; I just couldn’t bring myself to believe that at twenty-seven years old I would turn out to have a malignant cancer – one that would take away my ability to have any more children”.

Becca shook her head slowly; “Oh, Kelly!” she said.

“Well, when I realized what a close brush I’d had with death, I was very thankful to be alive, of course. But yes, I’d set my heart on having a big family, and it seemed totally unfair to me that I’d been robbed of that”. She looked at me; “So I kind of went into a nose dive, didn’t I?” she said quietly.

I reached out and took her hand, and she smiled and said, “Tom was very patient with me”.

“I honestly couldn’t find it in my heart to blame her for it”, I said to Becca.

“Of course not”, Becca replied.

For a moment Kelly didn’t say anything, and I knew she was steeling herself to remember the blackest time of her life. “Then I found out I had to have eight rounds of chemotherapy”, she said, “because they weren’t absolutely sure they’d gotten all the cancer. That meant I had to stop nursing Emma, which was something I’d always wanted to do and something I really treasured”. She shrugged; “At that point, I think I just gave up”, she said. “I did a lot of crying. I remember one time I woke up in the night crying uncontrollably; I was afraid of waking Tom and Emma, and I went out to the living room and just sat there and cried for half an hour. Eventually Tom found me, and of course he was very gentle and patient with me. But it was a very hard time for him, Becca; I know it now, and I still feel guilty about it”.

“There’s nothing for you to feel guilty about”, I said; “You were sore and scared and devastated by what had happened to you, but it wasn’t anyone’s fault; it just happened, that’s all, and we’ll never know why”.

Kelly smiled; “You see?” she said to Becca. “To this day he won’t hear a word of blame against me”.

“You got kind of overwhelmed by everyone’s expectations of you, didn’t you?” I said.

“That’s true – I did. Everyone thought I was a really strong woman, and they’d say ‘You’re strong, you’ll get through this’, and inside I felt so weak and scared that I just wanted to curl up in a ball and have someone hold me and comfort me. I didn’t want to have to be strong; it just made me angry when people said that”.

“Did your faith help you at all?” Becca asked hesitantly.

“Not when I was in the blackest part of my depression. At the beginning, when we were contemplating the possibility of cancer, I remember having a conversation with Tom about not wanting to rant at God, because I needed God to be with me, and I wanted to feel that he was with me, when I went into surgery. And I have to say that I never stopped believing in God, but I did wonder a lot of the time whether God cared about me, or whether he even noticed me. Of course, it completely escaped my attention that God cared about me so much he’d given me a kind and loving husband, who did everything that needed to be done without once getting impatient with me or telling me to snap out of it, or anything like that”.

“Okay, enough about me”, I said.

She smiled at me, took a deep breath, and said, “Then came the chemo. There was a pattern; I’d go down to Saskatoon for my injection once every three weeks, on Mondays, and I wouldn’t feel too bad on Tuesday, but then Wednesday and Thursday I’d be horribly sick to my stomach and totally exhausted. I started losing my hair almost immediately, and eventually I just cut it all off, which upset me because I loved having long hair. Of course, I knew all this was going to happen, but again a part of me had somehow refused to accept that it would. Fortunately for me my treatments started right when Tom’s school year was ending, so he and my mom basically took over everything at home for me. As the chemo went on I got a horribly sore mouth, and then it got ulcerated, and food tasted awful, even tea. And my bones ached, and my skin felt like things were crawling on it, and I got horribly dry, and my head was often confused”.

Becca shook her head; “I had no idea, Kelly”, she said; “I heard words like ‘cancer’ and ‘surgery’ and ‘chemotherapy’, but I never really stopped to think of what it all meant, and what it would be like”. She looked at me; “You must have had an awful time too, Tommy”, she said.

“The worst thing was feeling so helpless”, I replied softly, looking at Kelly. “When someone you love so much is going through something like this, you want more than anything else to be able to rescue them from it, and of course I couldn’t do that. I did everything I could do – cooking, and housework, and looking after Emma, and trying to comfort Kelly and hold her and hug her and let her know I still loved her – but of course, I couldn’t protect her from what she was going through. I prayed a lot, and I have to say that it really helped; I did have a sense that God was helping me get through it all. And Will and Sally, and Joe and Ellie, and Brenda, and our pastor Rob and his wife Mandy – they were all amazing. But that sense of helplessness was absolutely the worst thing for me”.

Kelly put her hand on mine; “We got through it”, she said.

“We did”.

“Did your depression go away when you finished the chemo?” Becca asked.

“Actually, I got through the depression before the chemo was done”.

“How?”

Kelly looked at me, and I shook my head and said, “You tell her”.

“It was the end of August last year”, Kelly said, “and Joe and Ellie came over with Jake one night; Ellie was still pregnant with Jenna at the time. After supper, Ellie and I were playing with the children, and Tom and Joe were out on the deck talking. Eventually Emma fell asleep, and Ellie was reading to Jake, and I wandered out to see what the guys were doing. They had the sliding door to the deck open, but the screen door was closed, and I was about to go out when I realized that they were talking about me”.

“Uh oh”.

Kelly shook her head; “No, it wasn’t like that. Joe had asked Tom how he and I were getting along, and Tom, bless him, didn’t say a word of blame, but at one point Joe said ‘Not quite the marriage you had in mind, though?’ and Tom said – and I’ll remember this until the day I die, Becca – he said, ‘I have to admit that I miss her; I miss her a lot’. And then I heard Joe telling Tom that I had basically shut him out of my life, and he was finding it really hard because I’d always been his best friend, ever since we were kids. And I stood there and listened to these two dear men, both of whom I loved so much, and neither of them was condemning me, but they were both so sad because of me, and it suddenly hit me that it didn’t have to be that way; if I could just find a way to be less absorbed in what I was going through, and spend less time making excuses for myself and feeling sorry for myself, I could make their lives a lot better. So I decided to step out onto the deck and let them know I’d heard them, and I apologized and told them I was going to try to do better”.

“I don’t think you could have made that decision a couple of weeks before”, I said to Kelly; “I think you had to have a certain amount of distance from the surgery and the realization of what you had lost. I don’t think you should blame yourself for being so inward-focussed all summer; it just had to be, until you were ready to move on”.

Kelly smiled at Becca; “He’s trying to be kind to me”, she said, “but he doesn’t realize that he’s portraying me as a helpless victim of my circumstances, and the truth is that I didn’t start coming out of the darkness until I stopped thinking of myself that way”.

“We’ve had this argument a few times”, I said to Becca.

“Well, anyway”, Kelly said, “The chemo was still awful, and the depression still pulled me down sometimes, but gradually I discovered that I could fight the darkness, and the best way to do that was to keep busy thinking of other people and trying to do things for them, and to choose to stop making excuses for myself and feeling sorry for myself. I told myself that I was alive, and I had the best husband and the most supportive family in the world, and a beautiful little girl. And so I made it through the last few rounds of chemo, and by the time I was done, I was in much better emotional shape”.

“Did you feel better – physically, I mean – as soon as the chemo was finished?”

“No, it was gradual. Even now, I still get more tired that I used to. I don’t think there’s any going back”. She smiled ruefully; “Well, certainly not for my reproductive system”, she said.

“Her personality’s a little different, too”, I said.

“How?” Becca asked.

“She’s still an extrovert”, I said, “but she’s quieter and more reflective, and she’s less apt to go looking for new friendships than she used to be”.

“It’s true”, Kelly agreed; “I find I’m wanting to spend as much time as I can with the people who are close to me, the people who I love the most. I can’t take anything for granted; cancer taught me that. I have to make every day count”.

“You are amazing, Kelly”, Becca said, shaking her head.

“No, I’m really not – I’m just an ordinary girl who had to go through things no ordinary girl expects to have to go through”.

“But you did get through them”.

“In the end, although I still see myself as a cancer patient. Like I said, I don’t take anything for granted. One day at a time, and I’m thankful to God for every fresh sunrise”.

“Do you still get sad sometimes?”

Kelly nodded; “I do. Usually when I see other women with new babies”.

“Do you think you might adopt?”

Kelly looked at me, and I looked at her, and I said, “The jury’s still out on that one”.

“He’d like to”, Kelly said, “but I don’t think I’d feel the same, and I’d rather help Ellie with Jake and Jenna, and make sure Emma grows up close to them”.

“The conversation’s ongoing”, I said.

Kelly shrugged; “That’s about all there is to say, Becca. I can’t really think of anything else except that I’m alive, and I’m grateful”.

Becca looked at her for a moment without speaking, and then she said, “Thanks for telling me all that. I felt really guilty about not keeping in touch, Kelly; I just wanted to sit here tonight and have you tell me everything, so that I could try to understand what it felt like to go through what you went through. I’m sorry if it just seemed like morbid curiosity”.

Kelly got to her feet, held out her arms and said, “Come here”.

Becca got up and went around the table, and they put their arms around each other and held each other close. “I’m so lucky to have a sister like you”, Kelly said softly, “and I still can’t believe you’d cut off your beautiful hair just so that I wouldn’t feel bad about having short hair. You’re the only one who’s done anything like that for me, Becca; thank you so much”.

“It was the least I could do”.

“Well, I appreciate it”.

They were quiet for a moment, holding each other tight, and then they stepped back and smiled at each other. Kelly looked at me; “You must be fading fast” she said.

“I am, actually”.

“So am I, now that you mention it”, Becca said.

“I was wondering how long that would take”, I replied.

“Thank you both”, Becca said; “You’ve been so honest with me tonight. And thank you again so much for letting me stay”.

“We’re glad you’re here”, Kelly said.

“Thanks. Well, I think I’d better go and find my bed. Goodnight”.

“Goodnight”, we said together, and I added, “We won’t be long after you”.

She turned and went inside, and for a moment Kelly and I looked at each other. I held out my hand again, and she took it. “Are you okay?” I asked.

“Yeah, I really am, Tom”.

“It was hard for you to relive all that”.

“It was, but it was important to her; she wanted to understand”.

“You’re a very wise woman, Kelly”, I said,

“Married to a very patient man”, she replied. “But now, my patient man, I need you to take me to bed, because I’m suddenly very weary”.

“Well then”, I said, “If you’ll just take my arm, Mrs. Masefield, I’ll do my best to get you there in one piece”.

Posted in Fiction, Meadowvale | 1 Comment

Random Discipleship Thoughts: Grace

If discipleship is about following Jesus, and following Jesus includes learning to become like him, then surely grace is at the heart of discipleship. After all, when St. Paul wanted to isolate a single characteristic of Jesus, he chose grace: ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all’ (2 Corinthians 13:13, italics mine).

Consider a story:

At dawn Jesus appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:1-11 NIV 2011)

Here is grace in action: Jesus does not join in the chorus of condemnation, but instead makes it possible for this woman to have a future different from her past.

Consider another story:

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10, NIV 2011)

Zacchaeus was a notorious sinner in Jericho. As a tax collector he was a collaborator with the hated Romans; tax collectors were not allowed in synagogues, and religious Jews were supposed to avoid any social contact with them. No doubt the righteous folk of Jericho had scolded Zacchaeus for his sins many times over, but with no results whatsoever. But Jesus tries a different strategy, and it has a transformational effect on Zacchaeus’ life. He is transformed by the experience of grace.

What is grace? Grace is love that you don’t have to earn. You don’t get it because you’re good enough or beautiful enough, or successful enough, or any other ‘enough’. It comes to you as a free gift, because God is love.

Jesus lived his whole life on the principle of grace. Someone has described it as ‘loving the unlovely into lovableness’. Another person says it involves remembering that ‘the ground is level at the foot of the cross’ – in other words, Jesus died for sinners, and we’re all included. Philip Yancey says that grace means there is nothing I can do to make God love me more, and nothing I can do to make God love me less; God already loves me infinitely, and nothing is going to change that.

At the heart of the gospel is a story of a God who loves his enemies. Jesus says,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. (Matthew 5:43-48 NIV 2011)

God continues to pour out his love on those who love him and those who hate him, and Jesus calls the children of God to imitate their heavenly Father. I thought about this today, as we continue to read stories about endless killings and reprisals in Gaza, and in the Ukraine the horrific story of an airliner shot down out of the sky in cold blood. When have reprisals ever worked in these situations? Surely the only hope is for people to learn Jesus’ way of forgiveness and grace. Continuing to be bound by the chains of the past will only lead to duplication of the events of the past. Only forgiveness and reconciliation offer hope for a different future, and they are predicated on an attitude of grace.

Jesus continued to practice the way of grace himself, even in the hardest moment of his life:

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with Jesus to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:32-34 NIV 2011).

So the one who taught his disciples to love their enemies and pray for those who hated them also practiced what he preached.

This is where discipleship starts. ‘This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’ (1 John 4:10). Discipleship doesn’t start with my efforts to be like Jesus; it starts with the joyful realization that God’s love for me doesn’t depend on the success of those efforts. That’s what grace tells me: God doesn’t give me what I deserve, he gives me what I need. And when I am transformed by God’s grace, this will be my attitude as well. ‘Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another’ (1 John 4:11 NIV 2011).

Posted in Core Convictions, Faith, Following Jesus, Jesus, Random Discipleship Thoughts | 1 Comment

My favourite songwriters #8: Maria Dunn

Another Edmonton treasure, here Maria sings her song ‘We Were Good People’. Like many of Maria’s sings, it is based on a true story – a hunger march in Edmonton in 1932.

See mariadunn.com

 

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My favourite songwriters #7: Stan Rogers

It’s no secret that the late great Stan Rogers is one of my biggest songwriting heroes. Here’s one of his lesser known songs.

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My favourite songwriters #6: Carrie Day

Edmonton artist Carrie Day has written and recorded many fine songs. Here’s one of my favourites, ‘Fly and Drift’. Check her out at carrieday.com.

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