Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Birthday Party!

The party was in full swing, the guest of honour making nice in the kitchen, when suddenly she appeared.

"I need to hug my boy right now," she whispered. "It's exactly one year ago that he was born …"


Against all odds, we were gathered this day to celebrate his first birthday. The theme was Curious George, reflecting his genuine interest in everything around him.

His due date was January 20, 2018; his "adjusted age" says he is actually nine months.

He has undergone two major brain surgeries.

Three months in Neonatal Intensive Care.

Numerous trips to clinics and doctors offices.

Regular tests and measurements - of head circumference, of range of motion, of sight and hearing and strength and height and weight  until they all start blurring together.


He has discovered water and the pleasures of swimming lessons and bathing in the kitchen sink.

He has developed a love of music, especially of percussion instruments.

He sits up, stands if he can hang on to the edge of something.

He chatters away, and he laughs. He has favourite stories.


Courtesy of Auntie Rachel
He would rather eat apple sauce and sweet potatoes than birthday cake.

He truly engages with people with whom he comes into contact.

"Hi," he will say.

But across a crowded room, his eyes will search out his parents.


Those four letters spell four words: EVIL, VILE, LEVI, LIVE.

It could have gone either way. But, like the song says, "God can make a way when there seems to be no way."

Levi knows.

He sings himself to sleep: "Way, way, way …"

His mother texted me the day after his birthday: "One of the most impactful things that was said to me in those early days was … that 'none of this is a surprise to God'. The Lord knew that was what my heart needed to hear in that moment and has helped me countless times over the year … God continues to be so faithful and kind." 

Thank you all for your love, your prayers, your kind thoughts and words and messages.

Thank you, Levi, for the many, many people your little life has already touched, for how you bring people together, how you point them to God's faithfulness.


As the Good Rancher would say, "Ride 'em, little Wrangler …"

Sign made by his Uncle Allan.
He actually wore that tiny pea cap ...

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Thanks Giving Day

Don called the Good Rancher on Friday: a few men were going to be slipping into a neighbour's corral and loading up her cattle, as quietly as possible. Hoping to do it on Monday. Was he in?

Oh yes.

Shooting for 11:30.


The Good Rancher has many, many admirable qualities; punctuality is not on that list. Nonetheless, on Monday morning he jumped into Henry the Ford, buckled up and sped to the destination.

He was there at 11:27.

It was -2 and the wind was starting to make its presence felt. Don and Lonnie were waiting for him, and they were joined in short order by Robert, Cliff, Rod, and Glen.

They paused for a moment and then in unison squared their shoulders, took a breath and stealthily made their way to the corral.

They didn't want to spook the cattle.

This was their Thanksgiving gift for their friend.

Everything had seemed a bit off-kilter since two Wednesdays earlier when Barry, good old Barry, had slid out of his chair and his spirit left this earth forever.

His funeral had been the following Wednesday. His cousin Jack officiated, bringing to life for us the young Barry he had known. His three beautiful all-grown-up nieces each gave us glimpses into this man who loved them, who treated children with whom he came into contact with special care and dignity. Following them, his friend Twila spoke - with a sentence or two from her three elder children, who were already missing their buddy.

As the final notes of the final song started to fade, Jack rose, walked over to Rosemary - the love of Barry's life - and gently hugged her. Two of the people closest to Barry, realising the great gap his absence would occupy, clung wordlessly to each other for a long moment.

Each person there to honour him that day would have had their own Barry story. He had a coffee route. He teased a lot, but it was never malicious. When he got something into his head to do, he would do it.

Gopher hunts.

Chopping wood.

Helping a neighbour.


Helping lots of neighbours.

 Making funny faces.

Stettler on Tuesdays with his Rose.

Thanksgiving with Jill and Les. 

One of my favourite Barry memories:
his and Rosemary's 45th anniversary supper
Observing the beavers at work on the lane leading to his house. Observing all the beauty - both extravagant and unobtrusive - this part of the country has to offer. 

No doubt this and much more was on these men's minds as they somberly took their stations and lifted their cattle sticks and got to work, sorting the calves from the cows, tagging the bulls, checking the pens.

Barry's three buddies were there as well, keeping an eye on things - the next generation, learning to love the land.

It was all completed in short order - all these men know their way around a corral! - and after a brief coffee break, they gathered to watch for Jim.

Jim, who left his family Thanksgiving dinner early in order to drive the herd to auction at Olds, trundled up slightly before the time he had said he would be there. 

Clearly, an unspoken code was at work. You might be late for your everyday stuff; for an occasion as weighted as this one, you put your best foot forward for your friend.

The road lurches a bit at the curve, and with the snow and slush, Jim's truck needed a bit of traction. Of course, the guys were one step ahead and the tractor was already running, the chain already prepared.

The animals loaded fairly smoothly - "a beautiful set of cows!" was the verdict. All of them know that a difference of a few cents a pound can make an awful lot of difference to the final payout. They were all relieved for Barry, happy for Rosemary.

The paperwork was done under Ivy's careful tutelage; Debbie was there, keeping the coffee coming, keeping the tears at bay. While the men were out working, the ladies had been recording each tiny detail - drawing brands, locating premises ID numbers, making sure there was no hitch at the receiving end.

And then everyone stood back as Jim climbed up into his truck again. 

Eyes blinked a little faster than usual. "Once you get going, don't stop!" called out Lonnie a bit hoarsely.

Jim headed down the hill; Cliff was already waiting in the tractor, just in case. Fortunately, the tractor's services were not needed again this day.

As the truck pulled out of sight, there was a bit of a general sigh.

"He was a good neighbour … 

"a good rancher … 

"a good friend …

"It was a good day."

It was another example of neighbours helping neighbours in the Byemoor and Endiang community.

It was Thanksgiving Day, 2018.  

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Spring Has Sprung

It was the longest winter I could recall. The first gigantic snow dump occurred on October 2, 2017, the week before Thanksgiving. 

And it stayed, and stayed. 

In May, baby calves were being born into snow drifts; straw for bedding cattle was running out; Dr. Jeff the vet was on speed dial.

The Good Rancher was working virtually around the clock.

"Give it time - spring will show up. It always does; you'll see!" my far more seasoned friends assured me.

The next thing I could remember, the sun was pounding down with record-setting temperatures. Calves were lethargic. Horses were irritable. Flies were everywhere.

And then, on about this last Tuesday, it was winter again.

Snow, stabbing winds, slick roads, temperatures below zero. 

My head, which is usually more angled to the ground than the skies anyway, was now wedged between my shoulder blades. I told myself late, late last night that I simply HAD to get to sleep, that I had to get to church early on the morrow.

This morning I dragged myself from bed, said good morning to the dogs, got myself into reasonable order and climbed into Henry, my first Ford.

As I drove down the squelchy driveway, it dawned on me: they were right! My friends were right! Spring had arrived!

Driving home that afternoon, the temperature was at 3 degrees C. Vivid green was determinedly pushing a carpet through the snow. There was no wind to speak of. The sun was shining!

A mum and her baby calf sat enjoying that sun.

It did strike me as a bit peculiar that there were fresh bales in the fields in spring, but then, this whole year has been a little odd.

When I got home I went outside to see what I could see, to breathe the air, to be.

This would be the first time in well over a year that I had been outside of my own volition, with no agenda: nothing to do, no errand to run, no rush.

It was so quiet. So calm.

Nothing to prove. Nothing to lose.

So right.

The dogs came with me, each with their own thoughts. Musket, the eldest, was just thankful that he could feel the fresh grass on his back, that he could revel in the sun.

Phoebe Snow remembered the joy of discovering buried treasure, and she showed her little sister, Carly Simon - whose first spring this is! - what it is like to dig in the soft, rich soil.

Gunpowder, the one who stays closest to home and who had been informed not too long ago in no uncertain terms that he would never, never be a father, surveyed the scene morosely. Why couldn't he go inside? Perhaps a crumpet or two, with a spot off Earl Grey, would serve to lighten his heirless burden ... 

Earl Grey, however, was having none of it. He was on his own vision quest, faithful sister Phoebe his spotter. Gophers were the prize!

If a gopher sees his shadow, does that mean there will be six more weeks of winter?

Neighbour Jim's plane cleaved the sky and I looked up. 

I looked up ...

If the gopher does not see his shadow and is emboldened to move away from his safety cell, does that mean we will get a much-needed Indigenous people summer? Farmers still have crops in the field, slowly but surely losing value the longer the weather remains uncooperative.

And yet, we need the moisture desperately to get a boost for the growing cycle of next year.

What if the gopher changes his mind? Can he go back into hibernation, snug, sleepy, never knowing that he would be missing this fluky, fabulous fall-into-spring spectacular? 

Having looked up, can I?

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Broken Wings

Today I played the piano at the funeral of someone I had never met, beautiful Halee, whose life was snatched from her at the scant age of 19.

By the end of the tributes, by the time her friends had sung to her, I wished with all my heart that I had known this incredible girl with the big smile and the matching zest for life.

Her aunt bravely read some of Halee's own account of her life: her mommy's life was cut short when Halee was still a toddler; she lived with her grandparents until she was about 8 and then went to be with her dad and his new family.

And the undercurrent of loneliness, of not really belonging, pulled at her until she discovered the librarian at her school and basketball.

The librarian read a heartfelt letter to Halee from her "Mama Bear." 

Her beloved basketball team formed the honour guard as her coffin left the church.

This morning as I was checking the news, I saw the story of another vibrant young woman fighting for her life, fighting the effects of loneliness.

Demi Lovato was in ER on Tuesday morning, according to her rep. Open about being bipolar and her addictions to drugs and alcohol, in 2011 Demi entered rehab. She managed to stay sober for six years. Before every concert, she would host a mental health workshop.

About a month ago, she released a song called “Sober.” She had fallen off the wagon.

Tuesday morning – YESTERDAY morning – she was rushed to the emergency room.

She is fortunate.

She is making it through.

This time.

The point is, with all the treatment and therapy and support and love sent her way from family, the entertainment industry and her fans all over the world, what does she cry in her song?

I don't know, I don't know, I don't know, I don't know why
I do it every, every, every time
It's only when I'm lonely
Sometimes I just wanna cave
And I don't wanna fight
I try and I try and I try and I try and I try
Just hold me, I'm lonely

Her first big break was when she sang the theme song to Barney. She was seven.

This is what she said in an interview in 2013 about that experience:

"Looking back, there was a connection, probably between any kid who's ever sang that song to Barney, a little place in a child’s heart, a void, that could be filled. And maybe Barney fills it.” (Cosmopolitan)

On paper, Demi Lovato has it all. But in spite of people with her all the time, in spite of money, fame, talent, anything she wants at her fingertips, she is lonely.

Listen to the anguish in her voice, read the jagged lyrics, in the link below:

A loneliness that cannot be filled by anything that stardom has to offer. A loneliness and desolation that can only be eased and a comfort that can only be found by trusting in something greater than oneself.

Something greater than the loneliness itself.

It was 2005 when I got the news from his brother. Maynard, one of my oldest and best friends, had been found alone in a motel room.

He had phoned me a few days earlier: he had just completed another stint at rehab and this time, he was confident, was different. He was going to make his way home to his girls.

I flew to Kansas for his funeral. It remains one of the darkest days of my life.

With all the love and support from his family and friends, why did he still feel so alone?

A couple of years later I was introduced to Robinella's very fine album Solace for the Lonely. A song, "Whippin Wind," encapsulates to a certain degree Maynard's and my friendship:

The song comforted me that now, maybe, he is free. It comforted me today again when I thought about Halee.

As I left Halee's funeral, I mused on what is greater than loneliness, what can take away this all-encompassing pain that some of us have to bear.

And I thought of him, hanging at the brink of death, crying out, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?"

Jesus Himself, alone. Lonely.

He died so that we do not have to suffer that excruciating loneliness, that feeling of being utterly bereft.

And so for those of us who struggle with soul-crushing loneliness, with the shattering feeling of not belonging, of not knowing where we fit in, I leave you with a song from Austins Bridge that offers hope in that awful blanketing darkness: