Who Do You Fear?

I’ll never forget the moment.

“Just call Social Services,” my friend suggested, as if she took such drastic action all the time. “Tell them your dad’s been abusing you. They’ll get you out of there.”

andy-art-1040896-unsplashPhoto by Andy Art on Unsplash

I sat speechless, emotions ping-ponging. It’s true I’d been complaining to her about my dad. I was fifteen, too old for the spanking I’d recently received. I was hoping for sympathy, waiting to hear I was justified in my outrage. But rat out my own dad to the government? Expose him to public shame? Unthinkable!

Did I fear tearing my family apart? Or was it the possibility I would be sent to some unknown home, away from the essentially pleasant and prosperous home I’d always known? I can’t recall. I do know I was overwhelmingly horrified at the idea of denouncing my father. And I knew my own conscience wasn’t clear. My punishment didn’t come because I was innocent!

My dad was not a big man, but he was an enormous figure in our home and to me. He laughed loud and yelled loud. We all hopped when he entered the house, getting a meal ready, finishing assigned tasks, ceasing our bickering or backtalk to Mom. I think we all lived for and treasured the rare scrap of praise he might throw our way.

Up to that point, I’d never heard him tell me he loved me. That was still to surprise me three years in the future. Yet respect and honour of him, modelled by my mom, was deeply ingrained in me. I can’t remember Dad ever explicitly teaching this sort of respect. I just knew it was wrong to disobey or mouth off.

At the risk of sounding like an old-timer, the interchanges I see between children and parents today are badly lacking in honour. They often sound like sitcom scripts gone awry.

On TV, a child star quips a line written by a comedy writer and we laugh. Real life kids coming up with their own lines just sound snotty. The kids exude a weary impatience and a patronizing tone, yet the parents don’t correct them. Perhaps the children have learned it from their parents.

If the two eras could meet, my parents’ generation could have learned a thing or two from young parents today, like frequent I love yous, hugs, and easy camaraderie. But today’s parents could learn something from my parents: zero tolerance for disrespect in word, action or tone.

That culture of honour taught me something vital that seems to have gone out of fashion. Fear of the Lord.

It used to be a noble thing to be called God-fearing.

Today, most Christians rush to explain away what the Bible calls fear of God. “It’s not fear, as in being scared. It’s reverence.”

Not so fast! Yes, it is reverence. But it’s the kind of reverence we have for the awesome power of hurricanes and grizzlies. Which, I think, we can admit is fear. And “fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom.” (Prov. 1:7) Without that awestruck reverence, God’s love for us means less. There’s little wonder when our buddy loves us, but utter amazement when a holy God shows grace to a wretch like me.

So, when my friend offered her solution, everything in me rejected it. I shudder to think of the damage I might have done by following her advice. I would have missed out on Dad’s apology to me a few years later. I might have missed later clearing my own conscience with him. Who knows? I might even have missed out on having him walk me down the aisle on my wedding day. Time passed, and I got to see him lovingly hold my babies in his arms. Always generous, Dad contributed to my son’s university education. In my father’s later years, I had the privilege of watching him set aside his own suffering with Parkinson’s to play catch with my son who has Down syndrome.

I thank God He kept me from taking rash action. He knows the future and although His ways are past finding out, they are always right and good. I’m also content with the father God gave me. From him, I learned a healthy reverence for God.

Along with all the reassurances in scripture that God is always good and all loving, let’s never forget the fear of the Lord.

P.S. Have I mentioned here that I’ve joined a group of Christian fiction authors called the Mosaic Collection? Join our Mosaic Reader’s Group here and let us know what stands out to you about your father!




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Mom Did Her Best

“Motherhood is just one long guilt trip,” my mother commented when she was about the age I am now, on receiving a flowery mother’s day card from my brother.

white and purple petaled flower arrangement on white vase

It seems once the kids are up and out, moms have time to reflect on their mothering, the good, the bad and the regrettable. This analysis can simply be their adult children’s questions, “how come you always” or “why didn’t you ever…?” Or maybe the grown kids don’t openly criticize, but simply go on to do parenting differently, a silent but recriminating reproof.

For some moms though, their children turn on them by excluding them from their lives, or worse, cutting off their contact with grandchildren. I have five dear friends in these circumstances. A young mother asked me recently if these had been loving moms, nurturing moms. No doubt she wanted assurance that such drastic rejection was in some way deserved, that by being a certain kind of mom, she could be confident nothing like this would happen to her. I had to tell her yes, the mothers I knew in this situation had been faithful in their calling, intentional in their parenting, loving and nurturing. It wasn’t easy for her to hear. It isn’t easy for these mothers to receive. 

At the beach last summer, I was describing to a new friend this trend I’d observed. Her daughter, watching her toddlers play in the sand, chimed in. “See Mom? I told you. It’s a thing now.” She had seen it among her peers. 

Whether it’s millennial narcissism or some other societal reason, “not speaking” to parents seems foolhardy at best, suicidal at worst. Are these young people unaware that their own children will someday judge them, too? And how will the next generation view their parents when they realize a relationship with their grandparents is irretrievably lost? Just as the parents of today’s young parents couldn’t have dreamed their children would turn against them, so might these young people someday face rejection by their children.

The concept of duty, so culturally ingrained in my grandparents’ day, seems all but lost. But I believe Christians can work toward change.

  • Don’t listen uncritically to “mother-in-law from hell” stories. Encourage understanding and forgiveness, instead. Young people need to remember they will be old someday, with children who will evaluate them.
  • Similarly, don’t buy everything you hear about ungrateful sons and daughters. There’s always two sides to a story. Older parents should not be viewing their parenting past with rose-coloured glasses. There may be things to repent of and make right.

When my oldest son was a baby, Betty, a woman with teens told me, “I’ve done my very best with my kids.” That’s stayed with me for over 35 years.  I often wondered, how could she say that? Hadn’t she ever stayed with whatever she was engrossed in for just a few minutes longer before attending to her child’s needs? Had she always been utterly fascinated by her son’s lengthy tales, or devotedly concerned about her daughter’s emotional outbursts? Had she never been short with them, impatient at childish immaturity, angry at disobedience and defiance? In my years of mothering, it seemed there was always one more story that could have been read or game that could have been played, more one-on-one time could have been given to each child, greater understanding and empathy could have been conveyed.

Unlike Betty, I can’t honestly say, “I’ve done my very best.” God is the only parent who can say that, and still his children reject Him again and again.

It’s the second weekend of May, and there are a lot of assumptions and commendations bandied about. Women, especially, have fallen into the habit of telling each other, “you’re a great mom!” But how do they know? Some of the women who now suffer the pain of broken relationships with their adult children were fabulous mothers, in my eyes. Who gets to say whether you’ve been a good mom? Our peers, who may only see our polished side and have never lived in our home? Our husband, who doesn’t dare criticize? I had always thought it was our children who were the ultimate judge of our parenting.

But my daughter, a young mother herself, offered a different perspective. Sons and daughters, she said, can be mistaken about their parents. They can skew the past to fit their current assumptions, misread actions or misjudge motives. There is much they do not know. The only safe one to look to for evaluation, she told me, is God Himself. Wise words from someone so young!

“…Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;” (1 Peter 2:21-23)



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Yesterday, Monsieur, who had reason to be annoyed with me (if you can imagine that), ventured out into the cold to fill my car with gas. For the record, I am perfectly capable of fueling up, but he seems to believe it is his job, so this is a regular occurrence and, well, why quibble? Last week, he changed the oil (in the same cold) and pumped up a low tire so he could take it for repair. He does this consistently without my asking and without complaint or payment, year in and year out. He does this because of masculinity — it’s in him to protect and provide. Compelled by his God-given masculinity, he mans up.

But now I’m feeling threatened! Not by anything “toxic” in that masculinity, not at all! (Are you kidding? No matter how independent I have aimed to be in life, I’m all too aware of how I have benefited from the masculine urge to provide and protect  — first through my dad, then my husband, and now even through my sons and son-in-law.)

This wonderful feature of masculinity is under attack in a recent advertisement by corporation-turned social justice warrior, Gillette. In the TV ad, the shaving merchant portrays a few men (mainly clean-shaven) intervening against “toxic” men (mainly bearded) who might be engaging in possibly sexist, aggressive behaviour. Anything from catcalls to condescending pats on a female business partner’s shoulder to little boys wrestling is squelched by one of the few “woke” fellows in the ad.

Perhaps this is the company’s hasty effort to get on “the right side of history” by jumping onto the #MeToo bandwagon. Or perhaps they’re responding to the latest commandment from on high, the American Psychiatric Association’s recent guide for therapists declaring the psychological dangers of traditional masculinity (suppression of feelings and all that.) As though the typically male characteristics of stoicism, competitiveness, aggression have been mandated somehow by that distant and vague, but deliciously blamable and entirely incorrigible “society”.

Could it be possible that the reason men are a certain way traditionally, is because they are that way inherently? Of course, in a fallen world there are going to be harmful extremes of these characteristics both in individual men and in society. And certainly, parents need to train and guide their sons’ urges in a positive, useful direction. But just as there are some characteristics uniquely female, there are some traits that are uniquely male.

I should know. Monsieur and I have raised six sons.

When our first son was a toddler, he loved looking at the Christmas toy catalogue. There was some talk at the time of “raising Baby X” without imposing gender stereotypes on a child.  As an experiment, I would turn the page away from the trucks and tractors, to dolls and all things pink. He patiently indulged me, then promptly turned back to the construction toys. The boys played with their sister’s dollhouse, but the play was vastly different — much leaping off of balconies and fighting off kidnappers of babies. At times, when there was inevitable property damage or bodily harm, it seemed there was altogether “too much testosterone” in our home (Monsieur’s words, not mine). But what  a resource, what fun those boys were, what a treasure those men are today! I wouldn’t change their manly nature for anything.

becky and boys

Six sons, and every one of them has a sister. 2009 (Laura Clawson photo)

Naturally, there are strange and unaccountable things about the male mind that will forever boggle.

  • Why, for example, must every recently-cleared horizontal surface be immediately filled with pocket contents, oily car parts, empty paper coffee cups…
  • Why must every discussion be limited to one topic, bullet-point sub-topics only?
  • Why is it so hard to take five minutes to prepare and protect spaces vulnerable to construction/renovation debris or the insidiously ubiquitous drywall dust?
  • Why must their movie of choice involve speed, fire power and destruction?
  • Why is flatulence control possible in, say, a job interview, but not around the house? (asking for a friend)

Some time ago, my extended family gathered to honour my aunt, a gentle, hardworking and truly feminine woman who had lived a long, godly, self-sacrificing life. Battling a terrible snowstorm on the road home afterward, I pondered the circle of male cousins I grew up with. I realized that despite the lack of contact in the intervening years, if I were in danger or need, any one of them would step up without hesitation. Although they would be the first to admit they are not perfect men, still, they are men of integrity, raised in an era when manning up was a good thing. Around that room, there was no oppression, no toxicity, no patronizing condescension or disrespect.

In fact, I know I’m not alone in this, despite the evil crimes of some men that gain so much attention in the media. Most men I know or come in contact with are decent, nontoxic guys, tolerating all kinds of misery of weather, work and woe to meet their families’ needs. The men in my family, church and, for the most part, my community, are trustworthy men who don’t have to be taught about “consent” because they understand the word “commit.” If they are men of integrity, it’s because they’ve recognized and rejected the evil within them and cling instead, with a genuine trust, to Christ. Their character is based on a foundation far more lasting than the latest fleeting fad in political correctness — the eternal Word of God.

God made us male and female, unique, different and complementary, so that together we can mirror God’s nature.

Growing up in the 70’s, people sported t-shirts captioned “Vive la difference!” May it ever be so. #fostermasculinity

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Did you get everything on your wish list?

Remember the Eaton’s and Sears Christmas catalogues? Back in the day, my brother and I would pore over them for hours.
When I was 8, Mom sewed me an exact replica of the red velvetine dress on this cover that I’d spent weeks mooning over.
After school one day in December, I had charged into the room where she had been working and saw a sneak preview of it. My hopes were about to come true!
Even though I knew it was coming, when she presented it to me to wear at the annual Sunday school Christmas concert, I was still thrilled!
Ah, wish lists! Now we have them on Amazon, and I have to say, that works pretty well. Last year, my son fulfilled my Amazon wish for the book, The Holiness of God, by R.C. Sproul.
So, did you get all you were hoping for at Christmas?
There was a romantic comedy years ago with the thought-provoking title:
What Women Want.
I’m not sure if Mel Gibson ever figured it out.
Wishes and wants. Dreams and desires. What is it we really desire?
We’ve just spent the holiday season hearing songs about Christmas wishes:
  • muh two front teeth
toothless twins

My granddaughters! 🙂

  • a White Christmas, just like the ones I used to know


View out our front windows


But why wish so modestly?

Santa Baby aims high:

  • a sable


Photo by Taufik Nugraha on Unsplash
  • a convertible, light blue


photo by Cody Barnes on Unsplash


  • a yacht, the deed to a platinum mine, and one last thing, a ring!


Photo by Jose Martinez on Unsplash


What I’ve come to understand is that we all want one thing — the same thing, as it turns out. But we often don’t know exactly what that one thing is, and we don’t always seek it in the way that will bring it to us. Some:

  • train rigorously to win a gold medal in some sport.
  • seek the recognition and respect that comes with getting to the top of a career or profession.
  • devote time to a cause like saving the earth and endangered animals.
  • desire love from their parents, a husband, a child.

But even after all these things are achieved, the ache of longing is still there.

What is that underlying desire? Several Christmas carols describe it this way:

“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

“Hope of all the earth Thou art, Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.”

“Come, Desire of nations, come, Fix in us Thy humble home!”

“Seek the great Desire of nations…”

“Desire of Nations” — I love that name for Jesus. It’s taken me many years to understand that He is what I really desire.

Whatever I think I’m wanting, wishing for or praying for — Jesus and only Jesus will satisfy. Whatever I may think I need or want, at bottom, my desire is for Him.

  • When I desire a beautiful home, Jesus said He would go and prepare a place for me in His Father’s mansion. (John 14:2,3)
  • When I want something to turn out perfect– it’s a reflection of what I really desire, the perfection of Jesus. Pilate said, “I find no fault in Him.”
  • When I want things to run smoothly, it’s really the marvelous ability of Jesus I want, who is “before all things and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17)
  • When I like to see a job well done, I recall how the people marveled at Jesus, saying, “He has done all things well.” (Mark 7:37)
  • Do I crave beauty? Then “let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.” (Psalm 90:17)
  • Perhaps I long for order in a chaotic home or schedule. It’s a God-given desire because that’s what Jesus is like. I Corinthians 14 tells us to do everything “decently and in order” because “God is not the author of confusion but of peace.”
  • When I wish for money or provision, I can look to Jesus. He is true wealth, who has given us the hope of “an inheritance, incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.” (I Peter 1:4)
  • When I wish my loved ones would do the right thing, it’s really the righteousness of Christ I crave. (I John 2:1)
  • When I’m just plain tired? Jesus says, “Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:27)

But what about when I long for the impossible? Maybe you, like me, have experienced the death of a loved one. How I would love one more opportunity to spend time with my son Paul, gone six years now.

How I long to hear one of his witty comments or funny impressions, to hug him and tell him I love him and how much I miss him.  What do I do with the impossible wishes?

Even in the impossible, Jesus is the answer.

He said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.” (John 11:25)

There’s a new beginning coming! Something beyond anything we could ask or think. And the preview is knowing Jesus, right here, right now.

May Jesus, the Desire of Nations, be all you see and desire in the coming year.



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Happy Mothers, Day

Yes, the punctuation in my title is intentional. Today is Mother’s Day and once again, I have a choice to be a happy mother, or not.

I learned that lesson only too well one Mother’s Day in 1992. I had four boys and one girl then, ages  9, 8, 6, 4 and 1. They had breakfast washed off their faces, hair combed, shirts tucked in and we were actually on time for church. I was happy to fit into a bright yellow dress that accentuated my newly recovered waistline.

We found a seat not far from the front of the small, single-aisle church where the old-fashioned, dark-stained pews hugged the outer walls. An older widow sitting alone slid over to make room for us and our family filled the pew. She smiled at my youngest, whose chubby face broke into a responding smile. Although the kids could wiggle and chatter like any, I was proud of their ability to keep quiet in church and I had quiet toys and Cheerios for the littlest.

After the sermon, the pastor, moved I’m sure to urge his flock to obey the fifth commandment, called a representative from each family to the front to choose a carnation from a vase and present it to their mother.

Image result for images of carnations

All around us, husbands and children rose and made their way forward in a buzz of activity. My family, introverts all, sat stolidly in their seats. The kids probably hadn’t heard what the pastor said. Any second now, I thought, my husband will surely whisper to one of the kids, sending them to the front. But no. The wretched choosing of flowers ever so slowly went on; all around me the smiles and hugs of other mothers by their grateful children continued interminably. Still my family remained quietly glued to their seats.

“For any of you who don’t have family to bring you a flower, we’d like to bring one to you,” the pastor said at last. At least I wouldn’t go home empty-handed. Three or four teenage girls scanned the small congregation distributing fragrant flower joy. Finally, I saw one of them coming in my direction. I took a deep breath, preparing to graciously smile my thanks. She had to scooch past my husband’s knees as well as four of the kids. She held out a pink-tipped carnation with one hand. I reached out for it. She reached past me and handed it to the lady to my right.

Image result for images of carnations

That was when tears filled my eyes. While the pastor thanked God for mothers and all they do for their families,  I opened my eyes wide to keep the tears from dribbling down my cheeks. My throat was tight and my smile was stiff as we left the church, flowerless.

They say expectations destroy relationships. The problem with expectations is that you never know you have them until they’re not met. That silly little hurt took a whole lot of big serious praying to put in its place. My husband later apologized – he had misunderstood the pastor’s directions. But every Mother’s Day since then, I’ve made a conscious choice to expect nothing, and to fill my thoughts with gratitude for my healthy, wonderful children and the faithful husband who raised them with me. “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thessalonians 5:17)

I try hard to ignore the advertising telling me all the treats and pleasures I deserve and even the sermons that extol my mama role. It’s Mother’s Day, I remind myself. It’s a day for grateful mothers, not self-pitying, disappointed, miserable ones. Be a happy one.

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Much To Do About Nothing

Ever heard of a reverse To Do list?

It’s a list of achievements, things actually accomplished, rather than things yet-to-do. In acknowledgement that progress is a line through a list, I once made a daily “Done” list and discovered something about my use of time: Much of what I did in a day was important, but intangible stuff that never makes it to any list of intentions.

In August, 2008, the day I decided to write my list of tasks after doing them, it looked like this:

  • made Jello
  • wrote “to do” list for son #5 (aged 14 — now deceased. )
  • organized cereal containers
  • washed dishes
  • vacuumed
  • spent time on phone with faraway friend
  • phoned Mother
  • re-processed raspberry jam (who ever writes these failure fixes onto a daily list?)
  • cleaned out purse (while on one of those long phone calls)
  • cooked hard-boiled eggs
  • made salad for 7
  • chat with soon-to-be engaged daughter (aged 20) about wife’s role in marriage
  • wiped away mold on vapour barrier in living room ceiling (seriously? I did this? Sigh. The joys of Live-while-you-Renovate.)
  • mended shirt for son #4 (aged 17)
  • watered outdoor flower pots (involving lugging heavy watering cans full of rain-water)
  • read three stories to son#6 (aged 11 – with Down syndrome)
  • chat with son #2 (aged 24)

I highly recommend the exercise! On a day when I felt I’d gotten nothing done, I found my time had been spent on God’s most precious creation — people!

I’ve been remembering my lofty 2017 goals/resolutions and feeling a little disappointed that I didn’t achieve what I’d hoped this year. But I thought of the Done list of years gone by and decided I’d try the same exercise for the year.

  • painted sewing room walls and a $10 thrift store chandeliersewing room 2

    unpainted chandelier

    I used Heirloom White spray paint to transform the builder brass.

  • painted an ugly laminate desk to become a sewing desk (I love its corner layout for easily switching from sewing machine to serger.)


  • re-painted the upstairs guest room — the initial colour was just too gray for my liking. Monsieur kindly shortened the stem of a candlestick lamp for the bedsideguest room.jpgAs you can see, I finally finished a scrap quilt, in memory of our son Paul.Paul's quilt dedication
  • Throughout the year, I read 27 books, 13 of which were non-fiction, which puts me  in the “Avid Reader” category of the Reading Challenge I did.
  • In January, I finished the memoir about Paul and it was published in fall. Pall of Silence is available at http://www.eleanorbertinauthor.com or Amazon. A portion of the proceeds from the book will go to Wycliffe Bible Translators in honour of Paul’s interest in languages.Pall of Silence front cover
  • Although I had hoped to complete a novel this year, I didn’t. But I did get to the 75% mark on Unbound, the companion novel to Lifelines (also available on my website).






  • Over the summer, I tore down an eyesore — an old shed that disturbed the view from the house. (Just to pretty things up, I had to throw in a shot of the flowers that will grow in the compost found under the old shed.)
  • I wanted a luggage rack, but decided I might be able to make something of this cedar chest from my mother.
  • And in between, a little sewing — doll dresses for granddaughters and four pillowcase dresses for Christmas shoeboxes made from a perfectly good curtain I found in the landfill site.

This doesn’t begin to quantify the growth as I’ve learned more about God and His amazing grace to me every day of the year.

So perhaps I can be content that 2017 was a year of accomplishment after all. Try writing your own “Done” list. It’s super-encouraging! Here’s to a lovely 2018 to all you readers!


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Being Oma

“If I’d known grandchildren were this much fun, I’d have had them first,” the bumper sticker quips.

I first saw that message when I had young children and couldn’t imagine how grand-parenting could be any better than raising our own children day by day. I loved having our babies. Once I’d made the decision that raising them was my life’s work, I gave little thought to what my life would entail after they’d grown and gone. I was honoured when someone once commented to me, “You put maximum effort into mothering.” I couldn’t imagine anything else could come close to that fulfillment.

“I know why I love my children, but why do you love them?” my daughter once asked. It was the same question I had asked years ago.

Redeeming the Past

In a sense, becoming Oma allows me to learn from the past and change some of my ways. Just as I was tumbling out of the turbulent years with teens, and moping over the child-rearing years with a “gone forever” sadness, along came grand-parenting. Our first were twin girls, which was double excitement — I love two-for-one deals. And these were little girls, something that had been in short supply in our own family.


Tori & Abby, age 2

It was affirming, too, to find our children had come full circle and begun raising their children, in many ways, the way they, themselves, were raised.

Rejoicing in the Present

Instead of lamenting the loss of my youth, being Oma allows me to rejoice in the present. In fact, I find their assumption that I am old, quite amusing.

“Becoming a grandmother is wonderful. One moment you’re just a mother, the next you are all-wise and prehistoric,” says Pam Brown.

Although I live at a great distance from some of my grandkids, the photos, the videos, the funny sayings — these keep us close. As grandparents, we’re free of the daily responsibility for them; free to simply exult in the freshness of new life. There is nothing more precious than holding their trusting, tiny hands as we walk together, or feeling those small, soft arms fling themselves around my neck in eager greeting when we arrive for a visit. Because tragedy has forced me to glimpse the brevity of life, the moments of wonder we share at its marvels are more prized than they were with my own children.

grand kiddos

The girls have a new brother — John.

“Our children accept us for ourselves, without rebuke or effort to change us, as no one in our entire lives has ever done, not our parents, siblings, spouses, friends — and hardly ever our own grown children.” writes author Ruth Goode.


And another brother, James.

And now we have a new grandson, born last week. He is our first Canadian grandchild, and the first to carry on the family name.

Fresh Felix

Baby Felix, three days old

Hope for the Future

Grandchildren are more than just fun. As I become more aware of my own limitations, the terrors of this old world increasingly oppress. But when I’m with my grandchildren, I’m reminded of the great good God has given in this life: There is still beauty, music, and good parenting. There is still truth and joy.

And there is still love.

“Children’s children are the crown of old men…” Proverbs 17:6


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Taking Dad for Granted

In Hillbilly Elegy: a Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, author J.D. Vance recounts his older sister’s remorse on the death of their grandfather. She regretted having taken advantage of the Papaw who stepped in to raise them in the absence of their father and the instability of their drug-addicted mother. Conditioned by their shaky beginnings to feel they couldn’t really rely on people, she sobbed over having unquestioningly accepted Papaw’s help and generosity but beyond that, not paying him much attention.

“To this day,” Vance writes, “being able to ‘take advantage’ of someone is the measure in my mind of having a parent.”

This month would have marked my dad’s 89th birthday. It’s been more than four months since he died, but years since we lost him due to advanced Parkinson’s. Of all that could be said of Dad, Vance’s definition of being a father is the most apt. My brothers and sister and I were able to “take advantage” of our dad because he was always there.  He was always there with my mom — an indivisible unit for 66 years that gave us a rock-solid home, something I only learned in later years that not everyone has.

He was always there in the church, faithfully attending, serving, giving and supporting in many ways.

He was a strong, authoritative presence in our home. One Sunday afternoon, my sister was trying to nap and our brothers were roughhousing in the next room. Annoyed by the noise level, she got up, seized a pair of my dad’s Florsheim shoes and clunked them down the hall until the imminent threat of Dad’s intervention quieted them. Dad’s was an authority I sometimes resented, but which I now realize set the stage for me to have an understanding and trust in God’s rule and reign in my life.

He was always there on the land that was so important to him.

We always had a secure home base to come home to. We knew where to find him. His work as a farmer allowed him to be present in our home at times of day when many dads would have been in the workplace.

He was always there for advice on financial matters, gained through years of experience as a farmer and businessman. I clearly remember a phone call he took one winter evening from someone trying to get him to invest in diamonds.

“I never invest in something I don’t understand,” Dad responded, ending the call. It wasn’t direct teaching, but it was a lesson that stuck with me.

Early in our marriage, my husband and I contemplated buying a franchise business, but first we asked my dad’s counsel. We received a detailed, reasoned, three-page reply in Dad’s distinctive handwriting.20170306_133316_1488833198077_resized

Children are excellent observers, but poor interpreters. As a child, though I feared my dad’s impatience and volatile temper, I still longed for his attention and approval. Neither seemed to ever come and I found it impossible to be content with that. Later, as a young mom, with a home and children of my own, I used to rack my brain trying to come up with an appropriate Christmas gift for Dad. One year, the idea of giving him a gift of words occurred to me. I could write him a letter telling him all that he meant to me and all he’d given me. But frankly, my underlying resentment made it a struggle to come up with anything meaningful. If I said he taught me by example to be a reader, my mind conjured negative memories of him, buried behind a newspaper ,completely oblivious to us kids (until, that is, we raised a ruckus.) I feared he’d see through my attempt, that I was merely putting a good face on a bad record.

Eventually, though, I came up with a page-and-a-half list, from character traits more caught than taught, to happy memories like the soup and crackers-with-garlic-sausage snack we’d have arriving home after a long trip.

The next time he saw me, Dad thanked me for the letter. “It’s nice to know I did something right.” I was surprised at this acknowledgement that he recognized his inadequacy as a father. “If you’re wondering about what to get me next Christmas, another letter would be great.”

He had no idea I felt I’d been scraping the barrel to scrounge up even that one. Yet the next year, I came up with more.

“You expected respect and it prepared me for a lifetime of reverencing God,” I wrote.

“‘Don’t close any doors’ you told me with regard to education when I was contemplating quitting high school.”

And the following year, I found more dad-things to write him thanks for. It got so that I could say these things in person, too.

Just a few years ago, dad overcame his Parkinson’s-weakened voice just long enough to tell me something unusual for him. While I was growing up, he had always opposed my use of make-up or hair colour. (I recall puzzling over the term “hussy.”) And he never complimented my appearance, lest it lead to conceit. But a few summers ago, my 80+-year-old father commented on my new blonde hair colour, saying I looked, “very beautiful!” Now, at 50-something, “very beautiful” was a bit of a stretch. It would have been easy to roll my eyes and reply, “You’re about four decades too late. I needed to hear that when I was 14!” But during that particularly low point in my life it was salve to my wounded soul. Instead of an acidic response, I recognized his words as a gracious gift from him and also from God to encourage me.

When Dad died last fall, I realized all of my bitterness toward him had long since passed away, leaving a genuine contentment and gratefulness toward him. Having children of my own who weren’t always thrilled with my parenting went a long way toward making me compassionate and forgiving towards a dad who didn’t always know how to father. Significantly, I credited the exercise of writing those letters as a turning point for me. They forced me to gain a more accurate interpretation of my dad’s life and fathering than I’d been able to see as a child.

And when I read Hillbilly Elegy, I realized my dad was a great dad. He was a dad I could, and did, take for granted.

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The close of the letter shown above — now a precious assurance.





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Breaking Up with Perfect: A Book Review

Have you noticed the pressure “mommy blogs” and other media have put on young mothers? Co-sleeping, baby-wearing, child-led feeding, enviro-friendly toys and gear, providing a magical childhood — all of it raises an impossible bar for motherhood. The list doesn’t stop there either: women are to be politically savvy, dress for success, be a financial whiz, save the earth, run marathons, get organized, raise creative and culturally-sensitive children, be community minded. And that’s not even including the ever-changing (weekly, it seems!) rules for nutrition where last decade’s healthy meal is condemned as abusively unwholesome.

So when I was offered Amy Carroll’s book, Breaking Up With Perfect: Kiss Perfection Goodbye and Embrace the Joy God Has in Store for You to review, it was young women I had in mind. With the perspective of age and a different stage of life, it was easy for me to see how younger women could benefit by gaining freedom from perfectionism’s tyranny.

What I wasn’t expecting was a window into my own soul.

Carroll introduces us to two not-so-hypothetical women: The Good Girl with her list of how to gain God’s and everyone else’s approval, and The Never Good Enough Girl who also has a list. Hers is laden with self-pity and resentment. Both are a list of lies, the author explains.

In the four parts of the book, Carroll unfolds how to break up with wrong beliefs, skewed values, selfish actions, and instead, live freely and love deeply. The lies we believe, she contends, can be replaced by God’s truth.

She starts with our belief about God. Do we think of Him as a tough taskmaster? A distant, disinterested observer? Our beliefs about God, it is said, are the most important thing about us. I was relieved to find the author addressing this critical foundation for our motives and goals. “Seeing ourselves correctly as both loved and sinful is key to ending our love affair with Perfect.” (page 52) I was even more surprised that a modern book for women went against the current self-esteem craze by recommending selflessness. “Only when I choose to be nothing will I find my everything.” (page 54) Bravo!

Throughout the book, Carroll humbly offers highly personal examples of how she learned the lessons she shares. In chapter five, she emphasizes the truth, “God created me for connecting, not collecting,” with the story of her meeting an Ecuadorian woman who lived under a plastic roof, on a dirt floor and without indoor plumbing. Asked what her greatest need was, the woman said, “My greatest need is to be able to teach my children about Jesus so they will follow the Lord all the days of their lives.” Perhaps it’s a unique pitfall of modern life in Western culture that allows us to carry illusions of perfection.

Eventually, I began to wonder if the author’s use of the term Perfect didn’t just boil down to pride. Isn’t God the Perfect that we actually crave? And yes. Carroll eventually arrives there. “Do you hear the nasty elements we’ve talked about in other chapters — the Good Girl List and a self-crafted image? What looked good on the outside was rotted with pride and vanity on the inside.” (page 157) “It’s not just an ‘issue’ or problem to be a perfectionist. It’s actually sin…True perfection belongs only to God, and when we try to create it ourselves, we’re pushing God out of His rightful spot.”
She offers a solution:  Repentance. “God is beckoning us to lay down all our try-harder ways, lift our gaze, and look to Him.”

There are practical steps to take in gaining freedom. Some are iffy: “Repeat after me: I wasn’t made to pursue Perfect. I’m most amazing when I’m pursuing Jesus.” Some are sound: “Start a journal where you record truths about God’s character as you read.”

Breaking Up with Perfect is a book that could be expanded into a Bible study for women of any age by using the “Going Deeper” section at the end and supplementing with cross-references.

Amy Carroll’s book isn’t the fluff I thought it would be. It prompted me to renew my desire to find my worth and contentment in God alone, to keep my focus on Jesus and through Him, to love others more faithfully.

I have a copy of this book to give away! Enter the draw (to be picked at random by my son Timo on October 19, 2016) in one of two ways:

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      2. Like my Facebook page: Eleanor Bertin, author and leave a comment telling me whether this review was helpful.


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Introducing “Lifelines” and Albertan Novelist Eleanor Bertin

Debbie Hill, a poet, long-time friend and former college classmate from Creative Communications, Red River College, Winnipeg, interviewed me with some incisive questions.

Kites Without Strings

Already he was wishing he hadn’t accepted Anna’s invitation to this last evening gathering of the season. A pod of neighbours was huddled around the crackling blaze by the time he got there. The circle widened affably to receive them and they settled into their lawn chairs, stretching feet to the fire. – Eleanor Bertin*

If you’re closed-minded, too close to the light or the line of fire, or even haunted by JohnMilton’s Paradise Lost, expect to feel uncomfortable but not necessarily in a negative way. Eleanor Bertin’sfirst novel Lifelines (Word Alive Press, 2016)nudges the reader to look inward, to dust off the brain cells, plus think about mortality and his/her purpose on Earth.

eleanor-bertin-photo-by-alyssa-krahn-alyssa-raeanne-photography Eleanor Bertin is a new novelist based in central Alberta. Photo by Alyssa Krahn, Alyssa Raeanne Photography.

On the surface, it’s a home-spun heart-warming yarn threaded with Anna Fawcett’s unflinching morals…

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