Spring fatigue—it’s a thing, right? Tiredness that we wish we could shake off even as the days lengthen in northern climes? Instead of more energy as daylight hours increase, lethargy. Instead of buoyancy, weariness.

In my part of the world in the Canadian Pacific Southwest, the sap is rising, yes. I can hardly complain! Snowdrops poke up through the soil, snowdrops soon to openand green stems make bold promises to become daffodils and tulips in the coming weeks. But the days are often grey, and a surprise snowfall, rare, is almost, dare I say it, fun? Be careful what you wish for! I will say this: it’s certainly brighter.

Is it still cold out there? Perceptions of ideal temperatures vary, as I recently tested out with some of my university students. “What do you think was the ideal temperature in the Garden of Eden? Like maybe 30 Celsius?” I asked. Some looked mildly shocked, protesting, “Too hot! More like 20 Celsius.” I was surprised: such hardy young folk that I get to teach! I said, “You must be Canadian! But . . . remember, they weren’t wearing clothing in Eden.” No, my vocal students were firm: 20 Celsius it was. As you can probably guess, though I’m Canadian born and raised, and love some frosty snowy days, especially if I can get up into the mountains, I’m a summer child at heart. The hammock, the canoe, warm summer evenings. I long for those balmy days, and so in my impatience the sap seems to rise very slowly, too slowly, in my view. Old Man Winter lingers too long even as harbingers of spring arrive. Then again, I delight in blustery winter-going-on-spring days at the seashore Cresent Beachthat invite greater numbers of eagles to soar on the updraft and flocks of smaller birds to huddle together as they ride the waves in community. Glide, ride–this is how to take in stormier weather. Perhaps the shorebirds can teach me a thing or two about beauty in the waiting.

Patience is an underrated idea. C. S. Lewis has said there are three kinds of patience: patience with God, patience with others, and patience with yourself. I suspect the third kind, patience with yourself, could be the hardest kind of patience to practice. Be patient with myself as I navigate spring fatigue? Don’t expect too much? Pace myself? Rest?

Google “spring tiredness” and lots of articles pop up on what it’s like, why some of us have it, and what to do about it. In German it’s called Frühjahrsmüdigkeit, and whenever my mother referred to it I felt relieved, and thought, “Okay, it’s not just me. It’s a thing. People get this way—and, importantly, it’ll pass.”

But meanwhile, whatever happened to all the fine plans for the new year? Why can’t one do more–faster, better? It’s not only university students in March and April who wonder, “How will I get it all done?!” Judge each day by the seeds you plantAbsolutely: “Even youths grow tired and weary. . . .” And beware: with this season of fatigue they say the rates of depression and anxiety peak. Then, in these last couple of years especially, how often have you heard people say, “Everyone is so tired, so tired.” How often have you noticed a kind of exhaustion, physical and otherwise, in yourself and others? So, yeah, spring fatigue is a thing—and then some with cumulating fatigue.

But in spring, if fatigue happens, let’s not confuse the wished-for harvest with the planting. When I’m impatient, or just too tired to even recognize my impatience, these words on a poster I have give me perspective: “Judge each day not by the harvest, but by the seeds you plant.” Amen to that.

This March, as we’ve once again entered the season of Lent, I’m pondering how one’s own possible springtime fatigue is proper, in keeping with our contemplation of the passion of Christ. The symbolism of ashes on the first Wednesday of Lent is a stark reminder of our mortality, of shared suffering. And our own exhaustion, our own waiting, mirrors, in a small way, His sure journey to the Cross on our behalf, doesn’t it? And perhaps, in our awareness of our own fatigue we are better able to ponder His? The phrase “passion of patience” comes to mind. It’s a phrase from Charles Williams that     C. S. Lewis quoted in his novel That Hideous Strength. This is a lovely paradox: the “passion of patience” is both passivity—a relinquishment, a giving up or giving over of our own agendas to the higher one—and agency in so doing. Impossible? Can it be done? But then, isn’t spring fatigue evidence that it is the only thing to be done?

snowdrops in sunshineIn our world where dark forces flex their muscles, where natural disasters shake the planet, having something of this “passion of patience” seems to be the best response. So maybe let’s consider enduring seasonal fatigue with this kind of patience that is not exactly lethargy (or not lethargy at all, regardless of our tiredness) but is carried by a distinctive energy—not enormous energy, not yet anyway, but a quiet willingness to expect energy to revive us. Then we can venture to face fatigue in a quiet hope. Instead of succumbing to depression and anxiety, we might journey along in the expectation of hope that is yet to be fulfilled. And with such a quiet hope in the not-yet-but-still-to-be comes the faint stirrings of surprising joy.

This season, let’s consider how to wait in hope-filled readiness. The sap rises, though ever so slowly. This season, let’s plant a few seeds each day toward the harvest that is sure to codaffodils 4me. And, last but not least, let’s allow ourselves to rest, to pace ourselves. We have it on the best authority: take one day at a time (Matthew 6:34).

Remember to pick up your copy of Letters to Annie.

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Watch for my April blog: “A Holy Grief.”

heart cups

The Christmas greenery and sparkle in the stores have long been replaced by red and pink heart decorations, also bright on darker days if you live in northern climes. The greeting card aisles are chock-full with messages like “You’re the One I’ll Always Love,” “You’re in My Heart Forever,” or “You Changed My Life in the Best Possible Way!“ Red rose bouquets and ribboned chocolate boxes seem to announce, “Buy me, buy me!” Restaurants advertise “Lovebird Special” menus for two. It’s like the whole commercial world is begging us to celebrate romantic love in a material way. And this can be some kind of wonderful, right? Or, maybe, not so much? Maybe Valentine’s Day brings mixed feelings?

I love Valentine’s Day. I remember hugging the cards I got at our elementary school parties close to my chest on my longish walk home. I had fun giving out cards to friends. Year after year, going on 41 years now, I look forward to celebrating with my husband. And with family that’s nearby—or via video calls. A special delicious home-cooked meal is the order of the day. And when our kids were growing up, we enjoyed preparing by baking heart-shaped cookies that we’d decorate with the indispensable candy bearing messages like TRUE ONE, WOW, YOUR GAL, and YOUR GUY. heart cake pan, plusEarly February has me eyeing my heart-shaped cake pans and wondering if a fluffy white angel food cake baked with coloured sprinkles and, naturally, adorned with pink icing, will crown the evening. And what about heart-shaped cookies again? My sweet tooth still delights in cinnamon hearts.

But, oh my, Valentine’s Day also fills me with a certain trepidation. Happiness highlights some of the many ways in which sadness is harder to bear on such a day. Like Christmas, Valentine’s Day can be a bitter reminder of what you have lost, or never had. I’ll give just one example of a sad Valentine’s Day that I cannot forget. It comes from the life of one of my favourite writers, Katherine Paterson, the author of over 40 books and winner of many awards. In first grade Katherine came home on Valentine’s Day without a single valentine, an event she said her mother grieved over until her death, and once asked why Katherine didn’t write about that time. Katherine’s answer is profound: “But Mother, all my stories are about the time I didn’t get any valentines.” Full stop. Every time I recall this, I come to a full stop. And I agree: every single one of Katherine’s stories is a Valentine’s card to her readers. Out of her own hurt, transformed, she speaks love to a heart-broken world. Her stories are healing, pointing to the gospel, to God’s loving saving grace freely offered to all. If you’d like to start with one of Paterson’s novels, I’d recommend Bridge to Terabithia or Jacob Have I Loved.

I wonder now, if you had one wish for Valentine’s Day this year, what would it be? If you could send a Valentine’s card to one child, what would you say?

In my years of teaching fairy tales to university students I’ve had much opportunity to consider the ways in which the romantic ideas of happily ever after are perceived. I’ve written about this in an earlier blog, Happily Ever After. And my rich conversations with my students inspired me to write the fiction book Letters to Annie: A Grandmother’s Dreams of Fairy Tale Princesses, Princes, & Happily Ever After. In the book Cover-FrontI explore the wealth that fairy tales offer for our life’s journey, and also consider the ways in which we might misread them. It’s written for anyone who loves fairy tales but also has questions and concerns over them. Are they good? Or are they bad? Do we even need them? And just what is “happily ever after”? In this book I follow the story of a grandmother writing to her granddaughter Annie for the first twenty-five years of her life in which they explore these treasured stories. Rather than giving readers false expectations of life, how do these stories leave us richer and more able to navigate the challenges, sorrows, and joys of life with wisdom, courage, and love? Letters to Annie is a dual coming-of-age story: Annie’s, as she experiences some of the joys and sorrows from childhood to young adulthood, but also Omi’s as she ages.

And this brings me back to my earlier questions. If you had one wish for Valentine’s Day this year, what would it be? If you could send a Valentine’s card to one child, what would you say? red hearts on white lace

In writing Letters to Annie I asked myself how a grandmother might help a granddaughter prepare for her Kindergarten Valentine’s Day party. Likewise, I could have asked how a grandmother or grandfather might help a grandson. How might the older woman encourage the child’s joy while anticipating—and wanting to shield her from, and knowing that she ultimately can’t—the disappointments and sorrows that will find her?  Letter 7 is my Valentine for Annie, just as the book itself is a Valentine for my readers. Here’s an excerpt, a Valentine for Annie:

Oh sweetheart Annie, happy Valentine’s Day! What a joy it was yesterday to help you bake Valentine’s Day cookies and make cards for your entire Kindergarten class party. What a glorious time I had, sharing your full-hearted happiness. Happiness—sheer joy—overflowing, bubbling through every word you said, sweeping over and lifting me up in every smile and giggle you gave.

Twenty-two heart-shaped shortbread cookies, icing made pinkest pink. . . .

“Is this one good, Omi?” you asked so often.

“Oh yes, Annie, it’s good. It’s perfect,” I answered, admiring your care and hopefulness. . . . 

Annie, I’ve never heard you talk about anyone in the class who has ever been unkind, not to you or to anyone else. Is that because it’s true? Or because you didn’t want to think about it? I didn’t ask, not yesterday. Some things, in fact many things, can keep. . . .

I’m there for you, girl, I’m there for you. And when I fail—which I will—please know that I still want to be there for you. Oh, how I want to be there. . . . But remember, child, when I’m not there, or I’m there but not very helpful to you, there is One who will never fail you. You know: you said it yesterday with such solemn confidence in your eyes as you looked up at me and declared, “Jesus is the best Valentine we could ever have.”

4 Loves coverThis Valentine’s Day—and indeed, this month of February, being heart month—my hope for myself and my readers is that we can ponder the ways in which we can celebrate love. Maybe consider how our lives might become like a love letter to others. Think more about the different human loves—affection, friendship, romantic love—and like C. S. Lewis in The Four Loves, ponder that in our brokenness each of the human loves must become transformed by the fourth love, God’s love, charity, in order to become ever more true. It’s a journey.

Here’s wishing us all a truly blessed Valentine’s Day! wooden heart

To learn more about the dual story of Annie and her Omi, and how fairy tales and other good stories can help us, remember to pick up your copy of Letters to Annie.

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Watch for my March blog: “Spring Fatigue.”

Adirondack twins in snowJanuary: A new number on the calendar, another opportunity for those New Year’s resolutions. But sometimes the December festivities leave us a tad tired (and that’s a polite way of putting it). Maybe the Christmas tree is still up. If Christmas was a good season, it really is a sweet reminder, too precious to take down quickly. (I don’t understand those Christmas tree burnings that are scheduled even before Epiphany, January 6, the coming of the magi, when in some traditions Christmas is celebrated. February, is it, the right time to consider taking down the tree?) The tree needles still look pretty good, right? Even though we’re after solstice, the lights and decorations console during these dark days. Perhaps keeping the tree up a little longer acts as a bit of a safeguard against the midwinter blues that could be just around the corner—maybe. Couldn’t hurt.

And yet, hey, it’s January, so let’s do new. Let’s do how life should be as best we can. Let’s not quit, right? Now which resolutions could we have a fair chance at keeping? And which ones seem just a little big, not quite doable, not just yet? Possibly it doesn’t take us too long to pick one or two resolutions that should lead to a much better version of ourselves. There—got it! Let’s try this one. . . . Adirondack twins after snow

But just then it hits you. Just when you think you’re over it, it hits you, maybe even harder than you imagined it could. You remember each incident, feel the pain anew. Man! Why? Wasn’t that over and done with? Forgiven and forgotten? After all, you have a life to live! A good life. You do not, not, want to have a grudge raising its ugly head to crowd out your joy. But there it is, the same old nasty resentment festering larger-than-life as if you’d never even begun to deal with it. So not fair!

And in an instant those one or two warm New Year’s resolutions freeze, and if we’re not careful, vaporize. Our beautiful let’s do new is starting to look like a “here we go again,” and if we’re not vigilant, new might look like an impossible pipedream. Blessed are the vigilant for they guard their hearts and so reap many blessings—mirth being among them.

But maybe we’re not vigilant, or not vigilant enough. Maybe we’re stuck on the idea that we have a right to feel badly about what happened to us. If so, at this point we might like to say something like the line from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov about telling yourself the truth—in this case, about how badly we feel: “Above all, don’t lie to yourself.” Brothers Karamazov, Britannica ed But in this state, where we presumably do not lie to ourselves about our unpleasant feelings, neither do we get closer to love. Nothing is solved, not yet. Nor are we being terribly truthful, because resentment has the power to become a broken record, replaying over and over, crowding out the fact that our hurt feelings are only one piece of a very big story, a story that could have the most excellent outcome if we would only let Grace have its way with us.

The fuller passage from Dostoevsky’s brilliant book penetrates deeply into the nature of lying to yourself, uncomfortably so: “The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” God forbid—God forbid that we should suffer such a fate as Dostoevsky describes. Because if we do not release a resentment, every single resentment every single time, we lose everything.

Oh, how quickly the slender tendrils of resentment coil themselves around the living branches of a fresh hope. How swiftly and tightly they achieve it! Their pretty leaves amidst the blossoming bush almost look like they belong there—until you look closely. Then you see that if these vines are left to continue their parasitical ways, they’ll strangle the life out of every last blossom and right down to the heart of the plant. They’re merciless. Newness is thwarted, swallowed alive.

Unless we take a lesson from these deadly pests and become as ruthless—become even more ruthless, but in a careful surgical way—and deftly remove every twist of the offending stem without damaging the good plant, we will lose our souls. Don’t be deceived by the gentle-looking leaves. Eradicate the villainous thing. Take out the very root. Discover how the very thing you tend to resist—really don’t want to do—is the very thing that you must do. A most skillful surgery is required to separate your resentments from your soul. And your life depends on it.

Release the hurt, rewire for good thoughts, renew for life—life in all its abundance.

Easier said than done, true. And only done when we decide to do it regardless of our emotions. You know: that timeless truth about how blessing follows obedience (see Luke 11:28). But if we’re a wee bit prideful, insistent we’re in the right, etc. etc., we’ve gotta swallow a fair bit, and only then do we discover the hilarious living reality that we all need Grace, that we’re all invited to the Party, every one of us undeserving-to-be-made-holy guests of Grace are invited to the Party. Only then can we laugh out loud, thinking, “Man am I glad I wasn’t a total idiot! Man am I glad I didn’t miss out! Wow—this is, well, this is actually more like I’m meant to be. Like . . . free! Like . . . joy-filled! Man, give me those dancing shoes!”

Forgive, every single time. Forgive not because what happened is excusable. Forgive because the inexcusable needs to be forgiven. CSL_jovial_my 1st bookOnly then can we rid ourselves of those toxic thoughts, the clinging resentments. Do it seventy times seven, as Jesus said (Matthew 18:22), meaning without number, every time we need to. Yes, we will need to, again and again. But then maybe we are helped in knowing how seriously we need forgiveness ourselves?

To repeat, here’s the source for the thought that can nudge us a little closer to choosing to forgive the next time it’s a challenge. As C. S. Lewis has said in his essay “On Forgiveness,” if we think we can’t forgive someone, it’s because we have no idea how badly we need forgiveness ourselves, forgiveness for the inexcusable. In my book Letters to Annie the grandmother, Omi, age 69, says this to her granddaughter Annie, age 5 (Letter 8). And in their dual journeys over 25 years, these two souls have ample opportunity to ponder their struggles with forgiveness. They discover that forgiveness is the blessed gift that they primarily give themselves.

I love Paul Gordon’s song “Forgiveness” in the Broadway musical of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre_my copyIf you haven’t heard this before, or would just like to hear it again, here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-y4hvTzHEA In this song we hear of the strength we need to have in order to forgive, and of forgiveness as being our deliverance. four quartetsHow counter-intuitive to resentment: the humility needed to forgive is in fact “the mightiest sword.” Humility: as T.S. Eliot writes in Four Quartets, “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire / Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless” (“East Coker,” ll. 97-98).

My hope for myself and my readers this new year is this: that we would become more attentive to toxic thoughts. To remember the horrifying cost of unforgiveness—our very lives—and consequently, with God’s help, which we will need, choose to forgive. And through it all to become more disciplined in guarding our hearts, the source of life (Proverbs 4:23). Release, rewire, renew. . . .

Any meaningful New Year’s resolution, I think, stands or falls on our willingness to release resentment, to rewire for life, and so to renew. “Forget the former things. . . .” forget the former thingsDon’t dwell on the past sorrows because God is doing a new thing, making a way where there formerly was no way, a way that leads to life (Isaiah 43:18-21).

Wishing us all a Happy New Year–one full of deepening joy, indescribable peace, surprising hope, and widening love!

To learn more about fairy tales and other stories that help us in our struggles with forgiveness, remember to pick up your copy of Letters to Annie.

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Watch for my February blog: “A Valentine for Annie.”

single trad. white paper starI come from people who made paper stars for Christmas. They made them in their native Poland, and when their pilgrimage took them to Canada’s West Coast where I was born, they were still making them. And here my parents taught my siblings and me to make them.

The many hours we spent together peacefully folding long strips of white paper into delicate stars are among my happiest getting-ready-for-Christmas memories. Hung from black threads, sometimes red or golden, these white miracles had quiet prominence on our Christmas tree, year after year after year. I say “miracles,” because how can you expect mere strips of paper, even when folded just so, to turn into exquisite kindred spirits of the heavenlies? And that your own hands, guided by your parents’ hands, were part of the developing miracle?

These white paper stars still decorate my Christmas tree, though I really need to make some new ones. A beautiful tradition, these fragile white paper stars made by patient, diligent hands and hopeful hearts. whole Christmas treeTheir beauty, simple yet elusive, is a testimony to faith and love, to courage in uncertainty, and to lasting goodness. They are a small reminder of the homeland I never knew but have since happily visited, and to the meaning of homeland as we are pilgrims at various stations. They speak to me still of the meaning of Advent and Christmas when we would be making these paper stars.

Advent is a traditional time of anticipation. It’s the time of new beginnings as we head into celebrating the coming of Christ. It can be a quiet time of growing joy. It’s also a time when we might more consciously await the Second Coming of Christ. In the darkness, the light grows brighter.

But we know that this season is often cited as one of the saddest times of year for many people. A time when loneliness is felt more keenly, pain more bitterly. What might the season of Advent and Christmas mean to you this year? Has it been a good year? Do you expect you’ll get together with family and friends—or not? If not, do the bright memories of happier times nourish you, help support you at this time? Or is the pain all the greater?

Last Christmas one of my artistic cousins in Europe sent me another paper star, a different kind that she’d learned to make and was excited to give me. It arrived as a small square shape which I learned to unfold, unfold, unfold, and then secure its extravagant splendour with the attached beads on the string. (Even in the unfolding I needed my cousin’s instructions. I didn’t get it right the first time, no.) And at last, the glorious blue star had its place of honour near the top of our Christmas tree. Birgit's blue star fully unfoldedA marvel, this shining magnificence made by loving hands and a joyous heart. How its humble quadrangular form held the beginnings of splendour spoke volumes: a sign of family, of homeland in the heart across the globe, and of the meaning of the Christmas miracle wherever we find ourselves to be. Christ has come, and He is coming back. There is no loneliness that He cannot fill, no sorrow that He cannot redeem.

This Christmas season I look forward to hanging up my cousin’s special star again. To thinking upon the new that remembers the old and treasures every good. To pondering how beauty, so fragile, is stronger than we know, and to how humble beginnings, so easily overlooked, grow into brilliance, outlasting many troubles, offering a paean of praise.

This Christmas season I also look forward to good reading. I started by reading C. S. Lewis’s poem “The Nativity” to my students the other day:

Among the oxen (like an ox I’m slow) . . . .

Among the asses (stubborn I as they). . . .

Among the sheep (I like a sheep have strayed)

I watch the manger where my Lord is laid. . . .

I look forward to returning to Katherine Paterson’s collection of short stories, including “Angels and Other Strangers”–stories that take us right into where life can hurt the most, and there find Christ.

With the help of Malcolm Guite and the work of other poets he includes in this collection, including some non-Christians, Waiting on the Word: A poem a day for Advent, Christmas, and EpiphanyI’d like to daily reflect on the ongoing miracle of the Incarnation. Join Malcolm in what he refers to as a counter-cultural, subversive act: instead of skimming over the lines, read them aloud and slowly. I wonder what will happen in that space of inner quietness if I do.

My hope for my readers and me is this: that the quiet signs of Advent and Christmas will fill us anew with joy. And when our emotions waver, and even spell doom, possibly in the very dark straits that we find ourselves in, that we would come awake to the small signs of our true hope.

Advent blessings—and Merry Christmas! Advent candle of hope

To learn more about making Christmas and other good memories—and what these could mean when the hard times roll in— remember to pick up your copy of  Letters to Annie. (see Letter 3)

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Watch for my January blog: “Release, Rewire, Renew.”


November, for me, is a natural month to ponder the passage of time from birth to dying. Typically, October winds and rain in Canada’s Pacific Southwest leave many trees barren as they stand soldierly for All Saints’ Day on the 1st. And with the dying year our hearts grow perhaps more attuned to hold vigil for those who have passed. This year I have mourned the passing of four beloved souls. And we have been mourning the passing of our beloved Queen Elizabeth II. 20201124_161127

With November also comes my birthday, as well as Remembrance Day on the 11th, the War Remembrance Day that began in 1919 after World War I. In an earlier blog, “A Time for Remembering,” I’d pondered what the 11th day can continue to mean for us now. Today, I return to a comment I made in my September blog, “Omi’s Coming-of-Age Story,” in which I said the character Omi in Letters to Annie is “writing toward her own death.”

In September I wrote, “At age 63, Omi is definitely in ‘autumn’ when Annie is born but has this extensive season of grace into advanced winter to discover how she has responded to the extravagant gift of life. With each letter she writes she realizes more that she is writing toward her own death. She’s trying to say the things that matter to her while she still can, and say them in such a way that Annie might be able to hear her (at the time and maybe when she is gone).” Likewise, as I’d mentioned in my Author’s Note, while not a grandmother myself, in writing this book I wanted to take the time to say some of the things I’d wish to say, if I could, in the future.

Dare I return to this claim, my character Omi is “writing toward her own death,” and so challenge myself and my readers to consider our own? Is this a morbid or a prudent thought? Unhealthy or wholesome?

As I was writing Letters to Annie, putting myself in the place of the fictitious Omi-character (and of course we are all of the characters as we write, so I’m just as much “Annie” as I am the other characters who’ve found themselves into the book), I realized with increasing intensity the obvious point that Omi writes (lives) everything through the lens of the pressure of evaporating time. Don’t we all? Maybe we do, but when we forget we are the poorer for it, I think. How much precious time is misspent when we forget?

However, when we’re more aware of our decreasing means to do the many things we’d still love to do, the danger of morbid thinking is a real one. But as I worked with Omi’s growing consciousness that she was indeed writing toward her own death, doing what she could for her granddaughter Annie while she could, my experience felt not only prudent but became progressively fruitful.

20221008_152205Here’s how. The awareness that opportunity doesn’t come around the same way again heightens our sense of the preciousness of our days. Just as C. S. Lewis has said, “There are no ordinary people” (“The Weight of Glory”), we’d have to likewise add, “There are no ordinary days.” Each day is a unique gift, bringing not only its unique challenges but also its unique blessings. Let’s not waste the day on trivia. Let’s guard against toxic ideas, emotions, and actions. In other words, writing toward one’s own death, which is really living toward one’s own death, means we’re more prone to choosing wisely with the result that we’re better able to transform from being static people for whom seemingly little can change to becoming dynamic people who initiate change. We become increasingly present to the moment, and therefore living our lives to the fullest. The awareness of living toward one’s death (with the emphasis on living) acts like a magnifying glass revealing noteworthy details. Or like a crucible in which the various particulars of our lives undergo yet higher pressure, often painful at the time, but resulting in a new creation.

In writing Letters to Annie I was almost always contemplating Omi’s consciousness—and so my own—of aging and dying. Letter 33 is Omi’s last letter. If you knew you would get to write one last letter (or better yet, if you treated each letter you wrote, each text, each phone call, each visit, as if it could be your last), what would you like to write? 20221008_135403

Writing toward—living toward—one’s own death can provide life-giving lessons. And through the fairy tales that I addressed in Letters to Annie, lessons about death—and therefore how we should live—showed up in various ways. Here are a few:

The threat of death can lead to needed courage

to resist this last enemy. If we consider death to be unnatural, that is, contrary to how life is meant to be, and therefore the enemy to fight, then we welcome, for instance, the rising courage of Hansel and Gretel as they discover how to defeat the witch who would otherwise overcome them (see Letter 24). Similarly, in an ageist culture which rejects the value of the lives of elders, where, as I’m told, even people who are barely 40 are sometimes written off with “it’s because you’re old,” the animal quartet in “The Bremen Town-Musicians” is a marvelous testament to the chutzpah we need. The bravery they show in their senior years, defying potential despair, results in the joy of new beginnings (see Letter 29). All of us, young and old, need such boldness.

There is something more terrible than death.

In a world that frequently esteems romantic love leading to marriage as the mark of a fulfilled life, Hans Christian Andersen’s “Little Mermaid” story surprises and often disappoints. She does not marry the prince. She dies. What kind of a happy ending is that?! But while Andersen does not deny the beauty of romantic love in marriage, neither does he elevate it to the mark of becoming a living soul. Quite the opposite. In this fairy tale, the quest for becoming a living soul is the ultimate one, greater than the one for romantic love. The real kicker is this: for those characters who are fixated on lesser things, it’s clear that there is something more terrible than death (see Letter 11).

The other side of death

is Life Everlasting. Ah, so death is not the end. “Death, thou shalt die”—as John Donne ends his famous sonnet, “Death, be not proud.” But the passage to the Other Side, the journey through the valley of the shadow of death, can be so very difficult, so very frightening, we know.

In Letter 13, Annie burying Omi in autumn leaves they’d raked became a metaphor for me that led to Omi contemplating one of my favourite passages in Narnia: the story of King Caspian’s death and what happens next in The Silver Chair. What is supposed to be a joyous reunion with his long-lost Continue reading

How hard is it, really, to be grateful? How ready are we, to show appreciation, to say “Thank you”—and totally mean it—knowing that without that person, without that experience, we would not be who we are today?

October brings Thanksgiving Weekend for Canadians, and helps turn our thoughts to gratitude. harvest_kitchen2019The second Monday in October, or the Sunday preceding it, is the day we try to get together with family and friends to celebrate with turkey and all the trimmings. For our American family and friends, the last Thursday in November is the great day. And autumn brings the biblical Feast of Tabernacles, Sukkot. dining room

Wherever we find ourselves, harvest time offers great reason for gratitude: for what the land has offered us for our nourishment. And for what other nourishment we have been gifted with in the past year and in all the preceding years.

Typically, we give thanks for all the good things. And we’d be a sorry lot, I’d say, if we can’t remember too many. But if it’s hard some days, especially when it’s been a really hard season, that’s understandable. (If we haven’t quite been in a hard season, we’ll get there sooner or later.) For those suffering from Hurricanes Fiona and Ian, for example, gratitude takes on an entirely new dimension. And I think it’s in the hard and harder seasons that we especially need to ask for clarity of vision for reasons for gratitude.

But what about gratitude for the not-so-good things? Is that a possibility? Or do we just feel annoyed about the annoyances, and grieve over the deep losses? Might there be a good reason for having a certain genuine gratitude for those not-so-good things, some indeed very bad things, for what they offer us? (I must be feeling rather comfortable at the moment to even contemplate the possibility of my gratitude for the annoying and even the bad things. I’ll get back to this.)

For this October Thanksgiving season, I’d like to be more intentional about practising gratitude. Entitlement—shoo! Gratitude—hello! I’m thinking I need to invite gratitude into my soul, to be present to what I sense will be exponential reasons for grandly profuse gratitude. So I thought I’d prepare for this season by drafting

A Thank-You Note:

Thank you for the music

(yes, I’m remembering Abba: “Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing / Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing. . . .”

Thank you for the music, yes, the Great Music that the Abba song also reminds me of: this Great Cosmic Song that sets our hearts singing with joy. This Music of the Great Cosmic Dance, the Great Cosmic Game that set creation in motion and sustains us all—the glorious song-dance-game in which each of us has a part, where we have our true place, and so discover our true selves. We, individually and corporately, and together with all things, were made for this harmony-in-community Music. I know of no better depiction of this mystery than chapter 17 of C. S. Lewis’s novel Perelandra which I’ve echoed here. Perelandra bookcoverGratitude for the music heightens my sense of hearing.

Thank you for the many tall shoulders

on which I stand. In remembrance, my parents and their parents all down through history. For your love and hard work and countless lessons that have helped shape and support me, then and always. That I got to be part of you. For teachers, for authors, for so many more people of these and other related callings—the Lord God knows you all and I am wanting to remember and honour you. It’s not hard to do so.

Thank you for those who walk

beside me. My family, my friends. My colleagues, my students. My neighbours, members of my community(ies). For your vital presence in my life, for your great wild generosity. For putting up with me when it’s not easy and loving me still. For being yourselves, your beautiful selves, and therefore helping me know what I could not otherwise begin to be and know. You help me to be a pilgrim.

Thank you for sweet nothings

that are not “nothings” at all—but truly great “somethings.” For the steady flow of daily blessings, multitudinous, Heaven-sent. Earth’s gravity never conquers you; it’s more like this: earthly gravity catches and resends Heaven’s streams in ongoing play, ongoing goodness. Would that I’d pay more attention so that my heart might more often leap up in worthy joy. . . . And so may my smiles and laughter increase. May my heart make greater room for the peace that the Lord offers me (John 14:27).

And now, to return to the question of gratitude for the not-so-good, the hard, and the harder. And within the outright terrible. Gratitude for the good, I’m sure, is the fertile ground in which to plant such seed.

But really, gratitude for or within the not-so-good and the outright hard, even terrible—really? How can that work?

Here’s a thought from my years of teaching of The Hobbit with my first-year university students: there is a path that leads from suffering to hope. the-hobbit-1975-238x300

Hobbits, as Tolkien depicts them (and he said he was one himself, which is a consolation to the rest of us who know we don’t look or feel like heroes by a long shot), don’t like to leave their comfort-zones. Even the ones who volunteer for danger do not do so by disposition or by fluke. They do so because something larger than their personal comfort is at stake—friendship, honour, and eventually all of life on Middle-earth. Like most of us, they try to avoid suffering and cannot see what it might have to do with hope.

Bilbo, as we discover, is no classic hero: he is no go-getter, no self-reliant strong man. He seems like a wimp, according to the dwarfs (which is ironic, as it turns out). Bilbo starts off looking rather unheroic but becomes the hero of the story (unconventional, mind you, but I’m getting ahead of myself).`

In The Hobbit, suffering and mortal danger arise quickly, and continue on a grander scale in The Lord of the Rings. In following Bilbo’s journey in The Hobbit with my students, I have come to see that what St. Paul talked about in Romans 5:3-4 works like a formula for sojourners who want to travel well, whatever comes their way: “. . . suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” It’s obvious how this becomes true for Bilbo: once suffering hits, again and again, he learns to persevere. (He could quit, but he doesn’t.) As Bilbo perseveres, he develops character strengths previously unknown to him. And increasingly, the once reluctant, even fearful, hobbit grows in soul. He develops surprising resourcefulness, and with every step continues to move through suffering into hope.

Here’s another thought on practicing gratitude for or within the not-so-good, the hard, and the harder things. While I would have wished to have not had specific difficult experiences in my life, in hindsight, I gradually came to realize that I am grateful for the lessons that they have begun to teach me. I wouldn’t want to miss the riches I’ve gained (and am gaining) from the lessons. Lessons like these: “I can’t” gets replaced with “You must” and then “I can”; that I am never alone, never relying on my own strength and wisdom; and that God is to be trusted for bringing greater good out of any situation.

This season of Thanksgiving, I for sure want to rejoice in the Great Good that keeps coming my way. And when the easy becomes hard, then harder, I hope to practice the gratitude I need to do things well. To remember that it’s about “rejoicing in our sufferings” (Romans 5:3)—not because of them, no, but while I’m in these situations—because of the Greater Good that is coming.

Autumn isn’t necessarily seen as a growing season; the harvest is in. Continue reading

bookatsigningtableThe best fairy tales teach us that we live in community, and that we are offered countless gifts to help us on our way. Good magic happens through community.

Brother and sister hold hands, defeat the witch in the forest, and find their way back home again. The ugly duckling, so-called, finds his true identity among the beautiful swans. The girl who journeys to rescue her prince is given golden gifts and is carried by all four winds onto victory. Straw is spun into gold. The brave boy slays the giant and rescues all the knights and ladies.

This week my community created a magical evening to celebrate the launch for my fiction book Letters to Annie: A Grandmother’s Dreams of Fairy Tale Princesses, Princes, & Happily Ever After. Many hands and hearts joined to transform the glass room in the Trinity Western University library into a graceful fairy dream with soft lights, greenery, white tulle, lacy tablecloths, and harp music. whiterosesonlace(This beautiful venue came about through the artistic talent and amazing organization of one dear staff member and her kindly helpers.) Students, colleagues, family, and friends filled the gently lit room overlooking the lake. Family and friends from as far away as California tuned in online. A graduate drove up from Washington State, bringing a bouquet of flowers. Continue reading


Growing up is really hard to do. And at different stages of our lives, we have a shortlist, maybe a longish shortlist, of what we “must have done,” we imagine, in order to qualify for having “grown up.” As life happens, we adjust the lists. Maybe the “fairy tale dream” gets shelved or just drops off somewhere, possibly irretrievable, or so we think. But the thing with fairy tale dreams is that they tend to haunt us, for better or for worse.

September is a great time for contemplating our current list for what it means to us to have “grown up.” The kingdom of summer might linger a little, at least in memory, as we learn to wave goodbye, often with a tinge of sadness.

Crescent Beach, bye to summer

And with the cooling temperatures of coming autumn we ask ourselves, “How am I doing with my hopes? How do I want to grow this coming year?” And maybe we dare to whisper to ourselves, “What aspects of my fairy tale dream have already happened—and might yet happen?”

As I said in my August blog about my new fiction book, Letters to Annie: A Grandmother’s Dreams of Fairy Tale Princesses, Princes, & Happily Ever After, this is not only the coming-of-age story of Annie for the first 25 years of her life where her grandmother, Omi, chronicles their journey together, this is also the coming-of-age story of Omi. Omi is lucky: not only has she had amazing blessings in her 63 years at which time Annie is born, she gets to forge a close relationship with her one grandchild until she reaches the ripe age of 88, still healthy and hale. Who gets that? (Let’s leave this question and our reactions aside for now.)

At age 63, Omi is definitely in “autumn” when Annie is born but has this extensive season of grace into advanced winter to discover how she has responded to the extravagant gift of life. With each letter she writes she realizes more that she is writing toward her own death. She’s trying to say the things that matter to her while she still can, and say them in such a way that Annie might be able to hear her (at the time and maybe when she is gone).

sunset, bye to summer

So what has this grandmother learned? As an aging senior, definitely well beyond many people’s hills, what does she think she knows that’s possibly worth passing on? How might she ease Annie’s way in life? And how might the act of writing to her beloved Annie help Omi as she contemplates her own long life?

Here are some things that Omi discovers in her coming-of-age story:

Time is an enemy, but also a friend.

If what the best of fairy tale has to offer is in our hearts, as Tolkien puts it, this glimpse of “Joy beyond the walls of the world,” then time can surely feel like the enemy that cuts us off from what, as we feel in our hearts, should never end. Death is that last enemy to be overcome (1 Corinthians 13:26). But time is also this gift which has allowed Omi to grow through her own childhood to young adulthood and far beyond: and now to remember who she was and still is and still wants to become. She is seasoned: she’s fought many battles, she’s won many victories. She has wept and laughed, fallen and danced again, and in the end, in the big picture, can pretty much “call it all good.” Omi knows there is a grace that journeys with us, blesses us, redeems us.

Her story is part of a much larger story.

Omi has had time to consider her own life, and now the life of Annie, in light of the lives of their ancestors: parents, grandparents, great-grandparents. Through Annie’s promptings, Omi gets to face her own fears and how the larger story of their family legacy continues to speak wisdom into her heart. Omi is not a lone ranger; Omi is a player in this larger story, and if she plays her part anyway half right, learning from her own fears and failures, then, well, courage and hope can rise. There is indeed a baton for Omi to pass along to Annie and doing so the best way she can matters (see Letter 12).

She can’t fix a single thing.

Well, wow, that’s a terrible thought—or is it? Aren’t we supposed to know what to do to make things better? Get smarter? Prevail over confusion? The idea that you can’t fix anything, not yourself, not anyone else, flies in the face of a culture that esteems the “You’ve got this” message. But through Annie, Omi comes face-to-face with all the times she’s blown it, past and present (okay, not all of the times, because who could stand knowing that?). In Letter 17, Annie’s rage brings Omi smack up against her own battles with having been a selfish pig and lashing out in rage. In Letter 23, Omi writes, “One thing I came to learn—and am still learning—is that I cannot fix myself or anyone or any situation. That job belongs to the One who can.”

But instead of “not being able to fix a single thing” being a cop-out, Omi has been learning that good change happens when we look for the grace that covers a multitude of sins. Omi remembers more often now that she can’t make herself better (because she’s “a good person”), that she can’t control situations, that she can’t change people. She’s still learning that in the act of letting go she becomes available to the grace waiting to do its work in her and others.

When Omi is a mess, there is help for her. When other problems arise, Omi isn’t exactly off the hook either—she for sure is a burden-bearer. But she has freedom in the confidence that Great Good is coming. Omi’s maturation includes still learning to release her fear and egotism so that the Great Good that is always coming, as George MacDonald puts it, can have its way with her and with what she and others face (see Letter 32).


In a world badly hurting and divided, Omi learns love. When all seems to fail, love. When her heart seems broken beyond repair, love. When the happily-ever-after dream seems a dreadful cheat, whether through deception or death itself, love.

Love—really? What is it? humanity has asked throughout time. How do you know it’s love?  

Letters to Annie has been described as “a love letter written for all of us.” Yes, thank you Carolyn Curtis for putting it like that! Because the theme of the book is “Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8). (Gosh, that famous love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, bears regular rereading.)

Omi’s coming-of-age story includes these lessons and more. Now that she’s 88, let’s ask Omi our September question: “Are you grown up now?”

Omi smiles a little, with moist eyes, and answers, “Sort of, yes, sure. I like to think so, at least. Man, it’d be pretty awful if I hadn’t learned a thing all these precious years!”

Omi fumbles for words: “But, uh . . . I think you’re asking me if I’m there now, where I wanted to be, at my high age?”

Then she laughs out loud, and says, “And, well, yes. I’ve so much to be grateful for! It’s all been extraordinarily wonderful! I don’t mean, of course, that nothing hard or horrid has ever happened. I hope I’m not lying to you. My memory still serves me rather well, just so you know. . . .

“But, am I there yet? Goodness, that reminds me of when we’re kids and asking, ‘Are we there yet?’ You see, I’m still journeying. Didn’t you know? I ain’t there yet! (Yeah, I still really and totally love slang—in moderation.) I still need to exercise patience and, oh dear, from all I’ve learned, it doesn’t get easier. I’m growing up the best I can, and as the Good Book says, I won’t ‘get there’ until I get to the Other Side. Footnote: when I get there, I have the distinct feeling that I get to start growing up all over again. Boy, am I glad for that! Doing it right, at last, then. . . . Does that answer your question?”

view of sunflower decor 2020

Okay, my hope for readers is this: that the gems from the best of fairy tales can help you to travel better through your own coming-of-age stories. I hope you’ll enjoy rediscovering what you already know and find yet more for your journey!

To learn more about fairy tales, how we share them, their impact, and more, remember to pick up your copy of Letters to Annie.

Order Letters to Annie at FriesenPress, Amazon, or through your local bookstore.

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Watch for my October blog: “A Thank You Note.”

“And they all lived happily ever after.”

How do you react to these magical words from fairy tale? Is it delight over this dream from the land of wonder? Or is the gap between such beauty and your own lived experience too painful? And just what does “happily ever after” even mean?

How about this phrase? “He slew the dragon and all was well again”? Or this one: “She was as good as she was beautiful”? Do the fairy tales you know seem to give an impossible and therefore dangerous image of female beauty? Do the damsels in distress seem hopelessly helpless in contrast to their knightly male saviours?

Are these stories indeed sexist, giving females the wrong idea about life (i.e. you should be considered beautiful and remain passive) and males an impossible standard to live up to (“amazing you” can save the girl against all odds)? Perhaps you loved the world of make-believe as a child but shed this fascination along with other outdated childish things as you increasingly came to grapple with the real world? Do the fairy tales leave you cold, even at times angry?

But what if we’ve misunderstood many fairy tales? What if these tales from the land of make-believe are actually about our lives? What if they tell us about things we need to know as we journey along through mishap, strife, broken dreams, weakness, and outright terror? Could it be that the old fairy tales have survived for this very reason, because they are true—more true than the often-stated bare bones description of the human condition: “death and taxes”? So—and it’s a big “So”—if the fairy tales, or the best ones are true (more true than not) how might they inspire, instruct, guide?

Since I was a little girl, first listening to these tales in my mother’s arms, later reading them with my own children, and to this day when I teach fairy tales to my university literature students, these stories fascinate and nurture me. In my experience they point to hope, courage, joy. Rather than finding them disconnected from actual life in some vain never-never-land, the tales speak to me of hard things that happen to us—and how we must persist with courage if we are to overcome. In a world where we all face disappointment, ugliness, and cruelty, these tales show hope, beauty, and victory. Beauty is real. Dragons can be beaten. Hope can become reality.

I’ve written about these things in my newly released fiction book Letters to Annie: A Grandmother’s Dreams of Fairy Tale Princesses, Princes, & Happily Ever After. This book is a love letter from a grandmother, Omi, written to her granddaughter, Annie, for the first 25 years of her life. It’s the coming-of-age story of Annie in which her grandmother chronicles their journey together. It’s also the coming-of-age story for Omi as she ponders life in her senior years, forging a close relationship with her granddaughter, one that helps both generations in personal growth. The two find courage and hope when life seems bleakest. They learn to exercise greater courage, clearer vision, and stronger love.

My hope for readers is this: When your dreams fail, look at your life and the lives of family and friends through the moral and spiritual wisdom of the best fairy tales, Narnian and other fantasy stories that we love. There is surprising wealth there yet to be discovered. I hope that you will enjoy Letters to Annie! I hope that you will find in it just what you might be looking for!

To learn more about fairy tales, how we share them, their impact, and more, remember to pick up your copy of Letters to Annie.

Order Letters to Annie at FriesenPress, Amazon, or through your local bookstore.

Sign up to receive my blog posts on my website:


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Watch for my September blog: “Omi’s Coming-of-Age Story.”

Advent, the season of growing light. The season of growing hope. The season of waiting for the celebration of the birth of Christ—and ultimately, waiting for His Second Coming. A holy time, Advent. But then, every moment is holy, unless sullied or outright desecrated—as Douglas Kaine McKelvey has so beautifully helped us think about in his book Every Moment Holy.

bookcover Inklings & CultureThis Advent, in the midst of my end-of-semester professor’s grading of student papers (all so interesting and worthy), in the aftermath of torrential rains that have recently hammered and flooded parts of my province of British Columbia with a vengeance unimagined by most of us, and just in the midst of a very hurting and divided world, well, I pause to consider a marvellous event that happened last Advent. A space for gratitude. Our Advent miracle. With my wonderful colleagues, Drs. Sara L. Pearson and Laura N. Van Dyke, I co-edited and published a book that saw the light of day this month one year ago! In the midst of many things, the Covid crisis being one of them, this book came to birth in December 2020: The Inklings and Culture: A Harvest of Scholarship from the Inklings Institute of Canada. Twenty-seven chapters from contributors.

(Check out the contributors—a beautiful mix of well-known and new scholars:


Addressing the famous group of seven: George MacDonald, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, Dorothy L. Sayers. Five critical appraisals. Much celebration last Advent and ongoing. Our Advent miracle.

And now one year later, what have I learned from working on this book? Some thoughts from our blog in March 2021:

“It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a warm, wise, and wide-reaching community to develop a fellowship of scholars like the Inklings Institute of Canada.” 

Oh my, yes. I’m not sure why anyone would wish to try to be a lone ranger. (I say “try” because, I believe, nobody is that in truth.) And again, why would you wish to be a lone ranger (if you could) when all the fun is in being connected with your community locally, nationally, and internationally? And as for this book, I knew with certainty that it would not have come about if my brilliant, kind, and visionary colleagues had not shared the load with me. As for community, wow, this is what the Inklings and friends were all about and this is what we’re all about in the Inklings Institute of Canada. We do community really well! Live events on campus and elsewhere, virtual participation also, conferences, coffee chats, prayers, laughter, sometimes tears, food, stories, music—we do community really well. How else could we get anything done? Anything that we loved doing? Anything that anybody else loved?

“Good things take time, but sometimes miracles accelerate the process.”

Xmas tree at TWU 20191128_165024Amen to that. This book, like all good things, took time. If you tend to impatience, like me, then you’ll know all about that jerking at the tether when things don’t happen according to your preferred schedule. The proper unfolding of events in the twin tether of time and space is not quite our favourite idea. But then, oh, glorious, just when you think something is maybe not going to come about at all (because you’re still struggling with impatience, among other rotten things), the miracle happens. The job is done! And you truly know that the energies invested which you thought were yours solo (lone ranger problem), but were mightily infused with the heavenly source of all energy, and then, ta-da! the perfect opening of doors followed—all this birthed the miracle. In hindsight, it happened faster than you could have guessed. (Meanwhile, the naysayers have all vanished, which is what they should have done in the first place—there’s my impatience again. But let’s remember too: naysayers have their place: they can make you stronger and when that happens you get to prove them wrong. Double-bonus. But don’t get too proud about it. Maybe you can’t quite or shouldn’t say, “I told you so.” But you might whisper, “I’m glad I didn’t listen to you, not very much anyway.”) So YAY, the job is done! Big WOW. And you got to have a part in it—how amazing is that! You end up shaking your head, wondering how you got invited into the grand dance. I love how Madeleine L’Engle once said that every book has its own angel, its own perfect time for appearance. (At the moment, I don’t recall whether I heard it in one of her live lectures or read it.)

“It’s a humbling thing to read the greats and to grapple with their ideas.”

Indeed. Period. Full-stop. And, from that place of looking up—or back down through the ages, as we all stand on very tall shoulders—no doubt about it, we have so much to learn. There is simply so much to learn that enables, enriches, ennobles (I’m running out of alliteration right now, but you get the point). So, yes, let’s do it! Let’s sit at the feet of the greats. Let’s listen with humility. They have so much to say to us that we really do need to hear. They can help change our lives.

“In working on our book, all of us got that much closer to these authors who could speak hope into a hurting and deeply divided world.”

Well, wow. A very big WOW. What can you honestly try to do and say in and to a world that is hurting so much? And that is so deeply divided that many of us, perhaps, are afraid to say anything at all? There’s a whole lot of self-censorship happening today, for all sorts of reasons, so much so that we are numbed at times into believing that there is nothing one can say, perhaps even nothing that can help. But, not true. So not true. These writers never believed that. They exhibited genuine hope. That’s why we’re still reading them today.

You can read our full blog on the book here:


Wishing you a Blessed Advent, my friends! Wishing you many snapshots of hope this Advent season!

And remember: God wins. Always. No contest: God wins.