Friday, September 30, 2011

Fine China & Broken Dreams - Austin

Dreams are baffling things. Like high quality china they have a strength that defies logic. Yet after years of bumps and bangs that suggest they are indestructible, one little tap from just the wrong angle can shatter them. A friendship that stubbornly refuses to give up on someone is much like that. It will absorb the battering of hard use over the years. It might show a chip or two along the rim. But the strength seems imperishable.

My wife commented recently that I was a Good Friend to him. Strange that I feel so little except emotional exhaustion. I wonder if a china cup feels the hair-line cracks before the last bump that finishes it? Does a piece of pottery fear the end as it draws closer? Or does it just determine to hold one more cup of coffee and do its best not to spill?

More than 20 years have passed since I first found myself compelled to believe in him against evidence that even then proved hard to look beyond. As Best Man at his wedding I have stood beside him. I've seen him become a husband--in name. I've seen him become a father--in name. I've seen enough glimpses of strengths and qualities to keep the dream alive; that some day he will grow up, someday become a real man, a real husband, a real father. Yet somehow these last days have poured boiling water into a cup with too many hair-line fractures. I feel brittle and fragile. I fear the one who looks to my friendship as one of the very few constants in his life is about to be scalded.

I've watched other dreams die, ached as I gave up trying to hold the shattered pieces together. Why does this dream, which has cost so much and given so little--feel so much more critical? Can someone put this piece of battered pottery back in the kiln and fuse the hair-line fractures together once again? If that is even possible, do I have the courage to face the heat?

I've watched and marveled several times when I've been too drained to give anything more. Someone else has always stepped in for a few days until I have healed enough to take up the task again. Yet each time the healing takes longer. The hair-line fractures seem to grow wider. I feel more fragile, more brittle.

So many of the people who have helped in the past have been burned one time too many. Why do I almost envy their ability to walk away? Why can't I do the same?

My mind is drawn to a story of a church with incredible stained-glass windows intentionally shattered during World War II. The shamefulness of that act wounded countless people. Yet the shattered fragments now draw visitors from around the world to gaze with awe at beauty brought out of tragedy. Can I dare trust God as I come ever closer to my breaking point? It may be that just one more tap will finish the shattering, leave the dream in fragments I can no longer hold together. God hasn't given up on my friend. Can I dare trust my breaking into His hands? Can I dare offer that breaking to Him and continue to act in love?

If human hands can take glass shattered in mockery and remake something of incredible beauty from it, what can God do with my brokenness? Perhaps very soon I will see. And in that hope there is enough healing to give of myself again, even if it is for only one day more. I have a long, long ways to go before I will ever have given as Christ gave.

Encouragement? Yes! I need it. But the praise that sometimes comes sits heavy on me. I don't feel like a good friend. I feel like kicking him each step around a long country block. I feel like crying. I feel like quantifying the hurt that so many of those close to him have borne because of his choices, putting it all into words and pounding him with it. I feel like walking away and pretending I never knew him.

But God keeps loving him. But God won't let me off the hook. But God keeps calling me to put hands and feet to His love--and He keeps infilling when I'm sure I'm drained dry.

But God. . . How do I get past that? I pray I never get past it, even as tears crowd close.

I no longer have much confidence that my friend will ever change. I don't have confidence that my breaking, which seems so close now, will tip the balance. I have full confidence though, in the relentless love of God. Like The Hound of Heaven, I've watched that love pursue this man for 20 years. And even as I spill my frustrations, there's the sense of a hand on my shoulder and a quiet whisper, "For 20 years I've been painting a picture of my love for you. Are you finally beginning to see it?"

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lost and Found - Lawrence

My cousin Thelma and her husband Denys came back into my life a few years ago when they were visiting the U.S.A  and Canada on one of their many golden year extended trips. They were staying at Niagara Falls, Canada for a few days and I went to meet up with them for a day's visit.

It was a cold blustery day in September, but despite the weather we had a good visit catching up with the lost years that time and situations had imposed upon us. Really, we had been out of touch since I was a child, except for a brief meeting at an airport in London, England, as I waited for a plane to return to Canada after visiting relatives in Gloucester for a couple of weeks.

Since getting involved in my genealogy I had been in touch with Thelma and Denys at our annual Christmas card exchange and, a few years ago they asked me if I would collect postage stamps for Denys' collection. This I gladly did and added them to the Christmas card each December. Only recently did I realize that Denys sold these stamps for charity giving the money to a local private hospital that was situated near where they lived.

Cousins Judith and Thelma
I heard from Denys a few weeks ago and sadly learned that Thelma was in poor shape. She is unable to get around without the aid of a wheelchair and is also suffering from dementia, unable to recognize her own husband at times. For a couple who have been married almost 61 years and never been apart for even a day this is heartbreaking. Denys is now the sole caregiver and, when he wrote that letter, was having a time of respite while Thelma went to stay in a nursing home for a couple of weeks.

This long introduction is leading up to the fact that the envelope in which I saved the postage stamps for Denys suddenly was lost. Since learning of their difficulties these stamps had taken on an importance to me beyond any monetary value. They signified something that I could do for them and kept us in touch with one another.

Judith and Denys
This morning, I found that envelope with its stamps, not far from its usual place. How I missed them yesterday I don't know. And now, I say unto you, "Rejoice with me for I have found those stamps which were lost, and now I can rest easy."

Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won't she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she find it? And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, "Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin." In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God's angels when even one sinner repents. Luke 15: 8-10 New Living Translation

[Please also pray for Dorene Meyer whose day this is to post on this blog. She is unwell at this time and is therefore unable to post a blog today.]

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Gossamer Curtain - Smith Meyer

The monitors, tubes—even the smell and atmosphere of the Critical Care Trauma Centre in a hospital brings the fragility of life and the reality of eternity into sharp focus.

In quick succession, the scenarios brought to mind by the ‘what if this is it’ possibilities, flash through one’s mind, with bitter anguish. The reality of how life would suddenly and forever change stares you in the face. The concern for the loved one in the bed, is stirred in a jumbled mixture with desperate thoughts of how you will manage a new kind of life.

Sitting there with a dear friend whose husband was the centre of that activity, especially having experienced the loss of my own husband, brought back vivid memories. In her face I could see reflected some of those same thoughts and feelings and I felt the anguish all over. Words are wonderful conveyances but sometimes even those fail. All I could do was offer an arm and pray.

This time, though, there was an added dimension which I couldn’t fathom, for I also accompanied a sixteen year-old son to the bedside. As I stood holding his hand, again, all I could do was be with him and silently pray.

In the following days, I learned again the meaning and comfort of constant prayer. I felt a little like Moses keeping my arms and the cause of my friend lifted to the Lord during the battle that was raging in that hospital room. There was scarcely a moment that I was not aware of that stance—even when I awoke in the middle of the night—the last thing on my mind at night and the first thing in the morning.

The pause in the battle came one day when he was able to squeeze the hands of his family and briefly open his eyes. Our hearts gave thanks and our spirits lightened with hope. But the next day there was a relapse into coma.

Then, ten days after the onset, I found myself sitting again beside that bed speaking with him. Oh, he still has a battle to wage, but now he is aware and able to consciously join in the fight.

We give thanks and praise for the hope and believe that the curtain has fallen back into place without having passed through. However we are once more aware of the gossamer qualities of that curtain, how precious life is and our need to fully appreciate what we have. It is also important it is to be ready at all times for the day when we will most certainly pass through to the other side. If we are, there can also be a joy in the anticipation for our own passing, and a preparation if we are the one left behind.

Experiences such as the past few weeks aren’t ones we ask for, but they are learning and growing experiences that can enrich our lives—and they can also cement friendships if we stand with others during such times. I humbly and gratefully give thanks.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The World at my Door - McCormick Brandon

Last year, through Marcia Laycock, another writer associated with The Word Guild, I received an email from Marshall Lawrence. A Wycliffe translator for 25 years, he had written a book about his life in Papua, New Guinea. He asked if I would read it and perhaps make some suggestions. I agreed because I didn't want to say no to someone who'd given his life for the noble purpose of translating the New Testament.

I feared opening the email that contained Lawrence's story. If he writes like most pastors and evangelists, this will be a nightmare, I thought. From the beginning the theme of Lawrence's story drew me in. In the first chapter, he nails together a primitive slab door for the cabin he's built for his family.

Scores of people, from tribal friends to globe trotters enter the humble Lawrence home through this door. Each chapter is a story of one who entered. As a reader, I entered. I met the Oksapmin people. Some became life-long friends to the Lawrences, like Guyhem Bek, a “co-worker, superb translator, clear thinker, and learner” who helped translate the New Testament into his language. The book is dedicated to him.

I didn’t meet Marshall and his wife Helen until after I’d read The World at My Door. By then, I felt that I already knew them. Throughout the book, Lawrence's writing smiles with humor. Still, the reader feels his grief when one by one his four boys leave home at an early age for boarding school.

Marshall and Helen, now retired, live in Echo Bay, Ontario, near Sault Ste. Marie,where I lived until last year. One afternoon, the Lawrences came for tea. Marshall said he wasn’t sure if he should publish the book or just tuck it away. Tuck it away? I can’t remember my exact words but I tried to convey how tragic I thought it would be if the book wasn’t published. Others who love stories will want to know the Oksapmin people. Through Lawrence’s book, these gentle souls can knock on their doors.

The World at My Door was published by Guardian Books. And in 2011 it won the Award of Merit from The Word Guild.

Meeting inspirational people like Marshall and Helen Lawrence expands my view of God's work in the world. I’m glad for the day they walked through my door.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Getting Close to Nature - Eleanor Shepherd

            A common belief among vacationers is that physical and emotional renewal is found by getting in touch with nature again.  From recent experience, I am not so sure that is true.
A few weeks ago, we rented a chalet, hidden away in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee as part of our vacation this year, thinking it an ideal spot to commune with nature.  The week before we left home, we had invitations for barbeques at their homes of two different families.  The couples had both recently returned from their vacations.  Like us, they have been engaged in fighting the battle of middle age spread.  Both couples spoke of taking a few days on vacations to go hiking.  Our chalet, near a National Park, offered access to lots of hiking trails, so we decided to follow their good example. 
            We started the first day with a gentle walk on a paved path that took us gradually up the slopes of a mountain until we arrived a place with the pavement merged into the rock forming the contours of a sparkling waterfall.  We joined the crowd on the rocky outcroppings taking photos of one another, before we headed back down over the same route.  The entire trail, from where the car was parked to the waterfall and back down again was about one mile.  While our feet were ready for a good soaking, we suffered no ill effects from the effort and learned much about the forest from the signposts along the route.  
            The next day we found a trail that was not paved and followed along the banks of a river, sometimes close enough to hear the water gurgling as it flowed over the rocks.  At other times, we rose high above the water and would only catch a glimpse of it as we ventured over tree roots and brushes clinging to the steep banks.  The slopes were more gentle that those on the hike of the day before, but the route was longer, about two miles this time.  We met several other hikers on the trail and the only wildlife we encountered were the dogs out romping in the woods with their owners. 
            The third day, we felt we were becoming quite experienced as hikers so we decided to try a five-mile hike.  Instead of hiking to a destination and returning on the same route as we had done the first two days, we decided to take a path that connected with another one that would bring us back to near where we started.  The whole hike would be a little over five miles, but we knew we were up for it.  This time, we saw fewer fellow hikers.  When we did encounter them along the route, they always asked the same question.  Had we seen any bears?  We peered into the woods on alternate sides as we kept walking along the middle of the first broad path.  One man, we met coming toward us told us that he had just seen a bear up ahead of where we were going on the path, so we should keep an eye out.             
            Just for security, we both made sure that we had a sturdy walking stick that we could use to stave off a bear, we hoped, if one got too close.  We were not terribly nervous, just a little apprehensive. 
            The first part of the hike was fairly level and the path was wide enough in most places that we felt reasonably secure.  At the end of it, we met the two other couples who had been ahead of us on the path.  They had encountered a small bear and got some great photos.  They were returning over the same route. 
            After a pause for a cool drink and a snack, we ventured on; taking the second path that would circle around and bring us back to our destination.  We discovered this was a more demanding trail.  It consisted largely of intertwined tree roots and circled around the mountain, spiraling up and down through woods that at times were quite thick.  One of the signs on the shorter hike mentioned the laurel trees where the bears like to make their homes.  We became a little uneasy as we discovered these laurels were plenteous on our route.  We kept moving at as quick a pace as we could, given the uneven terrain under our feet.  We were well along our way, when I realized I was tiring a little and having trouble keeping up with Glen’s pace.  I strained to keep his back in sight. 
            Stumbling along over the rough roots, I turned my head to the right, thinking I heard twigs crunching.  There she was!  I had not seen such a large bear.  She was no more than ten or twelve feet from me and appeared to be heading in roughly the same direction.  I decided I must not panic, at any cost or for sure, I would fall and then I would be completely vulnerable.
            I tried to keep my voice calm as I called out to Glen. “There is a bear on my right.  Just keep walking.”  Desperately keeping fear in check, I forced myself to march along the path, trying to recall what I read in the National Parks brochure about how to deal with bears when you encounter them on a hike. 
The advice was not to advance to within more than fifty feet of the bear. I wished someone had told the bear.  We were trying to make that a reality by continuing on our route, hoping she would choose another way. 
The pamphlet advised a take-charge attitude so that the bear would not know she intimidated you.   We took charge of ourselves all right by advancing as far along the path away from her as we could.  I was so grateful I remembered to put the rise krispie square wrappers in my backpack in sealed plastic bags, after our snack.  I hoped the scent of them would not escape and entice her.
 We did not stop to look back to see which way she was going.  We gladly forfeited the photo op.  She and I had briefly exchanged glances and in that look, we agreed that I would remove myself from her territory as quickly as possible. 
            That afternoon I decided that henceforth we might want to limit our hiking to urban routes.  The wildlife we encounter there knows how to comfortably share city life with me. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Not That Kind of Writer ...? -- Peter A. Black

That mayor and council need to wake up! Their burn-and-slash program of cost-cutting, while having little effect on their personal well-being or cramping their lifestyle, will affect many people at the lower end of the socio-economic scale! These block-headed ideologues can’t see past their noses, and all their campaign promises count for nothing when their actions are akin to those of Judas who betrayed his Lord with a kiss. These characters are betraying the poor and all those depending on the programs they are about to cut.

WHOAAH! Who’s speaking? What council? What cuts? Whatever happened to this column?

It’s O.K. – Honest.

A week or so ago I read a front page article in The Toronto Star. In it the author berated the Toronto mayor and members of the council in language decidedly more graphic and scathing than I’ve employed above. I reckoned that he’s actually a skilled writer and knows how to write and grab attention, and that his style would likely generate discussion, and maybe garner reader comments – usually good for newspaper sales and keeping reader interest alive.

I said to my wife, “My goodness, what if I were to write like that? I’d probably get sued, or something.” She replied, “But you’re not that kind of writer.”

That got me thinking further. Well then, what kind of writer am I? Now please bear with me in a little navel gazing. (Granted, it takes other people to provide objective analysis of us and our efforts in any field of endeavour.)

My review took me to consider several key factors in my life and phrases that I coined and adopted that have served as guides and governors over the years.

First, I’m a believer in Jesus Christ; He is my Saviour and Lord. God is my Heavenly Father, and I have to give account to Him of how I live my life. The Holy Spirit is an ever-present influence in my life.

Second, as a Christian person I honour the Lord, and do not wish to bring disgrace to Him.

Third, I represent other people (the Christian community, my wife and family) who depend on or may be influenced for better or for worse through my judgment or actions.

Fourth, my worldview is informed and tempered through my Christian faith and understanding of the biblical scriptures. And so I write – and do a whole stack of things in life – out of that milieu.

The fifth (and I’ll make it the final) area that is part and parcel of “the kind of writer I am” is reflected in two statements.

In 1975 I adopted two words – “Recommending Christ!” – as a ministry motto. Throughout my pastoral ministry I sought to do just that. If I were working with a couple whose marriage was in trouble, or with a bereaved family, or whatever negative event barged through the door of their lives, apart from any practical steps that might be necessary to help them, I essentially recommended Christ as the ultimate solution.

In January of 2005 I adopted a writing slogan, “Raise the Gaze” – more fully expressed as, “Writing to raise the gaze from the mundane to the marvellous, from the secular to the sacred, from the material to the spiritual, and from the temporal to the eternal.”

I’m that kind of writer.

© Peter A. Black. Adapted from original article published in P-Pep! column in The Watford Guide-Advocate – September 22, 2011.
Black is the weekly inspirational columnist at the Guide and is the author of “Parables from the Pond” (Word Alive Press; ISBN 1897373-21-X).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fruit of the Spirit – Love - Lawrence

St. Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The fruit of the Spirit is the harvest that grows from the seeds that are planted within us at birth.
I first wrote on this subject in my meditations on my website,  and I plan to use them in my TWG blog posts over the next few months. In February 2008, I meditated on the first of the fruit of the Spirit listed by St. Paul—the fruit of love. In that month, when we celebrate the feast of St. Valentine on February 14th, it seemed appropriate to start with the fruit of love.
The love that I am talking about, however, is not the box of chocolates type of love—the overly sweet, heart-shaped gift of love that can be the cause of disappointment, anger or jealousy, when it seems that your partner appears to have forgotten the day, or forgotten you as being the meaningful recipient of that box of chocolates, or Valentine’s card, or engagement ring. No, the love that I am speaking of is the love that St. Paul speaks of in his first letter to the Corinthians:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. 1 Cor 13:4–8.
Love that is the fruit of the Spirit is not conditional; it does not depend on whether my partner remembers to give me a gift on St. Valentine’s Day or not; it does not depend on my partner remembering our anniversary, or my friend remembering my birthday. Love that is the fruit of the Spirit is all the spiritual fruit combined; it is joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, generous, faithful, gentle, self-controlled. Love never ends, it doesn’t keep score of another’s faults, it only wants the other’s good.
This love of the Spirit is all we ever need and all we could ever hope for; it is God’s gift to us and our gift to God and to one another. This Spiritual love is indeed the basis of Christ’s gift to us and to the world, and the source of healing for all the world’s ills.
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Rom 13: 8
Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor 13:13
Highway of Holiness is now available for sale on my website:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Living in the Moment - Mann

With the hype of the new movie, Contagion, we have become alarmingly aware of the possibility of a pandemic of disease. With the current news of the world’s economy, we wonder about the stage upon which our children and grandchildren will live out their life. With the high percentage of unemployment in the country, we look at the space increase between the have and the have not’s. It is reality, yet if you look closely at the previous sentences, words like become, wonder about and look at, are key in understanding their meaning.
How different it is to look ahead towards what might happen and trying to imagine what the circumstances will be, than it is to live in the moment and try to change the space in which we stand. The later may very well change another’s space in a positive way. Now we have two and the possibility of more lives experiencing good things. But I’m getting ahead of myself and looking ahead, aren’t I, which takes me away from the moment.

Doug and I have always had a small group in our home since we discovered the enjoyment of learning together with other people. One gentleman, whom I’ll call Jack talked a lot about living in the moment. He maintained that if we loved to the fullest, acted appropriately, kept the Great Commandment in mind at all times, our live and others would be changed, in the moment.

I liken this to taking a walk. If I begin my walk with the goal of walking four town blocks and maybe a glance over the David Street Bridge in Elora as I scurry across, I will probably reach my goal that I set for myself without difficulty. However, if I start walking, noticing the tiny white flowers, or weeds as some people might call them, crowd the sidewalk—my entire walk may be different. If I notice the natural sculpture on the huge walnut tree in the neighbour’s lawn or maybe the hanging branches of the willow tree on the corner house—my walk will be enhanced. And when I cross the David Street Bridge, if I pause to look at the wonder of the rock formation beneath me and the persistence of the trees that appear to grow from a scrap of earth on the side of the Gorge, surely I will learn a lesson.

What is different from casting my view at the horizon of my thinking, my fears and decisions, or as Jack would suggest that I stand, ‘in the moment’? Could it be that everything I touch, see and feel will directly affect me now—my attitude, my ability to do, to be? Could this in turn strengthen me, encourage me, empower me more to then go forth and do what I’m called to do . . . in the future?

Donna        Watch for the Agnes Macphail books

Monday, September 19, 2011

Volunteering only helps you live longer if living longer isn’t why you did it - Denyse O'Lery

From “Volunteering to Help Others Could Lead to Better Health; Reduced Mortality Risk Not Seen in People Motivated by Self-Centered Reasons” (ScienceDaily, Sep. 8, 2011), we learn:
People who volunteer may live longer than those who don't, as long as their reasons for volunteering are to help others rather than themselves, suggests new research published by the American Psychological Association.
This was the first time research has shown volunteers' motives can have a significant impact on life span. Volunteers lived longer than people who didn't volunteer if they reported altruistic values or a desire for social connections as the main reasons for wanting to volunteer, according to the study, published online in the APA journal Health Psychology. People who said they volunteered for their own personal satisfaction had the same mortality rate four years later as people who did not volunteer at all, according to the study.
Accounting for their finding, the study authors suggest that those who volunteer to help others are not as poor or stressed, and therefore do better healthwise. Which simply does not correlate with observed experience.
"It is reasonable for people to volunteer in part because of benefits to the self; however, our research implies that, ironically, should these benefits to the self become the main motive for volunteering, they may not see those benefits," said the paper's co-author, Andrea Fuhrel-Forbis, MA.
Not to worry, guys. The evolutionary psychology crackpots will soon come up with a reason why putting strangers first benefits one’s selfish genes.

Maybe we can think up such a reason ourselves: Volunteering among strangers increases the chances of having children with them, which prevents inbreeding. There. That settles it. That’s science. Well, “science” actually. The health effects of sincere voluntary service are just fact.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

From Seed Beginnings to Transformed Finished Work - Lawrence

Which came first, the seed or the full grown plant? From one small seed’s beginnings can grow a plant or creature totally unlike its original seed; and from within that seed is contained, in embryo, the full potential of its being.
During the winter time of cold and snow, we put out feeders filled with seeds for the birds. Yes, our intention was to feed the birds but there were many side effects of this action; many other creatures were fed too.
Red squirrels always find a way to get on the feeders—and, once they are on, they sit there for great expanses of time. It doesn’t matter how annoyed we become at the squirrels’ feasting at the board that was intended for the birds’ satisfaction. Squirrels need food, too, in the scarce, cold times and, if they are artful enough to procure it, who are we to deny them?
Wild Turkeys
Last winter we also had a flock of turkeys that came. They scraped the ground beneath the feeders, eating every last morsel that remained from the feasting of squirrels, the rejected seeds of blue jays, and any that were dropped from beaks of chickadees, goldfinches, and nuthatches.
And yet there had been at least one seed left behind—one seed that had evaded the digging claws of turkeys and the squirrels’ desperate scavenging of any morsel the turkeys may have missed.

In August we saw a plant we recognized as a sunflower by its leaves. It grew tall among the jewel weed beneath the humming bird feeder. The plant, transformed from rejected seed, grew tall and produced three buds at its top. They opened up, one by one, into small seed-centred, yellow-petaled sunflowers.
Black-eyed Susan
So many seeds grew and formed from this one seed left on the ground; one seed transformed into its full beautiful potential of golden hue to delight the human eye, and seeds for the nourishment of many birds and perhaps a chipmunk or two.
With people, too, even if we only produce a small spiritual harvest from all the seeds that were planted in us, still the harvest we produce can serve many who come into contact with us.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Changing Fall Fair

Carolyn R. Wilker--A Changing Fall Fair

This past weekend, I attended our hometown fair—an event our family never missed when I was growing up and one that continued as a tradition when my husband and I had our own family.

We arrived in time to see the parade on the Saturday; and a couple of times our children participated in the parade, one of them doing cartwheels during the route, thus I walked the route too.

Our children, like us, enjoyed the midway with its rides and games, watched the jumper horses and riders as well as the carriage horses pulling their decorated or plain buggies. There were small animals to see, and pigs and chickens in pens for judging. We always took time to go into the arena and look at the exhibits and see who won the prizes—most often it was me who needed to see those entries, for some years, I entered sewing and other items for judging.

We went to the church booth for a sit-down meal in the late afternoon, then made one last round of the midway before putting on warmer clothes, finding a seat on the bleachers, and watching the air band contest in the evening.

The fair has changed; there’s still a parade, exhibits in the arena and a midway with rides and games. There are still jumper horses and carriage horses, judging of cattle and sheep, grains and 4-H displays and exhibits and commercial displays in the arena.

Ball games once played under the lights on Saturday evening gave way to an air band. The air-band competition continues—this year was the 26th— drawing young and old in its audience, entertained with music and dance acts that have us reminiscing or moving to the music. One year, a group of young people from our family, along with a school friend, performed the YMCA song, as recorded by The Village People, complete with uniforms and hats. They had the crowd singing with them.

Instead of a Fair Queen competition, we have a Fair Ambassador contest, in which two nieces have previously competed. The church booth, too, has changed. No longer do the ladies serve a hot full course meal; now they serve hamburgers, hot dogs, pop, and home-made pie, and there’s still a place to sit and eat behind their booth.

This year was different for me. Having judged poetry in children and adult categories in previous years, and exhibiting sewing or photography or pickled beets, which I didn’t enter this year, I was part of the concessions, representing my book, Once Upon a Sandbox, that was published this spring, and my editing business.

The only event I could not miss was the Fair Ambassador contest Friday evening and my niece’s speech. My husband graciously stayed near my table during that program, while I went off, camera in hand, to be in the audience that a good part of the community also attended. This year, my niece Alex came in as runner up. We are so proud of her as we’ve been of the other girls entering in past years.

I had a different perspective this year, one in which I was the salesperson, persuader, instead of the one being persuaded. I did a good deal of people watching too, and observing change.

Like the Fall Fair and the Agricultural Society that runs it, things change, whether it’s for improvement, efficiency, or even convenience. It can mean trying something new, like the air band that’s been so popular, or the newer additions of baby show or the lawn tractor race. Even the theme this year, Go Green, is about change and how we can work with it and try to improve our world.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Writing in Traffic - Purpose, Hooks and Cliffhangers

by Linda Hall

Right now I’m in the middle section of a new novel, that part of writing that seems to go on and on, the part that’s slower than a car on the 401 between four and six p.m. (well, really, any time on the 401). Writing anything, from an essay (a blog post) and a novel to a nonfiction book is sort of like driving in traffic.

There are spurts of energy when the road up ahead looks absolutely clear, and if you can just squeeze into that left lane you’ll be home free, final chapter here we come. And then, just as suddenly, you are up against a brick wall of cars. Ideas have slowed to a standstill and nothing’s getting through.

When I’m in the confused, mixed-up middle part of my novel traffic, I like to remind myself of three things: Purpose, Hook and Cliffhanger.

PURPOSE: Each chapter in a book, each paragraph in an essay, each word in an article must serve a purpose. Every sentence must move the reader’s thoughts to the next point, idea or plot. If the chapter is just so much chatter, there is no reason for it to be there.

I’m guilty of chatter. Sometimes, when I’m stuck, I write whole chapters of dialogue that really do absolutely nothing for the plot. They’re just people talking. In the final analysis, they will end up on the other side of the DELETE key. Sentences that serve no purpose are like the off ramps telling you to go here or go there when you know if you just stick with the traffic flow, however miserable it seems right now, you’ll get to the final destination much quicker.

HOOKS: Every piece of writing needs to begin with a hook - something that draws the reader in like bait on a fishing line. The first sentence of my current novel reads like this: I was in the middle of the Jesse dream when Kricket disappeared. Here’s one from mystery writer Stephen White’s Manner of Death: Adrienne’s tomatoes froze to death the same night that Arnie Dresser died. When you have a moment take down a book from your bookshelf, any book, and look for chapter hooks.

Hooks aren’t just for fiction, either. Malcolm Gladwell (The Outliers, The Tipping Point) is famous for his stories, and just about every one of his chapters start with one. And who can argue with the profound four words that begin The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren? It’s not about you. (Actually that’s the whole book in a nutshell. He could have ended right there!)

CLIFFHANGERS: You must leave the reader wanting more. Every chapter, every paragraph needs to end with something that makes the reader want to turn to the next page, read the next sentence. Another example comes from my current wip (Work in progress): She stared at the screen for several minutes. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing.

Agent and author Donald Maass says that you should take all of the printed pages of your novel and throw them up in the air. Then grab them at random. Every single page should make the reader want to read the next one.

With these three things in mind, getting through the traffic of your writing might be just a little bit easier.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sin Stinks

by Glynis M. Belec

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord." - and you fogave the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:5

My nose crinkled at the horrible smell. Instead of diminishing, it seemed to be getting worse. Each time I walked into the living room it hit me head on.

"What stinks?" my sweet hubby of few (yet to the point) words, asked as he followed me.

It had been almost 24 hours since I started to notice something was amiss in the aroma department. I had done my best to rid the room of the permeating odor. I'd scrubbed and wiped and sprayed the furniture, the carpet, the curtains. Nothing seemed to help.

"Go get the carpet deodorizer and spread some around," my dearly beloved suggested as he departed for sweeter smelling territory.
I sprinkled the white powder liberally on the carpet. Soon it smelled like a bouquet of fresh roses. I smiled hoping it would last.

It didn't. The stink was back.

Where was it coming from? I had had it. I determined I wasn't going to leave the room until I had located the source of the untoward aroma. I looked in every corner of the living room. Nothing. Feeling a little frustrated I started lifting up pillows and looking under furniture. Then I spotted it. I let out a shriek and dropped the blue velveteen pillow. The thing didn't move. Neither did I. Curious, I edged nearer. For a few moments I stared, trying to figure out what I was looking at. Finally I recognized the slightly chewed, marrow-filled bone. 
Chloe. I should have guessed. I remembered putting the bone from the roast in Chloe's dog dish. Usually she would carry it outside when she was let out. She would either approvingly lick and gnaw or she would go bury her treasure for later. As I stopped to think about it I realized I never saw Chloe depart with the bone. But she had buried it - right under the pillow on the back of my couch - two days ago! No wonder the air freshener and carpet deodeorizer hadn't been able to get rid of the smell; the source was still present.

Sin is like that. Whenever we do something wrong, we feel bad. It's like having that rotting bone in our pocket. No matter how hard we try to conceal or cover up our sin, sooner or later it surfaces. It stinks.
Sin, no matter how hard we try to conceal it, remains a consuming part of our lives. The repulsive odour of sin can only be eliminated by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. He bore our sins that we can smell sweet as we bow before the throne of God.

God of all creation, as we consider the atoning sacrifice that Jesus made for us, we ask for discernment. Help us to rebuke in Christ's name, the temptations that Satan so deviously sets before us. Thank you that we can confess our sins to You and help us to never try to cover up our offenses. AMEN

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ants - den Boer

Frequently, ever more frequently, I was seeing ants, big black ants crawling up the brickwork on the front porch, and inside the house they were crawling across the kitchen floor, along the upstairs hallway and around the bathroom sink. Sometimes I let them be. Sometimes I squeezed them into a paper tissue.

I was also finding what looked like tiny crumbs inside my kitchen cupboards. I realized that these were bits of chewed up sawdust after someone informed me my big black ants were no ordinary run-of-the-mill ants: they were carpenter ants. 

These ants were eating up my home.

Would our insurance replace a house which had been reduced to a pile of sawdust? I wondered. But it wasn’t until several very large ants dropped out of the basement office ceiling onto my work area, that I finally declared war.

A neighbour recommended Green Cross Ant Killer. I faithfully placed little sticky droplets on windowsills and at doorways. The ants seemed to ignore them.

Rather annoyed, I turned to “Extermination” in the yellow pages. I called the answering services of four different companies. All four companies called me back promptly that same day—as I was preparing supper.

They each offered a different approach. There was the spray-everything-in-sight method; the scientific approach involving discussion, analysis, solution and maintenance; the expensive, “Why not have us chemically treat your lawn as well?” and the natural method which involved leaving food out for the ants to take back to their nests. Prices ranged from $225 to $350 with three-month, six-month and one-year guarantees, depending on the approach, not the price. The most expensive method had the shortest guarantee.

Needless to say the phone calls left me rather confused. Maybe my accountant husband could sort out this one.

It happened my parents had been invited to help eat the supper I was trying to make between phone calls. I should have asked Dad’s advice in the first place. It sounded rather Biblical, “Just watch them yourself.” (He didn’t actually say “sluggard.”) “See where they go. You’ll find the nest soon enough.”

The next day I tried following Dad’s advice—it was cheap and Marty recommended it—but the ants seemed to sense what I was doing. They wandered around in circles until I got bored. This took about a minute and a half.

They also must have sensed my interest in their demise—because they disappeared. Or are they in the dormant stage? There has to be some wisdom here somewhere.

Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. (Proverbs 6:6–8)

An ant gets a lot done without reasoning or knowing why. It blindly follows a God-given instinct. Sometimes we turn every which way with our problems, but God always has the best answer. We have to trust Him. He can put the answer in us.

"Ants" is an excerpt from the book Blooming, This Pilgrim's Progress by Marian den Boer.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Comfort Overflowing by M. Laycock

Two doses of chemo over and I'm feeling like it's letting go of me again. Such a blessing to be able to eat normally and not have indigestion that makes it feel like a small block of wood is forcing its way through your intestines. Slept through the night last night too, another blessing I don't think I'll ever take for granted again. I even went shopping with my daughter today, though I sat through it while she searched the racks.

Sitting in the mall it was interesting to watch all the "normal, healthy" people. Some avoided my turbaned head, some smiled a wee bit, some just stared then looked away. Then I noticed a woman walk by whose neck was a bit crooked. Another had a slight limp, another dragged an oxygen tank behind him. Not so "normal and healthy." And I thought, how many times did I breeze by them all in a mall like this, uncaring, oblivious to all the hardships and pain around me. In the glitz and glimmer of a shopping mall it's easy to think the world is all as it should be as we spin along on our quest for consumer items, avoiding the pain, the sadness, refusing to look it in the face, refusing to do anything to alleviate it.

But the reality is, the world underneath all that shine and polish is rather sad and broken. A friend posted a quote from CS. Lewis on Facebook recently - "Human history is the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him Happy." So very true.

Yet there is hope, there is purpose.

The author of the second book of Corinthians said it this way - "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows" (2Corinthians 1:3-5).

As we see the pain and suffering around us and attempt to minister to it, we enter into the ministry of Christ through His suffering. We enter into the humanity of our race, joining ourselves together with bonds that hold us all up as we stand at the cross. And in so doing we are made more human, moulded more and more into the image of God, which is our true identity.

And some of the brokenness is healed, the sadness turned to joy, the reality of God's love made known. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Beckoned Back-Gibson

My friend, she the lovely one–rake thin and blonde–waits inside the art gallery, at the top of the stairs, chatting with the curator. They stop when I get to the top. ”I feel like an escapee.”

They laugh, and the curator excuses himself.

“Monique*,” I say.

“Kathleen,” says she, reaching out her arms.

We hug, then stand back to size each other up. It’s been a few years since we made time for each other. Since we really looked at each other. Her face looks different. Older. Thinner. And sadder, somehow. I never expected that.

I wonder what she sees when she looks at me. The same, perhaps.

Gusts of time and circumstance swirl bitterly among kith and kin sometimes. Contrary winds too easily make strangers of friends. My last few years have not dealt kindly with some of my once-dear friendships.

I will not have that. I will not give in. I have begun beckoning back those I have most missed; first in my prayers, then using words. Come, please. We have rich gifts unopened. Treasures too long stored. Do you still have room?

They’ve begun to arrive, alighting like tentative butterflies on the petals of my soul. We are older. We are not necessarily wiser. And we are more tired. But we are still lovely together.

Monique and I wander through the gallery. I am stunned by the gems conceived in her own soul, hanging now for the world to see. Her chapbook, which features her exquisite India ink sketches and God's words, has blessed me to hell and back these last years. I tell her so. But you published it, she says, surprised. But we both know I played mere midwife.

We amble down the road for cold iced tea on the porch of the vintage coffee house. We steep in each other's presence for almost two hours, and find it sweet.

God is good. But life is hard–and far too short to watch friends drift away without trying to hold them just once more.

One at a time, I will unfurl my petals. Alight, butterflies, alight.


*not her actual name

Find columnist, broadcaster, speaker and author Kathleen Gibson online at and on Facebook and Linked In.

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