Thursday, July 31, 2008

First You Must Open Your Heart

The suspense is palpable as we turn each page. We sit, we three, on the couch, I in the middle, and on either side a girl, with long, silken, summer-sun-kissed hair. Their skin is the colour of the brown eggs in the grocery store; the kind you pay extra for; even though the insides are the same as the white eggs; but I digress.

Both have eyes the colour of chestnuts and Victoria has a delicate sprinkle of freckles over the bridge of her nose that looks as if an angel flicked a paint brush laden with burnt sienna, as a finishing touch when God was making her.

I pause in my reading of the book, as I often do, to ask a question. "What do you like best--movies or books?"

Without hesitation, with eyes wide and bright, they shout out, "Books!"

"Why books?" I ask.

Tiffany-Amber said, "Because movies are so...predictable."

And Victoria added, "Yes, and books allow you so see so many more pictures in your mind."

Oh, I know. I know exactly what they mean. We have been enthralled with the book we've been reading. It is a book that makes your heart ache and almost break--and all over the adventures of an arrogant china rabbit that is being softened through suffering.

Tonight we are nearing the end of the book and we share the sweet sadness known to all who love a good book and hate to see it end. I pause, and go back and reread a passage, in which Edward the rabbit, who had been so dreadfully hurt that he refused to acknowledge his heart anymore, feels it fluttering to life:

* Edward's heart stirred. He thought, for the first time in a long time, of the house on Egypt Street and of Abilene winding his watch and then bending toward him and placing it on his left leg, saying: I will come home to you.
No, no, he told himself. Don't believe it. Don't let yourself believe it.
But it was too late.
"Some one will come for you."
The china rabbit's heart had begun, again, to open.

And I say to the girls that think that the story of Edward is a story within a story and that the story is our story, the story of lives lived and finding the courage to love and be loved. And I tell them how sometimes a heart will close itself up in self protection but how that is a sad thing and to be avoided at all costs in favour of bravery.

Two sets of eyes are wide open. Two pairs of ears listening carefully. And I treasure this moment, in which I hope two small hearts are growing in understanding, in the ways of life and of God, with the help of Edward and a grandmother who loves them.

* The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate diCamillo

Acts 14:22 (New Living Translation)
22 where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Trusting for treasures in the darkness

“I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places.”
Isaiah 45: 3.

These words were originally spoken by God to King Cyrus, but they were a special word from Him to me some years ago. And over and over again, God has given me treasures out of many kinds of darkness, and many secret places. I have given talks about the treasures He gave me out of much trial and difficulty in our years in Uganda. I could write a book about what He has given me since. And the stories go on, the lessons continue. Others may understand the same truths, but express them in diffferent ways. One friend always says “In everything give thanks”, and “Grow in your valleys”, and then tells stories from her life of the blessings out of problems, the hidden things God did through great trials.

We could bring many verses from scripture to express the answer to our continual question to God – “Lord, what are you doing with this? Do you love me, Lord? Why is this happening? “And often we have to wait longer than we would like to know the answers to those questions. But God IS our Father, and He wants to answer our whys. He told me that recently. And eventually we come to be so grateful for how we have grown and could not imagine how we could have become who we are without all that pain and struggle. I can affirm that in so many ways in my life. I imagine you could too. And my hunch is that you need to hear that again from me, as I need to hear it from you, time and time again.

I found a story by Henry Ward Beecher in Streams in the Desert that illustrates this spiritual truth in a special way. I share it here with you.

“I recollect, when a lad,..sitting on an elevation of a mountain , and watching a storm as it came up the valley. The heavens were filled with blackness, and the earth was shaken by the voice of thunder. It seemed as though that fair landscape was utterly changed, and its beauty gone never to return.

But the storm swept on, and passed out of the valley; and if I had sat in that same place on the following day, and said, “Where is that terrible storm, with all its terrible blackness?” the grass would have said, “Part of it is in me,” and the daisy would have said, “Part of it is in me,” and the fruits and flowers and everything that grows out of the ground would have said, “Part of the storm is incandescent in me.”

Have you asked to be made like your Lord? Have you longed for the fruit of the Spirit, and have you prayed for sweetness and gentleness and love? Then fear not the stormy tempest that is at this moment sweeping through your life. A blessing is in the storm, and there will be the rich fruitage in the “afterward.”

Let us keep expecting treasures in the darkness, blessings in the storm.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Intimacy with the Infinite



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Matthew 18:20 (New International Version)
20For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."

"How do we enter into a deep and intimate relationship with the infinite--personal God?"

That was the final question in a discussion this week with two small groups of friends who met at our house to watch one of The Truth Project dvds .

The Truth Project series, over 13 weeks, is pretty weighty in terms of material; very interesting and challenging. Two groups are meeting on different nights in our home each week throughout the summer, to participate.

Not everyone in the groups would describe themselves as a Christian. The material presented speaks for itself and there is no agenda in the discussion except to explore the ideas presented, further.

But of course we pray for the groups because it is all about helping people discover God or have a greater understanding of who he is.

And so this question...

One older person mused, with furrowed brow, "How do you enter into a deep and personal relationship with the infinite and personal God?"

The question made him think of the true story a Lancaster bomber shot down during World War 11 and how, incredibly, one of the crew, the rear gunner survived. A crew member who died, Andrew Mynarski, was awarded a Victoria Cross posthumously for his heroic actions in trying to save his crew mates, even though the pilot was urging him to jump. When he finally was ordered to jump, his parachute had been so damaged by the flames that it didn't open.

It truly was a miracle that the rear gunner survived the plane's disintegration and our friend said that the gunner felt that God had something to do with his survival.

The person who told this story is thinking deeply about God and the evidence for his existence.

Another person, a young university student, said that he's recently been thinking about the verse in the Bible that says, when two or three people are gathered in his name, Jesus says he is with them (Matthew 18:20).

He said that he's been thinking that in that case, he wants to get together more often with other Christians; not just to get together, but "in his name," which is a different thing, because he wants to experience God.

And I shared my experience of intimacy with God, through an awareness of God's pleasure at giving gifts perfectly fitted; like a lover giving his beloved a gift that he has carefully chosen, so personal and intimate that part of the delight in receiving them is that very fact. I have experienced this on several occasions and I treasure each of those memories.

I thought about the day last week when I had been at the funeral of my friend Irene's grandmother on Birchmount Road, in Scarborough. Several of our coworkers were there too.

After the funeral several of us were chatting in the foyer of the funeral home when someone's phone rang, and Paul's name came up on the screen. Paul, who works for the same organization, had meetings in the city that day and was not able to be at the funeral.

My colleague answered the phone, but it wasn't Paul. The person on the other end wanted to know if the man who answered the phone, knew the guy whose phone it was, because he had just found it at Spadina and Bloor and called the number of the last person Paul had talked to through the number stored in the memory.

Paul lost his Blackberry at Spadina and Bloor. Not only did someone find it and actually want to return it, but the last person Paul had called was the person standing right beside me in the foyer of the funeral home. And that person said that had any name other than Paul's come up on his phone at that moment, he would not have answered it.

Mohammed, the man who found the phone, was on his way to Scarborough, where he lived, and where I was, and I was able to arrange to meet him within ten minutes of leaving the funeral, at a local coffee shop. There this nice, smiling man safely delivered Paul's Blackberry to me.
Someone said tonight that people often speak of spending "quality time" with their children, but all children want is "time." He said that God wants our time too, in order for us to have the intimate relationship that he pursues us with.

Intimate relationship with the infinite, personal God... sometimes we don't have to look so far to see the evidence and the possibility.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Nonna's Soup

"Would you like some of Nonna's soup sweetie?" I asked. His big brown eyes seemed a little larger than usual due to two days of not eating. A high fever yesterday with almost no appetite, and an upset tummy today had left him feeling pretty peaked.

Now at the thought of the salty chicken broth, his eyes brightened and he nodded.

Our freezer is usually laden with plastic tubs filled with chicken broth, minestrone and various types of pasta sauces. Every time we visit Frank's Mom (Ma, as we call her) we come home with bags of these frozen love offerings, along with the miscellaneous fruits, juices, cookies and fruilano cheese bricks. Essentially, we are spoiled rotten. But it's on these days when I'm taking out chicken and go to separate one thigh from the others in order to make broth for Mikey, that I see the tubs and audibly sigh "Thanks Ma, that was good timing". Now I don't have to make the broth, and there will be extra chicken for dinner.

There was a day, years ago when I spurned these gifts. I didn't understand, and much hurt occurred in our relationship. I felt invaded by my matriarchal, Italian mother in law who was determined to love me and mine as her mother had loved her. But coming from a strongly independent English family I was overwhelmed and offended at her intrusive ways.

Friends would often look at me when I shared my struggle and ask what was wrong with me. "Your mother in law wants to make food for you and clean your house, what's your problem? Send her to me...I'll take the help". But for me the help felt pushy and judgmental.

Now, years later God has worked deeply in both of us. I've even come to the place of humbling where I've let her know that she is one of my mentors. She is strong, willful and opinionated. But she is also fiercely committed to loving Jesus and her family and for that matter, everyone she meets. She has gentled over the years and learned how to manage her headstrong, opinionated daughter in law.

At 70 years, she isn't as strong as she used to be, but there's still a fire in those dark eyes and a determination to give and serve whatever the circumstances. Now, as she walks through cancer with her husband, helps him however she can, diligently reads God's Word to him, encourages him, looks after him, I can hear her saying on the phone "God knows. I hope for the best for him, but God knows what will happen". Her faith is in God's goodness. She is willing to walk through the valley of the shadow of death if that is where they must go, to embrace suffering as Jesus did, not to spurn it.

I love this woman and all she has come to mean to me over the last 20 years. Today it's all about the chicken soup, but there's so much more.

"but Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me." Ruth 1:16-18

Thank you Father for my mother in law who is family to me. Though there have been times of separation, I know that this is a life long relationship to celebrate and treasure.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Storing Up Treasures In Heaven

I broke into a jog , my oldest daughter pacing beside me on her bike. Two of my other children were quite a ways ahead, one weaving back and forth and the other stooped, picking raspberries with his bike parked beside him. Hannah said, "I wish we weren't going home today, Mom."

"I know," I acknowledged her grief at the end of our vacation. Trying to avoid the lecture about we've been fortunate to have four weeks I say instead, "We've had a lot of fun. These four weeks have gone fast, eh?"

She then said, "I'm looking forward to seeing my room again and our house."

We smiled at one another and she reminds, "We come back for the long week-end in five sleeps."

I had purposely planned this last six and a half km on the Tay Shore Trail as an interlude in the pack-up. There's always such mixed emotions at the end of our time at the cottage. We pack up memories as we fold towels, tuck away bathing suits, store away beach toys, and paddles. We sweep out the cottage and check for any treasures left behind. We know we'll be back for more good times on Georgian Bay. We take with us grateful hearts for so many experiences shared together. We're thankful for this place to marvel at God's creation and build family memories. And we are thankful for home and friends and the rhythms of our small town life.

I look forward to drinking water from the tap, a dishwasher, washing machine and a full-fledged shower. The older I get, the more I enjoy my creature-comforts. I look forward to seeing friends again and I missed full access to my blog friends and regularly reading, "Whateverhesays" and "Holy Experience". We missed worshipping at Faith Community Church in Alliston although we are blessed by those we fellowship with at Christ Church in Waubaushene.

The last of the bins, and full-laundry baskets were packed in the Suburban and then they came over - our dear cottage friends, the Martin's. How is it that hearts connect, bond, and rejoice together in any place?

I looked at Paul, all 6'8" of him. He and I played together as children. We water-skiied across the bay, sunk his "Li'l Skipper, an old white row boat, and jumped off the gunwales of our cedar-strip canoe. He stood there laughing with his dear wife, Susan and their 4 children. Easy chatter and some tears as we talk of his mom, a valiant widow and his dad who left this earth a year ago, February. Laughter returns as one of his daughters hides behind Hannah. The girls wonder if maybe no one would notice if we gained another girl and the two could continue playing into the next week.
I'm proud of my pastor-friend and his sweet wife. Only God in His goodness and mercy and love could have the two of us find Himself in separate journeys, in separate places, and have us re-unite as brothers and sisters in Christ. I am so grateful that we can share some of our earthly journey and our eternity together. Treasures to be sure.

We say our good-byes to them and resume cleaning and packing, the twins already buckled in their car seats are contentedly waiting for our trip home.

Padlocks are on the boathouse, pump box, and our new deck box and we close the windows and lock up the cottage door. I gaze at the lake, making a mental picture of the view that has been so dear to me. My husband hops into the Honda and I climb up into the Suburban. We are homeward bound....

Our earthly journey is fleeting. The gifts God gives as we sojourn here cannot be compared with the treasures to be received when we reach our Heavenly Home.

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal, But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, their will your heart be also." Matthew 6:19-21 NASV

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Small Powerful Choices

Each day is a series of small choices that seem insignificant at the moment, but which actually affect not just us but those with whom we connect, and maybe those with whom they connect.

I'm thinking of the choice at any given moment, between thinking negatively, speakng a word of criticism or complaint; or taking the road of gratitude and appreciation.

What started me thinking about this was an interview I heard on the radio this week. A comedian was the guest and I admired the way he managed to keep the interview positive. He said that he gets most of his material from reflecting on our culture, in which most of us have no idea how good we have it and tries to point that out by finding humour in the ludicrous; for example, someone getting frustrated by the fact that a computer takes 12 seconds to boot up, or how we have lengthy deliberations over where to eat out; "We had pizza yesterday, I don't want to have it again, let's have Chinese; no, let's have Greek, I feel like Greek tonight."

Pete called this morning and asked, "How are things Mom?" There was a split second when I had a choice and this time I made the right one; "this time" because so often I don't. It felt good to have chosen laughter and lightheartedness and to bless his weekend with a few endorphins released into his system. Apparently endorphins are more powerful than morphine and give an overall sense of well being.

There is a Facebook group that I stumbled upon, called, The Optimistic and Enthusiastic. Today this message was posted there"

Why Think Positively? All of our feelings, beliefs and knowledge are based on our internal thoughts, both conscious and subconscious. We are in control, whether we know it or not. Aim high and do your best We can be positive or negative, enthusiastic or dull, active or passive. The biggest difference between people is their attitudes. For some, learning is enjoyable and exciting. For others, learning is a drudgery. For many, learning is just okay, something required on the road to a job.

In the same vein, I read Psalm 106 today, in which the anonymous psalmist repents on behalf of himself and his people for a lack of gratitude and appreciation for all that God has done and exhorts us to praise God.

Psalm 106:1 (New International Version)
1 Praise the LORD.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.

6 We have sinned, even as our fathers did;
we have done wrong and acted wickedly.
7 When our fathers were in Egypt,

they gave no thought to your miracles;
they did not remember your many kindnesses,
and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.
.
13 ...they soon forgot what he had done

and did not wait for his counsel.

When we notice, focus on and discuss the negative, we lose joy and spread gloom. It is sin, for we have so much to be grateful for. So, as I start a new day tomorrow, I will aim to bring joy to those I am with, and be grateful.

48 Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
Let all the people say, "Amen!"
Praise the LORD.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Three Red Suitcases, Right on Time

As usual, of a Friday evening, I am sitting here with no idea what I'm going to write for the blog. My mind and my heart gently slip into free fall as my fingers fly over the keyboard. Together, we'll see what emerges...

I'm on vacation. Ahhh! Two glorious weeks of rest and refreshment. We're headed for Windsor tomorrow to see my dad, and then on Sunday early, we'll be on our way to Nova Scotia. The plan is to have very few plans. We'll drive as long as we feel like driving, cycle when we feel like cycling (we're taking our bikes) and we'll stop when we feel like stopping. We're taking 17 year 0ld Jorie along (she's my favourite kid, but then you'll hear me say that about ALL my kids) and this will likely be our last family vacation with her. In fact, this could be our last family vacation altogether, as, comparatively speaking, we are perched very close to the edge now of becoming empty nesters. Our next vacation, and for the first time since 1973 when we were expecting Daniel, our first child, will likely be just the two of us.

This week has been a one of gentle reminders, one after another, of God's love toward us and a perfect fitting together of circumstances that makes me know that he still has a plan for our lives and that he is in perfect control.

It's been a long hard week at work. One of getting ready for an exhaustive program audit and then trying to bring the chaos that was left of my office into some kind of order for those who will watch over my program while I am away. I left piles, and notes, and lists, and now, though I love my job, it is demanding and fraught with crises, so thankfully, it is that time of year to forget it all. For two precious weeks of reconnecting with my husband and youngest daughter. And through the wonders of his creation, God himself.

There are so many litttle ways that God expresses his love for us, if our eyes are open and we are watching. Just one example this week...

Months ago, Ron gave me a little catalogue and asked me to pick out the award he was to receive for 10 years of service to the surveying and engineering firm where he works. I pored over the offerings on the ten year pages. There were watches, gold necklaces, rings, a fancy clock, Inuit sculptures, and other objects d'art. But nothing that quite struck my fancy. But there was a set of luggage and after much discussion with him and deliberation over whether this would be the best choice, we finally ordered it. And then promptly forgot all about it.

Yesterday, in the Mississauga office where he now works, his boss received a call from the head office in Markham. There was a set of luggage there with Ron's name on it.

"Why he's going on vacation tomorrow!" his boss said.

"Then we'll courier it right over there today."

This evening, at the beginning of our vacation, the first we've taken together in a very long time, Ron walked in with a lovely set of soft sided, nesting, luggage, bright red. Bright shiny new. Empty and ready to fill. The timing was impeccable.

That, don't you think, is evidence of God's hand in our lives? His way of saying, "Yes, my children, you are right on schedule in walking out the plan I have for your lives"?

I think so. And what a way to live!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Friends Face to Face

On May 20th 2007, I wrote a blog post entitled, Facebook Holdout, all about my resistance to the social networking phenomenon sweeping the nation at the time.

I said that I was not joining; no way Jose! I was not going to jump on this bandwagon, for various well thought out reasons. I already had sufficient internet addictions and besides, I am a bit of a Luddite. I'm a few years behind most others when it comes to technology and gadgets. If not for Paul I would not even have a dishwasher or microwave.

It was about two weeks ago that my friend Johanne asked me to join Facebook as part of a group of writers for her newspaper, and, only to oblige her, I did. For the first day or so I added the bare minimum of information and then I began to check out the potential “friends” already on Facebook. At 58 I found myself asking people if they would be my friends and waiting, with bated breath, for them to confirm if they would. Oh, the mortification of rejection!

I began to get “friend invitations.” One or two I didn’t immediately know. What to do? Become friends with a stranger? It was strangely tempting. On closer examination I realized that I did know them; distantly, but I knew them. Of course I would be their friend.

All of this reminded me of the Victorian novels I read as a child, where to be acknowledged, or “known,” meant something socially, depending on who was doing the “knowing.” The dreaded snub, or, as it was often put, the “cut,” was social disaster and a way of delivering a cruel blow to the victim.

Peter said that Paul did not confirm him as a friend, and he had to say to him, “Come on, you are my dad, you have to say you know me,” or something to that effect.

On Facebook people can write their “Status,” which doesn’t tell you if they are dead or alive; or a prince or duke, but simply what they are doing at the exact moment of writing.

Brenda’s Facebook status recently announced that she was, “ruthlessly editing her friends list.” Friends actually heaved sighs of relief at surviving the “cut.” Can you imagine? "Edited out" of a friends list? Ouch!

“Well, it had to be done,” said Brenda, pragmatically. Apparently she was tired of talking to non-friends, whom she had accepted as friends. Go figure!

I am surprised at how much fun I’ve had with Facebook . I have discovered things about people I go to church with and the young people in my life, that I may never have known. My godson, Jacob, is actually “Jake,” on his Facebook page. Who knew? I didn't, and neither did Frances, his mom! Now that I know, I will honour his preference.

Facebook has helped me see the young people I know, as real people, more fully rounded, with joys and sorrows that they actually write about. I can find out what they care about and enjoy. In person most young people tend to say so little, especially to older folks.

I enjoy looking at other people’s photos on their sites. It was cool seeing my friend Rodney’s photos of his trip to Germany last year. I know Rodney from church and would never have seen those normally but it showed me another dimension of his life.

I can see that there is a vortex to fall into and it would be so easy to get lost in Facebook-land. But I look upon it as getting to know people better, and hey, if people are communicating, that has to be a good thing.

Carole Elefant at Legal Blog Watch; quoted on Wise Law Blog, March 11, 2008, says that:
“44% of employers use social networking sites to examine the profiles of job candidates, and 39% have looked up the profile of a current employee."

That is a bit scary and I wonder how many people think about that possibility?

Still, two weeks into FB (see, I know to call it FB), I found myself at a table today with a group of coworkers, announcing, “Hey, I’m on Facebook; are any of you? Do you want to be my According to the article, "friends?” A silent Facebooker gathers no friends after all.

Proverbs 18:24 (New King James Version)
24 A man who has friends must himself be friendly,
But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What's going on, Lord?

Do you ever feel like Jeremiah? You know – gloomy, negative, whatever, the way you are when people say “Don’t be a Jeremiah.” I can feel like him, but more like he might have felt when he was young, when God told him there were great things for him to do. God has often told me that, and then soon after I have found myself in another situation where I felt like a child – clueless, inept, stupid. And then I have begun to question God’s calling on my life, and His purposes in the present moment.

Not only that, but there have been times when not only did I feel all of those things, but others were actively treating me accordingly, and, even worse, treating me as if I was following a path that was directly contrary to God’s will and call to holiness.

There was one such time many years ago when God set the record straight for me. I was being prayed over by some very zealous Christians whom I had been associated with in their community and had found the situation very destructive and not something I could continue to endure anymore. But I had chosen to remain in their church and try to keep fellowship with them. Somehow we ended up, once again, in a prayer session focused on me, and they actually had me on the floor, bent over, with my head curled into my arms and my knees all bent under me.

As their “prayers” continued over my body I withdrew deep into my spirit. God was speaking to me in an incredible way. He was saying that what they were praying was meaningless and irrelevant. What mattered was His calling on my life, and that I must listen to that, listen to His voice only, and ignore these other voices. He would tell me what I was to heed.

And then He sang this song to me, deep within my being. I had learned it several years before, but this time He sang it just for me and it was as if He was saying to me: “These words are for you, Meg, just as they were for Jeremiah when he felt so out of his depth. Don’t be afraid and don’t worry. My plans for your life are what matter, whatever other Christians think of you and whatever they say. What matters is what I say to you.”

This was the song. It is based on the call of Jeremiah from the first chapter of that book of the Old Testament.

Oh the Word of My Lord

Chorus:
O the word of my Lord
Deep within my being
O the word of my Lord
You have filled my mind

Verse 1
Before I formed you in the womb
I knew you through and through
I chose you to be mine
Before you left your mother's side
I called you my child
To be my sign


Verse 2
I know that you are very young
But I will make you strong
I'll fill you with My word
And you will travel through the land
Fulfilling My command
Which you have heard

Verse 3
And ev'rywhere you are to go
My hand will follow you
You will not be alone
In all the danger that you fear
You'll find Me very near
Your words My own

Verse 4
With all My strength
You will be filled
You will destroy and build
For that is My design
You will create and overthrow
Reap harvests I will sow
Your word is Mine

CCLI Song #740510
© 1978 Kevin Mayhew Ltd
Damian Lundy

After that evening I walked freer of the opinions of those Christians, and, while continuing to remain in their church, did not worry about what they thought of me. I continued on my own journey with the Lord, which led me to far greater exploits than they had imagined for me. That journey continues today, and, every so often, when I can get bogged down by worrying about what others think, or wondering about how what is happening in the present moment relates to the big picture God has shown me, I remember that evening on the floor, and God’s song deep within my heart.

I pray that you will be encouraged to hear God’s word for you alone, deep inside of you, today.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Life-giving Vine

John 15:5-8 (New International Version)
5"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

The vine grew into the distance horizontally, seeming to go on forever. Many branches sprouted from it, strong and supple, with spiky, vibrant green leaves. Some bore tiny green or yellow green flowers, while others had clusters of the tiny berries that would grow into grapes.
On the ground, scattered at the base of the vines, lay branches that seemed to have fallen or been broken off, perhaps by the wind.

Those that had recently become detached still appeared to be alive, but as the leaves used up the residual life sap within the branch, the leaves became limp, dull and lifeless. The branches followed the leaves, soon becoming brittle, dry and easily broken. Soon the gardener would soon come to gather them up and burn them with other garden debris.

This picture came into my mind as I prayed one morning recently; a visual image of the powerful metaphor for spiritual life used in the Bible. I know it to be true and yet often I am dangerously close to falling off the vine.

Isn’t knowing the truth of a principle and then not allowing it to live in you, to be like the man spoken of in chapter one of the book of James?

James 1:22-25 (New Living Translation)
22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.

This morning, as we began our day, Paul prayed, “Sometimes we feel as though we don’t accomplish much, and then we realize we’ve been relying on our own strength. Thank you that ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ “

I don’t want to be a useless, limp, disconnected branch. I want to be fruitful and healthy. There is only one way and no short cut; remaining in The Vine, the source of life.

Psalm 92:12-14 (New International Version)
12 The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
13 planted in the house of the LORD,

they will flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They will still bear fruit in old age,

they will stay fresh and green,

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sisters, Cousins and Conversations

We had a wonderful weekend away, my Becca and I, at Auntie Miki’s house. My sister-in-law and her two young daughters had invited us over while my brother Geoff was off gigging with his band, so we happily went.
Three girls aged 7, 8 and 9 giggled and played their way through almost 48 hours of cousinly fun. They sketched using new art supplies, swam and splashed in the back yard pool ‘til they were chilled and starving, watched movies, went for walks and whispered loudly far too late into the night.

Miki and I also had a special, sharing, sisterly time. She is not my little sister by birth, but most certainly is my sister. The word in-law just doesn’t apply for the relationship she has with our family. I couldn’t have picked a better bride for my brother if he’d asked, which of course he never would, being a guy and all. But he did bring her over to our apartment in Toronto when they were dating. We were smitten with her right from the start.
So we chatted long, staying up ‘til our usual 2am, finally settling down to sleep at about 2:30am. Tired the next day?…of course, but it was worth it.
We cover so much ground in our conversations, everything from parenting to aging parents, religious views to movies, music and what God thinks about dating and mate selection.
It’s rich conversation. I think we both leave with much to ponder and learn from each other.

Miki is a special gift to her family and ours. She is gentle, but not a push over. She is steady, but not without feelings, rich in both compassion and passion. She loves God and others, but won’t be pigeonholed and is quick to ask ‘why’. She’s a songbird who works out pain and questions on her guitar with a note pad close by. She is faithful when others walk away and I see Jesus in her.

We don’t always agree, but we grow and listen, stretch and reach for the truth of God as we share.

I’m so glad we can do this.

My long, lanky brother arrived home around 1pm on Sunday. After chatting for a bit Becca and I packed up for the long drive home. Hugs and kisses all around and we were on the road.

It was a good time, refreshing for all.

You can check out Miki on her own myspace at:

http://www.myspace.com/mirelakovacevicsmith (note: you can copy and paste this address to your Google list. I'm still learning how to use the 'link' feature)

Her song "Dream Lullaby" is about her children and is beautiful. The other two are love songs. Hope you check them out.
Enjoy!

Dear Father God,
I thank you for my family, for a sister to share with this weekend, who desires to know the real truth, and who shares her gifts so liberally, who loves people so freely as they pass by her step.
Bless her and her family each day as they journey toward You. Keep them under the shadow of your wings. Strengthen her each day for the tasks you have for her and give her Your joy in all her doings.
Thank you for bringing her to us. I am so blessed.
In Jesus Name

joy in casting all our cares upon Him

Standing at my sorting counter hour after hour gives me lots of opportunity to think, pray, and yes, worry. So usually what I do when that happens is remember the sweet words of this chorus:

I cast all my cares upon you.
I lay all of my burdens down at your feet.
Anytime I don't know what I'm to do
I just cast all my cares upon you.

So that is what I offer to you this morning - the same words I sing to myself. Of course they are so simple, but they are so true, and they are the ONLY WAY to deal with our stuff, your stuff, anyone's stuff. Bring it in prayer to Him, and try to let it go, again and again.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

He Makes All Things Beautiful...

Waves crest and form. Gulls dip and soar, riding on the wind with outstretched wings. Streamers and skiffs of white scud across the blue washed sky. Trees in various shades of green span the horizon. Idyllic. Serene. Flawless. And to this perfect beauty, God adds man.

Cabin cruisers across the bay navigate the channel towards Midland or Beausoleil Island. Over at the mouth of Sturgeon River a Sea Doo pulls a child water-skiing in calmer waters. I hear its engine surge and ebb. Sails of white and red and yellow, billow and snap in the foreground. From a distance it all is beautiful. But there is the heart and mind of man, tarnished by sin.

I sit on the deck, drinking in the beauty and serenity of my surroundings. I need the cleansing that only He can give. In spite of the beauty around me, I know I need His beauty inside me. I am grateful for this interlude in family chaos and enjoy the opportunity for quiet reflection. A time to come before Him. I call out, like David, to our loving Father God,

"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Thy presence, And do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me, Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, And sustain me with a willing spirit...Psalm 51:10-12 NASV

I am grateful for the tuth of David's words, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise." Psalm 51:17 NASV

Over and over these past few weeks I am humbled by a God who's designed so much beauty, resplendent in detail. A God who created us, male and female, in His own image and for His glory. I marvel at He who loves us so. We who fail, who sin, who constantly fall short. We who live messy lives, who weave tangled webs, who struggle, who seek, who cry out again and again. And He hears our cry. Our Father hears the words we cannot speak. He knows the cry of our heart. He loves, He forgives, and He pours fresh grace into our lives. His grace is enough. It falls like rain. His mercies are new every morning. We praise Him, we lift up our voice and He finds pleasure in what He has made. In our frailty, He empowers us by residing in our hearts. He creates our thirst for Himself. It is inconceivable and indescribable. We long to be holy because He is holy, solely because He has ordained it to be so.

Peter encouraged, "Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence." 2 Peter 2-3 NASV

Peter then exhorts us to apply all diligence, in our faith to various qualities. He names them in an order that we add to, one at a time. He names moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love.

Then Simon Peter tells how the qualities make us useful for God's kingdom and how they bear fruit in the true knowledge of Jesus Christ.

"For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 1:8 NASV

Heavenly Father, we want to be fruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. We want to reflect the image of You who has created us. We want our beauty to blend with the natural surroundings, rather than contrast. Like the gull, we long to dip and soar with outstretched wings. Thank you for calling us to holiness.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Adventure of Following God










A few days ago I sat on the couch in our green room, with two of my granddaughters, discussing the reflections at the end of a story from Parables from the Pond. Some creatures from the pond had shown courage and kindness, extending their circle of friendship and trust. It wasn't hard for them to relate the story to their grandfather's winter trip north to a reservation to help a people in desperate need of both help and friendship.
Last November, Dave our pastor, and Fernando, a Trinidadian friend, drove with Paul, 20 hours north through blinding snow to Mishkeegogamang, an hour from Pickle Lake. They went to take food, winter coats for the children, and toys and sports equipment.When they all arrived home safely, I heaved a sigh of relief.
But Paul was already planning the next trip in August.The months since November have flown by. Other pressures consumed Paul's energy and time, he had little time or ability to focus on the logistics of a larger missions trip. Honestly, I worried about it. We aren't a slick, well oiled machine, or a group that has done this before.
But people signed up from our church and others, giving up summer vacation time and raising their own support to go, because they heard God say, "Go."
So tonight, with just two weeks to go to the trip we had a barbecue in our backyard, to pin down details.
As I looked at the group of people who gathered, I thought, "Only God." For the group that is going includes people of Chinese, African, Caucasian and First Nations descent.
Under the summer evening sky we prayed, then talked, and ate; and saw things come together, with a lot of laughter.
One of the team is a retired nurse, and although she spent her career in obstetrics, she'll take care of First Aid. The guys coordinated tools so as not to bring duplicates. One of them is even bringing his buzz saw and they decided that everyone should bring a "personal hammer," the image of which made me laugh.
Pastor Dave issued strict instructions about personal luggage limits, and Treneta, a beautiful First Nations woman, who does not look like the camping type, said with a smile that the only suitcase she owns is large. Jake only has a big tent. These things take sorting out when you have 12 people and luggage to fit into a van and a truck.
What about laundry? "Pickle Lake," said Pastor Dave, which made us laugh again.
Treneta did training on cultural sensitivity and spiritual preparation.
The sun was going down when we stood together to pray again, this time holding hands.
It feels as if in our weakness and inadequacy, God is showing himself strong and bringing together a swat team that will express his love to the people of Mish.
Ephesians 3:20-21 (New International Version)
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
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Friday, July 18, 2008

A Life Framed by Two.


When I read the letter aloud to her she said, "Wha's at mean, dear?"

"Fanny", I replied, "It means you have a family, and they're looking for you!"

She clasped her hands together in a certain gesture of excitement and delight which I have never seen, not in the ten years we have been friends.

"Family! I have a family!" she chortled through her laughter. And she didn't stop laughing for a full five minutes. I can't imagine what it must be like to find out that the family you thought was "lost" for many, many years, has suddenly been found.

"Wha's her name, dear?" she asked.

"Who?" I said, in a feeble attempt at a tease.

"My sister."

"Marian," I said. "Your sister's name is Marian. And your niece's name is Pam."

"Mary" she said, not able for some reason to form the last syllable. "Mary," she repeated. "I haf a sister named Mary."

"That's right, Fanny" I rejoiced with her. "You have a family"

"I have a family."

"Who has a family?" I would ask her over and over again that evening.

"Fanny does," she would reply with a self-satisfied smile. "Fanny does."

It's something she has been waiting to hear all of her life. She has never given up hope, but has told me many times, many times that she has a family. She just didn't know "where".

Although the details of her past are sketchy at best, Fanny's parents were likely told what most parents of developmentally delayed children were advised to do in her day. "The best thing you can for this child and for your family, is to put her in an institution and forget you ever had her. She will be looked after and it is what is best for her and for the rest of your family." Although there were many good things that happened in those institutions, and some good people who were caregivers there, they were largely dark places and a blight on our history as a society. In 1997, Fanny was set free from the institution, choosing to move along with her best friend, to a group home in Barrie when that option finally became available. Now in declining health, and her best friend Rosie having passed away, she is in a nursing home not far from where I live. We are fast friends and watch out for each other, but it's not the same as being related by blood and knowing your roots - where you came from and who you belong to. It’s not like knowing somewhat of the why of who you are and how you came to be.

Meanwhile Fanny has been waiting these 70 years. She's never quite given up hope.

It was her birthday on Saturday. I bought a pile of gifts. A new baby doll, a few t-shirts, some cough candies and a picture frame.

The frame is the kind that is quite trendy these days. It has a place for several photographs and then a large label across the middle that says, "Friends".

"This is for your friends", I told her. "Where are you going to put me?" She pointed to a spot in the picture frame where she was going to put a photo of me and then told me which of her other friends' photos she was going to put in the other places.

I handed her my last gift. "This is something you've never needed before, Fanny. But you'll need it now..."

When she opened it, she found another picture frame almost identical to the first. "What's it say?" she asked, pointing to the word in the frame.

"It says "FAMILY"", I told her, fighting to keep tears from welling up in my eyes. "The other one is for pictures of your friends, but you’re going to need this one for pictures of your family."

She listened carefully, paused for a moment, and then she started to cry. I put an arm around her, but there was no need to comfort. They were tears of the purest joy.

Welcome home, Fanny. We are all so glad you have finally, finally found your family. Psalm 68: 6 says: God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing. You have experienced both of these joys in your life - from the institution you have been set free, and now - joy of joys - you have found your family.

(Note: A special thank you to all the writers and readers of this blog who have had a part in this! Some of you were directly involved in Fanny's emancipation from institutional life, and others worked hard, sending out inquiries about her family. Others have supported, cheered, and prayed along the way. God bless you all. And celebrate! This is your moment, too!)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

His Eye

Luke 12:6-7 (New Living Translation)
New Living Translation (NLT)
6 “What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. 7 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

We run out into heavy heat of the summer evening, two girls on bikes, one dog and me.

They are briefed before we set out; stay close to the grass at the side of the road; stop and wait at every intersection; slow down well ahead of a planned stop--the list goes on--you get the picture. Even which child will be the lead rider and at what point the other will take the lead is decided. I have learned that these things are best talked about before we set out.

We set out.

Molson trots beside me but we both try hard to keep up with the girls ahead of us and he stops only for the most irresistable of odours tonight. He is torn between two opposite impulses; to walk obediently beside me and his need to watch over the girls ahead.

We run past our neighbour putting out his blue boxes. He recently told me of his own beloved dog who died; a golden named Gatesby, and I call out to him panting, "Two granddaughters and a dog tonight," and he laughs and says that I have my hands full.

Molson and I keep our eyes on them, me shouting out intructions, "Victoria, slow down." Victoria is quick of mind and action and her impulsivity cannot be underestimated.

They listen well as I call out to them. I think of how overwhelmingly I love them.

Molson's tongue lolls out from the side of his mouth, flapping like red flag in time with his steps. In the middle of his tongue is a black birthmark.

We pass long, treed lawns stretching out behind houses; country summer backyards with tire swings and play houses and pools.

Rocking chairs and comfortable cushioned chairs sit invitingly on front porches, surrounded by flower beds in glorious, riotous, full bloom. The richly vegetative smell of fresh mown grass hangs in the still air.

Molson and I notice many things along the way, but never lose sight of the girls just ahead of us.

And I think of who watches me, and you too. There is no comparison with his love, vigilance and care on our behalf.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Jesus, truth in each circumstance

“Jesus, truth in each circumstance”.

This line is from a popular and powerful song by Brian Doerksen called “Hope of the Nations.” If you go to his website, http://www.briandoerksen.com/, you can read the story behind the song and see how much his composing of it came from God’s leading and in connection with events in history, most particularly Sept. 11th. It was written as a song of hope, and so it is.

Jesus, hope of the nations
Jesus, comfort for all who mourn
You are the source of heaven’s hope on earth

Jesus, light in the darkness
Jesus, truth in each circumstance
You are the source of heaven’s light on earth

In history, You lived and died,
You broke the chains, You rose to life

You are the hope, living in us
You are the Rock, in whom we trust
You are the light
Shining for all the world to see

You rose from the dead, conquering fear
Our Prince of Peace, drawing us near
Jesus our hope
Living for all who will receive
Lord we believe!

A real and living hope is based on Jesus and the reality of His life and death and resurrection.

As I ponder the meaning behind this phrase that fascinates me most, “Jesus, truth in each circumstance”, the bottom line would be to say that Jesus is the source of truth in each circumstance, just as He is source of hope in those circumstances, and the source of light in the world, etc.

“For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. “(Colossians 1: 16-17)

Looking with the eyes of faith and discernment, with “spiritual eyes”, we can see circumstances from God’s perspective. We find the truth that Jesus reveals to us about those circumstances. Yes, I am sure this is true. But like so many words of scripture, when words are written with divine inspiration they can have many levels of meaning.

I cannot help but see more in these words. I see that the truth that we see in circumstances, even “human” truth, is God’s truth, a kind of incarnated truth, as Jesus is God incarnate. Jesus is truth: truth is Jesus. Can we say that the way we say that God is love, and those who dwell in love, dwell in God?. Can we say also that somehow those who dwell in truth, dwell in Jesus?

I appreciated teaching in my counselling course that helped us interface between psychology and theology, with the foundation being a belief that “all truth is God’s truth”. There are books written about this, and I won’t try to go into their arguments here or today. But I come with that conviction to this line in the song, as well as the sense deep within my spirit that there are many levels of truth in that line.

It seems to me that the truth we come to see in each circumstance is ultimately rooted in Jesus, and that coming to greater understanding of truth in every situation can lead us closer to Him. That would surely be God’s purpose, but of course the choice is ours.
If spiritual truth for us always has to be wrapped up in religious language then we may miss what God is trying to show us. I have found that my study of human truth by looking at reality through a counselling focused lens has brought me closer to God and made me more excited about His sovereignty and power.

Through this lens I speak of we can learn to see “what happens when what happens”. Instead of focusing on individual people and trying to figure them out in all their facets we can look at the spaces between them and others, really meaning we can look at the truth in their circumstances and through that come to greater understanding of the people themselves. As we contextualize and go bigger and bigger in our looking at situations and circumstances, we get more and more truth. Surely God is in that big context of truth.

This is just a taste of what is possible when we are open to all that God would like to show us. Let us always believe that Jesus, through the Holy Trinity creating the universe, author of all truth, can reveal truth in each and every circumstance to us.

May He do so for us, as we trust Him to lead and teach us today.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Wind Song

“Where does the wind come from?” asked Tiffany-Amber.

It’s strange how grown-ups lose their curiosity, when once upon a time we too used to lie on our backs in sun-warmed grass, gazing up into endless sky, wondering at all sorts of important and puzzling things.

But God sees to it that a child’s questions keep us thinking.

And so, prompted into a search of my own, I found facts that were informative but didn’t satisfy. Gases and air, hot and cold, were all very well, but they didn’t capture any of the mystery and wonder of the wind.

At my kitchen window, I glanced outside and saw waves of ripening winter wheat, cascading like water; an ocean of green-gold. The wheat danced, this way, then that, as if directed by an invisible choreographer.

I flung the window open wide and leaned out into the wonderfully windy day with my camera in hand, capturing the moment and movement in video.

Imagine a world without the wind; how dull, still and silent it would be.There would be no dancing, dappled shadows on the lawn; sparkles on pools of water, dirt devils swirling, or clouds scudding like fleets of Spanish galleons across the sky.

And there would be no soughing in the night; no whispering in the pines, no roar of howling gale at sea, or wind chimes tinkling plaintively on a porch. There would be no flapping, cracking, laundry on the line or screen doors banging, clanging.

Snow and rain would fall directly down; to feel them on my face I would have to raise it to the sky. On a hot day, no unseen, cool, silken veil would caress my arms; and kites would sit forgotten on the shelf. My hair would be safe from playful wind fingers and hats safe from flight.

How I would miss the wind if it was gone.

Job 37:9-10 (New International Version)
9 The tempest comes out from its chamber,the cold from the driving winds.
10 The breath of God produces ice, and the broad waters become frozen.

Job 37:17-18 (New International Version)
17 You who swelter in your clotheswhen the land lies hushed under the south wind,
18 can you join him in spreading out the skies,
hard as a mirror of cast bronze?


John 3:8 (New International Version)
8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.

Dear Lord, may I soar and dance on the current of your Spirit, free as a bird, unfettered by earth.

Monday, July 14, 2008

On Team and Coaching

A year ago, they were valiant. Beaten, but valiant. They trudged on, in fact they ran onto the field, game after game and got their socks knocked off. But incrementally, play by play they improved; the weave of the team grew tighter and skills developed.

This was their first year together. A group of gangly, growing, eight and under boys learning to pass well and play their positions instead of chasing that black and white ball around the field like a bunch of puppies on a squirrel.

Now the scene has changed.

Tonight they were grace in motion. They’ve been winning again and again, shutout after shutout.
Passing, running, shooting, straight up the middle or a quick kick to the side to the man set up a little off center that nobody saw. The ball flies to him and bam, it’s in before the goalie really knew it was coming.

They marched back to their positions after the goal and looked like seasoned veterans of the game.
The biggest change I see is that they are comfortable with who they are and what they came to do. And that agenda has been to win…not just play well, but knock the socks off every single team that beat them last year.
They are sportsmen, in attitude and skill. They all came and tried out. They were all selected for their abilities and fit to the team. Then the coach began to shape and mold each one, and the greater group.

They are a joy to watch, a symphony of movement. They make it look effortless, but yet it is obvious that they are working hard.
Coach stands on the side, sometimes shouting till he’s hoarse, taking off his hat, raking his fingers through his hair as the tension of the play builds. He’s a study in Italian, soccer loving passion. He sees what these boys have to give, what’s been gifted into them by a greater Hand and he does the job of digging it out and shaping it into the visible talent it was meant to be.
We are grateful for the dedication of this man, the persistence he has in molding, not just on the field, but in the enthusiastic emails when there’s a win, the encouraging communications when someone is sick and missed on the field and the exhorting when he can’t be there. He coaches by email instead, pouring in the words that the boys need to hear, building up, affirming his belief in who they are and what they can do. This also is a joy to see.
These soccer playing boys have come so far. The fruit is in the scores, and in their attitudes. They have been willing to work hard all along, disappointed at losses, but never looking back, being encouraged that there is always something to learn.
I am so proud of them all.

"When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion,
we were like men who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
"The Lord has done great things for them."
The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow in tears
will reap with songs of joy.

He who goes out weeping,
carrying seeds to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with him."
Psalm 126 NIV

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Leaving A Trail

The two of us stop to pick a few raspberries growing along the Tay Shore Trail. He stole away with me on my rendezvous for health. He on his bike and me on foot. His questions pepper our trek.

"How do you know that's a pheasant, Mom?, Where are her little ones?, Does she live in the forest?"

I tell him what I know and suggest we look up some information when we get back to the cottage. I enjoy this time with my eldest son. He cycles alongside my walking speed. We talk about habitats and I am thankful this trail provides the opportunity for us to observe several.

The Tay Shore Trail wraps itself around the shores of both Sturgeon and Hog's Bay, passing through field, woodland, and marsh. He asks me if I like the marsh and I say, "I do. I enjoy listening to the croaking bullfrogs."

We pause and he points out an Eastern Bluebird. We praise God for His creation and the opportunity He has given us to enjoy it. A little later he parks his bike and gestures excitedly to a green area on the other side of the gravel.

I watch this blond-haired boy now marvelling as a caterpillar chomps through a leaf on a milkweed plant. We recognize the caterpillar as one that will become a Monarch Butterfly. "He sure eats a lot, Mom. Look at him go!"

"He sure does," I agree.

He continues to watch, eyes wide in wonder. I am lost in the beauty of now. I savour this quiet time he and I share. I'm so glad he came. We need more of these times, discovering together, sharing and enjoying the moment.

I determine to claim these moments more often, to be more deliberate as the hours pass. Precious few are as dear as these.

He's far ahead on his bike now but calls back over his shoulder, "Aren't you glad they paved the trail, Mom?"

I make the 'Thumbs up' signal and he carries on.

Parenting is all about leaving a trail. In His grace, and because of it, may the trail we leave be worthy.

"But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, That I may tell of all Thy works." Psalm 73:28 NASV

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Food Unpriced

O Christ who holds the open gate,
O Christ who drives the furrow straight,
O Christ the plough, O Christ, the laughter
of holy white birds flying after;
Lo, all my heart's field red and torn,
and thou wilt bring the young green corn,
the young green corn divinely springing,
the young green corn forever singing;
and when the field is fresh and fair
thy blessed feet shall glitter there,
and we will walk the weeded field,
and tell the golden harvest's yield,
the corn that makes the holy bread
by which our hungering souls are fed,
the holy bread, the food unpriced,
thy everlasting mercy, Christ.

excerpt from the narrative poem "The Everlasting Mercy" by John Masefield (1878 -1967)

These words first spoke deeply to me in an emotional crisis in 1976 when a dear Christian cousin wrote it out for me on a card which I still have. When I began a deep intentional emotional and spiritual journey four years ago they spoke to my heart again. When I chose the hymns for my mother's funeral a few months ago I found them in the Anglican hymn book. I am not aware that my mother knew the hymn, but it touched people at the funeral because they asked about it, having never heard it before.

Yet this poet who was obscure to me was the Poet Laureate in Britain for many years. He is buried in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. A prolific poet and writer of other works, he lived a deep and faithful life, true to his faith, his wife who was the love of his life, and to the creative spirit within him.

I did not know all of that about him when those words spoke to me each time, even though I majored in English literature. I am ashamed to say that. I am grateful for the note at the bottom of the hymn that says that "'Corn' in North American parlance would be 'wheat'". I see notes on the internet citing the section of the poem as a commentary on the bread of Holy Communion. I am grateful that I know more about this humble man who looked like Hitler, was true to his creative passion, did humble work, sailed the world, read voraciously, and, through being himself, became a voice in the world. Yet he remained so humble that whenever he submitted his writing pieces to The Times, even as Poet Laureate, he sent stamped self-addressed envelopes in case they didn't like them.

But that is not what matters to me, or, I trust, to you as you read the words. I hope for you they provide an icon, a window, a picture that takes you somewhere, across fields of corn or wheat or whatever, into the presence of Christ. I hope that for you, as for me, there are words and lines that jump out at you, like words from scripture that say to you "This is for you! Remember this!" Maybe your heart's field is red and torn, as Masefield's was as he sat for a year at the side of his dying wife, twelve years his senior. Maybe you need to trust that it is Christ who indeed holds an open gate for you to somewhere you need to go. Maybe you need to be reminded that He, Christ, will "drive the furrow straight" for you. Maybe most of all, you, like I in those hard moments, need to hear that He will "bring the young green corn divinely springing; that the corn or wheat or whatever God is going to do in your life, as He can do in mine, will be "forever singing". For Christ is indeed the "laughter", and may you and I see Him bring "holy white birds flying after."

Most of all, may you and I "walk the weeded field" of our hearts, our lives, whatever, with Christ, and with those He gives to us. And may we always as we receive the holy bread remember that it is "food unpriced", and speaks forever of His "everlasting mercy".

Friday, July 11, 2008

Lesson in the Woods

Is it really okay to be "me"? Does God really accept me, this bundle of weakness?

One day last fall I was driving through the Oak Ridges Moraine on Weston Road. I threw a sidelong glance down a concession road as I whizzed by. I hadn't ever been down that road before and with my camera on the front seat beside me and the blush of autumn about halfway through it's glorious rise to full riotous colour all around me, I couldn't resist. I turned around first chance I had and answered the beckoning call of adventure. I turned west onto the forest canopied gravel road that was clearly labeled "No Exit". Hmm. That might have been prophetic, come to think of it, but the promise of an "end", really just spurred me on.

I half expected the road to stop just over the next hill. And then the next hill, and the next and the next. But the hills just kept coming. I have no idea how far it was exactly, but I think it would have taken me somewhere between one and two hours to walk out. I passed only three or four driveways, each one leading into the woods and to an opulent estate home mostly hidden in the trees.

Just 50 metres or so from where the road finally came to an end, there was a little lay-by and I pulled in there to park. I could see that although the road itself ended, the road allowance didn't and beyond where the gravel stopped and a big sign reading "No Motorized Vehicles Beyond This Point", was a footpath continuing west. I was so excited as I unpacked my camera and fiddled with it a bit before getting ready to hit the trail. As I exited the car, my eyes were on the sky. It began to spit tiny droplets of rain onto my face, cause a bit of worry. It was just as I closed the door -- having first locked it by deeply ingrained and now unconcsious habit -- that I realized with a sinking heart, my keys were still inside! I could see them, mocked by my brightly coloured beaded key-fob just laying there on the seat and me - helpless - on just the other side of the glass.

Well, there wasn't much I could do about it now, I quickly decided. I might as well finish my adventure before I stopped to figure out what to do about how I was going to get out of there. I headed down the trail. I didn't stay long. There was only time to get a couple of good shots before it becames apparent that even sturdy sandals were completely unsuitable for the steep trail. Alas, my running shoes were in the car. Along with my keys.

As I headed back to the road I thought about my options. I could walk out, but that would take at least an hour, maybe two and I really wasn't in condition for those hills. Nor did I have walking shoes. And when I got to the main road, there would still be another half hour or so of walking until I reached somewhere that I could use a phone. And it was starting to rain hard. I slipped my camera under the car, perching it on top of the gravel to stay dry while I prayed hard and fast about what to do. I quickly decided that the only solution would be to break a window on my car. All that was standing between me and those keys was one thin little pane of glass, after all. I began to cast my eyes about the surrounding landscape for some kind of a tool to use, perhaps a rock, and right out loud, asked my Father for help with the cause.

Within 30 seconds my eyes landed on a length of 2 by 4, which had a large pointed dollop of concrete firmly stuck to one end. It was the perfect tool for attempting to smash hard-to-break tempered automotive glass and I took it as a sign that God was surely with me. I wonder if the road crew who tossed their construction waste into the ditch after putting up the "No Motorized Vehicles..." sign had any idea that the refuse they left would someday be an answer to prayer. I doubt it. I doubt it very much.

But an answer to prayer it was. I laid hands on my divinely appointed tool and set to work on the little triangular window in the back door - the smallest window - and I hoped the least expensive.

Bam! The concrete bounced off the glass. I suddenly realized this was going to be harder than it looked. I set my resolve, planted my feet firmly and "Bam!" the tool went again. "Bam! Bam! Bam!" Each time I tried, it bounced back off the glass. I tried harder. And the more power I put into it, the more bounce it had until it was bouncing nearly out of my hands. I stopped, took a deep breath and psyched myself up. This was going to be the mother of all bams and when I struck the car this last time, "Crash!" The window shattered into a million fragments. At the same time, the hunk of concrete which had fallen off the 2 by 4 on impact landed on the back seat amids tiny little jewels of brightly sparkling glass. I reached in the window, popped up the lock and I was FREE!

Back at work 20 minutes later, the whole adventure seemed like a dream. "Why didn't you just call us on your cell phone?" one co-worker asked. My cell phone, of course, had been laying on the front seat, right next to my keys.

The lesson? Well, there was a time this little adventure would have started a cacophony of voices in my head. "Loser!" "You can't do anything right." "You're no good." "This would never happen to Belinda." You know, stuff like that.

But I was seeing myself in a whole different light today. Instead I heard voices saying, "How resourceful!" "God was with you to help you find that tool!" "Great decision making in a crisis."

No, I never should have been in that position. I should never have put my keys down before getting out of the car. I should have tucked them securely in my pocket instead. But I did absentmindedly lay them down. Then I got out and I locked them in the car.

The question, once in the middle of the dilemma, quickly became, "What now?" not "What if?"

God was with me that afternoon in the woods. He was well aware of my weaknesses and made sure the tool I would need had been thrown haphazardly into the ditch and lay there undisturbed for months - maybe even years.

As I recall, it cost about $250 to get that broken window replaced. Was the lesson God consolidated in my heart that day worth the price? I thought so!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Season of Green

Luke 8:15 (New International Version)
15 But 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.

My life is in the season of green.

I have a flock of grandchildren growing up around me like young shoots; six little people who fill me with delight. The time I spend with them fills me with happiness; my cup overflows with joy.

We have many rituals that bring security and certainty to their lives and I am cognizant that the moments I share with them are significant; that I have an opportunity to inspire, to teach, to build up their young souls.

With Victoria and Tiffany-Amber we regularly snuggle together for one of Peter Black's Parables from the Pond.

Victoria, at 9, is a voracious reader. She devours books and has an insatiable hunger for them, but Tiffany-Amber, 10, while gifted in music and art, struggles with a barrier that makes reading hard.

More than the struggle itself though, I worried about what negative messages she was taking into herself and believing; messages that had the power to act like self fulfilling prophesies.

So when on Saturday I bought a copy of Watership Down by Richard Adams for Victoria; a book she had been longing for, I looked for something to capture Tiffany-Amber's heart, mind and imagination. I found a book entitled, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. It looked perfect. And best of all, I would get to read it out loud!

Victoria clasped Watership Down to her heart with an audible gasp of wonder! One happy child. Tiffany-Amber looked at the book I bought for her and agreed that we could tag it on to our "Pond Sessions."

And so it was that we began The Miraculous Journey...

The book is amazing. Victoria of course, joined us for the reading. They learned what it means when we say that a book is a "page turner." And we stop at every unfamiliar word and they try to come up with its meaning. There is no wrong answer; it is either close or warmer or spot on! I see confidence blossoming in Tiffany-Amber as she guesses rightly that courtesy means politeness.

The book is so gripping that they beg for chapter after chapter, "One more, please!" And yesterday, Tiffany-Amber said, "I don't read--but I'm reading." And what she meant was that she was actually loving a book. And no wonder. They were shocked by the princess who became a warthog, and then was killed an eaten. No sloppy sentimentality, but a book that trusts children with grit and wit!

We three talked about the elements of story, that you have to care what happens to the characters, that there has to be conflict, and Victoria quickly says that a story about a boy that discovers gold mine after gold mine would soon be boring, but if he followed a trail of gold coins and they led him into a terrible place, it would be an exciting story. Their eyes dance with interest.

And tonight, as I read out loud, we are carried further into the wonderful story of the vain, self absorbed china rabbit, I stop at crucial moments of suspense and pass the book to Tiffany-Amber--and she, anxious to know what happens next reads the words out loud. And I laugh with joy!

At our writers group meeting yesterday evening, as we talked about our purpose and goals, Claire said that we stimulate each other and pray for one another, being catalysts for one another’s growth. How wonderful and green all of this is. My favourite colour of all.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

What is Green?

Tonight our writers group met, and our topic was, "Green." One of our number, Claire Alexander, wrote a delightlful poem, and with her permission, here it is:

To write a poem about “Green,” I checked out The Synonym Finder by J. I. Rodale, and the Canadian Oxford Dictionary’s long list of “green,” and found both negative and positive meanings for the colour. Robert Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Holy Bible also added insights, giving the Greek terms hugros (moist green) and chloros (pale green). Several Hebrew forms are given: yaraq, yaroq, yereq, karpas, lach, ratob, raanan, and eb (budding). Only Psalm 23 uses deshe, the tender grass.

What Is Green?

In childhood, lenses rose and green
brought magic to my view;
and soon the emerald home of Oz
helped Dorothy’s tale seem true.

Observing life, my language grew,
through nature’s blue-green shades;
my writing learned exciting hues
of azure, sea-green, jades.

But, “You’re so green” established doubt
that a greenhorn was my dream;
instead, I craved a green thumb’s skill
or a greenwood by a stream.

When teens put off such childhood chores
as weeding lettuce beds,
I noticed green-eyed monsters rear
their ugly, non-green heads.

More recently, with greenhouse gas,
Greenpeacers have their say.
Vocab expands, as greenmail acts
greenwash their truth away.

Greengrocers help me to recall
the juicy greengage theme,
and then I wonder if I could
green’s nuances redeem.

The one green verdure through my life
I learned at Mother’s knee;
my Shepherd’s pastures still are green
and they’re enough for me.

Claire Alexander – July 10, 2008

Psalm 23:2-3 (Amplified Bible)
2He makes me lie down in [fresh, tender] green pastures; He leads me beside the still and restful waters.
3He refreshes and restores my life (my self); He leads me in the paths of righteousness [uprightness and right standing with Him--not for my earning it, but] for His name's sake.

The "Kindly" Yoke and the Burden Bearer

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”Matt. 11:28-30

“Go to bed with the birdies, the grown-ups say.
For dear little children, it is the best way.
But I don’t see, when I’m so big and sturdy,
How I can get into the nest of a birdie.”

This delightful poem from my childhood came to me today as I meditated upon a commonly presented teaching on the “easy yoke”. The idea is that we are yoked with Jesus, and because we are then our burden becomes light because he bears it for us. The illustration in words is usually that he carries the heavy part of the yoke, and the heavy part of our burden, and yet my understanding of the science of yokes is that each side has to be equally balanced. The common logic seems to be that we would be like an ox in one side of a yoke, and Jesus would be like the other ox, only by some magical occurrence his side of the yoke would be heavy, and our side would be light. The absurd logic reminds me of that picture of getting into the nest of a birdie. And, like the poet, even the child in us can think with true logic and say the words don’t make sense. Furthermore, yoked oxen don’t carry burdens, they pull loads. (I’ll reserve meditations on loads and burdens for another blog)

However, if we take the other dictionary definition of yoke as a “frame designed to fit across somebody’s shoulders with balanced loads suspended at each end” then we imagine ourselves fitted with a yoke that suits us and enables us to carry the loads that we would not be able to carry without the yoke. This kind of yoke could be made for us by God, and the burdens thus carried would not be too heavy. There is a combination of the yoke of His making and choosing, and the burdens He asks us to carry with the yoke He has fashioned for us. Now that logic makes a lot of sense to me.

Next, let’s look at the word for “easy”. Chrestos, the Greek word usually translated as easy, “primarily signifies ‘fit for use, able to be used’ and ‘good, virtuous, mild, pleasant’ (in contrast to what is hard, harsh, sharp, bitter). “Kindly” is considered the best rendering of the word, instead of easy. The word kindly suggests the personal care and understanding of our Heavenly Father as He assesses our capacities and situations, and puts the combination together that is comfortable enough for us to bear. Nobody can think of wearing a yoke as being “easy”; there is no doubt that this is work, but He helps us manage the work, making it “bearable”. God, our great stress-buster.

For us that work might involve much more than ministry or career. It could be a relationship that is work, or even many of them. Whatever the stress, the load, the burden, we can trust that if we approach it with His yoke then He will show us what part of it we have to “carry” on our own.

And what then of our Saviour who bears our burdens? We are told to cast our cares upon the Lord because He cares for us. ( Psalm 55: 22) I like the image from a wonderful old hymn. Rather than thinking of my Lord as a plodding ox shouldering my load in a lumbering impersonal sort of way, I see His kindliness in these words:

“Low at his feet lay thy burden of carefulness;
High on his heart he will bear it for thee,
Comfort thy sorrows, and answer thy prayerfulness,
Guiding thy steps as may best for thee be.”

John Samuel Bewley Monsell (1811 – 1875)
“Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness”

So, instead of God our friendly neighbourhood ox, we have our Almighty Father, Lord of all creation, who bears our burdens HIGH ON HIS HEART. Imagine - God Almighty enthroned on high, carrying our intolerable burdens HIGH on His heart, while we, individually fitted and suited with HIS yoke, carry the parts of our loads we are supposed to carry in a way that is manageable, because of His kindly care and provision for us.

Still, there’s something to be said for having that friendly ox around. Seems to me that maybe we can look at it both ways. After all, isn’t it nice to think we could get into the nest of a birdie?

Monday, July 07, 2008

A Gentle Showing and a Quick Knowing

"Go get your lead."

He hesitates and waits. With every fibre of his being he wants to do what I ask, but he's not sure what that is

I say it again, encouragingly, "Go get your lead," and together we go into the hallway, where his red lead hangs over a ledge.

"That's it," I nod at the lead, "Go get your lead."

And he knows. He pulls at it gently with his mouth, as I encourage and praise him. He's such a quick study!

"A gentle showing and a quick knowing," I think.

I stop at the small side table in the hallway on the way out. Opening a drawer I take out two neatly folded plastic bags; they are for his own version of Gifts at the Side of the Road.

"Only for Molson," I think.

I told Peter on Saturday, that over the past week Molson and I had walked 21 kilometers.

"So where are you now Mom?" asked my whacky son and I started to answer, "Bond Head," but just in time I got it. And we laughed at ourselves and the joke.

Tonight as we run out into the evening; the verdant, summer green evening; I notice something. He is pacing himself to my pace. If he gets just a little ahead, he drops back until he is by my side again. And I think of what a pleasure it is to walk with him like this. He is remembering...

A couple of nights ago, Brenda came with us on our walk. Molson belongs to Brenda; he is just my walking buddy.

We happily started off on the walk and had not gone far when Brenda said in dismay, "What's this?!" Both Molson and I instantly looked guilty and we didn't know why; we just knew we'd done something wrong.

"What?" I said.

"He's pulling," said Brenda, "You can't let him do that."

I had been oblivious to the fact that Molson was getting a little ahead of himself, but Brenda's quick eye sized it up.

After a few more minutes of watching her dog taking me for a walk, and in spite of me saying, "He doesn't usually do this," she could stand it no more, "Give him to me, Mom," she said, taking charge of the situation.

And then it was retraining time for both Molson and me. A few yanks on the collar and a few firm shouts of "No!" Then a few stops to "Sit," so that he could contemplate his misdemeanours, and Molson was back in shape.

Brenda handed his lead back to me , Molson trotting along perfectly. There was one more instruction, "Tell him 'good boy'," she said, "You gotta praise him when he's doing well, Mom."

Tonight he obviously remembered the lessons of the last walk because he was so obedient, the whole walk was a pleasure. I had great walks before but I didn't know it could be so much more enjoyable.

I couldn't help seeing all kinds of parallels with a walk of a different kind--mine with God.

Does he ever wonder when I will notice that I have run on ahead of him, leaving him behind?

Does he take pleasure in the perfect harmony of our walk when I keep my eyes on him and stay in step with him?

I know for sure that he helps me clear up some pretty stinky messes when I get myself into them.

And when I'm doing well, I feel his pleasure, there is no feeling like it. I feel it sometimes when I'm leading worship and self is forgotten; it's all about him, declaring his praise and exhorting others to do likewise. When people respond and turn their hearts to him, it feels as though I'm doing one of the things that he created me to do. I love it.

"A gentle showing and a quick knowing." I pray that I will be a "quick study," and responsive to God; teachable.

Here are some favourite verses from psalm 32 that always make me smile because they paint such a graphic picture of our potential for wilfulness and forgetfulness.

Psalm 32:8-10 (Amplified Bible)
8 I [the Lord] will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.
9Be not like the horse or the mule, which lack understanding, which must have their mouths held firm with bit and bridle, or else they will not come with you.
10Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but he who trusts in, relies on, and confidently leans on the Lord shall be compassed about with mercy and with loving-kindness.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Changing Places

I watched their play. The fourth generation summering on these shores. Rocks gathered on the beach to make driveways for Tonka trucks.

How could they know my brother and I did the same over 30 years ago? Toys and sand evoke fond memories. I smile.

Scampering over boulders, bare toes gripping stone, springing from one to another. Waves lapping, beckon them and off they run. Water splashes, glistening in the sun. Waves and wind drowning childhood laughter. I delight in their joy.

Games continue. Dolphins, mermaids, gymnasts, clowns, the children change places. Imaginations know no bounds.

Places seem ageless. We look at pictures later in the afternoon. The cottage, erected in 1937, vaguely looks familiar. Black and white photos of these shores, structure, and sand. I see my Great Grandma - one I've never met. I'm told the long-skirted ladies beside her are sisters. She had six, no one now knows who's who. I peer in their faces, part of my blood lineage and wonder about their lives.

My children marvel at the "olden days". We all study the clothes and cars of the time period.

My mom was once where I am now and she stood as her mom did before her. Perhaps my children will be where I am now. I do not know. We ponder, live, love, laugh, dream.

We're all just changing places.

"A generation goes and a generation comes, But the earth remains forever." Ecclesiastes 1:4

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Love Secure

1 John 4:16 (New International Version)
16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

I look through the window and see him working so hard in the garden in the hot sun. I take out a drink, which he gratefully takes from my hand, wiping his brow with a handkerchief. He sinks down into a lawn chair to rest for a moment and I sit on the garden wall, to keep him company while he rests.

Our conversation takes us to places that get a little edgy but we pull back from a place we don't want to be, and I apologize. What I said wasn't helpful.

"Well, maybe I was grouchy," he says.

"Maybe a little defensive," I say, "Can I have a hug?"

He stands stiffly to his feet, and we hug, my husband and I.

A conversation with a friend smooths out her hurt feelings of being disrespected. The friendship is important enough to not let such things go unaddressed. But afterwards we seek reassurance. Are we okay?

But then I read these words: "And so we know and rely on the love God has for us."

No matter how secure we are in other loves, we need reassurance. The ground can sometimes feel shaky.

But God's love is secure. How good to know and rely on that.

1 John 4:17 (New International Version)
17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Two Scripture Passages and a Song Sandwiched Between

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."

Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us."


Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.


Father, I want You to hold me
I want to rest in Your arms today
Father, I want You to show me
How much You care for me in ev’ryway

I bring you all my cares
And I lay them at Your feet
You are always there
And You love me as I am
Yes You love me as I am

Father, I know You will hold me
I know I am Your child, Your own
Father, I know You will show me
I feel Your arms holding me, I’m not alone

I bring you all my fears
And I lay them at Your feet
You are always here
And You love me as I am
Yes, You love me as I am

Brian Doerksen
Copyright © 1991 Mercy/Vineyard Publishing. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.


Jesus said: I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:18 NASB

Shout for joy, O heavens! And rejoice, O earth!
Break forth into joyful shouting, O mountains!
For the LORD has comforted His people
And will have compassion on His afflicted.

But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me."


"Can a woman forget her nursing child
And have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.
Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands..."
Isaiah 49:13-16a NASB

To listen to Brian Doerksen's song, go to: www.imeem.com/mirjamruth/music/MgmJITeA/brian_doerksen_father_i_want_you_to_hold_me/

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The View from the Platform

Psalm 47:1-2 , 5-6(New International Version)

For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. A psalm.
1 Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy.
2 How awesome is the LORD Most High

the great King over all the earth!

5 God has ascended amid shouts of joy,
the LORD amid the sounding of trumpets.
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises;

sing praises to our King, sing praises.

Twice a month I'm part of a worship team at our church; once as the team leader, and the other time I sing on the team while Susan leads. I love leading worship.

We have a digital baby grand piano, played skillfully by pastor Dave's wife Esther. If we're lucky, and he's not teaching Sunday School, Jonathan is on the platform with his violin, adding its soulful voice to the mix. Richard does an amazing job on the drums, Jessica and Lorne play guitar and sing, and Frances and Susan both add their awesome voices and passion for worship. Me? I just love being part of it and following God's lead to lead others to worship.

The view from the platform is something else; the panorama of our small, but growing, country church, a modest crowd of just over a hundred or so.

The main demographic is young families with children and teens, but there are lots of people who don't fit into that category--just to spice things up!

About a year ago, I had an email from a colleague in my field; disabilities. I work for a Christian agency, and he wanted to know if I could recommend any "welcoming churches" in the area for some people he knew who were looking; "welcoming" being code for "being open to people who may sound different, or act differently."

What could I do but tell him about my own church? And I mentioned another one, of another denomination, in nearby Alliston, that I knew to be "welcoming," too.

I looked out for new people who looked like they were "looking." I hoped that when they arrived we wouldn't let them down and that we would be as welcoming as I had said we would be.

The people came, and stayed, and became part of "us." Each week three young men arrive with their two support staff and stay just for the 45 minutes or so of worship. I don't think Pastor Dave should take it personally that they leave each week just before the sermon, but they do love the music, and it's them I love to watch most of all; one in particular and his staff.

He listens to the music mostly with his eyes downcast. He is a tall and handsome young man, with short fair hair. He stands with arms held close to his sides and hands clasped in front. As the music plays, he sways to the music and rocks from one foot to the other, almost imperceptably. It is obvious that he is enjoying the music and the experience of worship. His support worker, a young woman who looks to be in her twenties, is amazing to watch. She wears her brown hair simply tied back from her pretty face in a style reminiscent of a ballerina. He seems somewhat unaware of her presence, but with everything in her she is engaged with him. Her eyes do not leave his face, and she smiles at him, swaying with him in a dance that says, "I am with you in this moment. I am enjoying it with you." I've never seen anyone do a more delightful job of supporting someone else, or with more joy. I feel like if ever I need support, I want someone like her supporting me.

I don't know her name, but I look forward to watching them from the platform when I lead, because I see in her, something I would like to be; forgetful of self. She is there in the moment for him, the person she is working for and with; with all her heart.

We are followers of One who laid his life down for us, the ultimate in selflessness. So my challenge is to be like my "dancing friend," but really like Jesus, forgetful of self, delighting in those around me and ready to serve them so much better than I do. It's not about me.

Psalm 51:10 (New International Version)
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.