Empty, Quiet Places

I am finding that this Christmas is gently forcing me to face even more reality about the quiet spaces Mr. Van left behind…

Writing these words to a new friend and neighbor who is away right now, I also shared that I am learning that “to love deeply is to grieve deeply, only by God’s grace, sometimes one minute at a time. Life is more settled for sure but these bumpy times are hard.”

As I walk into this Christmas week of 2021, there are some special memories attached to almost every day.
🎄December 22–Twenty-five months since Mr. Van left us.
I don’t plan to keep counting the months into 2022, just as I have not counted the weeks for 2021. But last Friday morning I woke up weeping, and realized, when I figured it out, that it was 108 Fridays since his death. The fine tension between how to walk forward into the future while living in the present, and yet not lingering forever in the past is really difficult.

🎄December 23–The forty-ninth anniversary of our engagement.
I spent some time over this past weekend watching Season 14 of Heartland. I easily identify with the story line and have found a lot of it helpful, even though it’s sad. I watched the whole series AGAIN over these past few weeks—and yesterday I finished off Season 14 and the season finale of Season 15. I was moving photos (I would never tell you how many) off my iPad into safe storage while I was watching TV, shedding tears over the photos and memories attached, as well as over the sadness and moving forward of the TV story.
Life and death. Joy and sorrow. Looking back and moving forward. Whew!! I was having my own flashblacks into those quiet spaces that mean so much as I was watching Amy do the same on Heartland.

🎄December 24–So many Christmas Eve’s spent together: dating, early married years, making Christmas fun and special for the kids amid the chaos of deadlines and extended family times and having a clean house and all the baking done. We often did our Christmas ahead of time, and then headed down south to spend the actual holiday week with both our extended families.
Then our kids grew up, and so began the years of hosting all of them and their families sometime during December (making it work with all our lives)!
Mr. Van usually worked until Christmas Eve noon for sure but then would take at least one week off and sometimes even two. So many treasured memories over those times.

🎄December 25–(Or whatever day in December we made Christmas Day)—Family Brunch. Mr. Van reading the Christmas story for us all and praying over us before we opened gifts. Christmas dinner, sometimes with extended family or with others who didn’t have family close by. And now we have begun working our day of Celebration around the married grandchildren and little great-grandson.

🎄December 26–Usually a quiet day of reminiscing and recuperating after good family time. Sometimes we would head down south to see our parents and stay until New Year’s Day. A stop in Edmonton was often included in the middle of driving 900 km in mid-winter. We chose to make the journey itself part of the “get-away” and I will be thankful for those times forever.

How grateful I am that God taught me many years ago about living “thankful” in the moments, whether good or not, day by day. I certainly have not always obeyed this command well, or projected a thankful heart as I should have, but God has been faithful to show me when I needed a “heart-check” and then to lead me back to Himself.

Life is full of the good and the hard and the happy and the sad. We all get to choose how we handle it. We all fail. We all need God’s grace to pick ourselves up. Say we’re sorry. Take the next step.

How is your heart doing on this 24th day of December, 2021?
I think Mary showed us the way to guard our hearts when she said to the angel in Luke 1:38, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Happy Christmas, friends!!
Blessings to you and your family!!

❤️ Colleen

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The LORD is My Pace Setter

Happy Friday morning, friends!

MY MUSINGS TODAY:

Fall is the season for new beginnings. Our fall season is about to turn into early winter here in the north as the temperatures begin to fall and our gardens are fast fading for this year. I just cleaned off my balcony and settled it in to wait for whatever Christmas décor I decide to use.

I love new beginnings. I love the fall season. I love fall colors.

My home and my wardrobe all reflect that love.

I also love school and I love learning. I guess I am what you would call a life-long learner.

Many years ago (almost 50!) I attended one year of Bible School at Prairie Bible Institute (now called Prairie College) in Three Hills, Alberta. I had just graduated from high school.

Leaving home for the first time became a huge learning experience. Living in the dorm, juggling many classes and assignments, eating communal meals in the Dining Hall, and attending chapel several times a week in Prairie Tabernacle were all great ways to begin to grow up… It was so good but also was lonely and hard at times.

Sometime during that year I walked by a bulletin board and this poem, which is a Japanese Version of Psalm 23, caught my eye. I was feeling discouraged about completing all my class assignments, and feeling homesick for my family and friends. The overwhelm of being a student was very real in my mind and heart that day.

Psalm 23 is a song of comfort which tells us that our Shepherd, Jehovah-Rohi, will be with us as He cares, provides, guides and protects us. The words in this paraphrase of the psalm brought such comfort to me that I copied it down and have kept it close for these fifty years that have passed by.

These past few weeks have again been hard as a fresh wave of grief washed over me unexpectedly. That is how grief works—we just never know when it will decide to visit again. The words to this Psalm came to mind and I went searching for the words online and found them!

YOUR MUSINGS TODAY:

I don’t know how you are doing with all that is going on in your own heart, in your family, and in the world around you, wherever you are, but I do know that we all need truth to cling to in these days.

My hope and my prayer for you would be that these words, so simple and yet profound, would bring you the comfort and care of the One who longs to shepherd you through this time and on into eternity.

Be encouraged as you ponder:

  • On new beginnings.
  • On embracing your own life fully and intentionally.
  • On living out that life with the strength and dignity that can only come from your Audience of One.

We would love to have you walk that journey with us as we all learn together!

You can sign up to receive encouragement in that walk at Mrs Vans Musings. To receive current updates in your inbox, just click on the Email Request button below. We promise to honor your privacy.

Have a great week!

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The First 100 Days…

My Musings Today:

On March 20 our family went into self-isolation with the COVID-19 crisis. That time has now progressed to being with family more but still in semi-isolation/sheltering-in-place.

I have been trying to write this post for the past nine weeks, ever since Mr. Van’s birthday on March 18.

April brought Easter with the arrival of our first sweet great-grandson, and then May brought Mother’s Day where we were able to spend time together as a family as we met the limit of under fifteen persons.

Each time I sat down at the computer I would add a few words, but then it was just too hard to keep on trying to express what was deep in my heart and my mind. I think today is the day to finish and hit “send”.

AN AMAZING ENDING

Yesterday, May 22, was the six-month anniversary of Mr. Van’s homegoing to heaven… I am finding it hard to process that one-half of a year has gone by already.

I am a journaler (is that a word?) and on Tuesday, December 17 of last year I made an entry that it was twenty-five days since his death. I also made a list (because I am also a list-maker!) of what God had, at that point, asked me to do in light of all the changes coming into my life.

That journal entry ended with writing down two blog topics/titles that God gave me to ponder.

And so I began to record the highlights of each day for the first 100 days without Mr. Van. Those 100 days ended on February 29, 2020, almost three months ago now.

A NEW BEGINNING

I knew God wanted me to share some of that with those of you who may be, as well, walking through deep, hard struggles. Of course, none of us then had any idea of the coming health and economic crises in which we now find ourselves, and the challenges that would come to everyone.

I don’t know where you are at today.

  • Perhaps you are also mourning someone you have lost.
  • Perhaps you have had an unwelcome diagnosis.
  • Perhaps you have lost your job.
  • Perhaps you are living in fear of what’s to come as we walk through this health crisis and economic uncertainty.
  • Or perhaps life is just going on and you wonder where it’s going and why…

I do believe that God has, in the last few years, been walking me through some steps that have brought a foundation of stability to my life. These steps are:

  • Applicable to all of life, not just to times of crisis.
  • Based on a pattern of living intentionally—BEGIN. BELIEVE. BECOME. BELONG. BEYOND.
  • Centered on the God I believe in “who is Who HE says He is”, and “Who will do what HE says He will do”.

BEGIN-A New Stage of Life

  • No one wants to consider the fact that they may lose the love of their life.
  • No one wants to be a widow.
  • No one wants to have to learn how to live the widowlife.

This is a new stage of life that I somehow never expected to enter—I wanted to be married for 70 years…

But God.

God has a different plan for me and I still don’t really know what that plan looks like. It’s early days yet… But I do believe that God is faithful and trustworthy and dependable.

I am learning to “stay in the day” and to “just do the next right thing in love”.

I am learning to take my “IF only…” regrets and realizations, give them to God, ask for forgiveness if I need to, and then ask God to let Mr. Van know how sorry I am.

I am learning to understand my next place in God’s story for this age and stage of life.

I am learning to take my “What IF…?” questions about life, and to believe that God holds it all fast in His hands and that I can trust Him.

  • What if I missed connecting the dots about how unwell Mr. Van actually was?
  • What if I make bad decisions that could affect my future?
  • What if my health suddenly deteriorates more?

There are many “What Ifs” but no answers…

A friend also advised me to consider not only grieving for what is ended from the past, but to also grieve all that we had planned and expected for the future. That was so helpful to me as it gave me permission to also think that through, and so I began another list which I am still creating.

So what does “Intentional WidowLife” look like? I have had a few glimpses.

BELIEVE God-A Firm Foundation

Be Still and Know. Surrender and Trust. Hold fast and Be Held Fast.

Psalm 91:14, “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name.”

I am also learning to declare, through many tears and lonely moments, “Even IF…”

MercyMe has a song that came across my path a few weeks ago.

Some of the words are, “It’s easy to sing when there’s nothing to bring me down. But what will I say when I’m held to the flame like I am right now. I know You’re able and I know You can save through the fire with Your mighty hand. But even if You don’t my HOPE is in YOU ALONE.”

I am so thankful that God has been teaching me for many years to KNOW HIM and not just to KNOW ABOUT HIM.

I am so thankful that I believe and can meditate on God’s Words to me, written in the Bible…

  • God immediately brought to mind the words of Psalms 90 and 91, which are deeply ingrained in my heart for many reasons. Many days since November 22 I have just read them over and over again.

The Psalmist was asking God to teach him to consider the number of his days so that he could develop a heart of wisdom about how to live them out. He was also asking for God’s favor upon the work of his hands… Mr. Van worked hard every day with his hands and God did bestow His favor on us, no matter our circumstances.

  • God also directed me back to reading straight through Psalms 16-19. These Psalms will come up in future posts but reading and listening to them one after the other has brought me much comfort in knowing that God’s plan is for my good, even though it might be painful and hard.
  • I also started a “Soul Care” playlist on iTunes and a “Grief and Loss” file in Evernote with songs and readings that I can go back to when I need consolation. Many of you sent me songs that have been such a comfort. Thank you.

BECOME-A Vigilant Heart

Security. Purpose. Character. Strength and Dignity. All important when “Becoming”.

  • God also gave me the idea of writing the list of “The First One Hundred Days” to help me remember that His Presence has been and is with me no matter what, no matter where, no matter when, no matter why, no matter how. He is my only Security.

What happened? Who was involved in my life? What did I learn? What did I deal with? Oh, my, there was plenty to put on this list.

All the lasts. All the firsts. All the unknowns.

  • I said to a close friend recently that I feel like half of “Who” I am is gone, and I’m not sure “Who is” the part of me that’s left.

BUT—I believe and know that God has purpose for my days, or I would not still be present on earth.

I also know that He will refine my character as I grow into this new stage of life to reflect Him and to also be prepared for whatever that purpose looks like.

BELONG-A Creative Life

In Heart2Heart, our Discipleship course for women, we talk about belonging being the places where we love our people. Loving our people includes learning to live well within the roles and relationships that God uniquely plans for each of us.

I am learning how to belong without Mr. Van by my side in the places we have always been together. Our life was intertwined and we loved it. He supported me and I supported him and we did our life together… I am so thankful for that life.

And so I am being stretched to consider how that life is going to look different, especially now after sheltering-in-place by myself for over seven weeks. God gave me a lot of time to ponder on many things, and to begin to take steps in this new direction:

  • When will the house sell? Where will I live?
  • What will I eat? What groceries do I need for one person? Do I feel like cooking?
  • How will I relax enough to sleep well?
  • What are the things in my life that I love that I want to keep as I downsize? Who will want what needs to be sold, given-away, or thrown-away?
  • Whatever am I going to do about my Scrapbooking Room?
  • What will my schedule look like?

This is only the tip of the iceberg… Family. Extended Family. Friendships. Home. All the places we belong and all the places that are turned inside out right now.

BEYOND-A Legacy of Hope

  • Discovering our place to belong takes us beyond ourselves as we love others.
  • Learning to love our people leads us to serving them with excellence.
  • Serving our people leads to our place in the local church, our community, and in our world to help to build God’s Kingdom.
  • Assisting to build God’s Kingdom leads to creating our eternal legacy that will go on in intentional ways even after our life is over.

And every choice we make today leads us toward that legacy, whatever it may look like.

I know that God has asked me to help to build His kingdom by loving on my people—those in my present sphere of influence. And He has also asked me to love on all of you by writing, creating and teaching/sharing what He has been teaching me. More info to come about that…

God directs our steps, one at a time, as we walk the path He has put before us. We can’t see the end, and the journey is often full of fear, and detours and hard times, but also joy and surprises, and delight. He is our Guide, and as we trust Him, He shows us what’s around the next bend.

I miss Mr. Van so much, and yet I know that he is healthy and safe in heaven with Jesus, and with so many of our other loved ones. I also know that I am in daily survival mode, and have not yet begun to slip into any kind of thriving. But God only asks me to be faithful that one step at a time, and He’s walking with me, leading, comforting, and full of love. He has blessed me with family and friends who are loving, patient, and willing to help when needed. Again, I have so much to be thankful for…

I hope and pray that you know God’s Presence with you as well. And if you don’t, but you’re searching for Him and for answers to your hard questions, that you will please find someone to ask for help. He’s waiting for you…

Want to come and join us on this walk that will never end? We’d love to have you.

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Joy In Our Musing

Happy Friday! How has your week gone? Did you find yourself focusing a bit more on what you muse about? Were you able to meditate on Psalm 19:14 where David asked God to let the words of his mouth and the meditation of his heart to become a sacrifice of praise?

Today I would like us to begin to talk about what it means to have JOY in our musings…

I have by no means learned to live very well with JOY and INTENTION at all. I stumble and I fall and I get up again and I take the next step. But—I have seen God direct my path over and over and I know that this is true for many of you as well.

Joy Defined

So what is a good definition of JOY? The dictionary says joy is:

“the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.”

This is maybe not such a good biblical definition of joy…

In her book, Choose Joy, because Happiness Isn’t Enough, Kay Warren writes a more biblical definition,

“Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right and the determined choice to praise God in all things.”

JOY is not smiling every minute, never letting anyone know you are sad, being giddy and laughing all the time.

Some of us are more outgoing in personality, and it might appear that those emotions define joy for us, but we all express our emotions differently.

We all enjoy times of happiness, delight, and beauty, but life does also bring us times of sadness, ugliness, hurt and hardship.

Sometimes we struggle with where is God? And how do I handle this? God wants us to choose joy, no matter the state of our circumstances.

So, how do we, as women, learn how to choose the JOY that comes from trusting God no matter what life brings to us or to those we love?

About the time God began to challenge me with the possibility that it was time to step down from Children’s Ministry, He also brought Psalm 16 across my radar. David also wrote this prayer, just as he did Psalm 19, acknowledging his faith and trust in God. I was familiar with the end of this Psalm, but had never really looked at the whole chapter…let’s read it together…

Joy Described-PSALM 16, ESV

“Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good thing apart from you.” As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.

The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. I bless the LORD, who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your Holy One see corruption.

You have made known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

God had taught David to know Him intimately. This became the most important relationship in David’s life.

David came to believe that God was enough for him. David learned to choose joy.

We can learn to choose joy like David did, as we choose to believe that God is who He says He is. He is enough.

Is God enough for you?

One of the worship songs we often sing is Blessed Be Your Name—”You give and take away. My heart will choose to say. Lord, blessed be Your Name…”

David viewed God as his Portion in life and his Deliverer in death.

Is God enough for you?

My MUSINGS this week…

  • I have the privilege of serving on our Women’s Ministry Team as the Coordinator of Heart2Heart, Becoming a Woman of Strength and Dignity.
    • Heart2Heart is a place for women of all ages to deepen their walk with God as they discover more of Who He is, and who they are in Him.
    • We learn together about how deep belief in God provides the foundation of intentional growth in every area of life, whether in our home, our workplace, our church family and in our world.
    • God has given me a passion to see women—YOU—following Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. This has given me much to ponder… Will share more about this later.
  • Our Federal Election is now over.
    • My belief in God gives me hope as I choose to continue to live out my faith from day to day in a way that will make God’s Name famous.
    • We have much to consider and to pray about as we watch history unfold before our eyes. God is enough.

Your MUSINGS this week…

  • May I ask you, this week, to consider whether you really believe that God is Who He says He is, and whether  God is ENOUGH…no matter what, when, where, why, or how life is today, this week, this year?
  • Did you have a special moment this week that you’re especially thankful for today? Share it with us…

Continue your journey in joy…thanks for walking with us.

Love you, Colleen

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Why Mrs Vans Musings?

I recently joined a group called Hope*Writers. One of the statements in their manifesto says,

“We build benches, not platforms.”

Hope*writers Manifesto

I love this and so many other things about this writing site.

To “build a bench” is to invite others to come and sit awhile:

  • So that we can get to know each other better.
  • So we can hear each other’s thoughts about what is important to us.
  • So we can share words of hope and encouragement.
  • So each of us can then turn and pass on that hope and encouragement to someone else.

Thoughts. Words. Actions. All so important.

Why MRS VAN?

I had a really hard time deciding what to call this blog. Should I continue to call it “Mrs Van” or should I call it by my full name, Colleen van Nieuwkerk?

Both names apply to me and have for a long time.

My full name is Lola Colleen van Nieuwkerk. “Lola” is my paternal Grandmother’s name. She was “Lola Mae” with roots in Missouri, USA. I always loved being called after her. She passed away several years ago, and I still miss her and her prayer support so much. Sometimes you may see my name as “Lola” even though I have usually gone by “Colleen.” Anything government-related can become tricky when you are called by your second name.

My life as Mrs. Van began in the late 1990’s. I was serving at our summer camp and was asked what my camp name would be. The answer, “Mrs. Van” was my instant response and so began an easy solution to helping all the kids in my “Director of Children’s Ministry” life know what to call me. My husband became known as Mr. Van. We have loved being Mr. and Mrs. Van. Today, even 22 years later, many of the dear folks in our church still call us by those names. And those kids in our ministry, many of whom are now grown up and have children of their own, also still call us Mr. and Mrs. Van.

Part of my struggle in what to name the blog was “Do I need to give up the “Mrs. Van” identity after all these years?” I probably went back and forth about the name over twenty times until one morning last week. I was dreaming about the blog as I woke up and my first thought was “No, I don’t need to give that identity up.” God gave me peace about the decision.

God has kept us in the same church family for almost forty years and we have been so privileged to learn to know and love Him, and to love and serve our people here. For some reason, He didn’t ask us to move on, as ministry staff often do, as their time of ministry ends. He has, instead, allowed me to continue to serve but to carry a lightened load as I grow older. This is amazing to me!

As I consider passing on hope and encouragement to you:

  • I want to walk with you.
  • I want to sit on the bench with you, and visit one-on-one, and
  • I want to also reach out, with you, to others.

And so, again, welcome to Mrs Vans Musings.

Why Mrs Vans MUSINGS?

Anyone who knows me well would say that the meaning of the word “musing” would describe my personality accurately…

Merriam’s Webster Online Dictionary defines the word “musing” as thoughtfully abstracted, MEDITATIVE.

Other synonyms for “musing” include melancholy, contemplative, pensive, and reflective. The dictionary also includes absentminded but I’m not liking that one very much.

Antonyms given are featherbrained, flighty, flippant, frivolous, goofy, harebrained, light-headed, scatterbrained; brainless, mindless, silly, thoughtless, and unthinking. None of those words describe me ever—at least not in my opinion…

My husband would say that I sometimes overthink situations, but also that I often discern truth about those same scenarios.

  • I am definitely not the “life of the party” person, but I do enjoy other people’s kind humor.
  • I am definitely philosophical and analytical.
  • I also enjoy thinking deeply about God and His story…and how I fit into it.

To live life with intention is to muse, to become absorbed in thought and to think about something carefully and thoroughly.

And so, again, welcome to Mrs Vans Musings.

God’s Meaning Of MUSING

God gave the Psalmist, David, in Psalm 19 in the Bible, some words to share that also pertain to musing. Psalm 19:14 says,

I chose this verse to be my Life Verse when I was thirteen years old…

The words, “Be acceptable,” request in this song (psalm) that my “musings”, my words and my thoughts, would be an act of worship before God, like a sacrifice.

MY MUSINGS THIS WEEK…

What have I been musing about this week—what has been my act of worship and sacrifice?

*Family Joy–

  • Mr. Van and I are parents to three sons who are all married with families. We are grandparents to ten grandchildren. Our anticipated Grandchild #11 will arrive in January/20.
  • Thanksgiving weekend was a time of celebration as it was announced publicly that our oldest grandchild and his wife are expecting our first great-grandchild in May/20!
  • This news means that we will have four generations in our personal family. It also means that we will have two babies to love at the same time:) And it also promotes my almost 87 year old Dad to a fifth generation as a Great-Great-Grandpa!

*This next week will be our Federal Government election in Canada.

  • I feel privileged to live in a country where we still have freedom to live openly the life that God has called us to live. However, many things have changed in our culture in the past four years and so we are praying that God will keep our land glorious and free.

*The rhythms of life as I contemplate doing the next right thing over and over every day, and choosing what counts for eternity.

YOUR MUSINGS THIS WEEK…

So, as we together consider entering into this journey with joy and intention, please let me ask you…

  • Are the words of your mouth and the meditation of your heart an act of worship before God?
  • Will you begin or continue to “muse” about what God might be saying to you regarding your thoughts and words?
  • Will you share in the comments one way you plan to “muse” well in order to encourage the rest of us?

Thanks for walking with us in this place of Joy and Intention. And so, again, welcome to Mrs Vans Musings.

Love you, Colleen

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