Awesome!

“Isn’t it egotistical for God to insist on people praising him? Is he so insecure that he has to hear compliments all the time?”

Atheists and faith-hostile television personalities have asked these and similar questions in recent years. Answering the question by saying, “God created us for His glory” only begs the question. I’ve wondered, myself, about lines of scripture that command us to:

“Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD, Praise the name of the LORD!”

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photo by Monsieur

Watching the snow silently cover my world in the past week, coating every branch and bough and softening the stark winter landscape into a puffy white fairyland, I had a moment. One of those chest-swelling sensations that fills you with wonder and marvel and inexplicable joy. I’ve experienced such moments many times before. The extravagant brush-strokes of neon splendour in a lush and wild prairie sunrise. The softer-than-warm-air skin of a newborn, that when you kiss his cheek, makes you wonder if your lips have made contact. Hoar frost twinkling and dazzling in the pink light of a winter’s dusk. All these make my heart-strings begin to play the Hallelujah Chorus.

I’m not alone in that response.

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Magnificent photos of the Pillars of Creation, “three giant columns of cold gas bathed in the scorching ultraviolet light from a cluster of young, massive stars in a small region of the Eagle Nebula, or M16” elicit the same reaction. Every single viewer’s comment in the long list of replies was one of awe, marvel, wonder. It’s the most natural and fitting response. Most left a simple, “Beautiful!” But one comment resonated with me.

“Sometimes I encounter such beautiful images that it’s so overwhelming and makes me want to cry at the beauty and awe of such a sight. This is one of them.”

Pioneer photographer, Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley who created the first photograph of a snow crystal on January 15, 1885 experienced such a moment too. It took years of practice combining the new technology of photography with microscopy, learning to handle the snow crystal quickly and efficiently before it could melt away, getting enough light on the subject and adjusting the camera’s aperture for a sharp image.

“The day that I developed the first negative made by this method and found it good, I felt almost like falling on my knees beside that apparatus and worshipping it. It was the greatest moment of my life,” Bentley said.

Symmetry, intricacy, beauty, grandeur — these evidences of a creative power so far beyond ourselves call for songs of loudest praise. That’s why it’s not unseemly for the Creator of it all to urge us to engage in worship (“worth ship”). He is entirely worthy of our honour and praise.

To think that “The LORD [who] is high above all nations, His glory above the heavens… humbles Himself to behold the things that are in the heavens and in the earth” (Psalm 113) by entering His own creation produces another of those moments of heart-stopping, trembling awe.

“Glory to God in the highest!”

 

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The Mess of Productivity

This was my kitchen table last week.

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Yeah, I tidied it up a bit for the picture. But it sure was messy. I’m working on Christmas gifts and a quilting project using my dad’s old ties. There are interview notes for a news story I was working on, preparations for a women’s Bible study I lead, papers to bring to a Toastmasters meeting and government business to attend to.

Back in the days when all our kids were still at home, it used to get far worse — heaped with schoolwork, baby toys, sewing, business papers, LEGO, crumbs…

A proverb from the Bible brought me contentment in those days with the way things so often looked, and it did when I read it again the day I took this photo. “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” (Prov. 14:4)

The idea here is that a lot more farming can be accomplished with oxen, but that growth comes at a price — animals need to be fed and watered, housed, trained and protected.

Back then, I had plenty of mess and responsibility, but I also had plenty of oxen (children) so more could be accomplished. All that growth and productivity doesn’t come without mess, both material mess and emotional, relational mess. But eventually, something new, improved, home-grown rises out of all the detritus. From the messy table of yesteryear have grown our adult children who bring us joy and make it all worthwhile. And from last week’s messy table?

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Princess dresses for my twin granddaughters to play in.

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The Down and Dirty on my Homeschooling Career

Today I’m being interviewed by fellow home educator and fellow writer, Loretta Bouillon, https://lorettabouillon.wordpress.com/  about my 25 years of homeschooling.

Her questions took me on a trip down memory lane complete with a load of emotional baggage. There’s so much I could have said but, I mean, it’s a blog post. Not a 3-volume epic trilogy.

I’d love to know how some of you would have answered these questions…

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How to Write a Novel in a Gazillion Easy Steps

“What if…” That’s the question that’s the gleam in the eye of a writer when they begin writing a novel.

“What if renowned atheist Richard Dawkins lived next door to my mother?”

That was the question that popped into my mind as I read Lee Strobel’s book The Case for a Creator back in the summer of 2009. I wrote a page and a half of what I thought would be a short story… and left it.

Ideas kept coming, however.

  • What if the atheist professor had a shameful secret in his past?
  • What kind of influence does one solitary, loving, consistent Christian have in this world?
  • What is the value of human life, especially when that life has some disability?

Other story threads began to weave themselves into a plot that expanded beyond short story length:

  • a teacher in a crisis pregnancy
  • a character patterned after my own son with Down Syndrome (what actually does go on in the minds of people with mental disabilities?)
  • unique and colourful neighbourhood characters who are impacted by a simple woman who lives biblically.

I’d wanted to write a book since 1971 when I optimistically numbered a stack of pages 1 – 100. (I filled seven of those pages. Years later as I was reading a pioneer story to our kids, I was horrified to recognize what I had written as a child sounded an awful lot like that book I read to them!)

 

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Now here it was in my mind — a novel! All I had to do was write it down. How hard could it be? I’d read books that left me thinking, “I could do better than that.” On my way to publishing this book, I learned a few things.

  • Novels are much harder to write than you think. Pacing (the order and timing at which things happen in the novel) is really difficult to get right. Consistency is another critical thing — you can’t, as one astute reader of an early version of my manuscript noticed, have a character buying salt ‘n vinegar chips only to crunch down on nachos a paragraph later.
  • The book you read in a couple of days, the writer has sweated over for years, composing, revising, dreaming about, rearranging, proofreading, editing..
  • A novel is an invitation to join the writer in a journey to an imaginary world. The author knows and has lived with these characters intimately for a long time before introducing them to you via a book.
  • When writers talk about their characters not behaving as they’re supposed to, or the plot taking turns unplanned by the author, it’s not just an affectation. It really happens. Weird. My main character misbehaved early on. I found it almost impossible for me to write for a long period of time directly from the perspective of a super-antagonistic atheist. So I redirected that system of thought to a lesser character and made my main character more of a searcher-of-ideas.
  • Truth is stranger than fiction. Real life people are so interesting and many-faceted that no author could make them up. The fiction disclaimer you see in the front of novels (“This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.”) is quite true. But it’s also true that the characters in the novel are composites of real people — a sort of cobbling together of many life experiences and stories all bound together by the plot in the author’s imagination.
  • Those typos and little inconsistencies you notice as you read? They’re nothing compared to the mess it started out as. Everyone needs an editor!
  • Best places to write? At the public swimming pool while waiting for my son. In the guest room I shared with my youngest son at my daughter’s house, after a day spent with my twin granddaughters. In both those cases, I was away from home, without its demands or responsibilities. And the “white noise” of water or snoring seemed to help block out distractions.
  • A patient, encouraging husband is a wonderful thing. He was the one who heard my wails of despair when the word count seemed too small, and cries of joy when it grew by leaps and bounds. And I’ve lost count of the many times he heard me say, “It’s finally done,” only to hear my pen scratching away in the night when a new idea struck me.

Well, it really is done now. Once the cover art is complete, my novel, Lifelines, will be on its way to typesetting and publication. It should be coming out in the new year. I plan to add contact information to my blog, but if you’re interested in reading the book, leave a comment with your email address and I can let you know when it’s ready to order.

 

 

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Renovations: The House, The Heart, The Blog

Much like my life, this blog has morphed into something unexpected.

When our youngest son was born with Down syndrome in 1997, I remember thinking, “we are not going to become a Down syndrome family.” What I meant by that is that I didn’t want the disability of one of our seven children to define and describe all of us. I was resisting a label not of my choosing, much like someone whose expectation had been lifelong marriage would resist the label “divorced.” I was bucking the idea that I was not in control.

But in the 18 years since then, I’ve learned that I most certainly am not in control – neither of my life nor of the lives of any of those in my family: God is. He uses the experiences of life to influence and form us. Taken together and over a lifetime, they do define us and describe us.

Now a different kind of curve ball has begun to define me and my family. We’re “the ones whose teenage son was killed in a hit-and-run accident.” I’m aware of this less from the comments people of our community make than by the careful avoidance of that topic even though they know, and I know they know.

This blog was begun, as I’ve written before, to chronicle the renovation of our old house and the lessons in contentment God has taught me through it. For many months I made no mention in my posts of the tragic death of our son. That was because it didn’t fit the light-hearted approach I took to the struggles of living amidst a major remodelling.

But the posts I’ve finally written about Paul’s death and the subsequent court case are  the ones most read. I don’t really know why that is. Perhaps the deepest fear parents have — loss of a child — prompts them to read about it in someone else’s life. I can understand that. To be forewarned is to be forearmed, my mother used to say. Yet, to me, it felt somehow self-serving (“look how much I’ve suffered”) or opportunistic (“read all about my son’s death so I can get a blog following”) to broadcast such tender vulnerability.

I’ve come to see that labels and categorization are great on your spice shelf, and not so helpful to define life. So I’m changing the subheading of my blog to better reflect what God is really about in my life: Renovating my home and heart.

I’ll be trying to show the progress we make on windows and walls, without avoiding mention of the deeper trials and tears.

The latest — exterior siding — Yea! (The areas left undone await a verandah roof and the bandboards under the eaves. Next summer’s work

Please don’t think me callous and flippant if one post is on our new exterior siding, and the next one deals with aspects of grieving! Cause that’s just how life is, right?

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The Judge’s Sentence

Much mumbo jumbo followed our victim impact statements as the prosecution and defense discussed the few case precendents set in Canada for the relatively new law regarding “failure to give assistance”.

When the defense lawyer rose to make his case, he first turned to us and on behalf of his client, expressed condolences for our loss. He said nothing that happened in court that day would make up for that loss. He noted that we appeared to be people of faith and hoped that our faith would be a comfort to us. I was touched… briefly.

Then he turned to the judge and began to make his case for the immediate release of his client by saying the responsibility for the events of October 6, 2012 began long before the collision. Essentially, he blamed Paul for having been on the bridge. “The offences charged did not cause Paul’s death.”

Apparently it’s common practice for the defense to describe mitigating circumstances and the accused’s background prior to sentencing. He explained that the accused was an only child, adopted as an infant, bright and accomplished (he’d attained Grade 8 Conservatory standing in music), graduated from high school and attended college one year. As a teen he’d struggled with depression and his parents thought it might be helpful if he met his birth family. Living with that family for six months led him to an addiction. His parents then sent him to rehab where he overcame his mental illness and addiction. From there he came to Alberta to work in the oil patch, impressing his boss with his work. While in jail since February, he has at times been triple bunked and has suffered PTSD.

The defense argued that time served under such crowded and difficult circumstances (commonly counted 1.5 to 2 times the sentence period) amounted to almost a one year sentence and therefore, the accused had already served the necessary time.

The judge next asked the defendant if he would like to address the court.

I was surprised at how quickly C. rose and said he would. He turned toward us and seemed sincere when he said, “I am so sorry for my mistake… Paul will be a name I never forget.”

And then he continued. It was as though the first part was prepared (defense lawyers advise their clients that showing remorse in court can translate to leniency in sentencing) but the second half seemed to be a direct response to having read and heard our victim impact statements.

“I’m very thankful,” he said, with some fervency, “to hear your voices and what you had to say … I will always remember Paul and the Bertin family.” (I wasn’t taking notes so this is abbreviated.)

Court that day had a different atmosphere, difficult for me to describe. Less adversarial perhaps? The defense, as a group, more resigned?

When the judge returned with his verdict, he used the words of other judges in similar cases, describing the actions of leaving an injured person as “deplorable”.

The accused, the judge said, was solely responsible for the accident and subsequent offences. He made “a conscious decision to leave the scene and left a dying man on the bridge alone to suffer the indignity of being run over a second time, something that wouldn’t have happened had Mr. C. remained.”

C. was sentenced to 28 months, less two months for remorse expressed in court, a 2-year driving ban following his release and ordered to give a DNA sample. The judge said he did not feel obligated to give full 1.5 credit for time served. (It was the defendant’s fault he’s been in provincial jail since February for having run away from court in January.) A 30-day sentence for the public mischief charge of lying to police about his car being stolen is to be served concurrently.

So, 16 more months  in jail and a 24 month driving prohibition.

It could seem as though this is the societal value of my son’s life. But we went into court fully aware that there would be no more than a 2 to 3 year sentence. As far as man’s justice is able, justice has been served. The legal system can only address what can be proven beyond reasonable doubt — and for all our sakes, we want it to be that way. A human judge can never judge the state of a man’s heart, or his thoughts and intentions if he doesn’t disclose them.

But God knows the full truth of what happened that night three years ago. While I rest in the promise of ultimate divine justice, I also shudder. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” I actually don’t wish divine retribution on anyone, and I pray C. will come to God for the forgiveness He so freely and graciously offers all who repent.

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My Victim Impact Statement

I was very nervous about reading my statement in court. We’d been offered the option of reading our statements ourselves, having them read to the court or not read by anyone but the judge, the prosecutor, the defence counsel and the defendant. I remembered the conciliatory tone I’d written it in but the animosity I’d felt from defendant’s parents made me fearful.

But since my husband chose to read his, I did too. This was the one chance to speak for Paul publicly, he later told me. Tomorrow I’ll tell you what effect this appeared to have on the accused as well as the atmosphere in court.

Here is what I said:

What impact does the death of a teenage son have? How does it affect a family?

In order to function, you must always set aside a vital part of yourself. Otherwise, everything is a reminder of the boy you once had and now don’t. And everything makes you cry.

From the kitchen spices that he’d use to generously sprinkle on the breakfast sandwiches he made for his little brother and himself … to the couch he always sat on, watching movies with us … to the places in your memory that picture so vividly the chattering little boy he once was, busy researching jewels or writing down codes and serial numbers in his notebook titled: Plans for World Domination … to his red guitar so silent now… All the ordinary things of his life hold a painful significance.

Christmas and holidays bring our family together but always with a hole, unfillable by any other person. The nieces he loved so much will grow up not remembering him and his new nephew will never meet him. In the line-up of five handsome groomsmen at his older brother’s wedding last summer, the place that should have been Paul’s was filled by a friend. But it’s always a gap to us.

After the initial shock of being awakened at 4:55 a.m. by the police at your door with terrible, incomprehensible news – something that fills every subsequent night waking with images of flashing lights – you learn to settle down to the reality of permanent loss.

But it’s that very permanence, first noticeable when you lay your unrecognizable son in his coffin, then when you see his name and dates carved irrevocably on his headstone that carries with it the unexpected pain.

You get over the first confused expectation that surely he’ll come home with his brothers for the weekends, but as his friends begin to graduate from college and get married, you realize every milestone of life they experience you’ll be thinking of what might have been for your son.

The most painful thing for me in the face of the permanent loss of our son has been the questions for which in this life there will never be an answer.

What would he have become? How would he have used his considerable intellect and musical gifts?

Once he got past the stage where it was so hard to express deeply personal views, what would he have said about life and God, love and family? Would he have given us as parents commendation for how we raised him, as his siblings have? Did he know how much we loved him?

And where is he now? Did he clearly understand and trust that when God’s Son Jesus was so cruelly executed more than 2000 years ago, he was the substitute, taking the penalty for Paul’s sin?

It’s because of Jesus and the promise he brought for life after this life that we have the assurance these questions will one day be answered.

In the meantime, the name of B— C—- is now permanently linked to our family. As I have prayed for him and his family and will continue to do so, I’ve asked that he would understand the extreme seriousness of the loss of a human life. But I also pray he would understand that even though the actions of a moment may have life-and-death consequences there can be forgiveness from God and others when there is genuine repentance. I pray he would experience that and would live the rest of his life recognizing it as a gift from God and honouring Him in it.

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