Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Jesus Take My Hand

Haggai 1:5 (New International Version)
5 Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways.

What a perfect verse for this week of pondering and listening.

In fact, in the short book of Haggai, an exhortation to give careful thought is repeated at least four times.

Haggai writes in verse 9: "You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?" declares the Lord Almighty. "Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house."

As I read the words, "What you brought home I blew away," I thought of the disembodied fingers of a human hand that appeared at King Belshazzar’s feast .

The message that the fingers wrote on the wall was about a life measured and found lacking.

Sobering thoughts to start a day; being busy, but with the wrong things.

So I listen and ponder. I give careful thought. So much of my life is out of order. I get some of it right and so much of it wrong.

Still I know that I am his beloved child and that if I listen he will teach me.

If I slow down he will take my hand.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I Am Resolved

Isaiah 26:8 (New International Version)
8 Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws,
we wait for you;
your name and renown
are the desire of our hearts.

In this time between times--between the crazy crunch of Christmas and the unfolding of a new year, I quiet my heart before the One who lives outside of time.

This verse from Isaiah captures and expresses my heart's longing for the year to come. His name and renown is the desire of my heart.

I wrote on Saturday of Matthew Kelly’s rule of the Sacred Hour and how I wanted to build that into my life. One reader left a comment that she would love a Sacred Ten Minutes! God knows where we are in our lives. I remember how I cherished moments when Mr. Dressup or The Friendly Giant were on when our children were small. They were my sacred moments back then. Now I have no good reason why I could not have a Sacred Hour and if I don't, I have to be honest and say that I have chosen other things instead that are literally worth less. I'm working on it friends.

The second of Matthew’s Three Rules for Life that inspired me was that of practicing Sabbath, so I tried that on Sunday. I realize that I have not embraced the Sabbath as the gift that it is. When Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath ,Mark 2:27 he was not just speaking against legalism, but for the gift that God offers us.

The point I "heard" was that it is time for us to re-create; and that can be done by going to church, spending time with family or friends, reading a book or going for a walk--the possibilities are endless.

I thought about how I had allowed my "to do list" to encroach on my Sabbath; my boundaries are fluid. The thought of a real day off was tantalizing so I decided to try it.

Not filling vacant hours with such things as balancing the household budget, or throwing in a load of laundry, took a bit of resisting, but giving myself this permission, felt like being on vacation. Only it was just Sunday.

On Sunday evening I actually lay back in one of our reclining wing backed chairs and finished a book. I went to bed early. Sunday felt like the gift that it is.

Pete was talking to me on Saturday about the preacher Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions. My resolutions so far this week; to have a Sacred Hour, and to embrace a Sabbath day, seem in comparison, so basic. But I lack them and so I am resolved to build them into my life.

Isaiah 26:8 (New International Version)
8 Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws,
we wait for you;
your name and renown
are the desire of our hearts.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Curious Case of the PCP*

Replete, we sat in the semi-comatose state that all adults reach by mid afternoon of Family Christmas.

I noticed that nobody was eating.

"We have Christmas pudding if anyone feels like some," I offered innocently.

"Christmas pudding?" said Pete with curiosity.

It had lurked in the dark recesses of my pantry for a number of years. The exact number is rather inconsequential. "Years" is the word to note.

We don't really like Christmas pudding but I feel the need to have one on hand; a token pudding, just in case someone asks, "Is there any?" If they did, it would seem a terrible thing not to have some.

In the early years of our marriage; the early 1970's (which I think of as my "earth woman" phase, and during which I also baked bread) I made our Christmas puddings from an English recipe that involved an annual search for suet. I steamed the puddings in cheesecloth and also hid coins in them, upholding the tradition of Paul's childhood. When we first came to Canada we heard of something called "Carrot Pudding." That just did not sound right to me, and none has ever knowingly passed my lips. I should probably try some though, having dismissed it so quickly 40 years ago.

I caught on after a few years that all this effort was not worth it; for after a hefty turkey dinner, and an obligatory few bites of the brandy laced pudding, which Paul really only enjoyed as a side dish to vast quantities of the accompanying white sauce, I ended up freezing the leftover pudding and later throwing it away.

So we graduated to Crosse and Blackwell canned Christmas puddings, imported from England, which could be popped into the microwave and restored to steaming splendour in minutes. Most of it still did not get eaten, but at least there was no effort to preparing it, and sometimes the can did not even get opened.

One year I couldn't find a Crosse and Blackwell pudding, and since we weren't exactly going to eat it anyway, I grabbed another boxed pudding that looked similar.

It didn't get opened the year I bought it so I put it away in the cupboard, thinking that a canned pudding would keep.

This particular pudding made it's annual appearance for a year or two ; perhaps a few years. No one has shown the slightest interest in eating it. But this year Pete and Sue were interested in studying it, as if it was some sort of scientific specimen.

We opened the box, and to my surprise; I honestly don't remember knowing this; it was not canned, but in stored in a plastic, pudding shaped bowl and sealed with clear plastic over the top.

The pudding was, let me tell you, far from moist in appearance anymore.

Sue studied the *Petrified Christmas Pudding closely; through the plastic film at first, and asked, giggling, "What's that white thing?"

Well, whatever it was it wasn't moving. It was, like the pudding, petrified.

Peter took to studying the box. "Mom," he laughed, "You have to wonder about any product, when the 'May Contain' list, is longer than the list of ingredients."

The pudding bore no resemblance to the delectable slice in the picture on the box. It could only serve as a good hockey puck.

The pudding went into the organic waste green bin under our sink, although I was not 100% sure that it belonged there.

If there is a moral to this tale, it probably is...

I give up; I don't know what the moral is or I probably wouldn't have had the thing in the first place.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Pondering and Listening

Saturday morning and it is raining hard, tapping on skylights and cascading from gutters.

The hills are shrouded in a curtain of mist. It is the perfect morning to cocoon.

I enjoy the quiet of the house; a stillness unbroken from the inside by even the hum of dryer or distant chatter of a program on T.V..

Yesterday children and grandchildren filled the house. Shreds of wrapping paper and empty boxes surrounded the Christmas tree. Carols played on the stereo in the background, mixing with the sound of children's voices, laughter and play, and the murmur of conversation. It was a wonderful day.

But I cherish the post-celebration hush that descends. It is a time to reflect; to ponder the old and listen for the new.

As I washed Brussels sprouts and rolled out pastry while preparing for our family Christmas dinner, I listened to an audio book by author and speaker Matthew Kelly. I heard him speak at the Lead Like Jesus conference I attended in October and found him a dynamic speaker so I was delighted when Irene gave me his book, The Rhythm of Life on C.D.

Matthew shared three rules by which he lives. The rules grew out of the recovery period after a total emotional, spiritual and physical meltdown while still a young man. He was a victim of his own success and had not learned how to say "No," to the too many opportunities that came his way to do good.

One of his rules is to have a daily time of prayer and reflection on scripture that he calls his Sacred Hour. I love this name for a couple of reasons:

1) The fact that it is "sacred," which means set apart, or holy, in the sense that it is precious, important and non-negotiable by implication.
2) The fact that he specifies "hour" as part of the description. It precludes shortchanging oneself with a few minutes grabbed with God. The word "hour," makes me feel that the time is safe, bordered in, unrushed, protected.

I aim to build the Sacred Hour into my life. Logic tells me that if God gives me 24 in a day, I should surely be able to spend one with him. I also know my tendency to fritter time away. Dear friends, stay tuned!

2 Corinthians 4:18 (New International Version)
18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Incarnated Lessons at Christmas

Christmas is a time for celebrating God's greatest "invention" - incarnating Himself in a human baby body, and speaking to us of His love, His servanthood, His humility, His sharing in our lives, by drawing us into His journey to and birth in a stable manger. We talk often in sermons and books about the lessons we learn from this, how God continues to incarnate Himself in our lives in so many ways. But it still feels to me that I don't expect Him to. I somehow believe that certain events are separate from who we really are, even when we are with family and friends. And then He surprises us again with new evidence of His awareness of us, new speech through the language of our bodies.

Such was my experience this Christmas day. My daughters and I had created a lovely Christmas atmosphere, for ourselves as a family, and for our guests later in the day. While a bit pressured, those preparations were meaningful and fruitful. We enjoyed the moments of giving and receiving gifts carefully chosen for each other. That seemed enough for me, being with my family and enjoying their joy, their company. I was not prepared for what happened. My older daughter had saved a special gift to the last. It was a photo book of her recent photos from the trip to Uganda this year by both our daughters, blended with photos from their childhood there, mostly taken by me. She had it made into a beautiful bound book by Mac. It is called THE RETURN HOME. As I moved from page to page, seeing the combination of past and present, familiar faces and places, all sensitively bound together, I cried and cried. "It takes a lot to make Mum cry", my daughter had said to someone the week before, in another context. And it is true. And here I was, on Christmas morning, blubbering my eyes out over photos I had seen many times before.

My body was telling me that there is so much grief still to heal, so much joy still to celebrate, about our years in Uganda. Amazed and overwhelmed by this incarnated sign of God's love, I had to stop and put it aside, and get on with preparations for our Christmas dinner guests.

We had a delightful meal in every way, with meaningful conversation and delicious food. Games and laughter followed for hours. A friend from Toronto phoned to share her good news after months of trials. A neighbour dropped in to join us for dessert and games. It had been a great day. Our guests left in mid evening, all of us in cheery form.

I was tired and went to bed early, suddenly aware of huge fatigue, wondering if I had a bug. My stomach warned me of impending events, and I tried to stave off the wretched moment. I could not believe it was happening after such a special day. I had not overeaten and no one else seemed ill affected by the food. The pain would not go away, and the relief was swift, but there was more to come. Sleep came after many hours, and the next morning I asked the Lord what it was all about.

Somehow I knew it was not a bug, or food poisoning. It was my body telling me that there is too much going on in my life. That there is so much left to heal, and that I ignore my emotions and they come out through my body. I need to pay more attention and take better care of me. God was doing me a favour by incarnating truth in a way that I would get the message.

Later the next day he gave me a conversation with one of the guests, at their drop in gathering down the street. She saw the incarnated lesson clearly, and, from her own very parallel experiences, of mission life, sudden loss and great grief, and ignoring her own emotions, added her words to God's message. He made sure I would receive this sign of His love to me, His personal agenda of concern and care for me in the midst of this season for others.

And that is His constant message to each and every one of us. We are individually so important to Him that He cares enough to give us suffering in our bodies to pay attention to our needs, and to readjust our focus. We can never do without incarnation, with our bodies to tell us what we need to know. I think we as Christians, let alone as humans, so often ignore and abuse our bodies, and think that spiritual truth can only speak in disembodied ways. But so often it is the opposite. God knew that from the very beginning, of course. And He continues to graciously tell us what He knows, every way He can, every day. What a good God.

Friday, December 26, 2008

For the Children

The soul is healed by being with children
Fyodor Dostoyevsky

It was Christmas Eve day and Paul was out in the driveway, clearing the latest deposit of snow.

Everyone seemed to be out and about running last minute errands before Christmas and it appeared that someone was dropping in to see us.

It was Hannah's dad, Jason, with an envelope that he asked Paul to deliver to me. On the front was a photo of Hannah, her mom and brother with some friends, and inside, a picture of a Christmas tree with a message underneath from Hannah to her Auntie Belinda.

Paul and I love being with children and count it an honour to invest in them as much as we can. They need to know that they are special and loved.

And being with children is such a blessing, because inside every grownup is a child just waiting to be awakened.

Matthew 18:2-3 (The Message)
2-5For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, "I'm telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you're not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God's kingdom. What's more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it's the same as receiving me.

This version of The Little Drummer Boy byBing Crosby and David Bowie has some lovely lyrics and melody overlaying the original song.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I've been thinking about how we tend to mix up "presents" with "presence," giving the simple gift of ourselves.

On this day we celebrate Emmanuel, "God with us."

He came then, and comes now, to be present with us and in us, but we can so easily miss this gift too.

When Jesus visited the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany, Mary saw the gift that had come to their home.
Martha was so busy and distracted with preparations for her visitor, that she could not enjoy his presence.
I want to be better at this; appreciating the presence of others, relaxing in relationship with people and giving my presence to others. I am often distracted and busy with many things.
Most of all, of course, I want to enjoy the gift of God's presence in Jesus. What a precious gift that is.
Today I wish everyone a very blessed Christmas.
Luke 10:40-42 (Amplified Bible)
40But Martha [overly occupied and too busy] was distracted with much serving; and she came up to Him and said, Lord, is it nothing to You that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me [to lend a hand and do her part along with me]!
41But the Lord replied to her by saying, Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things;
42There is need of only one or but
a few things. Mary has chosen the good portion (that which is to her advantage], which shall not be taken away from her.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Prayer for Christmas

John 17:21 (New International Version)
21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

I'm praying a Christmas Eve prayer for all of us today.

It's a simple prayer. I pray that we will lay down our expectations of what Christmas should be and just look for ways to serve and love; to be gentle and forbearing.

The season builds to a great crescendo of hopes and dreams. By the time Christmas Eve arrives we may already be unravelling or hanging by a thread, weary and worn out. In our minds dance visions, not of sugarplums, but of the Christmas we want to have, the Christmas we are promised in magazines articles or read about in books.

The reality is that we will be disappointed if we set our hearts on that kind of Christmas. People are messy and uncooperative. We are messy and uncooperative. Illness strikes fatigued bodies, tempers are frayed, people drink too much, spend too much, eat too much and say things that hurt.

But if we ask for "God eyes" and "God hearts," and just set about loving and giving because that is what he came to do, we cannot be disappointed. And if we lay down our expectations, we may be surprised by "unexpected" blessings.

Happy, holy, Christmas Eve!

John 17:18 (New International Version)
18As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Gift

Mention her name and the stories begin; told in affectionate tones, with respect and laughter. Those who didn’t know her before she died five years ago, try to get a sense of who she was. For at such moments there are only two groups; those who knew Evelyn and those who didn’t. And everyone wishes they had.

I wonder; will a mention of my name have this effect five years after I’m gone? It would be nice if it did but I doubt it.

Twice this week her name has come up, and she has been on my mind as well. Perhaps because it’s Christmas, and at Christmas we think of old friends.

So tonight I share an Evelyn story:

It was Christmas Eve—Miah’s first Christmas working at her new job with the agency that supported Evelyn and her housemates with developmental disabilities. Miah loved her job, but on this particular night she was downhearted. At her last job she had worked over Christmas, which would have meant that she got this one off. But she had changed jobs and here she was again, at the bottom of the pecking order; the rookie, working the shift everyone wanted off. To make matters worse, her husband and children had gone to Quebec to visit family, leaving her all alone and feeling very sorry for herself.

Miah was just getting to know the five people who lived in the house. Evelyn was small, and stooped with fine bones and a beautiful face. Her fragile appearance was deceiving though; she was a master at intuitively reading people and would win at any battle of wills.

A hush descended on Evelyn’s home that Christmas Eve; a sense of expectancy. Evelyn said that she wanted to go for a van ride to look at the Christmas lights. It was very cold, so Miah took a blanket along to bundle her up. As they walked to the van, the snow squeaked beneath their feet and their breath hung in the cold night air like streamers.

The streets were deserted; as quiet as that first Christmas Eve must have been before the great host of angels appeared in the night sky.

Miah turned on the radio to listen to carols as they drove. Then, to her surprise, from somewhere within the bundle of blankets in the next seat, came the sound of a thin quavery voice, singing, “Silent Night, Holy Night.”

Miah turned off the radio so that she could listen--she had no idea that Evelyn could sing. Her voice wasn’t exactly beautiful, but it was vulnerable and childlike and she had the song word-perfect.

A dreamy look was in Evelyn’s eyes as she finished singing, but she wasn’t finished. Next, she launched into a welcome to an imaginary congregation: a welcome to the Christmas concert.

Evelyn proceeded to preach a sermon, all about a man and his dog who lived on a farm. The dog barked and barked in the barnyard and when it did, the man would yell at it, but the dog didn't stop barking. One day someone came to the farm and told the man that if only he would be nice to the dog the next time the dog was barking; it would stop.

So the next time the dog barked, the man spoke softly and patted his head, and the dog stopped barking. And that, said Evelyn, is what Jesus teaches us; to be kind to each other.

Miah’s eyes filled with tears. Suddenly she didn’t mind working. In fact, she would not have missed these moments and the opportunity to hear Evelyn’s sermon for the entire world. Evelyn was quiet now, snuggled deep in her blanket. The lights twinkled on lawns and eaves and through the windows. All was still…it was a holy night. Miah wondered if Evelyn was an angel—and indeed she was, for the word angel means "messenger."

Proverbs 15:1 (The Message)
1 A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Xmas and Christmas by C.S. Lewis

This photograph is proof that at long last, not being able to procrastinate any longer, I have begun to write out my Christmas Extenders!
This morning Peter started his sermon with a quote from C.S. Lewis, which I enjoyed so much that I am going to share it here. It seems especially fitting.
I hope that anyone who was in our church this morning, won't mind enjoying it twice!
Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus.” by C S Lewis

“And beyond this there lies in the ocean, turned towards the west and north, the island of Niatirb which Hecataeus indeed declares to be the same size and shape as Sicily, but it is larger, though in calling it triangular a man would not miss the mark. It is densely inhabited by men who wear clothes not very different from the other barbarians who occupy the north western parts of Europe though they do not agree with them in language. These islanders, surpassing all the men of whom we know in patience and endurance, use the following customs.

In the middle of winter when fogs and rains most abound they have a great festival which they call Exmas and for fifty days they prepare for it in the fashion I shall describe. First of all, every citizen is obliged to send to each of his friends and relations a square piece of hard paper stamped with a picture, which in their speech is called an Exmas-card. But the pictures represent birds sitting on branches, or trees with a dark green prickly leaf, or else men in such garments as the Niatirbians believe that their ancestors wore two hundred years ago riding in coaches such as their ancestors used, or houses with snow on their roofs. And the Niatirbians are unwilling to say what these pictures have to do with the festival; guarding (as I suppose) some sacred mystery. And because all men must send these cards the marketplace is filled with the crowd of those buying them, so that there is great labour and weariness.

But having bought as many as they suppose to be sufficient, they return to their houses and find there the like cards which others have sent to them. And when they find cards from any to whom they also have sent cards, they throw them away and give thanks to the gods that this labour at least is over for another year. But when they find cards from any to whom they have not sent, then they beat their breasts and wail and utter curses against the sender; and, having sufficiently lamented their misfortune, they put on their boots again and go out into the fog and rain and buy a card for him also. And let this account suffice about Exmas-cards.

They also send gifts to one another, suffering the same things about the gifts as about the cards, or even worse. For every citizen has to guess the value of the gift which every friend will send to him so that he may send one of equal value, whether he can afford it or not. And they buy as gifts for one another such things as no man ever bought for himself. For the sellers, understanding the custom, put forth all kinds of trumpery, and whatever, being useless and ridiculous, they have been unable to sell throughout the year they now sell as an Exmas gift. And though the Niatirbians profess themselves to lack sufficient necessary things, such as metal, leather, wood and paper, yet an incredible quantity of these things is wasted every year, being made into the gifts.

But during these fifty days the oldest, poorest, and most miserable of the citizens put on false beards and red robes and walk about the market-place; being disguised (in my opinion) as Cronos. And the sellers of gifts no less than the purchaser’s become pale and weary, because of the crowds and the fog, so that any man who came into a Niatirbian city at this season would think some great public calamity had fallen on Niatirb. This fifty days of preparation is called in their barbarian speech the Exmas Rush.

But when the day of the festival comes, then most of the citizens, being exhausted with the Rush, lie in bed till noon. But in the evening they eat five times as much supper as on other days and, crowning themselves with crowns of paper, they become intoxicated. And on the day after Exmas they are very grave, being internally disordered by the supper and the drinking and reckoning how much they have spent on gifts and on the wine. For wine is so dear among the Niatirbians that a man must swallow the worth of a talent before he is well intoxicated.

Such, then, are their customs about the Exmas. But the few among the Niatirbians have also a festival, separate and to themselves, called Crissmas, which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep Crissmas, doing the opposite to the majority of the Niatirbians, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast. And in most of the temples they set out images of a fair woman with a new-born Child on her knees and certain animals and shepherds adoring the Child. (The reason of these images is given in a certain sacred story which I know but do not repeat.)

But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, “It is not lawful, O stranger, for us to change the date of Chrissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left.” And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, “It is, O Stranger, a racket“; using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis).

But what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, is not credible. For first, the pictures which are stamped on the Exmas-cards have nothing to do with the sacred story which the priests tell about Crissmas. And secondly, the most part of the Niatirbians, not believing the religion of the few, nevertheless send the gifts and cards and participate in the Rush and drink, wearing paper caps. But it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in. And now, enough about Niatirb. “

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Very Merry Christmas Concert

The world was baptized in beauty as I drove down the wintry Ontario highway on the last Saturday evening before Christmas.

The only remnants of a major winter storm of the day before were mounds of sparkling snow that glistened in the brilliant sunshine of the day, turning our world into the perfect picture postcard. But now the day was coming to a fast close, and, as it seemed to want to go out in a final blaze of glory. The sky in the west looked as though an artist had painted brush strokes of salmon pink across a wash of deep turquoise. To the east, the twilight had fallen and the sky was indigo blue. Ahead of me, to the south, in the deepening gray of evening, the city of Toronto sparkled as thought someone had strung the city in white Christmas lights.

I was on my way to pick up Night Owl for a deliberately disorganized Christmas concert. Some friends and I wanted to celebrate Christmas in music without any pressure or expectations. Some children would be playing the piano and violin, and Night Owl would play Matthew, her viola, as well as the piano.

And so it was that in the dark of the Ontario night, the lights were on in our country church as 17 of us paused in our busyness to celebrate Jesus; to read stories, to make music and sing.

Some of the children became part of the manger scene during the reading of a wonderful story written by Night Owl, entitled,Wake Up, Christmas Tree!

We listened to wonderful music played by children, including Hannah, Joshua and Olivia, who are three of Joyful's children, and their friend Jesse. Night Owl and Christy Medieros played the piano and viola and Susan sang a Christmas carol she wrote for one of her children many years ago.
I read a wonderful story by felixhominum, one of the finalists in the Religion/Philosophy category of the Canadian Blog Awards,So One Other Christmas Eve the Doorknob Fell Off

(You too, can enjoy the stories shared at our concert by clicking the links.)

The Fox children wanted to bless an orphanage in Africa through this concert, and donations were taken. They have given up some of their Christmas presents to bless children who have nothing in material terms. They heard of the orphanage because one of their neighbours spends 6 months of the year there teaching.

It was the merriest Christmas concert ever.

In the words of the wonderful carol, Good King Wenceslas:
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing

Stay Tuned!

Dear Readers,
We were making rather merry last night at a wonderful Christmas concert, but my brain was too tired to write afterwards. Stay tuned, because I want to tell you all about it. The post will appear this morning.
A Christmas hug for all! Belinda

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas in the Global Village

Headlines declare the truce in Israel has come “to an explosive end.” My mind jerks back to the plate I bargained for in the silent auction at the Salvation Army Thrift Shop. I know my $25 will go to a good cause this Christmas. The plate was hand made in Jerusalem, beautiful coloured glass outlining features of this city I have loved and visited. How are those we knew doing in the midst of all the turmoil? I remember how chilly it was in the shepherds’ fields near Bethlehem on Christmas Eve in 1995 when we made our pilgrimage with our children to fulfill their wish on our way to missionary life in Uganda. No donkey bore us there. We took the tourist bus, glad to be safe from the mobs in Nativity Square celebrating a messiah in a keffiya, that leader now dead whose words did not give life.

The radio interview with a family therapist gives wise counsel about family system issues that are likely to crop up at Christmas gatherings. I reflect upon my learning in my counselling training, flashing forward a few years to the time when I will sit with people and help them sort out their deep personal issues that keep them imprisoned in negative patterns. I hope to be someone who will give life to others through my words.

I sit at the car repair garage, wrestling with the latest verdict about my computer controlled newest secondhand car. Several hundred dollars will replace a heat sensor and allow the Check Engine light to go off again. I mutter to the mechanics that I really belong in the middle ages with a horse and buggy.

We send photos to friends in Africa of our family standing in deep snow in our back yard by the Muskoka River. How will they spend Christmas? Much as they did when we lived among them, going to church, maybe having some meat in their usual routine meal, maybe not. Sharing a few cards among friends, but no tree, no old family dishes, lace tablecloths, special turkey on a platter such as we will share this year, with friends and family. Their candles are more likely to be needed for light than for the decorative effect I will create.

I listen enthralled in a pew in an Ontario village, feasting on selections from The Messiah by the choir at my nephew’s college. The maestro celebrates the timelessness of the words and music, for him, for us all, citing the thousands upon thousands of times he has conducted these songs in his relatively young life. Mural paintings depicting the Holy Family and the saints cover the high walls like elegant wrapping paper. I muse upon this explosion of life giving words, music and art in a humble snowy village in the depth of Canadian winter.

My daughter writes an essay on the much ignored world issue of the death every day of preventable diseases of more than 26,000 children. We speculate together on the world responses and causes – indifference? corruption? ignorance? confusion? How do I respond? How can I sort it out in my own heart? Where and how can I give life in the face of such odds? How do I put it together this Christmas?

Life giving words come through the car CD player as I navigate the latest snowfall.

I’ve looked for love in so many places
Trying to find out where I belong
Wandering through this barren land of longing
Looking for the place called home, a place called home.

You said “Come to Me all you who are so weary
And you will find true rest for your souls”
Lord, let these words of life speak into my heart
Anywhere I am I can be home.

You are my home, You’re my true home
I am safe inside the shelter of Your love;
You are my home, You’re my true home,
I am free to be child once again.

Oh, I ‘m free in You.

You are my one true destination
The place I eternally belong.
You made me from the earth and then You breathed into me life
Redeemed from my sin and brought me home.
My heart is restless, till it rests in You
My heart is restless, till it rests in You.
Until I dwell in You
Until I find my home in You.

Brian Doerksen “You are My Home”

Friday, December 19, 2008

Today I Am...

Today I am...

Happy and Honoured have received a card from some of the people with disabilities supported by the agency I work for, thanking me for the big party on Monday night. The reason I treasure this card is that they read our hearts and knew how much we wanted them to have the BEST time. There were so many hugs and thank you's as they left for home. The truth is that we had to turn staff away who wanted to come even though they weren't working. That was because we already had 100 people coming. It truly is the BEST party!

...a special friendship. Thursday was Susan's birthday. We have laughed and cried our way through to the solid gold of a true friendship that will last for eternity. I am grateful for her heart of pure goodness.

Remembering in Prayer
...Ang and Frank, who went to Sick Kid's Hospital with their son Nicky on Monday night after the big party. Frank and Nicky are still there, while Ang came back to be with their other children. It sounds as if the doctors may have found a medication to control the seizures that strike little Nicky every night, as soon as he begins to drift off to sleep. Please pray with us.

...for the Christmas cards that are arriving in twos and threes, every day now. I look at the stamps, from England, Holland and Canada, and try to guess who sent them. Opening them brings memories of people dear to my heart, and also guilt if they should mention how much they enjoyed last year's Christmas story. This year I haven't written one and haven't even written cards yet. Still, Iam grateful for those I receive, and, although they will be late, I still have hopes of sending my own.

Wondering the God who made this incredibly beautiful world and universe and yet who makes himself known to us in such intimate relationship. How I love him above all else, and worship him, with a happy, celebrating, grateful, heart of wonder.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Strange Sensitivities

This morning I was at a regular monthly committee meeting with colleagues. At the end of the meeting we enjoyed a Christmas lunch of crusty rolls with cold cuts and a Bouche de Noel and squares for dessert. Oh, and eggnog and hot apple cider of course, kindly provided by the committee Chair!

Then came the moment that is also part of a truly Canadian Christmas in the work world; the moment of saying goodbye to people you won't see until after Christmas in a uniquely Canadian way. And no, it isn't, "Goodbye eh?"

It has become politically incorrect to mention the true name of the celebration. Instead, we all fall over our words in an effort to be inoffensive to anyone who might be offended at the word Christmas, and replace the words that want to pop out of our mouths quite naturally, "Merry Christmas;" with a suitably bland farewell, such as, "Happy holidays."

This is so unnatural, that when someone forgot themselves and shouted out, "Merry Christmas," to us on her way out of the door this morning, it was a great relief to shout the forbidden words back to her.

I was in Birmingham, England, in December a couple of years ago. There is a large multicultural population there, and in a similar effort not to offend anyone, a bureaucratic decision had been made to rename Christmas, a "Winter Festival." There was such a public outcry that the decision was reversed. The Muslim population joined in support of the change back, saying that they were not offended by Christmas at all. Imagine going to live in Israel and being offended at the mention of Hanukkah or Rosh Hashanah!

I wonder how and when this happened, this blending and "blanding" of the culture. I used to think that Canada prided itself on having a colourful cultural mosaic; but now it seem that we are so very frightened of offending; especially when it comes to anything Christian. The bright shades of difference are being blurred and dulled.

And now those schools that tell the children Christmas story are on the subversive edge. I don't even know if they are supposed to do this.

I wonder what will happen when those who think of these things realize that, "Happy holidays," actually means, "Happy holy days."

"Happy Holy Days," and, if you are brave enough, Merry Christmas!

2 Corinthians 3:17 (New International Version)
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Very Messy Christmas :)

Blessed it the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.
Hamilton Wright Mabie

On Sunday it was my turn teach Sunday School and I don't know what I was thinking. Instead of just taking Christmas cookies for the snack, as the lesson plan suggested, I baked some sugar cookies cut in the shape of stars and Christmas trees and took along white icing for the children to spread on them, and sprinkles of green, red, and multicoloured sugar with which to decorate.

No sane person would have done this. Frances, who was my helper, said that she remembered cake decorations in England called Hundreds of Thousands; little silver balls that would be shaken over tea cakes or iced sponge sandwiches. Well I had no little silver balls but hundreds of thousands of tiny pieces of sugar bounced and rolled all over the floor.

The children seemed to take special delight in building their decorations upwards on their cookies and of course, the moment the cookie was moved, or worse, lifted, the sprinkles fell off. This was a good reason for the children to eat them. It was total chaos.

If I use that word a lot, it's because a lot of my life ends up that way, but it is not an unhappy chaos and I always have friends by my side that have been sucked into the vortex with me.

A.J. looked up at me from his richly decorated cookie, with sparkling dark brown eyes and said, "This is the best class ever. I've never done this before," and this is the kind of moment that encourages my madness.

Afterwards, Frances wrestled the church vacuum into submission, and as I mopped the tables with damp dishclothes, I said, "Well, everyone deserves a little 'Christmas.'"

She said, "You know, none of us do. None of us deserve Christmas. That's the beauty of it."

No, we don't and yes, that is the beauty...

As I left the class room, I passed another little boy, Alex, talking to his grandfather about his cookies. "No," I heard him say, "I'm NOT going to eat them. I'm going to hang them on the tree."

What could I do but fish in my bag for two more undecorated cookies for him to actually eat, while I smiled at the thought of a tree, bending under the weight of his heavily decorated and carefully guarded cookies--oh, and the sprinkles that would surround it.

John 13:34 (New International Version)
34"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Light and Shadows

Romans 13:8 (New International Version)
Love, for the Day is Near
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law

We just finished one of the best of the best parties, my dear team and I. Here are Greg and Susan; Frank and Lesley-Ann, and me between Lesley-Ann and Susan. These photos were taken before the room filled with 100 people with disabilities and their staff. It was divine disorder from that point on. Joy upon joy like nothing else I've experienced.

I've been thinking though, how for so many people, the Christmas season adds to pressures that lie just below the surface. Christmas presses down like invisible fingers around a boil that is already painful, making it feel as if it will burst.

Christmas is like a Rembrandt painting. Rembrandt applied paint with his palate knife in a technique that was then revolutionary and unconventional, creating the impression of sharply contrasting light and shadow.

Intense joy surrounds this season, but the lonely feel lonelier and those in any kind of trouble find it harder.

Someone recently told me about a woman in his church who came to him when he was a deacon and said, "When we were struggling financially, this church helped us at Christmas; now that we are doing well, we would like to help someone," and they asked for a family to help. They were given details of a need, but when they arrived with their donation of help, it was with a car overflowing with gifts and food; more than he had ever seen, and he said that they have done it every year since, just like the movie, Pay it Forward.

So, lets look around and see the hurting behind the bright greetings. Lets be real. Lets be compassionate to those who are spending this Christmas in hospital, or who are lonely. Take time to pray, or visit; to listen; to give lavishly and liberally as that woman did, when it is within your power to do so. Being Jesus to those in the shadows seems more true to Christmas than anything else.

Galatians 6:2 (New International Version)
2 Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Monday, December 15, 2008


This is the story of the "coming to faith" of a dear friend, Dave Hingsburger of Chewing the Fat . Thank you so much Dave, and welcome to Whatever He Says as a guest blogger.

I am a Christmas Christian. By this I do not mean that I come back to faith, yearly, like a salmon spawning. No, though my faith is strengthened by the rituals and the ceremony of the holidays, I am a year round believer. But I came to faith at Christmas. In fact I remember the exact moment that I met Jesus.

A fat and ungainly child, a child of no promise in a home infused with violence, I did not love life, I feared it. Constant, unrelenting fear. Christmas was a time to be endured, gotten through, escaped. A holiday that, to me, resembled a drunken man laughing too loud in a bar, I despised the season. All I knew was that at some moment the stress of the season would break and then part of me would break or bruise. I saw adulthood ahead, I saw it as a land wherein I would make the rules and one of those rules would be no Christmas, no family, and thereby, no pain.

I was home alone, upstairs in my room. I had a room with a peaked ceiling and a window that looked out onto the road in front of the house. I was looking out the window and listening to music on the radio. Hark the Herald came on and I listened to the familiar tune and perhaps even sang along. But between the last Christmas and this one, the words were more than lyrics - they told a story. Suddenly I understood it all, Christmas, had a point. Jesus, his birth, was separate from the casual violence of an angry mother and a neglectful father. There was something behind all this, something much, much deeper.

I stole downstairs and found an old Bible and took it back up to my room. I found something there that I didn't know existed. Love.

Oddly, I was never charmed by the baby Jesus. I didn't have need of an infant Christ. Even though my faith came at Christmas, it came with an Easter understanding. But the spectacles of the faith, Santa and the Bunny, weren't what mattered to me then, or indeed now. It was the daily companionship of a God who loved me. It was the daily walking together. It was the daily chats. My aloneness dissipated and my childhood grew less heavy in my hands. I felt the burden shared, I felt that this man somehow could love me.

It is many years later, and I still find that the friendly Jesus who I knew as a child has remained close. Our relationship has changed, of course, over time. There was a time when he just was with me, got me through, helped me get back up, again and again. He demanded little of me. He wanted only to be a whisper of confidence when blows rained down. Now, I find myself arguing a bit with this friend of mine. He wants things of me now, like tolerance and a thirst for justice. He sometimes wants more of me than I am prepared to give. He sometimes seems to see in me more, much much more, than I know is there.

At church this morning we sang Hark the Herald and when we got to these lines:

Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth

I was taken back to that day in my childhood bedroom listening to these words, for the first time. Tears filled my eyes at the memory of a relationship that began that day. It would be years before anyone ever spoke to me about being 'born again' and I remember being struck at the intensity with which I was being spoken too. Of course faith gives a second birth, of course it did. The idea thrilled me as a boy, the first go round wasn't all that successful and another shot seemed wonderful. Then and now.

So I wish that friendly man who came at Christmas a happy birthday. I'll greet him on Christmas morning like I did that year. With gratitude.

Because each moment we spent together was one I didn't spend alone. Because each time he held me, I knew that love was possible. Because each time he picked me up, I knew I was closer to home.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tantalizing Invitations and Festivity Fatigue

The sun shone through our bedroom curtains on Saturday morning, but I lingered beneath the warm covers as long as I could and longer than I should.

Friday had started early, and ended late. I had been in Kitchener for the day and then Paul and I drove north to Huntsville for a Christmas dinner.

The drive north was magically beautiful. The moon was so close to earth that you could see mountains and its light illuminated the snowy landscape. It was as bright, almost, as day. The boughs of the fir trees were so heavily laden with snow that their tips nearly touched the ground and above them a clear sky sparkled with bright stars. We left the cities of Barrie, Orillia and Gravenhurst far behind us, as apartment blocks gave way to rocky inclines and forests upon which snow drifted down gently.

It was midnight when we got home and much later when I finally crept into bed.

On Saturday morning, the weekend felt a bit overwhelming with much to get done and in spite of all that, I was moving in slow motion with a case of Festivity Fatigue!

I picked up a voicemail message left by our son Peter earlier that day. He sounded happy, and he said, "Hello, Mom; Dad; I just wanted to tell you that the rink in the backyard is ready. The kids are out there skating around. It's about 24 feet by 20 feet--it's great and they love it. I just came inside to make some hot chocolate and we were wondering if you wanted to come over and see it after church tomorrow. The kids would really love to show it to you."

I know how busy Peter is, too, but it sounded as if he had his priorities straight today and as I pictured the scene, I wished that I had the time and energy to go over right that minute and share in the fun..

I was finally ready to go shopping at around 3.00, when I remembered that Molson needed to be let out first. I went downstairs with my warm black coat on, and he, seeing my coat, mistook my intent. Happy eyes, alert and bright, were on me as he bounded for the sliding glass doors, tail up and mouth panting and smiling. How I longed to answer his invitation to go for a walk, but he leaped out into the bright, sunny day and pounced into the snow alone, while I waited for him to come back in.

Once out in the world of stores decked out for Christmas some of my energy returned. I went to Dutch Treats in Bradford and the whole store was buzzing. A young couple were looking amongst the remaining chocolate letters, searching in vain for the all the right letters, but the pickings were slim. On the bulletin board, just inside the front door, was a photo of me with two big cardboard boxes and a heading that said "Belinda buys 105 letters." Next my photo was another of an elderly lady who bought 85; I have a challenger! The store was festive and bright and I listened with pleasure to Cors, one of the owners, speaking Dutch to a customer. Although I learned Dutch only from nursery rhymes sung to me by Mum, and through vacations spent in Holland, hearing the language spoken evokes happy memories. I soaked the atmosphere in as I added items to my basket and wished that I had brought my camera.

Just over two hours later, laden with supplies for a party on Monday, I went through the check out at Costco. The woman at the cash register asked me how the weather was outside. I told her it was a beautiful day, bright and sunny. As I pushed my buggy from the store, to my surprise it was already dark. The day was almost done! Where had it gone and what had I done? A lot of shopping, a little laundry and not a lot more. When I sat down to have my quiet time with God, before going shopping, I fell asleep, and on my Marathon of Biblical Proportions I have temporarily ground to a halt.

Well, two more parties and then I look forward to a more relaxed pace, Here's to rosy cheeked children on an ice rink, and bounding through diamond powder snow with Molson.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Blessings in the bleak midwinter

“In the bleak midwinter. frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone. Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter, long ago.” I look at the words of this old hymn and discover it was written by one of my favourite poets, Christina Rossetti. I guess even in Victorian England she knew what it was to watch the snow endlessly falling, and feel overwhelmed by winter.

So many people are feeling like that these days. Despite the wonderful winter sun, reflecting off the mountains of snow on our deck, the cozy heat inside, cheery plans for Christmas, gratitude for so much that I have, I can be overcome by winter’s intensity. Yes, I am learning to embrace it, and love it, and to do more outdoor activities, after many years of winter in milder climes. I remind myself, in this eighth winter in Muskoka, that every Christmas in Uganda I felt strange, that I often shrunk from the intensity of the heat there, and longed for the changing seasons, the brilliance of fall, the sweetness of spring. When I lived in Scotland, or in British Columbia, I adjusted to the rain and dark days, and missed the brightness of winter snow in Ontario. So now I have lots and lots of it, and I am learning to love it.

Nevertheless, I think of what winter does to so many people, bringing extra hardship, perhaps even death with inadequate heat, or, at worst, by exposure through no place to stay, even on the streets of Toronto. I think of people sleeping on the vents in the sidewalks on Queen St., their sleeping blankets and bags left there for the day. How many people dread winter just because of the depression that will come? My own inner struggles open my heart to such people.

This is one treasure of darkness, of bleakness, to the extent that I know it. I wrote on July 30th of how God had spoken to me about such treasures, years ago when we went through many harsh things in Uganda. I find in today’s reading in Streams in the Desert, that Mrs. Charles E. Cowman also took those words from Isaiah 45:3 as a rhema word from God to her heart. No surprise, given all the meditations in her precious books. As so often, the excerpts she shares from others speak profoundly to us all, across the years, and the differences in our circumstances, for we are all united in our understanding of suffering.

“In the famous lace shops of Brussels, there are certain rooms devoted to the spinning of the finest and most delicate patterns. These rooms are altogether darkened, save for a light from one very small window, which falls directly upon the pattern. There is only one spinner in the room, and he sits where the narrow stream of light falls upon the threads of his weaving. Thus’, we are told by the guide,’do we secure our choicest products. Lace is always more delicately and beautifully woven when the worker himself is in the dark and only his pattern is in the light.’

May it not be the same with us in our weaving? Sometimes it is very dark. We cannot understand what we are doing. We do not see the web we are weaving. We are not able to discover any beauty, any possible good in our experience. Yet if we are faithful and faint not, we shall some day know that the most exquisite work of all our life was done in those days when it was so dark.

If you are in the deep shadows because of some strange, mysterious providence, do not be afraid. Simply go on in faith and love, never doubting, God is watching, and He will bring good and beauty out of all your pain and tears. “ J.R. Miller.

The shuttles of His purpose move
To carry out His own design;
Seek not too soon to disapprove
His work, nor yet assign
Dark motives, when, with silent tread,
You view some somber fold:
For lo, within each darker thread
There twines a thread of gold.

Spin cheerfully,
Not tearfully,
He knows the way you plod;
Spin carefully,
Spin prayerfully,
But love the thread with God.

(from The Canadian Home Journal)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Taking Time;Taking Stock

Outside the day was darkening. Between the cracks of the blinds on my office window I had glimpsed the glow of a raspberry sunset an hour or so before, but turned back to the electric light of the office to continue a determined attack on the most urgent items on my desk, trying to finish them before leaving.

I wasn't the only one working late. In the next office, one of my team was working hard to complete the day's work. He answered the phone to a call from home, asking if he would be on his way home soon. We hurried each other along then. Some things can wait, but a little boy at home grows up when you turn your back for just one moment. We gathered our briefcases and put on coats to leave, saying that we would see each other in the morning.

Our manager of pastoral services was coming the next day to do a morning's presentation to the whole team on Soul Care for the Caregiver. None of us felt that we had time to break away from all that we had to do, but we knew we couldn't afford not to.

And so we gathered this morning at our home; a quiet retreat, with scented candles burning to welcome people, and fresh pots of coffee. One by one they arrived, until there were 9 of us and Mark, the pastor doing the presentation.

He started the presentation with a Pre-Quiz and thank goodness we didn't have to share all of the answers. They asked:
1) What time did I go to bed last night?

2) How much sleep do I normally get?

3) What was the last meal I ate?

4) Who were the last 3 people I lost my temper with?
(Susan, who was there, looked over and announced that it was me she last got mad at, in August, but she didn't think she'd lost her temper with me since. Phew.)

5) On a scale of 1-10 how busy am I?

6) Who would I really like to talk to that I haven't talked to in a while?

7) What is my prized possession?

8) Who is my best friend?

9 Whe was the last time I prayed?

1o) What did I pray for?

11) If I didn't have this seminar today but had free time instead what would I do?

We only had to share our answers to questions 6 and 11. The answers were interesting.

For question 6, some said a brother or sister, or someone in heaven. My answer was someone I just got a Christmas card from; a dear elderly man who lost his wife in April last year, and who I've meant to connect with ever since. I have felt guilty because I haven't and when I got his card it felt as if the door swung open again.

The funniest answer came from someone who said that she would want to call her friend, because, she said, "Her life is worse than mine." :)

Our answers to number 11 varied as much as we do too. Some said they would go shopping, or clean, or visit friends. I said that I would write Christmas cards!

What I want to remember from the day is: To rest before work; to let him do his work in me before I do my work for him. Mark reminded us that the Jews count the beginning of a day at the sundown of the day before, so rest comes before work, not after it.

Why don't you take a moment in the busyness of your Christmas preparations to think about the questions and maybe share your answers to 6 and 11 with us?

Isaiah 26:12 (New International Version)
12 LORD, you establish peace for us;
all that we have accomplished you have done for us

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Christmas Kettle

James 2:5 (New International Version)
5 Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?

Her eyes brimmed with laughter. An inner radiance spoke of joy somewhere deep within this daughter of Susan's.

Emily has her own special place in this heart. I love her, and have been witness to the miracle in her of a heart warmed by the gentle hands of Jesus.

She sang on Saturday with the Salvation Army Songsters, in the concert we were at, and afterwards she told me that she had been, "kettling." At first I thought she said, "Cuddling," and wondered what was coming next, but then I realized that "kettling" is a verb in Salvation Army lingo, referring to the transparent globes in which donations are collected now, but which used to be actual kettles.

So I listened as she went on to tell me a"kettling story."

She had been at Yorkdale Shopping Mall; a glitzy mall of vast proportions, packed to the gills with Christmas shoppers, when a man stopped in front of her and looked at her a little strangely. "Are you collecting money?" he asked, then he pulled out a change purse. From it he took 85 cents, all that was in it, put it in the kettle, patted the blond curls on the top of Emily's head and said, "Merry Christmas."

It was then that she realized that he may have a disability of some sort. His heart had no disability though, for he gave all that he had, without hesitation. In all the mall there was not a more generous giver, nor a soul more pleasing to God.

James 2:14-17 (New International Version)
Faith and Deeds 14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Square Meal

I woke up at 5.45 a.m. on Sunday, to the sound of a howling wind and the droning and crunching of a snow plow somewhere out there in the lonely early morning dark. I had gone to bed at 3.00 a.m. after a day and evening of Christmas celebrations. The house was still night-time cold, so I snuggled down deeper within the covers, although I knew that I shouldn't. I needed to be up baking squares for the Christmas Pot-Luck lunch at church.
An hour later, with the house getting warmer, I made a supreme effort and exited the bed. In the bathroom downstairs I brushed my teeth and threw on whatever garments I could lay my hands on, just to be warm. Getting ready for the day would come later, after the baking!

It was still dark and snow swirled around the windows. Outside the temperature was frigid, but inside the Christmas tree in the hallway twinkled with brightly coloured lights and I put on some Christmas music by Canadian singer/songwriter Ali Matthews and cracked open a cookbook. To the strains of her lovely voice, singing, "Looking for Christmas," I looked at a recipe called, Caramel Toffee Squares, that said, "Make this one of the first recipes you try;" so I did.

On Saturday I had bought a random assortment of ingredients based on a glance at the book: Sweetened condensed milk, crushed pineapple, chopped walnuts, chocolate chips, chopped pecans--oh--and graham cracker crumbs. I don't normally make squares, so I was a little out of my comfort zone.

I stirred and melted, drained and patted, and the hours flew by. As I lifted each pyrex glass container out of the oven, I carefully carried them out to our enclosed glass front porch, to "chill." It was definitely "chilly" out there.

I was just cleaning up the debris after my third recipe, when Paul came downstairs, dressed and ready for church, to find me in black rimmed glasses, light green nightie, covered by a flour covered black zippered sweater, over black yoga pants and surrounded by pots, pans and the scattered remnants of a frenzy of baking.
This is where Paul entered a danger zone, for he said, "Why are you doing this? M and M's has squares that are perfectly good; you should have just bought them."

Along with the chocolate, walnuts and flour, I had just poured my heart into those squares, so I said something snippy and very uncharitable, like, "Brenda is taking M & M squares. You can have some of those if you prefer them."

He muttered, "Now you are just being silly."
Don't you sometimes just wish you could rewind a conversation? At the back of my mind I could hear 1 Corinthians 13, The Love Chapter, reminding me that if I made the most delicious squares but had no love, I was just a resounding gong or clanging cymbal (my paraphrase.)

I cleaned the cluttered kitchen and went to get ready for church....

An hour later I brought in the now very chilled squares from the porch, and laid out Christmas napkins on two large, round platters. I started with the Caramel Toffee Squares, which I had made first, as the book suggested, and which therefore had been out in the cold porch the longest. The knife would not penetrate the top layer of chocolate, which had hardened into a frozen shield. I stabbed, sawed, heated the knife in hot water, and finally achieved the sawing up of 3/4 of a 9 x13 pan of Caramel Toffee Squares into oddly shaped chunks. I might have had more success with a chain saw from the garage, but fortunately for my church family, I didn't think of that.

The pineapple squares and "magic" squares were easier to cut, but all of them scattered a lot of crumbs, which of course, since I don't make squares normally, I had to test to see how they tasted.

By the time I had everything packed into the car, and ready to go, I felt very full. Squares are made from the sweetest of sweet ingredients and the thought of the turkey lunch at church was a bit overwhelming.

I called my friend Neena to tell her I was on my way to pick her up from the group home where she lives. She came out, bundled in her fur coat, bearing a silver tin full of brownies that she had baked, more wisely than I, a few days ahead of time.

As we drove together to church (an hour late, Paul having gone on ahead--on time), we laughed at how full I felt and how she had had to keep all of her housemates away from the brownies by telling them, "No, these are for church!" The caloric content in the car was high and so were we--on laughter and Christmas spirit.
Somewhere since Sunday I said, "I'm sorry for my very unsweet retort."
"That's allright, let's forget it," he said, "I was just concerned for you."
"Yes, I know."
All is peaceful, for now, in Belindaland.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Beautiful Brokenness

I went for a walk with my friend Joshua the other day. We meandered through snow covered roads, cold wind on our faces and quiet invading our hearts.
I talked and he was an audience of one as I shared my fragmented thoughts on the brokenness of our lives, and God's place in the midst of it.
I felt tears well at the thought of my struggling son*, a grief so consuming that my body felt heavy and broken inside, then I returned to the present and the sting of the cold whipped the wet away as I blinked back the tide.

Josh was quiet beside me, walking steadily, unencumbered by the weightiness of my thoughts and I became thankful for our time together.

I have been reading a book my husband brought home called "In the Name of Jesus" by Henri Nouwen.
In the introduction he described his move from the intellectual world of Harvard to the community of L'Arche, a home for mentally challenged people, and the change wrought in his heart and mind as he became priest to the broken instead of ministering to academia.
He described his busy life and how he was confronted with the question of whether being older, was bringing him closer to Jesus and he realized that his life was becoming emptier, not more full of Christ.
He then said, "...I woke up one day with the realization that I was living in a very dark place and that the term 'burnout' was a convenient psychological translation for a spiritual death."

So he asked God to direct him very specifically where to go and God answered in the person of Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche communities. God said "Go and live among the poor in spirit, and they will heal you."
He then said "I moved from Harvard to L'Arche, from the best and brightest, wanting to rule the world, to men and women who had few or no words and were considered, at best, marginal to the needs of our society."

I wept at these words, for they are so true.
When Belinda received my application to return to Christian Horizons after many years away raising my children to school age, she cheered and said "Welcome back to the service of the King!"
Sadly, I was reticent to rejoice, being bogged down in my own struggles and lingering in that place of burnout, not feeling that spending time with broken people would replenish me, but further drain what I didn't already have. Yet I needed to work.

But God is so good. He denied my applications to other places of employ and situated me where I wasn't enthusiastic to go...until this weekend. I am beginning to understand, in a new way, His purposes, His unusual ways and the beauty in the brokenness of humanity.
I have begun to savor the sweetness in the smile of someone who doesn't know my name, but comes to grasp my hand and tell me things about themselves. I saw these people at some training last week, and love broke through.
Now I am rejoicing too and know that I am back in the service of the King!

*I have written about the struggle my son Nicky is having with seizures. Of late, they are worse than ever, sometimes all night long. We are working with a neurologist and medications to try and stabilize him. We are trusting the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as we face this giant in our lives. Please rejoice with us as we praise God, in advance, for his healing.

Monday, December 08, 2008


The candle flickers, the second of the advent season. I think of John the Baptist who went about in the wilderness of Judea urging people, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew 3:3 NASV

People in Jerusalem, all Judea, and the district around the Jordon went to John, confessed their sins and were baptized by him in the Jordon River.

John was to tell of the Messiah. John's call for repentance helps us prepare, too. What sin lurks in the wilderness of our hearts? How are we stunted in our growth in Him by sin within us?

What unconfessed sins linger? Careless words, unforgiving heart, a gift we will not give, offense harboured, critical spirit, a judgmental attitude?

Will you repent with me? Will you prepare your heart with me for the presence of God-with-us?

According to Webster's, to repent means to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one's life.

Right now I am in this place of sorrow and regret. I know a contrite heart He will not despise.
The place is difficult. Yet these branches do not bear fruit. They need to be pruned and cast into the fire.

So with the second advent candle lit, I answer the call of John the Baptist. I repent.

We wait expectantly this advent season. So come, come, Emmanuel, God with us.

"And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
Matthew 3: 10-12 NASV

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A Weekend of Celebrations

We are definitely in "celebrate mode" around here! It started on Friday morning early, with preparations for a work Christmas party here at our home for 14. Each year our team looks forward to this lunch. Unfortunately two people had to turn back on the way from Huntsville, as they got caught in a blizzard, but aside from missing them, we all had a wonderful time.
We all contribute something very yummy to the feast and bring board games or a story to share. This year we played Mad Gab and Tri-Bond after lunch--not according to any set of rules, but just in a relaxed and hilarious way. Loud laughter, and deep relaxation was the result.
By evening, as the last vestiges of that party were cleared away, it was time to prepare for our celebration of "Dutch Christmas," as it is known around here; Sinterklaas, the feast of St. Nicholas, which we celebrate by giving chocolate letters (the initial of each person's first name) and a small gift for each child. And the best part of all is baking vast quantities of sugar cookies, rolled out, cut out, and decorated by six grandchildren. That all happened on Saturday afternoon.
In the evening we went out for supper with our friends Susan and Ron and then on to Yorkminster Citadel Salvation Army, to hear the Songsters in our second concert of the season. It was magnificent. Singer Ali Matthews and guitarist Rick Francis were also performing in the concert and they played and sang so beautifuly, Ali performing several songs that she wrote herself. The three beautiful girls in the photo above are three of Ron and Susan's four daughters.
On Sunday morning I shall be baking squares to take to church to contribute to another feast--our church Christmas lunch after the service, so the celebrations go on.
And this is why I don't have a proper blog post today. But I thought that you might like to know what we have been up to! May all of your celebrations be as joyous and relaxed.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The new song in my mouth

Hearing and singing a new song in my heart

“Now relax, and go in peace into each new day and trust me mightily for the future.” These were the closing words I wrote down that God spoke into my heart in a time of deep communion with Him several weeks ago. I have become used to God speaking such words to me, and have recorded them for many years now. God knows that I need to hear from Him in other ways too. He has placed people in my life to give me landmarks in my progress and upward growth. A few days after those words directly from God to me on my own, my spiritual friend quoted these verses to me:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
He turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
Out of the mud and mire;
He set my feet on a rock
And gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
A hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
And put their trust in the Lord.

Psalm 40: 1-3

As she read these words, as she had received them from God, I realized that despite my many years of walking in companionship with the Lord, I had still been in and out of a slimy pit, a muddy emotional uncertainty about His ultimate view of me, His faithfulness and promise of good things. These words reflected the recent shift within me to a place of deep and absolute conviction in His goodness. I was on solid ground. Not only that, as I listened I heard in my head the very new song as God declared He had put it in my mouth.

This is my song of praise to You,
For who You are and all that You do;
From the moment my life began
You have been faithful.

It was a song I had heard somewhere but never sung myself or in our woship team. I was eager to get back home and find out who wrote and sang it and learn it fully so that I could sing this song to the world, so that “many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”

I knew God was saying in this line that all my struggles would be used as a sign, a witness to the world of His faithfulness, when others would see how He had brought me through in a way that only He could do. I remembered the lessons I used to teach to others about the big picture lines in the Old Testament. I learned them myself through a Perspectives course where we would look for the line in various stories, psalms and passages that would show why God had done mighty deeds, such as the slaying of Goliath, “so that all the world would know that there was a God in Israel”.

I realized too that the song He had put in my mouth, flowing out of my heart, was like the recitation of His deeds in the mouths of His people in the Bible. They reminded themselves of His faithfulness to them in the past in order to stir up their faith in Him for the future. In a similar way I could tell His story of my life to draw others to faith and trust in Him.

Even now, He reminds me of words He spoke to me through a stranger at a Renewal conference over 25 years ago: “Let go of the pen with which I (God) am writing the story of your life. When I (God) write the story of your life, what beautiful stories I (God) will write.” Now I thank you, Lord, for this beautiful story that I am writing,(which comes from You), and I thank You for this beautiful song, written and sung by another, but written and singing in my heart forevermore.

Faithful Father

Father, I can’t explain this kind of love
This kind of grace
I know I still break Your heart
And yet You run to welcome me

This is my song of praise to You
For who You are and all that You do
From the moment my life began
You have been faithful.

Father I love the way you hold me close
And say my name
I know when my life is through
My heart will find its home in You

This is my song of praise to You
For who You are and all that You do
From the moment my life began
You have been faithful
You will be faithful
Forever faithful

This is our song of praise to You
For who You are and all that You do
From before the world began
You have been faithful
You have been faithful
You will be faithful
Forever faithful

Words and Music by Brian Doerksen
Mercy/Vineyard Publishing

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Lord Has Spoken

On The Marathon of Biblical Proportions I am lagging far behind in September's readings.

This morning I read Obadiah, a short book of one chapter; one of the minor prophets. A small part of verse 18 stood out on the page. stark and powerful, following a prophetic statement:

Obadiah 1:18 (New International Version)
18...The LORD has spoken.

I am coming towards the end of the books of prophecy, and they have been interesting reading. They were written over a span of hundreds of years before Christ, a turbulent time of kingdoms rising and falling and the people of Israel being taken captive into Babylon. The poor prophets did not have an easy time of it as what they had to say was not the message the people wanted to hear. The truth disturbed and offended people but over and over again, in the notes at the bottom of the pages in my Life Application Bible, it is clear that the prophecies were fulfilled. That is, with the exception of those concerning a time that the prophets said was far into the future; a time that we may be in now, or very close to.

The words, "The Lord has spoken," carry authority and power. What he speaks comes to pass.

We are in the first week of Advent; a season in which we reflect on the birth of a promised Saviour. The number of prophecies fulfilled in his birth, life and death, is staggering. Bethlehem, a virgin mother, a suffering Saviour, all, and much more, were foretold.

A story is unfolding as God said it would. The Lord has spoken.

Matthew 2:3-6 (New International Version)
3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5"In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: 6" 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.