Those warm mid to end of February days were tough. Darren and I were travelling to Ottawa; he to catch a flight to Vancouver to see family, and both of us to skate the world’s longest rink, the Rideau canal. Temperatures, though, well above freezing, drowned that dream in a deep pool of melting ice. They closed the canal.
God is always good, especially when the cross of February warmth is upon us. He has plans, great ones, unexpected, and sometimes playful ones, so getting discouraged is never good. Here’s how this truth played out for two hockey-thirsty Canadians.
When those warm days hit we knew what was on the way. A flood! The rain came, and wow, it fell. Once He determines the right amount of water needed He sends the mercury falling, yielding glassy, glowing, gorgeous ice. It’s hockey time. But only when it’s His time; I had a sense it was His time.
Sweetly flooded lakes and ponds scattered amid the hills where we live gets my heart pumping. Dark, glassy stretches hugged rocky shores where bending pines leaned to gaze into ice mirrors.
This year’s flood fell on the anniversary of my Mother’s death one year ago, Feb 24, 2017. Time in prayer, thanksgiving, Mass, and a visit to Mom’s grave site gathered my thoughts around the incredible presence of God taking my Mother’s hand to bring her home one year ago. During these memories, my attention moved away from ice-covered lakes and ponds.
Monday, Feb 21 was clear and sunny in 2017. Totally unaware that Mom was about to spend her last four days on earth, I wanted to take her for a winter walk. A sun-bathed section of road across from her home on Papineau Lake exposed the gravel surface providing great footing for her at 92. Surprisingly she didn’t use her cane, making it halfway up the steep incline to catch a view of the snow-covered lake.
Filled with excitement, she called my sisters that night to share her joy. I saw our Lord’s hand, felt his touch, and thanked Him. Yet the profound awareness of His care of my mother didn’t give me even a hint that three days later she would be with Him. Quite the opposite. She could live to a hundred I thought. It was our last walk together. And He provided that gift.
I was alone this year, 2018, on that same stretch of lakeside road remembering, thankful, and sensing Christ’s presence again, unaware of what He was orchestrating. The silence was strong and embracing. No snow-covered lake this year. Instead, beautiful, luscious ice spread from shoreline to shoreline calling me, inviting me into the next stage of the memorial of my mother’s death. Returning to this same spot a day later, I tied my skates, grabbed my stick, and with my right leg drove the cold edge of steel into shiny lake ice launching me into a dream. Every stride, every turn, every pivot, was silk; every sound of the puck hitting the blade of my stick seemed to echo through the hills into eternity as I praised God and His Mother in joyful thanks.
Long distances disappear when I’m skating, with each stride sending small ice chips into the air. How bizarre to have immediate, tangible recall of being in a kayak months ago on the same stretch of shoreline with paddle blades pulling dark, clear water. This is Ontario, this is real, yet impossible to create from any clever planning. This is God’s own doing. How He loves to play with and in His Creation; how He loves to join us in the magnificent ability to play that He alone has given us. He, in me, skates, handles the puck while the pines sing praise to Him.
The afternoon closed with a last look at an ice-covered cove where skate blades carving beautiful arks remained for the stars of the gathering night. Returning to the car I suddenly became aware of an extraordinary gift, an extraordinary way Christ with His Mother was shaping this anniversary memorial.
The next day I brought my Magnificat. From here, this was a pilgrimage. A skating pilgrimage, entering into the profound winter beauty, silence, and solitude directing it toward God through prayer and skating, all the while recalling how He entered my mother’s last days with me at her side.
I skated further down the lake, stopping at different spots to read a hymn, a psalm, a reading for the day’s Mass. Each spot, with its unique shoreline trait, provided a place to rest and pray. The silence, cold, and outdoor splendour, helped lift my heart to marvel at the infinite mystery of God. I started to sense a profound significance in all that was happening, along with a wish to know what and why. While it was certainly a non-mystery to experience the joy of skating on a lake, there was more, always more in whatever I do. I was on the threshold of understanding that more.
The third outing had me exploring the south end of the lake with an eye to a beautiful Island holding tall red and white pines. This Island has always been a destination for my family when we were kids on the lake, when I was a young adult, with friends as I grew older, and now on skates the year after my mother’s death. The sun’s warmth welcomed and soothed me as I glided my way in and out of the shoreline bays making my way to open ice that joined the mainland to the island. I made my way to a raft anchored on a small sandy shore.
The sun gently pushed me back, easing me down on the raft. A gentle peace surrounded me as I took my rosary and prayed the hymn for the day. I soon felt an overwhelming sense of my mother’s presence, her involvement in this in fact. The events of remembering her in prayer, at Mass, at the grave site, and on the stretch of road we walked all flowed together. I became aware of her giving this frozen lake to me as a gift, a way of saying thanks. I had always known that it was God’s gift through His Mother, but how could this be, I wondered. I asked Jesus plainly, “Lord, can my mother intercede, have a part? Is this possible? To the extent I’m experiencing? Lord Jesus, I know the saints intercede for us, but…” I rested in God’s trademark silence, not a silence in which he is absent, but one in which I experienced a yes, a deep clear yes. This was the first time the ice remained for more than a week. Usually, it lasts a day or two. What an extraordinary gift, beyond what I imagined back in Ottawa. And that He placed it within the first anniversary of her death had me in awe. St. Paul came sweeping into my thoughts: “God now at work in us can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.”
I reflected on the day she gave me my first pair of skates for Christmas. She and I loved hockey, watched Hockey Night In Canada every week and shared a passion for the game. I know she was praying for me then as this simple gift of skates defined my person and friendships over the years. God nurtured it, and I came to know Him through it. I sat resting in the sun overwhelmed at the mystery of heaven and earth, of saints and angels, of life and death, and Christ’s own death to bring my mother to the fullness of life. Her body gave me life, unfolding 65 years later to me holding her hand as she moved closer and closer to her last breath at 92 having received the Holy Eucharist in the site of angels.
I wiped the tears, prayed a Psalm, closed the Magnificat, and skated away toward the shore where the car was. Long easy strides, stick handling around air pockets and the odd ridge of snow all combined with a heart filled with confident trust in the One who is accomplishing all things.
The closing day of this extraordinary gift happened the next day, Sunday. Following Mass, skates and stick in the car, I headed to the south end of the lake. Making my way to the Island, weaving around mounds of snow again with the puck on my blade, I followed the south shoreline. Rounding the pine-dressed point I caught a glimpse of skaters in the distance. Striding toward their gliding movement with the sun reflecting off the ice it became increasingly clear that I knew them. Gradually the distance closed to a meeting of surprised, glowing smiles. Friends from Combermere, the Fritz’s, Rideouts, and staff from Madonna House Apostolate, Fr Zac, Meaghan, and a guest, Barbara all joined me for the grand final skate.
As the day closed with the Lake behind us, and the sun setting, I felt my mother’s smile within the loving care of the One who holds us all. I remembered Fr Zac leading the closing prayer at my Mom’s wake last year at Huebner’s Funeral Home, his presence on the altar at her funeral Mass. I looked over at Meaghan who had such a close friendship with her. I stood overwhelmed at how this all happened, how He makes such things happen. With a dancing, grateful joy in the closing moments of this beautiful memorial gift, I raised my heart in humble, total gratitude.
We need only fix our eyes on the brilliant horizon where He stands with open arms creating all things new. ” Study the generations long past and understand; has anyone hoped in the Lord and been disappointed?” (Sirach 2: 10-11).