Monday, December 29, 2014

Merry or Mourning? by Donna Mann

I’m writing this blog on Christmas day after listening to the world leaders offer their seasonal message, finishing with a variety of familiar terms. Although they spoke about reconciliation, reaching out to one other and God’s gift of love in Jesus, Pope Francis’ candid statement, “there are many tears this Christmas” left me thinking.
How does the adjective, Merry, fit in the midst of ‘many tears’ ? And how does one show care and consideration of another when greeting? We might wish or want others to have a Merry Christmas, but are they in a situation or frame of mind that they or even God can/will actually achieve it? There have been times in the valleys of my own life that I wanted to hear a greeting with different words than one that left the suggestion that I could be or wanted to be merry. 

However, I need to say that I love the Advent and Christmas season right up to the 12th night. Our tree goes up on December 1st and often doesn’t come down until January end. The lights, festive colours, turkey and pudding, visits, choosing cards, making handmade gifts all year, preparing the stockings and attending church are all part of my feeling-at-home in the season.

I will reflect on a few situations to explore some early feelings of being uncomfortable with this word merry. Because of parents going south and later adult children wanting to be at home around their own tree, our family day was early in December. 

The 25th, free of home responsibilities during my active years of ministry, gave time to visit hospitals, nursing homes and sometimes prisons where I often saw sadness. More recently Facebook, news feeds and emails bring the world to the kitchen table with people’s tragedies. Sometimes we can set personal sorrow aside and get into, submit and give thanks for everything Christmas represents in our life - and sometimes we can't. And the happy person who calls out Merry Christmas as we walk down the grocery store aisle doesn't have a clue what burdens we might be carrying in our hearts for ourselves or others.

My mother died on December 11th, 1983, making the season difficult. Returning to our home in Alberta and leaving my father, planted another level of grief. Arriving back to my settlement charge, I found great comfort in the ‘Blue Christmas’ or ‘Longest night' services.

Mom’s death at this time of year taught me to be a sensitive and caring minister, to listen with the third ear (heart), maybe more than seminary managed. I learned not everybody wants to feel merry, happy and joyful on any given day, nor do they want others to assume they are. 

 I have a few days left until the 12th day, and I hope to balance grief and grace, despair and laughter, beauty, pain and battle as Sarah Clarkson writes in her recent award winning short story. Perhaps then I will be able to offer a greeting that meets the need of those who God puts in my path.

I trust the Christmas Spirit of Love has, or is about to visit you, in whatever part of the world you live.

Check out for good reading.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Stress, Impress or Bless - by Heidi McLaughlin

I felt offended.  My spiritual gift evaluation showed that my strengths emerged in the area of hospitality. “How shallow and frivolous is that?” I thought.  “I want my top spiritual gifts to be something more meaningful and powerful; like wisdom, evangelism, prayer warrior or teaching.” And yet I read Mother Teresa’s simple words, “Spread love wherever you go: First of all in your own house…let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile”. Those practical words changed my attitude and perception about this seemingly useless gift.
I also had to change my motive and learn the difference between entertaining and hospitality.  When our motives for entertaining guests are focused on impressing, it becomes stressful and exhausting to share our food, our guest rooms, our resources and our valuable time.  To unleash the true beauty of a hospitable heart, I needed to check my motive for inviting people in my home. I had to be clear about the difference between impressing and blessing.  Impressing is entertaining, and blessing is hospitality.
Ø  Looks for payment; the words, “My, isn’t she a remarkable hostess…”
Ø  Says, “I want to impress you with my home, my clever decorating, and my gourmet cooking.”
Ø  Flaunts what we have and wants to impress people. It is about working hard to make everything look perfect and wearing ourselves out to astonish people with our creativity and skills.
Ø  It is the cover of a slick woman’s magazine with the alluring pictures of good food and stunningly decorated rooms.
Ø  Is a beautiful and creative gift from God; one that we can enjoy and explore for the rest of our lives; and it never goes out of style.
Ø  Gives pleasure in giving, doing, loving and serving.
Ø  Seeks to minister and says, “This home is a gift and a haven from my Master; I use it as He desires.”
Ø  Is about making the time to share our home, serve people with love, and intentionally bless those that walk through our doors.
Ø  Is about the intimate connection between food and fellowship. “Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to say for the night” (1Peter 4:9 NIV).
What is it about eating food together that creates such a sociable atmosphere? We all long to be part of some community; and we find some of this in our favorite coffee shop where we stop to chat with a friend. We also love to gather on a hot evening at the ice cream shop or sit on the patio of an outdoor restaurant swapping stories. I feel that eating together is a spiritual experience; a building of community through sharing our hearts.

In our present complicated, “hurry up life”; taking the time to invite people into our homes to share our food is probably one of the greatest acts of kindness we can extend to each other. It’s an opportunity to exhibit and share the most intimate parts or our lives.  When we have people into our homes it says, “Come and see where we live, and share what we have.” 
The Christmas season is the perfect time to use our gift of hospitality to share our homes with pure and joyful motives. I learned this principle from Jesus.  In His final hours on earth, with the shadow of the cross hanging over Him, Jesus spent His last evening sharing dinner with His disciples. He chose to share life-changing information with them that night around a table. It was a place of intimacy created by mouths enjoying the same food, bodies reclining around the table and eyes meeting across the plates. Here they enjoyed intimate community. 
Our homes and our tables should be a place to share what is meaningful with each other. After all, this was the place Jesus commanded us to remember Him by the breaking of bread and drinking of wine. Our homes are the greatest place to share food, blessings, and the “good news of Christ”; hand-in-hand.
Heidi McLaughlin lives in the beautiful vineyards of the Okanagan Valley in Kelowna, British Columbia. She is married to Pastor Jack and they have a wonderful, eclectic blended family of 5 children and 9 grandchildren. When Heidi is not working, she loves to curl up with a great book, or golf and laugh with her husband and special friends. You can reach her at:

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


I could ace this. I was sure.
The cheery interviewer directed me to a little room with a computer desk and chair. I was about to complete the final step of the interviewing process.

"Your English is excellent," she had complimented me earlier. "I don't foresee a problem with a placement if you pass this test."

I was at an employment agency in Toronto, being screened for my first official job in Canada, and I was ecstatic to go back to work in the professional world. The University of Toronto had assessed my degree as being comparable to one earned from a Canadian university, and my application to teach was being processed by the Ontario Teacher's College. In the interim, I wanted something to do.

I listened to the interviewer's instructions carefully and noted the time given. Then came the question of application: Word Perfect 6 or Word 7?

The higher number sounded smarter and my answer came easy. "Word 7."

I had never worked on Word 7 but it couldn't be so different from Word 6, could it? I had used Word 6 but that was not an option at the employment office.

Insight: Don't try to impress or show off at an important first time event. Be especially mindful of time and place.

I clicked the START button. All was well until the warning came up that I was to use another method and not the shortcut menu I had used for the previous two answers. Pointing to the toolbar, I picked the corresponding option from the Home menu. Two questions later I was requested to use yet another method.

Another method? Whatever happened to knowing one method and sticking with it?

Insight: Default to a particular way of doing things if no alternative is asked for. This will allow you to save time or use other resources more productively.

I did not know the keyboard shortcuts. I was not familiar with some of the new elements of Word 7 that formed the majority of the test.

Insight: There's a very short distance between brilliance and stupidity and it takes a nanosecond to plummet to the stupid end.

My palms were sweaty and I hated the computer at that moment, but more than that, I loathed the creator of the new version of the software. I could not figure out the new changes to the menu as the clock ticked. Cruel slave driver! Time ran out before I could finish the typing test…
(An excerpt from 10 1/2 Sketches: Insights Into Being Successful Right Where You Are by Susan Harris, releasing on January 2, 2015 as an ebook.)  
Find Susan at:
ABOUT: Susan Harris is a speaker and former teacher, and the author of Remarkably Ordinary: 20 Reflections on Living Intentionally Right Where You Are, Golden Apples in Silver Settings, Little Copper Pennies and Little Copper Pennies for Kids. Her first submission to Chicken Soup for the Soul is published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What? edition as Smokey's Lockout, and was released August 19, 2014. Remarkably Ordinary was released in print on November 1, 2014. Her new picture book, Alphabet on The Farm was released on December 1, 2014. Susan was born in exotic Trinidad but now lives on the Saskatchewan prairies with her husband, daughter and the unpredictable cats.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Shakespeare had it right—Carolyn R. Wilker

In his time, William Shakespeare knew a thing or two about the stage, but curiously, a thing or two about life as well. He wrote:

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

You may not think you’re on a stage, but really you are. While you might not be acting to earn your wages, people still watch what you do, how you behave.

Think of all the people who have been part of your life for a short or long time. Friends who seemed to disappear from your circle when they moved away or when life circumstances changed for one of you and you were no longer able to spend time together. Or a friend died and you seemed cut off from the family since you were merely a friend and not family. Many exits and entrances indeed. 

A long-time friend died last January; she was younger than me by a year. I’ve known her since we were four or five years old. Maybe it helps that our parents are also long-time friends, but our friendship developed of its own accord. That was her entrance to my life and mine to hers.

I thought long and hard about her exit—too soon for me. She went to the hospital having been diagnosed with pneumonia. She thought she’d be in a few days and arranged for meals for her husband who’s disabled and older than her. But that’s not how things turned out. 

My husband and I drove down the highway to the London hospital on a snowy winter day. I had asked permission to go and had a sense that I needed to be there. She couldn’t speak, we couldn’t hug, but I did have a brief moment, if that, to say her name and touch her gently on the shoulder. I was prepared to read a psalm, but there wasn’t enough time. In my heart I thought it was close to goodbye, but I couldn’t say it, even if she was the sickest of the patients in the Trauma Care unit.

We’d been in the room barely a moment when staff asked us to go to the waiting room. We would learn later that she went into cardiac arrest.

My friend’s life was a testimony to her faith. She was always reminding us of God in our lives. We often talked about the spiritual and our last conversation just after the New Year last January was no different. Still I wasn’t ready for her exit the end of that month. It was painful.

That’s when I addressed life as a stage play.

Enter left, exit right
or is it enter right, exit left?
Only it was all wrong;
you exited too soon

Your role ended
before our play was over
and we were powerless to stop it

Unaware of the gravity,
the rise in suspense
       —an outcome we feared in Act IV—
that would drop the final curtain
or like a trap door in the theatre floor
that takes the actor out of the scene

the lines you were to say next
were never spoken

Even if I’m not ready to say good-bye to a loved one, God knows the pain in my heart. The place she—and others—have held there. It's real and not forgotten.

It is said that life is not a dress rehearsal. There’s no rewinding of stage time, only going forward. This season, while celebrating the gift of the Saviour, Jesus, consider your place on the stage and go forward in the knowledge of God’s grace. May he give you much peace and joy this season in the middle of wherever you find yourself.

Carolyn R. Wilker writes and edits from her home in southwestern Ontario. She was a speaker at December MoMondayGuelph. She is the author of Once Upon a Sandbox as well as devotionals, poetry and articles. She is also a writing instructor and storyteller.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Waiting for Christmas - HIRD

By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird

Every year I impatiently wait for Christmas.  I love Christmas, but I don’t like waiting.  The season of Advent (which started this year on Nov 30th) teaches us a lot about waiting, not just to remember Jesus’ first coming in Bethlehem, but also to wait patiently for Jesus’ second coming.  Waiting in an age of instant gratification is hard.  That is why Advent rarely every get commercialized.

Impatience is one of those areas where God has been nudging me lately.  I am one of those people who like things to happen yesterday.  We Hirds are go-getter people who love to see things completed.  I am so often impatient with myself when writing a new book or newspaper article.   In my sequel Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit, I speak about Titus who was a first-century go-getter.  Titus reminds me of my father, Ted Hird, who always gets the job done.  At one of my father’s retirements, his company, Microtel, gave him a statue of a horse in memory of my father’s billing the company for a dead horse.  Working in Newfoundland for three months with the snowy roads sometimes impassible, my father hired a farmer’s horse to drag the telecommunications equipment up the hill. The microwave tower was finally finished, but the horse died.  Titus-like leaders make things happen against impossible odds.

Hidden in our strengths are our greatest weaknesses.  That is why we can’t see them, and often don’t want to change.  Persevering people rarely want to admit their stubbornness, and their need to be more flexible.  Administratively gifted people rarely see how painful they can be when they slip into micromanaging of others’ lives.  We Tituses are great people to have around when you need a job done. But we can be painful to be around when our impatience causes us to be too pushy, too controlling, and too anxious.

I remember impatiently waiting for Christmas as a little child.  I desperately wanted to see the Christmas presents waiting for me.  So we talked our grandmother into going into my parents’ bedroom to show us where they were hidden.  The famous passage 1 Corinthians 13, which is read at many weddings, reminds us that love is patient. True love waits.  Waiting makes Christmas that much better.  It is so hard to wait.  It is so tempting to take the matter into our own hands and prematurely solve things.  Recently doing my doctorate taught me that quick fixes fix nothing.  Genuine lasting transformation takes time.  Lasting change needs to be thoughtful and intentional.  We all want to be better people, especially at Christmas.  Becoming more Christlike however doesn’t happen overnight.   We can’t just wake up on December 25th and suddenly become the most patient loving person in Canada. 

What motivates me to become more patient this Christmas is realizing that my impatience has often hurt other people whom I care for deeply.  My wife has graciously chosen to forgive my impatience many times during our thirty-seven years of marriage.  I want to be a more gentle and kind person especially to my wife.  My impatience too often gets in the way of this desire.  God keeps telling me to give my impatience back to Him, to put my impatience on the altar, to let go and let God.  When I get out of the way, God often does things far beyond what I can ask or imagine.   God is remarkably patient and kind in a way that most of us don’t fully get.  Rather than pulling the plug on us when we are rebellious, God keeps on loving us, hoping that we will choose to return home.  God wants us to come home for Christmas.   God in a manger welcomes us home for Christmas.  The Christ child is patiently waiting for us this Christmas.  He really does love us beyond our wildest imagination.  

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, Rector  
BSW, MDiv, DMin
St. Simon's Church North Vancouver
Anglican Mission in Canada
-previously published in the December 2014 Deep Cove Crier

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with in bothpaperback and ebook form. In Canada, has the book available in paperbackand ebook.

It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook ), Amazon France (paperback andebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 1008- 555 West 28th Street, North Vancouver, BC, V7N 2J7, Canada.

- In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #1008-555 West 28th Street, North Vancouver, BC V7N 2J7. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done byPAYPAL using the e-mail . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $9.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to download a complimentary PDF copy of theBattle for the Soul study guide :  Seeking God’s Solution for a Spirit-Filled Canada

You can also download the complimentary Leader’s Guide PDF: Battle for the Soul Leaders Guide

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Does God know about us or not? - Denyse O'Leary

From – Denyse O’Leary: (from my continuing series on the human mind)“The evolutionary psychologist knows why you vote -- and shop, and tip at restaurants”
Evo psych also accounts for anger over trivial matters (it was once key to our survival),
It feels like emptying Darwin's wastebasket.
and There's a gene for that... or is there?
After media buzz about a genetic component to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), one British paper asked "Are some children just born bad?", suggesting that "previous thinking was flawed and some children, through no fault of the parents, are simply bad seeds."
We are only beginning to learn about epigenetics, the system within our cells that governs whether, when, and how a gene will be expressed. It threatens to upend the nonsense, except for one thing: We just haven't heard much about that compared to all these "genes for."
In any event, the 1000 Genomes Project has found about 15 million gene variants in humans, "more than half of which had never been observed before." And that's not the only unexpected recent finding. More than one percent of Scottish men in the "Scotland's DNA" project were determined to be direct descendants of the Saharan Berber and Tuareg tribes. Did any genetic determinist predict that?
Similarly, on the controversial subject of genetics and intelligence (the "genius gene"), scientists used to estimate that about half a dozen genes affected it, then later upped the number to two hundred genes. Another estimate is about a thousand. One psychologist explained, "We can't find the effects of any individual genes that are large enough to seem worth worrying about."
Is there a good reason to believe that life's origin must be a fully natural event? Note: The Science Fictions – cosmology series is here. The human evolution series is here. The Science Fictions: the human mind series is here.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

First to Arrive . . . At Last! (Peter Black)

Warm thoughts for you at Christmas and a special way to say, may the festive season bring much happiness your way. That was the greeting on the front of a handcrafted card from Scotland—one amongst the first batch of cards to arrive this season.
It was decorated with a golden fabric bow, and the greeting was framed with tastefully applied glitter. Green holly leaves and floral shapes, set against a white background with a dash of red, made for an understated, yet attractive, effect. The interior bore our friends’ personal greeting to us.

This card is special not only because it was hand-crafted, but for several other reasons. First, because of our relationship with the couple who sent it. This was the forty-first Christmas card to come from them since our arrival in Canada, in 1974. The couple, now in their eighties, were our pastors during our time in Aberdeen, Scotland. Alwyne and his wife Mima demonstrated what it was to follow Jesus and live out the life He calls us to live. Alwyne mentored me in pastoral service, even before I knew I would become a pastor!

They had a sizable family of their own, yet were like grandparents to ours. Mima often took care of our boys for a few hours so we could attend to some other matters, and there was always room around the table for one or two—or umpteen—more folks. Servanthood, faith and humility marked their lives.
My poor photography doesn't do justice
The card is also special because it represents a victory for Mima. To explain: When we visited with the couple in 2012 she commented on how May’s card to them from us always arrived at their house first. She said, “One o’ these Christmases I’m going to beat May and get our card over to you in Canada, first.”
Well this was the year. Ours was probably winging over the Atlantic towards the UK, when their card landed in our mailbox. Mima had finally done it – after forty years, she was first!
Here’s an excerpt from the message: “. . . We are both OK. Getting old and a few pains, but thank God we are still able to do the work we have been given to do. Love to the family. . . . From Alwyne and Mima. God bless in 2015.”
That card is particularly special because it arrived here the day before her funeral / memorial service. Little did she know when she wrote and mailed the card that days later she would reach her eternal home before the card reached our earthly one. It’ll be cherished on account of the timing and circumstances surrounding its arrival. As in the case of the previous forty cards Mima sent, this one was sent with warmth and love.
Do you have a Christmas greeting story that holds special meaning for you? Whenever you recall the people and circumstances associated with it, warm longings for them and that special time spring to life deep in your heart?
In our Northern clime, winter’s cold and shorter days lend to the Advent-Christmas season a capacity for wistful longing and quiet reflection. We can ponder about people dear to us—of those still living who reside far away—and stir cherished memories of others who have passed away.
A half-hour withdrawn from things competing for our attention can help us find that quiet space in our thoughts and hearts. Our dear friend Mima’s ‘victory,’ along with her home-call and final Christmas card to May and me, has offered another reason to do just that.
If you care to further the thought:

This reminds me of that first Christmas night—or, perhaps it was in the wee small hours of the
Credit: Print Shop
morning. Once the visiting Bethlehem shepherds left the humble place where the Christ Child lay and their excited chatter and exuberant praises to God faded into the darkness, Mary, the young virgin mother, found that quiet space.

“. . . Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19 NIV).”
The verbal message the angel Gabriel delivered to her nine months before (Luke 1:26-38) was now fulfilled. Father God's divinely conceived and fashioned message—the Living Eternal Word, the Message “made flesh” (John 1:1-3)had been delivered, and lay in a manger.
The conclusion of the pregnancy was not so much an end, but a beginning!
Peter's second book is a compilation of inspirational articles from his weekly column—on a variety of themes. These are interspersed with brief expressions intended to encourage.
ISBN: 978-0-9920074-2-3
Angel Hope Publishing


Monday, December 01, 2014

An Advent Prayer - Eleanor Shepherd

Our Heavenly Father,

            As once again we enter the season of Advent, we eagerly await the celebration of the birth of Jesus, Your Son who from the beginning of time You planned to provide as our Saviour.  During these days we anticipate all the joys of our annual celebration of the greatest event of history, the coming of You the eternal God into our world as a helpless baby.  While our minds can hardly grasp this reality, we pray that our reflections will open us each to a deeper awareness of Your love for us as we enter into our preparations for the celebration of Christmas 2014. In creating a festive environment in our churches and in our homes and the many places where we gather together in celebration of the Christmas season, we bring out the decorations that symbolize so many of our traditions.  As we unwrap these memories of past Christmases, may we also prepare ourselves internally for the miracle of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Our inner reflection will be effective when we take time to recall Your faithfulness to us through the years as we ponder the kindness and love that we have received and given that has enriched our lives so much.

             In contrast to the lights and music that are an integral part of the Christmas season for us, we are aware that in much of our world there is darkness and discord.  We pray for those places today where people are living in fear and unhappiness.  As we prepare to honour You who have revealed to us Your standard of justice and righteousness, we are conscious of those who suffer as victims of injustice and evil. We ask that in response to our prayers, in some special way Your light and love might penetrate the dark places, even in what seems to us some small or insignificant way.  As they breaking through, we know they will bring hope and healing to broken and despairing hearts.  As Your Spirit comes into dark corners with Your grace we pray they those in the shadows might be stirred to take heart with the realization that Emmanuel - God with us has come and desires to accompany them through the darkness and into the light.
            Lord, we thank You that You know the desire that we carry today to follow the example of Emmanuel and be lights in our world that can help dispel the darkness.  Yet we acknowledge that often within us the light becomes dim because of our own failure to trust You.  As a result we know that we are less that You would have us be.  We fall short of the mark.  We ask you in Your mercy to forgive for our sins.  You will enable us again to ignite and strengthen the light in the lives of each other as we receive and give forgiveness from You and from each other.  Forgiven people, help us to forgive and to encourage all we meet, so together we might bring light to the communities where we find ourselves during this season of Advent. 

            When we gather around the Advent wreath and light the candles, reminding ourselves of all the gifts that You gave to us with the coming of Christ on that first Christmas, prepare us to share those gifts as part of our daily living.  May hope, peace, joy and love flow out of our hearts into the lives of those around us creating a more beautiful world for your coming in the  way that the gentle falling of the snow softly coats the earth and transforms the drabness into something beautiful. 

            In the name of the Christ of Christmas we pray.


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