Sunday, August 29, 2010

Thirty-nine Elephants Arrive at the TH

Yesterday Lyn - one of the TH's favourite out-of-towners - came back from a month's travel in the exotic eastern hemisphere with her Dad, Dave.

And she came bearing gifts: every place they visited, she found me an elephant! Coasters, miniature candles, elephant-dung notepaper (whom will I write to on that, I wonder?!), a wooden box, a plate inlaid with mother-of-pearl, a keychain, a package of cards, carved and handpainted ornaments, a snow globe ("No, a glitter globe, Karyn - there's no snow over there!" she chuckled), a regal blue and gold silk tablecloth, and a card she picked out and wrote to me - all of them wrapped and tucked into a beautiful green and black handbag festooned with beads and bells.

Each gift has its own story, of course; but two I will single out are the bag, made in Bali, and the plate, made in Vietnam by handicapped and disabled people. They are lovely pieces in their own right ... but knowing their origins makes them particularly valuable to me.

Just like Lyn. Who would imagine such a thoughtful, fitting gift? Well - Lyn would. She is full of love: for her Dad, her family, her friends, her world. And the thing about Lyn is, her love is offered in tangible ways. Today I am the recipient to be so honoured. I am overwhelmed and touched and grateful. And all of us at the TH are enriched by the beauty.

Such a treasure trove! All of the elephants are welcome to make their home here -- but the biggest welcome home goes to Lyn and Dave: we missed you!

Singapore, Thailand, Bali, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia!

Friday, August 27, 2010


Sometimes, dear God,
the pain is so great
that it slows my heart in mid-

Sometimes these dog days
stretch so listlessly, so interminably
that I cannot see September

Sometimes small words -
"I'm afraid she's not quite ..."
- carry the heaviest weight
dropping stone-like
into the well
of my

In the torpor of midsummer
sometimes I don't know which way to turn
to find a cool breath of relief

And though I know You are there,
I am too fatigued
to lift my eyes to You

Cradle my heart
in Your two hands
like I do my baby's sweet face

and I will see the scars
and remember how You hung
in limbo


until Your perfect
unhurried purpose
for her
for me
was accomplished

Tea and rice pudding - wee comforts on a summer evening

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Milestone Birthday

Today is all about Mary, my exquisite friend whose presence fills a room with light, with joy, with warmth and acceptance.

Her conversation is informed and intelligent; yet she kindly listens to me - completely without judgment, completely without prejudice - as I bumble incoherently along, trying to express a thought to her in my usual clumsy style.

Her parties are legendary, and she opens her beautiful home to friends from all walks of life - and somehow, under the spell of her hospitality, everyone fits in and each one is made to feel important.

The men in her life - Generous John, Charming Charlie and Sweet William - are like moths to her flame. She keeps their schedules organized and everyone gets to where they need to be at all times. She listens to them and cajoles them and worries about them and loves them. In turn, they turn to her and support her and love her right back. She fosters an atmosphere of respect in her home.

She is an athlete, running marathons, biking, skiing, swimming.

She, who owns an exquisite concert grand piano, played a keyboard on a golf course one cold August 12 morning, wrapping her silk-clad self in her husband's suit jacket and turning O Mio Babbino Caro into an anthem.

She doesn't try to shy away from her birthday but rather relishes it, revelling in the many accomplishments and joys and friends someone of her age has collected.

She has had her share of mourning and because of this is willing to drop everything to hold a hand, to be a shoulder, to offer words of consolation that stem from her own experience.

She is resilient, good natured, resourceful.

She's not afraid to dream. She encourages me to dream. And she figures out a way to turn dreams into reality.

She doesn't keep score.

She is a loyal friend, a keeper of confidences, a mentor, an example.

She can weep at "Comfort Ye" in Handel's Messiah, and she can dance along to songs Charlie and Will are singing.

And she believes in the magic of a sundog, a rainbow, the perfect little black dress, a break for a blue coffee, a rueful moment in a Lyle Lovett concert.

She knows the value of the two words, "Oh well."

She is what 50 should look like.

I adore her.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Deborah Joy Takes on the Kidney March

(September 10-12)

The following is from the KidneyMarch website:


Why March? Why Now?

A crisis is looming

Two million Canadians have chronic kidney disease or are at risk. Most people don't know that they are at risk. Most don't know they have it until it's too late. The numbers are growing at an alarming rate. In southern Alberta alone, the number of people living with chronic kidney failure has doubled in the last ten years. 70% of people who are on the organ donor waiting list are waiting for a kidney.

There is no cure.

Kidney disease is irreversible, and each year it kills thousands of Canadians. These numbers are growing. Kidney disease cases are expected to double in the next ten years. Unless we as concerned citizens stand up and take action, this silent disease will continue to take lives and livelihoods.

Not only does kidney disease cost enormous amounts of money for our health care system, it devastates individuals and their families. More than half of the people living with kidney disease in southern Alberta live on or below the poverty line. Entire families are impacted when one member has kidney disease, and it's a life-long illness.

We are asking you to do the most you can possibly do – walk the furthest you've ever walked, raise the most money you've ever raised, and commit to truly making a difference. Walking 100 kilometres over 3 days is an intimidating feat; after all, we're all just normal, everyday people. But, we believe the only time we can be brave is when we're afraid. And we're ready to be brave for this cause.


They say it's not the "beautiful" kid disease - as if any disease can be beautiful. However, we all have seen pictures of little children, pale and bald and with intense eyes looking out at us, and our hearts are wrenched and we whip out our credit cards.

But who wants to make posters of children with bags under their eyes and puffy little bodies, sometimes enshrouded in a terrible odour because of the drugs they are forced to take? Kids who have to do hospital school because they spend so much time in the kidney ward. Kids who have to miss their siblings' birthday parties. Kids scarred from multiple surgeries that began before they could even consciously remember. And now that they do know, kids who are terribly, terribly conscious of these scars as they grow older. Kids who have never experienced one pain-free week.

Kids who have known no other way of life.

Deborah thinks these children are beautiful. She has seen many of them from when they were mere weeks old, and she cares for them until they "age out" at 18 years old. She knows them as well as their parents do -- in some instances, where teenage subterfuge has been employed, she knows them better than their own parents do ...

There is "Baba", one special little patient. This Indian term of endearment, pronounced "Bah-buh", is what Debbie called "her" beautiful little boy from before he knew who she was, who he was. Baba grew old enough to be able to receive a kidney transplant and his Mommy proved a perfect match. In the months leading up to the surgery, he and his brother and their Mom would visit Debbie often in the clinic. One day, Debs told us, a powerful little 3-year-old voice came booming down the hall: "Baba, I NEEEEEEED you!" 

And there are the twins, beautiful little girls under a year old from Kenya. Their mother had received no prenatal care and both girls were born with damaged kidneys. But their parents have faith - faith in God, faith in the kidney department, faith in the doctors, faith in Deb.

I have been present when Debbie has brought kids and their families out of hospital on Christmas day to her home so that they could have a normal Christmas under her watchful, loving eye - the doctors signed the release, saying, "If they're with Debs, they can go." I have been staying at her home when she gets a 2 a.m. phonecall from a panicked parent who can't cope with dialysis. I have seen her go above and beyond the call of her "job", clocking endless extra hours to help out someone who might have a chance. And I have also watched her grieve with families who have lost kids to this tragic disease. She is invited to sit with the families at funerals and she mourns as though it were one of her own children she is burying.

My sister Debs has pledged to walk this 100 km walk with her team, KIDneyKIDs. Deborah is a nurse at Alberta Children's Hospital, in the nephrology department, and she and some of her colleagues and some of the kidney doctors have all signed up. This is something she, and many of her team, has never done before. But she cares so much that she is willing to get on the road, continuously dislocating kneecap and all, to raise support and awareness for this awful disease.

You can check out her page at the link below.

In these days of marches for this and rides for that and runs for the other thing, it is hard to know which cause to support. And in these austere economic times, it is important to be sure that hard-earned money is going to a worthy cause.

When you look at Deb's donor list, you know. I was looking at it this morning, and there are parents and families listed who have had a beloved child in the Alberta Children's Hospital nephrology department. There are people who work with Deb, who pray with Deb, people who go on the KIDney picnics, people who have received one of the kidney-shaped cushions she has sewn for them on weekends to clutch onto for comfort and relief after surgery.

Debbie has managed to reach her minimum goal; but not only does each person have a personal goal, they also have a team goal. And Deb's team is composed of nurses and doctors who are expert at what they do, but who are hopeless fundraisers. Let's just say this: Dr. Julian is one of the best pediatric nephrology doctors in the land, involved with cutting-edge research and treatment.  Dr. Julian was instrumental 15 years ago in caring for Matt, my own nephew. Dr. Julian has committed to walking the weekend of September 10 - 12. But oh dear, Dr. Julian - never quit your day job!

If you have the wherewithal to sponsor Deb - even $20 is an encouragement and will get you a tax receipt - please consider signing up to sponsor her. Her link, again, is

Deborah Joy, I am so proud of you! You are a wonderful sister, a tremendous nurse, a compassionate human being.

May your glomerular filtration rate always remain strong!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Shady Side of the Kitchen

It was a sultry and action-packed Saturday from start to finish. We all worked hard and I had to keep reminding my gang of 15-year-olds to have a drink in the hot kitchen ...

Curt, Josie and Emily, as well as the oldie, Anita at 17, worked steadily and with a maturity belying their years. They were selfless, cheerful, diligent, uncomplaining -- but I sensed a certain hunger in their sideways glances, in the set of their shoulders. Josie left her shift and I realized that they were all in the same boat: we had blown through our TH food supply thanks to a busy day, and we were all starting to fade at 3:30. And food for dinner wouldn't be ready until 5:00 p.m.

So I called Josie up and told her to get back to the TH by 4:30 (her parents were away for the afternoon); and I commissioned Anita to be my accomplice and Curt to keep a watchful eye out for any trouble.

Then I placed the call. A few murmured sentences ... a time ... a price ... and I hung up the phone and carried on with the iced lattes and fresh berry pies that were dominating the room.

Anita slipped out at 4:25. Curt took his look-out position at 4:28. At 4:30 precisely, Josie walked in. And at 4:34, Anita drove back up, carrying the goods.

They were smuggled in the back door and unobtrusively stacked. Everyone was instructed to take what they needed.

Two people on the periphery of the TH gang showed up. They could see immediately that something nefarious was going down, so they had to be bribed with a portion of the haul.

After it was all over, everyone had renewed energy and enthusiasm for the last hours of the shift.

Sometimes a dame's gotta do what a dame's gotta do.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dahling!

"For there is no friend like a sister, in calm or stormy weather, to cheer one on the tedious way, to fetch one if one goes astray, to lift one if one totters down, to strengthen whilst one stands.” - Christina Rossetti

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

It's come to this ...

One minute everything's normal, then the sun goes behind a cloud and

suddenly everything's a little out of reach.

Oh despised glasses, bane of my childhood, you're the only hope I have to cling to this afternoon ...

Talking about glasses but thinking about "Gumba", my Mum's father, who died this day in 1977. It was just a normal day ... I was on school holiday, sitting in one of my Dad's classes, when my brother came running in with the telegram and the news.

And the sun went behind a cloud.

It was a very big cloud, because Gumba brought a very big light into my life. He was the one who would make me try to do cartwheels because my utter lack of coordination would make this military son howl with laughter. He was the one who would tell me that I would have to put a little salt on the tail of a bird in order to catch it ... and - despite my terror of birds - I would try because it would make him chuckle. 

He is the one who would punish me quite deservedly, but then buy me a Five-Star chocolate bar because he felt such great remorse at hurting his girl.

He is the one who would buy fruit by the basket, shout out at someone for being a "silly coot" when they exhibited horrible driving, take me for walks before his breakfast, dance with my Nana in our living room and rub his prickly moustache against her cheek to make her squeal and us little girls giggle. He taught me how to play Scrabble and I was privileged to witness epic battles waged between him and Nana over what was a word (she was usually right).

He was the one who did not complain when he was in pain. He was the one who loved me just as I was. He introduced me to " little Chrissie" [Evert] and test matches and big ideas.

He's the one who would pray for the peace of Jerusalem every single day.

And he would pray that my poor eyes would be healed, that I wouldn't have to wear glasses. We would walk out together on the Lamb's Rock Road in Coonoor, and he would make me remove my glasses and tell him how far I could see this day. He was sure it was a little bit farther each time ...

He was the one who offered me his nitro pills when I told him my heart ached over some boy or other.

He taught me how to love life by loving life himself.

And he was the one who, on the eve of his death, said to my Nana, "Don't wait until I'm dead to bring me flowers ..."  - one of the statements that has had a profound impact on my whole life as I realize that NOW is the time to tell someone you love them, to say something kind, to do something for them, just because.

At his funeral we sang, "We're marching to Zion", and I could just picture him marching briskly along, swinging his cane - which now has its home in my little TH - looking eagerly ahead for his first glimpse of his Lord jesus.

He was a brave, godly, principled, gallant man.

I adored him. I still do. Now I see none too clearly through my little green glasses; but one day I will see him face to face again.

And on that day, I'll be able to do a perfect cartwheel.

Gumba's cane hanging in the entrance to the TH

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Saying Goodbye ...

As she tearfully waved goodbye from her spanking new enormous shiny blue Jeep this afternoon, I imagined that God and I had had a conversation a few years ago. It would have gone something like this:

Me: Dear God, you know I would love to have a daughter; please, what can You do?

God: Your dream daughter - how do you see her?

Me: For starters, I would like her to be tall. I've always been sad that I am so short, and I'd like my daughter to grow up to be several inches taller than I am. I'd like her to have dark hair and hazel eyes. It wouldn't hurt if she had a little upturned nose a bit like Julia Roberts', smattered with freckles like pixie kisses.

God: So it's all about the looks, huh?

Me: She needs to be creative. I would love it if she could write or have a talent that would allow her to express her personality and her character.

God: Which is ...

Me: First and foremost, she would be kind. She would have a gentle spirit that reaches out to the timid, the scared, the underrepresented, the invisible. She would be able to laugh with those who laugh and weep with those who weep.

She would be intelligent, able to respond quickly and with a sense of humour in conversation. She would be industrious and able to take initiative. She would have dreams for her life and would be able to realize them.

She would be a leader among her peers, but one who works quietly from within to seek solutions. She would be considered in her words and actions.

God: She sounds like a paragon.

Me: But she would be funny in an offbeat way too! She would be a little awkward, a little out of sync with the world she finds herself in. She would probably want to do crazy things with her hair ... we would argue about piercings and tattoos ... she'd have her own unique perspective on style ... she'd never be boring, at any rate!

And she'd have enough of a temper that would prevent her from being taken advantage of by people who would seek to prey on her good nature. She'd be able to stand up for herself when needed. She'd have to experience some adversity, in order that she be able to stretch and unfurl her wings and fly away when the time came.

And she would know You. She'd know that You were with her and caring for her.

God: But you're lousy with babies. You couldn't change their diapers and burp them and sing them to sleep through their endless crying jags. And do you know anything at all about balanced diets, regular sleep and exercise?

Me: Yes, but I'm good at homework and at listening and at defending my own!

God: I think we can make this work. I'm going to give you a girl whom you can love and care for and encourage and motivate and laugh with and cry with. She's going to come to you in her teens - I think you could cope with that! She'll be taller than you and her original hair will be dark, although I can't guarantee how long it will be before it's blue or green or purple. She'll be intelligent and motivated and industrious. She will love people and be able to show great kindness and compassion in her words and deeds. She will have a quick sense of humour and be able to relate to people of all ages and walks of life. She'll be a story teller and an artist.

That adversity you were talking about? She'll have a hard time with formal education. Make sure you help her with her homework! Give her space to breathe and tools to grow, but be there in the background as a place where she will always be welcome, always be heard, always feel safe.

Oh, and one other thing: she will have one of the biggest hearts you will ever witness in a human being. She will run the risk of losing herself in her desire to help others. People she loves will be cruel to her. They won't understand her, her magic and her mystery. They will take her for granted, make demands on her that she will of course try to meet. They will attempt to curb and tailor her unique view of life to suit their more traditional outlook. They'll take advantage of her. She will often feel alone and unheard. There will be a certain vulnerability to her that will break your heart as you will stand by helplessly and let her lead her life. She will be a "bruised reed", like the prophet talks about.

But like the bruised reed, I will not allow her to be broken. She will have a special place in my line of sight and when she unfurls those beautiful asymmetrically coloured wings of hers and gets ready to fly away, I will protect her and be with her.

She will call you her second mom. She will probably never spell your name right! She will bring you and your family and the TH much laughter and joy and love.

What do you think you'll call her?

Me: She sounds like the morning, fresh and full of promise, waiting for the day. I think I'll call her Dawn. My Little Dawn.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


The poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, who penned these words,

'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all

never met my August. August is a month I approach with a certain amount of reserve, a certain trepidation each year: So much has been given to me in August that was later taken away; so much has been taken from me in August that was given to me in other months.

So it was with a distinct sense of relief that I accepted the offer from Deborah Joy and Sonnie to go with them to New Orleans, Louisiana, for a couple of days, just to get away. And what a wonderful three days it has been! Pictures and remembrances to follow, but as I get ready to fly back to Calgary this afternoon, I take with me the thought that coming to New Orleans for just three days is like being flirted with, the lightest intimation of a kiss behind my left ear, bewitching me and leaving me wanting to linger longer ...

After these days, NOLA to me stands for

Need - I desperately needed a break from the strivings within and without
Opportunity - Debs and Sone made it possible for me to get away
Laughter - on the streets, in the hotel rooms, in restaurants and on road trips
Affection - so much extended to me on this trip!

Yes, NOLA has ensnared me once more and I will come back to visit her again soon ...

Friday, August 6, 2010

This Little Light of Mine!

There were these four sweet stained glass lampshades calling my name when I was in Edmonton with nothing to do one evening but explore the antique mall.

There had to be a reason that there were four - no more, no less ...

And thanks to Don, innovator and handyman extraordinaire, they are now installed in the ladies' loo at the TH.

Makes you almost want to be a girl, doesn't it, boys?!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

"The Saddest Psalm in the Bible"

A couple of Sundays ago was the first time he spoke from this particular psalm, he told me; he didn't know how he could have overlooked preaching from it until now.

When Mum used to ask him Why? why all the car accidents, why all the cancer and sickness? he doesn't know why he didn't examine this psalm.

It is Psalm 88. The saddest psalm in the Bible, he calls it.

This lament is written directly from the heart of the author to God. There is no real resolution to this cry, no happy ending, no "I cried unto the Lord and He heard me" encouragement at the end.

It is written almost as part of a daily prayer cycle to someone who recognizes the role God has in his life - it opens with these words:

O Lord God of my salvation
I have cried day and night before you

It's confessional in nature: the writer lays himself open, vulnerable, exposed in his pain and uncertainty. He freely acknowledges crying day and night. This is not the prayer of a man who is dialing 911. This is the chronic anguish of someone who has come repeatedly before his God, bringing Him the pain he has suffered, the pain he continues to suffer.

The writer clearly lays out his condition, both his physical condition - "My life draws near unto death" - and his soul's condition - "My soul is full of troubles." As this sad prayer continues, we see that this is not a new affliction; he has been in pain since he was probably a teenager. And he is now at the point where he is isolated, even his loved ones having abandoned him.

But worst of all, he feels that he cannot make contact with God, despite the fact that he seeks Him early in the morning. And didn't God promise us that if we seek Him early He we will find Him?

He is at the end of his rope. His life and his heart have been splintered.


Like the delicate bones in a fragile wrist;
Like the 30-year-old's brain cradling a tumour.

Like lungs that slowly stop breathing;
Like babies who need dialysis.

Like a person on the brink of losing everything he has worked for;
Like a mind whose edges are fraying under the relentless picking of dementia.

Like the mother's email saying that her son's chemo did not take;
Like the teenager who refuses to let her mother out of her sight.

Like two hearts as a marriage splinters;
Like the son who comes across his father's body hanging from a tree.

Like the father who fights with everything he has to give life to his daughter; 
Like the woman who already knows her baby will die within hours of his birth.

Like the man holding his beloved's skeletal frame savaged by AIDS;
Like a daughter sitting by a hospital bed tracing the veins in her mother's wrist at 2 o'clock in the morning, trying to imprint them on her memory.

Like a promise unfulfilled;
Like a lifetime of regret.

The one thing this psalm provides is the meagre comfort that we are not alone in our grief and pain.
Sometimes, in our battered state, we can start to believe - as did the psalmist - that God is displeased with us. Verses 7 and 16 talk about "wrath ... fierce wrath ... terrors."
Our poet does not give up praying: in verses 1, 9 and 13 he comments that he prays continually. Yet nothing is changing for him.
And then in verse 15 we find one of the saddest statements of all: "... and while I suffer Your terrors, I am distracted."
The original word behind the translation of 'distracted' is pronounced "PUN" and is apparently the only place this particular form of the word is used in the Bible. It means to be numb, to be cold, to be wearied. To be driven to despair.
The writer knows that God is a God of loving kindness, of mercy. The first time we find this word is in the context of Lot fleeing from the city of Sodom. Through the story of Lot we see a picture of mercy extended in a background of judgment and loss.
Our poet knows that God is faithful, that He is righteous. This is not talking about a judgmental self-righteous God, but rather about a person who practises moral righteousness.
He knows all of this about God. And yet ... and yet ... his situation does not change. All he can hope for now is that he will be spared death - in verses 10, 11 and 12, he observes that the dead cannot offer praise to God or tell others about His greatness. He does not even receive reassurance that his life will be spared.
But as we were weighted down under the magnitude of the losses for our desperate psalmist, Dad gently directed us to the story of Joseph in Genesis. When Joseph was 17 years old, he was sold into slavery, rejected by his brothers. Think of his anguish, his despair as first he was thrown into a pit and then later sold and forced to march off to a foreign country. Think of how he was falsely accused by his boss's wife and packed off to jail - where he was forgotten again. But we know this is not the end of the story for Joseph. After decades of slavery, rejection, desolation and anguish, Joseph ends up as Prime Minister of Egypt. And when he is reunited with his brothers - those now tremulous, terrified men who had once so cavalierly tossed him like a sack of garbage to his oppressors - what he says is "You might have meant it for evil, but God meant it for good."
What we are seeing, from the weight of the cares and the depths of the pain we experience, is but a part of the picture.
Imagine for a moment a great cedar of Lebanon, Dad continued. The pride of the forest were the cedars of Lebanon. Known for their height and their majesty and their beauty, people would immortalize them in songs, in poetry.
And then one day a forester comes by and with his axe fells the tallest, the most magnificent one of all, and it crashes helplessly to the ground. It is dismembered and its core is coarsely hacked into manageable pieces. These pieces are dragged through the forest and eventually dropped into the sea on rafts which are floated down some distance until it is roughly yanked out at the port of Joppa and once again dragged across the ground to a sterile, dusty property a far cry from the green lushness of the cool forest from whence it was kidnapped. And then it is chopped into slabs and planks. Sawed. Chiseled. Sanded. Pounded on. Gouged and carved. And then taken to its destination, where it is smothered in molten liquid metal that scalds and burns it and from which there is no escape.
You would never recognize the great cedar of Lebanon as being the beautiful but inconsequential tree it used to be when you see it in its final manifestation, the walls of the Temple, overlaid with burnished gold, and enshrouding the Shekinah glory of God Himself. Only the finest tree would do for such a sacred task. When the tree was first cut, it seemed like a tragedy. But being destined for such an integral part of the house of God is the rest of the story for the tree.
If we had stayed in the forest bemoaning the fate of the tree, we would never have seen the entire picture. What the author of the psalm could see was only one small chapter of the story. And maybe this is the message of Psalm 88 - it shows us the need for the patience of unanswered prayer, as the hymn writer says:
                          Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
                               Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear.
                               To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh
                               Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.
Of course, when we examine the big picture, God is answering; but somehow our psalmist, beset with troubles of the soul and frailties of the body and weariness of the mind, is unable to appropriate God's mercy, kindness, faithfulness and ultimate deliverance to himself. Perhaps this is a lesson for those who are diligently seeking to follow God. Like the Psalmist we know the FACTS about God; but somehow it seems so hard to appropriate the TRUTH of them to ourselves. J.I. Packer put it something like this, that we need to study the facts of God; secondly, we need to make the facts our meditation; and thirdly, we need to make this meditation the subject of our worship.

Did you know that meditation and rumination come from the same root word? Rumination is a cow leisurely chewing her cud, letting it process through her four stomachs, in no hurry to digest the nourishment provided for her. This is how we should meditate on the message that God is giving us. This is how we should ponder the lessons He is trying to teach us. As we study and dwell on what we know is true of God - even in our most dire circumstances - and then turn that into the substance of our worship, shifting our focus from ourselves to Him, we will grow strong and be able to persevere.

Even though the Psalmist could not see the future for the past and the present at the time of writing these words, what a reassurance that now he sees the full picture!

God would say to us, you only see the underside of the fabric today. But I am weaving a beautiful fabric of your life. Even though you don't understand now, know that it will be good. Trust Me.

The thing that moves me the most in this entire Psalm 88 is not the sadness that wrings my heart in its stark desolation; it is what is NOT there. Hebrew poetry was written not with meter and rhyme rules, like our poetry tends to follow; it often uses thought parallelism, meaning lines themselves either balance or contrast with each other. They are written in couplets and groups of four, following strict patterns.

However, when counting out the parallelism, Psalm 88 comes up short. When the psalmist ends his lament with the words, "You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; darkness is my closest friend" ... what is NOT said is that according to Hebrew poetical rules, this is not the end of the poem, not the end of the story!

Psalm 88 is given as a citation in the Westminister Confession of Faith in footnote number 17 under the chapter entitled "Assurance of Grace and Salvation", of all things.

What might Heman the Ezrahite, musician, seeker of God and author of this song, have written, given the clarity, the wisom of hindsight?

Ah, what a gift to us as people belaboured with the cares and trials and burdens of our day-to-day lives: the rest of the story has yet to be written. We have to take what we are given as from the Giver who gives no bad presents.

Mary Oliver, one of my favourite poets, puts it this way in her poignant volume Thirst:

                                     Someone I loved once gave me
                                     a box full of darkness.

                                     It took me years to understand
                                     that this, too, was a gift.

So God reminds us, in His words through Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you ... thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an end full of hope."

And on this 26th anniversary of the day when I thought that my dreams were coming true, that I would be a pastor's wife, I can gain comfort in the certainty that even my tapestry - unravelled as it has been at times and patched together in places and maybe with the pattern getting rather muddled and indistinct - will when it is finished be a work of art worthy of hanging in the galleries of Heaven.

And I can reflect on the words of James Taylor's lament upon the death of his brother :

                              Oh, it's enough to be on your way
                              It's enough just to cover ground
                              It's enough to be moving on

                              Home, build it behind your eyes
                              Carry it in your heart
                              Safe among your own

And so I can go on, confident that some day I shall indeed know the rest of the story.