Sunday, December 31, 2006

We Need Each Other

Romans 12:16 (The Message)
The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
14-16Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they're happy; share tears when they're down. Get along with each other; don't be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don't be the great somebody.

I have friends who are fascinated by technology for it's own sake--they are driven by curiosity and love playing with new tools. I'm not like that but I'm glad they are because I need them in my life. I am loathe to change for the sake of change and slow to catch on to the utility of new gadgets. About a hundred years after everybody else I wake up to the possible advantages of a given item and only then do I drive myself to break the technology barrier.

We are all born with a tool kit with several pieces missing. It's important to know that our tools aren't just for ourselves but to be shared with others--and we need the ones that they have too in order to fulfill the assignments God gives us in life.

All around us are people who hold the truths, information or technical skills that we need to fill in our gaps. God made us this way to bind us together in interdependence, humility and mutual respect as well as to be a blessing to one another.

Some people genuinely don't realize that they have anything the rest of the world needs. For them, the most powerful thing can be for other people to notice the gifts that they are blind to and mention them. I've learned never to assume that people see the beauty and strength that I see within them and that telling them is important. People have done this for me too and I can't overstate the importance of their words in helping me to identify who I am and the gifts I have to share with others.

I love this lovely line from Robert Fulgham's, "All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten"

And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out in the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

Going forward hand in hand, being ready to lift or be lifted and sharing tools generously--these are goals I aspire to in the New Year.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

It takes All Sorts

Proverbs 15:15 (New Living Translation)
15 ...for the happy heart, life is a continual feast.

I don't get much sleep and I like it that way. Even though my eyes occasionally betray me by turning as red as a closet vampire's or by slight puffiness (all right, bags), for the most part my body supports me very well in my poor sleeping habits.

My soul-mate and husband, Paul, seems to have given up on taming my nocturnal lurking--we do generally seem to run on different internal clocks. One of the good things that happens in a relationship though, given enough time, is that you begin to flow with each other's idiosyncrasies like water flows around rocks; the things that once may have driven you crazy--now--not so much.

I think that sleep cuts into my day too much and I fight every night to ward it off as long as possible. The morning--ah, that's another story--the bed so reluctantly slipped into, seems to develop magnetic powers overnight and when I know it's time to get up, I do so in micro-movements--very slowly.

Coffee helps--which is why so many of my blog posts start with me staring out of my kitchen window and describing the view. Besides being stunned by the beauty outside, I come to the window with my brain already stunned as I wait for that first fragrant cup of delicious, steaming, dark amber liquid.

Each of my friends is one of a kind and no two of my six grandchildren are mirror images. God seems to revel in creating variety and he definitely has a sense of humour.

Well, here's to celebrating individual differences--and to the precious gift of laughter.

Proverbs 17:22 (New Living Translation)
22 A cheerful heart is good medicine...

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Book

James 4:8 a (New International Version)
8Come near to God and he will come near to you.

I can see it and feel its texture in memory, even now, nearly half a century later. It was a small book in every dimension except thickness; and weighty. Its delicate pages were almost gossamer thin, rustling as though whispering to me when I turned them--and they creased easily. The front and back of the faded blue cover were slightly loose through much handling, but I think that if it could speak, the book would say that it liked being creased and loose rather than in pristine condition, gathering dust on a shelf.

The book belonged, and still does, to my brother Robert, three years younger than me, and it was his christening bible--a gift from his God-parents. It was the only bible in our house, with the exception of Mum's black leather bound bible in Dutch, which might have been in Zulu as far as my ability to read it was concerned!

Inside the front cover of Robert's bible, someone had written, "Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you" James 4:8. My eyes fell upon these words many times as a child because, avid reader that I was, I even read the Bible--King James Version--because I wanted to.

There's a verse in Isaiah (55:11) that says that God's words will never return to him empty, but will always accomplish the purpose they were sent out for. It's as though they are heat seeking missiles, looking for their intended target. I believe that with all of my heart and wonder if that's why I am so drawn to him, and how I know that he will not land on a moving target. He looks for one that cares enough to be still, sit at his feet, and draw near to him.

2 Chronicles 15:2 (New International Version)
2 He went out to meet Asa and said to him, "Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The LORD is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Christmas Menorah

John 1:9 (New Living Translation)
9 The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

As Christmas drew near this year, Frances, one of my friends, announced that she had my gift--and that she had traveled "all the way" to Thornhill, to find it. She couldn't wait until Christmas Eve, when we'd be at her house after the Christmas Eve service, and I could open it. I was excited, and curious too, wondering what the mysterious gift could be.

It was a long and narrow package and well taped together, but as I pulled away at the layers of tissue, I was as mystified as ever. Whatever it was I couldn't tell until it emerged from its tissue cocoon. It was a Jewish candlestick--a menorah. It was a most unusual one--made of fine black painted metal, with the service candle holder in the centre, and with four candle holders on either side in the middle of little chairs that swiveled. She said she chose it because my house is a "house of chairs."

The menorah, symbolizing the defying of darkness by light, was a wonderful Christmas gift, although it's really an intrinsic part of the Jewish celebration of Chanukah. Frances had gone to a Jewish store and carefully chosen it, trying to explain to the puzzled salesman, why she wanted to give a menorah as a Christmas present.

Along with the menorah came a little booklet explaining the story and celebration of Chanukah, and instructions for prayers to be read and points to discuss as the candles are lit over the eight days of Chanukah.

Although written for Jewish readers and with wonderful whimsical humour, as a Christian I was blessed by and learned from this little book--seeing in the words a deeper meaning than the writer might have imagined.

I've learned that a "mitzvah" is "a divinely beautiful deed." Lighting the candles symbolizes adding more light to the world, adding mitzvahs to your life--not underestimating the power of light. What a beautiful thought.

The booklet says that for a mitzvah, only the best will do. This reminds me not to give God or others a second best gift, only the best that I can do or give of myself or my resources.

In the historic event from which Chanukah stems, a tiny flask of oil, enough for one nights light, was found hidden beneath a floor in the temple in Jerusalem that had been ransacked by the Greeks--however the oil miraculously lasted for eight days.

The lessons from this story were too good not to share:

If something seems impossible, perhaps try a little faith and God may provide a miracle; and--sometimes miracles are hiding under your feet, waiting for you to recognize them.

And lets all add many mitzvahs to our lives!

1 John 1:5 (New International Version)
5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Looking Forward

Luke 8:15 (New International Version)

15But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

During this week--the week between Christmas and New Years day, I tend to be even more reflective than normal. I don't make New Year's resolutions exactly, but I do ponder about a focus for the year ahead and often a Bible verse pops out at me and I think, that's it, that's my verse. I have several "life verses" that cover the fly leaves of my various bibles--and I've gathered them together in one place, in a file on my computer, along with prophetic words or words of confirmation/affirmation that have been spoken to me and which I treasure. Words of blessing are of great significance in confirming and shaping identity, as are harsh words of criticism and shaming.

Anyway, all of that is to say that one of my friends drew my attention to the verse above from Luke 8, which was in yesterday's Daily Light. I'd read the Daily Light already and hadn't even noticed it, but I'm grateful for her prompt to read again, because I knew when I read it that it is my heart's longing for the year ahead.

If anyone else is reflecting and looking forward in this way, I'd love to hear your thoughts for the year ahead in a comment on the blog.

Matthew 11:19b (New Living Translation)

19 ..."But wisdom is shown to be right by its results.”

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Boxing Day

8.45 a.m. December 26th 2006
It is our family Christmas celebration today and all is ready, awaiting the arrival of six grandchildren, two children and their spouses, and a friend who joins us for special celebrations.

There is a certain hush when all of the preparations for a special celebration have been made and you are waiting for it to begin--a sort of calm before the storm.

After a mild and sunny lead up to Christmas, this morning as I look out of my kitchen window, snow is falling--how perfect! Silently the snowflakes fall as if from some inexhaustible supply above. They look as light as goose feathers and yet they plummet to the ground with purpose, as though bent upon their mission of transforming the world into winter.

A scarlet pomegranate-scented candle fills the room where I now sit with its fragrance and the gentle flame gives a bright glow, its black wick rising from a crimson sea of melted wax.

The oak wall clock ticks on as comfortingly as the heart-beat in the chest of a lover--tick-tock--tick-tock.

Warm air sighs through the house from the furnace with a background whooooosh that we don't hear unless we pay attention. I am grateful for the comforting warmth of our home; for the scent of pomegranate, the plentiful feast that waits and the dear family that will gather soon to celebrate with us.

Grandchildren are about to explode upon the scene from a silver Honda van and the apartment downstairs. We will rejoice in their bright eyes, diverse personalities and energy, but for these moments of quiet reflection, I am also grateful.

With Open Hands

In 1979 I read Henri Nouwen's book, "With Open Hands, " and what he had to say about living with open hands rather than clenched fists inspired me to write a four verse poem expressing my thoughts about living life free from defence mechanisms--although it wasn't as easy as I thought to lay them all down.

The first verse of the poem came to mind as I thought of Jesus and his vulnerability in coming to earth as a baby.

With open hands I stand before the world
I lay my weapons down for Jesus' sake.
Naked, unmasked, defenseless--it's my choice
Because I know that he my hand will take

Ezekiel 36:26 (New Living Translation)

26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.

Monday, December 25, 2006

If You Knew the Gift...

John 4:10 (New International Version)

10Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."

It's Christmas morning, very early, and all the world is waiting.

Yesterday, Christmas Eve falling on a Sunday, we were at church in the morning and the evening. There was a great sense of togetherness in anticipation of something special.

For the adults there was anticipation of being together in celebration and worship, as well as anticipation of the personal traditions and rituals some of us engage in. I found my mind wandering for a moment during the morning service and thinking of life as a string of Christmases like beads on a rosary.

The children of course were anticipating something more concrete. One of our God-daughters, Eden-Belle, gave us a small present, a treasure taken from her own store of belongings and wrapped up for us in purple foil paper, covered liberally in scotch tape. She couldn't wait to give it to us, but she said we were not to open it until that night at her house, where it is one of our traditions to go on Christmas Eve.The delayed gratification of Christmas seems out of sync with the instant gratifation that is the norm in our culture.

And now it is Christmas morning and there is a hushed sense of waiting. In a few short hours there will be waking and excitement and the waiting will be over--for another year.

Israel was waiting on that first Christmas night, but they weren't waiting for a baby in a manger--they were waiting then--as they are waiting still--for a Messiah to come in power, not humility. So many didn't recognize him when he came, but there were some who did--shepherds and wise men from the east, a devout man named Simeon, and the 84 year old prophet Anna, in the temple where Jesus' parents took him at eight days old (Luke 2).

Jesus' words to the Samaritan woman at the well, recorded in John 4 are on my heart this morning: "If you knew the gift of God..."

May hearts and souls be open to see and receive "the gift of God" this Christmas.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Dog Named "You'll Have to Tri Harder"

Brenda loves her volunteer job doing data entry at Maple Lanes, a golden retriever kennel near Alliston. She records the details related to various litters of puppies on the computer--where the puppies go, to whom and for what purpose. The pure-bred dogs go all over the continent, some as far away as Yellowknife, Alaska, and some are trained for such unusual jobs as detecting bed bugs or termites!

One dog's name struck her as unusual; her registered name was "Maple Lanes--You'll Have to Tri Harder"--and her "call name" was Tri.

"Ah, now there's a story," Sherri, the kennel owner said when Brenda asked her about it.

Something had happened to one of the puppy's legs after birth--it was swollen and bruised and Sherri thought that maybe its mother had stepped on it. The puppy was put on antibiotics to try to save the leg.

Sherri's aunt--who was like a big sister to her--was dying of cancer, and the call that she'd been dreading came from her mother to say that it was time--her aunt was close to death. Sherri left to be with her mother and her aunt.

When she returned after three days, an awful smell of rotting flesh filled the house. Even though the puppy was otherwise healthy because of the antibiotics, the leg had died and was already decaying. Needing to make the arrangements for her aunt's funeral, Sherri took the puppy to a vet she doesn't usually use, to be euthanized--no-one would be likely to buy her and it just wasn't practical to keep her. Her heart was heavy as she dropped off the puppy, full of grief for the loss of her beloved aunt. She said she'd come by later that week after the funeral, to pay the bill.

When she returned to the vet's, just expecting to write a cheque, to her surprise, she found the puppy was still alive! A new, inexperienced but enthusiastic vet just out of veterinary college had taken it upon herself to amputate the leg and save the puppy, paying for the surgery herself. The other vets in the office told her she was crazy. She had put drinking straws into the stump where the leg had been, for drainage.

Sherri was a bundle of emotions but mainly overwhelmed. Still grieving the loss of her aunt, she took home the puppy, knowing that for the next eight weeks she would require intensive care. Every three hours, around the clock, Sherri took the puppy to suckle at the mother dog, keeping all the other puppies away and the mother dog from licking the site of the operation.

Thanks to a determined vet and Sherri's commitment the puppy survived. And the puppy, who Sherri named Tri after she survived against all odds, has a very special job. She is now a St. Johns Ambulance therapy dog--with children who are amputees. It seems God had a purpose for this puppy who seemed to have no place to belong--and he made sure she survived. Tri the three legged dog has a bond with the children she works with that no other dog could have.

When Brenda told me this story, I thought of Jesus. He left heaven for earth; being born in a human body with all of its weaknesses and limitations, laying aside his power and glory. He did this to be with us and for us. Nothing less than being one of us would have accomplished his purpose.

Isaiah 53:5 (Amplified Bible)

5But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our guilt and iniquities; the chastisement [needful to obtain] peace and well-being for us was upon Him, and with the stripes [that wounded] Him we are healed and made whole.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Discovery

Psalm 16:5-8 (Amplified Bible)

5The Lord is my chosen and assigned portion, my cup; You hold and maintain my lot.
6The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; yes, I have a good heritage.
7I will bless the Lord, Who has given me counsel; yes, my heart instructs me in the night seasons.
8I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.


Each season of life has its unique blessings, which is why I've never looked back with longing to the past. Why would anyone exchange the adventure of "now"-- the excitement of being part of God's unfolding plan--for a re-run of the wonderful moments of the past?

The last couple of days I've shared some thoughts on finding our purpose--discovering that who we are--even more than what we do--is a gift to those around us.

In earlier seasons of life, thinking deeply about this would have been more of a luxury. Being a busy young mother of small children had many blessings, but lots of time for reflection wasn't one of them. Here I am now in grand-parenthood, and busy as life is, that is often my own choice and I do have more of that precious commodity so scarce in earlier years. At the same time, I am more aware than ever that it is a finite resource and to be treasured and stewarded carefully.

So how do we discover our purpose when we finally have time to think about it? The scriptures I've included today hold some clues. Psalm 16 and Ephesians 2 both confirm that we are created for and assigned a purpose. We don't want to miss God's best by settling for less than finding it.

A book I read this year,"The Creative Call," by Janice Elsheimer helped me think about what I was like as a child, the things I loved to do and dreamed of doing. The seeds of our purpose can often be found there.

My passion for writing as a child, lay dormant for decades, but as it reawakened in recent years, my identity and call has come into clearer focus. For others it will be something unique to them, but just as clear.

Amy Carmichael wrote in her journal of a French missionary to the Huron who made a vow of "perpetual stability." He meant by this the giving of the whole life to those to whom he had been sent. It made me think that it could also mean the giving of the whole life to that for which we were created.

We discover our path by listening to God's voice, following his leading; making priorities and decisions a matter of prayer--then being true to the thing God created us for.

Ephesians 2:10 (Amplified Bible)

10For we are God's [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live].

Friday, December 22, 2006

More on Being--Fully

An added reflection on yesterday's thought about being freed to be more completely who we are:

When I first heard someone say that God will ask us one day why we weren't more like he made us to be, it made so much sense to me that I felt a release to relax, let go and be me. I stopped worrying about being quiet or being prone to expressing affection more freely than the average person. I generally became less insecure about who I am. I was more able to celebrate who others were while being content to be me.

Whoever we are, I think God wants us to be vibrantly and intensely who we are and not a diluted, "averaged out," version. I think he wants the essence of who we are to be fully fleshed out.

I'm really looking forward to reading the book I mentioned yesterday, "Cure for the Common Life" and finding out more about "Living in Your Sweet Spot," but one thing I have learned already is that being in it means saying no to other things, even those that come close or use secondary gifts, but aren't our primary purpose. If we are to fully flesh out our purpose it means prayerfully considering how we use the precious commodity of time.

My friend Susan wrote an added verse to the lovely worship song, "Lord You Are More Precious Than Silver," and it is a fitting end to this post.

In Your heart are many dwelling places
And there's some room prepared there just for me
And no-one else can take the place that's my place
So in your Father-heart I'll ever be

Thursday, December 21, 2006

On Being--Fully

Romans 8:29-30 (New Living Translation)
29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.

This morning I was reflecting on finding the place for which God created us. I believe we all have a place, a role, an assignment and a message and when we recognize it and embrace it, we will fill a spot that no-one else can.

I once heard Pastor Rick Warren, author of the best selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, say that God will ask us at the end of our lives, "What did you do with what YOU were given? Why weren’t you more like YOU?" That made me want to be true to who God made me--to sing my own song with all my heart.

Pastor Rick also said, "Never confuse prominence with significance – they are not the same (nor is success and significance)." I loved that too--the reminder that each person is significant.

A friend told me a couple of weeks ago about a book she had been studying with a group. It sounded like a book I'd like to read. She said that she had an extra copy and would send it to me. The book is, "Cure for the Common Life," by Max Lucado and the sub heading is, "Living in Your Sweet Spot." My friend's husband brought the book in to work for me today. I love it when God does that! The "sweet spot" is what I was thinking about this morning and I just glanced at one of the sidebars that says, "If you aren't you, we don't get you. The world misses out."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Gentle Jesus

Isaiah 40:11 (New International Version)

11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child,
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to thee.

Our children, Peter and Brenda, used to pray this first verse of a hymn by Charles Wesley every night when they were small, followed by a prayer for God to bless a whole string of relatives and probably a few pets. The words may seem to some to connote weakness, but having grown up with them and similar descriptions of Jesus in other hymns, I never saw them that way.

The words came to mind this morning as I read the lovely verse from Isaiah and reflected on the gentleness of God expressed through his son, Jesus. The world can be harsh, unkind and cruel, but in Christ, the simplest, most unsophisticated soul can find a place of acceptance, refuge and welcome. I know--I have found it.

1 Kings 3:7 & 9 (New Living Translation)

7..., but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around...
9 Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Seeking Him Seeing Him

Our Air India flight had originated in Delhi and daughter Brenda and I had joined it in Birmingham. We landed in Toronto and were patiently waiting for our luggage to appear on the carousel when we saw him. He looked like a sultan out of 1001 Arabian Nights, dressed in a beautiful and exotic costume. As we waited, my eyes were drawn to him and I wondered who he was and where he was from. He wore a belted robe of richly patterned fabric and beneath it he wore trousers of the same fabric, gathered at the ankles. On his bare feet he wore silken slippers that curled up into points at the toes and he had a mustache that curled up on either side too. The crowning glory was a majestic turban with a piece of fabric that stood up jauntily at the front. I found myself wondering if the wise men from the east, who came to seek Jesus the new born King, had looked like this noble looking man.

I thought about the wise men this morning as I read from Matthew 11, the words of John the Baptist, needing reassurance from Jesus as he sat imprisoned by King Herod, "Are You He Who was to come, or should we keep on expecting a different one?" The wise men knew--He was the one they were seeking--a royal king--and they worshiped him with their lavish gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. King Herod saw only a threat to his throne; a threat that he set out to eliminate.

Verse 6 of Matthew 11 (Amplified Version) speaks to those of us who see--and believe:

And blessed (happy, fortunate, and to be envied) is he who takes no offense at Me and finds no cause for stumbling in or through Me and is not hindered from seeing the Truth.

Prayer: Dear Lord, I don't thank you often enough for the simple gift of spiritual sight and insight--the gift of seeing him for Who he is--of recognizing the Saviour, the Light of the World. I pray for opening of eyes for those who don't see him yet.

Monday, December 18, 2006

We are Back!

Just a quick note to say that Brenda and I arrived home safely from England tonight and it's good to be back on Canadian soil.

Our week away together as mother and daughter, to celebrate Mum's 80th birthday, was incredibly precious and we have so many memories to cherish.

I didn't end up with as much solitary time as I usually need to survive--it has been a "people week--and a week to go with that flow!"

I want to thank the Lord for the gift of time with Mum, and our husbands for generously letting us go off without them while they kept the home fires burning.

Tomorrow, God willing, I will be back to as close to normal as I ever get and writing again!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

To Sleep--Perchance?

Today is our last day in the U.K.--Brenda and I fly home to Canada tomorrow, but my sleeping pattern has yet to become just that--a pattern!

A funny moment--on the flight over, the plane was half empty and we passengers were told to sit where-ever we chose. One man made himself totally at home. He changed into pajamas and stretched out across the five middle seats of the plane and slept soundly. In the morning he went back into the washroom and changed back into his clothes!

The first night that we were here, Brenda was exhausted, not having slept more than an hour during the flight. I, on the other hand, had fallen asleep almost immediately and dozed most of the next day. So when we went to bed at the end of our first day--an early night at 9.00 p.m., Brenda fell asleep but I was wide awake still at 2.00 a.m. I read by the light of a tiny flashlight, but eventually decided to get up and read in the bathroom. Meanwhile, Brenda woke up and needed to use the bathroom and was waiting patiently for me to emerge, eventually worrying that I might have passed out on the floor! When I decided to go back to bed and try to sleep, a relieved Brenda went to the bathroom and returned to find me eating a snack in bed (my mealtimes were mixed up too). The whole scenario struck us as so funny that when we finally turned the lights out at 3.00 a.m., the bed shook with sudden bursts of laughter every few minutes.

I gave Brenda persmission to poke me the next day, should I fall asleep. At about 6.00 p.m. I said, "Well, I haven't snoozed so far today," to which Brenda reacted with laughter--I apparently had been. A few moments later, she said to Robert, my brother, "There, Uncle Bob--look--it's Mom, "not snoozing" again!"

Our week here has flown by and we will carry many precious memories back with us tomorrow.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Disposable?

From Alvechurch in the U.K.. Here to celebrate Mum's 80th birthday:

On Monday morning we went to Sainsbury's to purchase food and party supplies to take over to the Sycamore Club--Mum's seniors group in Alvechurch. The Sycamore Club is a group of 20 or so seniors that gathers every Monday for the day, for company and lunch.

We bought rose and white wine, chocolate cake and jam sponge birthday cake, festive party plates and napkins and disposable but pretty champagne flutes with golden bases into which the goblets which were also festively decorated with party streamers, clicked.

We arrived just before 2.00 p.m., afternoon tea-time at the club, and began to take orders as to wine and cake preferences. A few people preferred tea, but the atmosphere was jolly and festive. The "disposable" champagne flutes were the biggest hit though. There were cries of, "Aren't these lovely?" and "Did you bring them from Canada?" "Do you mind if I take mine home?" and "Can we save them for our next party?"

So the disposable flutes were much admired, carefully washed--but definitely not disposable!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Path of Peace

Luke 1:78b-79
...the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.

How beautiful these words from the song of Zechariah are. How we need to know that path of peace. Our world is so pressured, so busy--and it is easy for even those of us who know and love Christ to lose our peace.

The way to find and keep it is to daily steal away with him, hear his voice speaking to our heart through his Spirit and meditate on the words he left with us in the Bible.

As we do this we shall find strength, joy and peace. He will guide us in our troubles and shine his light in our dark places.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Lily: My Need to Unwind!

Contributed by Lily Appelsein... (while Belinda is away in England, celebrating her Mum's 80th birthday)

The following verses are from Isaiah 59. As I sat in a restaurant waiting for my lunch order to be ready the other day, I opened my Bible on the table in front of me, and these familiar verses struck deep at my heart again.

The Kingdom of God is such an upside down, backwards kingdom… It is so different from anything man could ever come up with and so counter to any other religion out there that I can’t help but be struck with awe, time and time again. Once your eyes are spiritually opened to be able to see this Kingdom, there’s no way you could ever want to pursue any other belief system.

I read from Isaiah 59:

6 “Is this not the fast which I choose
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free
And break every yoke?

7 “Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

8 “Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
And your recovery will speedily spring forth;
And your righteousness will go before you;
The glory of the Lord will be your rearguard.”

When we have problems, deep grief, unhealed wounds, God’s remedy is not for us to wallow in them… When we really need God to hear us, when we find ourselves deep in darkness, that’s just when He wants us to do the opposite to what it feels like we need – to get our eyes off ourselves and begin to look to the needs of others… “then your light will break forth like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth.”

10 “And if you give yourself to the hungry
And satisfy the desire of the afflicted
Then your light will rise in darkness
And your gloom will become like midday”

"Father God, I so quickly and easily get all caught up with myself and my problems -- my little hurts and frustrations get so out of perspective with your grand scheme of things and to me seem so overwhelmingly big. My whole being seems bent toward sinking into a narcissitic vortex that leads me further and further into myself and further and further away from you. Only you can break that cycle... Oh, God, pull me out!

Show me this day the hungry, the poor, and the afflicted who are all around me. Give me some of your bread for the hungry, some of your living water for the thirsty. Help me to keep my eyes off of me today and remain fully aware of being your hands and feet extended! Help me to understand that I truly can trust you with my own need for healing, while I get busy looking to the needs of others."

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995, by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Call to Quietness

Luke 10:39,42

This morning in my devotions I was reminded of the importance of deep relationship with God (as opposed to surface skimming).

It's from that relationship with, and in him, that we have anything at all to offer to others. In our busyness, especially at this time of the year, we can become to him, a casual acquaintance, rather than an intimate friend.

Our relationship with him must be the primary relationship in our lives--less negotiable than brushing our teeth. We will have to fight hard for that though--and deafen our ears to other voices and impulses that draw us from his feet.

The prize of his Presence, and our usefulness to him, is more than worth it--but we have a Foe who knows this better than we do sometimes--and he will pull out every weapon in his arsenal to thwart our efforts to maintain that relationship.

Dear Lord, please still our hearts and our nervous systems, which are so quick to jump from the place of quietness at your feet. Help us to find the peace, strength and serenity that are ours for the taking, if only we are still long enough to draw them from your outstretched hands.

Mark 12:33

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A Short Hiatus

Dear Friends,
I leave for a week in England on Saturday, December 9th, returning on the 17th.

My daughter Brenda and I, are going to celebrate Mum's 80th birthday, which is on the 15th of December.

I may not be able to publish any posts next week, as I will probably be busy during that short time, but will continue writing in my journal and catch up when I get back.

I'll miss you all next week! God be with you--and stay tuned!
With love,
Belinda

Questions

"The only dumb question is one that isn't asked." I don't always live by this maxim--I've often wanted to ask a question, but haven't, for fear of looking dumb. I have a colleague who is not shy about asking clarifying questions in meetings and no one thinks any the less of her. In fact I think the rest of the group is always glad she asked.

A few days ago I was reading Numbers 12 and Luke 1 and got to thinking about questions.

In Numbers 12, verses 1-16, Miriam and Aaron, Moses' siblings, are gossiping behind his back and questioning Moses' special role as God's messenger to the people. "Hasn't the Lord also spoken through us?" they said. Miriam was struck with a skin disease by God. Moses pleaded for leniency for her and God allowed her disgrace to be a mere seven days outside the camp.

In Luke 1 in the account of the pre-Christmas story--the angel announced to a bemused and bewildered Zechariah, that he is to become a father in his old age--to a boy to be named John. Zechariah asks what seems on the surface like a reasonable question; "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years." Zechariah's ability to speak was taken away the moment he asked his question. It came back when his son was born as the angel predicted, and Zechariah wrote down that his name was to be John.

Finally, further on in Luke 1, I read of the young Israelite girl who also had a visit from an angel. He announced to her that she was to be highly honoured--she was to bear a very special child--he was to be called Jesus, the Son of the Most High. The young girl, Mary, asked, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"

To Mary's question the result was the angel giving her the information she was seeking. Her response was that beautiful statement of submission to God, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said."

What was the difference in the questions that led to such different results?

Miriam and Aaron were in essence questioning God from a place of pride and criticism. Their attitude was such a contrast to Moses' humility and concern for his sister that it isn't hard to see why Moses was the man through whom God chose to speak.

Zechariah was doubtful, as evidenced by the words, "How can I be sure?"

Mary, although she naturally was puzzled, only asked "How?" she didn't question, "If." And once Mary had the information, she surrendered herself to God.

Questions are neither good nor bad really. It's the heart from which they come that matters to God!

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Secret Life

Matthew 6

A reminder to do deeds of goodness secretly—a needed reminder—how many people did I tell that a young person with no place to stay was living with us for a few weeks? Pray in secret too. Wow, what a challenge—to cultivate a life of quiet holiness. I need to hear and heed that message. Lord, please guard my lips from boastful and imprudent speech.

Three times; regarding giving, praying and fasting--Jesus says, “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” There is a clear choice—praise of man or reward of the Father.

Finally there is Jesus’ wonderful, freeing command to be free from concern about the provision for our needs. God will take care of these things and our concern and energy should be spent in seeking him and his Kingdom.

Reading the gospels—hearing Jesus’ voice—the voice of the one who lived and died that we might know God—is always refreshing and new.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Full Extent of His Love

John 13:1 (New International Version)

1It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

He had used words, but the ones into whom he had poured three years of teaching were slow to understand. The Teacher used the powerful tool of story telling--he used metaphor and analogy--he used object lessons--bread and fish. Still--it was getting close to test time--and the results weren't promising.

What was it he really wanted to convey before he left? There were only hours left now and they were ticking away so fast. But there was time for one final demonstration--one final lesson. Love; it was love he wanted to show them; the full extent of his love.

The men were hot and grimy. As they entered the room were they would celebrate the Passover together, beads of perspiration trickled down their faces and laced their lips with salt. There was a rank odour of sweaty feet.

The Teacher took off his outer clothing and they watched, curiously at first, wondering what he could be doing now. He was almost naked, demonstrating through his utter humility, stripped to the basic loin cloth and towel of a slave (with not even the status of clothing to cloud it), his last object lesson.

The silence was broken only by the sound of crystal clear, cool water being poured by the Teacher into a large bowl, which he placed on the floor. He knelt down before one of his followers and took the first of twenty-four feet in his strong hands, washing away the dirt and drying them with the towel around his waist.

"I have done this for you," he told them, "Now you must do this for each other. I have set you an example. You must wash each other's feet."

Even now, they still didn't understand, but that was okay--they would--soon--after they watched in horror, fear and dismay what he allowed to be done to him. Love means serving and sacrifice. It could mean laying down your life.

John 13:4-5 (New International Version)

4so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Great Mystery

Hebrews 2:9 (New International Version)

9But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

On Sunday our pastor preached on the text above--he spoke about trying to get his mind around the fact that the Creator became one of the creatures. He said it would be like the maker of Play Dough becoming the dough.

That Jesus, part of the Godhead--the Eternal Trinity--voluntarily stepped from eternity into time, and became one of us, is almost unfathomable. That he was driven by love for mankind is also hard for us to understand.

I find myself pondering what it must have been like for him to subject himself to experiencing death--to voluntarily die when he didn't have to. And then, not to die even a natural death, but to offer himself up to be "put to death," and such a death--death on a cross.

Angels sang at his birth, and yet he was making himself, lower than the angels...all for the love of the world--a world that would not understand, would hate him, would not recognize who he was--who he is.

John 1:1-5 (New International Version)

The Word Became Flesh
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.
3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Best Christmas Party in the World

I'm just winding down from the best--the absolute best Christmas party in the world. I'm afraid I'm just too, too, tired to write anything that requires concentration tonight--this Cinderella is about to turn into a pumpkin!

The party was attended by over eighty people--about sixty were people with disabilities supported by Christian Horizons and the rest were their support workers. I look forward to this party from one Christmas to the next and we all work like crazy in the days ahead of it--everyone throws their all into the cause of "The Party."

I guess the best way to convey what it means is to see it through the eyes of one of my friends. This friend heard about it after the fact two years ago. She felt jealous and left out when she heard how much fun we all had at it--so I invited her to help the next year. Last year she plunged in and worked alongside us in the kitchen; and then serving turkey and all the trimmings to the hungry horde. She got to experience the sheer exuberance, the shining eyes, the FUN--and she sang an unforgettable "O Holy Night" as a duet with a small man with as much attitude and extraversion as she possesses. In the year since then, she has joined the staff team and is now one of our support workers.The party is a better recruitment tool than any newspaper advertisement.

This year we had a Christmas wreath contest, and wreaths abounded, made by individuals or groups of people. There were prizes for all of the wreaths.There was the wreath made of orange plastic newspaper bags, stuffed with shredded paper (it won the prize for the best use of recycled material.) We had tin foil wreaths, wreaths made out of coat hangers with paper glued over them, and with glued on pictures; there were pine wreaths and a wreath with photos of everyone who lived in the home hanging from the top of it. There were no two the same and they were all held up, applauded and pronounced, "The best wreath in the category of..."

There was a karaoke machine with a microphone to use for solos and carol singing. One by one people came up and led a favourite carol, recited a poem, sang a solo, or played a tune on a harmonica. There was no shortage of singers or performers and loud applause followed every performance.

Put eighty people in a room together with food, music and a microphone and magic happens--especially at Christmas.

Luke 1:51-53 (New International Version)

51He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Gift

It was Christmas Eve—Annie’s first Christmas working at a new job, supporting people with developmental disabilities. It was great to have the job and she loved it, but on this particular night she was feeling disappointed. At her last job with another agency, she had worked over Christmas. It would have been her turn to get this one off, but here she was again, the rookie, and working the shift everyone wanted off. Her husband and kids had gone to family in Quebec, leaving her behind in Ontario. She felt very sorry for herself.

A hush always descends on group homes on Christmas Eve. People fortunate enough to have family go home but there are always people left behind. The group home may be their home, but they aren’t fooled; “going home” means going to where family and friends are. People feel it keenly at Christmas when they don’t have family that can take them home. Even staffing is minimal, to give as many people as possible the chance to be with their families.

Edith, one of the women at the home that night was small, elderly and stooped. She had a mental illness as well as a developmental delay and she could make an eight hour shift an exercise in endurance.

Edith said that she wanted to go for a van ride to look at the Christmas lights. The night had grown very cold, so Annie took a blanket along to bundle her up. As they walked to the van, the snow squeaked beneath their feet and their breath hung in the cold night air like smoky streamers.

There was no traffic on the streets; all was quiet. Annie turned on the radio to listen to Christmas carols while they toured the neighbourhood. From the bundle of blankets beside Annie, Edith began to sing, her voice thin and reedy. She was singing Silent Night, Holy Night. Surprised, Annie turned off the radio so that she could listen--she had no idea that Edith could sing. Her voice wasn’t beautiful, but there was a vulnerability and childlike innocence in it and she had the song word-perfect.

A dreamy look was in Edith’s eyes as she finished singing, but she wasn’t done. She launched into a welcome--to a congregation that only she could see--a welcome to the Christmas concert. Annie listened. She sensed that she was in for a treat.

Edith proceeded to preach a sermon about a man and his dog. They lived on a farm and the man had a dog and the dog would bark in the barnyard. The man would yell at the dog but the dog would keep on barking. Then one day someone came to the farm and told the man that if he would be nice to the dog the next time the dog was barking, the dog would stop barking.

So the next time the dog was barking, the man spoke softly to the dog and patted his head, and the dog stopped barking. And that, said Edith, is how Jesus teaches us to be kind to each other.

Annie’s eyes filled with tears. She knew that she would never forget this night. Suddenly she didn’t mind working, in fact she would not have missed these moments and the opportunity to hear Edith’s unexpected sermon for the entire world. As she drove along, Edith was quiet now, snuggled deep in her blanket. The lights twinkled on lawns and eaves and through the windows. All was still…It was a holy night--and Annie wondered if Edith was an angel--Until the next day, that is!


By Belinda Burston (who heard this true story from “Annie” and who loved “Edith” very much)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Power of Story

Yesterday nine of us gathered for a Christmas celebration at my house--eight managers and one financial comptroller. We all work for a non profit agency--a Christian ministry to people with intellectual disabilities.

The day is a cherished Christmas tradition and part of it is reading a story or two out loud. I had been up until 3.00 a.m. that morning, writing my story. A year ago or so, I'd heard it from one of our support workers and the moment she began telling it, I grabbed a pen and scrap of paper and started scribbling notes as fast as I could. Then I tucked away the scrap of paper to write it down one day, but forgot about it until the eve of the party.

I've read it out loud twice since I wrote it, and both times, people who knew "Edith" the subject of the story, have responded the same way. It triggered memories and a flood of other stories about her. We laughed as we remembered her ability to quickly defeat an untried greenhorn, we voiced respect at her masterful control of her environment and affection for her endearing qualities and the way she won our hearts, even as she wore us out.

Someone asked, "Hey do you have the CD Rom with the slide show shown at her memorial service? The slides were set to the song, "I'll See You in September." (Edith passed away in 2003 and the song was one of her favourites) I found it and we gathered around my laptop to watch the slides and reminisce.

Those of us who knew her, laughed and remembered. Those who didn't, listened, and wished they had.

I pondered with wonder her impact on all of us--this woman who the world counted lacking in gifts to give.

(I will post the story I wrote, tomorrow)

Luke 6:20 (New Living Translation)

The Beatitudes
20 Then Jesus turned to his disciples and said,
“God blesses you who are poor,

for the Kingdom of God is yours.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Moz the Fire Eating Dragon

One year when I flew back from England, my seat mate was “Moz” (short for Maurice), a young engineering student who was from Warwick and who was going to do his third year of university at Waterloo on a student exchange. He had been there since September, but because the previous weekend had been Thanksgiving in Canada and Monday was a statutory holiday, he flew home for the weekend!

I was interested to hear his impressions of the difference between the culture of Canada and that of England. He said that fellow students at Waterloo seemed much more serious about learning than his experience back in England and he was impressed by the way that the faculty of the university went out of their way to make sure that the students knew where they were going and what they were doing. That was good to hear.

Moz had spent the previous year in Australia and he still had an Australian twang. His hobbies were fire breathing and juggling, having once had a roommate who worked in a circus and then getting hooked himself!

He’d had a little trouble in Canada buying paraffin for his fire breathing. They wanted to know why he wanted to buy it!

I told him that I'd tell my grandchildren that I had sat next to Moz the Fire Eating Dragon on the plane.

How amazing to ponder the fact that in all of the people that have ever existed, there are no duplicates. Each person is a unique and special creation. Moz was a very unique person but so are we all--uniquely created for a unique assignment.

Friday, December 01, 2006

A Good Name

Proverbs 22:1 (New International Version)

1 A good name is more desirable than great riches;
to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

I met someone recently who said, "I've heard your name over the years," and then her eyes smiled into mine as she added, "It's nice to meet you."

At that moment, I thought of the inestimable value of a good name. My name would not be synonymous with extreme academic achievement or even high status professionally, but I hope that something good clings to it--that it is associated with kindness, integrity, and respect and valuing of all people.

What is the value of a good name?

  • It can be drawn upon when our character is called into question. While we are accountable for our actions, we need not be panicked into self defense.
  • It is an asset when networking, as in the meeting I mentioned at the start. The tone of that day was cordial from the start.
  • It brings glory and honor to God. As his children we can bring praise or shame to the family name. Any praise truly belongs to him, for it is he who keeps us from falling and whose discipline forms our character.

Why does the Bible say that a good name is better than riches or fine perfume?

  • No amount of money can buy a good name and its benefits. It can only be earned.
  • Perfume can mask a bad aroma--create a fragrant illusion--but not forever.

A good name is to be cherished. It is built by the way we act when no one is watching--or at least we don't realize they are.

Ecclesiastes 7:1 (New International Version)

1a A good name is better than fine perfume...