It appears to be a starless night, but that’s only because of the clouds, obscuring the light. I’m bowed before the woodstove on the round carpet that’s become my prayer rug, a place where my forehead meets the ground and the Holy Spirit falls. The air smells of wood chips and ash, and I’m praying…
Since I was young, I’ve longed to see Jesus. I’ve longed to encounter God in a very physical way. And most every Alberta winter, when the sky is just a scroll of black parchment and the stars wink of some ancient secret, when the path beneath our feet crunches of snow and ice and the…
The sun is unforgiving as I wait for my friend, seated on a blue bench in a school park across from the church. A tractor rumbles somewhere in the distance. I glance up at the steeple of one of the three Reformed churches in this farming hamlet and wonder, Why us, Lord? Are we even…
I’m seated amidst a sea of black dresses and suits in the glaring heat of a summer afternoon. There’s the faint smell of lilacs. We’re outside on white plastic chairs in a semi-circle facing a table of photos of a man who died at 33 years old, after being rendered paralyzed five years earlier through a car accident.
I walk the long lonely gravel roads of our small Alberta hamlet, past farm fields giving way to spring, under a night sky studded with the same stars Father Abraham once knew. I’m worshiping in this darkest hour but my worship turns to weeping as I remember the German Minister of Finance Thomas Schaefer, his body found by train-tracks, presumably suicide, at the end of March.
I’m driving to my in-laws’ farm. It’s after supper and the gravel roads are empty, just like the churches, just like the schools, just like the stores in nearly every town, every city, every region and every continent. It’s Spring of 2020 and COVID-19 has taken over in what World Health Organization has called a pandemic, and for once it would seem we are completely unified – fighting the same invisible virus.
It was a week when the world froze over in northern Alberta. A week when mercury slid below forty and schools closed and traffic halted. When the power went off one night for a few hours, our hearts stopped too, and neighbours huddled around one another’s woodstoves to eat and pray. Not knowing that in this same week, in the same county, a man was sitting stranded, in his vehicle, stuck in the sandhills, for nearly three days before being found.
I’m pressing a cool cloth to his forehead and next I’ll be removing the bedsheets because this is a bad flu. My husband of 17 years peers at me over the top of the duvet, his hazel eyes sorry, and I nod and swallow and quietly shut the door. The house smells of woodsmoke and chicken noodle soup. Next it’s the kids’ turn and I know I’ll be sick last because that’s how it goes. Somehow grace keeps you serving one after the other until the body knows it can finally rest. And that’s when it collapses.
We’re gathered in my living room, a whiskey oak candle flickering on the counter, muffins and cookies and a platter of fruit lined up obediently and a gust of wind blowing wood smoke like an old man’s beard against the window panes. The air inside smells like burning pine and melting wax and brewed coffee. We’re gathered in chairs and on couches, talking about the recent election and our children and our prayers for the future. Bible commentaries and different translations of Scripture sit askew on the coffee table in the middle of the living room and I pick up the guitar and we sing together “Speak Oh Lord” by Keith Getty.
We’re making cards from construction paper, gluing sparkly balls and pipe cleaner-bows, my hand cupping theirs as we trace out Merry Christmas. “Peace on Earth” plays over the speakers. My sons are too little to know of protests in Hong Kong, of wildfires, of the nuclear arms race. Their world consists of this oval kitchen table. It consists of Mommy’s hands on theirs and strawberry milk in sippy cups and Christmas music and dancing in the living room.
I’m biking past canola, a bright yellow blanket of flowers, like fields of God’s glory. The sky is stretched grey and yawning overhead, and I hear the swish of a bird’s wing and the ribbiting of frogs. And as I quiet my spirit, I hear the purest sound of all, a voice so quiet and so true:
The greatest battle on earth is the one that takes place between our ears. The battle of the mind. It started when I began to squint my eyes for the camera. I wanted to create laughter lines in a laughter-less face.Then I began sucking in my cheeks. I liked how it made me look thinner, model-like.