Monday, December 31, 2007
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,
This morning I spent some time reflecting--and even praying--about the year gone by and the year ahead. And I discovered that in doing so, it was a lot of my own wishes that crept into the picture and I truly didn't give God a lot of room to speak into my life.
I do remember whispering, as I prayed, "There are no sacred cows, God," but I don't think it really got from my head to my heart, because as I picked up my pen, I wrote too easily and with too many assumptions about what is good and right and God's will in my life.
I found though, that as I stayed with God, that I began to get a different idea on what it truly means to pray this kind of prayer.
I realize that I tend to start each year as if with my toe on the starting line in a race; waiting for the sound of the pistol to send me running toward my many goals.
But what if I stripped down to the essentials first? There really are only two in my life; and really only one, followed closely by the second; after which I hope that all else is fluid and flexible in God's hand.
The first thing is to know God; deeply, intimately and in ever increasing measure.
The second thing is relationship with the others in my life; my children, husband, grandchildren, friends and collegues. After God, there is nothing more important than the interplay of relationship with the particular "others" in my life.
It seemed a good thing to strip my life down to these things, and then hold up my life with trembling hands and ask, "What else?" of God.
So my busy life, with those things that I had previously considered blessed and ordained of him, I lay down as optional, and to be re-blessed and re-ordained, if he so wishes.
This year, if I strive for anything, it will be to keep my slate clear of anything but that which God wants to write upon it, and I will try to listen carefully on a daily basis to know what that is.
Thou knewest me before I was;
I am all open unto Thee.
Amy Carmichael, Edges of His Ways
Sunday, December 30, 2007
I prayed silently to the Lord for the right words, a humble attitude, a heart of love for my only sibling, a brother 19 mos. older than myself.
"Hi Stephen,It's good to see you." I said gently coming from the kitchen. He didn't meet my eyes but looked down. He muttered, "I'm going out for a cigarette."
I returned to the kitchen acknowledging that Stephen is in rough shape. The peace of our Heavenly Father settled upon me - I received it. My heart was grieved somewhat.I don't always know how to respond to Stephen and the dance that happens when my Dad and Mom, he and I are all together - my family of origin.
I sighed...a mixture of different emotions descending quickly...fear, sadness, and a resignation to the crazy time that may come. These new emotions were crowding the joyous, excited, light heart that had me singing Christmas carols moments before.
I sighed and laid all my expectations on the altar and asked the Lord for His grace, His love, and His wisdom. Lord this is where I am, where you've called me to serve, where you've called me to love. Let me be your hands, your heart. Lord, you came to heal, you came for the sick, for the broken.
Although I knew in my core, this was a journey I must entrust to Him, I also felt the muscles in my neck tighten and the sadness settle in like a fog. In my flesh, my pride, and in my heart I still longed for things to be more "normal" - no crazy talk, no conflict, strife, and no 'walking on eggshells'.
Most times...I no longer feel shame for them...for me...raw humanity...the frailty of the human condition...the broken.
I know now that peace comes from within, from the root of faith where He dwells in me...where no circumstance, nor person, nor hate, nor barbed words can penetrate.
...I also know how hard it is to stay there...to centre in that very faith...to draw from the well of living water that never runs dry...
This is what I've learned from my dear husband...in his peace, his outer calm, his humour, he who isn't as easily ruffled by the "now" as am I. I needed to draw on that strength. I felt so vulnerable...so needy...I felt I was at the very cusp...the precipice...
I momentarily stopped preparing the Egg Estrada for Christmas morn to stir the macaroni soup that was warming on the stove for our lunch. Two-year old Jeremiah was waiting for me to undo his coat and Josiah was also tugging on his zipper. I smiled from the heart. The twins grounded me to the present, drew me from the intense mental space I was in.
"Mommee...Mommee", tiny arms embraced my neck. They were home, I was home. We were a family and we would get through the next three days, come what may.
All 5 children were now at the door, greeting Stephen and Daddy and the twins and life was vibrant once more. Josh went out to get the tin from recycling for Uncle Stephen's cigarette butts.
Aunt Betty and Uncle Duncan had phoned at 10:00 a.m. to say they were just leaving London...my Aunt was nervous of driving conditions and said, "The damn snow and wind was bad through Listowel." I assured her that it was clear here and we would pray that it would be clear and she would have a safe journey.
Immediately, I gathered the girls to pray. Both my Uncle and my Dad were in their 80's and mom and her sister 76 (twins). I know how nervous they are of winter driving.
Jason dashed upstairs to finish cleaning the ensuite for my Aunt and Uncle and to gather his belongings for the next 3 days. My brother had returned from the front porch and was going upstairs. I heard him saying, "You gotta put up with my sister and she's doing all this..." before I consciously closed my ears.
Hannah came into the kitchen with Olivia at her heels. "Why is he saying those things...it's not true, is it Mom?"
I put down my measuring cup and the whisk. I looked at both of them. "You know Uncle Stephen lives in a group home. He is mentally ill. He has a sickness called Schizophrenia. It affects his mind and his senses. He thinks, sees, smells, hears, and tastes things that aren't real...but they are to him."
Hannah was indignant, "Why is he like this? Why does he say those awful things about you?"
"I don't know. It's hard to understand. We have to love him, Hannah and Olivia. People need love when they are most unlovable."
"But he's being mean and he's lying", six year old Olivia protested.
I spoke softly, "It seems like that to you but I'm not sure Uncle Stephen sees it that way."
Hannah said, "Why hasn't he been like this before?"
I was silent for a few moments. I needed to be honest but help her to understand. Girls, Uncle Stephen has always had these times but you haven't always seen them. We've tried to protect you somewhat by drawing you away and now you're older. You are seeing and hearing things as they really are. You're growing up and now you are just seeing Uncle Stephen through 'growing up eyes'".
I gave them both a quick hug and said, "Let's all ask God to help us love him this Christmas because he's having a real rough time. Only with God's help, can we love him through this."
The girls took off after Uncle Stephen and I knew accomplishing tasks was going to be more tedious. Jason or I would always have to be present with the children and Uncle Stephen. Right now I knew it would have to be Jason because I wasn't as strong on the inside as I appeared to the girls. I thought I was going to cry.
"Why Lord do my girls have to understand this? Why do I have to always be strong? I want to quit right now. I'm not up to this."
Was I angry?
... Yes I was that...and a lot of other things. Overwhelmed...topped my list of emotions.
Lunch happened. I chose not to sit at the table with Jason, the children, and Uncle Stephen. I wondered if Jason knew I was having a hard time coping. I wondered if what I was feeling on the inside, showed on the outside. I wasn't shaking and my hands continued to prepare for Christmas day. I was thankful so much was already prepared for and also thankful my hands had many tasks yet to do.
He dumped his water cup...thought that I put bugs in it. I caught the children's eyes and winked. He argued with the kids when they were repeating a story Grandpa told them, I caught their eyes again and mouthed the words, "Let it go." I wondered if the kids were up for this. I wondered if I was. Jason and I exchanged a look. I drew strength from him and said another prayer.
Aunt Betty and Uncle Duncan arrived around 1:30 p.m. and Dad and Mom shortly after. I was glad to have them. Initial greetings behind us and all presents downstairs...all personal belongings taken upstairs...we settled down to...well...Christmas...
and so it went...many tense moments, harsh words,...a frustrated 'shut up' to my mom over Christmas supper...but an apology...efforts made for peace...
My aunt and dad decided on a truce for their 48 year war...laughter...smiles... relief...joy...love...peace...hearts shared...wisdom spoken...conversation...more laughter...seekers...each of us in our own right...for our own truth...young and old...sick and well...learning to love....
So I look back and I am physically sick, mentally tired, emotionally exhausted but truly I found peace in the broken...perhaps because of it.
I realize all of us are broken...some of us, like my brother, more apparently so. We all need grace, we all need mercy, and a touch from our Father's hand. I thank Stephen this Christmas because God used Him to remind me of why He came.
His love is so perfect, holy, complete. Ours, however well-meaning, so flawed. Yet we die to self and love more. More of Him, less of ourselves.
Thank you Lord for this Christmas, for the opportunity to love.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NASV
Saturday, December 29, 2007
10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
As I crossed the borderland from night to day, from sleep to waking, the sound of the wind greeted my consciousness: blowing around the house; buffeting it, wind fingers prying at tiny gaps to rattle doors, rushing around the still sleeping village and the dark snow covered fields.
Later in the morning, I talked to my brother Robert, in England, and he told me that there too, it was a very windy day. I felt then as if it must be the same wind rushing around that tiny village and that the world was very small after all.
I love the wind. When I'm in, the sound of the wind outside only heightens my sense of comfort and well being at being inside. But the wind also has always reminded me of the temporary nature of physical life. Maybe it's because the wind seems almost to be an entity, rushing through the corridors of the centuries of time, with no regard for, or fear of, man or beast. Maybe it's because at the back of my mind I am reminded of the words of Psalm 103:15-16 (New International Version)
15 As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
So much of our thought and activity is fixed upon the here and now; the short time in this physical body. My prayer is that in the year ahead, God will give me more and more of an eternal perspective on life; his perspective.
Friday, December 28, 2007
"Mommy'sMum!" he cried. (That's what he and his three brothers call me.) "Know what day it is? It's CHRISTMAS EASE!" His stocky little body was wriggling with anticpation, like a happy little puppy. And I loved the message that came from Father's heart through a little boy's mouth, to mine.
Christmas Ease. I don't think I will ever refer to it as Christmas Eve again. What a wonderful reminder to do what we've all be talking about - taking Christmas a little easier - remembering what it's really for - hanging on to all the glass balls and letting the rubber ones go. "Easing" into Christmas instead of stressing into it.
My family is keeping a notebook this year. We're writing down what we didn't like this year along with ideas as to how to make it a more joyful, and less stressful season for all of us next year. Then in the early fall, we will send out a reminder to everyone of the changes we have agreed on, before we have a chance to slip into old habits. One of things we're going to do is forego our massive annual gift exchange. It was joyous chaos this year, but left many of us with a sense of materialistic emptiness when it was all over. There were 29 people all giving and receiving gifts - 20 adults and 9 children ages 3 months to 9 years. You can just imagine!
Those who do choose to give gifts can still do so, but it will be a quieter exchange, family to family, done more privately, not the wild melee of paper ripping frenzy that went down this year. Incidentally, after it was all over, Elizabeth, who will turn three next month was asked by her mommy what her favourite gift was. Her eyes widened and began to sparkle. Mommy waited to hear if it was the dolly or the battery powered ride-on car, or one of the other toys.
"The chocolate!" she said, surprising everyone. (Thank you "Auntie Omie" - a.k.a. "Belinda" - for the most favoured gift of all! The little bag of Lindor chocolates!)
What we hope to do next year is invite the children to do a Christmas play, perhaps a re-enactment of the Christmas story, and the adults too will be able to share any talents they have - whether writing, singing, dancing, song-writing, story-telling, baking, reading, baby-cuddling, you-name-it. That karaoke machine Abby got for Christmas this year stands to come in really handy. We're already excited about it and there has been some planning for next year already underway.
We know that family traditions are really, really important. They give a sense of grounding and identity to a developing child and build a foundation of memories for the whole family. But they don't have to be the same ones everyone else has. And the ones that are "too much", or that take away from the true meaning of Christmas don't have to be hung on to at all. And we don't have to be restricted to the ones we've always known. We can break out of the old mode and establish some entirely new traditions that just may turn out to be even better than the old.
This year was a good start in the right direction for the Stewart clan. Next year, I hope, will be the most meaningful and stress-free Christmas ever.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
The first winter storm of the season was on the way and I was listening to a program on safe winter driving.
A driving instructor mentioned teaching his students to maintain space between themselves and the cars around them. He called this, the “Living Room.”
The Living Room can mean the difference between surviving or not, if something unexpected happens, but it wasn't surviving on the road that I was thinking about.
I was struck by how we need to maintain living room in our lives, too. Living room; space; margin. There is so little of this precious commodity these days and it's one of the things I treasure in the days between Christmas and New Years; the luxury of some "living room."
Somewhere, between the feasting, making of turkey soup, visits with friends and cleaning up of empty boxes and wrapping paper, I will find time to reflect and recalibrate; thinking time; listening time.
In this time of solitude I find focus and clarity. In the quietness, I find rest for my soul.
Psalm 46:10-11 (New International Version)
10 "Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."
11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
Thank you Lord for the gift of time, you who are the God of Eternity.
I pray for your presence; I long to hear your voice; to sense your direction and to feel your peace as I seek your face.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
It started with me dreading "the thing in the attic" coming down when Paul first mentioned it sometime in November--and somehow in the weeks since then, the days and weeks unfolded into a bright ribbon of celebrations. I let the rubber balls drop along the way, but the glass ones all remained intact.
One of these was our tradition of going to the Furuya's after the Christmas Eve service and exchanging presents with Frances, Brian and our three God-children, Jacob, Summer-Lily and Eden Belle.
Frances puts her whole heart and soul into this evening, plotting and planning the details of food and decor weeks in advance. Nothing less than perfection will do for her. I think she reads too many Good Housekeeping magazines.
Each year she has done something different and it is always wonderful. But what we remember is being with her and her family, who we love.
It was a couple of weeks ago that she called me and asked with the excitement of a plan in progress in her voice, "Does Paul like lamb?"
I just couldn't bring myself to tell the truth. I was pretty sure that my plain eating husband didn't like lamb, but since catering to what he does like is severely limiting, I said brightly that we grew up eating roast lamb and mint sauce in England.
About a week later she called again and announced, "Lancashire Hot-pot!"
"What?" I asked.
"Lancashire Hot-pot," she repeated, "I'm making Lancashire Hot-pot with the lamb."
"Wow, that will be delicious," I said.
On Christmas Eve Frances called early in the day, full of festive spirit and wanting to know what I was doing. I was planning to wrap presents.
"Are you drinking ice wine?" she wanted to know.
"No," I said, "but come to think of it, I think I do have a bottle of Amaretto somewhere."
And we laughed about how my wrapping would go if I accompanied it with Amaretto. "The presents will be in rolled up newspaper with the ends pinched with rubber bands," said Frances, "and we'll have newsprint on our hands for days afterwards."
She shared her plans for the day with me; baking her famous ginger cake, making the hot-pot and decorating the house in exquisite taste.
After she hung up I went to find the Amaretto, but it had been so long since it had been open that after a valiant attempt at opening it with my yellow rubber gloves, I gave up and put it back in the cupboard.
A little later Frances called again. "I'm worried," she said, "It will be 8 o'clock by the time we eat, or maybe later. I hope you're not going to get hungry and eat earlier in the day."
"Don't worry," I said, "I will make sure we have a late lunch and then not eat anything else, so that we are just hungry enough without being so ravenous that we pass out."
I decided that I had better break the news to Paul about the lamb, so that it wouldn't be quite as embarrassing as him finding out on the spot.
"Oh no!" said Paul with a groan.
I suggested that we take along some of the split pea and ham soup that I had made just that day, but he felt that it might have undesirable side effects.
"No," he said, with the patient resignation of one who has lived this before; often, "don't worry."
The day went by very quickly and my kitchen was still cluttered with tape and tissue, gift bags and rolls of wrapping paper when the phone rang again.
It was Frances. Her voice was stressed and she sounded all done in. "Can we just eat cake?" she pleaded. She had burned the first ginger cake, the decorating had taken much longer than she thought and was still in fact in process with Brian's help, and she was beside herself with the thought of still having a hot-pot to make.
I burst out laughing and said that we would love to just eat cake and I told her the truth at last--that all we really cared about was spending time with them.
"Sheesh, it's not about you," said Frances, and shouted to Brian, "she's trying to tell me it's about what she wants."
And we laughed--a rubber leg of lamb, just having been dropped.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
2 "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times."
I'm reading 1 Samuel at the moment, where Samuel, following God's instructions, visits Jesse of Bethlehem because God has chosen one of his sons to be king (1 Samuel 16).
Seven of Jesse's fine sons come before Samuel, but none of them is the one God has chosen.
"The one" is out on the hills with the sheep, the youngest son, David, not even considered; least likely to be chosen. But God chose him.
God seems to delight in using the least likely, coming to the most unexpected places; "Bethlehem Ephrathah, small among the clans of Judah."
David, the shepherd king, is a foreshadowing of the Shepherd King to come, spoken of by the prophet Micah who faithfully recorded words he could not explain. A king was to come, but had somehow existed long before. Looking back through the lens of history his prophesy makes sense.
Least things; weak, small things. God can use anything. I'm glad because then he can use even me.
1 Corinthians 1:27-29 (New International Version)
27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.
Monday, December 24, 2007
“I love you too,” he said, smiling at me, “that’s why I’m down here.”
I had mentioned that morning that I would love to go to a particular concert that night. And that is how I came to be in the city and in Fran’s Restaurant, eating a toasted BLT, across the road from Massey Hall, where we had tickets to The Gospel Christmas Project.
Toronto, on the last Saturday evening before Christmas; a city ablaze with neon signs and Christmas trees made out of coloured lights; and all around the lights and billboards, swirling, flashing and flickering; blue, green and red, above the streets packed with shoppers.
Above us the brilliantly lit buildings towered and on every hand shoppers thronged the streets. One store window had an animated display with a model train track running through it and a crowd of adults and children huddled around the window as if entranced!
The weather had turned mild and we rolled down our car windows as we drove slowly along Yonge Street, north from the Gardiner Expressway towards Shuter Street, absorbing the sounds, smells and atmosphere of the city. I was as much in awe of the razzle-dazzle as a child at a Santa Claus parade.
And then I was getting seated, next to a nice man named Pat on my right, who was seated next to Paula and Mavis, none of whom I had met before that night—but we all introduced ourselves, sensing that we were to share in something special and ought to know each other’s names. Paula’s husband was sick and couldn’t use his ticket, and so she had asked Pat, who was just passing by Massey Hall with his bicycle, if he’d like to go to the concert. He was from an “edgy part of town,” he told me; Dundas and Sherbourne. I told him that I thought he was in for a great treat, which proved to be true.
The music took off like a magic carpet ride from the start, and we had to hang on tight! Music by the Faith Chorale and a roster of phenomenal musicians and singers with voices of silk and satin, led by a genius on the piano, Andrew Craig. By the last song before intermission, the whole audience was on its feet and the place was rocking—no staid Canadian audience this. Pat was enthusiastically participating in the experience and I could barely contain myself, while Paul was enjoying it too, in a more reserved way—quite happy not to introduce himself to anyone on his side.
During the second half, Andrew Craig played a jazz arrangement of the 15th century German carol, Lo How a Rose e’er Blooming. I have never heard more magical music flow from anyone’s fingers. It was beyond incredible—and the encore of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus was unlike any rendition I’ve ever heard. What a magical evening.
(For those who would like to enjoy it, the concert will be on CBC T.V. on Christmas Eve, on CBC radio on Christmas Day and televised again on Boxing Day at 6.00 p.m.)
We two returned to our home north of the city, bathed in the stardust of the night and the wonder of Christmas.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
I can't help think of Marisa. Marisa of 33 years. Marisa who fought to beat breast cancer. Marisa...wife...mother...daughter...sister...friend. For her, no more sunrises. No more sunsets.
In her short time here, she found courage to suffer. Courage to die with grace...she truly lived. Christ dwelled in her...overflowed from her even as her earthly life ebbed away.
Marisa whose last blog spoke of the antics of her oldest child. Zion wore his underwear backwards to celebrate "backwards day" at his school. She found joy in routine, holy in the ordinary, beauty in the everyday, joy in the simple.
Our days are numbered. We know not..how many...or how few.
Mendelt and Marisa. She took her last earthly breath in his arms on December 6 - not quite a year after her diagnosis.
Mendelt who lives on. Mendelt who finds courage in living, in grieving, in living without...the one who shared his life for over 10 years.
Mendelt who said on their blog, "...shine on Marisa, shine on."
Mendelt who said, "She went to a mansion. With many rooms. Probably pianos."
Mendelt who found strength to reach out...to say, "Don't cry for Marisa...She doesn't have cancer anymore. Shine on Marisa, shine on..."
His thoughts were of her joy...He knew she was home. Her sojourn on this earth complete. A pilgrim no more. Hope fulfilled.
O Lord you give and take away.
O me of unclean lips. O me, such a daughter of Eve.
Me...Forgiven...Redeemed...because of Grace...His grace...Amazing grace...What a Saviour!
Today...the sabbath...a day set apart...to remember...His life...His blood...His grace...it becomes our joy.
Our joy is found, not in ourselves, not in our circumstances, not in the created...
but in the Creator...Elohim, the sovereign one...Elelyon,the God who sees...El Roi,the all-sufficient one...El Shaddai. O Jehovah Y'Shua...the Lord my Saviour.
Words of joy, of instruction, words of life...
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!
Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard
your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brethern, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever
is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good
repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise,
let your mind dwell on these things.
Philippians 4:4-8 NASV
Last Sunday in advent. Pink candle lit...joy in hope fulfilled. Pink or rose...like the sunset...and the sunrise...the joy in the advent of Christ...the one who came...Immanuel, God with us.
O Lord, may we not take our joys for granted. Let's not ever let the joy of CHRISTmas fade, the joy of Christ living in us become dull...may the gift of life in us, stir to joy.
Celebrate. Rejoice. Dance. Worship. Praise Him.Love.
We have today...a gift. We have hope in Christ...if nothing else.
I still think of Marisa, already home...no more pain and sorrow.
I still think of Mendelt...of Zion,5...Jacoba,3...Zekijah...1 - three dutch blonde kids finding their way, learning a new rhythm. Lord, they need you now. Kum-Ba-Yah - Come by Here.
Hope in you...dwelling in us. Let us celebrate. Rejoice. Lord help us to dance for those who can't right now - who need our love and our prayers, who need us to seek you...to be filled with your fullness so we can share your abundance.
At the end of this blog, I'd like to give credit to Ann Voskamp from Holy Experience who greatly influences my writing and who introduced me to Marisa.
My life is much richer because of you both. Thanks for the inspiration.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
I was out in the mall this evening, trying to finish up the last of my Christmas shopping. Someone I know from work came up to me and had to tap me on the shoulder to get my attention. I was zoned out and her face was furrowed with concern. "You look like you need to leave the mall - now." I had to laugh. Exhausted, and feeling nearly brain-dead at that moment, I could just imagine how I looked!
I didn't quite take her advice, but I did limp over to the food court where my equally lame husband, who is waiting for surgery to repair a painful hernia sat waiting for me. We had supper together, did another hour of shopping and then called it quits - for the season.
Besides shopping today for I-don't-know-how-many-people-on-my-list (I'm afraid to count them all!), this morning I did a last second edit of our church newsletter and took it to the printer's. I managed to fit that in between shopping and taking our two little grandaughters to see a live broadcast of The Nutcracker by The National Ballet on the big screen. After seeing the girls off with their mom, picking up the printing, and doing the shopping, we managed to get all the gifts to my daughter's house, where our wrapping paper and scotch tape happens to be, :o) , unloaded, wrapped, and then loaded back into the car for distribution to the various places they are destined for. Whew!
I kind of wish that was it - that I could say, "I'm now ready for Christmas", but I'm not. Not even close. There are a thousand things to do yet between home, and church, family and friends, and work. I'm doing my best to remember which balls are the glass ones and not to let those drop. So far, so good. But there sure are a lot of rubber ones flying around. :o) (See Belinda's post from Dec 6 - "Christmas and falling angels")
I've been thinking alot, in and around all of this activity (and I haven't shared the half of it!) about how Christmas is coming, whether I'm ready or not. In fact, I've been reminded of that by a number of different people in the last few days. Instead of increasing the pressure, I find that thought actually calming and a sense of wonder and anticipation growing in my heart.
Christmas is coming. It's going to happen. Whatever I do or don't do to be ready, one day I'm going to wake up and "suddenly", to quote Belinda, "Christmas will be here". Advent, the time of preparation for our celebration of the coming of the Saviour will be over, and Christmas will have arrived. In the midst of all the preparation, the days and the hours march forward and "the fullness of time" eventually comes. There is great joy in that. I love Christmas. I love everything about it. I love the anticipation, the preparations. I love the giving that is in honour of the greatest Gift ever given. I love the stillness in the deepest places of my heart that knows what all this preparation is for - and ultimately Who it is for. I love the imagery; I love the symbolism. I love that at some point the preparations must stop, the things undone remain undone, because Christmas no longer is coming; it's here.
I'm remembering, as I prepare for this Christmas season, as crazy as it all feels sometimes even as I'm trudging through the mall, that Jesus promised he would come again. This time in the clouds and with great glory. We are living out our days in the Advent of that great Second Coming. And whether or not we are ready, the preparations will cease, and He will come!
"For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words." 1 Thessalonians 4: 16, 17 (NIV)
Whether or not I'm completely ready, he will be. And just like this Christmas, that's good enough for me.
Peter dropped by while I was on the phone talking to a friend this morning. Later on I noticed that while he was waiting for me to stop talking, the nativity scene had been rearranged.
When he came back later he laughed and added, "Due to confusion at the rental company, there was only a compact model available and the wise men were two years late in arriving."
I love the zany son God gave us.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Not bad, Forest, but I think that life is like a paper chain of Christmases, strung from year to year. And if we look closely enough we can see them!
My team from work and I, always have a Christmas dinner here at our house. It's been happening for almost 20 years, which is quite a tradition. I cook roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, the potatoes and gravy, and everyone else brings the other parts of the meal. We look forward to just hanging out together with no pressure, playing board games and reading stories out loud that make us laugh. Stuart McLean is a great favourite and we laugh until we cry at such stories as, Dave Cooks the Turkey, or Polly Anderson's Christmas Party.
One year, all was going well until it was time to pop the Yorkshire pudding into the oven. It is quite a feat to have all parts of the meal ready at the same time, but on this occasion it was all coming together perfectly.
I had turned the oven temperature up high as I beat the ingredients together, anticipating the sizzle of oil reaching smoking hot, at the precise moment I finished beating. But something was wrong. No sizzle; no smoking fat. I realized with a sinking heart that the bottom element of my stove had burned out! And I had a room full of hungry people looking forward to those delicious English treats.
Never mind, I quickly convinced myself, it isn't all about the food, and I went into the room to break the news that due to technical difficulties there would be no Yorkshire puddings this year.
Two things happened. It was as if I'd delivered a bombshell. Faces fell; and every man in the room got a gleam in his eye. In seconds the stove was surrounded by a Stove Swat Team. I wanted to stop them; lunch was ready; but they were not to be stopped. One manager was on his knees in front of the open oven door, head deep inside, inspecting it, helpers close at hand. The diagnosis was confirmed--element burned out.
One of them said that he would go into town and get a new one and they'd have it in in no time. I went to ask Jay, my son-in-law who was downstairs, for ideas. He came up--another man was now on the job. He went into the garage and took a bottom element out of an old stove we had stored out there.
They took out the old element and while one man was screwing in the new one, our boss told us how he had been doing some electrical repairs in the attic at home and come across a live wire that gave him quite a shock.
It was as he was telling this story that I grabbed my camera to record the scene. As I pressed the camera button, the flash went off and everyone in the kitchen jumped with shock.
And this was one of those times when I had an attack of uncontrollable giggles!
The men recovered from their shock; not an electric one, fortunately, and the Yorkshire puddings did get cooked.
One link in the paper chain that makes me smile.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
The young man from Collingwood, Ontario, had been held in prison in the United Arab Emirates and had served 9 months of a 4 year sentence on drug charges. Suddenly, this week, he was granted amnesty at the order of the ruler of Dubai, in honour of the high Islamic holiday of Eid.
This started me thinking; what if we searched our hearts every year before Christmas for someone to whom we could give the gift of forgiveness?
Of course I know we’re supposed to do this all the time, but sometimes there is a “lurker” in our hearts; someone whose particular nastiness seems to warrant absolution from the rule. This happened to me a while ago. I would think that I had forgiven, but not really, because I would see the person and all of the emotions would bob to the surface like a cork swimming float.
I was finally helped by a passage not usually applied to the topic of forgiveness. It was through Matthew 25: 37-40 that I saw that by releasing the person from my anger and resentment—I was “doing for the least” of people something that God would accept as being done to him.
God does not need our forgiveness but he did take our sin on himself on the cross. By releasing this person, I saw that I was removing a bit of the pain of the world’s hatred that Jesus bore. In forgiving the person, I was doing something for him. Maybe this only makes sense to me, but it affected me deeply. I remember weeping as I let go of the feelings I had towards my adversary. The tears were like a cleansing river flowing through my soul.
This morning I watched little skit at the wonderful Christmas concert at our grandchildren’s school. Mary and Joseph stood beside a small wooden manger in which lay a bundled baby Jesus. Mary told Joseph of a mysterious dream she’d had. She said that in the dream, people in the future were celebrating their son’s birthday. She described a strange celebration in which people brought a tree—yes a tree—into the house, and decorated it with shiny things. People gave each other gifts, she told Joseph, but there were no gifts at all for their son and many people did not even know the one whose birthday they were celebrating.
Forgiving someone would be a way of giving a real gift to Jesus. What about joining me in a new tradition; searching for someone to “set free?”
Matthew 25:37-40 (New International Version)
37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
Ephesians 5:21 (New International Version)
21Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
This is great wisdom and something that is not understood by most Christians, never mind the rest of the world.
The preceding verse to the one you quoted is key for me. It says, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ". Then Paul goes on to talk about submitting in the marriage relationship specifically. As you well know, I am not a theologian or a student in New Testament Greek, but what has come to make sense to me is that Paul is telling us always to be prayerfully willing to submit to each other. But in the marriage situation, when we are submitting, or deciding to submit, wives should keep these things in mind (respecting her husband) and husbands keep these things in mind (loving his wife).
I think it is the right thing to do for a husband to submit to his wife and to her leadership gift sometimes too, when he recognizes God is speaking through her.
If each person is ready to submit to each other out of reverence for Christ and the wife is remembering to respect her husband and his gift of leadership while the husband is remembering to love his wife as Christ loves the Church, well, that is the best possible relationship on this earth as far as I can see.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
I found myself wondering what these verses really mean when I recently re-read the familiar passage. These verses seem oddly old fashioned in this age of equality.
I find myself asking; does God really want us to do this; and does it mean that we lay aside our minds and “just submit?”
In the hilarious movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a woman said of her autocratic husband, "He may be the head of the family, but I am the neck and wherever the neck turns, the head goes.” We all laughed! What is it about that statement that is so funny? Is it the thought of the husband thinking he is in charge when to the audience, he so obviously isn’t?
I haven’t had such a problem with submitting when it came to big things. I always felt that in any relationship, when the rubber hits the road, there needs to be a leader. Things like which country we live in came about because I believed that God was leading Paul and so I was following him. I would follow him anywhere. It’s the little things in which I have a problem
A young friend recently was sharing his hopes and fears about marriage. He felt that he’d reached the stage in life where he was ready to settle down. He has his own place, a job he enjoys and he is ready to share his life with someone when he finds her. But he was very clear that he is who he is and he didn’t want anyone intruding on how he lives his life--telling him which movies to watch and stuff like that.
I smiled to myself and thought that when he finds “the one,” that will be the last thing on his mind--at first. But I admit that there is some basis to his fears. I think that women are prone to having an ongoing mental process of questioning everything; at least I know this is true of me. It’s not so much a matter of “submitting,” as of honouring and respecting the choices my husband makes and who he is.
Basically, as my young friend hit upon, it’s about stepping back and not taking away the dignity that he had when he came into relationship with me and of honouring his separateness as a human being, even while we are “one.”
Read a little further and the verses seem to confirm this because they refer to “respect.”.
Unfortunately, the closer we are to someone, the easier it is to develop a habit of disrespecting them—perhaps not always in the big, obvious ways, but in multiple little ways.. I am guilty of this tendency, I confess; and it’s something I want to change. I want to honour my husband as I honour God—and this is what I think these verses are talking about.
Ephesians 5:32-33 (New International Version)
32This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.
33However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
I, like much of the human race, tend to be self referential in conversation and relationship but Donald Miller put this into words when he wrote of how rare a thing it is for someone to lose themselves in the presence of other human beings. Further on in the same chapter, talking again about relationship, he mentioned how we will close ourselves off at the least sign of danger. Again, I put up my hand. I don’t like it, but I admit; too often “It’s all about me.”
Recently something I had offered was not received as I expected. It would cost me something, but I thought that the person had need of what I offered; me; a gift of time.
The person’s apparently diffident response, elicited an emotional response. The need seemed to be less pressing than I thought and I felt as if my offer was not valued. Later I realized that what I read as diffidence was not; it was more complicated, as human interactions are; but this was how I felt at the time.
As I quieted my heart to pray, the feelings came back, but more than the feelings. I remembered the one who gave himself completely for me and for the world; one who stepped from eternity into the realm of time and earth.
I remembered the words from John 1:10-11, He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
Although he was the King of kings, there was no royal welcome for him. Later, his closest friends misunderstood him and lacked a full awareness of the gift of his presence.
I am his disciple, but how easy it is to forget who it is that I am following. I follow one who was despised and rejected to the end; one who offered his followers nothing more than this, and who is recorded in Matthew 10: 24-25 to have said:
"A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!”
It has been said that God allows our hearts to be offended in order to reveal what is there. This situation revealed a heart of pride, full of self importance, quick to take offence, rather than a heart of humility.
Christ came knowing that the ones who needed him would scorn and reject him; yet he still came. He was crucified by those he came to save; and his response was love in its purest form; “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
As I think of Jesus’ gift of self, I know that I have never come close to fully appreciating all that he gave and what it cost. To many he is not even acknowledged for who he is. Even as we celebrate his coming to earth, much can distract us from the sacred and the holy if we do not guard it, seeking it with all the diligence of the Wise Men.
So my prayer during this waiting time before Christmas is that I would fully honour him and fully appreciate his gift of salvation, expressing gratitude in word and attitude, moment by moment. And I want to warm my heart at the fire of his love.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
I seek more than snow. I long for peace, a quiet in my soul, a heart prepared during this advent season.
Advent means "to come"...celebration of birth of the Christ. Immanuel...God with us.
Still dear heart, quiet the chaos from within, from without. Look to your Father.Come kneel awhile.
Ponder tiny babe...swaddling cloth...the straw...shepherds...angels...Mary...Joseph a king born in manger...simple,beautiful,the message of Christmas...
Love, peace, and joy...in my heart to spill over...to touch the ones I love...who love me too.
Again His still, quiet voice whispers...I need to hear.
To remember...a promise given.
"For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6 NASV
Snow falls...drifts...swirls...heaps...dulls the outer noise...penetrates the inner soul...pure, clean, fresh, new,gentle.
I turn my eyes, my ears, my heart to heaven...
May I receive a touch from His hand, sight to see, ears to hear...I yearn to "know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge,...to be filled up to the fulness of God." Ephesians 3:18 NASV
Saturday, December 15, 2007
The bright globe that had shone so clearly a few moments ago was softened now, by the veil of snow that was drifting across the sky reflecting back the hues of the setting sun. The storm seemed to be heading in and I was glad to be nearly home.
I was uncharacteristically downhearted as I went inside for the evening. Something was weighing heavy.
I didn’t have long to dwell on that train of thought as Paul and I were looking after six grandchildren for the evening. It wasn’t long before they all arrived in a bustling crowd and gathered with chatter and laughter around a box of pepperoni pizza that their parents brought for supper and which we served unceremoniously on the kitchen table.
In the midst of the hullabaloo, the phone rang and it was my friend Frances. I had written something about snow the day before and she had been thinking about it.
She said, “I just had to call and tell you--snow is God’s great equalizer!”
The announcement was delivered with a sense of urgent importance.
She went on to say that she had heard some people complaining about the snow, but she loved it because like God’s grace, it covers everything equally. My heart was already drifting back to thoughts of its earlier downcast condition that were related to a hurt.
But Frances wasn’t finished yet; she said, “It isn’t a respecter of what it falls upon—it doesn’t matter what it starts out with. It can start with a beautiful mountaintop or a pile of manure and they both look beautiful once the snow has blanketed them.”
She delivered her epiphany with the zeal of a heavenly messenger. And as I thought of my feelings as I came home, I could only accept her words as just that—a message from God; a beautiful mountaintop or a pile of manure—to God they are both the same when it comes to snow—or his grace.
It was 5 hours later that the phone rang again and it was Frances who had one final thought to share. “When the snow covers everything,” she said, “it makes everything clean. It’s so like Jesus’ blood.”
Christmas; it is a time of messengers. And sometimes they are human.
Isaiah 1:18 (New International Version)
18 "Come now, let us reason together,"
says the LORD.
"Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
"Miss Cheryl,” asked Stephen “is there snow in heaven?"
Stephen’s question took his school bus driver by surprise. Her young passenger, whose short, dark hair was as hard to tame as his spirit, looked up expectantly. His brown eyes, normally dancing with mischief, were serious and shining with curiosity.
Stephen; named for one of the saints of the Christmas season; knew that Miss Cheryl could be counted on as a source of reliable information. This warm, kind hearted woman, had the biggest of gentle, blue eyes that twinkled with good humour. She had forged a special relationship with the children on her bus. This question though, was out of her league.
"I don't know, Stephen. You could ask your dad--he's a pastor after all."
"He hasn't been to heaven," stated Stephen, with all the logic of a 6 year old.
Miss Cheryl had to laugh and agree that he was right.
Neither of them was aware of the rustle of angel wings around them, and of ears bending close to listen to this private conversation.
“The child wants to know if there is snow in heaven," said one of the angels--the angel named Gabriel; angel ears are always keenly tuned to children's voices and even more so at Christmas time.
"Yes, Stephen, there is snow in heaven;" whispered Gabriel, "for snow reminds us of all that heaven is. Each snow flake in its perfection carries within it a tiny image of the star of Bethlehem, if only you look closely enough. White fields of them look like diamonds glittering in the sun."
Gabriel continued, "Wherever snow falls and covers the good warm soil of earth, children lie down and make snow angels just as real angels appeared against the blanket of the skies on a long ago Christmas Eve."Gabriel's eyes had a far away look as he remembered how, just as snow falls from heaven, as gentle as a feather, so it was, one Christmas long ago, that God sent down to earth his most precious gift of all, Jesus.
Although Stephen hadn't heard the angel's voice audibly, he suddenly felt that he knew the answer to his question. He couldn't explain it, but he knew, as sure as he knew anything; the answer was, yes...there is snow in heaven.
My car is filled with remnants of last night's party. Plastic bags with leftover plastic cups and paper plates, rustle as I get in. Perching atop the mound of bags, is a left behind gold tinsel Christmas wreath , decorated with red poinsettias--and who knows what else lies below them? I only know that my car is full!
As I set out for my first destination of the day, the sun shines bright in a deep blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds. The storm of last night has left behind a fresh layer of snow upon which freezing rain has left a glistening icy crust. The fields shine in the morning sun. The flat expanse of the Holland Marsh is like a silver sea with houses and barns floating impossibly on its flat surface.
I reflect on the party I was at last night. I have no hangover and no regrets, which might be the result of a different kind of party. No I have only a warm glow and a heart full of memories that will compel me to do it all again next year.
Later I come home from work to prepare for another party of the season. Tonight is the 7th Christmas party of the Writers Nest, the writers group that I belong to. Our tradition is to all bring parts of the meal to share.
Twelve of us gather in a Bonnie's home, which is fragrant with roasting turkey as we come in from the dark.
We eat tender turkey and tasty dressing with fluffy mashed potatoes, vegetables, cranberry sauche and gravy. All of this is followed by apple pie, lemon cake and gingerbread. It is a real Christmas feast.
After the meal we gather to read stories, written by us and by others. Carolyn tells a story that was birthing in her head on the way to the party and which has not yet been put down on paper. Her story-telling skills are amazing and I wish that I had that skill.
We miss those that couldn't make it this year. For some this Christmas will be remembered as a difficult one. One of our members, Debbie, is battling cancer. She is chronicling her journey on her own blog, http://www.thedanceoflife.blogspot.com/ . Claire's son has recently suffered an aneurism and she has shown us how to walk through suffering with faith and peace. Their names are on our lips often during the evening.
I wonder what God has in store for this band of writers in the year ahead. We are lovers of words, called to write. Our styles of writing are as diverse as we are and we encourage and support one another as friends and writers.
(I posted some photos of the writers of the Writers Nest, on www.ajournalinphotos.blogspot.com )
Tonight I can only thank God for his goodness through another day.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
It was the essence of Christmas, distilled into one magical evening.
In spite of dire weather warnings, some eighty of the people with disabilities supported by Christian Horizons, and their staff, braved the snow and came from a radius of 60 kilometers for our annual Christmas party.
It was not flashy or sophisticated in any way; it was old fashioned, simple, abandoned and unpretentious fun.
There was a contest for the best Christmas craft, and for weeks people worked together in groups, or individually, letting creativity run rampant. There were entries as diverse as a small orange pig to a large and a beautifully decorated large wreath with lights. Every entry won the same prize, a lovely silvery Christmas ornament and was celebrated and applauded for its unique claim to fame.
People brought their instruments and singing voices. They sang and played and were cheered and clapped. A microphone just seems to shed stardust over people.
This year it was impossible to contemplate cooking five turkeys ourselves and making the mounds of instant mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing and vegetables that we normally produce for the feast so we did the only sane thing and hired a caterer. What a great success that was! I recommend it heartily.
I was able to give my undivided attention to the people who came with shining eyes and grateful thank you's and hugs. We don't do this for gratitude, but how wonderful it was to know that people came anticipating and left happy and appreciative of the loving efforts put forth to make Christmas meaningful and special for them as a larger "family."
The caterer, Rosemary Hiebert, of Delightfully Delicious! by Rosemary, can be reached at 905 729 2774. She made everything from scratch and her Party Pasta and home made pies with whipped cream were fit for a king. She also thanked us for "letting her" come and said with teary eyes, that the singing had made her cry. I thought then, "We really should sell tickets to this. People have no idea!"
There are several moments that I will cherish in memory. I see faces I love, and people whose lives I have been privileged to share intimately.
One dear lady came to me with a hug that spoke of gratitude and relief. She has had a very difficult few months, being out of touch with everything and experiencing turmoil that I cannot begin to imagine. She said, from her heart,"Thank you Belinda, this has been so wonderful...I had forgotten about this."
I knew what she meant; that this party is real for her; a certain thing; a place of joy. It is a tradition, a ritual that can be counted on; where there is love and laughter and celebration. There is remembering--a looking back, and a looking forward.
As is her ritual at every Christmas party we have, she recited the lovely poem, What Can I Give Him, by Christina Rossetti, from memory. It is the best prayer to end the night with--from our hearts.
“What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man,
I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him—Give my heart.”
Christina G. Rossetti
Monday, December 10, 2007
21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Romans 12:2 (New International Version)
2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
As I drove home from church on Sunday, listening to CBC radio, a young woman was talking about reducing our "carbon footprint" in the world. This of course was referring to the toxic waste we humans leave behind us. But I got to thinking, not about footprints, but fingerprints.
I often think of the fingerprints we leave on people's lives.
Have I left behind something as simple as a warm smile; a kind word of encouragement? Or have I left an atmosphere polluted by negativity?
It is a powerful thing to realize that we have a choice. We aren't mere victims of our circumstances. We can choose how to respond to them; and how we choose makes a huge difference.
I recently watched a video clip with an intriguing title--it was called, "Brain Rot." A minister was speaking on Romans 1:21, about people who know God but don't glorify him or give him thanks and their subsequent downward spiral into negativity and futile, dark thoughts.
He said that once he was in a tough place and could not see much around him of the glory of God. God brought to mind Psalm 33:5, which says that the earth is full of his unfailing love. He reminded God of his circumstances and God reminded him of Revelation 3:18, which speaks of asking for a special "eye salve," so that we can "see." The minister prayed for God's help to see him in his circumstances and God helped him to do so. He said that as a result of this revelation from God, he started a "Glory Story" board on his web site, for people to share about the goodness of God in their lives.
This so resonated with me that I immediately sent an email to my team at work and said, "Hey, let's start looking for Glory Stories every day."
Even in the most difficult of days you can find something to give God glory for if you think about it and I have seen it having a powerful effect as people have bravely declared the goodness of God, even as they've been under fire. The situation is still as tough as it ever was, but they are changed.
This time of year is so busy, and at work we've had several big deadlines bearing down on us all at once. Last Wednesday I came home exhausted and I wanted to do nothing but collapse into a chair; any chair. That evening it was our monthly two hour worship practice, and Susan and Cindy, who are doing our church newsletter, had suggested a meeting after the long practice to talk about the newsletter. The evening loomed in my mind like Mount Everest before a mountain climber.
I decided that I could either go into the worship practice worn out and not really wanting to be there, or I could find a glory story, so I decided to look for one. My glory story that night, was, "I get to sing on this worship team. How awesome is that?" It changed my experience of the evening and infused me with renewed energy.
In the end, Susan and Cindy decided they didn't need to meet about the newsletter and the worship practice finished early. By 8.30 I was on my way home!
I don't always win the battle in my mind and heart, but I have posted Romans 1:21 on the desktop of my computer at work as a reminder, and I'm hoping that remembering to look for the "glory stories" in every day will become a habit.
Psalm 33:5 (New International Version)
5 The LORD loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of his unfailing love.
Revelation 3:18 (New International Version)
18 I counsel you to buy from me... salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
I relaxed as the easy-listening music softly filled the suburban and the glistening snow sparkled from the streetlights. Soon, Don Jackson's deep, soothing voice began sharing a story.
Expectant now, I turned up the volume. I knew I was in for a treat -this is the part of the program that has always resonated so deeply with me.
Don Jackson talked about a professor of philosophy who was demonstrating a life-principle to his class.
The Professor carefully filled a large glass jar with rocks. When he could get no more rocks in the jar, he asked the class if it was full. They responded "yes".
He said, "Not so", as he reached down under his lectern and then proceeded to fill the jar with gravel. When the jar could hold no more, he asked his students if it was full. The students were slower to respond this time. One bright young man said, "Probably not."
"Right you are", encouraged the Professor as he reached down and snatched another pail. This time he began to fill the jar with sand. When no more sand could be poured into the jar, the Professor once again looked at his class and asked, "Is the jar now full?"
The class, catching on to the Professor's illustration, responded, "No". The Professor reached down for the last time and pulled out a jug of water. He then poured the water into the jar until there was no more room. He sealed the lid and told the class that the jar was now full. He stood it on a table at the front of the class and asked them, "What would happen if we put the water, sand, and gravel in before the rocks?
The students wisely discerned that it would be hard to fit in the rocks. They concluded that very few rocks would fit if you filled the jar in the reverse order.
The professor affirmed his students. You are right and so it is with life.
He shared that the rocks represent the important things in our life. We are to put them in the jar first. He suggested these might be family, friends, health, education, employment, dreams, goals but... he encouraged,
"The rocks are yours...you choose what rocks go into your jar."
In the silence that ensued before he went on, I thought about our Lord and His love and His grace and the plans He has for my life....for your life. What rocks would my King, Saviour, and Lord have me - or you - put in our jars?
Don Jackson went on with the story.
The Professor explained to his class that the gravel, sand, and water represents the nitty gritty in our lives. The stuff that we get so busy doing and consumes so much of our time but should never crowd out what is really important in our lives.
We must put our rocks in first. It is necessary to determine to spend the majority of our time on the rocks in our lives, not with the nitty gritty.
I thought about my nitty gritty - housecleaning, making meals, dressing myself and the children,shovelling snow, laundry, fixing hair, tidying, organizing, groceries... and the list goes on.
There are so many tasks, so many necessary nitty gritty that fills my days.
And yet there are the truly important - seeking...longing...listening to my Father's heart... training little hearts to know His heart...loving the one God gave me,he whose flesh is one with mine...using my gifts to build up His body-the universal church...and sitting at His feet like Mary - longing...listening...waiting...being still before the one who created me.
What delight! What joy! What blessing comes... as we sit at Jesus' feet as Mary did!
And the temptation is to be so busy doing the nitty gritty - like Martha. What Martha chose was not wrong. To make a meal for Jesus was a good thing, perhaps a necessary thing.
Our "nitty gritty" is necessary too.
But where is our heart?
Martha's heart was resenting Mary, because she chose to sit at Jesus' feet and she was doing the supper preparations by herself. She was feeling sorry for herself. The "poor me" syndrome.
In contrast, Mary's heart was still... expectant...seeking...waiting...enjoying her precious Jesus - the one who was most important of all.
Out of many choices, she chose most wisely.
Oh to be like Mary!
To make the best choice over many good choices.
Oh I long to be like Mary...
I am too often a Martha, too often do I resent doing the "nitty gritty" and my heart is that of Martha's.
Forgive me Lord. Create in me a clean heart Oh God, renew a steadfast spirit in me.
Oh Lord, loving Father, Help me to choose the rocks.
I cry with the psalmist,
Make me walk in the path of Thy commandments, For I delight in it. Incline my heart to Thy testimonies, And not to dishonest gain. Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, And revive me in Thy ways. Establish Thy word to Thy servant, As that which produces reverence for Thee. Turn away my reproach which I dread, For Thine ordinances are good. Behold I long for Thy precepts; Revive me through Thy Righteousness. Psalm 119: 35-40. NASV
In the midst of this Christmas chaos, may we all find your peace. May we have the heart of Mary in this Martha world.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Much less, and there will be More:
Less to distract and amuse;
More to adore;
Less to burden and confuse;
More to undo the cluttering of centuries,
That we might view again
That which star and angels point to:
We shall be poorer and richer;
Stripped and free;
For there will always be a Gift,
Always a Tree!
Ruth Bell Graham
Just a grateful prayer at the end of the day. Thank you Lord for the Gift and the Tree. Thank you for friends and for family.
This day started with pancakes and children and cookies and laughter. Chaos reigned in our kitchen as 6 grandchildren rolled out dough and cut out and decorated Christmas cookies. But oh, it was fun!
Yesterday, one of our friends Arun, who had read of the impending cookie fest on the blog, called and asked it was for family only. Paul. who had answered the phone, said, "Yes, it is, that's why you're invited!" So Arun joined us for pancakes and lent his hands to the cause of the cookies.
We ended the day with our friend Susan, at Yorkminster Citadel in Toronto, for the 2007 Salvation Army Yorkminster Corps Community Christmas Concert. The Songsters and Band were joined by St. John's York Mills Handbell Ringers. Emily and Mike, Susan's daughter and son-in-law, are in the band and choir, and this concert has become an annual tradition for us ever since Paul introduced Mike and Emily and it was a match!
Today has been a rich blessing.
Friday, December 07, 2007
Sounds simple, doesn't it? Well, not for me. The only way I seem to get anything accomplished is through pulling myself up by the bootstraps, letting the stress rise up in me to monstrous proportions and then chanelling that energy into driving me to getting the job done. I joked with a co-worker today, "Thank God for the last minute because if there was no "last minute" I wouldn't get anything done."
It's true. I seem to do 90% of everything I accomplish in the last 10% of the time before it's due. But God has been unwaveringly leading me to believe in the last little while that though this seems to have worked for me pretty well in the past, and has certainly become "my way" of doing things, it's not really one of "his ways"." I began to see the potential benefits of amending my ways to come into line with his.
A verse that has been popping up everywhere for me in the last few weeks is from Isaiah 41. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles. They shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint."
If anyone has needed strength in these last few weeks, it's been me. In my path God laid out "the impossible" for me to somehow accomplish. There's no way I could have survived in my own strength. I have had SO much to do. "Waiting" seemed not just "counter culture", but a ridiculous investment in time. But waiting I did anyway. And trust me, with habits as deeply engrained as mine, that required an immense level of discipline and resolve. When the adrenaline began to rise, I would push it back down, quiet my heart, let the Lord know that I was aware that I needed his help and I "waited" for peace to come and assurance that he was in control. Then, having divested my heart of the frantic, I would move forward again, plodding this time, my heart at rest, trying not to think I was absolutely crazy - especially in regards to not panicking over a really huge deadline that has been looming over me for a very long time and was falling due this coming Monday. And me not nearly ready.
Somehow, at the end of the week looking back though, the most important things got done. A birthday celebration with my daughter, a Christmas celebration with Belinda's team (of which I am blessed to be a part), a critically important encounter with someone who is working through some difficult things in her life, a cup of coffee lingered over with a dear friend, a phone call to another who needed encouragement. Notice a pattern here? These are all "people" things. Looking back on the week the "non-people" things don't look so important. Not so important at all.
And my biggest deadline, the one that has been looming over me for months and which was supposed to happen on this coming Monday? Well, that was interesting. All the time I was "waiting" this week, and trying hard not to "stew", God was at work behind the scenes. On my way home tonight I received a phone call that this big event was not going to happen on Monday after all, and probably not until the New Year. If I had stewed and worried and stressed myself out and driven myself, it would have all been for naught anyway. God knew. I waited, and he worked. And I have ended the week with a heart that is quiet and at rest, not all fired up and stressed out of my mind as is far more usual. I'm sitting here at my computer even now, full of wonder and gratitude.
God's ways seem weird sometimes. But they're pretty darn good. Tonight my heart converges with the outpourings of the Psalmist:
"My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore." Psalm 131: 1-3 NIV
After finishing last night's blog post, I stayed up until 3.00 a.m. decorating the house. Once I gave up the idea of doing it--I wanted to, and found the energy.
The thought of the children arriving on Saturday and seeing the old familiar "friends"--the much beloved and handled nativity set and the wonky old musical Christmas tree, and the wondrous fibre-optic angel that glows on the wall--well I thought of that and I had to do it.
The house is transformed into "Christmas." Nothing elaborate, but enough to welcome my dear team today.
Happy Friday. God bless you each and every one! :)
Thursday, December 06, 2007
The tree came down out of the attic and Paul set it up. Tiffany-Amber and Victoria decorated it and loved doing so. I enjoyed watching them. The angel, having fallen off every time I put her up, is standing beside the tree.
I bought chocolate letters, a Dutch tradition! But I haven't written a single card yet, and I don't know if I will. I haven't done any more decorating, even though my team is coming here tomorrow for a Christmas lunch, and at the back of my mind I feel a little like someone going on vacation with no luggage packed.
All of our neighbours seem to have their Christmas lights up already, but our house is distinctly plain and un-Christmassy. Paul was too busy getting ready for his trip north, to get our lights up. I'm enjoying other people's lights though--they don't have to be on our house.
I would love to have the house decorated and to know that cards are on the way to all of my friends and family. How wonderful it would be if I had done all of my shopping and even wrapped it, but I have accepted the fact that I may not get all of that stuff done this year, which has been extraordinarily busy.
I'm managing to separate Christmas from it's trappings--the traditions that sometimes overwhelm us by feeling as if they are essential. I will still do my best to get cards written if things slow down enough to do so, but this year I am aiming for a more relaxed anticipation of Christmas and a simpler celebration.
This weekend six grandchildren will gather to decorate Christmas cookies in my kitchen, with all of the riotous fun that their parents enjoyed each Christmas of their childhood. There will be more sugar eaten on its way to the cookies than on them and hands and faces will glow red and green. The sugar cookie dough is already made and waiting in the freezer. The children will remember making the cookies. They won't notice if the house isn't decorated!
I'm reminded of an article I read in England in October. I quoted from it before in a different context, but I think it's relevant here and worth sharing part of it again:
When it comes to juggling things, never forget that there are glass balls and rubber balls. And the glass balls are the ones that you cannot drop—they smash and can’t be repaired. So it’s not about not dropping the ball—it’s about not dropping the wrong ball, the glass ball...
Lesley Stahl, one of the anchors on 60 Minutes Live
I think that in the context of Christmas, the rubber balls are the things that I may not get done. The glass balls are being with family and friends and most of all, simply meditating on the coming of Christ into this world.
John 1:1-5 (New Living Translation)
Prologue: Christ, the Eternal Word
1 In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
2 He existed in the beginning with God.
3 God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
4 The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
5 The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
These are some of my favourite verses. There is so much about them that I love. I love the part about the "great cloud of witnesses" that surrounds us, for one thing.
Last week I was at leadership training and we were each given a "Leadership Agent Dossier" in which we had to write our name and an alias, which was to be the name of one of our heroes. We then had to write the three most inspirational traits of our alias.
On the next several pages, the names of all of the other participants in our session were typed. There were about 90 of us, and over the days we spent together, we had to find the other people and get them to sign beside their name, as well as have them write down their "alias." There was a prize for the first people to get all of the signatures.
I didn't care about how quickly I did it, but I loved finding out who people's heroes were and what traits they admired about them.
Lots of people put down their mother's or father's names and that was cool. Others put down famous heroes such as Ghandi, George Mueller, or Martin Luther King. One person put down Bob Dylan and I had a very interesting conversation with him during which I learned why he felt so passionately about Bob Dylan, and this also branched off into a discussion about John and Bobby Kennedy. I learned so much about people by listening to why they chose certain people.
My hero was Amy Carmichael. My friend Susan introduced me to her poetry several years ago, and I loved it, especially, The Scar, which I copied out on the fly leaf of my Bible. I read a book about her life, Wild Bird Child and Susan also gave me a book of her daily devotions, which I read every day, Edges of His Ways.
The traits that I find inspirational about Amy Carmichael, are that:
She waited on God for her inspiration
She used her inspiration to encourage others, and
She followed God's call (spending her life as a missionary in India, rescuing destitute children and forcing the British government to acknowledge and make illegal, the practice of child prostitution in the temples there)
As I wandered around asking people about their heroes and everyone else was doing the same thing, I wondered if there was in that cloud of witnesses around us, some of the people whose names were written down and being said out loud. It gave me a goose bumpy feeling to think of them maybe watching us and knowing that we were remembering them and honouring them.
I would like to share Amy's poem, The Scar.
Have you no scar? No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear you sung as mighty in the land.
I hear them hail your bright ascendant star.
Have you no scar?Have you no wound?
Yet, I was wounded by the archers, spent, leaned me against the tree to die,
and rent -- by ravenous beasts that encompassed me
Have you no wound?
No wound? No scar?
Yes, as the master shall the servant be,
and pierced are the feet that follow Me,
but yours are whole.
Can he have followed far -- who has no wound? No scar?
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
He has just begun to tell some of the stories from the trip. For now I'm just glad he's home.
“It’s good to look to a funny side of things if you can,” said Robert. Reflecting on the past, he said,“I always took myself too seriously.”
I’d been sharing a funny conversation that I’d had with some friends the week before. We were talking about how much has changed in one generation, when it comes to bringing up children.
We remembered the amount of freedom kids had a few years ago. We would leave the house in the morning and maybe drop back in for lunch; or maybe not. Nobody worried too much. Parents knew that you were with friends and would come home eventually.
Someone said that his mother used to lock him out of the house. As people compared notes, it seemed that this was not an uncommon practice! One person after another said, “Yes, my mother did that too.” Some mothers did it to clean the house; other mothers did it to keep it clean.
Kids would press their faces up against the windows and beg, “Mom, please can I come in?” all to no avail.
A friend told me that if she got sent home sick from school, her mother wouldn’t let her in. “You’re not sick, go back to school,” she would say.
Marc, who looked to be the youngest in the group, grew up on a farm. He said that if he or his siblings misbehaved, they had to do the laundry—on a washboard in the ash tub.
Robert and I remembered the torture we went through because laughter was not allowed at the dinner table. This rule of course, is almost guaranteed to produce uproarious and uncontrollable laughter.
Our parents (mainly my dad) would say strange things to us, like, “Don’t answer back.” I mean, aren’t we supposed to answer back?
“Don’t contradict,” was always a puzzle to me. How were we to tell our parents when they were wrong
And of course we frequently heard that, “Children should be seen and not heard.” It’s hard to imagine parents telling their children that today.
I said to Robert that there we were, a reasonably well adjusted group of people, in spite of everything.
Robert said, “Apart from a few twitches, and the fact that when someone raised their hand to scratch his head, everyone ducked,” and we laughed.
It is the grace of God that children, the most vulnerable and precious gift imaginable, entrusted to untrained and very inept grown ups, turn out as well as they do. As parents we can take very little of the credit and can only be grateful.
Psalm 127:3-5 (New International Version)
3 Sons are a heritage from the LORD,
children a reward from him.
4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are sons born in one's youth.
5 Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them...
Monday, December 03, 2007
2 Each man will be like a shelter from the wind
and a refuge from the storm,
like streams of water in the desert
and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.
The weather is nasty and the roads are dangerous tonight. I hear the wind against the skylights in my loft room, and it is comforting to be at home.
Downstairs a Christmas tree stands twinkling with coloured lights in our large hallway. It is hung with all manner of glass balls, an assortment of ornaments, and little stuffed animals clad in scarves and hats.
Our Burston grandchildren came for a family dinner after church yesterday, and they stared in wonder at the tree, as it was the first time they were seeing it this year. They circled it, studying all of the ornaments and it was fun watching them. Emily, who is experiencing only the second Christmas of her life, had fun taking things off the tree, and the angel fell from the top at least three times.
But amid the family time, my heart and thoughts wandered often, to the far north of Ontario, and a First Nations reserve, where the comforts of home that we take for granted are unknown and the conditions are those of a third world country, right within north America.
On Friday morning, Paul set out, driving a 20 foot truck, on a 22 hour journey north. He and two other men left on a mission of mercy to the First Nations community in Mishkeegogamong, the same reserve that Susan, one of our blog team members went to this past summer. His traveling companions are David Parke—our pastor, and Fernando Marshall, a tall, skeptical, ex policeman from Barbados, who doesn’t attend church and is not a believer, but who wanted to be part of this trip from the moment he heard of it being planned.
Being engaged in God’s agenda is an exciting thing. As people heard of this trip, clothes, sports equipment, skates, a computer, cleaning and personal supplies and food started pouring in.
Though the need is great, Paul’s God given vision is to start by making a difference to one community; to give a people dignity and the knowledge that they are valued.
Tonight they called on their way back. They were in Thunder Bay and didn’t sound like they planned on stopping driving anytime soon. I am praying for the truck to be surrounded by angels on the journey home. I’m also praying that Fernando falls in love with the God who loves all of the people of this earth.
A refuge for the poor, a shelter from the storm
This is our God
He will wipe away your tears and return your wasted years
This is our God
A father to the orphan,
a healer to the broken
This is our God
And he brings peace to our madness and comfort in our sadness
This is our God
Chris Tomlin – From This Is Our God
Sunday, December 02, 2007
There was a small space of stillness before Kayla was introduced to share her experiences from her summer's mission trip. A second-year, mechanical engineering student, she went to Tanzania, Africa with Campus Crusade For Christ. Kayla spoke quietly yet she spoke with conviction and an intensity that moved me.
She shared how her trip to Africa changed her life. Kayla learned to speak Swahili and to assimilate into their culture. Kayla described how in North America, our culture focuses on achievement and how we're success-driven. She described our educational system and job training. Goals, striving,and results are the North American measures of success. Not so with the poverty- stricken country of Tanzania. These vibrant people value relationship over everything else. She found it refreshing and beautiful.
Kayla's experience- shared-has also been changing my life. Somehow these people have it right. Isn't that what love is all about.
"If I have not love, I am nothing. Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous;love does not brag and is not arrogant,...does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails;...but the greatest of these things is love." I Corinthians 13:2,4-8,13 NASV
Over the past week, I ponder my past, and the legacy I'm birthing for all those who follow after.
I ponder the achievements that have peppered my life - faded badges,tarnished trophies, framed degrees. The hours, the sweat, the tears...pursuits deemed worthy...does God see them as stubble and hay...rusty treasures...
I have since laid them down. With those self-same tools I forced my heart, nerve, and sinew to pursue a higher call. That of love. I still know victory and defeat, success and failure, triumph and disaster. This journey of holiness, righteousness, and love is not for the faint-hearted. I have no diploma on my wall, no paycheck in my pocket, and no name on any "Honour Roll" on earth.
Yet I do not travel this journey on my own. I follow the man with nail prints in His hand, whose cross led Him to our Father's right hand. When he stooped to wash His disciples feet, His glory shone. When He left this earth to prepare our home, He left behind a gift. His spirit...living in me and you.
"And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19 NASV
So my reward, as I do His will on this earth, will not be measured in the North American way. This world is not my home.
Put on heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other,...And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Colossians 3:12-14 NASV
Strive, push, achieve,....and in it all we've lost something very precious.
Our North American culture has lost the value and time for one another...relationships are failing. We have not love.
Not so in Tanzania. Relationships are paramount. They make time for one another. They are dirt poor. Poverty, in abundance by the world's standard. They are rich in relationship.
Kayla came back blessed. She travelled across the world to learn a valuable lesson. She's brought it back. It touched her. It has touched me.
I ask myself, how will I live my life differently? What will I change?
Help me to love like You love...see the way You see. Help me to pour myself into dying to self and living for You.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy...Blessed are you when men cast insults, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me.
"Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great,...
Matthew 5:7,11-12 NASV
By Joyful Fox