Friday, February 12, 2016

Away, On or Through? Ruth Smith Meyer

“Why do we have so many ways to talk about the ending of life?” a writer asked a while ago. “A person croaked, kicked the bucket, bought the farm, bit the dust, departed, expired, passed away, passed on or passed through—why not say it like it is?  They died!”  The many expressions, she thought, stem from people not willing to face the bald fact that death has taken place.

Death is a subject many are uncomfortable talking about and many would rather not think about this inevitable part of life. Even those who have confronted the idea and dealt with their apprehension may still have some qualms. My first husband when told he was terminal said “I’m not afraid of death; it’s the unknown process of dying that makes me anxious.” 

            Talking about it, though, is one of the best preparations for the time when we are confronted with death, whether it happens suddenly or we are told we or our loved ones are terminal.  More than a year before my first husband’s death, as part of a Marriage Encounter team, we wrote a presentation about our feelings as we think on the death of our spouse.  It was a difficult time of writing, but we trudged ahead until it was written.  That encouraged us to go ahead and make some tentative funeral plans.  We had no idea how soon we would be glad we had done the talking and planning before the reality stared us in the face.

            In the time after his death, I was glad for those whose comfort level was such that they could listen to my grief and weren’t afraid to mention Norman and talk about him.  I was also confronted many times with those who didn’t know how or were afraid of talking about death.  The tension was tangible every time I mentioned my husband’s name, and many times, the subject was abruptly changed.  I became acutely aware of the need of education about death.

            When my second love, Paul and I got married ten years ago, we knew that one of us would probably have to face the loss of a partner the second time. When he was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer just two weeks after our marriage, we thought this may happen much sooner than we had hoped.  However, God gave me incredible peace, assuring me that I was exactly where he wanted me to be.  In spite of the hours and hours spent in waiting rooms and hospitals, those ten years brought joy and blessings far above what we could have anticipated. Even when at the beginning of January this year we were told there was nothing left to fight the cancer and that Paul would now be placed under the care of the Palliative Care Team, that incredible peace and joy remained.  We had ten years!

Having gone through the experience of ushering a second husband into the next life, I’ve been thinking a lot about that woman’s statement. Yes, both Norman and Paul died, and I’m not afraid or shy to say so. Somehow, to say they died, is not enough.  I was right there and sang both of them into eternity although this time I had the help of family around me. “Home!” Norman whispered with joy, in his final moment.  Paul relaxed as we sang “I can only imagine” and other hymns. He breathed his last with a smile on his face.  It did not seem like death so much as stepping through the gossamer curtain dividing this earthly life and eternity. Both of those occasions were not so much death scenes as times replete and abounding with life—life abundant.

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.”  Psalm 116:15



 
Out of the Ordinary, the story of her life is Ruth Smith Meyer's latest book.  You can read more of her journey there.  She would also welcome conversation with you, or is available to speak to groups.  You can visit her at www.ruthsmithmeyer.com



Thursday, February 11, 2016

Da Vinci’s painting of The Lord’s Supper—Carolyn R. Wilker





It seems such a short time ago that we celebrated Christmas, with services, turkey dinners, family gatherings and opening of gifts. What a difference between the joy of the announcement of baby Jesus and the solemnness that surrounds the opening of Lent when we are reminded what mere mortals we are, that and the imposition of ashes in the form of a cross at our Ash Wednesday service last evening.
In this season of Lent, our congregation—without a minister for the time being—is joining with two other area churches, as we have for the last several years, for a Lenten supper followed by a service in the hosting church. The three congregations take turns hosting and providing the supper, and the pastor of the only congregation with a minister is organizing the services.
 The pastor giving the sermon shared a story of Leonardo da Vinci creating the famous painting of the Last Supper, of Jesus with his disciples. Perhaps most disciples were easy enough to paint. Da Vinci could look around and sketch almost anyone in the marketplace, but according to the story, he looked for a model who exemplified Jesus’s character and found a young man with striking appearance who seemed to fit best. He hired the man to sit in his studio and painted him.
As referenced in an online biography, Leonardo took over two years to find the right character to paint as Judas, where he apparently found his models in the marketplace.
I had to make sure I heard it right, and so on returning home, and again this morning, I searched the story on Google. Here’s where it gets interesting. The version being referenced on the Snopes site gave the ‘Judas character’ a name (as we do in fiction). In this version, different from what I read on the Internet last evening, it seems that Da Vinci chose a man who was in prison and that the prisoner was released. How many versions are there of this story? I have to wonder.
 Snopes, a site on the Internet that sets out the truth on false stories, claims that story is false and a Christian allegory (a fictional story with a symbolic message), and that a person writing the story would not have had the historical context in this much detail. Also there are no apparent records of models he would have used
 That response is similar, but not identical, to one on the Truth or Fiction site, that references biographer, Robert Wallace, who said that “there are no accounts of a prisoner being brought from Rome for the sittings.”
It’s an interesting juxtaposition of character and stories. Did the pastor knowingly choose the allegory to make a point? I don’t know that. Yet I think there’s a lesson for us, besides knowing what is truth and what is not. The allegory shows how easily a person can fall away from knowing God—unless he asks for daily help and direction, and acknowledges his sin.
That’s what the Lenten season is all about—knowing our position as sinful beings and believing that God sent his son Jesus to die for all our sins. Not a pretty picture, but then Easter follows with the resurrection.

 www.carolynwilker.ca

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Something from Nothing

God made humans in His own image. This is one of the great truths in Scripture, and many have debated what it means.

As writers, we sometimes joke about playing God in the stories we create. We have the ultimate power over what happens to these characters we've created. We can cause great suffering, even death, or we can bestow upon them blissful joy. We hold the power, and they have none.

Although… anyone who's written fiction for a while knows the characters seem to have wills of their own, right? They often rebel and take the tale in a different direction from what the writer expected. It's like they've become real people, no longer two-dimensional cutouts. They say and do — or refuse to say or do — things that give the story a life of its own. Without this dimension, readers are unlikely to care about the story one way or the other.

It occurs to me that I am most like God when I write. In Genesis 1:1, He took an expanse that was formless and void, and turned it into something real, something tangible. Something with colors and textures and sounds and smells and flavours. Something He could share with others.

When I sit and stare at an empty Scrivener page, I can sympathize with that whole formless-and-void thing. And yet, typing the words Chapter One is like saying, "Let there be light!" As I continue to add words, I am setting the stage and introducing the characters who will act out my imagined story.

I am not God, nor am I a god, but I am created in the image of God. He has given me — and you, fellow writers — this unique ability to create something from nothing. Before our fingers hit the keyboard, nothing exists beyond mere wisps in our imagination. Yet, when we are done, we have fulfilled an act of creation that can be shared with others.

Something from nothing.

 Isn't that an awesome way to be made in God's image?

Valerie Comer's life on a small farm in western Canada provides the seed for stories of contemporary inspirational romance. Like many of her characters, Valerie and her family grow much of their own food and are active in the local food movement as well as their church. She only hopes her creations enjoy their happily ever afters as much as she does hers, shared with her husband, adult kids, and adorable granddaughters.

Valerie writes where food and faith meet fiction in her Farm Fresh Romance series and Riverbend romance novellas. Visit her at ValerieComer.com.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Prayer Bench by Rose McCormick Brandon


Boardwalk along St. Mary's River at Sault Ste. Marie
I worked in a large office building steps away from a boardwalk that follows the curve of the St. Mary’s River along the Canada-U.S. border. For longer than I should confess, I spent my lunch hours in the mall across the street, running errands and browsing, until one day I looked out the mall’s entrance at rapids glistening in June’s sun and thought, “Shame on you!” The next day I joined walkers, joggers, in-line skaters and nature lovers who spend their lunch breaks by the water.
            Twenty minutes into my first trek on the boardwalk, I noticed a bench perched on a steep bank on the river’s shore, half-hidden in a grove of pine trees. The bench caught my attention for its view of the river but when I sat on it, its solitude enveloped me in arms scented with pine. A not unpleasant fish odor hung over the water. Below, ducklings floated on waves behind their mamas.  I sensed God saying, “This is a place where you and I can get re-acquainted.” 
When I was a stay-at-home mom, I set aside the afternoon hour between one and two for prayer. Television and phone silenced, children either at school or napping, I knelt or sat on the living room sofa for my special alone time with God. This private prayer time reduced my worries because I daily transferred them to Him. Confidence to teach a ladies Bible study in my home, witness to my neighbors and accept speaking invitations came from that special hour. Worries and frustrations shrank when I poured them out in prayer to the Father. I found that prayer increased my creativity, my zest for living and even healed my heart of past hurts. 
            Relinquishing this prayer hour was the most difficult aspect of re-joining the work-force. At my busy desk, I often felt lonely for God and wished everyone would take the day off and leave me alone. It’s not that I didn’t pray before feeding my three children and getting them off to school. It’s just that my rushed mornings weren’t conducive to prayer and my sleepy brain often wandered to my daily to-do list.
            The bench gave me a place to be with God and that was an important element to finding my way back to prayer. I heard a Chinese pastor of an underground church tell how, while imprisoned in a crowded, noisy cell, he asked God to provide a place for him to be alone to pray and worship. Not long after sending his impossible request up to heaven, guards assigned him to lagoon-skimming – shoveling off the top layer of the prison’s sewage reservoir. The stench kept everyone away, including the guards. Alone for hours, he prayed and praised loudly.
            In comparison to a prison lagoon, my riverside sanctuary sits in a corner of heaven. At lunch times, I quickly changed my shoes, nearly running from my busy desk to the solitary bench, hoping all the way that no one reaches it before me. As I neared it, I found myself already talking to God – asking for healing for a friend, a teaching position for my daughter, increased creativity for myself, an opportunity to tell a co-worker about Jesus. Some needs brought tears to my sun-glassed eyes. My bench welcomed me. “Sit. Share your anxious thoughts with Jesus," it seemed to say.
            Do you need an alone place for you and God? Ask Him to provide one. Perhaps it won’t be as sense-satisfying as my pine-surrounded bench but it will definitely be better than our Chinese brother’s sewer. Whatever the location, your private place will become precious for what it symbolizes – a place where friendship with God flourishes.
* * *
Rose McCormick Brandon is the author of four books, including, Promises of Home - Stories of Canada's British Home Children. Visit her blogs, Listening to my Hair Grow and Promises of Home. Her books are available here.http://writingfromtheheart.webs.com

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Eggnog – It’s Over . . . for Now by Peter A. Black

You – a loving and caring, thoughtful individual – may feel bombarded, if not overwhelmed, by the multitudinous matters of great import that day after day mount an assault on your consciousness, as wave after wave of distressing, heartrending news reaches you through every kind of media.

These impact your mind, engage your sensibilities and stir your emotions.
News of tragedy, disrupted lives, privation and loss that people suffer, may go right over some folks’ heads – especially if occurring on the other side of the country or the world. But not over yours; you’re sensitive. You wince, torn inside, because you’re already committed to supporting numerous causes, and are unable to accommodate yet another.

Who can fault you for lapsing into a few wistful moments of retreat to squeeze comfort from memories of good times and pleasant experiences past? – And from favourite comfort food? Although the year is young, its infancy is about over, yet there’s time enough for the resumption of diet and exercise routines or whatever you may have resolved on January 1st. (Disclaimer: Don’t  take that as actual advice.) Point: even caring folks need a break from clamouring calamity.
 
Before I commenced framing these musings I went to the fridge and extracted a carton of eggnog, a vestige of the Christmas, New Year and Festive Season. I admit it. I’d spun this supply out as long as I could. It was still fresh, coddled in chilly recess at the back of the fridge.
Please don’t grimace if you can’t stomach that enchanting elixir of Christmas cheer, and I implore you not to judge me – at least not too harshly – for my sentimental eccentricity.

And so, I prepared a bold half-decaf coffee containing a generous dash of eggnog and milk. I ‘nuked’ it to bring the temperature back up to steaming hot and perched it nearby the computer, for sipping on the job, and then began these ramblings. Aahh, the festive season lives! But I know it’s really over once the stored up eggnog runs out.


What particularly signals a season of the year or in your life truly over? You no longer cling to it; you know it’s dead and gone. Each season in nature begins and ends, although there can be overlap and fudging of the signs, such as when wintry weather doesn’t come till well after winter’s official commencement, or we get a premature blast in an early snow dump.
A woman holds on to her wedding dress for years, picturing her daughter wearing it on her wedding day. Tragically the girl dies young. The woman’s husband forsakes her for another’s embrace, yet she occasionally plucks that cherished dress from the closet and holds it to her cheek. Fresh tears fall, spotting the silken white memory. Oh God, help him remember his vows; bring him home to me, she sobs. But no, he divorces her.
It’s over. The dress can now go. Although wounded she has no lack of love in her heart, yet this is the first day of the rest of her life. It’s time to move on – but only thoughtfully and prayerfully. Time to heal. And so, she presses on, with gratitude for the good that was, for the good that is, and for the grace that will lead her on to discover the good that God has in store.
The spirit of Christmas lives on in grateful, loving hearts. The season’s festive trappings are stored away and its comfort food and drink are gone for now. Nevertheless, Jesus our Saviour, our Emmanuel – the God who is with us – comforts us along life’s pathway. 
~~+~~ 
Photo Credits: Eggnog Cup: Polyvore.com
Wedding dress: A. Black; Wooded Trail: P. A. Black

Peter writes a weekly inspirational column and enjoys singing inspirational music and playing piano, organ and accordion, and encourages the upward focus. His latest book –  "Raise Your Gaze ... Mindful Musings of a Grateful Heart" reflects this in a variety of brief articles and stories:
Author:
"Parables from the Pond" – a children's/ family book (Word Alive Press)
"Raise Your Gaze . . . Mindful Musings of  Grateful Heart (Angel Hope Publishing)

Blog Raise Your Gaze
Email:      
 



Monday, February 01, 2016

My Job is to Love - Eleanor Shepherd


                  

              Many years ago, when I first began to write for publication, I thought that I would write a book called  My Job is to Love.  I never did write that book.  I ended up writing many different articles and books, including my award winner More Questions than Answers, Sharing Faith by Listening.  However, recently I was again reminded of my personal life goal.  My job is to love.                   
             What do I mean by that?  In my online dictionary, a job is: ‘‘an activity such as a trade or profession that somebody does regularly for pay...’’  Is loving my trade or profession?  I think that as a pastor love must certainly be entwined in all that I do.  If I am to serve my congregation well, I realize I must first of all love them.  It is not too difficult for me to love my congregation.  After all they usually support the things I do.  They show up at church and listen to me when I speak about God.  They involve themselves with me in serving the community.  They encourage me verbally and give their tithes and offerings for the work of the church.  What is not to love about all that? 
                  To love the congregation is one thing.  To love the individuals who make up that congregation is another thing.  Each person is unique and has particular strengths and weaknesses.  That is the challenge.  I can choose to look at either their strengths or their weaknesses. Loving forces me to consider the totality of the person.  Looking only at their strengths, I can feel quite inferior and it is difficult to love those who you feel are better than you, unless you realize that you can benefit from their strengths.  As part of the same body they can do things I cannot do and we will both be better because of their contribution.  Correspondingly, if I look only at their weaknesses, I risk feeling superior and with that attitude it is difficult to show genuine love. 
Maybe that is why to love is a job.  It means I must work to keep a proper balance in my relationships with the individuals who make up my congregation.  I need to value both their strengths and their weaknesses, because we compensate for one another and together we can best do the things that will show others we love.  Jesus told us, ‘‘By this people will know that you belong to me, by the love you have for one another.’’
                  Yes, as a pastor my job is to love, and the pay that I receive is not just the salary that I receive for doing what I do, it is also a sense of accomplishing the purposes for which I was designed.  

                  My dictionary has another definition for a job.  It describes a job as a task, something that remains to be done or dealt with.  This definition reminds me that my job of loving is never finished.  Not only is my job to love my congregation.  My job is also to love those who are not a part of my congregation but who live in the community outside the doors of our church.  They are those whom we can serve with love.  Our congregation is trying to find ways that we can be the messengers of God’s love to our community.  We are doing it through helping new immigrants adjust to living in our country.  We are finding ways to meet material needs.  We are offering programs that invite them to join us in singing or knitting or Bible study to find friendship and acceptance. 

              My job to love does not end there.  It also applies to all of my relationships.My job is to love my friends and my family.  That does not mean just sending them fancy Valentines or chocolates.  To genuinely love them, means to desire their best and that might be costly and will sometimes be a tough job.  Yet the final reward can be deep satisfaction of a job well done and love reciprocated.

Word Guild Award
2011
Word Guild Award
2009

Friday, January 29, 2016

Encourage one another/MANN

Recently, I’ve been personally challenged to accept grace and offer it unconditionally to others. It can be rather illusive at times, until we share it, exercise it and verbalize it. And then it’s like the flood gates have opened and the cleansing waters of encouragement and empowerment flows.


Mercy withholds what we deserve and grace blesses what we don’t deserve. Or look at it this way, Mercy is something you don't get when you should and grace is what you do get when you shouldn't. I used to see this repeatedly when I chaplain in the prison system. Often God was ready to step up to the plate while people stood contemplating. It was like seeing Jesus sitting at the well waiting for the woman of Samaria to come for water. Time after time, God was at work in another’s heart before the person or others were ready to admit it. 

It always helps to encourage one another to extend grace when its importance hasn’t been grasped. Often, it takes a release of a grudge or an experience of forgiveness to have the courage to offer grace to someone who doesn’t understand.

When one holds a deep resentment, forgiving grace is often not identified. And when another has wronged us, it’s difficult to recognize God has already preceded anything we could possibly do. And yet we are still called to echo that grace, give it voice, offer a healing presence.

Forgiveness is not easy for some people – pain has been too deep – memory is too alive. And yet, if they decide to carry the grudge, they risk continued connection to the offender giving him or her personal power. Slowly this diminishes the light of love within.

A while back, our church book club studied ‘Made for Goodness: and why this makes all the difference’ (Desmond and Mpho Tutu) “We are made for God, who is the giver of life. We are made by God, who holds us in life” (p.13) are statements that remind us of our and other’s creation, causing us to think twice about undoing any of God’s work. My elderly Aunt Emily was known to confront anyone who spoke against people with these words, “Now Johnny, they are all God’s children.”


Therefore (my friends and all who read this) encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Blessings,
Donna

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Joy of Letting it Go (and Getting it Right) by Glynis M. Belec

If you do your best, you will get it right every time.
(Photo by Amanda Belec Newton)
     The other day I caught the tail end of a program on CBC radio. Even though there wasn’t much left of the show, I think I caught the best part. From what I could gather, the story being presented was giving Kudos to a young musician who loved his calling and pursued it with great passion. He not only worked as a musician during the day, but his spare time was spent helping youngsters hone their skills and foster a love for music.

My favourite part of the program was at the end when one of his young charges – she sounded like she was about 9 or ten years old – said this:  “If you do your best you will get it right every time.”
I thought her a wise little Miss for sharing those words. I even jotted them down for reflection.
And reflect I did.

It started me wondering if I have an obsession for ‘rightness’. I have to be my own worst critic. (I think that’s why I find marketing such a chore and downright exhausting some days.) I never think I am ready and I don’t like settling for mediocre. Sometimes I think that my story is never good enough. My house is never clean enough. My presentation never good enough. I do it to myself, though. Maybe self-criticism is a good thing. Maybe it helps me hone my skills and my craft.
Sometimes I just don’t know what to do to make what I am working on better, though. I wouldn’t call myself a perfectionist – well maybe a little – but I wonder if maybe, just maybe I need to realize that I might have already arrived at my best.
Then there are those times when I let it go. I think those are the times when I easily smile and find the most joy and like that little Miss on CBC – actually feel like I have ‘done it right’.

As I ponder this, I keep thinking about the scripture in Romans 12:2 where it says, Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Notice this scripture verse does not say that I should be transformed by the removal of my mind. I need to keep my mind on Jesus and be renewed because of Him.  It’s all about renewal because, now that I think of it, when I became a child of God, my motivation is all about being right according to His will rather than what the world tells me is best.  I find when I pray and find joy in my work, I feel more renewed, refreshed and more keen to continue.  There’s the key!

So I suppose the best thing to do, then, is to pour my heart and soul into the task at hand – whether I am writing, serving, speaking, creating, planning. If I do all that to the best of my ability using my God-given gifts and take the time to enjoy the journey, then I am doing it unto the Lord and that is as right as I can ever hope to be.


Okay, little CBC Miss. I will take your advice and try my very best.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  Colossians 3:17. 
Ha! There’s the key – giving thanks for everything that I do and I will be right every time! By George I think I’ve got it! 
                             
                            By George

                                                  I think I’ve got it!


Glynis lives, loves, laughs and does an awful lot of reading, writing, publishing and praying in her home office. Her latest children's book - Hopeful Homer offers hope and encouragement to anyone who might find herself in 'the pit'. 


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Snow Ball Effect - Tracy Krauss

The theme for this month was 'new beginnings', a very apt topic for the month of January when so many of us like to set goals. I've noticed that many of my writing goals sound quite similar each year which leads me to wonder: Perhaps beginning something multiple times really isn't 'beginning' at all...

For many years, my reoccurring lament was, "Why did God give me this desire to write if nobody is ever going to read it?" My only writing goal in those early days was to just finish something. Sixteen years after starting my first novel, I managed to complete it. Finally! Goal number one crossed off my list!

Three or four years later I had four finished manuscripts. By that time, my new goal was, "Get published." This was before the self-publishing revolution. (In retrospect I am very thankful for that, since none of these books were actually worthy of publication at the time.) I had less control over this goal than the first one. Reality was a tough taskmaster and I went through many more years of submission and rejection - almost to the point of despair - until, 'Eureka!' I signed my first book contract in 2008. The next logical goal was to be able to quit my day job and write full time. I'd done the hard part, so this next step should be easy. Right?

Once again, reality slapped me upside the head and woke me from my fantasy. My first book did not become an overnight success, and I did not make large sums of money or gain an instant following of readers. Instead, I was painstakingly introduced to the concept of building a platform, step by slow step. Marketing, social media, and other para-writing activities now demanded my attention, and with that my list of goals for the year became long and complex. Somehow, 'Write full time,' now depended on social media stats, learning new marketing strategies and the like. What ever happened to pure, unadulterated writing for pleasure?

Not that I'm complaining. I have enjoyed a small measure of 'success', if one can call it that. Since my first book came out in 2009, I've been blessed to have more than 20 books and plays published - almost 40 if one counts the novella sized serials that came out each month before they were compiled into full length collections. I've also written multiple magazine articles and anthology contributions and I have maintained my personal blog and consistently contributed to several other blogs like this one. The snow ball effect is certainly evident as my repertoire expands along with the demands on my time.

However, despite all this activity and an armload of published material, I am really no closer to meeting that ultimate goal of becoming a full time writer. Writing for profit turned out to be harder than I had anticipated. The competition is fierce and the market is flooded. It's why I hesitated this year when it came time to do my customary 'goal setting' session. Sure, I came up with a long to-do list of things I want to accomplish this year. More books, more marketing, more busyness... But am I really getting any closer to my real goal?

I can't answer that question. All I know is, I've come too far to stop now. I am a lot older and a bit wiser than when I started, but I'm still pursuing that dream. Just like a small snowball that can turn into a large one, I'm hoping that momentum is on my side. Only time will tell.



Tracy Krauss writes from her home in Tumbler Ridge, BC, where she also teaches secondary school Drama, Art and English. Visit her website for a full list of her novels, stage plays, and other books. http://tracykrauss.com 


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