Monday, February 17, 2020
A few years ago, a man offered me a bunch of freshly picked yellow flowers, dirt still clinging to the roots of the long stalks. He was shy but his eyes held anticipation.
"They're beautiful. Thank you. What are they?" I accepted the stems and touched the petals of the yellow flowers with the dark middle, noting how they turned down instead of up.
"They're Brown-Eyed Susans, and they grow on my land." The man smiled as he gazed into my doe eyes, huge and luminous, and as dark as the middle of the flowers that carried both its description and my name. My very own personalised flowers.
Today, that man is personalised too. He’s my husband.
A few days ago it was Valentine’s. The card from my husband read, “This year I decided to get you the moon, stars, and Venus.” (Can you guess what that was?)
Since moving to the acreage three years ago, I’ve become fascinated with the sky. The absence of artificial light (save for the vehicles on the highway that runs 135 metres south of our home), makes our place a star gazer’s paradise. The quietude and vastness of the open prairie sky propels one to fall on their faces in awe (but the snow forbids that kind of reverence).
The wonder of our Creator beckons from every angle. Planets. Constellations. Shooting stars. Meteors and showers. Clusters. Satellites. Moon.
We’ve seen the sky shows. We’re learning new names and identification every night.
God of wonders. God of the galaxy. God who called everything into being.
Holy, holy God.
He’s the God of love. He set love in motion in Eden. A man and a woman in expansive nature abundant with flowers, trees, water, birds and everything breathtaking. So too I’m carefree on expanses, in nature, with a man who picks me flowers, a man born in a village called Eden.
But Eden was only the beginning of love. For out of it would come the need for a baby to be born, for that baby to grow to a man, for that man to die for the sins of Eden. This kind of love, this kind of grace, is not of flesh. This kind of love is the long-suffering heart of the Originator of Love. For God so loved that He gave Jesus to redeem a man and woman in Eden. And anyone who would call on Him.
When I look at the moon and stars and Venus, the love rolls into one for the man and God and the shiny points of the galaxy. Then it is Valentine’s Day all over again. All year round.
Friday, February 14, 2020
It's Valentine's Day! Love, sweet love is in the air.
This year I found the perfect card with the perfect message for my bride. And here it is:
The message inside reads as follows:
reality as a couple. The wrinkled pups with their sagging jowls are a reflection of our soon-coming reality. The jowls and wrinkles are a current work in progress. After 42 years of marriage we're not young pups anymore.
This year I found the perfect card with the perfect message for my bride. And here it is:
The message inside reads as follows:
Actually, you'll be the cute one.
I'll just be the lucky one.
Happy Valentine's Day
My wife was thrilled with this card. It speaks to our current situation on so many levels.
What first attracted me to the card was the picture of the dogs. This week dogs have been on my mind. Karen spent a good deal of time watching the 2020 Westminster Dog Show. She usually watches very little television. She's more of a book reader—a voracious book reader. But the dog show had her glued to the tube. All those purebred pooches strutting their stuff had her mesmerized.
Occasionally, I would drop in on her viewing and add a casual comment. I was somewhat surprised by her unabashed expressions of affection for the dogs. So, when I saw the dog card on the rack among all those other heart festooned creations, I was instantly attracted.
The young pups pictured on the card along with the accompanying message speak to our present
|Young pups no longer|
As for the message on the inside of the card, there's plenty of truth there too. I am the lucky one. I'm lucky because I married a woman who knows how to love. By that I mean she knows how to put others first.
I admit I struggle with putting others first. Romans 12:10 says, "Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves." It's in the "above yourselves" portion of that passage where I run into trouble. I confess I have a streak of selfishness in me that runs deep.
I am lucky to have a wife who over and over again has sacrificed to put me and her family above her personal wants and desires. Will I do the same? Sometimes.
Lord, please help me be an "always" kind of guy, who honours his wife and those around him, not just on Valentine's Day, but throughout the year. Amen.
Now here's a little advice from this old dog for other men, both young and old who may be reading this post. Over the years I have found that showing honour and putting my wife first has its rewards. It keeps me out of the doghouse.
David Kitz is the award-winning author of "The Soldier Who Killed the King," and the chair of The Word Guild.
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
A sign on a church in our community read “when we are Jesus for each other.” I saw it as I drove home from the grocery store one day and it made me think, When am I Christ for someone else? I know when I’m not, and yet there are times that I do feel I act as a good neighbour ought, not expecting the same thing in return.
How about you? Have you given something with no expectation of return favours? Our friends will often do things for us in exchange, but perhaps there’s a time when even they need to be the receiver, especially when it’s hard.
In the middle of January, a woman came from Mauritius, a tropical country where it can be cool in evenings, but never cold enough to snow. Zareen was coming to work for a year with a regional organization, and she would land in the middle of our Canadian winter. She’d been here in the fall and had an idea of our autumn weather, but not snow. And they do not sell winter wear on that island.
I contacted a friend who’d also met Zareen when she came to our Toastmasters club during her previous work session. We hatched a plan to take Zareen shopping, the day after she landed, for winter clothing, warm coat, boots, mittens and hat. Zareen was excited when I told her.
As it turned out, the weather got very cold the evening Zareen arrived. She felt that winter chill. The next morning the snow started coming, with cold icy wind. And all she had on her feet was a pair of canvas sneakers. As was also fortunate, my friend had a coat and boots that had been her mother’s and were still like new.
Delighted with her new coat and boots, that fit her well, we headed for the mall to fill in a few other gaps. We not only had a positive outcome, but our guest would also be warm and cozy. We even got a photo of her clearing snow off the car in the parking lot.
That felt like being Christ. She would be dressed appropriately for our winter weather. And we all enjoyed our time together. Well maybe not driving in those conditions so much, but we travelled safely and slowly that day.
Your act could be buying a bag of potatoes for a food blitz for a local shelter, or sending good used clothing that you don't need anymore to an organization that helps the working poor. Or it could be helping to plant trees in a local park that needs extra hands to do the job.
I don’t know what it will be for you. Taking soup to a friend who’s just had surgery and must rest. It could be calling someone when you get the ‘feeling’ they need to hear from you. A 'God moment' for them and for you. And maybe some day, it will be you who needs the help. Be willing to accept as well, for that's the way gifts work.
We still have to take care of our family and manage our finances well, so we can pay our own bills. Being Christ for someone else may not always be a monetary act. How will your “being Christ” look?
Sunday, February 09, 2020
By the Rev. Dr. Ed & Janice Hird
-an article previously published in the January 2020 Light Magazine
Have you ever had a difficult colleague who profoundly impacted your life? C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien, two of the most famous and versatile English writers, had that kind of bond. The companionship between Lewis and the man he called “Tollers” inspired the chapter on friendship (philea) in Lewis’ book The Four Loves.
For much of his life, Lewis, the son of a solicitor and of an Anglican clergyman’s daughter, was a convinced atheist. Lewis encountered Tolkien at a 1926 faculty meeting. In his diary, Lewis wrote about Tolkien as "a smooth, pale fluent little chap—no harm in him: only needs a smack or so." They had much in common, as both had been traumatized by the premature death of their mothers and by the horrors of trench warfare in World War I.
At age 10, Lewis saw his mother dying of cancer. “With my mother’s death”, said Lewis, “all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life.” Tolkien experienced the double loss of both his father at age 3 and his mother at age 12. His strong desire for friendship/fellowship, as with Frodo, Sam, Merry & Pippin, came from Tolkien’s loss of his three best friends in the trenches. Referring to trench warfare, CS Lewis commented: “Through the winter, weariness and water were our chief enemies. I have gone to sleep marching and woken again and found myself marching still.” Lewis vividly remembered “the frights, the cold,… the horribly smashed men still moving like half-crushed beetles, the sitting or standing corpses, the landscape of sheer earth without a blade of grass, the boots worn day and night until they seemed to grow to your feet…”
About four years into their friendship, Lewis and Tolkien formed an ‘Inklings’ group, meeting in the Rabbit Room of the Eagle and Child pub. Lewis’ brother Warren said that at the Inklings, “the fun would be riotous with Jack at the top of his form and enjoying every minute…an outpouring of wit, nonsense, whimsy, dialectical swordplay, and pungent judgement such as I have rarely heard equaled…”
Both CS Lewis and Tolkien loved the history of the English language, especially as expressed in the ancient tales like Beowulf. CS Lewis commented: “When I began teaching for the English Faculty, I made two other friends, both Christians (those queer people seemed to pop up on every side) who were later to give me much help in getting over the last stile/steps. They were HVD Dyson and JRR Tolkien. Friendship with the latter marked the breakdown of two old prejudices…” Lewis said to Tolkien that tales or myths are ‘lies and therefore worthless, even though breathed through silver’. ‘No’, said Tolkien, ‘they are not lies’. Tolkien went on to explain to Lewis that in Jesus Christ, the ancient stories or myths of a dying and rising God entered history and became fact. Twelve days later, Lewis wrote to another friend Arthur Greeves: “I have just passed on from believing in God to definitely believing in Christ – in Christianity. I will try to explain this another time. My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it”.
CS Lewis recalls going by motorcycle with his brother Warren to Whipsnade Zoo, about thirty miles east of Oxford. “When we set out, I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo, I did”. In his autobiography Surprised by Joy, Lewis commented: “In the Trinity term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God…perhaps the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England”.
When Lewis turned to Christ, he was surprised to find the skies bluer and the grass greener. “Today”, Lewis wrote, “I got such a sudden intense feeling of delight that it sort of stopped me in my walk and spun me round. Indeed, the sweetness was so great, and seemed so to affect the whole body as well as the mind, that it gave me pause.”
In their Inklings group, they vigorously critiqued each other’s unpublished manuscripts like Narnia Tales and Lord of the Rings. Tolkien wrote in a letter "The unpayable debt that I owe to [Lewis] was not 'influence' as it is ordinarily understood but sheer encouragement. He was for long my only audience. Only from him did I ever get the idea that my 'stuff' could be more than a private hobby. But for his interest and unceasing eagerness for more, I should never have brought The Lord of the Rings to a conclusion." In October 1933, Tolkien wrote in his diary that friendship with Lewis ‘besides giving constant pleasure and comfort, has done me much good from the contact with a man at once honest, brave, intellectual – a scholar, a poet, and a philosopher – and a lover, at least after a long pilgrimage, of our Lord’.
When Tolkien first shared his ‘Lord of the Rings’ manuscript at the Inklings group, CS Lewis said: ‘This book is a lightning from a clear sky. Not content to create his own story, he creates with an almost insolent prodigality the whole world in which it is to move; with its own theology, myths, geography, history, paleography, languages and order of beings.’ Without the Inklings fellowship of Tolkien and Lewis, neither the Narnia Tales nor the Lord of the Rings might have ever seen the light of day. In a letter to Sir Stanley Unwin, Lewis wrote "I would willingly do all in my power to secure for Tolkien's great book the recognition it deserves."
While Lewis loved Lord of the Rings, Tolkien disliked the Narnia Tales. He called Lewis’ writing creaking, stiff-jointed, and unoriginal. Tolkien, who took seventeen years rewriting Lord of The Rings, resented the ease at which Lewis kept producing new books. Tolkien, being very private, resented fellow Inklngs Charles Williams’ intrusion into their friendship. Lewis’ marriage to a divorced American Joy Davidman also strained their relationship. On October 27th 1949, no one turned up for the final Inklings meeting.
Shortly before his death, C.S. Lewis wrote to his estranged friend J.R.R. Tolkien: “All my philosophy of history hangs upon a sentence of your own, ‘Deeds were done which were not wholly in vain,’ ” Four days after Lewis's death on Nov 22nd 1963, Tolkien wrote to his daughter Priscilla "So far I have felt the normal feelings of a man of my age—like an old tree that is losing all its leaves one by one: This feels like an axe-blow near the roots. Very sad that we should have been so separated in the last years; but our time of close communion endured in memory for both of us."
I thank God for the complicated friendship of two literary firestarters.
Rev Dr Ed & Janice Hird
Co-authors of the novel Blue Sky
But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.
The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
(John 4:14 ESV)
Downheartedness. Overwhelm. Resistance.
Of late, these have been the emotions that have sat in wait. When I plopped down on the couch after work, I didn’t want to get back up. In fact, I have been sleeping far more than is typical for me.
Recently, I began Rachel Starr Thomas’s devotional 31 Days of Joy: A Devotional Journey in Fiction & Scripture. Each devotional includes a journaling page. The first day I was to write about my personal battle.
Typically, I am a positive, upbeat person. And although I had been experiencing low-grade depression, I still have an abundance of things to be thankful for. At first, I couldn’t think of what to write about.
And then it struck me.
My heart aches when I see the disunity among brothers and sisters in Christ. The misunderstanding. The harsh judgment. The open attacks.
After all, Jesus’s last recorded prayer for us is in John 17.
Verses 20-21 say, “I do not ask for these [the disciples] only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
While the perfect fulfillment of this prayer will only take place when we get to heaven, we, as Christians, are responsible to work toward this kind of unity. Why? So the world will know that Jesus came from the Father.
I am a peacemaker. Like most people, I want to avoid conflict. Although I know it isn’t truly possible, my heart’s cry is “Why can’t we all get along?”.
In the last few months, I’ve learned that each believer is responsible to weigh what they hear against the truth of Scripture. And sometimes, it’s our responsibility to speak up—even if we’d rather keep quiet. We can do so with respect, without seeking to cause dissension and division. We can do so in a way that furthers biblical unity.
Does this unity mean we’ll always agree on every point of doctrine? Not this side of heaven.
Does it mean we simply nod and go along with everything our spiritual leaders have to say? No, we are called to study and apply truth for ourselves, not simply follow blindly.
Does it mean we never lovingly and respectfully make our thoughts and feelings known? I don’t believe so.
This month’s theme is The Place of Refreshment.
What does this post have to do with refreshment and those springs of living water in John 4?
I have been refreshed by honestly examining myself, by choosing not to succumb to the funk I’ve been in, by looking at things from a new perspective.
I am once again aware of the lessons God is teaching me. I have made the choice to weigh what I hear and read against the Word, to keep the wheat and let the chaff blow away—no matter who the teacher.
I have a renewed sense of purpose, a new reason to put words on paper, a broader view of what it means to promote God-honouring unity.
In the ESV, Psalm 16:11 reads this way, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Talk about a place of refreshing!
Steph Beth Nickel is eclectically interested and eclectically involved. Among other things, she blogs and edits. She is a regular contributor to HopeStreamRadio and is currently working on a second book with her coauthor, Paralympian Deb Willows. You can connect with her on Facebook, where she spends far too much time. https://www.facebook.com/stephbethnickel
Monday, February 03, 2020
We glided on the groomed trail, our skis squeaking on the snow. Under the stars on this clear and frosty night, we were caught in a Christmas card moment. Pine trees trimmed with white bordered the trail. Branches swept downward in a graceful arc and crowded us into single file. We huffed up the hills, my three children climbing easier and huffing less than I, and glided thankfully down their other sides.
Our cheeks rosy with health, we occasionally stepped off the path to let others whiz by, sacrificing our momentum for courtesy. One man, a scowl on his face to show he was in earnest about this skiing business, groaned when he passed us on a straight patch. I wonder if he sees the trees, I thought. Or the stars. Does he recognize the snow under his feet as a gift from a Creator with a universe full of design to his credit? Can he read God’s message to him in the aroma of pine, in the moon that makes shadows dance around us, in the untouched snow to our left and right that covers a naked and embarrassed earth with its blanket of purity?
An ancient, man, Job, was asked this question by God, “Have you entered into the treasures of the snow?” He meant, “Do you get it? Do you get the message of the snow?” (Job 38 is a magnificent piece of writing.)
King David of Israel, wrote this: "He gives snow like wool . . ." (Psalm 147:16). Wool is used to make warm coverings. Snow, like a woollen coat, covers the ground. Every human needs a spiritual covering – a blanket of purity. Everyone who asks receives one.
Isaiah brings the whole of Biblical thought on snow to a conclusion.“Though your sins be as scarlet,” he wrote, “they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
Here’s the message of the snow:
Jesus will take your sins far away from you and leave you covered in a warm blanket of purity – you'll be like newly fallen snow, unmarked, as if you’d never sinned at all.
The memory of this golden night on the ski trails at Hiawatha, one of life’s perfect moments, clings to me. We weren’t the best skiers out that night, my darlings and I, or on any night after that, but when others limped home chilled to the bone, we limped pleasured to the core by God’s amazing gift of creation.
Rose McCormick Brandon lives in Caledonia, Canada with husband Douglas. Her book, One Good Word Makes all the Difference is available at http://writingfromtheheart.webs.com. or by contacting the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday, February 01, 2020
|From Google Images|
It was when John was about a year old that they became aware that something was not right. When he was 18 months old a hearing test at the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children confirmed that he was profoundly deaf and communication became a crucial issue of family life. The hospital tried to help in offering them a program that encouraged them to believe that some day John would hear and speak like any other child.
John was equipped with hearing aids and every day his mother Jean would give him lessons provided by the Auditory Training centre at the hospital. Following the programs outlined in weekly visits to the centre did not yield the desired results and instead produced only frustration for both Jean and John as they sought to communicate with one another.
|From Google Images|
Hope came from an unexpected source. When John was six, his father Gordon was able toattend a conference on deafness at the University of Toronto. The principal speakers were two deaf professors, a Canadian and an American who were at that time both working in the United States. They were making a plea for the use of American Sign Language for all deaf people, and in particular for educating deaf children.
Immediately on learning of this possibility, Gordon signed up to take sign language lesson in Toronto that were offered at the Evangelical Church for the Deaf. Jean also came on board and the whole family joined a class at Holy Names Catholic Church that was taught by a priest who ministered to deaf people. Relationship stress began to decrease in the family as signing opened doors to essential communication.
Not only was communication with John made possible, but unexpected opportunities for his siblings emerged, as his sister Catherine who was close in age to John eventually found her profession. She became a sign language interpreter and has helped and continues to open doors for hundreds of other people who are deaf, so they may fully engage with the world around them.
Not only did the family learn how to communicate with sign language, they came to understand the importance of using every tool possible for what came to be known as Total Communication. Gordon was instrumental in the organization of the first conference on Total Communication in Ontario that paved the way for this approach to be introduced to the educators and today is available to all deaf students in the province.
This family not only became more aware of and open to the needs of those who were deaf, they also advocated for the introduction of Total Communication for the deaf in schools throughout Ontario.
|From Google Images|
However, John’s problems were not all over. At the age of 13 he was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, a disease that is hard to manage for those who can readily communicate verbally. To him this was more of a trial than his deafness.
It was the diabetes that caused John’s untimely death in June 1997, shortly before his thirtieth birthday. Gordon reflected, “John was a dear loving son, a very affectionate young man who had a difficult road to tread in life.” Maybe more than anyone Gordon realized the obstacles that John had to face.
Getting a job is never easy for anyone with a handicap and it is difficult not to become discouraged or depressed and feel life is without purpose. Often our identity is closely related to what we do. John was blessed in that in spite of challenges like this he was able to maintain a great sense of humour that helped to carry him through.
John was also a person of faith. It was a hearing friend who connected him with a small Baptist Church with a ministry to the deaf in Hamilton. His parents were present at his baptism. The assurance comes that his mother, Jean has already been reunited with John and that his father Gordon knows John and Jean await him on the other side. These realities sustain the family in the grief they have all carried through John’s battles.
|Word Guild Award|
|Word Guild Award|
|Word Guild Award|
Eleanor served the Salvation Army in Canada and France. She engaged in Philanthropy with Health Partners International of Canada and Opportunity International Canada. Her passion is serving the whole person.
Eleanor contributed to My Father, Our Father a book of prayers published in the United Kingdom, and Journey with Friends a special collection of articles.Stories in Hot Apple Ciderand Christmas withHot Apple Ciderreceived awards as well as her solo book More Questions than Answers. Christianity Today gave the book a four star rating. Various articles received recognition by The Word Guild and The Canadian Church Press.
Friday, January 17, 2020
The meme read, “Working from home, pants optional”.
|Photo from Google images|
After the first smile I began to ponder on the short-sightedness of the statement. It is myopic indeed.
Clothes aside, working from home can bring out one's best self, or it can be the passport to glassy-eyed oblivion. The home office is as distracting (if not more) than the workplace; a main difference, however, is that co-workers wear more vogue outfits than the cat.
I’ve been successful in both the workplace and the home office. (I actually work longer hours at home since elastic waist pants can be pulled up in a second, whereas the grooming for the workplace required an hour. And the commute is only 25 steps.)
My work ethic does not change with location, and therein lies the premise to being my best self. I have cultivated a sense of discipline. I hold myself accountable. I know how I spend my minutes.
That’s not to say that there aren’t days when I wonder where’s the productivity. The microwave flashing 1:00 p.m. in blue has prompted me on several occasions to ask what have I to show for the past six hours.
But I know what I’ve done. It’s productivity that’s the back end, diligence that may disclose the fruit in two weeks, or 10 months, or longer. But it’s never wasted time.
|My bullet notebooks/journals|
For two years now I’ve kept a loose form of the bullet journal using plain lined notebooks. (I buy cheap ones.) I was always a list-person, but I used throw out my lists every night. Now my bullet notebook holds my to-do lists; my upcoming appointments and schedules up to a year; significant occurrences; insights, and reflections of the spirit. All captured in point form, terse sentences, or short stanzas.
Last week my husband took two days off. After a full morning of phone calls and emails, I had no real output to show. “If I didn’t have this notebook with the evidence, come next week I’d wonder how I had passed the days.” I observed to him.
When he turned on football on television, that became my social media slot. I jotted the time we spent watching movies, and playing Scrabble. The hours of just talking across coffee or dinner, investing in our relationship. Because it’s written, I know. On days when the optics do not show that progress has been made, my bullet notebook tells me the truth. When colour coded, at a glance the journal indicates where I’ve spent the most time. Then I can re-evaluate if necessary.
Behaviour must sync with the dynamism of fleeting time. Time swallowed up in eternity gone. I’ve learned that in being accountable for my minutes, I am being a good steward. Just as Jesus told in the parable that we should be.
The underpinning premise is to create a system to hold oneself accountable. The bullet notebook has become my reliance.
A tracking mechanism of any kind can do the same job – digital or paper. I prefer paper. And pants.
Susan Harris is an author, speaker, and television host of ETERNITY.
Visit her website at https://www.susanharris.ca
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