Saturday, January 31, 2009

Time, the Timeless, and the Timely

My times are in your hands. Psalm 31:15

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

It seems my life is ever an inner dialogue about the interface between the timeless and the timely. Whether I reminisce about long dead family members and their impact on my thinking, the legacy of my mother's furniture and life, the complexities of missionary life or parenting, or simply trying to decide how to organize my basement and how that fits with the existential issues of life, a constant theme in my thinking and writing is expressed in this timeless phrase.

I search for it on Google to see how much it is used by others and discover over 700 references spanning make-up, architecture, decorating,cooking,clothing, poetry, religion, philosophy, music, and so on. I recall the seminar at a Christian writers' conference that impacted me the most. The author teaching the seminar is an editor of several top thoughtful Christian magazines. He urged that every article and piece of writing, especially Christian writing, needs to use the timely to hook in the reader in order to share timeless truths. In a sense that is what we do on this blog. We take the daily doings of ordinary life and weave in universal themes, eternal truths, and epic issues of concern.

I particularly enjoy finding Christian and human truth expressed in words that are not typical Christian jargon. There were many years of not doing that for me, but they left me feeling that much was left out of the expression of my experience and my observation of the experience of others. While being a regular worship leader who enjoys much of the modern music written for our contemporary services, I gravitate toward much of the secular music around to articulate the agonies of human existence and relationships. My faith has to be expressed in very honest ways.

Now that I am in the second half century of my own life, my concern for such honesty has only increased, even as my faith and assurance have deepened. And with them both has grown the passion to make the utmost use of every moment I have, while at the same time 'taking my time' to do things well, to only do what really needs to be done, and what I am truly equipped and called to do. Eliminating the superfluous needs to be a daily quest, whether it be in my basement, my thinking, or my dreams, while appreciating the opportunity to see a snowflake fall or watch a squirrel jump from tree to tree. Today is all I have. This moment is all I have. And I need to live each day and moment in that awareness, but with joy.

I have just discovered a writer who in this past century sought to live each day fully by writing poetry every morning. More than that, he was a Christian, a serious one. William Stafford wrote in a "deceptively simple" way, they say, but actually wove in complex themes as he mastered in his writing a blend of the timeless and the timely. He didn't need to say the name of Christ to teach a timeless truth. His life and his poetry said it for him. I offer one of his poems for us here today to remind us of the choice we are offered, each day and moment.

The Gift

Time wants to show you a different country. It's the one
that your life conceals, the one waiting outside
when curtains are drawn, the one Grandmother hinted at
in her crochet design, the one almost found
over at the edge of the music, after the sermon.

It's the way life is, and you have it, a few years given.
You get killed now and then, violated
in various ways. (And sometimes it's turn about).
You get tired of that. Long-suffering, you wait
and pray, and maybe good things come - maybe
the hurt slackens and you hardly feel it any more.
You have a breath without pain. It is called happiness.

It's a balance, the taking and passing along,
the composting of where you've been and how people
and weather treated you. It's a country where
you already are, bringing where you have been.
Time offers this gift in its millions of ways,
turning the world, moving the air, calling,
every morning, "Here, take it, it's yours."

William Stafford

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Power of Seeing the Gift

My friend Dave wrote on his blog Chewing the Fat on Thursday, that he had a request for an interview from a writer in Alberta. The person was writing an article on people from the area that includes Dave's home town, "who went on to international success in their chosen fields."

Dave was feeling nervous. A powerful speaker on his area of expertise; he lacked confidence in having anything to say about himself. And besides, nobody that knew him as a child, expected him to amount to anything at all.

At the start of Jesus' public ministry a similar thing happened to him:

Luke 4:22 (New Living Translation)
22 Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips. “How can this be?” they asked. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

I thought about the two questions that Jesus asked the apostles about his identity:
Luke 9:18-20 (New Living Translation)

18 One day Jesus left the crowds to pray alone. Only his disciples were with him, and he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
19 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other ancient prophets risen from the dead.”
20 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”
Peter replied, “You are the Messiah
sent from God!”

Although these questions didn't come from one who needed the affirmation of others, they did make me think of how powerful other people's perceptions of us are; for good or ill, and that it is important that someone recognizes who we are and says it out loud--frequently.

Recognizing a gift can call it forth. We often don't see them in ourselves, and it can have a profound impact when someone else sees it, declares it and even invests in it.

The words and actions of those who do so, breathe life to the soul.

As a child my most frequent playthings other than books, were paper, paint and pencil. These things were always made available to my brother and I. If I close my eyes, the distinct and indescribable smell of a new paintbox fills my nostrils as the little tin lid squeaks open. I can see the thin oblong strip of gossamer thin tissue paper that covers the glorious colours. I grew up thinking that I would not be anything other than a writer or artist. Well, God had other plans; good ones; and my life has taken a circuitous route, but my identity of creativity was well invested in.

Dear friends in the "now" have invested in my gifts of hospitality, writing, and creativity with countless gifts and words that speak of their confidence and belief in me.

Sometimes I am surprised by the certainty of others' pronouncements when my own identity can be as wobbly as anyone else's. I think then, "You" see "that" in me? Then maybe it is true.

And I can easily see the gifts in others and love to speak life to them.

As Dave mentioned in his post, and as another friend, Marilyn, mentioned in her post today: The Long Reach of Verbal Abuse ; the words that people speak to us have such an impact and linger in our minds, hearts, spirits and souls, long after they are spoken.

May our words bless and give life. May we see and call forth gifts and possibilities in others.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Know Him First

Philippians 3:10 (New Living Translation)
10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death,

What we say about who God is...well, I think sometimes we take it way too lightly, and I include myself in that.

We have our own opinions, and everyone is entitled to an opinion. But the only way to truly know God is by reading his Book every day and hanging out with him long enough for some of who he is to really sink in deep.

Do I really want to know him? Because I have to consider that knowing him may require me to change. The likelihood is high that I have some things very wrong and that I may have some major, and maybe painful, adjusting to do, in order to line up with him. Who am I kidding "may have?" He is holy, and I am not. But I will never change, unless I press in close to him and listen.

Long years ago my heart aspired
To really know my Christ Divine;
And through the years much has transpired
To make His Presence brightly shine!

Not easy things; not sun-filled hours
Have taught me of His matchless Powers
But darkest nights and hours of pain!
Have brought to me this priceless gain!

Now Lord to Thee my prayer I raise,
Oh, let my life show forth my praise
And as the years still come and go
My constant prayer--Jesus to know

Agnes Jessie MacDonald (my beloved Aunt Agnes)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Vote of Confidence

I remember as if it were yesterday; the day I told Mum The Big Lie. It was outrageous and obvious--I am not a good liar, which probably saved me from going down that road very far.

I was about 12 years old; a time when school was not my favourite place in the world to be and I went through a phase of playing truant, either alone or with a friend.

On one occasion I read the journals of Queen Victoria, while safely hidden in the branches of a yew tree in our village church yard, with the clock in the bell tower chiming away the day in 15 minute increments.

On the day of The Big Lie, I left for school as usual, walked down the hill into the village where I met the friend I usually rode the school bus with. We hid out in the church yard until my mum left for work, and then we let ourselves into the house.

We had fun watching TV, closing the curtains in the living room to block out the sunlight. At some point during the day, I have no idea why, we decided to melt some baking chocolate in a saucepan. We didn't know that this should be done in a double boiler, over water, or at the very least over a very low light, and the chocolate scorched and burned onto Mum's saucepan. No amount of scrubbing could get the blackened utensil back to its original state.

When it was nearing time to "return from school," we went back into hiding and Mum came home. Mum was looking puzzled when I arrived a little later. "Darling," she said, "The curtains were drawn when I got home, and the saucepan was burned. Do you know why?"

"Oh," I said, "I wasn't feeling well, so I came home. But then I felt better, so I went back to school."

Yeah, right! Who ever heard of a kid coming home from school and going back?

If Mum knew I was lying, she didn't say so, and that was worse by far than if she had. Trust given when it was so undeserved, had a profound effect on me. I felt awful and determined never to betray her trust in me again if I could help it.

I've thought lately about the importance of giving someone a vote of confidence. In a recent crisis situation I found myself doing that, against all of my natural impulses; shifting to an attitude of faith in the person and making the choice to assume that they had already done their best to solve the problem at hand.

I think that this changed the person's experience of the situation significantly. Trust was given as a gift, not based on apparent facts.

I learned that withholding a toxic injection of paralyzing guilt and shame, and instead choosing to believe the best of someone, is a powerful thing. Grace is a powerful thing.

But of course, Mum knew that.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stand by Me

Playing for Change: Song Around the World “Stand by Me”
I found this version of Stand by Me on Raspberry Rabbit last week and have wanted to share it ever since, if only for an excuse to listen to it again. I absolutely love it for its brilliant musicianship.

Stand by Me, is one of my favourite songs, and it speaks to what I wrote about yesterday: We all need someone to stand with us, to be "for" us at some time or another. Lean on Me, another of my favourite songs has a similar them.

"Standing with," somebody takes courage. Often it involves some risk. It might be inconvenient and involve sacrifice. It might take us out of our comfort zone.

I look around at my friends and count myself very blessed. All of them are the kind of people who would stand with someone and have the courage to go against the flow. It is one of the things that I love about them and I include my dear Paul in that group. I don't think there is a conformist in the crowd. They are a passionate bunch with strong ideals, who wouldn't hesitate to overturn an apple cart that needed overturning. I am a quieter sort, who would be more likely to grasp a hand and stand firmly and quietly by some one's side, but staunchly, nevertheless.

It's one of the things that I love about Jesus. I am reading the gospel of Luke at the moment and found Jesus this morning, "standing with" the least popular groups of people in that day, the poor, the lepers, tax collectors and "sinners."

It is interesting that there is a specific category referred to as "sinners." I think it means the people who were thought of as particular sinners by the religious leaders with whom Jesus generally had a relationship of mutual antipathy.

Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. " Matthew 5:3 (New International Version) He cared for those who saw their weakness and need of him. Those who confidently assumed that they were certainly not "sinners" and furthermore didn't need a Saviour, were blind, proud, foolish and almost beyond hope.

I hope that you enjoy the music, and that it makes you look around you to see if someone needs you to stand by them or if there is more that can be done to help. We have such good footsteps to follow.

Luke 5:27-31 (New International Version)
27After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. "Follow me," Jesus said to him, 28and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.
29Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"
31Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Covenant Friendships


2 Peter 1:5-9 (The Message)
5-9 So don't lose a minute in building on what you've been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can't see what's right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

The table was covered in a cloth of pale avocado, reflecting the colour of the walls. Care was taken in every detail of the table. The water jug held grapes and orange slices, and palest ochre napkins were carefully folded by Hannah and placed on the dinner plates. Candles shimmered; their light reflected in the deep red of the wine. Every detail communicated welcome and expressed a spirit of hospitality. We felt loved and honoured.

A family that included five chldren sat around the table. Their parents and Paul and I were strategically placed on either side of the 3 year old twin boys. We paused as hand went into hand around the table, small hands into bigger hands, and grace was said, before we began passing the many plates of steaming and delicous food.

The passing of the food; many dishes; took some time around 9 people.The children were really hungry because it was later than they normally eat. Finally the plates were full and we were ready to eat, when I felt a tiny hand squirming into my right hand again, and saw another taking hold of his dad's on his right, as a little curly head bowed.

" We already said grace,remember?" said his dad. There are habits of gratitude and respect for God being sown in these dear children.

Family: the word conjures up so many images and emotions for me. It can be at once the place of greatest hope and greatest disappointment; the place of greatest safety and greatest vulnerability.

Family is the foundation upon which a caring and loving, civilized society is built; formed first in the mind and imagination of God.

I have written here before of my dearly loved Aunt Agnes MacDonald, who wasn't really an aunt, but a friend 40 years or so older than me, and so close to my heart that "aunt" was the only word I could think of to connect her to me beyond the inadequate word "friend."

Her maternal grandparents had emigrated to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland in the last quarter of the 19th century. Her father, when he had drunk too much whisky, would passionately recount a terrible betrayal of the MacDonalds by the Campbells. "Never trust a Campbell," he would roar to his wide eyed children, "They killed our bairns and they killed our women," referring to a massacre that took place hundreds of years ago as if it were yesterday. The Great Feud lived on in memory. In those days, family clans hung together tightly for good or evil.

There is the bond of family that is treasured if we are so blessed, and also the bond of kinship; of friendship of the kind I had with Aunt Agnes and have with some of my friends now, and the kind David had with Jonathan and described in the first book of Samuel; Covenant Friendship.

I, as an individual, and we as a couple, are blessed to have some relationships that we cherish. They are "covenant" in the sense that David's was with Jonathan. God has connected us in relationship with some families and single friends who are dear to our hearts. We pray for one another, support one another and are "for," one another in every sense of the word.

And why not? If family was God's idea, why not embrace it and one another? Why not open arms, hearts and doors, and see that family has a bigger scope than we might think.

1 Samuel 20:14-17 (New Living Translation)
14 And may you treat me with the faithful love of the Lord as long as I live. But if I die, 15 treat my family with this faithful love, even when the Lord destroys all your enemies from the face of the earth.”
16 So Jonathan made a solemn pact with David, saying, “May the Lord destroy all your enemies!” 17 And Jonathan made David reaffirm his vow of friendship again, for Jonathan loved David as he loved himself.


Psalm 68:6 a (New Living Translation)
6 God places the lonely in families;
he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Full Tank

I continue to learn as I work on incorporating new habits into my life. It isn't that I can never extend myself, or make a supreme effort when it is called for. That has been called for this week at work, but when I wrote on Thursday evening about not being asleep at my post anymore, I talked myself out of starting a big task at 10.30 p.m. and instead went to bed.

I was rested for the next day. The day was busy but highly productive and then I chilled out with Paul by watching a movie until 8.30.

I remembered then that because it was Friday, Meg was writing the blog post for Saturday. That was a wonderful thing to enjoy--a blog Sabbath.

I did do a couple of hours of work on some deadline driven tasks. What difference running on a full tank makes.

I am so used to running on empty, through sheer grit, will and determination but I have long struggled with a tendency to fall asleep easily at meetings. I am also a master of procrastination before getting on with a big task that is waiting and seems a bit overwhelming.

Love your neighbour as yourself; you have to love yourself first, in order to love others. Rest first to work. Both counterintuitive principles.

Luke 1:51-52 (New International Version)
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

More About Treasures - from a Heavenly Perspective

Our new couch arrived yesterday. You can see it as the featured bargain on www.thebrick.com. The Grace sofa. I loved the name, but didn't buy it for that. It is our very first new sofa, replacing the second Salvation Army thrift store one which did us well after the first SA one, both of which now live in the basement. The room really needed this new sofa, to match the quality, at least in looks, of the ancestral furniture that came after Mum's move from Windsor, and her final move to Heaven. I think she would approve of my choice. I did the best I could with the upper edge of the lower line of sofas. For many, this would not be a big deal. For me it was. Like when I moved that amazing antique family dresser into our bedroom, and mused about that two weeks ago. An astute observer of my life commented on how I had brought something of value into my heart, connecting the intimate bedroom with my heart. That really struck me, along with the whole experience of valuing things, and myself, and our home, and the connections between.

For years I prided myself on not having valuable stuff, yet somehow found it fitting that after years of getting by with second best I inherited so much beauty through my family line. As you have read, I have been learning to connect it with my spirituality, and my innermost being, for I never want to live out of harmony with the core of my being. So now it seems that these new treasures are some of the "treasures of darkness" the Lord promised me from Isaiah 45. From the darkness of much unhappiness in my family of origin I have been graced with what was beautiful. And I am finally taking that beauty deeply into my heart, allowing it to heal memories of much that was not beautiful in attitudes of those who, like these pieces of furniture, were giants in my life.

I have learned to understand that they did the best they could with what they had at the time. Their harshness and criticism came out of concern and the patterns of parenting they had received. But they were also reliable, solid, and sensible, like the furniture, and graceful in very practical ways. I had always appreciated that and relied upon it. Now I live with the daily memory of that in the midst of these reminders.

I've written before about knowing Mum went to join Dad in Heaven, about how it was hard to believe that sometimes because their faith was not very up front most of the time, and of the assurance I had in my heart of the final destination of all the family members known to me. That has been a constant relief and blessing to my heart, and will always be, until I go to join them one amazing day. And sometimes all of that brings tears to my eyes which I welcome in the midst of my otherwise rather stoic approach to life, another treasure (or curse) from my family line.

Such tears sprang hot to my cheeks as I read this lovely poem given to me after Christmas by a friend at church. Somehow a fuller meaning of my mother's presence in Heaven had not really registered. Yes, I knew intellectually that she would be healed and whole and happy, as I had never seen her before. It took this poem to break open that reality in a fresh way to me:

Merry Christmas from Heaven
Copyright 1990 by John Wm Mooney Jr.

I still hear the songs
I still see the lights
I still feel your love
on cold wintery nights

I still share your hopes
and all of your cares
I'll even remind you
to please say your prayers

I just want to tell you
you still make me proud
You stand head and shoulders
above all the crowd

Keep trying each moment
to stay in His grace
I came here before you
to help set your place

You don't have to be
perfect all of the time
He forgives you the slip
If you continue the climb

To my family and friends
please be thankful today
I'm still close beside you
In a new special way

I love you all dearly
now don't shed a tear
Cause I'm spending my
Christmas with Jesus this year.

The poem said what Mum probably always wanted to say, but the words hardly ever came. She thought she had to be perfect, so she put that on to me. She didn't really know what God's grace could do for her, and therefore for me, so I had to fight to find that for myself. Now I can relax and know that Grace has healed Mum. And yes, she is close beside me "in a new special way." Those words echo what she said before she went into surgery about fifteen months before her death, the surgery from which she never really recovered. As she said goodbye before they wheeled her away, she said "Wherever I am, I won't be far away." Those treasured words kept me going through all the hard moments that followed, through her anger and defiance, her confusion and distrust, until she finally surrendered her life into God's hands, as I held her in my arms, saying through my tears, "Good Mummy, good Mummy."

Now, as I rearrange the old furniture, or use the 150 year old teapots, or sit in Mum's favourite wing chair by our new Grace sofa, I can hear Mum speaking to me from Heaven, and say back to her again, "Good Mummy, good Mummy."

Friday, January 23, 2009

No Longer Asleep at my Post

I am so used to falling into bed exhausted.

I usually wring out the day and catch the last precious drops, whereupon I fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. I have spent quite a few of my "early nights" wondering why I went to bed so early; tossing and turning until just before it was time to get up, when I suddenly felt tired.

But last night--oh happy night--I went to bed at 11.00 p.m. and only woke up here and there, just long enough to enjoy the delicous thrill of discovering that it was "only" 11.45 or 4 o'clock.

I woke up at 4.50, just before my alarm went off, and was able to get up without feeling like I had to stay for the "few minutes" that always turn into half an hour (time moves fast when you're in bed.) I've always felt that Proverbs 26:14 was a little harsh. Does anybody just leap out of bed in the morning?

This morning though, I felt rested and it was wonderful. It felt like the right time to get up.

I was so tempted the night before at 10.30, to stay up and start working on one of the projects from work that I need to finish this week.

I would have unpacked my laptop, put on some music, made some tea. I would also have started to eat everything in sight for energy, and also as a reward for "working so hard."

How many unhealthy habits can one person engage in at once?

I hesitated, said, "Nah," and turned off the light. I changed my voice message at work to say that I would not be in the office until 1.30 p.m. the next day, and made the decision to work in the quiet of home, with a rested brain, on the tasks that awaited me. It was a good decision on so many levels.

Was it coincidence that my reading this morning took me to Mark 14:32-41? For here the disciples sleep the sleep of the exhausted; with which I am all too familiar, while Jesus agonized alone in the Garden of Gesthemane.

I know so well what it is to have irresistably "heavy eyes," exhausted eyes, as these men seem to have had. They fell asleep at their post. The most important post of history.

But how many times have I slept through my post; through the time I intended to spend with God, and which would have made a vital difference to me, and perhaps to some others? I just know that I am so grateful for making some progress in the right direction.

Mark Buchanan, in his book, The Rest of God, says that we try through medication, technology, discipline, cleverness and sheer willfulness, to figure a way around our God imposed need for stillness, but it always comes back to take its toll.

I know it. I think I'll go to bed!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

In Case Anyone is Wondering

Just in case anyone is wondering...I thought I would give an update on the status of my "orderly life." :)

Our Christmas tree is still up. That about says it all. Last night at the end of cell group I moved three of our Christmas figures to the foot of the stairs. I laughed because they looked like the Three Wise Men--as if they were definitely going somewhere. I can only hope that this weekend they make it to their final destination, a cupboard upstairs, where they will be neatly stowed away for a few months.

Usually our Christmas things vanish before we return to work after New Years Day, but this year, with holding on tight to celebrating Sabbath, and getting sufficient sleep and having a daily Sacred Hour, Christmas seems to have come to stay.

I have held on tight to my Sacred Hour. It has really helped to build a new morning ritual around it. In spite of my best efforts I have not done so well in the past few days at getting enough sleep though, and on Sunday, because of a deadline I had to meet at work, I made the decision to work at home and get the big task done. There was no way I could have got the work done at the office, with a full schedule this week.

I took comfort though, in what I read in Mark 6: 31-55 on Saturday.

Jesus said to the disciples, "Come and rest awhile," but it never seems to have happened. Instead, as they sought to escape the crowds by boat, and rest, leaving the exhaustion of ministry behind, the crowds actually ran ahead of them along the shore, and met them at their "Quiet Place." Instead of resting, they ended up feeding five thousand people. Yikes! How's that for unfulfilled hopes?

Then when they left again by boat, there was that storm in the middle of the night, out in the middle of the lake, without Jesus who had stayed behind to have quiet time.

When Jesus left by boat with his disciples in the beginning, he had an intent, but he went with the flow of God's agenda. He was flexible and at rest in the moment--even though the planned moment of rest for the group did not come.

Our plans may be frustrated, but we needn't be, not if we are yielding to his better plan.

Our tree will be put away eventually, but for now we rather enjoy its happy twinkle and my heart is at rest, which is what is important.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I Don't Know Everything Anymore

The older I get, the fewer things I am sure of.

You would think that with each successive year, more things would be securely nailed down, but I am becoming much more comfortable in saying, "I don't know," and thinking that is okay. I don't need to know everything.

I remember with embarrassment some of the passionate and pompous pronouncements of my youth.

I hope that now a little humility has pushed aside the certainty with which I held forth on certain subjects.

It is a little disconcerting to be unsure of some things, but I believe it is part of the journey of discovering truth.

I have some questions for God; I don't understand everything, but I do have some core certainties and they are enough for now.

I don't believe that God is threatened by questions, and I do believe that there are answers. That is one of my core certainties.

I turned on my car radio recently in the middle of a call-in show. The host identified himself as Jewish, and he was in dialogue with a Christian minister. I got the impression that the host was non-religious, but I sensed an undercurrent of genuine curiosity beneath the polite banter.

I was sorry that the minister didn't seem to take the time to listen more deeply, but simply confidently repeated facts as he believed them. He seemed so matter of fact and dispassionate--as if the facts were the important thing and not the human being at the other end of the microphone. I could hear my voice in his, in past conversations with my father.

Jesus often asked more questions when someone questioned him. He, who had all knowledge, did not give easy answers, but led people on a journey of discovery on a much deeper level. And then he would challenge them to take the next step. He counfounded lawyers, yet said that the Kingdom of God would be found by by those who received it as children .

With age we gain more wisdom, but are sure of fewer things. Perhaps that is what true wisdom is. But only perhaps...

Love
When our hope is hard to find
And our faith is in decline
We need a cause to
Stand behind - love

We all want the way it feels
Time it comes and time it steals
What remains, what is real - love

There is love
There is forgiveness
There is love in times of need
When life is cold
There is a promise
You will never go without...
There is love

It heals the sick
Comforts the weak
Breaks the proud
Raises the meek
In this life no guarantees...

Love is the answer
Love will find a way
When we love one another
It's a brighter day

Chris Tomlin

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Love Now

The flood of emotion hit me suddenly and unexpectedly.

I was driving to an afternoon meeting, the heater blasting my feet with hot air and Chris Tomlin's song Love, from his CD, Hello Love , blasting my ears with hot music. The moment triggered a strong memory of Mum's presence in the car seat beside me when she was last in Canada in 2003.

I was on my way "somewhere," and she was with me; utterly content. My CD player in that moment was blasting out a new rocky arrangement of Amazing Grace and I was enjoying the music; and having Mum by my side.

Mum's 32 years of transatlantic visits came to an end with a stroke in 2003, days after returning to England from Canada, but I have so many memories to treasure. They are concentrated essence of pure joy.

The anticipation of each visit was part of the joy as the countdown began about six weeks before her planned arrival. By the time I went to the airport, I would barely be able to contain my excitement. I would imagine that dearly loved soul being deposited somewhere in the vastness of Lester B. Pearson airport. Somehow that thought; that she was somewhere in there, so close, but as yet undiscovered, was all part of the delicious suspense.

Watching the arrivals gate for her familiar small figure, being wheeled out in a wheelchair on her last couple of trips; well, I would be at bursting point by then.

We had some funny airport moments. I waited for a great length of time outside the Ladies Room for her once, and when she finally emerged I said, "Mum, you were gone a long time."

She confided that the plane journey had given her a large amount of flatulence, which she was loathe to release until someone flushed in the adjoining cubicle, to camoflauge the sound effects. We roared with laughter at the fact that she had patiently waited for the others to flush and not thought of doing so herself.

But the last laugh was on me, for when we emerged from the elevator in the parking garage, I had forgotten where I had left the car, so rather than have Mum follow me all over the garage looking, I promised to return when I found it. I did return triumphantly, telling Mum, "I found it, it's just a few rows over."
Mum asked in dismay, "But darling, why didn't you bring it with you?" At which we both dissolved into laughter.

Instead of wanting an early night the first night, after such a long journey and with the time difference being five hours, she would astound me every time with her ability to stay up with me until I went to bed, steadfastly refusing to acknowledge tiredness. She was determined to enjoy every minute possible and not waste one of them sleeping if she could help it.

Our happiness was found in just being together. I am a restless soul, on the move a lot of the time and she was content to just be with me whether that was: shopping, worship practice, writers group, a prayer meeting or church. Like other visiting friends, she often spent time in my kitchen with me peeling and chopping quantities of apples or onions and laughter sprinkles every memory of those times, for we found something to snort with giggles at in almost everything we did.

Since the stroke, and now 82 years old, the journey would be too exhausting and she rarely even leaves her tiny flat, quite content in her much smaller world. But she is lovingly cared for by my brother Rob and a fleet of Helping Hands ladies, and I still have her; I can still go and be with her.

I wish I did as good a job of "just being" with her as she did of just being with me.

My Auntie Mies gave me a Poesie Album in the summer of 1962. This small book, bound in silver gray, with a sticker on the front of a white vase, embossed with gold and overflowing with pink roses, captured the summer that I turned 12.

It is an autograph book, in which aunts, uncles and other relatives, as well as friends, wrote little poems, some of them original. Little decorative stickers were added to the pages, and I also cut out photographs of the person if I had one, and glued it on their page.

There are poems in Dutch, German and English and one of them by Friedrich Wilhelm Kaulisch, part of which was copied out by my German aunt, Tante Hannelore, says:

Wenn Du noch eine Mutter hast,
so danke Gott und sei zufrieden.
Nicht allen auf dem Erdenrund
ist dieses hohe Glück beschieden.

I speak little German, but I believe that in essence it means that if you still have a mother, then thank God and treasure her.

How often we don't treasure the moments we have sufficiently. Sadly it is often when we lose something or someone that we realize what we had.

Do all the loving you can, to all the people you can, today.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Teacher

Matthew 25:40 (New International Version)
40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Does Jesus, then, have a "least of these?" I don't think so, and we shouldn't, but we do, and that is what I think he meant.

I think that he wants us to open our eyes and see, that unless we see him in every soul, and especially those we are tempted to see and treat as "the least," we really have no part with him, for he also says, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' (vs.45)

It is so easy be detached about the message of Jesus; to admire it and talk about how society should change, but he has a way of bringing the message home, and making it very personal. He asks me to change.

He did it again this morning--showed me the gap between my talk and my walk. And I am grateful. I want to see, but am often blind. Yet I find that when I slow down to listen, he has so much to say. He is the Teacher after all.

His teaching is gentle and full of encouragement. In the situation he nudged me about this morning, it was as if he said,"I know you thought you were doing a good thing; you even felt proud of yourself, but look closer. You have made a good start, but now I ask more of you."

There was a quote from Annie Sullivan, in the sidebar yesterday that said:
"People seldom see the halting and painful steps at which the most insignificant success is achieved."

I loved that. It made me think of something I learned years ago about helping people to learn a task or change behaviour. It is a principle that is called, "Successive approximations." It means building a skill one tiny step at a time, and cheering the person on for the "approximations" that gradually grow closer to the goal.

That is exactly what God does. He doesn't expect perfection of us all at once, but he gradually builds his character and qualities into us, and teaches us gently, step by step, to mirror him more truly. Or so I have found.

He showed me an example--my faint "approximation" of his lifestyle of love. If he was in a room with 12 people (as he often was,) and one of them honestly had trouble seeing or understanding something, he would stop everything for that one. I am certain that I would focus on the 11 and hope that the one will catch up or catch "something," at least.

Terry Harris is a motivational speaker with an inspiring story of overcoming some huge handicaps. One thing that he appreciated growing up, was people who were willing to slow down to the speed of the slowest person. What a challenge to those of us who race through life at a gallop. On the other hand, I think that God may be laughing at me right now and thinking, "Doesn't she see? Sometimes she is the slow one!"

I am commissioned: to slow down enough to see those around me to whom I can express gentleness, patience and kindness.

Because he would.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hope

2 Corinthians 9:8 (New International Version)
8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

I prayed for my friend Hope, whose name the enemy has assaulted with all of his might for the past three months. She fell seriously ill in October and has been in hospital since then, battling cancer, lung problems and infections.

Reaching across to the small table beside the wingback chair in which I was curled up, I picked up my weighty, red covered Bible. David's psalms had come to mind as I prayed, so that was the book I opened to, quite expecting to find myself reading of pits and despair--David's laments in dark places.

Instead I opened to psalms (96-100), which spoke and sang of God's power, might and justice; and David's thankfulness.

Next I opened Amy Carmichael's Edges of His Ways, where she wrote on 2 Corinthians 9:8 and God's all sufficiency. She wrote, "All means all, not some; aways means always, not sometimes. Lord, help us today to live upon this 'all.'"

I read more of Mark Buchanan's The Rest of God , a portion about Paul and Silas in jail in Philippi . They stayed when the jail doors were opened by an earthquake and not just they, but the others there with them. "We are all here," they said to the distraught jailer.

Mark Buchanan suggests that the reason the other prisoners didn't run for freedom when their chains fell off and the doors flew open, was that they had heard Paul and Silas singing praises to God all evening, even in though they had been brutally beaten and imprisoned; and they wanted the God that these men knew, more than freedom.

How does God do this--weave so many separate things into a consistent message of hope and victory, even in a place where a physical assault has taken place and freedom been stripped away? I don't know, but he does...he does.

Psalm 100 (New Living Translation)
1 Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
2 Worship the Lord with gladness.
Come before him, singing with joy.
3 Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
5 For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Tree God Knows


Here in Muskoka winter I muse about trees outside our window.I can look at them many ways: they can be beautiful and artistic as they glitter in the sunlight. Deciduous trees can look lonely and stark without their leaves in barren brown-ness. Evergreens stand out so much more in the winter, their plenteous boughs preserving the essence of Christmas trees throughout the bleakness of winter months. As I drive up the highway I notice trees in winter in ways I often don't in summer. The cold and starkness of life highlight the strength and individual outlines of trees. Summer shows their composite foliage; autumn overwhelms with brilliant contrasts of colours, but the story then is more of the leaves than the trees. So winter is a time to see the true outline of trees, their basic shape and the beauty or not thereof.

Such is true of all of us. It takes the hard seasons to show what we are made of, whether our lives are truly in balance and we have what it takes to withstand the tests and trials of time. That balance comes from strong and deep roots, well proportioned trunks and gracefully arranged branches.

Trees abound as metaphors for personhood throughout literature and scripture. Psalm 1 reminds us that the righteous person is "like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither." (v. 2b.) Trees appear in our dreams and we instinctively know what they mean. We can see a painting of a tree and identify with it. A friend once wrote a poem about me as a bonsai, an intricately formed miniature tree, recognizing how life had stunted my growth in certain ways, yet kept the form and grace. That was how she saw me. God spoke to me in a different way using the tree image just a year ago.

Of course He knew that I love to think of myself as a tree, that I long to be an oak of righteousness. He has called me one for many years. But one day He wanted to show me something more specific. I was sitting prayerfully with my trained spiritual "friend" and she asked me to ask God to give me a picture in my mind of how He saw me at that time. Instantly I saw a childish drawing of a tree. The trunk was thick and strong, but not well proportioned. It was far too wide for the height of the tree. The leaves were bright green, obviously on bushy branches, but no fruit or lovely graceful branches were visible. It was like a green lollipop atop a huge brown stick. Alive, strong, very strong, but not beautiful, graceful, appropriate or able to grow up well. It was a picture of me: strong but defensive, out of proportion, needing pruning, deeper roots, and greater upward and outward growth in the branches, not the trunk.


Then she asked me to ask God to show me what He wanted to do with me. Again I instantly saw the tree in the picture moving. The roots began stretching deeper and wider, the branches extended gracefully out in many directions, and the trunk grew taller, lost many layers of defensive bark. The whole tree became well proportioned. In this past year that kind of growth has been taking place. I have often thought of those pictures, and been grateful for their dynamic and multi-faceted, intuitive truth. The growth continues, and always will. And many times, like today, I am reminded of the need for the storms and stress in my life to foster that growth. Just on a day when I was so frustrated with the continuing storms I read this poem:

The wind that blows can never kill the tree God plants;
It bloweth east, it bloweth west,the tender leaves have little rest,
But any wind that blows is best.
The tree that God plants strikes deeper root, grows higher still,
Spreads greater boughs, for God's good will meets all its wants.

There is no storm hath power to blast the tree God knows;
No thunderbolt, nor hurricane;
When they are spent, it doth remain,
The tree God knows,through every tempest standeth fast,
And from its first day to its last still fairer grows.

quoted in Streams in the Desert

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Study

I thank God for the delightful rest at cell group this week; a study book taken to work to read at lunchtime, but forgotten at the office by one too weary to go back for it. It hadn't been read at lunchtime anyway.

And I thank God too, for the conversation that took place instead, around a dinner table. A conversation as important--maybe more so--than the study that we didn't have.

She had knocked on my office door earlier that evening. I was under pressure to complete certain tasks before I left to go home; tired and stressed. As she opened the door, she said, "I made peanut butter cookies for cell group tonight."

"That's so nice, but I'm really busy, I can't chat now," I know that my voice was terse, my mind a million miles away from peanut butter cookies.

She was quick to apologize and vanished quietly, leaving me to my computer screen and piles of budget pages.

Half an hour later I knew that I had to leave if I was going to have the casserole heated up in time for the friends coming for cell group. I had already called home in the hope that Paul could turn on the oven to warm up, but he wasn't home yet either.

I went from my basement office, into the upstairs house where she lives with her husband and other housemates, and since it was so late already I asked if she would come home with me to save Paul a trip back later. She was waiting anyway, with coat, boots and purse ready; and a bag of peanut butter cookies.

I apologised on the way to the car. "I'm sorry I was short when you knocked on the door. I'm so busy at the moment, but I shouldn't have been impatient."

She understood before I spoke; knew my heart, and was quick to forgive.

It seemed that evening that the "planned" study was not to be, my having left the book behind anyway. And sometimes (always) it is a great treat just to "be" with friends. And there were only three of us after dinner as the rest around the dinner table had dispersed to different parts of the house.

We three chatted and laughed, and some of the tension of the day began to drain from our necks and shoulders and brains. I retold the funny car story that I had written about on the blog last week, and explained to her what a blog is. She--who is categorized, sorted, labeled by society as different, but here, with us; same; in every sense that matters.

We talked about what assertiveness is and how hard it is to speak up, without aggression or passivity, when our rights are not respected or when there is a wrong to right. There were no experts at the table, only three students; we have all struggled with that.

We made a level place before Jesus and all of us were raised up in the doing. Perhaps there was a study after all.

1 John 2:7-8 (New Living Translation)
A New Commandment
7 Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment for you; rather it is an old one you have had from the very beginning. This old commandment—to love one another—is the same message you heard before. 8 Yet it is also new. Jesus lived the truth of this commandment, and you also are living it. For the darkness is disappearing, and the true light is already shining.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Attentiveness

I slip from the warm blankets later than I intended, but it is minus 28 degrees Celsius outside and so cosy beneath the covers.

Downstairs the coffee maker is soon percolating, making rude, snorting, gurgling noises; but since they herald that first delicious steaming hot cup of morning coffee I don't mind at all.

I cradle the precious cup of dark golden brown liquid in my hands and pad barefoot into our big back room. Curling up in a wingback chair by the window, beneath the reading lamp, I notice that it is still dark outside. I think of how much I cherish these quiet moments at the start of the day.

I read a couple of pages from Mark Buchanan's book, The Rest of God ; the section called, Sabbath Liturgy; Paying Attention. I determine to be more intentional in paying attention--noticing better.

I start, first, as I begin to pray, by noticing that he is here and acknowledging that. I think of how rude it would be not to greet a guest or beloved friend in our home, and so I speak words of welcome to my Lord.

Instantly I feel a new intimacy. He is not like a friend at the end of a phone line, but he is here, now; he is as close as the ticking of the clock and the blanket over my knees. I express love, gratitude; I confess sin and ask forgiveness, I quiet my thoughts, I pray for others and I listen.

We learn, we grow

On Sunday at church, Cheryl, who is the school bus driver for some of our grandchildren, told me another "Stephen Story." She had been off sick for a few days with a bad cold, and she told me that a prayer request note was found in one of the pews at church, written out by Stephen. It said, "Pray for Miss Cheryl to get better."

When she did return to work, Stephen's big sister Katherine was off with the same cough and cold. After several days, Stephen was riding up front in his favourite seat next to the driver. The big yellow school bus bumped along and Cheryl said to him with concern in her voice, "Katherine's been off school a long time; we should pray for her to get better."

"When?" Stephen wanted to know.

"Well, I can pray while I'm driving," Cheryl said; and to demonstrate, she began to pray out loud with her eyes open, "Dear Lord, please touch Katherine so that she gets better and can come back to school."

Stephen fell silent for a few minutes, and then suddenly said with excitement in his voice, "Miss Cheryl, I'm praying in my head. Right now!"

We learn, we grow

Matthew 6:9-13 (New International Version)
9"This, then, is how you should pray:
" 'Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
11Give us today our daily bread.
12Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

For Karen

This story took place on a dark November night a few years ago when I was driving alone into town for a party.

A deep, bone numbing, glacial chill hung over our area. The snow that had arrived several days earlier showed no signs of leaving but had settled in like a house guest who was overstaying his welcome. It crunched and squeaked beneath our feet as we huddled deep into our coats and jackets with shoulders hunched and collars raised against the biting wind.

As I approached the traffic light in the centre of town, I slowed to a stop as the light turned amber, but my teeth rattled in my head as there was a jolt and a thud. The car behind me, following too close and not expecting me to stop, had hit my bumper.

We both got out and the other driver, who was very apologetic, checked my car, but there seemed to be no damage, so I didn't bother getting his name and number.

The light changed and I drove on to my office where I had one or two things that I had to do before going on to the party.

The office was on the main street of the town, in an old building, over a law office. I let myself in and climbed the narrow creaky wooden staircase up to the second floor. The light from the street shone through the tall, narrow sash windows, throwing eerie shadows on the old wood paneled walls.

I took care of my business as quickly as I could and ran down stairs again. Opening the door of my dark blue Chevrolet Corsica, I flung my briefcase across the front passenger seat, put the key in the ignition, and...nothing. The key locked in the ignition and nothing happened.

I got out of the car and examined the back, where the other car had hit the bumper earlier. In the dark I could see no damage but now I wished that I had taken the other driver's number. I was sure there must be a connection between the bump and the fact that the car would not start.

I pushed the lock down on the driver's side door, slammed it shut and then unlocked my office door again, creaking up the lonely stairs once more.

I called the place where the party was happening, hoping that someone would be able to give me a ride. I could call Paul later and tell him about my car problems and get him to pick me up. But strangely no one was answering the phone. I tried again, but still no one answered.

I was doubly upset now. My car wasn't working and I couldn't connect with anyone for a ride. There was nothing for it but to walk, and I did. I set out into the cold night, walking down sidestreets with twinkling Christmas lights, past deep banks of snow, a good half hour's walk.

When I arrived at the house where the party was happening, it seemed that when I had called earlier they must have just left to get pizza. I was just glad to be there and in the warmth of the house. I told my friends about the bump at the lights and the effect on my car, but then I forgot about it for the time being.

Just about the time I was thinking about calling Paul for a ride home, the phone rang and to my surprise I heard his voice on the line. "I just had a call from the police," he said, "they have your briefcase if you'd like to pick it up."

"What?" I said, not comprehending.

"Yes dear," he said,"a man got into his car and found it on the front seat. He took it to the police station and they called your home number and got me."

The reality dawned on me with a mixture of horror and embarrassment. All along, when I was fretting about my car not starting, it was parked just behind the one I was in. The fix I was in was totally of my own making.

I got one of my friends to drive me to the police station where I reclaimed my briefcase and blushingly explained how I came to lock it securely--in the wrong car.

By now, after my car story of last week, you probably think I should not be out on the loose!

What I found interesting about that experience was my tendency to make sense of the "apparent" facts by constructing a reality to fit them that had absolutely no basis in fact! I use the memory of that experience to remind myself of the folly of imagining my own realities. I try not to do that if I can help it, although I did get caught in another car with another "reality" last week, didn't I?

My retelling this story is a result of Ang's comment on my "Confessions," post of last week. She wrote:

Hey B.,Haven't you done this before...?I seem to remember a tale a few years ago of a car, a key and a police station. Hmmm, the things our readers don't know.:-)HeeHee

And Karen asked, "Belinda, what was that about?" :)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Where Rubber Meets the Road

Psalm 139: (New International Version)

1 O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue

you know it completely, O LORD.

The cursor on my laptop screen pulses silently, as if it is a living thing that waits; patient--but as insistent as a tapping toe, for the touch of my fingers on the keyboard.

Sometimes the wrestlings and complexities of a heart are hard to express and words are not easy to birth.

God is at work in my heart. Again. It started a week or so ago; the kneading and shaping; the challenging and prodding.

He knows me inside out; sees what I hide from others and even from myself. He peels off the pretty packaging and searches beneath. Yes,Lord, you have searched me and you know me.

This vein of thought started, I think, when I began to read Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl. I paused at the preface and read how he intended to publish the book; a treatise on survival under the most horrific of circumstances--in Nazi concentration camps--anonymously.

Dr. Frankl writes:
And so it is both strange and remarkable to me that--among some dozens of books I have authored--precisely this one, which I had intended to be published anonymously so that it could never build up any reputation on the part of the author, did become a success. Again and again I therefore admonish my students both in Europe and America:"Don't aim at success--the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one's dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds true for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it...in the long run...success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.

"Success cannot be pursued; it must ensue." A monumental point to ponder.

Concurrently, I was reading a profound little book, The Greatest Thing in the World, by Henry Drummond, for the second or third time since October. The greatest thing in all the world is Love according to Henry Drummond. The apostle Paul wrote about that in the first book of Corinthians and the 13th chapter. The reason I read the book more than once was that I wanted to absorb his thoughts on love as a quality; a spiritual grace. Love is an expression of God's character and is his very essence. We could spend a lifetime learning to love well and not be finished.

I saw a connection with what Dr. Frankl wrote, in Henry Drummond's exposition on love expressed as unselfishness in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-5
In his analysis of this aspect of love, he writes:

The more difficult thing still is not seek things for ourselves at all...not to seek them, to look every man not on his own things, but on the things of others--that is the difficulty. "Seekest thou great things for thyself?" said the prophet; "seek them not."

And

Even self-denial in itself is nothing, is almost a mistake. Only a great purpose or a mightier love can justify the waste.

And so I have been contemplating. What motivates me? The answer falls short dear friends.

I am motivated by: the notice of people; by the hits on a blog; by an honourable mention here or there. Pride crouches at the door of this heart, I confess. I care too much for things that can be a snare.

So I lay my heart open to him and to you because that is a good thing.

I love how this passage about John the Baptist is written in Eugene Peterson's The Message:

John 3:30 (The Message)
29-30"That's why my cup is running over. This is the assigned moment for him (Jesus) to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines.

Where the rubber meets the road, Lord, help ME slip, .

Psalm 139:23-24 (New International Version)
23
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Remembering Ralph

This morning dawned cold in Ontario.

As I got ready for the day, I listened to CBC radio. On the morning show they were reading emails from listeners who described the weather conditions in their part of the province.

It had been a crystal clear winter's night with a full moon. Apparently the moon was as close to the earth as it ever gets. A listener described an early morning walk in the woods, with the moon descending in the west. She said that the woods were floodlit electric blue. What beauty that description conjured up.

On an end table I noticed a folded bulletin from a funeral I had attended the previous Monday. I kept it because I wanted to write about Ralph, who died on New Year's Eve at the age of almost 83.

Ralph's funeral was attended by family and a collection of friends from a cross section of society in Barrie. The funeral service was led by his friend of 32 years, Pastor John Howard, and in the congregation was more than one lawyer, as well as staff from several agencies who had supported him at various times in his life. He had friends everywhere, many of them in high places.


This photograph was taken at the party in April last year, to celebrate one of his dreams that came true at the age of 83--moving into an apartment, at last.

He died with one dream unfulfilled; he always hoped to find a wife.

Ralph's life story could be a script for a movie on injustice and tragedy but he was a man with an air of immense dignity, and he had faith and perseverance enough to move mountains.

In 1965, a series of catastrophic events that were not his fault, resulted him being charged with murder, a charge for which he was not allowed to stand trial because he was deemed unfit to do so. Instead he was placed in a psychiatric facility. Although he couldn't write, he got people to write letters for him. 11 years later, in 1976, in response to one of his letters, a young United Church minister, John Howard, drove up to Penetang to visit him.

John became his friend, and began to advocate for Ralph. Several years later, Ralph finally had his day in court and gained his freedom. By then he had been captive for almost 15 years.

Each year since then Ralph had an annual lunch date with the lawyer who, with John, befriended and helped him. Had he been bitter it would have been understandable, but he was just grateful.

To the last he kept busy, shoveling snow in the winter and mowing grass in the summer, and he kept his lawn mower chained to a tree in someone's back yard.

The manager of the team that supported him last, shared these thoughts about Ralph:

Ralph was always very appreciative of the support that he received. He often remarked on how he wanted to take the staff out for coffee or dream about how he will share his Lottery winnings with the staff. The Lottery winnings would always be millions of dollars. Ralph loved to sit down and eat. Whether it was a huge breakfast, a hearty lunch or a substantial snack, Ralph would eat it all. Ralph kept short accounts; he was very forgiving and wanted to be at peace with everyone.


Ralph had so many leadership qualities that he would make a Leadership guru proud. Ralph was tenacious, he had boundless energy, and he was passionate about his work. He considered his work a calling from God and he served faithfully. He loved his work and appreciated his employers. He was so concerned about getting his work done that he was worried that his employers would tell him to “hit the road” if he didn’t show up. Ralph was very goal oriented and reviewed his goals on an ongoing basis. Ralph surrounded himself with positive and influential people with whom he consulted regularly. Ralph was driven and his drive was unstoppable. Ralph was a Maverick and visionary. For Ralph, life was always going to be better around the next corner.


Sundays were very important days for Ralph. This was the day he went to church and where he was surrounded by his church family. He came to church to be nourished for the coming week. Ralph knew that he could not do his work in his own strength but only by God’s grace.


We are thankful for the short time that we had with Ralph and take comfort that he has found peace with the Lord at last.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Special Delivery

It was Friday, the day that Purolator delivers mail at work. I was finishing up for the week when a co-worker, Mary Anne, popped her head around the door to hand me two large brown envelopes containing the weekly mail, and then a minute later came back with a small white envelope, saying, "Next time I should make sure I have it all."

I looked at the white envelope with my name handwritten on the front. It was unmistakeably my own handwriting. I stared at it for a minute with a very strange feeling of being in the "Twilight Zone." As I opened it, my mind went back four weeks to a presentation on Soul Care given to our team of managers by our manager of pastoral services, Mark.

It seemed so long ago. Vaguely I remembered Mark asking us to fill in the blanks on a form letter written to ourselves, personalized with our own diagnosis of our pressure points, and a prescription. We sealed them in self addressed envelopes that we handed back to him. He told us that four weeks later he would send them back to us as.

This is what my letter said (the words in italics are mine:)

Dear: BelindaI think that it is excellent that you have expressed a desire to see people compassionately and respond to them as Christ leads you...I feel I should tell you that after observing you over the last while, I think the factors that most affect your ability to be compassionate are: Being pressured by too much to do.I therefore would like to recommend that you take the following actions to guard against burnout:

Get sufficient rest and care for your body through healthy eating and sleep.

In following through on this plan I believe that you will be more prepared to deal with both routine and unexpected circumstances compassionately, that you will be less self-centered and a better minister of Christ’s behalf to the people He has called you to serve, both in the workplace and in everyday interactions.

May God use you to further His Kingdom,

Since then I have been working on solidifying three foundational practices in my life:
* A daily Sacred Hour
* A Sabbath day
* Getting adequate sleep

In the past two weeks I have treasured and guarded my daily Sacred Hour; breaking old patterns deliberately in order to build new ones. I have literally celebrated Sabbath and I have had 7 hours of sleep most nights. I am establishing new habits, but this is still work--not a natural or easy thing. My aim for this week is to work on the time I go to bed. Ann Voskamp wrote at Holy Experience, on How to get the Important Stuff in a day and said that getting up early starts at night. I know that I need to go to bed at 10.00 but this is still hard. This is my quest for the coming week so that the rhythm becomes more natural.

New wine; it needs new wine skins.

Matthew 7:13-14 (New International Version)
13"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Making space for tomorrow: rearranging the furniture in our lives


All of my life I have enjoyed moving furniture around, creating spaces in rooms, making "little houses" my sister and mother said. Whenever we were travelling when I was younger, and stayed in motel rooms or on board the Empress of France crossing to live in Scotland for a year, I would take a corner of the room and set up boundaries with whatever and make my little house, set up my dollies, and play. Somehow I learned to make myself at home wherever I was.

In other ways it was hard for me to settle, and has been in my life. Many times I have had too much stuff, and had to take time out of my life to sort and get rid of things, like I am doing a lot in the basement these days. Other times it seemed I did not have what I really needed to make me feel at home, as if my room itself was restless. Often I didn't know what I really needed and God had to show me. I guess in so many ways I had to learn to get rid of the old, the makeshift, the not good enough, to make room for the best in my life.

I have been thinking a lot about things like this since I took the time out this year to put my house completely in order before I go on with my studies and my future plans for work. I have built up a backlog and have to find out what to keep and what to let go, in every kind of way. I have lived so many lives already, pushed myself into many roles, and often not taken time, and space for me. God has always found His space in my life, but often we were both on the run, keeping up with each other, He with me and I with Him. And also He was saying to me, "Make space for tomorrow, Meg. There are big things coming."

He said that to me a year ago through a scripture verse that astonished even the spiritual friend/director who gave it to me, through our connection brought by the seminary course in Spiritual Formation.

It was Isaiah 54: 1-5, especially, verses 2 and 3b:

Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left.

God was telling me to stretch my tent curtains wide, to get out of the box, to be ready for expansion in every way. I already felt so stretched and expanded!!!! Well as the year went on, I did do that in my heart and mind in every way I could. And now, as I let my body and my house catch up with this journey, I have delightful surprises.

Now maybe for some of you it is hard to keep up with the connections I love to make between my material possessions and my spiritual life, in an unusual way. But from what I have learned it is typical for my personality type preference, INFJ, in Myers Briggs language, something I am trained to administer. All the different parts of my life have to be connected for me to feel in harmony, including my possessions.

Well, now, with a house full of my ancestral furniture, I had an interesting experience. Our dining room has hosted two sideboards, both over 100 years old, from two sides of the family. The first one was my mother's dresser, her mother's before her, and it became our first real sideboard after Mum's move in 2007. Then last summer the "monster" sideboard that dominated the cottage came to live here too. The dresser didn't seem to belong anymore, and yet I couldn't imagine using it as a dresser for me. It was too special. I could make do with the painted cheap one in our room, even if the drawers would always stick and the handles hurt and it wasn't really big enough.

Then I began to think that really it could come to live in my bedroom, that it would look great, and that it would be okay to let go of the old crummy one. And my sister said it was about time I had some decent furniture in our bedroom!!! Now that it is there something deep has settled in my being. Making space for the "new", letting go of the old, has brought new life and solidity to our room. The new is actually old, as in family and heritage, and it seems God is really saying that is part of the new new for me.

Embracing the future can mean embracing the past in a new way. Making space for God's plans can mean making more space for ourselves, our heritage, our history, and as we embrace it in deep personal ways it can bring new healing and joy into our lives. I have been doing that in many ways these past years, and it never ceases to amaze me how it continues. This "new" furniture in my intimate space, our bedroom, is a new version of the old. God works deeper as He works wider. Expanding our horizons can sometimes just mean rearranging the furniture of our lives, letting go of some old stuff, and enjoying the new arrangements.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Confessions

I was on my way back to the office, driving from Stouffville to Bradford, which meant that I went through Newmarket, past the Jones of New York store right at lunch time. What could I do?

The lure of the January sale and possible bargains was strong, so I pulled into the large parking lot of the strip mall, deep in melting slushy snow left over from the morning's snow fall. I parked my car as close as I could to the store, and splooshed my way across the parking lot with all speed.

I can power shop with the best, and less than half an hour later, having tried on about ten tops, I emerged with a zippy little black and white top that I liked, for only $14.99.

I fished in my purse for my automatic car starter, pointed it in the direction in which I had left my car and pressed the buttons that start the car and unlock the doors; then I started the hunt for a car with a running engine. I spotted it. The engine wasn't running but the doors were unlocked. I need to buy new batteries because it doesn't always work first time.

As I got in, I noticed that the hand brake was on. I never use the handbrake, so I thought that someone had been in the car. My snow brush was still down on the floor on the passenger side, but I glanced around the car to make sure my briefcase was there as I released the handbrake.

Three things happened simultaneously then. I noticed blue gloves on the back seat, and mine are black; I realized that this was a standard shift car and mine is not; and I perceived that the car had been left in neutral, because it was rolling forward into the lane between the rows of parked cars! As the realization dawned that I was in someone else's car, I desperately hit the brakes to stop it going any further.

The car was stopped halfway across the lane between the rows of cars but I had no way of getting it back and no way of knowing whose car it was.

So I sheepishly put the handbrake back on, got out, closed the door, and went back to innocently looking for my own car; all the while imagining what the owner would think when she came back and found that her car had moved forward by several feet.

The owner of the vehicle that was parked across from it decided to leave just then. I noticed that they had great difficulty backing out, but was relieved to see that they managed somehow.

It wasn't until I was back in the office confessing the whole story through tears of laughter to a coworker, that I thought that I could have left a note of apology on the windshield. I was truly too embarrassed at the time to think of that.

So that was the news from Belindaland. I guess my offering for today is laughter. Somewhere out there is a very puzzled car owner. I laugh every time I try to imagine her reaction when she found it. And I am sure that from now on she will lock it.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Breaking Old Patterns

Proverbs 16:3 (New International Version)
3 Commit to the LORD whatever you do,
and your plans will succeed

"If you keep doing what you've been doing, you'll keep getting what you've been getting."

It was Sunday night and as I anticipated seriously starting back to work in the morning, I knew that it was crunch time. It had been a restful week since Christmas--a week in which I began to adopt new patterns. The week had been like a booster rocket to my determination to get enough sleep, embrace the gift of Sabbath and guard a Sacred Hour. But on Monday morning I would hit the ground running, and I knew that unless I was deliberate in shaking up my normal patterns, I would be sunk.

I had a sudden flash of inspiration. "If I don't do anything differently, nothing different is going to happen." OK, OK. I never claimed to be a genius.

Maybe it was Sunday morning's sermon at church that got me thinking about all of this. It was from Luke 5:36-38 and was all about not putting new wine into old wine skins. "My habits are old wine skins," I thought, "I have to create new ones to support new ways of being."

So I decided to shake up my morning routine to improve my chances of change.

Most of us never think about our routines, but we do the same things every day in the same order and I am equally predictable. I knew that to make it all work I would have to get up early, by 5.00. But then what? I thought about it and decided to go radical. I decided to not shower, dress and put on my make up before having my Sacred Hour. Don't laugh. I always do these things before facing the world!

So, I have crept down in the dark, put on the coffee, thrown on a long cardigan and then headed for my lamp-lit arm chair with a blanket, Bible and books. The hour has flown by fast and the timing of everything else after it has gone amazingly well.

My friend Joanna of God with Us Finding Joy , when reading some of the blog posts here last week; wrote to ask whether I had read Mark Buchanan's book, The Rest of God . The book happened to be sitting on my "to read," bookshelf, so I have started it. Wow, what an encouraging book to be reading right now. I will end for today with a quote that emphasizes the need for new patterns. Mark writes about Zaccheus the despised tax collector, who upon becoming a believer in Christ, radically changed his life:

He embraces a practice that embodies and rehearses his new way of seeing...first you think differently, then you act differently. First you shift the imagination with which you perceive this world, and then you enact gestures with which you honor it.

I'm all for that. Breaking old patterns; holding fast to the new.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Healings Chapter 2 - My Dad

In his weakness, he has no choice but to submit to their strength. Thank God the hands of the two paramedics - one male, one female - are gentle, and caring. Thank God the words coming from their mouths are respectful, meant to encourage and strengthen, to guide and direct.

With strong arms around his shoulders, they lift and then ease him over to a sitting position at the edge of his hospital bed. It's chrome and cranks and overhead trapeze bar are strangely incongruent in this homey little apartment bedroom. But he wants to be here, in familiar surroundings, not in a nursing home, and he hangs on as best he can to every shred of independence available to him. That's a difficult thing when nerves and muscles have been ravaged from a disease long in the past and his body just won't work for him anymore. His legs buckle and flop instead of obeying as they should. Strength in his arms once helped to overcome the weakness in his lower extremities but that strength has been draining fast in recent months. His lungs are too worn out to keep up at all and every slight exertion causes him to gasp for breath, even when the oxygen is turned up as high as the doctor allows.

One of the paramedics, the male, bends over him now as he perches precariously on the edge of the mattress. "Put your arms around my neck", he is told gently, but authoritatively, "then I'm going to hug you under your arms, lift you, and pivot you over to the wheelchair..." He follows orders like the old soldier he is and looks as small and weak and vulnerable in this service provider's arms as any adult I have ever seen. He is my father. The one who used to swing me up onto his strong shoulders; who held me squriming and giggling while he gave me whisker-burn kisses, and who would flex his biceps and allow us kids to marvel at the astonishingly huge lumps of muscle bulging in his upper arms. A man who despite his disability built his own house and created gardens in the black soil of his small back yard to produce unbelievable amounts of tomatoes and raspberries and other produce to nourish his family. I reach across the bed to help the other paramedic pull his pyjamas up into proper position as he is lifted into his chair and I see an angry red bedsore peeking out from the band of elastic around his waist. It's looks awfully painful, but he has never complained. Were I not seeing it myself, I would probably never know.

This is a difficult thing to explain, but somehow, in this profound vulnerability, in the giving over of his failing body to those who are younger and strong enough to support, I see a strength that amazes me and causes tears to sting my eyes. I see a man with a body that is broken and worn out, but whose courage is equal to a hero's in my eyes. I realize in this moment what strength it takes for this proud and independent father of mine to yield, to put his trust in those who are stronger than himself and to allow himself to be helped.

I hope he knows how precious he is to us and how each moment we are able to spend with him is treasured. I hope he knows that as far as we are concerned he has some loving and living to do that isn't finished yet - and could never be finished this side of heaven. I hope he knows we realize he has much to complain about - and yet he doesn't complain. He chooses to be happy and gives back to us in measures of love and genrosity far more than we could ever give to him. He has modeled for us what a valuable gift we can give our children as we age - simply being content, as he is, with whatever our lot in life has come to be. I think the greatest gift my father gives to us lies simply in the acceptance that he has value to us and that he lets us love him just as he is. The way he loves us - with no strings or expectations attached.

When Belinda's father-in-law passed away, I remember her Paul saying of his dad, "He taught us how to live, and he taught us how to die." I am understanding better now what that must have meant to Paul as he watched his father bravely edge closer and closer to eternity's door and then finally succumb. I am grateful for a father who may have failed in some ways - we all do - but he has become an incredible example to us of how to love and how to live. He has shown us great strength in weakness, and what incredible power there is in simply being content. I had no idea who my father really was - and is - until I see how he handles weakness - with incredible strength. Unbelievable strength.

I remember when we were much younger, tussling it out with the neighbourhood kids. "My dad's better than your dad!" "Yeah? Well, my dad has the biggest muscles!" "Well, my dad's stronger!"

Well, kids, we won that war, hands down. God has given us three Saunders kids the best dad in the whole wide world. I have no doubt about that.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Healings - Chapter 1

Today it is evident that he needs to go to the hospital. An infection is growing somewhere inside him, causing his body to shake and teeth to chatter, even in an apartment that is hotter than hot and with blankets pulled up around him and tucked in from nose to feet.

"Dad, you're really sick. We need to call an ambulance to take you to the hospital."

"No. I don't need that." At 84 years, I guess he's old enough to make his own decisions.

Half an hour later I try again. "Dad, the nurse said you need to go to the hospital if you don't get any better. And you're not better, you're worse." As rational thought turns to delerium and strange utterings about wild strawberries and dogs in the room begin to come out of him in slurred words, still he is adamant about not going to the hospital. For going on three hours I continue to get the same response. "No."

I finally call my sister for backup. "He needs to go to the hospital," I say when she answers her phone, "but I can't get him to agree." Brenda listens to me recount the events of the day in Dad's apartment. We had arrived just after lunch to find him lying in bed and shaking from head to foot. And he is getting sicker by the hour.

She says, "Let me talk to him." I hold the phone up to his ear.

"Dad, it's Brenda." His eyes open and he manages a weak "hello".

Brenda's words have an authority that I haven't been able to muster. "Dad, you HAVE to go to the hospital."

"I do?" His voice has the quality of one submitting to a force greater than his own.

"Yes, you do," she says.

"Okay, dear," he says to my great relief - and utter shock. I put the phone back to my own ear.

"You obviously have power that I don't possess!" I am unable to hold back my laughter. Even in the seriousness of the moment we can't contain ourselves at a poignancy deeply shared and understood. Some old thinking pattern tries in vain to pull me into feeling hurt. Why would Dad listen so quickly to her when I've been trying all afternoon to convince him that it's time to go and to entirely no avail? But I don't go there anymore. God has caused such a healing in each of us and between us that there is no need to ressurect any long-dead feelings of competition and jealousy. Together we laugh at God's goodness in our lives with an understanding that goes far deeper than the circumstances or the words that are being exchanged. Right now I am only grateful for her success and for who she is to both of us - as Dad's eldest daughter and my dear sister. It is a place in our lives to raise an Ebenezer to God's goodness and power to heal individual hearts and the relationships that intertwine them.

I hang up the phone and leave the room to call 911 before Dad has a chance to change his mind about going to the hospital. My step-mom, and I scurry to collect toiletries and gather personal belongings, nursing notes and a list of current medications. Ron, my husband, and Dan, our oldest son are as helpful as they can be, but mostly they just watch us and wait. And then the paramedics arrive.

To be continued tomorrow...

Monday, January 05, 2009

Full Stop

Yesterday was the first "Sabbath Eve" of 2009 and really, my first go at this new rhythm of life that I want to incorporate. Saying that sounds funny because, after all, I have been going to church every Sunday for the past 40 years or so. But going to church does not make Sabbath.

I went into the weekend with my usual mental To Do list, knowing that what didn't get done on Saturday was not getting done this weekend.

Yikes! This added a new dimension to Saturday. I found myself prioritizing and getting on with things a bit quicker than my normal sluggish pace. :) It wasn't that I felt pressured or driven, but there was sorting as I went through the day: "This can wait until next week--this needs to get done today."

It felt like different and good; as though there was a boundary, or border, at the end of my week. I tend to have a distorted sense of time and think of it as flexible and fluid, so a limit was a good thing.

As I anticipated the coming Sabbath, I still found myself thinking of things that I would do (perhaps I need a brain transplant to stop that), but they were different, restful, replenishing things that made me feel as if a holiday was coming. And yes, that is what the Sabbath is; a holy day. I woke up ready to celebrate it and my first conscious thought was thanksgiving for the gift.

In England, instead of the word "period" for the punctuation mark at the end of a sentence, we use "full stop." Coming to a full stop at the beginning of a week is quite counter-intuitive. Everything in us screams at us to get going, but God says, "Stop; look at me, listen, give attention to me."

While waiting for communion in church this morning, I thought to myself, "God probably wants to interrupt our schedules," and I thought of Jesus and how he interrupted eternity for us. Hmmm...perspective.