Bon soir

One of my most favourite places to be on earth, one of the best feelings to experience, is crawling into bed after a long tiring day and a hot shower. This can only be improved upon with freshly washed bedding.  It absolutely is the Best. Thing. Ever.

I used to think that was just me. However I've been reading through "Letters of C. S. Lewis" and in a letter to his friend Aurther Greeves, Lewis wrote:
"Tang-Tang there goes eleven o’clock ‘Tis almost faery time’. Don’t you simply love going to bed. To curl up warmly in a nice warm bed, in the lovely darkness, that is so restful & then gradually drift away into sleep . . . I’m turning out the gas. Bon soir!"
Bon soir indeed.

Celtic Memories Today

It was a Sunday evening in June on the Isle of Iona. We had worshipped that morning in the Parish Church with the local people and spent the day in the quiet of the Island, unaffected by day-trippers who would start coming again the next day.

By this time the clouds were rolling in and the sun was beginning to set, casting it's bright golden glow across the bay. It was still as we walked down to the water.

That's where my memory has been today.

It was a very good day.

Ok 2018, I didn't see that coming.

Well dear reader, in a strictly physical sense 2018 has been a most lousy year.  However, there have been some nice pluses. Family visiting, and people caring, yes there have been some positives as well.

To summarize, my kidney stones came to visit January 6th causing me significant daily pain until Friday February 16th when I underwent a second surgery to attempt to extract them, which was a success in that regard.

But by Monday February 19th there was something seriously wrong and Lauralea rushed me to emergency. It was a very long night as I descended into some sort of delirious, fever and chills, hallucination state. By Tuesday morning the Doctors were very concerned and the situation quickly deteriorated to a "Very bad" condition.

I had picked up a kidney infection and then a blood infection. Tuesday night and Wednesday were really bad as the sepsis raged through my body. The things I saw in my mind still are with me.

Anyway, they began treatment with powerful antibiotics and for the next nine days I drifted between sleep and wakefulness. I was most glad to regain control of my bodily functions. :)  I didn't understand how close it was until the Doctors met with me after I started to get a clear head. They were afraid I was past hope, but as they said, it was "That close."

So they released me and ordered rest and nothing but rest for the next weeks. Next week I get to go back to work.

Its pretty humbling, in the truest sense of the word. Life is simply a delicate gift that could tilt in either direction on any given day.  During the worst of it I remember having a very clear thought that this whole thing didn't surprise God. It didn't catch him unaware or make him have to play catchup in anyway. I felt peace and though I felt as sick as could be, I never felt alone or lost. There was comfort and peace through it all.

And now its halfway through March for Pete's sake, (Sorry Pete) and I'm still waiting to get on with the year. Now as I pick up my life in mid March, I am a different person than I was three months ago. I'm still working out how I'm different and though some things are very clear, some parts are not clear at all.

I think it will be a better deeper presence than it used to be. Even the sense of vulnerability is a gift.
I'm just glad I can get back into life next week. I'm looking forward to it, a lot.

Sitting by the fire is becoming a thing for me

This has become my favourite place these past five weeks as I've been awaiting the appearance of kidney stones. My body is weaker than normal and the heat warms me nicely.

The pain is a constant companion I have come to dread each day. These five weeks have been far too long, but there is a plan in place for day surgery next week. They will try to access the stones once again.

The days have been very full of work. The needs in our community are great right now, perhaps greater than normal. So I am trying to keep up with my work, and manage the pain at the same time. That means that when I have a few moments I crawl into my chair in front of the fire and warm my bones as much as I can.

It feels like my health or lack of it, has grown in its role in my life. I know this is temporary, as hopefully these stones will soon leave me alone. However it feels like my life is ordered by these 8mm stones more and more and it is frustrating.

And exhausting.

Funny, I don't think I've used the fireplace more than a few times in ten years. But its getting a good workout now.

Learning again the deep graces of being loved

It has been a week now since my last post.
Hah, "Last Post."

It sure felt like that sometimes.
The week brought three urgent painful trips to emergency, one emergency transportation to a larger hospital for surgery, hospitalization, pain, and all the fun stuff with that.

Presently I am waiting for a call from the Dr. who did the surgery, but it seems they couldn't reach the stone or blast it, but they inserted a stent to coax it down. I'll have to repeat that surgery in a week or two or three. But we are managing with pain meds now and I am at home where I can pee through the pain.

But in the week, blissfully medicated yet clear enough to write, I wrote:

"These past five days feel like five weeks. They’ve been all about hospital Emergency departments, injections, X-rays, CT scans, kidney stones, tilted beds, IV’s, blood pressure and oxygen saturation rates, “What’s your full name and birth date?” Operating rooms, “Breathe in deeply,” nausea, and nurses each shift I could call by first name. Kim. Kim was the best. She saved my life with warmed blankets and love. She sat with me stroking my head when the IV meds couldn’t even stop the pain. What a mercy she was to me."

I've relearned the power of love again this week. From Nurse Kim, and family, and friends.
Now I'm learning how to be a patient, the receiver of care and not the giver of it.
If I hadn't had such immediate and overwhelming pain, I might have missed this opportunity to receive such real grace.

I am deeply grateful for such love, even more so when I can't reciprocate it.

Drug induced happy thoughts

Saturday was a day racked with pain in my abdomen and by evening I headed into emergency to find out that I have a new addition to the body, a kidney stone.

Welcome to 2018!!

They gave me powerful medications and sent me home to await its arrival.

I got through Sunday and the service went surprisingly well. I took my medication when the pain would start up and it subsided each time.

Last night I headed to bed a bit late as I was completing an assignment I had to finish. I fell asleep eventually and slept for about an hour when I was awakened by some pretty strong pain.

I got up and took the prescribed meds, then started pacing as I was waiting for the trouble to subside. It didn't. After 20 minutes I went to the second bottle I was to employ if the first couldn't help it. Ok, good plan. I waited, but it didn't stop. The pain intensified, oh brother it grew and I didn't know what to do, I had run out of plans.

In my stressed mental state, I took another pill. Nothing.

Nothing but pure stabbing pain shooting through my abdomen with greater and greater intensity. I waited as long as I could hoping for it to end or me to die.

Finally I got Lauralea up and she was pretty fuzzy on cold meds herself. I got her to call a friend for help and by 3:30 or so we were off to emergency.

They got me undressed and on a gurney, took blood and prepped me for an IV. I was still stressing pretty good and that sweet fluid began to pour into my body.

I lay there, my body slowly relaxing. I was exhausted but couldn't sleep. They came and went, continuing to run tests on my broken body.

And I just lay there, looking at the ceiling. Becoming reacquainted with the exquisite pleasure of painlessness.

I lay there for seven hours. At one point they had to restart some IV meds, but I let them.

I thought of my dad who I inherited this from. He had his own row to hoe in this way.

I thought of some of the people at church who are going through some deep physical challenges that could even result in their death.

I thought of Lauralea, who was back home, hopefully passed out from the cold meds.

I thought of our kids. What they were doing, where their lives are at.
Some of them would be getting up now, in their time zones.

And I thought about the work we've given our lives to.

I thought that after 36 years of local pastoral ministry and the preparation for it, after bringing people to Christ, seeing many healed, delivered, set free. After caring for people, loving them, teaching them, marrying them and burying them, being there for them day and night. After seeing new churches started with good foundations, and old churches healed, with fresh hope and new paths, equipped with new tools to face their future.

After all that, this is the life’s work I am most proud of. Our family.

And in my drug induced haze, smiling and humming a happy tune, I realized again that God has been particularly good to us.

Now we need to get this stone prayed out of me. Join in as you feel comfortable.

It was, I would say, a very good year.

Happy New Year dear reader. 2017 was a deeply shaping year for me I have to tell you, though not in nice and easy ways.

I deliberately haven't shared too much here in this public format about my health because we really didn't know where it would end up, and I wasn't emotionally ready to deal with where this year could have gone, at least in this space.

In the spring of the year after a winter of tests and probing and some interesting things discovered, it was found that I have the genetic disorder that eventually took my dads life. It's effect had already reached into my lungs and they were running at about %66 capacity. They had lost about a third of their ability and that can never be recovered. While there were other symptoms, that was the primary one.

Because the condition effects people differently and because its a bit of a rare thing, there aren't normal ways to predict its behaviour. It did effect the early death of my father, but his twin brother who also has the condition, is still alive and though it hasn't been easy, he is still around.  So the doctors worked to try and help me lengthen my life prospects while preparing me for really bad news that would only be seen in the ongoing development of this genetic time bomb in my body.

This news was absolutely shattering to us. The encouragement by the doctors to keep encouraged and  positive yet plan and consider the worst was one of those moments I have walked with others through, but never thought I would see myself.

That led to four months of emotional upheaval and calling out to God. Many tears were shed as we began to see our future in terms of months and years rather than decades. Dreams for the future were let go of as we tried to think how to finish well, though sooner than we had expected. Lauralea and I had to have emotionally charged conversations about where to live and what it would look like even if or when it might be without me present. Such difficult times in late spring. I recall wave after wave of emotion rolling over us.

The kids were great though processing it all themselves. The morbid Friesen sense of humour took over on the really hard conversations and emotion was released in the form of laughter. It was better to have that than all the tears.

The church here was amazingly supportive. They walked with us through the days giving us what we needed in terms of time and space, even as they were trying to process it themselves while not knowing the extent of the condition either. And they began to pray for us very focussed prayers and we were held by them.  We felt the difference the prayers of the people made. There was grace and strength for each day and each conversation. In that way it was a most blessed season of life. To be prayed for is the most precious of gifts one soul can give another. And we were prayed for.

Though the summer different symptoms would come up and we were unsure if they were part of the condition or some other thing. The doctors helped us as these things arose and we dealt with them as they came up.

By late summer we felt mostly normal though I couldn't do heavy labour or run a marathon.  I noticed a bit of stress when the smoke from the forest fires settled in here, it was harder to breathe. But mostly things settled into a good rhythm, and I felt quite myself.

I should note the presence of God we felt in our daily lives was a wonderful gift to us. It was, He was, a tangible presence here.  I experienced what it was like to be the care receiver rather than the care giver. To be the one in the figurative hospital bed rather than the one standing beside the bed offering spiritual care.

One of the biggest spiritual challenges to me was to face my personal identity if and when I would need to be on disability. Would I have any value to God if I couldn't work for him any longer? I have often preached that we are not valued by God by the work we do for him, and I do believe that. But this, this was owning it myself, and I was not honestly sure I could do that. My counsellor held this before me and walked through it with me.  I came to really see myself as the beloved of God. In fresh ways seeing myself as completely unable to add to my value before God by the things that I do. It was a deeply personal and fresh epiphany. It is one thing to preach it and believe it but it is another deeply personal thing to experience it for oneself.

(And may I here add a personal encouragement for having an experienced counsellor in your life, especially if you are a leader of people? The value of this resource is immeasurable in terms of spiritual, emotional and mental health.)

The other big growing area was the weakening of my strengths. I have always been proud that due to the voice lessons I took in college, I could usually project my voice clearly and loudly enough to be heard, inside or outside or whatever the context. I own that I was proud of this ability.  Well, either the meds I'm on or the condition itself has effected my vocal chords so that on some days I have to struggle to be heard. My voice is higher in pitch and some days it just sounds like I have a very bad cold and can't talk loud at all. It's been very humbling.

When I stopped being angry about this change, which I mostly am now, I began to discover that in this weakness there seemed to be more strength in my spirit, to preach well. I began to trust in God to actually get the message out even through the weakness of my own body. This new weakness has opened up new ways for God to be God in power, in me yes but also through me. Turns out He doesn't need my strong voice. This is deeply humbling too, but grace filled and merciful.

The testing of my foundations this year, the deepening of my spirit and my connections with Lauralea and our kids and God and this church, that's what this year has been about for me here in this field.

My counsellor asked me last time we met if the year of emotional turmoil and physical struggle was worth all that I've gained through it. With a moment of reflection I replied "Oh yes, without any question!"

This autumn I went in for my six month lung check up and much to the Doctors pleasure and mine as well it showed that there was no further deterioration in my lungs. So things are holding and the condition isn't progressing right now. The doctor says he is "Cautiously optimistic."

I can live a long time with 2/3rds of my lung capacity, as long as Lauralea doesn't walk too fast.
God is still writing this story it seems.

It was, I would say, a very good year.

Christmas Flu

Micah and I throwing axes
This year at Christmas Lauralea and I were going to be alone, so in the fine, plus 5 C weather of pre-Christmas excitement, I suggested we head to Saskatoon to celebrate with family. Its been over ten years since we've headed there for this celebration with my family. This year we also got to visit our sons and daughter-in-law.

Who knew that herself would get as sick with the flu as she did, and then the cold front would settle in and keep things in the -30C area for a week. And then of course on this last day here, that I would get her dreaded disease and am fully engaged with this flu. Ho Ho Ho.

Tomorrow we'll try for home, hopefully in the line of thinking that my health could get worse in the days ahead.  But its also suppose to get really, very cold on the road tomorrow. Ug. I hate that.

But its been good to spend some time with the kids and mom and my siblings, really good. And nice to bump into a few old friends around town.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Where Is The Wonder?

Very few of us as human beings, are given a great dose of Wonder to face life with.

For most of us as we transform from children to adults, we lose the sense of wonder. The grace of awe.  We trade it for a harsh dose of reality. Maybe especially this year.

The wise ones hold on to their wonder, and the rest of us look at them with impatience, wondering when they will grow up and face the world like the rest of us do.

We say “Grow up” BUT Jesus said you must become as a little child.

Christmas is a time when wonder is real, when Wonder became flesh and dwelt among us.

Here's my talk this morning about wonder. It may be time to add some more to your life.

Where is the Wonder?

Speaking of Treasure

Hillary was making fudge the other day and I was commenting on it on Instagram. I love a good fudge and I think my Grandma Thiessen made the best chocolate fudge at Christmas time. She'd wrap it up in single little wax paper candies and oh they were the best.

Whenever a good fudge is eaten I think of her.
So yesterday in the mail there was a solid wrapped small box in the mail. Hillary had sent me some of the fudge. Last night was a fudge tasting night.

And since herself is a diabetic, it all went to me. :)

That was a nice treat on the week before Christmas.

Treasures take on different forms

Way back in 1995 in late November Lauralea and I were in North London for two weeks connecting with new friends and living the London life. We wandered and wondered up to the high street one evening in the frosty air and found a little book shop open right there on the local shopping street.

We dawdled through and one of the treasures we discovered was a magazine put out by the BBC with a free classical music CD attached to it. This one was Decembers and it was full of Christmas music done by groups throughout Europe. We bought it and took it home and it quickly became one of our favourite Christmas CD's.

Over the years whenever I could find the magazine in a local bookstore I'd pick one up and more often than not I would enjoy the music on it, meant to give a range of classical musical expressions. I would save it and head out early the next day. Before I would go to the office I would stop in at Tim Hortons and order a coffee and a toasted bagel. Then when seated near a window in the early morning winter darkness, I would pop the new cd into the player and open the magazine and read about life and music around the world.

It was a great way to expand my musical taste, enjoy a good bagel, and experience some culture from the other side of the world. It was rare but occasionally when I bought one, it was a fun way to start the day.

The other day Lauralea and I were with friends at a large bookstore and I came across this months BBC Classic Magazine with a CD attached to it, still in production. I bought it and have been saving it for a few moments of quiet reflection with the CD and the magazine. Maybe a bagel if I'm lucky.

It's become one of those little moments we create for ourselves and then over time the practice becomes a treasure for us. Those are enjoyable treasures to have.

Its Christmas and always a good time to build some of those practices for yourself. Traditions that will be practiced for years and one day when you don't even realize it, they become a treasure for you. Or maybe its time to think about one of those treasures you already have in the tank, and head out and pull out the treasure and enjoy it a bit.