Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Angels Don't Always Wear White

"Glad-eyes," that's what he has, Molson, this friend of mine with golden hair and lolling tongue.

We run from the house into the evening air, his nails tap-tap-tap-tapping lightly on the pavement as my feet thud-thud beside him.
He dances with exuberant joy at being "out." Jumping high, he catches his red leash in his mouth and tugs me along; pulling it as if he is playing a joke, pretending that it is he taking me for the walk, which is probably true. He is so HAPPY and he communicates that with every fibre of his being and glance of his glad eyes.

The first rush of excitement settles and he trots forward with focus, pacing his trot perfectly to my stride. He is a gentleman of a dog, disciplined and well bred.

He reads the ground with his nose, as avidly as my father used to read the newspaper, and leaves messages behind for others who will follow. He looks as if he is about very serious business. I don't hurry him; it seems a small thing to wait when he is such good company.

Ah, these walks!

Friday evening the village is a-buzz with lawnmowers. It seems that people are getting a head start on the weekend chores. I inhale the scent of freshly mown grass.

On Saturday the sound of backyard fun fills the air, as if, with the chores done, it is time to enjoy the weekend. From behind hedges and fences come the sound of children's voices, laughter, and the splash of water in backyard pools. The appetizing smell of a barbecue tantalizes my nose.

Sunday night we walk under a rosy sky as God slowly pulls the blanket of the evening over the village. We pass a house with the garage lit up and the front door open. Lawn chairs sit deserted outside and from a stereo inside the garage comes the mournful, wailing sound of a country song. As we pass, the music gradually fades from our ears.

Along the way, I catch the scent of blossom from a nearby tree. I walk closer and stop to sniff the source. It is Molson's turn to wait patiently. If he wonders what I can find to smell on a tree when all the good smells are on the ground, he doesn't show it. He knows the first rule of friendship; acceptance.

Blue sky and fluffy salmon pink clouds are fading quickly into dusk.We run and I hear his tags jingling and his ears thudding he shakes his head.

I shout, "Hi" to a neighbour as we pass.

"Can I see your dog?" he asks, walking towards us past a lawn sprinkler.

"He's the best dog in the world," I say, "not a mean bone in his body."

"I had a Golden myself," he says, "he got old and we had to put him down just three months ago. His name was Gatsby."

"I'm so sorry-- but what a perfect name."

He is squatting beside Molson now and Molson is sitting while he pets him. He fingers his tag with the St. John's Ambulance cross.

"He's a therapy dog," I explain, "he visits seniors now. He's working his way up to visiting group homes. "

"Ah, they will love him," he says.

I say goodbye and walk on. The air carries the fragrant scent of wood -smoke from a backyard bonfire. Firecrackers go off intermittently; it is the eve of Canada Day. Molson doesn't react—he's so not high strung.

His cold, wet nose and mouth rub my hand in a sign of love. As we walk on, fireflies flash in the ditches.

I think of Gatsby, and Eric, my friend Dave's dog, and Irene's Henry, who were such faithful friends to them while they lived; and Molson, who is still fulfilling his assignment to love his people unconditionally. And I wonder if maybe dogs earn wings like Clarence the angel in the movie, It's a Wonderful Life.
I see a lot of God in dogs: Faithfulness, unconditional love and quick forgiveness.

I am so grateful for this four-legged angel, robed in a fur coat that I am sure hides his already earned wings.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Searching for Christmas

I wrote this seven years ago and Molson has aged since that long ago walk on a sweltering August day. This will be his last Christmas unless there is some special dispensation for the most faithful of dogs. It was so good to read this, and remember "then." And the message of the story still rings true.

August was hot and steamy. Sweat trickled and tickled down spines and hair clung droopily to heads. I explained to some English guests with a craving for bracing “fresh air,” that flinging open the windows would not help at all. After a few days here they believed me.

I got into the habit of taking late evening walks with Molson, our golden retriever. Normally he bolts from the house like an arrow from a bow, but even he moved slowly on those sweltering August evenings, with the fields surrounding our village buzzing and humming with the rhythmic pulse of insect life, and the intoxicating scent of summer blooms hanging in the still air.

With my senses drenched in summer, I had Christmas on my mind one night late in August. I pondered the next third of the year and wondered how to get it right. Maybe if I started now, I thought, this year I might find the Christmas I long for; because I’m looking for it every year—the one with the joy and the peace the angels talked about.[1]  They appeared suddenly to the shepherds, and just as suddenly they were gone, but I remember their promise, “News of great joy...peace to men on whom his favour rests.”

Jesus said of the Kingdom of heaven, that it “Is like treasure hidden in a field.”[2] That is the perfect metaphor for the treasure that is Christmas too, for it is also hidden, covered with earthiness; the sacred beneath the secular. 

The forces of a powerful enemy work to obscure it. He’s been doing so from the beginning. I mean the very beginning; when he, that old serpent, the first proponent of suggestive selling, said, “See this fruit? You didn’t know you needed it but you can’t live without it. What you have with God? It’s not enough.”

At the root of Christmas Gone Wrong; for me, at least; is the anxiety of “not enough.” Drill down deeper and “I” am not enough; the simplicity of the manger in Bethlehem is not enough; no gift I buy is good enough. The angels’ good news of joy and peace lies buried in a field of the enemy’s innuendo. And I buy into the lie; adding layer upon layer that obscures the simplicity of Original Christmas.

Bethlehem was small; the guest list hardly impressive; the venue was minimalist in the extreme. I am a follower of one born there, who lived his life peacefully and powerfully, unencumbered by entrapments, but my life often does not reflect that so well.

Dusk was falling around me as Molson and I walked home that August night.  I glanced at an old century home on the opposite side of the road. The steep gable of the Presbyterian manse pointed, as if to heaven and from a circular attic window twinkled two tiny lights; one red, the other green.

Forgotten Christmas lights, or a message from God? I choose to believe that he heard my heart cry and was sending a signal back to let me know.

Christmas--it’s a celebration of what happened in Bethlehem, pure and simple and that is so much more than enough. With God’s help I want to live out that truth this year and if I do, I know that I will find the Christmas I am longing for.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel[3] 

[1] Luke 2:9-14

[2] Matthew 13:44

[3] Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem, verse 4. Rector Phillips Brooks (1835-1903)

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Thanks-Giving

Lord, your love is evident everywhere I look,
When you were making this fair earth,
What tender care you took!
You could have made the birds talk,
As plain as plain could be,
But joyous cheerful melodies,
Ring from tree to tree.
The sky so blue above us,
Your love did hang in place,
Without earth's special atmosphere,
We'd stare right into space.
In every sight, in every sound--
Your love is there--outpoured.
Oh, how I want to thank you,
My great Creator, Lord.

Belinda, 1980

Monday, September 18, 2017

Mercy Me

Our son Pete usually calls to chat during his long commute to and from work in the city and it was during one of these conversations recently that I mentioned having the gift of mercy.

He loves to tease me about what he describes as my "random mercy," and says that I'm always able to "ferret out" the good in people. A particularly flattering choice of metaphor, I thought. 

He launched into his "axe murderer" routine, saying he imagines me saying, "Well, on the good side, he always cleans up after himself. And he keeps his tools nice and sharp."

He muttered something about not many people wanting me on a parole board--getting carried away now--he was on a roll--I was laughing so hard I could hardly catch my breath--the fuel to his fire.

Pete may have been exaggerating for dramatic and comedic effect, but when I told my granddaughter Tori about his teasing, she said, "Omie, remember that terrible dream I had a few weeks ago? There was someone trying to kill me, and you didn't believe he would do it." 

And my art student granddaughter, Tippy, who only just retired her nose ring and Mohawk haircut this summer said that she would describe herself as a little more on the "conservative side" than me. The evidence in Peter's favour was mounting as I thought about it.

But this is the beautiful thing in the Kingdom of God--although we are exhorted to exercise our gifts for the common good, none of us carries our gifts in isolation--others have balancing gifts--wisdom and discernment, for example, see Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:7-11.

I am married to Paul, who has a great heart of compassion, but also great wisdom. He often tempers my strong emotional reaction to something, with considered and careful caution. In one another there is safety--and challenge when it is needed.

We didn't talk to Pete on his way home on Friday because Paul and I were out for dinner that evening. But I told him on Saturday that when we were driving home late the night before, I said to Paul, "We should call Pete." 

Paul said, "No, he'll be home by now," and I said, "Exactly--he can talk us home!" 

"But," as I said to Pete, "We had mercy on you." 

"Augh!" said Pete. 

Touché! thought I.

Humour isn't mentioned in any list of spiritual gifts that I can see, but it is sprinkled like seasoning through the feast of wisdom in the pages of the bible--a gift indeed in which truth can be delivered with laughter.

Note: I read this to Pete, to get his permission to press "publish," and he said, "It's very well written. I'm glad you've been sharpening your writing skills." I did have to tell him to stop. :)

Monday, September 11, 2017

Naturally Imperfect

It was midsummer when I drove for miles down roads that wound up hills and down, to buy some apples for my small pie business. As I was leaving, the woman behind the counter of the rural country market told me that they were the end of the line and there would be no more until the new crop came in.

The three large boxes I managed to get represented quite a few pies, but one by one they all found a home before the new crop was available from my supplier. When my freezer was finally empty, I went to my local No Frills, which is a little more expensive, but I looked for the apples in bags labelled, "Naturally Imperfect." These apples lack conformity in size or shape--they aren't quite "perfect," but are perfectly delicious in the pies.

Recently as I was thinking about a fault that was obvious in an acquaintance, I thought of the "naturally imperfect" label, and how appropriately it could be applied to humans. In that moment, instead of persisting in my critical thinking, I thought instead: Why shouldn't that person have faults? Don't I? Don't we all? Isn't it part of the human condition to be imperfect?

Later that same day I was in a meeting when a topic was raised about which I had some strong feelings. When I had a chance to give input, I went on far too long, went into way too much detail, was too emotional, and, in retrospect, I realized how pompous I must have sounded, as though I thought I was some kind of expert on the subject we were discussing.

When Paul gently confirmed my suspicions after we got home, I felt so embarrassed. That was when I remembered--I am Naturally Imperfect. It was helpful to remember and accept that about myself. Sure, I embarrassed myself a little--maybe even more than a little, but so what? My friends in the meeting simply got to see that I am very human.

One area I do have some expertise in is pastry, and in my hands, even imperfect apples turn into a perfect pie. It's not a great leap to realize that it isn't about me, but about whose hands I am in. God can use me, even in my weakness and imperfection, just as a well-known old poem called The Old Violin (The Touch of the Master's Hand) describes:
But the Master comes, 
And the foolish crowd never can quite understand, 
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought 
By the Touch of the Masters' Hand.

2 Corinthians 12:9

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Moment of Decision...

It's been almost a week since we returned from Mishkeegogamang, a First Nation 2000 kilometers north of our home, and I feel as though I have a suitcase full of stories to unpack. 



We went as a team of 23 diverse people, brought together by a common desire to bring encouragement, hope, practical help and spiritual support to the people of Mish. Ten of our team were teenagers, and this story is from Tippy, who was one of  them. It happened on our first full day there and is shared as she told it to me:



Susan said that we needed to set up a buoy line, and I said, "Okay, I can do that," not thinking that the water was going to be as cold as it was. So me, Dylan, Tori, Jared and Max all went down to the water to set it up.
We got everything ready and had anchored the two 50 foot sides and were taking out the 100 foot rope for the back of the buoy line. We anchored part of the 100 foot rope to one of the sides and were taking it across to the other side, when the side that had been attached came undone and was drifting off into the river. 
So Max said, "Let's just pull it in," and we said, "No, no, the pool noodles are going to come off the rope," and he kept saying, "No, no, it'll be fine." But of course it wasn't because we could see the end of the rope getting really close to that first pool noodle and were yelling at him to stop.
But then of course the inevitable happened and the pool noodle became detached from the rope and began drifting off into the river.
So at this point Tori and Jared were on the shore holding the ropes and keeping them steady, and Dylan, Max and I were in the water watching the pool noodle drift away. And then Dylan said, "I'm not going to get it," (he couldn't see the bottom of the water,) and Max said, "It's too cold," and I'm standing there thinking, I don't want to let this pool noodle drift away, and I took off my shirt and my glasses and handed them to Dylan, and then I just dove in the water. 
I swam out and got the pool noodle, and on the way back there was just silence! I don't think Dylan cared, but I think that Max felt a bit humiliated--he just got showed up a little bit.
They asked me if it was cold, and I said, "Yes, what do you think?" and sent Tori to get a towel. I called them wusses, and Jared said, "Oooh!"
I read Tippy's account to Tori today, and she laughed, remembering, and said, "Yes, that's pretty much what happened. except she forgot to mention me yelling, 'Go get it, Dylan!'" Which he didn't.

I only wish that I could have captured every story every day, there were so many funny, sweet, moving and poignant moments but trying to commit them to memory was a losing battle. I did take hundreds of photos but will try to capture some of what we experienced, in words, too.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

The Movers and the Moth

It was 2004 and I had gone back to England for two weeks to help my brother Robert move Mum from the two story home she was living in, to a perfect little ground floor flat in the same village.

Robert and I had a lifetime of gathered belongings to sort through and condense into a much smaller space, while Mum, blissfully unconcerned with all of this, patiently waited for the move.

I persuaded Robert that it might be a good idea, even though Mum's final quota of belongings was small, to get help in the form of a moving company.

We settled on movers called Mike and Al. Their advertisement in the phone book sounded so promising. "No job too large or too small," it boasted.

From the moment I made contact with "Mike" though, something in his voice gave a different impression to the enthusiastic advertisement. In fact, I wasn't sure that he really wanted to do this job, although he didn't come right out and say so.

When I pressed him for a quote, saying that we didn't really have a lot to move, he said, "That's what everybody says and when we get there it is a lot."

"Okay," I thought, "That's probably true, often," but it didn't seem like a very promising start to our moving relationship.

On moving day, they arrived. Each was driving a small, shiny, red moving van, one larger than the other, just like them.

Robert and I felt uncomfortably as if we were in the middle of a family argument as Mike and Al bickered with each other from the start, arguing over how items should be lifted or carried and how the move was to go.

Mum's antique china cabinet, which had belonged to Oma in Holland, had twin owls on each of two wooden spires. We asked Mike and Al to be especially careful with these. Inevitably one of the owls was broken off. It resides in a drawer of the china cabinet to this day.

Because the front door was open, a moth or butterfly fluttered in and when Mike spotted it, he said, "Is that a moth, or a butterfly? Only I've got a phobia about moths."

A phobia I could understand, although I did ask if he was really serious. But what, I wondered, was the difference between a moth and a butterfly when it came to a phobia about things fluttering?

At that point, Al came in and asked the same question about the thing on the wall. Apparently he had the same phobia.

And just in case that you ever need this piece of information, the answer was, "Moths fly at you in the face. Butterflies are frightened of you and fly away."

So good to know!