Friday, October 31, 2008

Snowflakes and Sunflowers

Snowcapped sunflowers drooped against the fence, while fallen aspen leaves bled their last scarlet drops into the cloak of white; our burning bush, ablaze in fiery reds now subdued beneath winters first fall.
It crept up on us and caught us unawares, basking in the blaze of autumn and then suddenly, you couldn’t see the forest for the snow.

Life is like that…

The spring of childhood seems never ending; rosy, blooming hope, bursting with potential, all of life in front, sunny days ahead.

Then summer’s tawny hot, full of infallible days and youthful exploits, beaches of firm skin and endless starry nights seeming to reach into infinity…

…until the first day of autumn arrives and leaves her rusty trail of laugh lines gathering around eyes, and hearts a little wiser than before. Rich and colorful, she's no fool this willow, robed in beauty and robust in her form. She’s tall and surrounded by saplings seeded down in previous summers spent.

And then the snow falls, forest’s former glory, now blessed with winter’s aging crown. Brittle branches break and fall too easily and the chill sets in deep. Yet that depth is lit from within by a warmth of wisdom, a wealth of memories, a well of experience waiting to be tapped into. Just as the towering maple cradles golden syrup deep within it’s heart, nourishing and sweetening the one who will reach past gnarled trunk into the nurturing life within, so it is with those who embrace life’s final season.

*

The snow swirled on, ponderous flakes filling the gray canopy above, while final, brave, earth bound blooms drew petals close around fading faces, reminders of those hazy, happy days.



Thursday, October 30, 2008

Snippets

I match my brother’s long strides on the way to the old post office, walking through the small paths that connect the main streets of the village. Over the tops of ancient walls, I see the asymmetrical rooftops of equally ancient houses and the tops of the shrubs and trees that fill their gardens. Gardens like these fed the imagination of my childhood and were often the theme of the stories I loved to read. In these stories, magical moonlit journeys into the past occured after midnight, and children met other children who lived hundreds of years ago.

We emerge beside the village hall, in a part of the village that has buildings from every century since Tudor times. The street is abuzz with people running early morning errands. An elderly man, shopping bag in hand, stops in mock surprise at the sight of Rob, looks down at his watch and says, “It’s only half eight,” and Rob fills in the gap for him, “A bit early for the shock of seeing an ugly face like mine?” and the man laughs and nods his head in agreement. Later we pass another friend of Robs who says it is time to, “Get a nice cup of tea down me neck.”

Back at home, Rob goes through his morning routine of making sure that Mum is warm enough and is drinking enough, as well as giving little prompts to help her remember to do things she might forget. Mum occasionally takes command of us and Rob laughs and says, “Mum still puts her slipper down with a firm hand. Don’t be fooled by that bit of fur around her feet.”

Banter, mock insults, humour and laughter; they are ingrained into the culture here and they brighten the gray of the encroaching winter and the gloom of impending hard recessionary times.

It is almost time to start my journey home to Canada after two weeks here in Alvechurch. I have not done much but “simply be” with Mum and Rob and enjoy a couple of visits from close friends, as well as read a little, reflect a lot, and knit a sweet little summer-green sweater for one of my granddaughters. These pleasures were decadently, deliciously, quiet and simple, and gratitude fills my heart for every moment.

1 Timothy 6:6-8 (The Message)
The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
6-8A devout life does bring wealth, but it's the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that's enough.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cast me gently into morning

Another long drive home up the highway from Irish dancing lessons together. One of my deep hearted daughters sits beside me as I navigate the darkness in the high winds of the approaching storm. She turns up the volume on her Sarah McLachlan CD and says "Mum, listen to this. It was a special song for me in Uganda last summer. It's not a Christian song but for me it was like God's voice speaking to me, and me speaking back to Him."

Answer

I will be the answer
At the end of the line
I will be there for you
While you take the time
In the burning of uncertainty
I will be your solid ground
I will hold the balance
If you can't look down

If it takes my whole life
I won't break, I won't bend
It will all be worth it
Worth it in the end
Cause I can only tell you what I know
That I need you in my life
And when the stars have all gone out
You'll still be burning so bright

Cast me gently into morning
For the night has been unkind
Take me to a place so holy
That I can wash this from my mind
The memory of choosing not to fight

Cast me gently into morning
For the night has been unkind

Sarah McLachlan

My daughter shares how this song spoke to her in her darkest moment where she felt without hope, despite her relationship with the Lord. The song gave her hope, words to cling to, and helped her come into a morning of new trust in God's direction for her life. She is still on that journey, growing closer to God through the darkness she has known, understanding her own depths more clearly, and in them finding that there is no darkness too dark for Him.

Her experience of course highlights mine. I remember my struggles at her age, and reflect on how I walked away from trusting God for a time when I came into dark places, and chose lesser lights to lead me on, and then through going further into my darkness found His light again. I was so grateful that my daughter had used her pain to lead her deeper into God's love, had had the courage to embrace her darkness and let God be the one to cast her "gently into morning."

I reflect how just that morning I found several notes in a journal I created for my father over 25 years ago. It surfaced in my sorting of my mother's papers. Of course the passages I had copied out especially for him had come from my own treasured notes from years before that.

I had written, "My night allows the light to enter.' I don't know where I quoted it from. I only knew it was true.

Another note was a quotation Dad had been the first to give to me in earlier years, quoting it from the radio speech King George V had given in World War II. It was one of those treasures from my reticent shy father that told me he was a man of deep faith underneath all the reserve.

I said to the man who stood
at the gate of the year -

"Give me a light that I may tread
safely into the unknown."
And he replied
"Go out into the darkness
and put your hand
into the hand of God.
That shall be to you
better than light and
safer than a known way."

M.L. Haskins

My father's voice, my daughter's voice, my voice, the voices of secular singers, other writers, kings...whatever the medium, God speaks. God refreshes lights as He allows more darkness. He layers the metaphors...my daughter shares about inner darkness as we drive on the winding dark road home. A CD player, an old black notebook, handwritten notes from a loving daughter, me, to my father, heartfelt sharing from my loving daughter to me, her mother. So the circle goes, so the journey goes, ever onward, and upward, out of the darkness, through the darkness, gently into morning. Our heavenly Father leads us gently, faithfully, weaving threads like golden braids through the years, through the generations, through songs, poems, sayings, radio broadcasts, through others' words. The timeless and the timely, always together.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Thoughts On Contact

It's funny what thoughts drop into your heart and mind when you take time to sit and listen.

I was in our rocking chair, quiet by the woodstove on a cool morning, when all the children had left for school. I had a welcome space in time for contemplation and prayer.

As I sat, listened and waited, a totally unexpected thought came, regarding a movie that Frank and I had recently watched.

The movie is 'Contact" with Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey. In the story, Foster plays a woman who is obsessed with making contact with life forces outside of our earthly realm. She has lost both her parents at an early age and has deep wounds. She is well educated and supported by funding from various governmental agencies.
The crisis takes place with contact happening, instructions for the making of some kind of travel machine being sent from the alien forces and Foster following through with all kinds of psuedo-support from scientists and government.
In the end it is she who agrees to take the ride, to possibly sacrifice her life and find out who's on the other end of the line.
When she arrives in this other place, a land vibrant with beauty, surrounded by water, luminous with stars, planets and an atmosphere that you can touch with your hand, she is completely overwhelmed. But the grand finale is that a being comes along the beach toward her, and as he draws closer, she recognizes her Dad.

She cries out and moves into his arms and they embrace, a child and father reunited after a lifetime apart.

But as they communicate she realizes that it isn't really him, but an other-wordly being, presenting itself in the form of her father.

"We thought this might make things easier for you," he said.

The being had presented himself as her father, in order to make the transition smoother, in order to facilitate recognition, in order to connect in a way she would understand and feel secure in.

And so they talked about the differences in their worlds and what it all meant, and she went back.

The end of the story is insignifigant to this particular blog, as the encounter on the beach with the being, is what consumed my mind as I sat in the rocking chair.

"That is what I did! I came in the form of a man so you would understand. That is the signifigance of the movie." This was the gentle, but pervasive thought that came as I sat there and I was stunned.

I wasn't thinking about the movie, but an answer came to a prayer I had prayed weeks ago, about what I was to grasp from this movie we had been asked to watch.

For what it's worth, I'm amazed. It doesn't matter what genre or medium is presented, God always shows up. He manifests the truth of who He is over and over.

There are other glaringly obvious statements in this movie too, but this is the one that was brought to my attention that morning on the chair, by the fire, in the quiet of the schoolday morn.

Philippians 2:6-11 Amplified Version

5Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus: [Let Him be your example in humility:]

6Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [[b]possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God], did not [c]think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped [d]or retained,

7But stripped Himself [of all privileges and [e]rightful dignity], so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave), in that He became like men and was born a human being.

8And after He had appeared in human form, He abased and humbled Himself [still further] and carried His obedience to the extreme of death, even the death of the cross!

9Therefore [because He stooped so low] God has highly exalted Him and has [f]freely bestowed on Him the name that is above every name,

10That in (at) the name of Jesus every knee [g]should (must) bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11And every tongue [[h]frankly and openly] confess and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


I only know that Jesus said "He who has seen Me, has seen the Father." (John 14:9)

He stooped down and made Himself known to us. He revealed His qualities, and intentions in a way we would understand.
That's love, and I want to know more...and more.



"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 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, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:16-21).

Monday, October 27, 2008

Quiet Place


Tall and sedate, the highest branches were bare on one side, while golden yellow banners hung sparsely on the other. Fall winds blew brisk, swirling leaves, dry and brown, across the grass. The ravine sloped gently on one side but steeply in the other direction. The Boyne wove it's way east like a ribbon at the bottom of the valley. I found my way here to pray a while and salvage what was left of the day.

The week had limped, me with a cold and scratchy throat, and a clogged main floor washroom that caused untold inconvenience. I post-poned my meetings with my Heavenly Father at 5:00 a.m. until cold's clutch released its hold on my energy. I am still waiting for restored health and those special morning times. 

In fact, for most of the week I didn't get up to meet with my Heavenly Father in the quiet house of sleeping children. Instead I stayed in bed until the twins joined me, usually just before 6:00 a.m. We snuggled and nestled in folds of comforters in the pre-dawn dark. One cuddled close, the other reached for my hair to twirl while he tucked his silky head under my chin. The time is sweet and precious and I am grateful for this little furlough. The gentle ease into the day together was good too.

However, by Saturday the quiet morning time of renewing my mind before Him and exchanging His thoughts for mine and the filling of His love, were sorely missed. My intentions of finding another hour in the  day for gentle communion never materialised.  Snatched moments, although important and necessary, didn't satisfy the thirst of my parched soul. I struggled with abiding in Him, therefore I feared I was bearing little fruit. Distractions these days are many and my morning time is a mainstay for my faith.

So here I was late Saturday afternoon, soul-weary, physically depleted, and emotionally fragile, needing a time alone with Him in a quiet place. It was the twins birthday. I wanted to be cheerful and loving as we celebrated this milestone as a family. The preparations were ready in one sense. We had made a cake with whipped cream and graham crumb roads, construction vehicles and a Tonka Mighty Construction Worker stood on a whipped cream dirt-pile. It sat in the fridge waiting for birthday dinner. Presents were wrapped and placed neatly on top of the piano. The children were dressed in excitement, their eyes bright with anticipation. The camera's batteries were charging ready for the special celebration. 

Still my heart sagged, tinged with resentment for efforts put forth alone and for another Saturday that blended into every other day, all looking the same in chock-full busyness.  Desire screamed at me for solitude, rest, and reflective time or escape from routine rhythms of chores and sameness. Yet my feelings were at war with truth of righteous thoughts. I have had some breaks and refreshment on other Saturdays and have some times set apart for rest. To resent causes bitterness. It is sin. I can choose a slower pace and less extra-curricular for the children, allowing more space for some healthy personal pursuits. I knew I needed to find some hooks of gratefulness to replace those of self-pity. I knew I needed to ponder and find the joy of the Lord which would be my strength. So far, I battled through the day warring reckless feelings with quiet truth. So far feelings had run amuck and I was doing a poor job of preaching to myself.

For this reason, I chose to take ten minutes to go to the south side of the Boyne River and park awhile on my way to pick up the family's pizza for the night's dinner. I chided myself for my lack of cheer. This is one in a handful of times per year we have take-out and I was grieved by such an ungrateful heart as mine on this factor alone.

So in the grey sky and the empty honk of geese passing overhead, in the rushing wind I sat in the still, warm suburban. My eyes feasted on the beauty of bark and tree and autumn's unfurling glory. I watched a scampering squirrel trail on a tree branch, his tail curved in a gentle wispy arch. In the purity of nature itself, I sought purity for my heart, soiled from missed opportunity of praise. 

I called on my Father and asked for His help. I knew I wanted my children to remember my smile and the joy within reflected in my eyes. His joy. After all, the Lord loves a cheerful giver and so far I gave begrudgingly to preparations of this birthday celebration. The ten minutes passed quickly but in Him I found strength for a heartfelt smile and a heart prepared for celebration with those I love deepest on this earth.

It wasn't until much later in the day when all the children were hunkered down for the night and the days' chores were done that I confessed the sin in my heart - resentment, selfishness, and pride. It was then too, that I looked up the verse that the Lord lay on my heart in my ten minute reprieve feasting on nature and seeking Him.

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord And whose trust is the Lord. For He will be like a tree planted by the water, That extends its roots by a stream And will not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, And it will not be anxious in a year of drought Nor cease to yield fruit. 
The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick: Who can understand it? I, the Lord search the heart, I test the mind,..." Jeremiah 17:7-10 NASV

Heavenly Father, thank you for the joy in which we celebrated the third birthday of these two little boys You blessed us with. Thank you for the cake that was made and the preparations done. Thank you for the quiet place by the river where You impressed upon me what was important. Lord restore the resentment with gratitude. Replace my pride with the humility of Jesus. Jesus, He who chose to wash the feet of His disciples.  May I have a heart to serve these you gave to me with no less desire.
Lord Jesus, may I learn the trust You speak of when You spoke to Jeremiah. May my heart and mind, body, and soul trust in You fully so in a time of drought I will still bear fruit. Lord may my heart not turn to the right or to the left but rejoice in all You've given me. May I serve here with a cheerful smile and a grateful heart.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Signs of Hope

“How is your dad?” I asked my colleague. I had bumped into on the way to lunch. I knew his father was seriously ill, and had been praying for him.

“Oh, he died,” he said.

“I am so sorry,” I said, “I hadn’t heard.”

Then I asked, because it would make me feel better, “But...he was a man of God?”

I imagined that my colleague, a man with a solid faith, grew up in a Christian home and that it would be a comfort at a time like this. But he shook his head and said, “We hope...”

“You always find things in their stuff,” he went on, “We found a red gospel of John; worn and used. Maybe in those lonely hours on the construction site...”

And he repeated the two poignant words he started with, “We hope...”

I nodded. I understood about hope.

A few years ago, just after Christmas my brother called from England to say that my dad was in hospital. His body, once so strong, had finally let him down and he had collapsed with pneumonia. A nurse suggested I might want to be there, my boss said, “Go!” and that night I was on a plane to England.

Dad never came home from hospital and we weren’t able to communicate with him well. He was in an intensive care unit, hooked up to life support machines and sedated. I slept in his bedroom at home and looked for a sign of hope.

Dad loved reading and poetry and on one of my recent visits, my friend Susan had sent him a book of poems by famous poets. Their faith in God was evident in the lines of their work, a fact he commented on negatively at the time. But on top of the bookcase in his room, that book was lying open where he left it; he was obviously reading it before he collapsed.

Dad died that year on January 22nd. He had time to make his peace with God and, I believe, from many conversations over the years, he knew the way. I took comfort in thinking of the thief on the cross, turning to Jesus in the last minutes of his life. It makes no difference after all, except to our own happiness, whether we discover God’s grace early or at the last second.

The Daily Light for January 22nd starts with Psalm 48:14

He is our God forever and ever, and he will be our guide until we die.

It continues with other verses that give comfort and hope, including Psalm 23:3-4
Signs of hope...I’m grateful that people leave them.

Psalm 23:3-4 (New International Version)
3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk

through the valley of the shadow o
f death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.


Saturday, October 25, 2008

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

"We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is spiritual." 2 Corinthians 4:18

There is a narrowing of the trail through the Collingwood Caves called "Fat Man's Misery". I remember very well the first time I went through. It was nerve wracking even then - some thirty years and at least thirty pounds ago. The rock walls of the large cavern come together to create a space so tight that hikers must literally squeeze themselves through the narrow opening to get to the other side. The rocks - cold, hard, and unyielding press in on either side. The natural instinct, strangely, is to push against them to help yourself through, but of course pushing against that massive limestone formation does absolutely no good. Those rocks ain't gonna move no matter how hard you try! The hiker's body has no choice but to conform to the only space provided in order to get through to the other side. The experience back then brought me to a suddenly more complete understanding of the phrase "between a rock and a hard place".

Sometimes the circumstances of our lives feel as though they are bearing down on us from every side and are just as cold and hard and unyielding at those rocks in the cave. The tougher it gets on the outside, the tighter the squeeze, the more our hearts are reavealed to us and we see where is the work God has still to do and what areas of our lives we have yet to yield.

I thank God for the path that at times becomes narrow, dark, cold, and unyielding. It is in those places of pressure from either side that we are faced with submitting to inner changes. In the wider places we can find ways to reason our way around things - avoiding responsibility is much easier - but it is the tight places, where the only choice is to retreat or press through, that the real work is done to conform us to the image of Christ.

Ranting and railing and pushing against those circumstances will not do any more good than my pushing against the rock walls of that cave. Turning back is certainly an option but not one you would want to take. Only by becoming meek and humble and pliable - like soft, wet clay - and submitting to the process will bring us through to the other side.

I'm grateful for the goodness of Shepherd who wisely leads us through dark and narrow valleys where we learn to rely on Him alone and where we learn to submit to the process of change - of being conformed to his image. The key is keeping our eyes on him and refusing to focus on rock and the hard place.

"We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. " Hebrews 12:2

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tree Story

Today in Alvechurch the autumn day is blustery with skies of stormy gray. With every gust of wind, more leaves fall, shaken loose from trees that are shedding their tawny fall dresses. I walk along the village streets, my feet rustling through a carpet of saffron yellow, russet and chestnut and I inhale the pleasantly pungent scent of autumn detritus. In the tree tops, an ocean of wind roars, sounding like a storm at sea.

Leaves rain down, until recently hanging on, firmly attached to their woody homes, but there seems to come a moment for each leaf, when it falls without effort. Just a tug of the wind and the stem that harnessed it so firmly to the tree, lets go.

In the small orchard at the bottom of our property at home in Canada; I notice a similar moment when the ripening apples, pears and plums are ready for picking. Try to pick the fruit too soon and the stem holds it firmly to the branch.

Nature does not rush her timing and it is not by any effort of the tree that fruit grows or leaves shake loose. The factors that determine the moment of falling leaves or ripening fruit are external for the most part. The environment; wind, sun and rain, all make a difference.

I can’t help but think of the parallel with the habits I sometimes despair of shaking off, and the new ones—the Bible calls them the fruit of the Spirit—that I long to acquire. I ponder the lesson of the trees and know that God alone can, and must, do the work in me.

Some of the environmental factors; spiritual disciplines they are sometimes called; of prayer, solitude, reading God’s Word and living in an atmosphere that welcomes His Spirit; all make the difference. In that environment he, the master gardener shapes my soul.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

In Memory of Sam: Faithful, Furry and Fierce


As I stepped into the Arrivals Lounge of Birmingham airport and the bright sunshine of an English Saturday morning, I looked for my brother Rob, who normally stands high above a crowd. We spotted each other at the same moment and seconds later, not one but three pairs of male arms enfolded me: Rob’s huge and giant-like, 21 year old John’s, muscular and tattooed, and 14 year old Tim’s with his unique comforting back-rub delivered along with the hug.
Almost the first thing Rob said was, “I’m afraid I have a piece of sad news Belinda, Sam passed away on Thursday.”
Sam, Mum’s cat, meant the world to her. He was just a tiny kitten with extra large ears when he came from a barn to Mum’s home. White, with black markings dabbed randomly here and there, and with a strong streak of wild; he had more than his share of fight in him.
As the years passed, he often looked the worse for wear and he resembled a prize fighter as his nose grew lumpy and scarred from being scratched, bitten and bloodied in frequent battles.
There was never any doubt whose cat he was; he loved only one person; Mum. Anyone else was fair game and he would take flying leaps onto legs as they passed, often drawing blood. We learned to be wary of stroking him, no matter how benign he appeared, as without warning he might scratch or bite.
When Mum had a stroke in 2003, the Helping Hands ladies started coming in. I worried about them unsuspectingly entering his domain and wrote a warning: “Do not touch the cat; appearances are deceiving.”

In spite of his fierce nature, Rob admired Sam and his great size and encouraged me to make a fuss of him. Somehow though, it felt counter-intuitive to make a fuss of a cat that would clamp his teeth onto my hand like a feline version of Jaws. No, Sam and I settled on a distant, mutually tolerant relationship, with the common bond of loving Mum.

We knew that when Sam died, Mum would miss him terribly and I often prayed that he would live as long as she did. Recently it looked like that would not happen. He was 16 years old; a good age in cat years. He was getting thinner and thinner, had lost a tooth, and he was losing all dignity with bodily functions.
On Thursday last week, Rob talked it over with Mum and they agreed that it was time to make the hardest decision an animal's friend ever has to make. Rob’s first got through by phone to a vet that was just about to close for the day and not flexible or helpful. Next he hit gold, a vet with a heart, who was compassionate, kind and gentle and said she would do what was needed. She demonstrated all of these qualities as she helped Sam go to sleep for the last time.

As Mum asked them to, Rob and Tim brought him home afterwards so that she could stroke his still warm body and have a few moments to say a final goodbye to her faithful friend.

John dug a hole beside the wall of Mum’s bedroom and buried Sam close as he could be to the head of her bed.

Sam so intinsic to most of Mum’s routines. He slept at the foot of her bed, right on her hot water bottle. If we worried that he had a larger share of the bed than Mum, she would not hear of it. In the morning her first thought was to give him a morning treat and make sure his food dish was uncovered. She watched for his face at the see-through cat flap in the door opposite her couch. He never actually used it for getting in or out. Mum would see him and get up to walk across the room with her walker to let him in which was good exercise.

It almost seemed as though Sam tried to hang on until I got here. The day after he died, I was on the way for a planned vacation with Mum. While nothing can fill his place in Mum’s life, it is such a blessing to be here for these two weeks in particular.

Yesterday a card arrived in the mail. It was from the vet and it read:

Dear Mrs. Cater and family,
Thinking of you all at this sad time.
We are sorry for the loss of your dear friend and companion,
With love from,
All of us at Southcrest Veterinary Centre xxx

Thank you to the staff at Southcrest; you are very special people, God bless you.

Lamentations 3:23
...for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Preparation for Destiny

"Now we must fight". Fighting words for a morning devotional speaker at a worship conference. But there she was, obedient and petite, small but mighty, giving forth the word the Lord gave her in much prayer before she came up from the U.S. to bless the many hundreds of worship leaders who gathered in Cambridge this past weekend for the Unite in Worship conference. Tricia Rhodes, recent author of Sacred Chaos, had a word for all who are being beleaguered by the three D's: Discouragement, Defeat, and Despair.


Using I Samuel 17, the David and Goliath story, as her basis, Tricia powerfully spoke into the tired hearts of many who are struggling to maintain vision and remain hopeful in the midst of too many difficulties. Tricia sees the three D's as an onslaught on the western church, a systematic undermining of Christians of all levels. Sharing from her own journey, she described her loss of dreams, her setting aside of the many promises and prophetic words that had been spoken over her life, and her deep pain over her son's abandonment of his childhood faith.

Tricia urged us to respond to the three D's by fighting, as David fought Goliath. We are not to be intimidated by the size of the enemy, his taunts or his weapons.

She gave three reasons to fight:
first, because God's worth demands it,
secondly because our need requires it,
and thirdly because our destiny dictates it.

The honour of God's name is at stake. We must fight, even if we don't win, in order to honour God. If we don't fight we will be defeated before we know it. We must fight because if we don't we will not obtain what we need to do what we are called to do. And our destiny demands our fight because that is what will take us on to the new level of effectiveness and intimacy that is His constant desire for us.

The battles of today are the victories of tomorrow. They are the preparation for our destiny.

And it is our intimacy with God which will fuel our fight. That is where we will find our courage, our energy, our strength. He will be the source of our joy to keep us fighting.

Our weapons, of course, are prayer, and His word. And prayer is not some complicated deafening rush and hyped up meeting type of onslaught. It is simply an embracing of our need, an acknowledgement that we can't do it on our own. It is just a leaning on the Lord. And it is His word that gives us what we need to learn to trust the God who gave it to us. When we know Him through scripture, then we know what He can do, and wants to do, for and with us.

That was the message for the conference. But it is really a message for all of us, every day, every hour, every moment. We must fight. It is the preparation for our destiny. And it is the only way. The alternative is unthinkable.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mercy

This beautiful piece on mercy is from Shakespeare's 1600 play, The Merchant of Venice, when Portia speaks to Shylock in Act IV, Scene I.

The Quality of Mercy


The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show like God's
When mercy seasons justice.


Mercy brings blessing.

He told me that he'd been harboring resentment for about two and a half months, and in looking back, that's when the trouble started. Everything in our lives started to unravel.

Then last night we talked about how unforgiveness can prevent our fellowship with God;
how we are supposed to leave our gift at the alter and go, and make things right with our brother, and then with God.
A while later he came to me and told me that he'd forgiven.
I felt an immediate release in my spirit and a great relief at his willingness to do what is right.

Last night we went to bed and for the first time in those two and a half months, Nicky slept through the night.
Coincidence? We'll see. Only time will tell. But even the Lord's prayer substantiates the truth,
"...forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us..."
Forgive us... as...similarly to...in the same way.

If this is the case, then mercy has not been flowing in our home, because God tells us clearly that
the way we judge others is the way we will be judged.

We set the standard for the mercy that falls. Is there a drought, a fine mist, a slight drizzle, a steady rain, or a refreshing, cleansing downpour.
Surely He has given enough grace to share. As we sit in quiet and really listen to the heart of the One who has given all, as He prompts us to forgive, releasing others from the bonds of our bitterness, condemnation and judgement, and we let that mercy lead, then we will know the all encompassing, illogical grace that He has purchased for us.

Help me Lord to forgive whenever offense rears it's ugly head and tempts me to grab hold. Help me to release and let you deal with all situations, as You do so much better than I ever could dream of.

Rich Mullins sang, "Let mercy lead, let love be the strength in your legs, and with every footprint that you leave, there'll be a drop of grace. And we can reach beyond the wisdom of this age, into the foolishness of God, that foolishness will save those who believe. Although their foolish hearts may break, they will find peace, and I'll meet you in that place where mercy leads."

Riding the Wave

Sometimes it comes on me like a tidal wave. Too many needs, simultaneously. Like a cork on a fine champagne bottle, I feel like I may pop. Lunch time and dinner time are the usual bubbling moments.

The twins with drooping eyes, are clinging to my legs and whining, "Uppy, uppy, I want cuddle. I want blankie." The table is set with seven empty plates that match equal numbers of empty tummies. The two oldest children are racing to the office to put away books, yelping and scuffling over who'll get theirs in first. I'm dictating the last of the spelling words and trying to place frozen bagels on a cookie sheet for unthawing. The phone rings. I'm about to say, "Let the answering machine get it." Instead, I hear pattering feet and silence before, "Mom, it's for you!"

As I scoop up one toddler and shuffle to the phone with the other clinging to one leg, the dryer buzzes, signaling nap-time blankets are done. I take a breath. About now I have to remind myself to breathe. I glance at Duplos, Fisher-Price farm animals, and Matchbox cars strewn about the family room floor. On the phone, a librarian informs me that books I have ordered are in. Wet training pants remind me of two piles of clean laundry waiting for me on the downstairs couches.

So I acknowledge my anger. I know it's telling me that I'm doing more than what I am comfortably able to accomplish at one time. Too often I have lashed out, wielding my words like thrusts of a sword or raising my voice as if to drown out demands. I have yelled somewhat inanely, "Stop it" to a two-year-old and have meted out excessive consequences to the older children.

Afterwards I have regrets. When the cherubs are snuggled in their beds and I look at their sweet innocent faces, when the day is done, I wished I had handled these tidal wave moments differently.

I am grateful to learn that peace comes from within. Love is not easily provoked or irritated. I chose to be peaceable, not turbulent. I desire that my responses give no offense. I can find contentment and quiet my spirit, even in the midst of a storm. My children will be difficult at times and sometimes there will be chaos around me. The Lord has begun to teach me the value of a meek and quiet spirit. When the gale-force winds blow, Jesus calls, "Be calm".  Instead of trying to get in the boat, seek the search and rescue helicopter, or drown, I can ride the wave.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1:6 NASV

Sunday, October 19, 2008

On Worship and Trials

Hannah is playing, "You are altogether Worthy" on the piano and singing along with it. As she sings, "You'll never know how much it cost, to see my sin upon the cross",  I realize the truth in those words. 

We'll never know His agony, His separation from His Father, and the intensity of His torment and pain. We'll never know what He endured for us. We experience pain and trial on this earth on such a small scale. Even our darkest hour and deepest grief cannot be compared to His. We are consumed sometimes with our pain and yet we only share a portion of His.

Hannah continues to sing and play and my soul lifts in worship as she does. 

"So here I am to bow down, Here I am to worship, Here I am to say that You are my God...Open my eyes and let me see."

So here we are Lord. The bruised and broken kneeling before you. We come to you thirsty. Many are parched.  A neighbour mom raising children on her own,  her job now redundent. They found a spot for her on the evening shift and weekends in a group home. She cries, "When do I see my children?"

Mendelt Hoekstra loses his wife to cancer last year and he carries on, crying out in His lonliness and grief as he raises their three dutch blond children, six years old and under, on his own. 

A cousin in New Jersey lies in her bed, blinking her words to her family as ALS ravages her body. She hasn't walked or hugged or eaten in over a year. Open my eyes and let me see, Lord.

Jesus said, "These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." John 16:33 NASV 

We are pilgrims here. Sojourners. This world is not our home. When we suffer here, as hard as it is, it will not last. We will be made like Him. We do not suffer in vain.

"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."  James 1:2-4 NASV

Yet we cry, we bleed and our anguish is real. You comfort us. We find peace in You. When we seek You, You are there. You never leave or forsake us. You are the God of all comfort.

"Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning." Psalm 30:5  NASV

Some nights are longer than others. Sometimes there are seasons of grief and anguish. Long ones. But joy does come. It returns to us again. We have a new depth of character. Because of what we have endured, the comfort we have received, we can reach out and help others in their dark night.

Hannah continued to play and I thanked God for her, for the gift of her song, for the journey in thought where it led me. And isn't that so with worship. When we enter in, we are transported from where we are in self to thoughts of Him. Worship blesses God but it blesses us also. Let's find time today to worship Him, no matter how we feel or how hard the road we travel has become.

Heavenly Father, so many I know are hurting right now. As they hurt, I hurt too. Lord God, help them to draw near to you. For those who are just too bitter and hurt and can't draw near to You Lord, I know You are near to them. Lord, give them the grace just to stand and their joy will return again. Oh Lord we give our trials to You. We yield these tough times and ourselves in the process. May a peace of righteousness be birthed as we allow ourselves to be trained by it. We love You imperfectly Father, but You love us perfectly. You understand we are frail and needy, broken and bruised. Thank You for that love.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Leading Like Jesus - In a Nutshell

Yesterday started with a perfect MacIntosh apple morning - crisp, and sweet. A bite of cold was in the air and a thick coating of frost on my windshield. I cleared a porthole and rolled slowly down the laneway past the row of old maples clothed in autumn's golden glory, turned onto the main road, and revved into my day. My mission for this last work day of the week was a simple one - pick up Belinda (my direct supervisor as well as being a dear friend and blog-mate) and deliver us to Orillia in one piece. Once there, we would have the privilege of sitting in on a one-day, power packed leadership training simulcast called "Lead Like Jesus", along with many of our co-workers and others in the Christian community.

It was a day of challenge and inspiration, with a solid dose of good, plain, fun mixed in. We left the gathering a bit early so Belinda would have time to get home, tie up a few loose ends (like 'packing' for instance!) before heading off to the airport for two weeks in England with her Mum and brother.

We listened to one person after another of proven influence as they expounded on the principles of "Leading Like Jesus". Jesus was clearly the most influential leader of all time. The day was prefaced by these words: If you ever attempt to influence the thinking, behaviour, or development of someone in your family, home, church or your community, then you are "a leader".

Leaderhip, Jesus-style, is all about "serving others" - the laying down of ego and personal agenda in order to bring out the best in those who occupy your sphere of infuence. Leadership has little to do with position and everything to do with attitude, so whether or not one has the "office" of a leader does not determine how much influence they will have. I remember learning that I could lead worship, for instance, from the back row - that my response to God in any given situation -can be an example, an inspiration and a challenge to the attitudes of those all around me and there can be a ripple effect of hearts - hearts that can be opened a little more toward God's working in them - or a little more closed - depending upon what I do with the that mantle of influence he gives.

It's not so much in the big decisions that effective leadership is forged. Whether or not we have an official position of authority, our everyday, ordinary actions are being observed by everyone whose lives are touched by ours. How we handle those situations which confront us in the everyday, in the "ordinary", is what brings out the leader in us, strengthens our authority, and determines our level of influence. It's how our "leadership muscle" is developed and enables us to be used effectively to prepare oursleves and others for when the crisis hits - and it will inevitably hit. That takes leaning into Jesus, developing habits that foster intimacy and relationship with him. The only way to do it is to be learning from him...

"Take my yoke upon you and learn of me... for I am meek and humble of heart... and you will find rest for your souls."

We were reminded of the five habits of Jesus the Leader which he exampled for us during his time on earth and which we are wise to emulate:
1. Solitude
2. Prayer
3. Knowing the Scriptures
4. Working within a small group (12 disciples)
5. Believing in and relying on the unconditional love of the Father

Psalm 90:12. Teach us to number our days aright, that we might gain a heart of wisdom.

A key principle for me was this: Scripture defines "the Kingdom of God" as "righteousness, peace, and joy". If we are rightly relating to Father-God - under his authority and influence - then we will be experiencing those three things in any given moment. If we are not experiencing righteousness, peace and joy, then we are disconnected from God and need to get re-connected right quick! Our ability to positively influence others depends on it.

Lord help me today - this day and every day - to come under your Lordship in all that I think, do, and say. Develop in me the understanding that every small and "ordinary" decision counts for eternity - not just for myself, but for the people who are watching my life and who are influenced by my decisions to follow you or go their own way. Let the influence you have given me be such that it inspires and encourages others to lean into your loving leadership and not away from it. In Jesus precious name, may I be his follower in every way... Amen. (And God bless Belinda in England!)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Inspiration

This week has been a bit wild. Leaving for two weeks in England means working hard in advance to tie up as many loose ends as possible at work. Last week it felt as if we were all in overdrive and a couple of us got sick, Ang's husband Frank, who I work with, being one of them.

On Thursday, just before he succumbed to a bad strep throat and finally gave in to the thing that had been creeping up on him, his final words were, "Belinda there's a movie you have to watch called Touching the Void." I wrote the title down in pencil on a napkin. I pay attention to a man who sounds like he's uttering his final words and besides, Frank can always be relied upon as a source of good movie recommendations.

On Friday I arrived home from work at 7.00-ish, to find our stand up freezer door ajar and it was obvious that it had been so for awhile because everything in the door and at the front of the shelves was well into thaw mode. I groaned at the sight of a big puddle on the floor. Drastic action was needed immediately.

I hate wasting food, but I hate the thought of food poisoning even more, so I began to rescue what I could, but threw out what couldn't be salvaged. The next day I decided to thaw out the freezer completely and really sort out what needed to go. Yikes! I found food from 2003 in there.

I was grateful for the fact that our recycling now includes a green box for organic waste. I really did my bit this week with my freezer purge. By the end of Saturday though, it was a thing of beauty; clean, pristine even, and containing only edible food.

That evening I remembered Frank's movie recommendation and, feeling the need to zone out with something relaxing, I found the napkin and peered at my pencil hieroglyphics of a couple of days back. I was pretty sure it said, Touching the Void, and when I asked at the video store, they recognized it and walked me over to the Action Movie section. "Action?" I thought,"Well, that means Paul will enjoy it too."

The movie turned out to be an amazing PBS documentary about two British mountain climbers who succeeded in scaling a peak in Peru that no one else had been able to conquer, but the real story was the journey down, which turned into a nightmare of epic proportions. I don't want to spoil the story for anyone else who might like to watch it, but it is an incredible true story from which many leadership lesson can be drawn. Joe does quite a bit of swearing, but if I got into the situation he was in, I would be swearing too.

One of the things I took away from it was that through sheer dogged determiation, and a refusal to accept the word "impossible," what seems impossible can be done.

I used that thought throughout the days since then as inspiration to plug through the week. I can report that a turkey has been cooked and turkey soup duly made from the leftovers. I also made carrot and coriander soup to use up carrots. Since I leave tomorrow for two weeks, and am leaving a husband behind who will not eat raw vegetables, everything in the fridge had to be converted into freezable food. Right now a tomato bisque soup is on the stove and will be processed and frozen tomorrow. I am really grateful that God gave me the strength to make good use of the food so that it didn't go to waste.

Frank is back with us after a miserable Thanksgiving weekend being sick.

In a week of thanksgiving I am grateful for Frank's recovery and for God giving me inspiration to get through when I needed it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Broken Things

                                                                   Petition 

~ Sue. C. Boynton

Lord, let me learn from this old tree
that there is dignity in loneliness, 
Beauty in broken branches,
Strength in twisted, storm-beaten torso.

Help me to see that underneath
If roots go deep enough
No storms can wreck the life
that from them reaches to the sky.

Help me to remember the important thing,
To stand
Where God has placed me.

Sometimes I want to run. Withdraw. Flee to email, a book, a conversation, a task. Anything
but stay and deal with the uncomfortable.  It is hard to tarry and linger when God chastens. Much of me is breaking for Him. It hurts. My self must fall away so I can abide more fully in Him.

Lately my Heavenly Father has been showing me part of my character that is sin. Another part. He is exposing  a spirit of criticism that rears its head within me. When I see it from His eyes, I see its ugliness, the damage it causes, and the source from which it comes. I know He prunes the branches in my life that bear no fruit and this is one. It deters the work He wants to do in me and through me. Sometimes I run from Him or buck against His discipline. Sometimes I even complain. 

I am learning though.

This time, I yield to him. I am saddened by the sin I see in me. I grieve with Him. I confess it, and feel His love flood through me. I look for the good, the beautiful that He created within the other. Why do I pause and dwell on such a little, petty thing?

I am a broken one, a bruised one. Sometimes my eyes are on my smallness, not His greatness. He calls us to abide in Him. His soft and gentle voice whispers into my heart.

"Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it that it may bear more fruit....Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me."  
"I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing."  John 15: 2,4  NASV

For His glory, God must have broken things. He has promised that a bruised reed, He will not break and a smoldering wick, He will not snuff out. God accepts broken and contrite hearts. 

God knows it hurts.  He asks us to press in, to weather the storm.  Our eyes must be on Him. He is our refuge, our redeemer, and our rock in times of trial. He is there. He will never leave or forsake us. We can not run from the pain or we will never know it's glory. We must feel the pain and allow it to work in us.

When a woman gives birth, she learns to use the pain to bring the baby down. By embracing the pain, working through it, new life is brought forth. 

So it is with trial, discipline, and God's chastening work in our lives. 

All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained up by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb that is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.  Hebrews 12: 11-13 NASV

Jesus was broken too. Pierced and bloodied, bruised and beaten. He hurt.

Although He was a son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation. Hebrews 5: 8-9 NASV

Mrs. Charles E. Cowman wisely shares in her entry for October 15 in Streams in the Desert:

And thus, on and on, through all history, and all biography, and all vegetation, and all spiritual life, God must have BROKEN THINGS. 
Those who are broken in wealth, and broken in self-will, and broken in their ambitions, and broken in their beautiful ideals, and broken in worldly reputation, and broken in their affections, and broken ofttimes in health; those who are despised and seem utterly forlorn
and helpless, the Holy Ghost is seizing upon, and using for God's glory.

So we take courage, all of us who are broken. We seek our Heavenly Father. Abide in Him and wait upon Him. One day our brokenness will yield a crop of righteousness. He has promised.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Courage to Be

What does it take to stay alive? I remember lying awake at nights in Uganda, listening to gunfire across the valley, knowing it was the night watchman at the water plant firing at potential intruders. After our armed robbery I never slept well. Unlike the water plant, we did not have an armed guard. We just had a "watchman" who was really a gardener whose living quarters were near the gate so that he could respond if there was a problem. Our intruders found their way around him when they entered our compound early one evening, in the darkness that had fallen like a curtain at 6:30 p.m. That night we joined the ranks of many foreigners in the country who were mistakenly assumed to have lots of money. We were saved by the fact that we did have quite a bit of cash ready to pay our project workers the next day, by the bark of our dog, and likely by my husband's cool head, our own prayers, and the sheer need of guilty parties to escape before they would lose what they gained by their clever robbery.

That was not the only time we escaped with our lives. When we lost ten times that amount of money to a trusted Christian employee who betrayed us when we were back in Canada for a much needed break, we were considered fortunate to leave the country finally with our lives and our most treasured possessions, mostly books. He did not take being fired in a Christian spirit, and launched a hate campaign against us, fuelling more opposition to our work and presence. We felt it was time to leave. The safety of our children was at stake, and the joy in our work.

Yes, those events were Satan's work. How else could we see them? Satan is a liar and a thief. Yet he is often God's unpaid servant. A few years later we were glad that these forces had brought us back to our own country. God had other things to do in our lives.

Here in Canada, I don't lie awake at night listening to gunfire in our peaceful town. I don't worry that at any moment we might have another armed robbery, or that someone we have trusted will rob and cheat us. Yet I have likely had more difficult moments here being anxious about the future and the present than I ever had in my five years of missionary life "on the field".

I am not one to see a demon in every doorpost, or to interpret a lot of life's events as the work of the devil. I work hard on my "stuff", taking responsibility for the way I come across and seeking to grow in new and creative ways, as a Christian and as a human being. I urge others to do the same, and not to blame the devil for what is really the result of their own immaturity or bad boundaries, or their addictive patterns of behaviour.

Yet I, and many I care about, often struggle just to have the courage to be, to stay alive, to continue forging ahead with the many difficulties, outer and inner, that plague us. I rejoice to say that I am not depressed, and find many moments of joy in my life, much to celebrate. I work hard to help others find reasons to believe God's promises for their lives - that they have a hope and a future. And I weep inwardly at the discouragement that Satan will bring to all of us, His capacity to rob and cheat us out of every blessing God intends, and to make us despair of the worth of living life.

We don't have to be on the brink of madness like Hamlet to say to ourselves: "To be or not to be, that is the question." We don't have to be famous like Dag Hammarskjold to write in our private diaries that the main issue in life is not to have run away.

What is the saying? "Faith isn't faith until it's all you're holding on to"? Is that how it goes? Well, you know what I mean. I thought I was really learning about faith and courage when I was a missionary in Uganda, went through an armed robbery, and then all the rest. But I have faced more existential questions about the courage of just living life since I have returned.

And for me, in the end it all comes back to God. He is my source, my supply, my capacity to stay alive. We got a lot of attention for a while when we told our story of the armed robbery or the betrayal of our Christian employee. But our private struggles back here in small town Ontario are not the stuff of missionary newsletters.

I wonder how the 4 million who have been butchered to death in Congo went through their struggles. How many of them will I see in Heaven? What are our struggles compared with the persecution of Christians all over the world? These are important questions. I am glad I can think about them, and not take peace and whatever prosperity we have for granted. Yes, I guess I am glad that it takes a lot of courage just to be, at times.

Of course God has blessings in store for us, in this life, but they are often not what we would expect. Often they are treasures of darkness, riches stored deep in the centre of the most difficult moments we know. And that centre is only truly the centre, like the true centre when you are throwing a pot on a wheel, when it is God. What else makes life worth living? Who else is there, in our darkest moments? Either we know Him in His presence in our lives, or we don't. And when we do, then He can be all that we need. He can give us the courage to be, and the courage to live out all that is before us.

And until we come to that place where He, and faith in Him, are all that we are truly holding on to, then I don't think we really know what it means to live.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Giving Thanks

He sat on the couch yesterday evening, rocking gently. Worship music played on Life 100.3. His eyes were closed and I said "Nicky, don't go to sleep now honey, it's not time."

He replied "I'm not Mommy, I'm just prayin' for Jesus."

"Oh," I whispered out, "you're worshipping?", and he nodded "Yes, Mom, I'm asking Jesus to come down here in our house."

I tiptoed quietly upstairs to my sick husband and told him of our conversation.

A busy weekend, a little fragmented, as Frank had been very sick, unable to participate in any way in family life or festivities with relatives, but we carried on.

Thankfulness can be a choice, but after Nicky prayed, little boy, quiet soul on the couch, my heart softly soared on the wings of hope and gratitude.

Jesus did come down in our house, to remind of thankfulness, for a heart of appreciation, that warm sense of rightness that comes from knowing in the deepest sense, the blessing and presence of God in all circumstances.

It's too easy to be moved to murmuring, to laud the lack of sleep, wallow under pressure and excuse away bad behavior.
But all of those come out of a heart that isn't thankful, that doesn't know or trust that His Will is woven into all we experience, and that if we will, we can experience Him in all things.

So I am thankful...

~for Spirit led prayers on the couch
~for autumn colors that set the view ablaze as we walked this afternoon
~for my husband who is starting to recover from the awful bug that bit him, and who was a trooper through it all
~for children who screeched and laughed and ran 'till we all couldn't drag in another breath, during our game of capture the flag
~for fleet footed children who I love to watch as they tear up the turf and the wind flattens hair back along sweaty heads, eyes sparkling as they dodge and dash
~for my sisters and brothers we gathered with yesterday, warm familiar hugs, silliness and giggles, walks in the fresh fallness, a feast shared, good byes said under a canopy of black as little ones settled with heavy eyes into waiting vehicles
~for my Mum and Dad whom I love so much~steady and sure, loving and giving~tight hugs, deep glances, prayers and blessings said
~for my Lord and God who is molding faithfully, patiently~Who knows the finished product, and persistently, lovingly and firmly presses me onto the wheel
~for struggles that refine, for a deeper faith emerging, roots reaching farther past the surface of understanding to knowing Him and His will in those places
~for this Blog family as we share our journeys and stories and grow together, I appreciate each one.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Thanksgiving

Note to all who are expecting a post from Joyful today; we switched days and Joyful will be posting on Thursday morning when I (Belinda) would normally post. Happy Thanksgiving dear faithful readers.

I worked away in my kitchen all afternoon preparing for our familyThanksgiving dinner on Monday. I peeled apples; cooked and mashed sweet potatoes with sherry, butter, orange juice and sugar; and made the pastry for pumpkin, apple and plum pies. Some I baked, others I tucked away in the freezer unbaked for some future feast.

I love family gatherings. They are an excuse to make real food the old fashioned way. Feeding people nourishes something deep in my soul.

Finding the recipe for a plum tart was perfect. A bag of plums from one of our trees needed to be used up and I added a couple of apples to make it enough. It was the final pie to go in the oven.

The kitchen was hot in spite of the overhead fan, and my feet tingled with tiredness. I glanced out of the window periodically as I worked against the fading light of what had been a glorious fall day. I hoped there would be time tonight.

So many busy days of late, as the evenings have drawn in earlier and earlier, I have looked longingly at my golden friend with the smiling face and wagging tail, and wished I could beat the fading light and dash out into the evening with him, only to find that suddenly it was dark and too late. Another opportunity lost.

But tonight, although the dusk was gathering fast, to my joy, I knew could just make it. I left Paul in charge of the pie, with 35 minutes to go before the timer was due to go off, and Molson and I were off!

The cool air caressed my arms and face, refreshing and envigorating after the heat of the kitchen. Layers of golden leaves filled the ditches, with their unmistakable, distinct smell of decay, one of the signature scents of fall.

The night was rapidly approaching, and up above hung a butter-pat moon, melting in a golden circle, over a dark blue plate sky.

To my surprise I could hear chirping insects in the fields and ditches; late hangers-on this year. As we passed the village park, a flock of geese honked noisily, as if making busy preparations to leave. It seems just yesterday that a pair of their relatives flew over the pond at our Easter sunrise service, their honks sounding like a rusty gate, swinging on its hinges. How quickly the summer flew by.

Molson's girth has increased since our walks have decreased, but tonight he and I got back in step, our muscles getting the workout they needed, and me getting all of the sensory input I've missed. He got sensory input of his own preference; sniffing every tree trunk and fire hydrant with deep interest.

It was dark when we got home, but I had the rechargable flashlight in my hand, the one Paul gave me that you pump to keep it alight, and it makes a loud siren sound as you do.

On the stove stood the plum pie, to my relief. It was crispy though, and the plums on top were burned. "The timer didn't go off, " protested Paul. I resisted the temptation to raise an eyebrow and nod knowingly, and instead picked off one of the plums to taste. It had a delicious caramelized flavour in spite of its blackened appearance.

I am tired but grateful. Tomorrow we will enjoy the gift of family, share a meal that I hope is delicious and go for a hike afterwards.

I thank God for the blessing of family and friends, "the now"--this moment. It is all a treasure and I know it.

Nehemiah 8:10 (New Century Version)
New Century Version (NCV)
The Holy Bible, New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

10 Nehemiah said, "Go and enjoy good food and sweet drinks. Send some to people who have none, because today is a holy day to the Lord. Don't be sad, because the joy of the Lord will make you strong."

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Art of the Minute

Raindrops

Snowflakes

Grains of sand

...small things all, but mighty when joined, one to another.

And so it is with our secret battles, one way or another.

We are either taking small steps in one direction or the other, and sometimes both directions in one day.

Amy Carmichael writes in the October 10 reading in Edges of His Ways

...step by step; by little acts of will, little denials of self, little inward victories; by faithfulness in very little things they became what they are....There is no sudden triumph, no spiritual maturity that is the work of a moment. So let us all take courage...

Many rain drops form a torrent; tiny feathery snowflakes can bring a busy city to a grinding halt, and vast deserts are made of many tiny, grains of sand.

There is power in small things when added together. I want to learn to live in minute sized compartments. I can do almost anything for a minute: Yield my will to God for a minute; draw on his strength for a minute; pray for a minute.

Each day is a mix of good choices and bad and we normally just hope that if they were weighed on a scale, it would tip in the direction of the good. But that is just the "natural" way, or the way of the flesh. The way of the spirit is to be conscious moment by moment of the availabality of God's power; his life; to draw on and be lived in and through us. That, I think, is the way to true victory and transformation.

I am working on mastering The Art of the Minute-- the art of, "practicing his presence," as Brother Lawrence did over three hundred years ago; being aware of, and resting and trusting in, his presence.

Ephesians 3:14-21 (New Century Version)
New Century Version (NCV)
The Holy Bible, New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
The Love of Christ

14 So I bow in prayer before the Father15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth gets its true name.16 I ask the Father in his great glory to give you the power to be strong inwardly through his Spirit.17 I pray that Christ will live in your hearts by faith and that your life will be strong in love and be built on love.18 And I pray that you and all God's holy people will have the power to understand the greatness of Christ's love—how wide and how long and how high and how deep that love is.19 Christ's love is greater than anyone can ever know, but I pray that you will be able to know that love. Then you can be filled with the fullness of God.
20 With God's power working in us, God can do much, much more than anything we can ask or imagine.21 To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time, forever and ever. Amen.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Twisted Sisters

Sometimes God just blows me away.

Tonight I came in from work feeling emotionally numb. There were so many things on my mind that could have potentially dragged me down that I chose instead to try not to think at all. I have been finding that much safer of late than exploring such fickle and flighty things as my feelings. As I stepped into the kitchen, I saw a little pile of mail. It's funny how in these days of email and cheap long distance that my heart still leaps with hope at the sight of a pile of stamped envelopes freshly brought in from our rural mailbox. Well, there could be something in there for me! Maybe even something handwritten and personal. It's possible!


I flipped through the pile and there, to my great delight, was my dear sister Brenda's handwriting on a large brown envelope that was addressed to ME! Bless her heart. I tore it open to find a home-made CD along with another envelope - this time a white one. On it was written in scarlet, the words, "Susan precious lily". (Susan means "lily" and God used that meaning at one point in my life -and with Brenda's help facilitating - to impress profoundly on my deeply wounded heart that he is the author and protector of my identity - that though it had been badly damaged - even fractured - in my youth, its essence had been kept safe and hidden in Him. With that understanding came the beginning of a great healing and I had been able to start the long and slow process that continues to this day - of receiving my identity back from Him, where it had been safely kept.

Inside the white envelope I found the beautiful photoghraph of a little waterfall flowing gracefully over rocks into a pond covered with lily pads. In the pond were several yellow lilies, their petals curved in on themselves. But in the center of the stream, near the bottom of the waterfall is one single white lily in full and glorious bloom. Inside the photo-card was a note explaining the CD and ended with a postscpript that was both a blessing and encouragement. It was so perfectly suited to what my heart needed in that moment that it could only have been written with one's ear tuned into God while pen was put to paper. A message straight from Him! I put the CD straighway into a player and let the words of the songs she was sharing touch my heart and begin the softening process. It was wonderful to have something that God was using to minister to my sister's heart now touching my heart too.

I went to the computer, my heart a lot lighter on some level, but still deeply saddened and confused on another. I was completely stuck for what to write about tonight. I had a few thoughts rumbling about in the depths somewhere, but I just couldn't pull them up into the light and put words to them. I just sat in my chair and looked about for inspiration when my eyes landed on the neat little row of my journals - haphazardly kept over the years, mostly chronicling only the most painful times.

I chose one at random - it happened to be the summer of 1994 - and opened it to the first page.

"There's nothing here," I thought. And I was right. Nothing I wanted to use for a blog post, anyway. But I did bump into something - written, strangely enough - on Brenda's birthday, June 20th - that struck my heart full force. Something too deep and personal to share here, but suddenly all the feelings bottled up in my heart were released, and the confusion I had been trying to keep buried as I walked in the door this evening were replaced by a depth of understanding that could only be God. My heart, softened by the music sent by my sister was now wide open and Light was flooding in from every angle. The really amazing thing was that everything I read in my journal was confirmed in little ways by the things that had arrived from my sister in the mail.

That wasn't all that happened this evening... If I were to consider writing it all down, I would have at least three more posts worth of raw material. But how important in starting the whole process of God's meeting the needs in my heart was that envelope in the pile sent from one sister to another. We never know how profound an a effect a small act of love can have on the life of the recipient...

So thanks Bren. I'll be listening often in the coming days to those songs you sent. And loving the connection that they will give me to you and to the One who watches between us when we are absent from one another. How grateful I am that our lives are firmly entwined.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecc. 4:12b

Love always, Susan.

Words of Wisdom

Dear Friends,
This morning I dipped into the archives to share some words of wisdom that blessed me. I hope that they are a blessing to you today!

1 John 4:10 (New International Version)
10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

I love my job--and one of the things I love most is meeting so many interesting people and hearing their stories.

Occasionally someone tosses out more words of wisdom in half an hour than their share and I am left trying hard to write fast.

Yesterday I met a man who touched me with his obvious love of God. You could tell he knew him well and walked closely with him.

He said:
God can use anyone--you don't have to be a genius to be used by God.

On stress:
In life you add and you delete. If you have a lawn mower that's not working, you get rid of it. Not people--you don't get rid of people--but there's answers for stress.

On finding God:
Once I heard the gospel--the good news that Jesus saves--no "buts" attached--I ran up to the front. I said to the preacher--shut up--don't say no more--you got me!

On tithing:
That's peanuts. I say to God--whatever you want--you got me.

On baptism:
Just get me there!

He said that we are like a hose and God's the source--we're hooked up to the source. That source is inexhaustible.

Prayer: Dear Lord, It's a foretaste of Heaven, meeting a new brother or sister in Christ and feeling an instant connection--a kindred spirit. Thank you and please bless him as he blessed me.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Change

Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, a time of reflection and cleansing; a day of fasting and trying to correct failings. As Jewish friends prepared for this day, I too, reflected on needed change.

I like reading a blog called Beneath the Wings, written by a woman living in Israel.

She wrote last week, "Our sages tell us that true repentance is being faced with the same situation you failed in, and doing properly the next time."I've been thinking about that; trying to be conscious when I faced those moments in which I habitually fail, to, "do properly," or "differently," this time.It helps to think of needed change that way.

Susan and I were talking about that definition of true repentance, and she said, "Yes, that's actually the opposite of the well known definition of insanity, 'Doing the same thing and expecting a different result."

I had some thoughts on prerequisites for change:

First, face the truth of whatever pattern of behaviour is tripping you up. Wearing a girdle two sizes too small is more comfortable than doing this. I heard someone say this week that learning never occurs in comfort. I've found that to be true.

Lay down the temptation to justify, excuse or blame others. There is no way forward unless you do.

Respond to the truth with confession and repentance, turning away from the past and towards a different reality with new patterns.

Think through, with the help of the Holy Spirit, whatever part you had in the failure and ask God to help by living his life through you. He will.

Watchman Nee writes that all lasting change is made in us by God, as we, "Walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh," (Galatians 5:16) He says that all self effort is futile and is a falling into the old pattern of living under the law.

I'm so glad it is not about trying harder, but about reflection, taking responsibility, prayer, and God's life in us being lived out in new ways.

I have a need for God's life to transform mine in so many areas and these I hold up to him today:

Selfish overspending--I ask for wise stewardship
Overeating--I ask for gratitude and satisfaction with enough
All too often, a smallness and meanness of heart--I ask for his kindness
Dallying and squandering time in the Land of Distractions--I ask for discipline, focus and his agenda in my life to prevail

Joel 2:13 (New International Version)
13 Rend your heartand not your garments.
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

In His time, in His hands

I have waited a long time for this opportunity. I enter the class, excited by the venue, the well organized shelves stocked with beautiful ware, the clean floor, the good lighting, the ten wheels set out for this week of teaching from a master potter. What a privilege. I have the time and money to do this, to finally learn if I can make pots on a wheel. I choose one that is a little higher, for my back, and a little slower, to help me build my confidence slowly.

The master potter and his wife are gracious and firm, gentle and wise. They say just enough, but the right thing. They demonstrate and they correct, they encourage and they instruct. They smile and laugh, they are humble and confident, they make tea at just the right moment, in one of the beautiful huge teapots that sells for well over a hundred dollars. It seems like they are perfect.

I take my time, intent on not letting the clay fly off the wheel when I try to centre it. The woman next to me tells me not to worry if it does - that's what happened to her the first time. Somehow, at this season in my life, I take it slowly. Maybe I wouldn't have done that before. But life's hard lessons have chastened and humbled my hands. I welcome the opportunity to take my time, to take all the time I need to make this work.

I am rewarded for my patience. I produce some reasonable pots for my first lesson. I am encouraged by the teachers that there is potential for big pots because my pots have "lots of air" in them. I learn that I have a tendency to make them a little dry. I know there are many lessons to come. But I am excited.

The second night I feel more discouraged. Most of my pots are marred in one way or another in my hands. I have trouble centering, and need lots more guidance and input. "Keep your hands steady and true", they say. "Slow down the wheel when your pot is getting bigger." So much to remember. So many delicate manouvers. The tiniest abrupt lift of my hands throws the pot off centre, and it's a throwaway.

I get to feel a little of how God works in our lives. I realize the incredible pressure against my hand as I try to centre the wobbly lump as the wheel whirls. I have to press steadily at the right moment to bring it into position. My respect for God's work in my life grows hugely. No wonder He has had to take His time. There are so many forces to work together, there is so much at stake to fulfill His plans for me, to make me into the kind of pot He truly wants me to be. I honour the times He has set me aside, allowed the pot that is me to be broken again, so He can reshape me. I rejoice that He has not made me less than He wants me to be, less than He knows I can be.

I remember the song I sang in children's ministry:

"In His time, in His time,
He makes all things beautiful in His time."

Like my reaction to so many spiritual songs, I question how much trust I have in His capacity and faithfulness. I love to sing them, but can I live their truth? Unbelief was the besetting sin in my early adult years. I resisted His hand many times, did things my own way. Some of the choices I made then have affected me for many years. How many times did He see me as a marred pot? No doubt a greater number than I will ever know, this side of Heaven.

For what seems countless years I have been trying to be a willing vessel. And I have often become discouraged. When will the shape of my life really look and feel like the me He truly wants me to be and I truly want to be?

Now I understand just a little more of His craft, His excellence, His intention, His vision, His patience. Unmolded clay in my own hands teaches me so much.

And there is so much more to come. The lessons of glazing, and the lessons of the kiln. Aw, I think I know a little of its heat. I am sure I have no idea. But I know I am in His hands, and on His timetable. If I am willing, He will make it work, and all will be beautiful, in His time.

Jeremiah 18: 1-6

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: "Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you a message. " So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?" declares the Lord. "Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel."

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A Walk in the Shadows

The day was calling, sunshine caressing the autumn air with warmth, and trees in their russet shades of dress beckoning us to come and walk.
We parked and children tumbled from the van, skipping and dashing down the path towards the embrace of waiting meadow. Laughing they cast themselves into tall grasses, tassle topped, golden grass, and disappeared, arms flung askew in the joy of being lost in fall's cloak.

We chuckled and chased, and then the announcement came from smallest of boys "I have to go poo," he said.
There was no delaying the inevitable, so Frank took him home (five minutes away) with agreements to meet up a little later, somewhere in the vicinity of a field or tree. There are somethings you can do in the bush...not this one.

So they left, and three children and I chose our path and gamboled on. We strolled and ran, up and down a hilly place and then the path curved into the wood. Tall shrubbery on either side obscured the way a little and still heavy foliage on trees dappled the light into patches and darkness.
I felt a little hand in mind and knew my daughter close to me. "I want to wait for Daddy," she softly said, a little nervous in this unfamiliar place. There's something about Daddy beside us that feels safe. He's strong and steady.
The boys had hurtled on ahead and were playing a game of knights and swords, routing out the ogres that were sure to be lurking amongst the shadows.
"We're fine", I assured her, "Look at how the light peeks through the trees and makes the plants and ground all speckled and splashed. It's dark here, but it's bright just up there."
She still clung to me tightly, but walked along, glancing here and there.

The trail did wind deeper and deeper into the wood, away from where the cars were parked. We hadn't gone this way before and I wondered how Frank would find us later.
I noticed the foliage leaning into the path, that it had a red stem and three leaves and instantly thought "Great, poison ivy." So I cautioned all the children not to touch, and knew they'd be fine otherwise as we were all dressed in long sleeves and pants.

Nonetheless, the presence of something possibly poisonous contacting our skin, and the path that continued to disappear ahead of us into more depth and shadow was concerning me.
It's funny how in those places of uncertainty, silly fears become larger than life. Suddenly ogres in the underbrush become fiends with ungodly intent towards my children and myself. Fear reared it's ugly head from behind and screamed in a whisper, "Run! You're not safe here!"

But I chose not to listen. "Liar," I thought "You're not spoiling our walk." And so we traipsed, and eventually, the path began to wind up a hill, steadily ascending towards the light filtering in through tree tops stretched to the sky.
Stopping to look back at still battling boys, I prompted Becca to see where we'd come from. It was dark down there, but light up here. She had let go of my hand a ways back and was more visibly relaxed.
So we clambered up and up a steep incline in the path, through a last stand of trees, into the blazing sun of a newly furrowed farmers field.
I didn't know where we were, but the sun pouring down warmth and life onto our faces sure felt good.

I ambled along, as the children ran through the deep furrows, sinking in the newly turned soil.
The field finished at a familiar trail, surrounded by trees again and led us down towards the base of the hill. We listened for voices we knew, hoping to head Frank and Nicky off at the pass.

They didn't appear for quite awhile, so we waited, laid out under the sheltering arms of a willow, quiet, on a simple hill.

Sometimes God leads us in places we don't feel safe in, strips away the security of the familiar.
On the journey we can only press in to his side, tuck a trembling hand into His great strong One, and keep going. It may be shadowy, and fearsome things may lurk, but if we look, really look, and listen too, we will find things of beauty growing in the underbrush.