Saturday, November 29, 2014


I accidentally came across
her tracks this morning.
evidence of a crossing

I've been looking for grace,
looking for signs
marks in the dirt
or snow

occasionally scattered
across this long road we travel

saturated so that we cannot
distinguish it from the soil we tred

deep wells of grace
we linger long
at these reservoirs
drinking deeply

shafts of grace
shimmering through the shadows
illuminating the healing
the laughter

shards of grace
sometimes sharp
cutting away
burdens we need not carry

she came this way once too
looking for grace
leaving marks on the pages
for me to follow

This season's search for grace led me to Philip Yancy's "What's so Amazing about Grace", a book that I must have claimed from Mom and Dad's bookshelves in the days of their dismantling.  Mom's name and address are on the inside cover, and her notes and highlights are all through the book.  
As I read the book, with her handwriting in the margins, I realized again how strangely disorienting it is to have her gone ... this woman whose tracks I have noted - sometimes to follow them, sometimes to avoid, but always they have been like a compass bearing.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

from Morning Glory Monday, through Wild Things, to Advent ... some children's books that I love

Morning Glory Monday, by Arlene Alda and Maryann Kovalski.

I found this one at the Farmer's market in Riversdale one sunny August Saturday morning this past summer.  Saskatoon Public Libraries were giving away books!  This tells a wonderful story about morning glories rampantly overtaking the neighborhoods around this family in New York, bringing laughter back to a mother and her family.

The next three came home after a trip to the local library - a combination of Logan grabbing random books off the shelves, and me finding intriguing titles.

Blueberry Shoe... about picking berries and lost things being found many times ...

by Ann Dixon & Evon Zerbetz.

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Wombat Walkabout... because I love my garden walkabouts  
by Carol Diggory Shields, illustrated by Sophie Blackall.

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Where the Wild Things Are... because we have a few wild things around
Stories and Pictures by Maurice Sendak.

And then as we head into Advent, here are some of my favorites ...

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, written by Barbara Robinson in 1971.  I've read it for my own enjoyment, I have read it once out loud during a Christmas holiday with my family and my sister's family crowded around on the living room floor, and we have put it on as a Christmas play in our church.  I love this story, and the Herdman children's response to Christmas.

Jotham's Journey was recommended to me by a good friend who has three sons who enjoyed this story. It is a riveting and harrowing tale of a young boy in Palestine, taking him on an adventure that intersects with the Christmas story.  Not for young children, for there are some scenes that are disturbing. There are chapters for every day of Advent, and many days end with a cliff hanger that keep you engaged in the story.

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Christmas in the Trenches.  I first heard this story through a song sung by Royal at the Rosebud Theatre.  Tales have been told about Christmas Eve in the Great War, now some 100 years ago ... where on the front lines, the enemy troops ceased from war for just a few hours.

And I've just discovered the existence of these two partner books by Ann Voskamp:  The Greatest Gift, and Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. I think that they will soon find a home on my shelves.  With her signature rich imagery she invites readers and families to create a Jesse Tree, walking together through the days before Christmas.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


He found the old stethoscope buried beneath the dragon costumes, the monkey puppet, the glittery gold and black cloth for draping princesses, the puppy slippers, and stuffed camels of various and sundry shapes and sizes.  The toy box had gone into hiding as my little boys became teenagers, and then young men, taking with it the dragon hoods and batman mask, and the forts that housed them all.  But we brought it back out last week, and the new little boys went digging for treasure.

I put the stethoscope into Tyler's ears and as he heard the sound of his heart beating, his eyes grew large and he became utterly still.  A completely new sound captured all of his attention.

Later, after their wonderful mom came home, she turned on her new and favorite album, and we started singing as we made pizza.  Logan's favorite song from their favorite album came on, and she said, "Show grandma how you sing this song".  The same focused and still expression over took him as he sang with Rend Collective and his mom - a song he knew and loved.  He almost stopped once when he saw me watching him - distracted by someone else's attention - but when I looked away he engaged again, singing a beautiful song, concentrating so very very hard.

Maybe this is one of the ways Jesus had in mind when he invited us to be like little children . . .

Monday, November 17, 2014

yelling ... or writing yourself into a beginning

Sometimes you have to write yourself into a beginning, says Madeleine L'Engle

the simmering of ideas are
too easily calmed by
 wandering along someone else's
 well marked paths
 redirecting thoughts
rather than letting silence and
  words form them

write something everyday before bed
write about one thing -

the yelling
... the Rider nation yelling

the wearing of green
   the grin, the hope
   the hop and skip through the hall because
   it is game day

the yelling ...
   with despair
   sheer rush of adrenalin

yelling... the long, loud yelling after a touchdown
   or interception
   or fumble

and laughter, cheering ... yelling
when the clock winds down, and
Rider green is celebrating on the field

(written December 18, 2013)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

streets in unknown neighborhoods

ah, poems amount to so little when you write them too early in your life. You ought to wait and gather sense and sweetness for a whole lifetime, and a long one if possible, and then, at the very end, you might perhaps be able to write ten good lines. For poems are not, as people think, simply emotions (one has emotions early enough) -- they are experiences. For the sake of a single poem, you must see many cities, many people and Things, you must understand animals, must feel how birds fly, and know the gesture which small flowers make when they open in the morning. You must be able to think back to streets in unknown neighborhoods, to unexpected encounters, and to partings you had long seen coming; to days of childhood whose mystery is still unexplained, to parents whom you had to hurt when they brought in a joy and you didn't pick it up (it was a joy meant for somebody else -- ); to childhood illnesses that began so strangely with so many profound and difficult transformations, to days in quiet restrained rooms and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along high overhead and went flying with all the stars,--and it is still not enough to be able to think of all that. You must have memories of many nights of love, each one different from all the others, memories of women screaming in labor, and of light, pale, sleeping girls who have just given birth and are closing again. But you must also have been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the scattered noises. And it is not yet enough to have memories. You must be able to forget them when they are many, and you must have the immense patience to wait until they return. For the memories themselves are not important. Only when they have changed into our very blood, into glance and gesture, and are nameless, no longer to be distinguished from ourselves -- only then can it happen that in some very rare hour the first word of a poem arises in their midst and goes forth from them

The page (91) is folded over.  The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke.  Edited and Translated by Stephen Mitchell.  Published by Vintage International in 1989.

I discovered Rilke many years ago, but did not write anything on the flyleaf so I do not remember the year, or which airport chose this book to display to the travelers who happened by.
I do remember thinking that this must be true ... yet could not possibly be.
Surely I could write without all of this.

It is not a checklist exactly,
but a frame for the experiences of life.
And if it were completely true,
one would never write
... one never could be ready.
But it is so close to being true, that all of life contributes to all that might be written.

... somehow it has lodged in my mind, and as the years and the friendships, the holidays by the sea, laughter around the table, sorrows that have collected,
walking through Winnipeg neighborhoods with my daughter
the Winnipeg where I was born
but not these neighborhoods,
grandsons playing in the backyard,
sons grown into young men
-- the memories --
as they all gather and then disperse into hidden corners of heart and mind, I return again and again to these words penned by Rainer Maria Rilke, and wonder what is churning about, set into motion by this life.  I will not know until I sit down to write.

it seems that there lies a woman, waiting to be set into writ.
she is spent   ...   but not really finished    
there is also a little braided girl, watching as the kittens tumble about on a bale of hay.

They seem to be one and the same - the woman and the child.
(As I write, my orange cat settles onto my lap between my computer and me, with its head draped over my right wrist, being jostled up and down as I type ... and now I am distracted.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

telling stories

This email conversation began in February,
after a morning coffee at City Perks
with a colleague and friend, Eileen Klassen Hamm.

Sent: February-12-14 9:34 PM
To: Darlene Klassen
Subject: why do we tell stories

Darlene, your question has been playing at the edges these days ...

why do we tell stories

 to remember
 an exquisite taste
 a tender touch
 an enchanting voice

 to remember
 who we are

 our bellies
 can't hold the laughter
 our lungs
 can't contain the pain

 the words
 need to breathe

 to speak splendor
 among the shadows
 to grasp life
 from the edges of hell
 to forge beauty
 out of sharp shards

 we must tell stories

emkh, 12feb2014

Darlene, February 13

 This is a gift.  A friend who responds to a morning visit over coffee
 with a poem.  A woman whose name tells a bit of a story.
 My mind kept going in the trajectory of your note ... and the line of initials for your name

 My name story is Darlene Gloria Krahn Driedger Klassen.  By the time I
 knew how important these last names were, I had let one slip away, and
 didn't know if I should hang onto the second.  Apparently I might have
 been a Valerie if mom's younger sister hadn't just finished naming her
 daughter Valerie.


 Why do we tell stories, indeed.

 To capture fleeting shadows
 And speak them back into the light

 to travel well-worn paths
 of meaning
 and stumble into the brush as we wander through the wondering of parts
 untold, and pieces that cannot fit


Eileen, March12 

My second given name is Mae, after my auntie Clara Mae. She was the oldest in my Dad's family, and she died of cancer when she was 13, making my Dad the oldest living sibling. As Dad and my uncle and two aunties become old, wise, generous souls, I am struck by the task of grieving someone I never knew. But surely, Clara Mae would have also been a wise and generous auntie. And all I received was her name.

we tell stories
to re-member ourselves

Darlene: (Somewhere in the midst of these conversations, I was reading 

Rudy Wiebe's "Big Bear", from the Extraordinary Canadians series ...)

There once was a baby boy born at Jackfish Lake, near present-day North Battleford, Saskatchewan, who would grow up to receive the Cree name Mistahimaskwa, Big Bear.  His father was Mukatai, Black Powder, a Saulteaux who had long been chief of a Plains Cree band, and his mother was either Cree or Saulteaux.  Her name was perhaps too powerful to speak aloud, because no one can remember it.  Her name is simply given as None.
...Mistahi Maskwa.  Maskwa meaning “bear,” but mistahi in particular, so together meaning “Much ... or A-Whole-Lot-Of Bear.”  Which, upon contemplation, could shape-shift into More-Than-Enough Bear.  

Darlene,  March 15  

Randy took me to a wonderful concert at the Broadway last weekend ... April Verch is a fiddling dancer whom I had never heard before, but Randy is great at discovering live music that feels like we are in someone’s living room and gives us a taste of travel to a different world. 

I’ve listened to fiddlers before, but have never been struck by the stories of the tunes… not the stories that the words tell, but the stories of the tunes themselves.  April talked about sitting for hours on the porch with one of the old fiddlers in her life so that she could learn his tunes.  His tunes were the ones he had played all of his life, and when he left this world, his tunes would go with him.  Her band discovered a treasury of old fiddle tunes that one of the universities in the deep south had recorded, and they sit for hours listening to the tunes and learning them.  They played fiddle, banjo/stand up bass, and a mean guitar.

Sometimes they sang –a rich celtic treble trio, sometimes she danced.  She said it was an Ottawa valley dance, born in the halls of loggers that came from Ireland and Poland and several other countries who eventually danced together to the same violins till their feet created whole new dance stories with a flavor of the Ottawa valley.

And I thought to myself – we never danced.  Thought it was wrong. 
Was it wrong to not tell stories with our feet or our fiddles? 

My dad did dance though.  In our kitchen, sometimes when he was happy.  Stamping his feet with his arms raised in the air – and singing “ hey a ho”.  And he would dance with the grandchildren on his shoulders … through the hall and the kitchen.   Come to think of it.  I had forgotten that.  And he danced at his son’s wedding, when his grandchildren pulled him onto the dance floor.  

... telling stories with our dances, our names, our lives ...

Thursday, July 3, 2014

why we stay

Morden sunrise

There is a restless wind this morning.  

My bike brought me home through the river valley after a wonderful morning visit, with light scents of wild roses now dominating the earlier spring's lilac and wolf willow. 

 I love this river valley ... this ever changing path of water that etches its trail on the land.  The river is high these days, attempting to assist the land up-stream to drain away the crippling excess.  
Our land runneth over.  
Water and wind re-arranging our carefully tended worlds.  

MB Mission has developed an inspiring video series entitled “This is why we go.”  I have watched the videos with gratitude, as they show such an interesting perspective of the life one of our students have lived during her internship.
The words "This is why we go” which scroll across the screen have bounced around in my mind, and then transposed to the thought ... “This is why we stay”.  Why are we called to this place called Bethany College, a cluster of buildings and a campus in the town of Hepburn, close to the growing city of Saskatoon, close to the northern communities and reserves which are shaping many conversations in our province, close to the river valley?  With a degree of separation, we have a chance to create a community, to invest in a community of faith that is focused on learning, on living out our faith.

Nurturing disciples, and training leaders to serve is our mission at Bethany College.  For many of us – for me, this is a mission that I would be pursuing even if Bethany was not my primary vocation.  I love the opportunity to launch believers into the direction and settings that we see God calling them.  When I worked at West Portal as a children’s minister, I loved finding that volunteer for children’s ministry, and putting them into their sweet spot where they would come to me months later to tell me about conversations they had with their Grade 5 boys, and watch them leading a group of young men towards Christ.  It was a privilege to train them as they served, giving them tools to do their work better.

At Bethany, we study, and live, and serve so that we will better understand and live out the purpose for which our God has shaped us.  We invite people to be still for a time; to study, to consider, to learn and grow, to prepare mind, heart and skills for serving Christ. 
We nourish and train, challenge and walk beside, and then – always – we launch.  
Ours is not a landing place for a long time.    

Why do I stay?  Because I believe that the world we live in needs disciples of Jesus Christ who love him wholeheartedly, who seek him, who obey him and live for him in all of the wonderful variety of vocations available – pastoring, teaching, global mission, local service, artists, builders, managers and entrepreneurs.  We need people who understand the scriptures and our times, and walk unafraid into these days because of the God they serve.  This is why I stay.  

We have just learned that Bethany will be able to open our doors for the fall, though with a significantly altered team configuration.  
We anticipate what God will do in all of our lives - whether we stay, or whether we go.  We grieve the losses, and pray that God would guide and direct us forward.  So many things are being re-arranged, re-configured.  
Praying for wisdom, grace and courage; and a strong, growing sense that He is faithful.