Sisters, Despite Distance and Differences

My first sister. I'd always wanted a sister and finally I had one.

My first sister. I’d always wanted a sister and was thrilled I finally I had one.

I live thousands of miles from my biological family, and I haven’t spent Christmas in my home state of Oregon for 13 years. So this time of year I spend a lot of time thinking about my family and what they might be doing right now. 

I think a lot about my three sisters, especially this Christmas when I know things are less than ideal for them. We have a unique relationship, and from their point of view, probably very little relationship at all. I’m sure, as the oldest, I know them better than they know me. I held them all as babies, but once they were old enough to remember much, I moved away. When I say oldest, that may understate the age difference. I’m nine years older than my next sister, 21 years older than the next and 23 years older than the youngest. 

Three sisters. The fourth hadn't joined us yet.

Three sisters. The fourth hadn’t joined us yet.

One sister lives in Oregon and two live in Texas. It’s rare that we see each other. To add to the distance

between us, we have three different mothers. But, for me, there will always be a connection. I doubt anyone could understand the past situations that brought us to this point better than us. 

Despite the distance and differences, I care deeply about them. I hope they know that somewhere in the cold Canadian prairies they have a sister who is thinking of them and praying for them and hoping the very best for them.

Merry Christmas to my beautiful sisters!


When My Family Needed a Food Hamper


food hamper1There have been two times in my life when I’ve been the recipient of a food hamper. Both times, we were in dire financial situations and we needed the help. It’s not an easy thing to accept. I wanted more than anything not to need it. I wanted to be able to run to the grocery store and pick up what we required on our own dime. How did it make me feel? Pathetic, ashamed, depressed. Poverty sucks your energy like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.

This time of year, there is special attention paid to giving to those in need and supplying organizations that put together food hampers. My experience as a recipient makes me carefully consider what I drop into the food bank bin and I hope, after reading this, you will too.

Among some, there seems to be this “beggars can’t be choosers” or “they should be happy with whatever they get” attitude. Of course, people are happy to get food. We were thankful for everything we received and for the generous people who gave it. But, I’ve learned that we shouldn’t just toss whatever is cheap into the bin. Can you imagine living on Kraft Dinner or Mr. Noodle? As givers we are looking after the nutritional needs of others, more often than not, those recipients are children. Just as I wouldn’t want to feed my children KD at every meal because it isn’t good for them, the poor don’t want to either. They want their children, and themselves, to be healthy.

People going through tough financial times still need protein and fruits and vegetables just like everyone else. Some needing food hampers are elderly with reduced sodium diets and diabetics in need of lower carbohydrate meals. Often the food we throw into the bin aggravates these conditions.

Ask yourself, if you were receiving this hamper, what would you hope to get to feed your family? Or contact your local food bank and ask what items they need most. This Christmas, I encourage your generosity. You could be helping a family just like mine.



Performing the Lick Test

badlandsWhen you’re fossil hunting (because you fossil hunt all the time) do you know how to distinguish between a rock and a bone?

I hate to flaunt my knowledge here, but I’m about to tell you.

You lick it. Not really a lick, more like a tongue dab.  The bone absorbs the moisture from your tongue and will cling it. Rocks don’t stick to your tongue.

RIMG0796We took a trip to the Black Hills this summer and on our way back home we took a detour through the Badlands. There, we came across a park ranger giving a lecture on the fossils found in the area. He said we too could go fossil hunting and told us about the lick test. He held up specimens found by tourists just like us. He reminded us repeatedly, “find, photograph, report.” Don’t take them home! Find. Photograph. Report. Got it.

I was a little excited. I reminded myself to stay calm. I casually strolled downRIMG0808 the path. Just lookin’ for some fossils. No big deal.

I picked through rocks, scanned mounds. And then I found it! Something. I don’t know what it was. It couldn’t be a rock. Only one way to find out. Lick it!

As it turns out it was a rock. And the next one was too. I licked half a dozen rocks.

But, then I hit the mother load. This had to be a bone. It was rounded weird. If I had to guess, I’d say a Coccyx of some sort (I took Anatomy and Physiology). I performed the lick test. I got stickage! A fossil. I found a fossil. Find. Check.

I waved my husband over to document my find. He asked, “Did you lick it?”

RIMG0828“You know I did.” He snapped the picture. Photograph. Check.

Oh, it would have fit so nicely in my pocket. My fossil. My ten thousand year old Coccyx. My cute little Coccyx.

Don’t worry. I didn’t rob mankind of earth’s history. I resisted temptation. I put it back where I found it. It’s still there. I told the park ranger about my find. Report. Check.:(

Sigh. Some other tourist is probably licking it right now.

This is coprolite--fossilized poop. I did not lick this one.

This is coprolite–fossilized poop. I did not lick this one.



Health Talks with Nurse Irene: Providing Help for Marginalized Women

Some news stories are so horrific that you just can’t let them go. One in particular has stayed with me—The Ghost Rapes of Bolivia–women drugged, stolen from their homes in the night, raped, then returned to their beds. And this is just one of the many struggles facing the women in the Mennonite colonies in Bolivia.

These are women without a voice, considered more property than people. Because of a language barrier (they speak Low German in a Spanish speaking country) and the control the men in the colony exert, they have limited access to health care or even to basic health information. Can you imagine not understanding the impact simple hand washing can have on your health and the health of your children? Can you imagine watching your sick child suffer and having no understanding of how to help them?

As a mother, a wife, a woman my heart aches for them, which is why I want to share Irene Marsch’s story, in her own words, with you. Can one person make a difference? Read on and find out.


“Health Talks with Nurse Irene”

By Irene Marsch

 Where did it all start?

I call it: “A big God, taking Irene size steps.” It’s a way of remembering that God is walking with me.Irene2

After my husband’s passing, I hurt. I felt very alone. I was searching. It seemed like everyone else around me knew what the role of a widow was. But I was confused. I felt lost and I asked, Lord what now?

In my search, I signed up for the Women Alive Conference in Toronto. Weeks before the conference, I woke one night and the first thought that came to mind was, “For such a time as this.” I remember thinking, it was from the book of Esther and then I went back to sleep. My first thought waking up that morning was again, “For such a time as this.” I went about making breakfast and again the words rang in my head, “For such a time as this.”

In my walk with the Lord, I have come to learn, that when I get three nudges, I drop what I’m doing and go. Make that phone call. Write that note or lookup that Bible verse. And that is what I did. I read the account of Uncle Mordecai telling his niece Esther that this was a special time and God had a special purpose in sending her to the king’s palace. God called Queen Esther to step out, to step up, and to speak out on behalf of her people. I brushed it away and said, “There is just nothing royal about widowhood!” And I left it at that.

Irene3When I finally got to go to the conference, the guest speaker stood before us and revealed her theme verse? I couldn’t believe it. The verse from Esther. “For such a time as this.” To say the least, I was crushed. In my mind I shouted, “Can I not get away from this Bible verse?”

Apparently not. By the afternoon I was participating in a brief exercise on seeking God’s will through a simple questionnaire.

Who am I? Well, Irene a widow, I answered.

What are your gifts? Nursing, caregiver, organizer.

What is unique about you? I speak Low German, some Spanish, German, English.

It was into this noise of questions, that I remembered the Low German Ministry at FLN. (Family Life Network) I came home from the conference, trying very hard to push it all out of my mind, but that did not work. I finally said, “Okay, I will dust off my resume!” AfterIrene4 receiving some much needed help with my resume, I sent it off to FLN. This was the beginning of “Health Talks with Nurse Irene”.

There are many more moments of “A big God, taking Irene size steps” that have given me affirmation along the way. A week or so before I left for Bolivia, Claude Pratte saw me at church, probably sensing my apprehension, he said, “You will see that God, has gone ahead of you.” A day or two after my arrival in Bolivia I received an invitation to be part of the Women of Hope office in the Santa Cruz market area. Claude’s words, “You will see God has gone ahead of you,” made it easy for me to say yes. I thanked the Lord once again for being a big God, taking Irene size steps .

Every week I spent two to three days at this office, two days at the Women’s Shelter, and reserved one day for Women’s Ministry in the Mennonite Irene5Colonies. It was during the last week, before returning to Canada, that one lady approached me and said, “Can you come to our colony and do one of those Health Talks. I don’t know what to say to you. There could be two or 102 women.”

I had a hard time deciding, but then I was able to say, “Yes Lord, I will go for the sake of two.” When we got there, there were closer to a 102 women. Once again, a big God taking Irene size steps. I encouraged the ladies to stop me and ask question, but no one did, because they were so shy. So I offered to have a few one-on-one conversations and immediately a long line-up formed. The sun was going down and we needed to get out of the colony. It was during these last minutes that a couple of ladies came and asked, if I would record my talk on hormones and send it to them, so that they could give it to other ladies. I’d never considered recording my talks until that moment. After that conversation I approached FLN with the idea of making CDs to send to the woman. They offered me a radio program as well as the opportunity to make the requested CDs.

I spent six months in Bolivia on my missions assignment with the E-Free Mission. It was a very good and very necessary experience for me to learn firsthand about the health needs in Bolivia.Irene6

I’m pleased to say that the CD on hormones and one on STDs have been completed. The second CD, the one on STDs, I found very difficult to do—such a forbidden topic. On this CD I covered eight of the most common STD Health Issues. Each track has some scripture verses on marriage. I share a few thoughts or tell a short story out of my marriage to Roland and a short prayer. I know these people love to learn from personal stories.

Another, A big God, taking Irene size steps is the morning I was invited by FLN to talk about whether I would consider another year of “Health Talks with Nurse Irene” on the radio. In my mind, I was ready to listen and decide later, until I had my morning devotions and read the following verse: “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (Revelation 3:8) I was shocked by the direct words and the timing. The second phrase, “I know that you have little strength,” touched me deeply. God knows my weakness and he given me an open door.

Irene1Yes, there is much work ahead, but a Big God, continues to take Irene size steps. It is affirming, humbling and even scary, how the Lord is there just at the right time—like when it was time to pay for the cost of making the CDs at FLN and our church came through and took care of that cost. And when I received four invitations into the Colonies for Health Talk Sessions on my Follow-up visit and an invitation to use the same office in the Santa Cruz Market area, where I’LL have a chance to meet women from remote and closed Mennonite Colonies.

In spite of our weakness, God chooses to do his work through us. May it be an encouragement to all of us, that A Big God is taking our size steps, to be at our side in our everyday life! Thank you.

On May 14 Irene leaves for Bolivia with 600 CDs in tow!


Educate Girls, Change the World

girlrising4Tuesday, the Winnipeg Real to Reel Film Festival kicked-off with the documentary, Girl Rising. The film takes us on a journey around the world, from Peru to Egypt, Sierra Leone to Afghanistan, to hear the stories of nine girls and their struggle for education. The film’s mission is to share a simple fact with the world: that educating girls can transform societies.

The filmmakers paired each girl with an author from their own girlrising3country to tell their story. Each beautifully written story, told from the individual girl’s point of view, had a unique voice and style. It plunged the viewer into the girl’s life, her family, and her culture.

girlrising2I expected heartbreak when I entered the theatre and I got it. Did you know that the leading cause of death for girls aged 14-18 around the world is childbirth? That blew me away. But what I didn’t expect was the hopefulness—the grin of a spunky Haitian girl who refused to let anyone tell her she couldn’t go to school, the courage of a twelve-year-old rape victim who called herself a superhero, an eleven-year-old mother determined to continue her education. Each of these girls was strong, resilient, and hopeful. They wanted to get an education so they could change their worlds.

girlrising5This documentary is a must-see. I walked away with a better understanding of the impact educating girls can have on poverty, child marriage, and family and community health. This is a cause worth fighting for.

If you’re a Winnipegger make some time this weekend to come out to the film festival and catch Girl Rising, showing Friday, February 21 at 8:30 pm and Saturday, February 22 at 6:30.

Building My Own Thanksgiving Altar

Last night while I worked on dinner, my daughter played a song on the piano that I hadn’t heard in a long time. Steve Bell’s Here by the Water (lyrics below). The lyrics flooded back to me and I remembered again why this song is one of my favourites.

Not long ago I read an article about how good feelings are fleeting, but for some reason we hold onto bad feelings. You know how it is—you’re elated over something good that happened and the high only lasts a short time. It’s human nature that we quickly forget the good and hold onto the bad.

To me, this song speaks to thanksgiving, to remembering all the good in our lives. When the Israelites passed through the Jordan River, God told them to pull twelve stones from the riverbed. They built an altar. When I hear the word altar, I always think of a place of worship or sacrifice. While that may be true, I think it’s more about a visual reminder of what God did for them.

We need these stones, these memorials in our lives. Something we can look at, touch, and say remember when… when we came through suffering, when we saw a miracle, when our prayers were answered.

I have so much to be thankful for—a family, friends, a home, good health, warmth when it’s cold outside, good schools for my kids, the written word, healthy food, and the list goes on.

Each of these blessings are a rough stone and from those stones I can build an altar of praise.

Here by the Water

(Music and Lyric by Jim Croegaert © 1986 Rough Stones Music)

Soft field of clover

Moon shining over the valley

Joining the song of the river

To the great giver of the great good

As it enfolds me Somehow it holds me together

I realize I’ve been singing

Still it comes ringing

Clearer than clear

Chorus:  And here by the water I’ll build an altar to praise Him

Out of the stones that I’ve found here

I’ll set them down here Rough as they are

Knowing You can make them holy

Knowing You can make them holy

Knowing You can make them holy

I think how a yearning

Has kept on returning to move me

Down roads I’d never have chosen

Half the time frozen Too numb to feel

I know it was stormy

I hope it was for me learning

Blood on the road wasn’t mine though

Someone that I know

Has walked here before


Let There Be Light


This is a beginning. Not the beginning. Hopefully, a big bang and not an implosive blip.

This is a chronicle of an, optimistically titled, pre-published author.

This is a Venn diagram intersection of writing, faith, and family.

This is a door. More like a rabbit hole.

Fall with me.