Sunday, January 20, 2019

Have you received your DNA results yet? By Carol Ford

For Christmas this year, I asked the family for DNA testing from  I just received the results this week.  There was very little surprise and nothing exotic about my background—60% England, Wales, North Western Europe; 33 % Ireland and Scotland; 7% Sweden (This last piece was the only reveal.)

At age 50 I found my birth family but my birth parents had both died by that time. I recently wrote a piece about my birth father; a father who was in my life until I was almost five. I think it helps demonstrate the void that can exist when families are severed.

Who is my Father?

Was he a hero leading the brass band; a sad clown seeking crowd approval; or Santa Clause on the last float? A parade of memories are all that I have left.

I was adopted at age five, and my only remaining  information comes from the Children’s Aid documentation, photos, historical data, and conversations with my adoptive and birth family members.

My birth father’s given name, John, dates back seven generations to our United Empire Loyalist roots. John Sr. and his son John Jr. fought with the King’s Rangers on the side of the British in the American Revolution between the years 1775-1783. At the end of that war, the family fled to Canada and received payment from the British in the form of 200 acres in Eastern Ontario. John Jr. served as a sergeant in the War of 1812 out of Kingston, Ontario. On a recent trip to this region I hiked into an old graveyard, pushed back the overgrown grass, and strained to read washed-out grave markers. The names on these old stones had blackened with age.
Did my father ever ponder or reflect on his Canadian heritage?

As I was growing up, my adoptive mother, in a critical and disapproving tone, shared her limited knowledge about my birth father and mother. Her statement was always the same.
“Your father was lazy and couldn’t keep a job.” She said.
Then in a gentler voice she added, “They told me your mother was a tall, attractive woman and she had no choice but to give you up because your father couldn’t provide for the family.”
Was my father a loser and my mother the victim?

At age 50, I received my Non-Identifiable information from the Children’s Aid.  My maternal grandmother said my birth father failed to provide for his family, and that he was the cause of the separation between him and his wife.
I also learned from this document that I was fourteen-months old when my birth parents separated. My mother kept my two-year-old birth brother, and my four-year-old birth sister went to live with our paternal grandparents.  The document also recorded that my father tried, over a three-year period, to place me with two different families, but both families decided not to follow through with an adoption. As a consequence, when I was four, the Ontario court stepped in and made me a Crown Ward.  
Did these efforts mean that my birth father cared about me?

When I met my birth brother and birth sister they had strong and conflicting views of our father.
My birth brother, a man who typically made allowances for just about everyone, became noticeably irritated and angry when I asked about our father. His facial expression showed disgust.
“What father? He wasn’t a father to me. I remember as a kid that he promised to take me to a movie, but he didn’t show up. He was never in my life growing up. However, when my son was born, he wanted to be a grandfather and came over all the time with gifts and toys. I couldn’t get rid of him.”  
My birth brother spew out these words that revealed a deep hurt of abandonment and an open wound.
Was my birth father sorry for his past behaviour?

.According to my birth sister, who was brought up by my birth father’s parents, our father would visit regularly with clothes and gifts. When she spoke of him, I sensed her love and admiration.
 With pride she said, “He was a strong swimmer and jumped in the water on a couple of occasions to save people who were drowning.  He was very well liked and when he died, a large crowd of friends came to his funeral.”
Shortly after I met my birth sister we took a road trip back to our grandparent’s home town. I saw the small grey house where she grew up. The Canadian National Railway train tracks ran through their back yard, and my grandfather and uncle had lifelong jobs working on rail maintenance in this location.
Why didn’t my father get a job like this?

 After my birth sister’s death, her daughter brought me a worn maroon- coloured box  and inside was a bible with an inscription from our father to my birth sister on her twelfth birthday.
Did he ever go to church? Was he thinking of my birth sister’s spiritual wellbeing?

My birth mother’s sister told me that my parents met picking apples. My birth mother was seventeen and my birth father was twenty-three.  My aunt gave me a picture of my birth parents on their wedding day. 
In the photo my father is dressed in a long wool overcoat and a felt hat with a brim. The hat is tipped to one side in a nonchalant manner. There’s a cigarette dangling from his right hand and he wears a detached expression on his face. My mother looks quite chic in her coat and hat. She has a slight smile on her face but they are not holding hands and there doesn’t appear to be any sign of two people in love. I know that she was pregnant with my birth sister. As I study the picture and their facial expressions, I think she must be feeling relieved to have the ‘problem’ solved while he looks more like he is just going through the motions. 
My birth mother’s youngest sister told me on a couple of occasions, “Your mother adored your birth father and she was heartbroken when he left her for another woman.
But, did he adore her?

My birth parents on their wedding day 1939

I will never know this father, and the parade of people and memories has now passed out of sight. I’ll have to be satisfied with the images that remain.

I was blessed with an adoptive father who adored me; I was his blue-eyed, blonde little girl, and I loved him dearly.  My adoptive father also taught me about God and I learned that my heavenly father would never leave me or forsake me. This knowledge is all that really matters.

“... I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty”
2 Corinthians 6:18
Carol Ford - published author, speaker

 Carol combines her background as a corporate trainer and her Christian faith in her writing and speaking. She writes articles for local newspapers, Christian magazines and on-line webinars.  She has two short stories published in the Hot Apple Cider series -  My Mother’s Gift and My Forever Home 1948. She is also a co-author of: As the Ink Flows: Devotions to Inspire Christian Writers & Speakers.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Memories That Last by Susan Harris

I'm writing this blog minutes before the clock strikes midnight. When you read it I will be collecting the final few memories of a business/promotion tour in my birth country of Trinidad. So many they are - the ocean view from the seventh floor of the Hyatt Regency and the glass bathroom that steals privacy; the warm welcome and service of the staff; the foods, music and friendly, helpful people of my country; the kilometres walked; the balmy air and hundred of things that melt together to produce an experience that cannot be captured in isolated descriptions.

Yet there's one memory that trumps the ones of my trip. It revolves around a quiet man who said no to every question I posed, until he said yes to the one that truly counted.

Last month my husband and I shared Christmas supper with close friends. Their brother whom I'll call Sam sat on the fifth chair. All evening long he politely declined my offerings. "No, thanks" to fruit punch, coffee or water. No thanks to the hor d'oeuvres over which an impromptu game took on. No thanks to a second helping of potatoes and the many dishes that crowded the delightful table. No thanks to photos.

After the meal Sam went to his room. When it was time to leave I donned my Santa hat to brave the cold, cold air. Then suddenly Sam appeared.

Without planning or preliminaries I was propelled to ask, "Have you invited Jesus into your life?"
Can you guess what Sam said?
"No." He shook his head as he replied. (Take 10 points if you guessed correctly.)
"Would you like to invite Jesus into your heart?" I was impelled to share Christ with the quiet man even though I anticipated "no".

I continued, "God loves you and has a wonder--"
"Yes, yes, I would like to invite Jesus…" Sam was saying.
I was momentarily stunned. Did he say Yes?
Yes, he did say yes. Lead him in the prayer my heart instructed excitedly.

I did. Sam repented of his sins and invited Jesus into his heart. Then he turned to his sister and explained that about 10 years ago when she had taken him to a Christmas service at church, the pastor had given a call for salvation but he had disregarded it. He also turned down her offer to walk with him to the front of the church.

He explained further: "That night the "spirit" came to me right here (he touched his chest) and said 'Why didn't you go up?'"

Holy, holy God! Conviction had torn at Sam for 10 years. He had been waiting, hoping, longing for the opportunity to ask Jesus into his life for ten long years, and on December 25, 2018, a lady with a Santa hat had finally brought that moment to Him. This memory will never be erased.

We rejoiced that evening. Sam's smiled from ear to ear after he invited Jesus and received a Bible from his sister.

I believe that Sam would have made it to Heaven even if someone had not led him in a prayer. Back up, you might be saying. How could that happen? This is how it happens…Acts 16:31 tells us, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved…" Sam had believed ten years ago as he lay on his bed and the "spirit" came to him. We do not see the heart. But God does. Sam did not know that he could turn his life over to Christ on his own. In his simple way he assumed it had to be done through a third party. But his heart had yearned for God, and God "spirit" had come to him. And a decade later God had allowed him to find the assurance in person.

I believe Heaven will be filled with people who have yearned for the true and living God in secret. Only in Eternity will we truly discover what lasts.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Where the Lost Things Go

During the recent holidays I took my nine- and seven-year-old granddaughters to see Mary Poppins Returns. In anticipation, them with popcorn in hand, one asked why we were there so early, the other answering her question, to be prepared. “At some movies, there’s a line-up of people,” I said.

Indeed the popcorn was disappearing into their mouths as we waited to get into the theatre. We talked about other movies going on there and about waiting until the staff was done getting the space ready. (How much popcorn lay on the floor?) It seemed like we were the only ones at that door, a bit surprising after all the previews for this movie.

The clean-up was done; we could go in. We’d talked about where we’d sit — not too close to the screen or at the back. Now it was time for them to choose the row. One wanted the aisle seat and so we found our place. Here we sat in a quiet and empty theatre, me and my granddaughters. They wondered if others were coming. I said I was sure more would come and speculated that the theatre might not be full (which turned out to be true). Most of their popcorn and drink was gone by that time. The girls had counted rows and seats across the middle. I didn’t expect them to sit still just yet or to be perfectly quiet. The popcorn and drinks diminished even more. Would we have to make an exit to the washroom in the middle of the movie? No, it happened before, while previews played and the feature was not yet begun.

One asked if the movie would be scary. I said, “I don’t think so, but if it is, close your eyes and hold my hand.” She nodded her head, that was okay.

Other people came in, snacks and drinks in hand. Women who may have seen the first Mary Poppins in the ‘60s, and a family in front of us with children the same age and younger as my granddaughters, maybe with a grandma in charge, like me. As far as I could tell there might have been no more than 30 people in the theatre by the time the feature began. Perhaps we didn’t need to come so early.

I wanted to see the movie just as much as the girls did. I’d seen the previews and the original on television and was glad we could come together. We weren’t disappointed.

 I loved the music from the start. The characters were intriguing, the story of a family challenged without a mother and the home in need of repairs. To make things worse, two men knock on the door, giving the father only days to come up with mortgage money he owed the bank.

I won’t spoil the story for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, but I will tell you that Mary Poppins returns, which of course is what the movie centres on. In one scene, the children had just awoken from a disturbing dream and miss their mother who used to calm their fears.

This is where Mary sings the song “The Place Where Lost Things Go.” It was sweet and gentle, like a lullaby and it brought tears to my eyes. It’s where I thought of my own Mom, so recently deceased, not lost as people often say, but not with us in person anymore. It reminded me of so much, and the tears rolled down my face. Still it was a gentle and peaceful song, that spoke of a loved one looking on to see how they’re doing, yet not close beside them.

Near the end, the younger one asked if the movie was nearly over. I suspected another washroom trip was imminent by the wiggling around in her seat.

The movie is well done with its animation, suspense, giddy and darker characters accompanied by many playful and serious tunes. While I appreciated so many of the songs, “The Place Where Lost Things Go” remains my favourite so that I had to look it up and listen to it again and again.

What’s my take-away? It’s fun to suspend reality for a while and enjoy a good movie with my granddaughters. But also, that what we miss, what feels lost, maybe isn’t so far away. That comfort is ours to be had, in the words of friends who care, in the knowledge that one day we will again be reunited with those who’ve gone “beyond the clouds.” Child-like perhaps, simplistic for sure, but sometimes it’s just what we need.


 Carolyn R. Wilker is an editor, author and storyteller from southwestern Ontario, Canada.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

We are all Indebted to the Wesleys

general james oglethorpe

We  are all Indebted to the Wesleys
By Rev Dr Ed & Janice Hird
After General James Oglethorpe rescued 10,000 people from Debtors Prison, he recruited John & Charles Wesley to serve these exdebtors as Anglican priests in the new colony of Savanah Georgia. The Wesleys were Oxford University academics with little pastoral experience. When they arrived in Georgia, they encountered one disaster after another.  One time when the Wesleys put the only doctor in Savannah, Georgia, in jail for getting drunk, a woman died in childbirth. Another time John Wesley refused communion to Sophia Hopkey his ex-girlfriend who had married another man. After being sued for one thousand pounds for character defamation and challenged to a duel, John Wesley had to escape in the middle of the night.

John famously said: “I went to America to convert the natives. But who will convert me?” During a violent storm while returning by boat to England, he was impressed by the calm faith of the Moravian Brethren. Attending their London chapel, his heart was strangely warmed. Many people in England were angry with hIm once he started preaching outside. Sometimes his opponents attacked Wesley, calling for his crucifixion. Wesley didn’t let anything stop him.  Some historians credit the Wesleys with having prevented the French Revolution from happening in 18th century England, because Methodist revival peacefully improved the lot of the working class.  At that time, adults and even children could be legally hanged for 160 different offenses –from picking a pocket to stealing a rabbit.  In London, 75% of all children died before age five.  Among the poor, the death rate was even higher.  In one orphanage, only one of 500 orphans survived more than a year.  Alcohol abuse was rampant, even among children, with over 11 million gallons of gin consumed in 1750.  Charles and John Wesley believed that changed hearts could lead to a changed society.  By setting many free from alcoholism and teaching the children to read, Methodism gave parents hope for a better life for their families.
Since the 1925 birth of the United Church of Canada, few Canadians hear much about Methodism, which was once an Anglican renewal movement that transformed Canada. Methodists were well known for their summer Camp Meeting revivals, weekly c  lass meetings (ie home groups), and vigorous hymn singing.  Suspected of being disloyal after the War of 1812, Canadian Methodists over time became the quintessential Canadians.  Both sides of our families had Methodist circuit rider preachers. On Janice’s side, her Methodist ancestors were named John Wesley Cline and Charles Wesley Cline.  The most famous Canadian Methodist Egerton Ryerson helped create free Canadian public schools rooted in Judeo-Christian values at a time when less than half the children were attending school.  Ryerson, the founding editor of The Christian Guardian, the first Canadian Christian newspaper, advocated that education “should be as common as water and as free as air. Education among the people is the best security of a good government and constitutional liberty…The first object of a wise government should be the education of the people.”
ryerson egerton
We are all indebted to the Wesley brothers who brought Methodist revival to Canada.
-previously published in the Light Magazine

Monday, January 07, 2019

Computers can write novels and screenplays better than the pros! - Denyse O'Leary

Sunspring (2016) Not! (Christian computer science prof Robert J. Marks has the real story at Mind Matters. I’m his editor and I supplied some of the information. – Denyse)

“AI rites reel gud!” Seriously, the idea is not new.

Back in the 1940s, George Orwell (1903–1950) thought that a machine could write popular novels so long as no creative thinking was involved. Thus, in his 1984 police state world, one of the central characters has a job minding a machine that mass produces them.

In the 1960s, some film experiments were done along these lines, using Westerns (cowboy stories). At the time, there were masses of formula-based film material to work with in this popular genre. But what does the product look and sound like? Blended leftovers.

In 2016, Ars Technica was proud to sponsor “the first AI-written sci-fi script:” As explained in The Guardian, a recurrent neural network “was fed the scripts of dozens of science fiction movies including such classics as Highlander Endgame, Ghostbusters, Interstellar and The Fifth Element.”

Sunspring, the title of the AI-written play, was computed after the trained neural network was given a “set of prompts.” The Guardian writer terms the resulting script “gibberish.” Here’s a description from sponsor Ars Technica:
Ars is excited to be hosting this online debut of Sunspring, a short science fiction film that's not entirely what it seems. It's about three people living in a weird future, possibly on a space station, probably in a love triangle. You know it's the future because H (played with neurotic gravity by Silicon Valley's Thomas Middleditch) is wearing a shiny gold jacket, H2 (Elisabeth Gray) is playing with computers, and C (Humphrey Ker) announces that he has to "go to the skull" before sticking his face into a bunch of green lights. It sounds like your typical sci-fi B-movie, complete with an incoherent plot. Except Sunspring isn't the product of Hollywood hacks—it was written entirely by an AI. To be specific, it was authored by a recurrent neural network called long short-term memory, or LSTM for short. At least, that's what we'd call it. The AI named itself Benjamin. AnnaLee Newitz, "Movie written by algorithm turns out to be hilarious and intense" at Ars Technica

It is “hilarious” if watching traffic cracks you up and “intense” if Barney the Dinosaur keeps you on the edge of your seat. The enjoyment comes from watching an actor interpret and convey emotions even when the dialog is meaningless. Here’s an excerpt from the screenplay:
He starts to shake. H: It may never be forgiven, but that is just too bad. I have to leave, but I'm not free of the world. C: Yes. Perhaps I should take it from here. I'm not going to do something. H: You can't afford to take this anywhere. It's not a dream. But I've got a good time to stay there. C: Well, I think you can still be back on the table. H: Mmm. It's a damn thing scared to say. Nothing is going to be a thing but I was the one that got on this rock with a child and then I left the other two. He is standing in the stars and sitting on the floor. He takes a seat on the counter and pulls the camera over to his back. He stares at it. He is on the phone. He cuts the shotgun from the edge of the room and puts it in his mouth. He sees a black hole in the floor leading to the man on the roof. (copied December 31, 2018)
Is the script hilarious? Only in its stupidity. Intense? No. It’s not even interesting. Such AI written prose was parodied by @KeatonPatti who tweets,
I forced a bot to watch over 1,000 hours of lawyer commercials and then asked it to write a lawyer commercial of its own. Here is the first page.
A LAWYER stands next to a shelf with books. The books are very wide. They have eaten too many words.
The LAWYER says: Have you been hurt in an accidental car? Has the government sold your lungs without asking nicely? Are you Mesothelioma? Answer me! The lawyer opens a briefcase. It’s full of lemons, the justice fruit only lawyers may touch. If so, you can act entitled for money.
I’ll help. I graduated from lawn school and all my teachers were bitten by dogs.
Words scroll across bottom of the screen. These are cases the layer takes: UNFAIR STABBING, ILLEGAL SHOES, MUSIC TOO CANADIAN, SUE THE RAIN, DIVORCE YOUR TOILET, FAKE SONS.
No, it’s not tense, but I do find Patti’s tweet to be a hilariously accurate parody.

This year, in an interesting experiment, another team tried AI-generated Christmas movie synopses:
Synopses A family of the Christmas terrorist and offering the first time to be a charlichhold for a new town to fight. A story of home-life father of the Christmas story. The reclusive from Christmas. A woman from chaos adopted home believes. A princess ogre nearby cross by on the Christmas. A gardener detective but country murderer magical suddenly Christmas the near elf. Karen Hao, "We tried teaching an AI to write Christmas movie plots. Hilarity ensued. Eventually." at Technology Review
Smithsonian Magazine also offered AI-generated Christmas carols along the lines of ““Syllabub Chocolatebells,” “Cinnamon Hollybells,” “Peaches Twinkleleaves,” “Cocoa Jollyfluff” and “Merry Jinglelog.” But this idea too had been anticipated in 1968 by “The Computer’s First Christmas Card.” It turns out that meaning matters.

So. fiction and song writers, please do keep writing. Don’t leave us with just this stuff in 2019.

Note: There are web sites that compose close to normal technical prose, using an expert system approach. The most popular is SCIgen, an automatic computer science paper generator. If you are interested, check it out.

See also: Here are the other predictions:

IBM’s Watson is NOT our new computer overlord. It won at Jeopardy (with specially chosen “softball” questions) but is not the hoped-for aid to cancer specialists

2018 AI Hype Countdown 3: With Mind-reading AI, You Will Never Have Secrets Again! AI help, not hype: Did you read about the flap they had to cut out of a volunteer’s skull? With so many new developments in AI, the real story is usually far down in the fine print. And not a close match with the headlines.

2018 AI Hype Countdown 4: Making AI Look More Human Makes It More Human-like! AI help, not hype: Technicians can do a lot these days with automated lip-syncs and smiles but what’s behind them? This summer, some were simply agog over “Sophia, the First Robot Citizen” (“unsettling as it is awe-inspiring”)…

2018 AI Hype Countdown 5: AI Can Fight Hate Speech! AI help, not hype: AI can carry out its programmers’ biases and that’s all. Putting these kinds of decisions in the hands of software programs is not likely to promote vigorous and healthy debate.

2018 AI Hype Countdown 6: AI Can Even Find Loopholes in the Code! AI help, not hype: AI adopts a solution in an allowed set, maybe not the one you expected.

2018 AI Hype Countdown 7: Computers can develop creative solutions on their own! AI help, not hype: Programmers may be surprised by which solution, from a range they built in, comes out on top Sometimes the results are unexpected and even surprising. But they follow directly from the program doing exactly what the programmer programmed it to do. It’s all program, no creativity.

2018 AI Hype Countdown 8: AI Just Needs a Bigger Truck! AI help, not hype: Can we create superintelligent computers just by adding more computing power? Some think computers could greatly exceed human intelligence if only we added more computing power. That reminds me of an old story…

2018 AI Hype Countdown 9: Will That Army Robot Squid Ever Be “Self-Aware”? The thrill of fear invites the reader to accept a metaphorical claim as a literal fact.

2018 AI Hype Countdown: 10. Is AI really becoming “human-like”?: AI help, not hype: Here’s #10 of our Top Ten AI hypes, flops, and spins of 2018 A headline from the UK Telegraph reads “DeepMind's AlphaZero now showing human-like intuition in historical 'turning point' for AI” Don't worry if you missed it.

 Robert J. Marks II, Ph.D., is Distinguished Professor of Engineering in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at Baylor University.  Marks is the founding Director of the Walter Bradley Center for Natural & Artificial Intelligence and hosts the podcast Mind Matters. He is the Editor-in-Chief of BIO-Complexity and the former Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE Transactions on Neural Networks. He served as the first President of the IEEE Neural Networks Council, now the IEEE Computational Intelligence Society. He is a Fellow of the IEEE and a Fellow of the Optical Society of America. His latest book is Introduction to Evolutionary Informatics coauthored with William Dembski and Winston Ewert. A Christian, Marks served for 17 years as the faculty advisor for CRU at the University of Washington and currently is a faculty advisor at Baylor University for the student groups the American Scientific Affiliation and Oso Logos, a Christian apologetics group.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

God will Open Doors in 2019 by Rose McCormick Brandon

Paul and his companions tried to preach in Asia but the Holy Spirit closed that door. They tried in Bithynia. Again, the Spirit shut the door (Acts 16:6-8). When they reached Troas, Paul was given a dream. 

During the night Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Acts 16:9

If we submit our desires to the Lord, ask Him to close every door except the one He’s chosen for us, He will do it. Some doors appeal. They seem right. But, they’re not His chosen door. God uses circumstances, scripture, friends, family, and even strangers to guide us. He uses supernatural occurrences like dreams, visions, words of wisdom and knowledge (I Corinthians 12:8). He may use nature–floods, clouds, fire. All things are at His disposal.

Jesus guides His followers. He doesn’t expect us to flounder and search in vain for an open door. As we prayerfully seek His will we’ll hear a voice, dream a dream, or in some way be guided to the work He has for us (Isaiah 30:21).

After the dream, Paul went to Macedonia and there found a few women meeting by the river on the Sabbath. One of them, Lydia, and everyone in her household, believed in Jesus. She opened her home to Paul and his companions. They stayed and preached the message of salvation through Christ. 

God gives gifts to His people. He knows we need opportunities to use them. As we listen daily to the Spirit, He guides us. Prayer for a friend. A gift of money to meet a need. Sharing Jesus with a stranger. Praying for and visiting the sick and imprisoned. Teaching. Preaching. Going. Giving. 

To writers tapping away on lap-tops: writing easily fits into the "speaking gifts" category. A word of wisdom, knowledge, prophecy; these can be written as well as spoken. Keep on teaching and encouraging through the gift of writing.  Jesus opened the door to Macedonia for Paul. And He will open doors for you.

“As you go down the long corridor, you will find that He has preceded you, and locked many doors which you would have entered; but be sure that beyond these there is one which He has left unlocked.” F. B. Meyer

Rose McCormick Brandon is the author of Promises of Home - Stories of Canada's British Home Children and often speaks in libraries, museums and to genealogical societies on this important time in Canadian history. She writes for a few faith publications and is presently working on a daily devotional. Rose edits, teaches and occasionally publishes books. Her book, One Good Word Makes all the Difference and others are available from her website. Visit her blogs, Listening to my Hair Grow and Promises of Home. 

Popular Posts