Recently Enjoyed Things

We watched the Superbowl last weekend. Disclaimer #1: I do not understand, do not care about, do not watch, and do not give the tiniest regard to pro-football. Thus I gladly relinquish any claim to a legitimate title of “fan”. But, I do acquiesce each year for one notable exception – the Superbowl. Disclaimer #2: I cannot, nor have I ever been able to, watch a sporting event as a neutral party. [It’s like cucumbers – I never eat them without vinegar. Hello, there tangent! ] Typically the decision is easy: I pick Canada for all Olympic sports or, as a default, any team playing against the Americans (no offense to my family in America, let’s chalk it up to a friendly rivalry). The problem with football is I don’t know anything. About anyone. Or any team. If my husband’s team makes it in to the finals, it’s smooth sailing…but no dice this year. So, I did what any self-respecting woman would do. I went for the team with the nicer uniforms. An objective choice to be sure.  We won. And despite the fact that I have no real attachment to the team, my stomach was in knots and I felt like vomiting in the final few minutes. What can I say – no neutrality here.

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While we watched the Superbowl, we had a feast. Homemade sushi. I crave this stuff. Almost daily. It’s that good. I must give credit where credit is due – this is the hubby’s domain. My first attempt at sushi resulted in burned rice, soggy seaweed, and a trip to the garbage can. But we’ve (mostly, he) got it down to a delicious science.

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Too young for sushi, Abby still gets in on the action by asking for wasabi – or “sabi”. She devours the stuff, and even insisted on dipping her biscuit in the spicy, green goodness last week.

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After the blizzard this weekend put the kibosh on our plans to attend a “Date Night Challenge” at church, we decided to treat ourselves to an in-home date, complete with…you guessed it, homemade sushi.

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There has been lots of snow around these parts and we’ve been putting it to good use. There is never enough outdoor time for our little munchkin, and she seems oblivious to the cold.

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We’ve been watching our way through this years Best Picture nominations.  Despite adamant critic reviews to the contrary, we thought Les Miserables was fantastic (including Russell Crowe’s widely criticized portrayal of Javert). 

Argo – the frontrunner for Best Picture – was a big disappointment in our mind; the acting was sub-par, the movie was “forgettable” and their deviation from the true events of the story was frustrating (in particular their depiction of Canada’s involvement). Django Unchained was too gritty for my liking, so I only saw a few small chunks of the movie, but I will admit the cinematography and character development was expertly crafted by Tarantino. Life of Pi was underwhelming (although extremely true-to-the-book, which I did appreciate).

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And finally, we’re all enjoying the extra boost of enthusiasm after a restful, productive weekend cooped up inside. We’ve vacuumed every room in the house, cleaned out clutter, and organized the 8,546 Post-It notes floating around the office (condensing all the information into a single spreadsheet). We’ve done laundry and cooked banana bread and potato and carrot fritters. We’ve lugged snow into the bathtub and had a mini snowball fight (using these as snowball mold), created playdough masterpieces, and dyed pasta all the colours of the rainbow. We’ve lit candles and sipped warm beverages, and read books and worked out. While I can’t wait for spring and sun and clear sidewalks…this blast of winter has been gratefully enjoyed.

The Jolt

This is one of those moments where I wish I’d more actively pursued the Arts in university; devoted more time to articulating thoughts in a descriptive, eloquent manner. Engrained habits of  the science-centric “less is more” mantra creep in to my everyday life. I like to think in black and white, fact and fiction; although these traits are often advantageous, sometimes I downplay certain events and relegate any emotional response to a dusty corner in my mind. Emotionally stunted I’ve been dubbed on more than one occasion.

So bear with my as this post takes on various twists and turns as my mind weaves together the thoughts that I just can’t seem to arrange into a coherent thesis. I want to process this before surrendering to a much-anticipated nights sleep.

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I’ve had a unmistakable feeling of dread lately. Even as a fundamentally pessimistic person, I could identify this was something out of the ordinary. It started in October, when I learned late one night of a tragic accident that had claimed the life of a young father in the States. I had read some of his wife’s blog posts as she struggled with postpartum “baby blues,” and having recently escaped from that fog myself, sympathetically related to her struggles. Although I had no personal connection to this family, news of the loss hit me hard. I remember sobbing on the couch, clutching John and just crying out to God wondering why He would take someone so young…with an infant daughter who had just learned to speak her fathers name. Of course, I couldn’t help but think of my own situation – blessed with a healthy, vivacious, wildly intelligent daughter and the undeserving partner to the most loving, forgiving, compassionate, and just plain perfect helpmeet of a husband. Far from “wealthy”, we were richly blessed with a lovely apartment, a very comfortable life, work opportunities, and the safety of our glorious and free Canada. While in true form, I struggle to remember the attitude of gratitude, that evening in October, I couldn’t help but worry about the proverbial dropping shoe. Something in this seemingly perfect (though in reality, humanly flawed I can assure you) life was bound to go wrong.

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I’ve never had someone close to me die. That’s strange, I think, even at my young age. My grandmother, with whom I had a limited relationship, passed away two days before I left for university, but this elicited a limited emotional response as we had never been close. No friends or colleagues with whom I’d established lasting ties, no close immediate family. The most heart wrenching losses in my life were actually the stillborn babies my sister bore almost a decade ago; even then, my grief was really displaced agony for my sister.

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These feels of dread and anxiety have mounted the last few months. At every turn I seemed to encounter stories of infants diagnosed with leukemia, husbands taken too soon, and families torn apart by war, or famine, or other unspeakable horrors….I wondered when would my turn come? Life’s been too easy, too steady and comfortable, too blessed. It’s as if I imagined God, happening to chance upon my tally sheet,  and thinking: “Well, I see from my records Elisabeth has 50 blessings to 10 curses, so it’s time to even the score.” Though the Bible speaks of God sending trials to teach and mold us, there is no foundation to believe He tries to maintain a level playing field between blessing and curse when in fact, all is just grace. Marvelous grace.

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I felt anxious today. A stomach-in-knots, restless uneasy feeling, that permeated every action. On the surface, there was no reason for this aura. I enjoyed a good sleep, awoke at a leisurely hour, and delivered Abby to her childcare arrangements on time, so I was free to finish up some Christmas shopping and work/cook/clean in peace. When I ate lunch, I could barely keep the food down, and I even suspected I might be catching a bug of some sort.

When I left to collect Abby, and run some additional errands, I still couldn’t shake this feeling of concern. At this point, I had a spotless house, a delicious stew in the oven, and had completed a good chunk of my work assignments.

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Earlier in the week, I prayed to the Lord for a jolt. Something to break me out of the spiritual funk I’ve been in lately – honestly, for my whole life. I prayed for fervor and strength and direction to actually LIVE my faith – not just speak it. If we’re really being honest, I was scared of the response. See, 95% of the time, I’m blessed to work side-by-side from home with my husband. But the other portion, he travels to Northern (really northern – like sometimes above the Arctic Circle) Canada for work. When he left on an airplane days ago, I worried (though didn’t voice my fear) the jolt that I’d prayed for…would come in the form of some horrible tragedy. My imagination is vivid, and how can I not think of tangled fuselage and anxious rescue searches. No planes crashed, no tragedy ensued. I put thoughts of the “jolt” out of my mind.

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I’m dependent on our desktop computer for work. The wife of an IT-consultant, I am spoiled by the ever-present availability of a state-of-the-art-three-monitor-looks-like-something-from-NASA tailored computer setup. I heard a bang the first night John was away. I thought it was a fridge magnet crashing to the ground. Instead it was the computer – a lifeline for work. Of all weeks – with John away, with monthly reports due…This, I questioned, could this be the jolt? It was a jolt, because I realized how tied and dependent I had become to one “thing.” I was brought to my knees (literally, I spent hours getting things working) by the loss of a computer.

Still, this didn’t seem like the awakening I was sensing.

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Cue the sweaty palms, churning stomach and general uneasiness I felt all day long. And then it happened. A jolt – I won’t say “the” jolt, because surely, providentially, I will be jolted all the way to Heaven. But I felt this jolt – when I was involved in a car accident this afternoon. My first reaction was less than favourable; disbelief, frustration, a sense of calm (that was adrenaline), and then finally complete and utter breakdown (thankfully into the loving arms of a church member). My emotions were on overdrive all evening as I contemplated monetary costs, and replayed the days events (I made a last minute run from my place in line to visit the refrigerators at SuperStore to get ice cream, which ended up melting in the back seat – if I hadn’t gone to get the ice cream, I would have checked out seconds sooner and wouldn’t have been in the accident; I tried to fit in one last – unimportant – errand before picking up Abby…if I hadn’t made the decision, I wouldn’t have had the accident). Other worries jostled for my fear and attention  – what about premiums and adjusters and our trip to see family at Christmas.

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And then I read this article. Distractedly at first, while my mind flitted between replaying the days events and wishing for alternative scenarios. Thankfully, her words always bless my soul. This time they seemed to make things perfectly clear. This was, at least in part, the “jolt” I had prayed for. How did I not see it? This twisted metal and busted glass and churning gut – these were from the Lord? Gifts even?

Her words – so true: And the good things in life are not health but holiness, not the riches of this world but relationship with God, not our plans but His presence — and He withholds no good thing from us because good things aren’t ever things.

I walked, even drove away from this accident. This is unspeakable grace. My dear, sweet, precious child was safely playing unaware minutes drive away. What if she’d been in the backseat? What if I hadn’t purchased that $5.79 tub of ice cream, and instead of a broken mirror and dented hood, it has been blood and sorrow – a different accident?

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Each week in church our pastor opens the floor for “sharing and prayer.” Members bring petitions and blessing before the congregation and the Lord. I’m ashamed as I listen to others; their faith, secure and unwavering, and their reliance on their Saviour is truly humbling. A few weeks back a member spoke of a recent heart attack he had suffered and how he wished he hadn’t woken up on Earth. Far better to be with the Lord in Paradise he mused. I watched his wife, and noted the twinge of her lips as they formed a smile. Contentment over his safety, or her own fleeting joy in imaging a world with no more suffering? That’s where that man wished he had ended up…not because he doesn’t cherish each day on Earth, but because he doesn’t love this life. He’s holding out for something better. Something lasting.

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This was no near-death experience I faced today. Let’s call a spade a spade – it was a minor fender bender. But it was, most definitely, a jolt. In the midst of the chaos of deadlines and baking and decorating – the things – I was stopped. Literally.

And then thankfulness came; I almost felt giddy. And while reading this, I heard this “He appeared, and the Soul felt its worth; a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…Fall on your knees.

How can I not fall on my knees? If each day is grace, then isn’t this day full of extra grace. Yes, I say – I see the grace. Everywhere. In the friends provided to offer comfort, in the snuggles from my flesh-and-blood…all superfluous things, like cars and computers, are just that – things. What’s real, what’s important, is the presence of God. When does this more ring true than Christmas, as we celebrate this gift of life and grace and forgiveness?

When I realize it is not God who is in my debt, but I…all becomes a gift. ~ Ann Voskamp

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And tonight, when I look at the crumbled, rain-stained pad of paper in my purse – the pad on which just hours ago trembling hands copied down license plate numbers and insurance codes – I notice the top sheet of that pad. And my breath catches, and how can I not smile at my scribbles from a recent benefit concert where I noted two songs: Don’t Let Me Miss the Glory and one line from another song (which I can’t seem to track down online) “Grace from above with unfailing love – grace, marvelous grace.”

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*No energy to proofread so any lack of typos is also grace!

Gratitude

Technically, the season of Thanksgiving has already come and gone up North. For any American readers currently in the throes of turkey dinners, football games and pumpkin pie, we Canadians dare to be different and celebrate Thanksgiving in October. Cuz’ we’re rebels like that (in the best possible way).

But the season of gratitude – well that’s something that should be perpetuated the whole year. Cliche, I know, and easier said than done, but I’ve thought about this principle more in the last few months after reading One Thousand Gifts – a challenge to recognize each and every experience as a gift from the Lord. If the first sin was a result of ingratitude, then the first joy must have been gratitude. Our model, then, is Christ Himself who in the remaining (agonizing) hours before His death, chose to give thanks (Luke 22:19).

It’s easy to give thanks for the (seemingly) large things in life – the spouse, the child, the family, the home, the country. Those all, of course, warrant praise and thanksgiving. We forget about those large things, take them for granted; so too with the “smaller” blessings, seemingly menial in some grand scheme, that are so easily brushed aside in the monotony and chaos of laundry and ballet practice and root canals? Harder still, to give thanks in the harsh, ugly times – when tendrils of cancer and divorce and death seem to squeeze out every last ounce of joy and thanksgiving.

I think the only way one can prepare for these latter moments – the hardest in which to find thanks in our hearts – is to strive for thanksgiving continually. I’ll get off my soap box now and stand ashamed in the corner. See, aside from being a pessimist (Exhibit A: blog title) which is bad enough, I also tend to be am a hard-core complainer. Ask my friends or worse yet, ask my long-suffering husband. Contentment is not one of my strong suits.

But in this “season” of thanksgiving, I thought I’d jot down some of my joy moments lately:

1. Cozy socks and crisp air – warmth and refreshing and glorious open Maritime skies all melded into one

2. New books – the freedom and opportunity to read and the blessing of literacy

3. Husband-laughs – his humor that permeates my every day…and how he’ll do anything for just one chuckle

4. Seeing home in the distance – the relief of comfort and security just ahead

5. Toddler hands – manipulating tiny books (praise for opposable thumbs), covered in food (she is nourished), clutching mine (she needs security, I need to love)

6. Unexpected (snail OR e-mail) correspondence – connection with friends and family

7. The sound of silence – peace in my country and baby must be sleeping

8. Art work – beauty for the eyes and the talent bestowed to men

9. Date nights – connection with my best friend and how we always end up talking about sweet Abby, because she is such joy

10. Homemade sushi – eclectic flavours (I can taste!) and teamwork (it’s labour intensive)

11. Warm laundry – we have clothes that need cleaning and machines and water and detergent

12. Beating a deadline – time to do extra

13. Polka dots and rain boots – the little things that make me smile…and puddles for jumping (extra points for me, because my rain boots have polka dots)

14. My wedding band – for what it represents…and how I still get giddy just looking at it over three years later

15. Warm tea – the sipping and sitting and comfort (and my beloved mug)

16. Phone chats with Mom – how she listens to everything…and remember all those “small” details

17. A full schedule – work and friends and health to do it all

18. Discovering shadows – the simple pleasures of life and the wonder of a child learning and developing in front of your eyes. Miraculous.

19. Crunchy leaves – the shift of seasons, a time of recharge for the world; dark nights and cozy evenings ahead; Abby loves the noise

20. This breath – because without it, I could not give thanks for anything.

What are you thankful for today? Big or small?