Monday, October 31, 2011

“All Things Grace": Love Never Gives Up

Today I commend to you a post from a place I love to visit and found myself at this evening. Perhaps someone needs the hope it breathes:

“All Things Grace": Love Never Gives Up: "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." (1 Corinthians 13:7) "She begged me to stay, but I was ...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Houston--We have a Problem

By Belinda

We started the book Holy Conversation by Richard Peace last Thursday at cell group. Well at least we read the introduction and are ready to begin, but there's a slight hitch. This is not just a theoretical study!

You see, the book is on "talking about God in everyday life." On the back cover it is described as "a useful guide to help Christians and secular people talk about the gospel in ways that are comfortable, easy, and mutually beneficial and enriching." And when we first took a look inside the covers two weeks ago, we discovered that we each had to find a "conversation partner!


By "conversation partner," Richard Peace had in mind someone who is "not yet a conscious follower of Christ."

We all thought the book sounded excellent when Jane suggested it. I mean we could all benefit from learning to express our faith without "Christian jargon," right? Of course! But each of the 12 sessions have homework--an actual weekly practice conversation.

I notice that we are all a bit nervous about who our partner will be. It's as though a pregnant hush has descended, full of possibility and not a little stress.

What has quickly become evident is how insular we have all become as followers of Jesus. For instance I work for a Christian organization, go to church with believers, belong to a writers group in which I believe we are all Christians, have a circle of close friends who are all Christians--you get the picture.

I thought I would pick on my brother. Yes he is on another continent, but I thought we could talk by phone--we do every week anyway.

He said "No." Well, not just like that, but almost. I asked him and he said, "I had a feeling something like this was going to come up today," (hmmm, my brother has the gift of prophesy??)

"No, Belinda," he said, "I have my own thoughts and they are private. I don't want to talk about them."

There is NOTHING Rob and I don't talk about. But "this"..no.

I know that God has someone for each of the ten of us in the cell group to talk with. I'm praying that he will show me soon who mine. I'm considering placing an ad in the post office.

Who would have thought that this would be such a challenge? And what has become of us that it makes us so uncomfortable? And why have we isolated ourselves so?

I can't help thinking that we are a microcosm of the Church. We gather together with one another each week but barely connect with a person who thinks differently or doesn't know about Jesus.

Some of us did so when we had newly come to faith in Christ, but went about it so clumsily, or judgmentally, or with so much zeal, that we turned off and scared off our friends and family. I know I did this years ago--and maybe more recently than years ago. I talked at people, not with them, and I was so arrogant in how I communicated. I wish that I had first learned to listen; to converse with respect for the views of others and to wait for the Holy Spirit to lead in conversations.

Is what we are trying to do too artificial and contrived? I don't know. I do know that I'm challenged, and wondering what God might be about to do.


Acts 4:13

English Standard Version (ESV)

 13(A) Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saturday Post Script

By Belinda

This is a post script to what I wrote on Monday, in my Confession post. So much more goes on behind the scenes of a "post" that doesn't get shared here, and you can probably be thankful for that! But in this case I have to let you what happened next...

First of all, I set my alarm for 5 the next morning.

In my blog post entitled Timely Counsel I wrote that I was listening to Stephen R. Covey's book, First Things First. In it, Covey defines "integrity"in a way I'd never considered before; as the keeping of the promises we make to ourselves. I guess the way I've defined integrity, "as a gap between what we say we believe and what we do," does fit with the making and keeping of promises to ourselves.

Covey illustrated the importance of following through on promises with the example of his counsel to a man who was always emotionally up and down. Covey challenged him to get up a little earlier every day for a week. At first the man resisted, saying he couldn't do it, but then he agreed that for a week he could do it. The man's emotions evened out. It was a first step in developing integrity; self control; in his life.

So this week, every morning I was up at 5, or close to it, correcting my lack of prayer and "soaking," as Oswald Chambers put it, in his presence. That time has has been so enriching I wonder how I could have let it get squeezed out of my life. I ask God's forgiveness and need the forgiveness of others in my life, including you, dear readers. I am thankful for both Frances, who was the friend who asked me to exhort her when she needs it, and the other friend who asked me how I was doing in that area.

The next day, I wrote this in my journal:
Yesterday Frances left a message on my answering machine at work, begging me as her spiritual mother, that if I ever saw her becoming prayerless again, to sternly chastise her (not her exact words, but that was the gist.) She signed off with the words, "Matthew 6:9;" the Lord's Prayer.

The Lord's Prayer is prefaced by verses 7-8 with state that God really doesn't need us to tell him our needs; he knows all about them already. The Message puts it like this:
"The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They're full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don't fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply... 
 Here is the Lord's Prayer from the English Standard Version of the Bible. In orange I add a note or two.

"Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name. 
10 Your kingdom come, (within us)
your will be done, (your will is best--I have no need to ask for what "I" wish or want.)
on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12and forgive us our debts,
 as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13And lead us not into temptation,
 but deliver us from evil.
 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,
15but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

How simple, profound; how sufficient is this prayer.

After Frances's message I later met with a colleague who brought up with me their own lack of prayer and lack of spiritual vitality lately. Two people who look to me for leadership in different ways--coming to me as weak and wanting as they. My colleague and I encouraged one another after confessing our mutual need. How cool then to find today's (Tuesday's) Daily Light opening with these words:

Matthew 18:19-20

English Standard Version (ESV)
19Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."

Going back to our Lord's Prayer: If this simple template for prayer is sufficient, what is the essence in it that I need to discern? These are some thoughts that came to me.


The prayer:

  • Acknowledges that God is our Father and honours his name as Holy. If we are his children...we bear his name.
  • Welcomes his Kingdom and his will, here and now, in our lives and world.
  • Chooses dependence on his hand for our bread for this day; a finite block of time, but drawing on an infinite Source!
  • Acknowledges our indebtedness and ties our release from that indebtedness, to that of others to us.
  • Recognizes our ever present potential to fall without his protection and sustaining power. I am vulnerable to temptation and evil and calling on him daily for protection and deliverance is my place of safety.
I share these thoughts as fruit from my early morning orchard time with God. Thank you for being there to share, and therefore multiply the fruitfulness. Blessings on your own journey friend!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sharing Good News

By Belinda

It was lunch time yesterday; a gray, drizzly October day. Paul was down at Jane and Finch with an elderly friend who was doing some shopping. For the friend shopping meant going from store to store in search of the cheapest possible toilet tissue, while Paul explained the finer points of comparison, such as the number of sheets and thickness. "This might cost 2 cents more but you won't have to use as many sheets!" It was exhausting, but being patient with the person you may one day bccome is always a good thing!

Our very thrifty friend needed a washroom break, so Paul waited while he used the facilities and the "free" toilet tissue. He wouldn't be moving fast, so he knew it would be a while before he returned.

On a nearby bench he noticed two men, one elderly and one young. He went over and sat beside them.

To make conversation, Paul commented on the wet weather.

"The weather is good," said the elderly man in a lilting Caribbean accent, "Even when it's not growing season we need the rain."

It turned out the 86 year old man was a farmer named Albert. "Named after a British king," he told Paul. That would be King Edward the V1, whese name was Albert, or" Bertie."

The younger man was named "Winston," after Winston Churchill. "Both of us named after important people in the U.K," he said.

Paul just had a sense that they were fellow believers, so he asked if they were and they said that yes, they were. The older man then broke into a beautiful song; something like, "I may look poor but I am not poor," and sang three verses right there in the secluded corner, in a rich, deep voice.

On Paul's way in to the store with his friend, he had also passed another older man, also from "the islands," who was talking to an Asian woman. He was sharing his faith with her, telling her that Jesus had died on the cross for her.

The woman was looking up at him as though she had never heard this before, and saying with interest, "Really?"

Paul said, "This was at Jane and Finch, an area of Toronto that has a notorious reputation, and could be called "the Gates of Hell!"

That this happened the day before we started our new cell group study on the book by Richard Peace: Holy Conversation: Talking about God in everyday life, seemed too much for coincidence.

How wonderful that all around us,  sometimes in the most unlikely places, there are conversations going on--and the Kingdom of God is advancing.


Acts 8:26-34

The Message (MSG)

The Ethiopian Eunuch
 26-28Later God's angel spoke to Philip: "At noon today I want you to walk over to that desolate road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza." He got up and went. He met an Ethiopian eunuch coming down the road. The eunuch had been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and was returning to Ethiopia, where he was minister in charge of all the finances of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. He was riding in a chariot and reading the prophet Isaiah.
 29-30The Spirit told Philip, "Climb into the chariot." Running up alongside, Philip heard the eunuch reading Isaiah and asked, "Do you understand what you're reading?"
 31-33He answered, "How can I without some help?" and invited Philip into the chariot with him. The passage he was reading was this:
   As a sheep led to slaughter,
      and quiet as a lamb being sheared,
   He was silent, saying nothing.
      He was mocked and put down, never got a fair trial.
   But who now can count his kin
      since he's been taken from the earth?
 34-35The eunuch said, "Tell me, who is the prophet talking about: himself or some other?" Philip grabbed his chance. Using this passage as his text, he preached Jesus to him.
The Message (MSG)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Timely Counsel

By Belinda

Susan brought the slim volume back from a conference after standing before a book display and praying for God to show her the book that was meant for me. When her eyes fell on the book, Life by the Hour by Tim Schroeder, she knew that was the one.

I never give up trying to do better in stewarding the precious resource of time. Tim's book is in my bathroom, and I've been reading it in short snippets--more like "life in 5 minute increments" than the hour, but I have been enjoying the book and found so far that he has a refreshing perspective on  time.

Then yesterday I got to the end of a chapter and a sentence struck me--hard, as such a practical word of wisdom that I wrote it into my day-timer. It felt like rocket fuel for my life, with the power to invigorate the minutes and hours of my day.

It actually was the first in a list of points to think about, all of which were good.
This is the sentence:
"Is there anything in the activity of the next hour that can help me get where I believe I need to go?"
Maybe you're reading this and thinking, "That's it?" Well, it acts like a shot in the arm for me. Thinking about that sentence galvanizes me and focuses me on considering my true goals, hour to hour:
Having a clean house
Physical fitness
Preparing ahead for a meal
At work: my longer term projects

I am often daunted, thinking that I don't have enough time for a particular big task, but thinking about what I can fit into the next hour towards a goal--that I can do.

This sentence reminds me that I have goals, which gets me off the couch--I can surely do anything for part of an hour!

Added to this is the audio book by Stephen R. Covey, that I borrowed from the library: First Things First. It was so inspiring that I am listening to it for the second time and actually bought the book so that I can read it and highlight it. It too, is different in approach to considering time--not so linear; not about working harder, smarter and faster, but a deeply integrated and spiritual perspective on time, based on living from a base of principles.

I'm thankful for the blessing of life and time; thankful for those who share their wisdom by writing it down; and thankful for friends who stand in front of book displays and pray.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

No Hollandaise?

By Belinda

A few weeks ago I wrote about winning a silent auction in which the prize was a breakfast each month at Cora's for a year. I decided to use these  breakfasts for precious time alone. For thinking/studying/writing--just solitude. This was after discovering accidentally, that a solitary restaurant breakfast was not the odd and lonely occasion that I had assumed it would be.

October was the first month on my little blue card with 12 golden suns. One day last week I realized that I was rapidly running out of October mornings and so I penciled breakfast into this day in my Day-timer and then forgot about it until yesterday when I checked my agenda for today.

I couldn't just abandon Paul entirely, so I had coffee with him and told him I was going to Cora's.

"Alone?" he asked.

"Yes," I answered, feeling suddenly awkward, as though eating alone was a guilty secret indulgence.

I arrived with a bag full of books, knowing in my heart how ridiculous it was to carry so many to an hour of breakfast. But since this was my "free to be me" morning of the month--why not? It would be my weight bearing exercise for the day, I told myself.

I already knew what I would be ordering. My friend Dave had insisted that I must try his favourite Cora's breakfast, at least once: Eggs Benedict with mushrooms and Brie.

It sounded delicious, but when I placed my order, my young waitress's brow wrinkled in regret as she said, "I can order it but we are out of.Hollandaise sauce."

"Well, I will order something else then," I said, and went back to the menu for a second look, because you can't have Eggs Benedict without Hollandaise Sauce.

I decided on the "1990's Harvest:" An egg and bacon on a brioche, with a generous pile of fresh fruit on one side of the plate.

When the girl came back to take my order she said, "Would you like Hollandaise sauce on the side to dip your fruit in?"

"Hollandaise sauce?" I asked, puzzled, my eyebrow raised quizzically.

"I mean English cream," she stammered, flummoxed,"Why did I say Hollandaise sauce!?"

And we both burst out laughing. And every time she returned to ask me how I was enjoying my breakfast, we both had a twinkle in our eyes.

I wrote this post at Cora's, surrounded by the murmur of conversation; the distant clang of pots; the chink of china and the hum of kitchen fans. I read a wonderfully funny story from a new Stuart McLean book; shoulders shaking with the uncontrollable laughter that erupted with every few lines.

Across the aisle, with her back to me, sat a woman, with a baby sitting beside her in a high chair. She had shocking pink hair--either a wig, or dyed for Hallowe'en. She seemed to be enjoying peace and quiet as much as I. Enjoying being with people; but not really "with" them. :)

Breakfast alone was fun--even without Hollandaise sauce.

I can hardly wait for next month! :)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Confession

By Belinda

The day was glorious with windswept blue skies filled with scudding puffy white clouds. The fields, some with rich earth freshly turned by plow, some with the stubble of recent harvest, stretched out like a patchwork quilt of gold, brown, and soft green hues flung out to air in the breeze. Late fall in Ontario: with the leaves mostly blown and beaten from the trees by autumn wind and rain; stands of orange pumpkins outside every grocery store and frosty mornings a promise of winter surely coming.

It was after lunch when I headed to my office, turning my back reluctantly on the beauty of the day. I checked the phone for messages, pen in hand. A friend's familiar voice played back from among several work messages.

"Hello dear," she said, "I don't usually leave messages but I must leave this one." And she went on to ask me to hold her true, as her "spiritual mother," to the importance of prayer.

I listened to the message, thoughtful. She was asking me to hold her true? How unworthy I was of that request.

Later that afternoon another friend confided a lack in the same area and asked, "How about you?"

I felt distinctly uncomfortable but told the truth, "Not good," I confessed and told about my first friend's phone message and the text she had ended the message with, "Matthew 6:9," which we looked up then and found that it was the start of The Lord's Prayer.

Oh, Paul and I pray together before work, and I draw strength and comfort from that cherished time. But it's a different thing to just coming before God with no agenda but to quieten my heart and listen for his.

"Romans 12," said the friend, "that's what it's about," ruffling through the leaves of the Bible we had opened and reading the verses at the beginning of the chapter.

I said to my friend, "In order to do it I would need to get up at 5.00, how about you?"

"Six," my friend said.

We talked about the arrogance of thinking we could live without the fuel Jesus depended on for each day and every moment.

My alarm for tomorrow is set for five.

Romans 12:1-3

 The Message (MSG)
Place Your Life Before God
 1-2 So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
 3I'm speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Freaky Friday

By Belinda

I'm starting the week with gratitude for "forgiveness." I'm grateful above all for God's forgiveness-- past and ongoing--that is a gift beyond comprehension. But right now I'm thinking of person to person forgiveness.

On Friday morning I woke up "out of sync." I should have been confined to the bedroom and not let out until after sunset because overnight my hands and feet seem to have sprouted hair and long nails and my eyes glowed an eerie red. Well, if the state of people's hearts were visible on the outside, that would have been my appearance--The Creature from the Blue Lagoon--on steroids! At least people would have had fair warning and stayed clear.

I was not fit for conversation and should have had my mouth firmly zippered shut.

But...I ventured from the bedroom, and into the unsuspecting world with mouth fully engaged and in gear. The universe must have shuddered and whispered, "Here she comes. Batten down the hatches."

It didn't take long for the toxic waste that was swirling in my heart to make its way up through my larynx and out of my mouth in the form of nastiness. I think I exhausted at least a year's worth of deposits in Paul's emotional bank account within half an hour over breakfast.

I got into Paul's kindly loaned Honda CRV to drive to work (my ancient Honda Civic being in for routine maintenance.) By the time I got to my destination the dealership was calling. My 12 year old well used car is on borrowed time, they informed me. Some of the planned maintenance was not advisable for fear of dislodging part of the rusty main frame. But it will be okay, they said, to drive close to home.

I called Paul to tell him the news. And since sanity was beginning to return, I apologized for my "grouchiness" (quite a euphemism) at breakfast.

Forgiveness can be given in theory, but the hurt and damage takes longer to heal. I was feeling more human and the hair and long nails were vanishing from my hands and feet, but I left behind me an emotional wake--footprints with stinky steam rising from them.

I did a lot of thinking over the next two days about what happened to set me off on that disastrous course of behaviour. I could think of a couple of minor triggers, but nothing to excuse what happened. It was irrational. And I could hold myself together for the rest of the world, but not for the ones closest to my heart.

It was good news to be reminded in church today that I am not unusual. My behaviour--well maybe that was unusual--but the basic hearts of us all, are bent the wrong way. And sometimes the veneer of civility slips and what really lies not far from the surface oozes out. In my case it wasn't pretty.

Our pastor preached a sermon entitled, The Bible's Greatest Themes--Justification and Sanctification.

"Justification" he explained, is the "Legal Side of Things." Christ's death was in our place--the debt for all we fall short of is paid--we are forgiven because of his sacrifice.

"Sanctification," that is the" Living Side of Things," he went on. And he told us how from early on we learn to say "no," to manipulate, and be selfish. We may be forgiven, but we still need a change of heart.

No contest there--and relief that it isn't accomplished by trying harder to cover up "the uglies," or to be nice. I know that is ineffective at best. I am happy to put up my hands in surrender and ask for all that he offers in remodeling. Like my old car--it isn't good enough to patch up the rusty old frame. I need God's "new." So that's what I'm holding out for--all that he has promised.

I loved this hymn when I was a just a young girl in a Church of England public school in the U.K. From somewhere, it came to mind as I was writing this.
O Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end;  
Be Thou forever near me, my Master and my Friend;
I shall not fear the battle if Thou art by my side,
Nor wander from the pathway if Thou wilt be my Guide. 
O let me feel Thee near me! The world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle, the tempting sounds I hear;
My foes are ever near me, around me and within;
But Jesus, draw Thou nearer, and shield my soul from sin. 
O let me hear Thee speaking in accents clear and still,
Above the storms of passion, the murmurs of self will.
O speak to reassure me, to hasten or control;
O speak, and make me listen, Thou Guardian of my soul. 
O Jesus, Thou hast promised to all who follow Thee
That where Thou art in glory there shall Thy servant be.
And Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end;
O give me grace to follow, my Master and my Friend. 
O let me see Thy footprints, and in them plant mine own;
My hope to follow duly is in Thy strength alone.
O guide me, call me, draw me, uphold me to the end;
And then in Heaven receive me, my Savior and my Friend.



John E. Bode 1868

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Reforming Queen of Tarts

By Belinda

I wasn't worried when our friend Jamie missed cell group two weeks ago. Every two weeks he switches to the swing shift at Honda, and I sometimes get mixed up with which shift he's on, so that's where I thought he was.

He was at the book fair last week and when he casually dropped into the conversation the words, "I had a heart attack," I thought he was using a figure of speech. As in--he had a heart attack "about something." But he wasn't. In his own laid back style, he was giving serious information.

He'd been playing hockey on Thursday two weeks ago, when he felt unwell and nauseous. He left the game and drove home, by which time he had a pain in the side of his jaw. He called his kids and his son came and drove him to the hospital where he was quickly admitted and treated for a heart attack. He had a stint put in and was released after the weekend, but can't drive for a month and is off work for at least a month.

Jamie is in his early fifties and fit. He works out and looks to be in good shape, so this was a shock. He is pretty calm about it and taking it all in stride, but I couldn't help wondering if I'd contributed to this. He orders a pie a month.

I'm a big  fan of Anne Lindsay's Lighthearted Cookbooks and love her plum tart recipe, so Jamie said he'll let me try one of her recipes for his next pie.

And as if to drive home the point: Two weeks ago Paul told me his mum was longing for apple pie. She has diabetes, so I made her a sugar free pie. She reported that she was loving it and carefully rationing it out.

Then one day this week she called Paul, not feeling well. He took her to the hospital--her gall bladder,which had given her so much pain when she was in hospital recovering from a stroke in June this year, had flared up again. The doctor gave her strict instructions--no more apple pie--not even sugar free. It's the fat that causes the problem.

Hearing about this at a work today my colleagues made jokes about, "Belinda's killer pies," and the fact that "Belinda's pies are to die for." Well, they may be heavenly, but I don't want to send anyone there before their time!

I'm revamping my cooking habits out of love for my family and friends, and although I'll still be making apple pies, I am focusing effort on more healthier options for all of us.

I've shared this recipe before, from Anne Lindsay's cook book, but for those who missed it the first time, I share it again


Plum Tart
Pastry:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp white vinegar

Filling:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamom
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
5 cups quartered pitted fresh plums (about 2lb)

Pastry: In food processor, combine flour, butter, sugar and vinegar; process with on-off turns until mixture resembles oatmeal. Firmly and evenly pat mixtre into bottom and slightly up sides of a 9-inch flan pan or pie plate.

Filling: In bowl, combine sugar, flour, cinnamon and lemon rind. Add lemon juice and plums and toss to mix. Spoon evenly over pastry. Place flan pan on baking sheet; bake in 400 degree oven for 50 t0 60 minutes or until filling is bubbling and plums are fork tender. (If top browns too quickly, cover loosely with foil). Let stand for at least an hour before serving.
Makes six servings

From "Anne Lindsay's Smart Cooking"

(I can report that for a healthy recipe, this was decadent and deliciously buttery and tasty. It shall be a favourite from now on)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Golden Boy Goes Missing

By Belinda

The morning was still dark at 6.45 am and I was out of the bathroom and into the kitchen already, stirring a robust pot of oatmeal . I anticipated the taste on my tongue of first coffee as I stirred, happy to be up in good time for an unrushed morning before work.

But just as work expands to fill the time available, "life" inevitably seems to fill up a void when there is one. And so it was this morning.

I was stirring the oatmeal, peaceful in the solitude of early morning when Brenda entered from stage left. Brenda usually leaves for work just before 7.00 am--even though she doesn't need to be at work until 8.00 and work is not an hour away. She is her father's daughter in this regard. But she was discombobulated. Worry was etched on her face and her dark blond hair and black coat were all awry.

"Molson ran off," she said, "And I've just driven around the block looking for him."

"Molson ran off?" I echoed inanely, because that is so unlike Molson, our homebody dog.

Brenda had been making breakfast in her kitchen downstairs when he barked at something and made her jump. She opened the sliding glass door for him to go do his morning business; opened it onto the dark lawn leading to the fields and the hills. She shook his bag of treats to remind him what awaited him on coming inside and he ran off into the dark and didn't come back.

Now Mo mo is such a good boy normally. He doesn't wander far from home. The thought of him "out there" somewhere, or horror of horrors, on the road, was scary.

I went out on our deck and called across the fields, to no avail.

Brenda went back downstairs, while I finished making the oatmeal. Then I went down and said I was just going out to call again.

"He won't come Mom, I've tried," she said from where she was sitting, disconsolate, in a chair.

I went to the door, slid it open and called, "Molson!"

From stage left (yes indeed) came the jingle of tags, and flash of golden fur.

A dog who looked exceedingly glad to be "found," bounded down the hill and into the house, whinnying and whimpering with joy to be home. He was beside himself with relief, darting between the two people he loves most in the world in a delirious dance of doggy happiness.

And we laughed with relief too, and gave him treats for coming back like a "good boy."

My margin of time was all gone, but I was grateful. All was well in our world again.

And I thought of how like Molson I am; glad to be "found" when I have wandered off track; glad to come "home" to a Father who never opens a door with anything but love and welcome.

 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Invitation

By Belinda

Jane started the conversation at cell group last Thursday evening. Our books for the next study had arrived; Holy Conversation by Richard Peace; but we weren't starting it that night, so Jane asked us, "Your spiritual awakening--coming to God--was it an event or a journey--a series of steps?"

Then she sank back beside me on the soft, amber leather couch, and picked someone to start. And one by one the seven of us there that night shared our stories.

We'd done this before, but it never gets old to hear how someone finds God, and every time it seems that some different part of the story is emphasized, or there is some important snippet that you never heard before.

As I recounted my own journey, a series of positive responses to God's calls over the years stretching back to childhood, I reflected on the impact of my late father-in-law's ministry in my life.

One of the things he did really well as a pastor, was teach us to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit with action--a raised hand or coming forward at an altar call.

I was just 16 when I started attending his church and I have memories of him over the years, urging his congregants not to leave without responding to God. "God is speaking to you," he would say, "Have the courage of your convictions. Don't go home and wish you had responded."

And it would feel as if he could see my rapidly beating heart and knew the struggle that was going on within.

I know that people respond to God quietly in the pew as well, but I believe that something significant happens when you step forward at an altar call.

I drove this morning first from Bond Head to Bradford, to pick up a friend, and then to Beeton to pick up another, and then on to Tottenham, to the church on the hill, that he founded in 1976.

He died in 1986, but we have worshiped there now as a family for 35 years. Since we were young and our children babies. Now Pete, our son, attends with his young family and is on the pastoral team.

This morning the worship service reminded us why we come together as church family and our pastor preached a sermon that laid out solid truth. He called the worship team back to the platform to sing the closing song, and Pete stepped up onto the platform beside them and took a microphone.

He said, "We've just heard a sermon that needs a response...now there are some of you that are thinking, 'I need to leave; I've got things I need to do..."

(I thought then that he was going to say,"If you need to leave, please feel free to go," but he didn't...)

"There's a story in the Bible about seed that gets eaten by the birds or withered before it has a chance to take root and grow," he said, and then he urged people not to leave without responding to the Holy Spirit.

I was out of my seat and kneeling at the altar before the first line of the song was sung. Around me I could sense a gathering crowd, feel people dropping to their knees beside me. We wept, we prayed, we  allowed the seed to sink in deep and take root. Time stood still for a while at the altar while we did business with God and he with us.

Later that afternoon, Pete called, just to say hello. I told him the story I had told our friends at cell group a few days before, and how what he did this morning reminded me so much of his grandfather. He said that knowing that, was something he would carry with him.


Matthew 13:1-9
The Message (MSG)

Matthew 13

A Harvest Story
 1-3 At about that same time Jesus left the house and sat on the beach. In no time at all a crowd gathered along the shoreline, forcing him to get into a boat. Using the boat as a pulpit, he addressed his congregation, telling stories.
 3-8"What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn't put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.
 9"Are you listening to this? Really listening?"

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Gift Goes On

By Belinda

At the end of September I wrote about a breakfast date at Canada's best breakfast restaurant: Cora’s; with my young musician friend; Luisa.. The post was entitled Go to the Instrument, and in it, among other things, I described our comedy of errors in getting together--me missing my exit from the highway and getting delayed by construction as I tried to backtrack to the restaurant--and Luisa sleeping in.

In the process of all of the mix ups--before we actually did connect and have a wonderful four hour visit together, I had breakfast alone thinking that Luisa was not coming. Eating alone in a restaurant was something I had never done before and I found it unexpectedly wonderful; sitting with a book, some delicious oatmeal, and a coffee cup that was filled every time I emptied it. I wrote that God had given me a gift I hadn't expected that morning, the gift of solitude--and later I also got the gift I was looking forward to--a visit with Luisa.

Earlier that month that I had gone to a different Cora’s for breakfast with my friend Irene, and as we were paying for our meal I had noticed at the cash register, a silent auction fund raiser for the family of Constable Garrett Styles a local young police officer who was tragically killed in the line of duty in July. The winner of the silent auction would get a Cora's VIP card. I noticed that the bids put in were rather low. Turning to Irene I said with a smile, "I'm going to ramp the bidding up to another level," and I put in a bid that I felt was more in keeping with the cause. I had no idea what a VIP card was, but hoped that others would take up the challenge and build on my bid.

I forgot all about it until one day last week, when I arrived home from work and found a message on our phone saying that  I was the winner of the silent auction and could I come in any time and pay for my "VIP card." No one else had topped the bid I hadn't really expected to win, but I didn't mind at all. My heart went out to the young police officer's family.

When I got to the restaurant, I had to ask, "What is a VIP card? What exactly did I win?"

The restaurant manager handed me a card the size of a business card, and on the back there were twelve yellow stars. He explained that it entitled me to a breakfast at Cora's every month for twelve months.

It didn't take long to realize that the card was a gift from God. Because of the card I have "permission" to take time alone once a month for a year, free from distraction. I will choose something from my reading/study pile and revel in the sheer luxury of solitude.

And how like God to show me the gift that he already knew I was getting; through the breakfast mix up with Luisa.

So like God; the giver of the best gifts..

Iran: After Trial on Apostasy Charge, Christian Pastor Nadarkhani Accused of Rape and Extortion

By Belinda

At breakfast this morning Brenda asked for news of Pastor Yousef, who had been sentenced to death for the crime of apostasy in Iran.

Brenda's question prompted an internet search for news. This is the most recent I could find. It speaks for itself and for the need for our continued prayer.

Iran: After Trial on Apostasy Charge, Christian Pastor Nadarkhani Accused of Rape and Extortion

Thursday, October 13, 2011

North meets South!


By Belinda
They made the long journey by car; driving the almost 2,000 kilometers from Mishkeegogamang to Bradford; one principal and four teachers who face odds every day that most of us can't imagine. Daily they work to bring literacy, education and hope to the children of a people struggling to regain pride in their identity.

Paul worked hard, with our church missions committee; the agency we work for; Jack MacFadden and Coats for Kids in Bradford, as well as Holy Trinity High School, to organize a book fair. "Buy a Book--Share a Book" was the name of the book fair, intended to share the abundant blessings we enjoy, with a community who have much less by encouraging people to buy books for children they know here, and pair their purchases with a gift for a First Nations school.

Tori and Tippy were there with a friend from church, all of whom were permitted to miss a day from school to volunteer at the book fair.

There were readings, book signings by aboriginal authors, a puppet show; a presentation for the students of Holy Trinity, and excellent teaching materials on sale.

The group of teachers from Mish mistakenly ended up in Brantford instead of Bradford--an easy mistake, but when they did arrive they toured two schools in Bradford and held impromptu question and answer sessions for students.

One of our missions committee members and our friend, Jamie, spotted an excellent teaching kit and suggested that it would be wonderful if enough money could be raised to get the kit for the teachers of Mish. By the end of the afternoon, not only the $900 for the kit had been raised, but enough for some additional teaching aids. The group was thrilled and overwhelmed. '
'
Doug White, the Mayor of Bradford, and the principal of Holy Trinity, Mr. Heinrich Bebie, welcomed the northern teachers as honoured guests.

Something very special is happening in Bradford. The small town is leading by the heart; showing other communities how to come reach out to a community 2000 kilometers away.

MIshkeegogamang is becoming more and more well known to Bradford residents as articles about the community appear in local newspapers. As a result, young people in Bradford are learning about compassion, mistakes made in the past that we have a responsibility to try to make better, and the truth instead of misinformation.

What if every town in Canada took another less fortunate community under its wings, either in Canada or somewhere else in the world?  How exciting would that be?





Jack MacFadden


Debbie Hotson, a member of Hillside Community Church in Tottenham, standing with her daughter, in front of the flags of Canada and Mishkeegogamang.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Testing Paradigms


By Belinda

If you never change your mind, why have one?
Edward De Bono

I did a quick search, looking for a good quote on "making up one's mind," for this post, and found that almost all of them implied that making up the mind was a good thing to do; indicating action, as in the opposite of indecision.

But lately I've been trying to find my way out of that very thing, a bad habit of making up my mind about things! For the making up of the mind, I've discovered, can be unhelpful. I've come to think of it like making up a bed; all the corners tucked in tight, no room for too much movement there.

I found this post a perfect excuse for using the photo of the lacy leaves at Scanlon Creek this weekend. They are as full of tiny holes as some of the stories I construct in my mind, when I am in the process of making it up.

I don't think I'm alone in my tendency. We seem wired to try to make sense of the world around us by interpreting the data of the day; feeding it into the labyrinth of our mind and drawing conclusions. "Drawing conclusions"--ah, there's another dangerous pursuit.

Police officers do it. We can probably all think of a case where a suspect once chosen, seemed doomed to be thought guilty no matter what. Evidence to the contrary is ignored, and other potential suspects are given scant attention.

Doctors do it. A diagnosis can be a good thing, but only if it is right. If you believe it's wrong, it might be difficult to convince him or her of that once they become invested in a particular hypothesis.

To "invest in" means to put something of worth into. Whether that is thought, or time, or investigation, we have the tendency to stick to something we've invested in. I know I've stuck with a car long after I should have admitted that our time together was over, because I had invested so much money in fixing it that I couldn't admit defeat.

What I've been thinking about over the past week is how to strike the balance between making sense of the world; reading the signs and heeding them--and having nice leaf shaped paradigms that are full of holes.

Someone pointed out recently that I have a tendency to cling to paradigms with the determination of someone who has fallen off a cliff but managed to somehow grab hold of a ledge on the way down. I realized that they were right.

We sat and talked about patterns in our relationship and I realized that there were some. My mind somehow clings to its conclusions and does not easily shift a course once set upon it.

I guess that "seeing" that is a step in the right direction but it's painful to think of the people I have hurt by being a poor listener and closed to incoming information once my mind was made up.

I am so grateful for God's endless grace and patience and that of the people in my life.

Daniel 10:12

New International Version (NIV)

 12 Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Thanksgiving Misadventures

By Belinda

Happy Thanksgiving friends--a little late; it's been a wonderful, hectic weekend.

The weather here in Ontario was so beautiful. The sun shone bright and warm every day.

It was ordained after our children organized their other family festivities that we should have our Thanksgiving meal today and so this morning our house filled up with grandchildren and their parents and the scent of baking ham and scalloped potatoes wafted from the kitchen.

After the meal, with far too much food and lots of leftovers to be stowed away, William asked if we were going for a hike. To let the glorious day pass by with us all in doors was unthinkable, so once we loaded the dishwasher, and then 3 adults, 3 children and a dog piled into a van and a car, leaving some less energetic family members behind, and drove to Scanlon Creek Conservation area.

The late afternoon sun lit the leaves with molten gold; neon red and burnished bronze as we tumbled from our vehicles into the bright beauty of the day. From the parking lot there were paths leading off in all directions. We opted for the white woodpecker trail and set off into the woods.

The air was filled with a loud chorus of birdsong and the scent of pine needles and fallen leaves. A canopy of gold hung over our heads and on every hand were interesting plants and trees. Paul walked on ahead with Pete and the three children, while I followed behind, trying to take photos while managing Molson who was captivated by a hundred tantalizing scents along the way. Did I mention that the woods were also full of other dogs and their owners? Well, lots of them crossed our path!

So when we came to the clearing at the end of the trail, I was trying to catch up with the others, holding a camera in one hand and the dog lead in the other and didn't notice that I was coming upon an apple tree that had shed its abundant crop of small apples in a wide circle on the ground. Basically I stepped onto a floor of marbles and it had a predictable effect. My feet went up and I went down--my camera and Molson went in opposite directions. I landed on the soggy, fermenting apples and noticed the wasps busily at work among them. Pete turned back and with a concerned expression, said, "Are you all right Mom?"

"Give me a minute," I said from my prone position, gathering my breath and composure--I'm getting too old for flying to the ground on a pile of apples.

I brushed the apple pulp from my pants and patted my bruised thigh and caught  up with the rest of the gang.

"There's a beach over there," said Paul, pointing ahead. That sounded like a fine destination so we all followed him onward down another winding path.

When we got to the "beach" we found that the pond was a sea of mud. No water, just shiny mud, shimmered in the sun.


Andrew walked towards it and Paul called out, "No, that's quick-sand, you'll get sucked in."

Andrew seemed to think he was joking or exaggerating, because he kept going.

When he reached a certain point, he looked back at the adult males of the party who were calling him back, and it was obvious from the look of him that he was stuck.

His younger brother and sister looked on from a safe distance, wondering what was going to happen now.

Andrew had a stick. Sticks are a prerequisite for hikes in the wood, but it was no use at all for leveraging him out of the mud.

Pete went as close as was safe and called instructions from a distance. Helpful things like, "Lift your foot out of the mud."

The parental imperative did not work against the forces of physics. The feet were stuck in the shoes that were stuck in the mud.

There was nothing else for it but for Pete to wade in closer, risking sinking in  himself. Sue would never forgive him if he came home with one less child after all.

He had a stick of his own, being a grown up boy. Both of them clung to their respective sticks while a daring rescue mission was executed.

Andrew squelched his feet from his shoes, and pulled the shoes, encased in mud, from the oozing  ground. And handed them to his dad.








Andrew begged, "Please don't show this photo to my mom!"

Fortunately his mom found the whole thing pretty funny.

The clean up in the creek.

No, it's not a bear paw print on Paul's shirt, but a grandchild's hand print.

We should have seen this sign on the way to the beach, not when we were leaving it!







.
















Homeward bound; tuckered out after our mis-adventurous afternoon!

Saturday, October 08, 2011

When You're Tempted to Give Up

Note by Belinda: I hope that sharing Marilyn's post this way works! It inspired me, on our Thanksgiving weekend, to be thankful, for rest.

When You’re Tempted to Give Up

by Marilyn
IN 90-DEGREE HEAT of a late July afternoon I hit the 500-mile mark. Fighting the heat was nothing compared to fighting the desire to give up on the goal - 1,000 miles on the bike this year. * * * When I began in March I imagined seeing 500 on the odometer and being thrilled, but [...]
Marilyn | October 8, 2011 at 8:53 am | Categories: commitmentgoalsrestSabbathvision | URL:http://wp.me/pmU9D-6q8
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Friday, October 07, 2011

Election Day

By Belinda

We sat around the supper table eating pork chops simmered in mushroom soup. Bowls of rice, and vegetables of orange, yellow and shades of green passed from hand to hand, and the cares of the day and a week almost done, fell from our shoulders as we caught up with one another's news.

Of course we wondered how the election results would pan out in Ontario where today was voting day. I had voted on my way home, and, as I entered the rural church building that was the voting site, I was seized with a sense of solemnity and privilege hard won; the right to choose.

Over supper we chatted about how the voting stations were changed from the norm in several places for this election. Brenda said that originally, the college where she works had been designated, but later there was a change of plans the votes had to be cast elsewhere.. Somehow the message didn't get through to everyone that the voting was to take place in a different location and all day people showed up at the college to vote. One woman got loud and angry when Brenda informed her that the site had changed. Her husband had to calm his wife down by reminding her that she was shouting at the wrong person.

Tippy piped up then with a story of her own. She was in the school office waiting for Brenda to come and pick her up from school. She had damaged the soft tissue on her hand and a lump had emerged at the base of her pinky finger. She thinks it was caused by drawing too long and holding her pencil too intensely but the lump scared her and she had called Brenda sobbing. This is our oceanically emotional granddaughter remember! :)

While she was waiting for her mom, an old woman came to the school to vote, but the site had been moved to the church where I voted later in the day. Strangely, she sat down in the school office and began to chat with the children who were sitting there.

The woman asked the children if they believed in ghosts and told them she did! She said that ever since her husband died she had noticed strange happenings in her house. "I will put a pot on the table," she said, "and later it will be gone. Then I come back later and it's back again."

Tippy added, "She said the same thing happens with her car keys," which made us all laugh, and all at the same moment we had the same thought--the "ghost" was a great story but it might not be the one losing things around the house!

I still don't know the election results. Some voted angry at being  inconvenienced, some were confused about where to vote, but all who did, engaged in a process that we hope will make a difference.

P.S. This is our friend Anne leaving for home in her beautiful Made in Italy, genuine Fedora. She wins the prize for flair and style!

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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Alvechurch News

By Belinda

Newsflash! Rob told me that Bruce has started on his new package of Liver Bites; the ones that arrived from his Auntie Belinda in Canada, recently.

"So they arrived just in time then!" I said.

"Belinda, if that package hadn't arrived, I'm sure he'd have had to go through a few weeks of counselling," said Rob.

Mum loves to listen and laugh with us. All three of us laughed at the thought of Bruce going through withdrawal symptoms.

 Rob has cleared up a fungal rash that Mum had just beneath her breasts by diligently treating it with cream. The carers who come in daily weren't successful in beating it. He had to overcome his sense of discomfort at "going there," though, but I teased him that he had "been there" before. :) As for Mum, she didn't mind who did it; she was just happy it was cared for.

Then, although our poor dad isn't here to defend himself, we had to have a  laugh at his expense. Rob said, "Mum said she wished Dad was here to do it."

At this, Mum shuddered and laughed and Rob said, "Mum just doesn't like me joking about that at bedtime though. She says it unsettles her for the night!"

Mum and Dad's relationship was long enough ago that we can all look back on it now and see the funny side. We laughed about Dad's notoriously smelly feet and his steadfast defensiveness whenever Mum would suggest changing socks. In the end she had to move into a separate room to get away from the both the feet and Dad's snoring.

We remember how hard Mum had tried to get him see how his feet affected her sensibilities.

"In most cases if someone can make their partner happy by making a small effort they will. In my case it meant moving out," Rob added ruefully, and, sadly, truthfully.

On we went to the topic of washing our bed sheets, which I am obsessive about because of the mites that feed on human skin left behind (a refreshing topic I know.)

"Yes," Rob joked, "Our bed bugs are bigger and better than anyone else's. Someone once asked me, 'What are you feeding them on--skin?'"

My young nephew Tim, 18, was going to a birthday party that night. Rob had impressed on him to, "Never feel like you've got to get in the car with a nut case who's 'under the influence,' I'd sooner get out of bed, even at 3.00 in the morning. And I can always toss the keys to Bruce!"

And so went our banter for half an hour or so, about everything and nothing and all in between. We covered back surgery, a frequent topic since Rob really needs it, and the advisability of getting off the stretcher if the doctor asked, "Now which end do I start?"

We confessed that we had to call a family friend on her birthday because we'd both left it too late to send a card. Rob's final word...

"I did mean to get a card; since they have said there's nothing that actually replaces a card." :)

Welcome to the wacky world of our family--and my brother, who always makes me laugh.

Monday, October 03, 2011

A Prayer Need

Susan had a message on her FB page about this Iranian pastor. I could hardly believe it was true as I had not heard anything about it on the news, but indeed, a quick search confirmed that it is. Canada and the US have made strong protests to the government of Iran. Praying for Pastor Yousef...

Sunday, October 02, 2011

This Good Day

By Belinda

The first Sunday of the month is reserved in our family, for family. Not that we can't get together spontaneously at any other time as well, but this day for sure we plan on.

Last Saturday I had so much fun at the BBQ at our local conservation area that I asked a couple of our grandchildren what they thought about having a picnic and a walk in the woods instead of dinner at home. With shining eyes they said, "Yes!"

Their parents weren't quite as enthusiastic and had to adjust to the idea. I think they look forward to our family dinners as a sort of haven from the rush and tumble of the rest of their lives and you'd have thought by their response that I was planning a wilderness adventure and a Survivor meal of insects! :)

However as the weekend approached, the temperature dropped to chilly and clouds rolled in. On Saturday it was clear that I needed to pull Plan B from up my sleeve: Having dinner at home and then going to see the movie, Dolphin Tale together. Every one thought that was a fine plan--kids and parents. I suspect that the parents had been fasting and praying for bad weather.

So after church we sat around two tables, with the casserole dishes of food ready for serving and William; whom I am sure is going to be a theologian; prayed thoughtfully:
Thank you for the food that's not really in front of us, but will be in front of us. Amen.
Because we needed to leave the house early for the 4.30 show, I made an easy pot roast instead of an oven roast. I used a recipe for pot roast that everyone at cell group loves, with cranberry sauce and onion flakes on top of the meat as it cooks, making a tangy gravy. I warned every one that the lumps in the gravy were cranberries, just in case they wondered. Note to self: children do not like cranberries in gravy. Plates were returned with lots of "I don't like the gravy."

Pete called it the "Gravy Rebellion," and said that even he, "Given my choice would not seek out gravy with things in it." Sigh...No worries though, we dispensed with the first servings of dinner and had fresh ones on the plates fast--with no gravy--and the rest of the meal went smoothly.

We enjoyed the feast of company as well as food and as soon as the last vestiges of cherry pie were eaten, we cleared away dishes as fast as we could and piled into two vehicles.

Getting to the theatre early enough to get the back centre row of seats meant that we had half an hour to wait for the movie to start, but kids have ways of killing time. Elizabeth (13) decided to count the seats. I had told her that we were in a 400 seat theatre and she wanted to verify that I guess. She multiplied the number of rows by the number of seats and then walked down to the front to count the seats in the lower section.

My mischievous  inner child compelled me to whisper to William and Claire that, "We should shout down to Elizabeth to mix up her counting."

Claire thought that was a great idea and shouted out loudly, "One hundred and three," across the now filling up theatre.

"Don't listen to Omie," said Pete to the children. He said it was a like a "mute button," a, "temporary embargo--'Don't listen to Omie while in movie theatres.'" :)

Claire (5) then began a guessing game that made no sense at all, but which she thought was hilarious, so we played it until the movie began. It involved her asking questions to which there was an answer, or the answers were one of two choices, but to which she only asked us, "True or false?"

For instance she would say, "Were zebras or dolphins made first? True or false?"

William the theologian would answer with certainty, "They were both made at the exact same time."

I would answer "True," to make Claire laugh.

"When was the colour green made? True or False?" And so on. I liked that there was no pressure to get the answer right.

Meanwhile Elizabeth informed us that there were 511 seats in the theatre.

My greatest honour was being asked over dinner by William if I would sit beside him for the movie. I said that of course I would, and then when we got to the theatre and were organizing our places, stumbling with arms full of overflowing popcorn and cups of pop, he sat down, looked up at me and patted the seat beside him. That moment, one of many happy ones in this good day; that feeling of "being chosen," was my special treasure.