December 22, 2006

The Day God Laughed - Marcia Laycock


This piece has been around - in the Edmonton Journal, Living Light News, Ponoka News and on the web. I read it at a Debbie Zepick concert last week and almost broke down. What God has done never ceases to amaze and humble me. Merry Christmas, everyone! :)Marcia



“See what you have to look forward to now?” the whisper in my ear came from a friend in the pew behind us and it made my smile widen. It was Dec. 10th and we were on our first outing with our new baby. She was only 10 days old, but we braved the frigid Yukon winter to attend the Christmas pageant at a small mission church.

I knew the service wouldn’t be a grand production. The church was just a hall, tiny and dilapidated. The Carols were sung a cappella, without a pianist to help keep us in tune. The pageant consisted of six or seven children dressed in bathrobes, their heads in kitchen-towel wraps. The backdrop was made of cardboard stars covered in tinfoil.

But I was seeing everything attached to Christmas in a new way. The tinfoil stars glittered more brightly than a chandelier. The carols were as harmonious as though sung by angels. And the children... ah, the children made the story live! I was bursting with thankfulness. I had just been given the desire of my heart, the precious gift of a child of my own.

We had been told it wouldn’t happen, and after five years without conceiving a child, my husband and I tried to resign ourselves to that reality. I took great pains to hide the deep sadness I found almost unbearable. No one knew how much I wanted a baby, but the clues were there. I was angry much of the time. Convinced God was punishing me, I hated Him. The bitterness poured into all aspects of my life.

Until the day God laughed.

It was on the road to Mayo, Yukon. I was going to visit a friend, determined not to think about God or religion or any of the baffling questions my husband kept bringing up. But no matter what I tried, my mind would not rest. The question of God’s existence and what he had to do with me would not go away. In desperation, I pulled my vehicle into a lookout point about the Stewart River.

The beautiful river valley stretched out below, but I barely saw it. In turmoil, I challenged God to do something to prove He was there. Then I realized how foolish I was, talking to a God I did not really believe existed. At that point something happened which I have never been able to describe adequately. I “heard” laughter, like a grandfather chuckling, and the words, “Yes, but I love you anyway.”

None of this was audible, yet it was real. I thought I was going insane. The turmoil had finally pushed me over the edge and now I was hearing voices. I stomped on the gas pedal of my truck, turned the radio up as loud as it would go, and fled.

My visit with my friend turned out to be more discussion of spiritual things, but by the time I returned home I was determined not to pursue Christianity. Besides, I had something else on my mind. I had been suffering from a strange flu. On about the seventh day of this “flu”, the realization I was in fact pregnant flooded over me like warm rain. With it came a thunderbolt of truth.

This was the “something” I had challenged God to do. The child growing in my womb was His answer, the proof of His love. He gave me the desire of my heart. She was born Nov. 30, 1982.

“See what you have to look forward to now?” Oh yes, I saw. I saw a future filled with the knowledge there is peace without measure, grace without limit and love without conditions. I saw a future suddenly bright because I believe the Christmas story. A tiny baby, whose sole purpose was to die for me and all others, was born in Bethlehem. I saw the reality that the Christ is still intimately involved in our lives here on earth.

Though the church may be just a hall, the music less than perfect, and the costumes homemade, the story is exquisite. The story is true!


December 15, 2006

How the Natal Star was Born by Violet Nesdoly




The Son vanishes just after I am sent
to the Galilean virgin
and heaven isn’t the same.
Gone the laughter, mischief, hijinks.
Music replaced by silence
all monochromatic, sober
like the life of the party
has left
and we don’t have the will
to keep partying or to go home.

The Almighty’s been moody since then
broods like never before
over calendars and seasons,
looks down a lot, mostly toward Nazareth
at this blossoming virgin-no-more
and her earthmate.

The day this couple sets off down the road
He starts pacing... pacing... pacing...
When they get to Bethlehem
it’s pace, pace, pace.
Then He stops.
“Hush!”

All the hosts of heaven stop their chatter,
crowd behind Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David
peering over the balcony
focusing on a dark building
near a sign that blinks “Sorry - No Vacancy”
It’s so quiet
you can hear the stars hum.

Then, splitting the night
tiny and tremulous
“A-wah, a-wah, a-wah, a-wah.”

The Almighty shouts
tosses His glory
flings His radiance
laughs His magnificence
and then starts handing out
cig–, no trumpets
to every angel within arm’s reach.
“Go tell somebody, anybody
find someone who is awake
or wake them up!”

After they’ve left He asks for the bubbly
shakes it up good
pops the cork
sprays it all over heaven.

© 2003 - V. Nesdoly


***********************



This poem has done well for me, winning an Inscribe Contest prize a few years ago and, last year, a Pacific Theatre competition with the prize that it was read at last year's "Christmas Presence," and hubby and I got season tickets for the remainder of the PT's 2005/6 performances. So submit that poetry – you never know!


 

December 05, 2006

Country School Christmas - Violet Nesdoly

Every fall, just after Remembrance Day, Teacher dug around in the file cabinet for the play, poem, monologue and music books. It was time to plan the Christmas Concert.

First he and the older kids studied plays and chose two or three. Then it was time for casting – "Pick me! Pick me!" Somehow teacher got all the roles assigned and the newly dubbed Uncle Matt, Sambo, Mama and a tribe of others went home clutching mimeographed scripts with red underlined parts to memorize.

Teacher also picked Christmas carols for the whole school to sing as a choir. He chose my best friend, who was good at memorizing and reciting with expression, to say a monologue. The seven Grade Ones and Twos made a perfect WELCOME acrostic. I was in Grade Three and a herd of us older kids got to be in the drill – choreography to “Star of the East.”

We started working on it a few days later by learning to walk in a straight line. Then we practiced getting everyone to move evenly forward, then back. Finally we got to hold rulers as wands in an arch so that the end of the line could snake through it. Even after all that, when we finally added the piano we had to go over our dance again and again before our troupe’s movements were neat and we all ended up in the right place at the end of the song.

At costuming time teacher’s wife was waiting for us in the teacherage, with tape measure and pins. Over the following weeks, white crepe paper dresses took shape. Finally one day we could try them on – careful, don’t rip the paper, or stretch it! She’d trimmed the collars with gold sticker stars, stitched itchy tinsel around the sleeves and made a gold sash for each of us. As a final touch, our ruler wands were exchanged for thin wooden dowels that had big, shiny gold stars stapled to the ends.

About two weeks before the concert date came the most exciting day of school – the day the desks were lugged to the basement, the stage hammered together and the curtains strung up. That meant that our half-hearted efforts at schoolwork could officially end and the whole day would be spent working on Christmas!

Plays were torn apart scene by scene and rehearsed, endlessly rehearsed. Songs were sung and re-sung. Our drill was drilled.

If we weren’t involved in the rehearsal, teacher demanded silence and good behavior. To help pass the time, someone brought a spool knitting project.

"I need a spool," I announced at home.

Mom hunted down a chunky wooden one from thread. Dad pounded four small-headed nails in the top, found a slim shiny nail for me in his shop, I scavenged wool from Mom’s darning bag and joined my friends, making long colored tubes of knitting – worms that we eventually coiled and stitched into dollhouse rugs.

As the date of the concert came closer, a new urgency and excitement took over rehearsals. We needed props. Someone found the manger in storage and a call went out for a table, a rocking chair, a telephone. We did the program in the order it would happen on concert night so the curtain pullers and stage hands could learn their cues. When the dressing rooms became loud and disruptive someone volunteered, “We have an old quilt to put on the floor.”

"We have a cowhide," offered another.

And so teacher muffled the dressing room noise with these things and by the time all the props were collected and stored, there was hardly room, stage right and left, for any people at all.

The morning of the concert was dress rehearsal. Everything must be perfect. Usually panic struck around that time. Shouldn't the curtain be closed during the monologue, so that the stage could be set for "Uncle Matt's Christmas Discovery"? How could the row of drill angels enter on-stage through the dressing room when it was bulging with actors for the next play? Should the black-painted Sambo and Mama simply join the choir before having their paint removed?

We went home at noon so the trustees could come in and set up the benches for the crowd. The afternoon was a blur of anticipation and apprehension – I couldn't even concentrate to read. “Time for supper,” Mom called out about 4:30. My stomach, full of excitement, and had no room for food.

About forty-five minutes before concert time, we set out on the ten-minute drive to school – it wouldn’t do to be late. But we weren’t the first ones there. For our playground was now a parking lot and the small schoolroom was soon packed with nervous students, awe-struck preschoolers and smiling parents.


Finally it was time to start. As the curtain opened up to show the youngest students, holding their WELCOME letters, a hush came over the crowd. One by one, each said their little poem, then the audience went wild with applause and the tone of the evening was set.

How quickly the big night went by! Now it was time for my friend’s monologue and everyone laughed in all the right places. Now it was time for the choir to sing – my eyes darted from teacher's waving hands to find Mom, Dad and my little brothers and sisters. Now it was time to get dressed for the drill. And now teacher announced, "Star of the East"

We paraded nervously from the cloakroom, past the crowd and onto the stage. When the music began, our troupe, like parts of a wind-up music box, went into motion, making each turn precisely, each movement of the wand perfectly, smiling tensely at each other as we passed on stage. Then the music was finished and in a straight line we bowed our thanks to the cheering crowd.

Now, back in the cloakroom, we waited. Peeking through the door, someone announced, “They're on the last scene of the play!” Now it was time to join the others on the stage for “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” And now the concert was over.

"Did you like it! Did you like it?"

Never effusive in her compliments, Mom said, "That was pretty good."

Dad just smiled and said, "You did your part perfectly."

Then, in all the bustle, we found the place where the trustees were handing out treat bags with peanuts, candy and an orange – one for each child school age and younger.

"Don't crack the peanuts in the car!" Dad said, as we piled into the station-wagon.

The night after the concert, I had a hard time getting to sleep. I relived the magical evening and savored all the excitement again – relieved it was over, but wishing, too, that it wasn’t. Oh well, there was one consolation. Now that the concert was done, Christmas day itself was just around the corner!

*********

This story was first published in the Essence Christmas compilation - Celebrating the Season 2001.


December 02, 2006

My Jeffrey by Pamela Mytroen

I wrote this piece as a reminder that the seeds of hope, though tiny, are tenacious. They've rooted in my soul, and watered by tears, are promises that someday my son will become whole.



My Jeffrey will make me proud some day. Not like my neighbor's children who are the first ones chosen for the soccer game at recess, or like the ones across town that always land the lead role in the school drama, nor like the children who bow at the sound of applause and carry another trophy home for their collection. No. My Jeffrey is autistic. He dances to a foreign song, on a quiet, dim stage far from Hollywood. But his moves amaze me.

You see, my Jeffrey learned to read. He learned to sound out the letters in the word, "Burger King", his favorite place, but not until he learned to muffle the monsters roaring in his ears, to tie them up and throw them in the corner. My Jeffrey learned to multiply and divide, to keep his sixes and nines straight, but not until he determined to defeat the demons growling in his mind. My Jeffrey learned to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for his little sister, to put the peanut butter on first, though he sill doesn't understand why she smiled when he left it on the table for her.

But the climax of his dance, his most difficult move that he held in painful grace, was the day he ran through the porch door, grabbed my arm and held me in his deep blue-eyed grip. "I'm sorry Mom." Three words. But he said it clearly, with quivering lips and tears running down his red cheeks. I heard him rip the chains away from his shackled soul. I felt them rattle and shake in his arms, angry and anxious to strangle his spirit again. But for a few seconds the light that shone from his eyes held me captive. First love. Tender love, set free from his heart, surprised him, and beckoned my breath in a fragile moment. Then the chains, like snakes, hissed their return, and flicked the light from his face. He turned away and ran back to school.

My Jeffrey learned to hug me and say, "I love you Mom," every night at bedtime. It's become a part of his mindless routine that he does after he brushes his teeth and puts on his pajamas.

But someday. Someday. My Jeffrey will grin, look deep into my eyes, and he'll say, "I love you Mom". And he'll mean it. I'll join him in a new dance and he'll understand my tears. The light will resurrect in his eyes. After all, if he muffled monsters, slayed demons, and ripped apart chains, he's nearly there.

December 01, 2006

The Art of Peeling Onions by Elsie Montgomery

Ever examine an onion? An arduous art. You peel back layers. Your eyes water. Soon tears blur your vision.

Ever examine a soul? An arduous art. You peel back layers. Your eyes water. Soon tears blur your vision.

At least mine do. So I cannot . . . no, I refuse to be a counselor. Good counseling is the arduous art of peeling layers of the soul.

“Clients” seldom expect that. They come initially because relationships are breaking down. What worked for them no longer works. They want me to help them make it work again. They have no thought to change, only return to what once worked, they think. This failure must be another onion’s fault, they say.

Probing, I first discover that they have a thin skin, but hardened by exposure to dirt and little sunshine. Objective sympathy gains their confidence. Soon they tell me about themselves, about what the other person did, then what other people did. Together, we peel the layers.

Finally, without warning, somewhere deep inside under the layers, a lump appears. Is it a hard stone? Or a blob of clay? It sprays out foul odors. I realize this gave the onion its odd external shape, made it deformed on the outside. The onion rocks back and forth. It is small now, exposed and in pain.

The lump begs expression. The onion tells me this foul wound is from someone they thought loved them. They trusted this one, but trust was betrayed. This important person hurt them at the deepest place, under their layers. Both I and the onion fight tears.

At this point, clients begin resistance. I have peeled too deep. My counsel will now remind them of their pain only. I assure them it can be healed. They pull back, unsure, afraid of false promises?

I want to tell them this painful place can become a source of life. That is not what they resist. Is it change? Do they want to be a lumpy onion, with many layers and a tough skin?

They make an appointment for more counseling but they never keep it. Instead, they flee leaving the dry, transparent parchment of their layers—and me—crying.

How can the church help its members as they counsel one another? Assuming that a congregation is relating well and loving one another, this mutual sharing and caring will happen. Getting through the layers to the pain buried deep inside is difficult, yet once there, counseling often ends because the only solution to their pain is forgiveness, and forgiveness is often misunderstood.

The biblical concept of forgiveness is far from the world’s idea of “forgive and forget.” Of course God removes our sin as far as the east is from the west. He put them on Christ and refuses to hold them against us. He never brings them up even though He may allow their consequences. But He does not forget. Instead He bore the pain.

Sally cannot do that. Her church did something she considers unforgivable. She left it, but hasn’t stopped talking about it; what they did, how awful it was, how justified she is to be deeply and profoundly angry. The church apologized, asked her forgiveness. She would not grant it. What more could they do? They moved on. Sally sits and sours. Her pain and anger slowly becomes bitterness. Her friends, at least those who share her faith, now avoid her. The others add one more reason to their excuses why they are not interested in church or Christianity.

While bearing pain can be expressed as a callous ‘suck it up’ we still need that exhortation. God’s goal for us is to be like His Son, yet becoming like Jesus includes the cross. While we cannot atone for the sins of others (nor need to), when someone sins against us, He feels the pain. When Saul persecuted Christians, Jesus said, “Why are you persecuting me?” He knows. He is with us in it.

Jesus did not retaliate, fight back, point fingers. Instead, He “submitted to the Father who judges righteously” and let God take care of those who drove the nails. He suffered rather than retaliate.

Jesus did not internalize His pain either. He felt the awful sting of betrayal to its full measure, saying, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”

The pain of those we counsel may not be so noble. Perhaps they have fought back. Perhaps they inflicted retaliation against their tormenter, fully realizing that the person who hurt them knew very well what they were doing. Human conflict is seldom tidy or the problem totally one-sided. No matter. The answer, though not easy, is still the same.

The pain of conflict between members of the church does require counseling, but it also requires a deep understanding of what it is that Jesus has done for us. When I peel onions, I better be thinking of how Jesus gently works with me, how He knows when to ease up, when to prob more deeply. I must also remember that while those in pain need someone to cry with them, they also need someone to challenge them. God’s solution to abuse, betrayal, abandonment, and any other pain afflicted by someone else, is eventually and always forgiveness.

© Elsie Montgomery

November 30, 2006

Are You Getting Ready? by Marcia Laycock

Wow! December already?! Has it crept up on you?

Things often catch us off guard. We get wrapped up in day to day living and time slips by. Suddenly we arrive at a point we may not be prepared to face.

My eldest will celebrate her twenty-fourth birthday today. Twenty-four! A few years ago I wrote a similar piece when she turned eighteen. That was a milestone I had a hard time facing and now we’ve arrived at another – she is going to be married in July.

I’ve been expecting this for some time, but somehow I don’t think I really was prepared for those words, “Mom, I’m getting married!” I admit I'm not ready. My daughter is planning her wedding and her first day of kindergarten seems like yesterday. There are so many things I wanted to do with her, things I wanted to teach her, things I wanted to say, but now there just isn't enough time. She's an adult launching into the world to live her own life, and that's as it should be. But I can't help wishing she were only turning sixteen or fourteen. I can’t help wishing that she was still a little girl under our roof. That would give me time to get used to the idea that some day she'd be leaving. That would give me time to prepare ... or would it?

Somehow I suspect the day would still be a surprise, no matter how much it was delayed.

There is a day that has been delayed for centuries, according to scripture. When Jesus predicted his death, he also predicted his return. He tried to prepare his friends for his leaving, and tried to tell them to prepare for the day when he would come back. The words didn't sink in. When Jesus was arrested, they fled in terror. For hundreds of years since, preparations for his return have been sadly lacking.

In Matthew 24:44-51, Jesus tells a story about a master who leaves his house in the charge of a servant. He asks: "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household, to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns."

Who is that servant? It's you. It's me. Part of the preparation for the return of Christ is to care for those around us, both physically and spiritually. We will be accountable when Jesus returns. He ends his story with a warning: "But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, 'my master is staying away a long time,' and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

The day will be a surprise, to all of us. It could be today. Are you ready?

November 27, 2006

The Adam & Eve Project Prologue by Donna Fawcett

Thought I'd give you a sample of the newly released novel featured in Word Alive's promotion.

Prologue


In the underground bunker the voices bounced hollowly, like floating apparitions of sound. It was 1940 and the German war machine was smashing its way boldly through Western Europe. Poland was occupied. The Germans had flanked the Maginot line entering Holland without as much as a warning. Britain sat itself squarely in Belgium, like a steadfast bulldog prepared to guard new territory. Japan turned its eyes on the vastness of the South Pacific, hungering for the expansion of her mighty empire, and Itally ceased waffling between the Axis powers and the Allies, firmly deciding to join with the nearest geographical might.

But in the bowels of the earth none of this was of importance at the moment. No one knew of this particular hole in the dirt. Far below the titanic conflict that threatened to destroy all that lived and moved in this European corner of the world nestled a conglomerate of rooms tied together by narrow and dimly lit halls. The rooms were proportionate only to the ability of their stabilizing structures in the effort to keep the tons of dirt above from swallowing them, but even still, they were large enough to host small groups of scheming and heavy thinking men who enjoyed their strutting and crowing before the red and black banner of the Nazi movement. The thick language of the German people chopped through one room in particular, anger and dissatisfaction crashing against the steel walls like relentless mortar shells.

"What do you mean, you had to stop the Project? How do you know for certain that anyone is aware of the complex?"

The Fuehrer jumped to his feet, knocking the chair back in his tirade, a lock of unruly dark hair flopping across the tense forehead and spittle flecking the corners of his mouth. His eyes were wild with an instant fear and fury as he faced the possibility that his lifelong dream might be discovered by the enemy. Drawing a calming breath, the man struggled to control his infamous temper, and reached down to upright the chair. He sat slowly again, like a snake lowering itself into its coils before the strike. Glittering eyes scanned the faces in the room, noting with a strange satisfaction that no one would return his intense stare. That was good. They feared him.

The young officer who had brough the message stood straight as a rod, but Adoph Hitler could see that the lad was terrified. He wouldn't be the first one the leader of Germany had shot for delivering an unfavourable message. Hitler narrowed his eyes and looked closely at the young man. Perfect. Beautiful. Foundation stock. Why is he not part of The Project?

He eyed the second lieutenant like a predator would assess its next meal. The man was easily six feet tall and built solidly. Deep azure eyes drilled holes in the far wall, never wavering. Hair, so blonde--almost white--and silky, covered his head in a thick and wavy carpet. His skin was fair like a woman's and his cheeks were tinted with a bright red, telling all in the room that he feared the attention of his Fuehrer.

"What's your name, Leutnant?" He pronounced the German equivalent rank as 'loy-ten-nant.'

"Eric, Mien Fuehrer. Eric Schneider," the young man said in an even, steady voice.

"What part do you have in the Project?" The words purred through the room and a few of the Generals shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

"I was in charge of security, Mien Fuehrer."

"I see." He was suddenly amused by the craftiness of The Project's chief scientist. The fat old man was a genius in diplomacy and politics as much as he was in his particular scientific field. If the French had discovered the whereabouts of the experimental laboratory, it was because of this young man's inability to do his job correctly, and the aging scientist would make certain the punishment didn't land on his own doorstep. Pity such a lovely specimen of the Aryan race had to be so incompetent. He watched as the man swallowed hard, the fine forehead beading with perspiration.


To find out how it all ends, look for the Adam & Eve Project in your local Christian Book Store through Word Alive Press. OK so I couldn't help promoting:)

November 23, 2006

In a Safe Place - Mary

“Can you visualize your conception?” asked the counselor. “Can you accept that you were meant to be born?”

“No,” I said. “No I can’t.” I sat in a small group recalling past hurtful events in my life, I felt able to forgive all who had hurt me and to ask forgiveness for my own wrongdoings to others, but I could not accept that my existence was planned by anyone, let alone God. After all, my birth, in England had been the result of an affair that my mother had outside of marriage, and I had recently learned she had even tried to abort me.

I was two weeks old when my mother gave me to an order of Anglican nuns. The nuns raised me along with other children in a convent. Growing up, I fantasized that I was really a princess from a faraway land. And I dreamed that one day my African father would come and take me away to live in his palace. It was the beginning of dreams where I longed to escape from reality.

As you can imagine, life in a convent was a somewhat unnatural childhood, and unfortunately even included abuse by some of the workers. I emerged from it a desperately shy and fearful teenager, but I loved the arts. My high school teacher suggested I should pursue a career in that field, and again I dreamed of escape: perhaps I could be a singer, or a painter. The Reverend Mother had other ideas however and suggested that I apply to nursing school. I protested tearfully, telling her about my longings, but art, she said, was a lofty pursuit. I had to be practical and apply to nursing school. A good and noble profession, she said. Reluctantly I obeyed.

After three years of study I graduated as a registered nurse, fell in love, married and had children. All was well for a few years but then I had surgery followed by complications, and almost died. It was then I found out that my husband was having an affair. He would visit me in the hospital and then leave to be with his girlfriend.

Upon my recovery my husband suggested we immigrate to Canada. He convinced me the affair was over and that we would start afresh. As was often the case in those days, he left England first, to secure a job in the new place, and the children and I were to join him later.

When we finally arrived in Canada, it was to learn he was living with his girlfriend and we were alone in this new country. Fortunately, I had a friend here and she came to my rescue, taking my four children and me in until I found a house to rent.

It was during that lonely and frightening time that I began to attend a church in my neighborhood. There for the first time I came to believe that God was there for me, but now sitting in a group session, I was surprised at the gamut of emotions that ran through my mind, as the counselor assured me that God had planned my existence. I had actually come to the course thinking of it as a training session to help others, not realizing that I had issues to deal with myself.

Now I sat listening to the counselor. “When you go home tonight,” he said, “ask God to show you your conception.” I didn’t know if I was prepared for that, but considered the suggestion and acknowledged its importance. I realized that subconsciously I was apologetic for my very existence and it was affecting every aspect of my life.

“God,” I said, as I lay in bed that night, “please show me in some way that my conception was okay with you.” With eyes closed, I waited then watched in amazement as a bright yellow flower shaped in the form of hands cupped together appeared before me. It was like a giant tulip viewed from the side, with the head flexed forward. The head was made of thousands of slender petals overlapping one another in waves. The flower swayed fiercely in a strong wind that tore some of the petals off, but it remained resolute and tightly closed. Then I saw a tiny fetus curled up inside and I knew it was me. I realized the strong winds represented my mother’s efforts to abort me.

God had not allowed my destruction and I marveled at the knowledge. If he could protect me then, surely my life now, was in his hands! As I watched the bright yellow flower swaying, I thought: ‘My favorite color, yellow!’ Had I seen it then, even in my mother’s womb?

I cried at the wonder of it all and in the crying was healed.

------------------------------------

Published in Beyond Ordinary Living magazine June/July 2006


November 20, 2006

InScribers Review: Winter Birds by Jamie Langston Turner


Reviewed by Violet Nesdoly
Title: Winter Birds
Author: Jamie Langston Turner
Publisher: Bethany House - 2006, 400 pages
Genre: Contemporary Christian fiction
ISBN: 0764200151

“At eighty I knew I must not delay. The branches of the tree were nearly bare. My method: I sent letters to nine people, family acquaintances, five of whom responded, to apply as Providers of Winter Hospice for Sophia Marie Langham Hess.”

The wealthy widow Sophia chooses, finally, to live with her nephew and his wife in a modest bungalow in Greenville, Mississippi. Winter Birds, Jamie Langston Turner’s third novel, is the story of Ms. Hess in that winter season and the tale of the gradual unthawing of her heart in the home of Patrick and Rachel.

The time period spanned in this contemporary novel is about one year, though through Sophia’s flashbacks and memories we are able to piece together the entire life story of this intelligent but embittered octogenarian. The setting is spare. Mostly we’re in Sophia’s room which looks out over a playground, has in view a mortuary and, just outside the window, a bird feeder.

This book majors on characters. Sophia, the main character, who tells the entire story in first person (present tense, no less), is rich and complex. As a former English teacher and the widow of Eliot Hess, a noted Shakespeare professor, she shows herself to be intelligent, cultured and perceptive. She is also sneaky, funny and at times a less than reliable narrator, colored as her outlook is by low self-esteem, betrayal, disappointment and cynicism.

Other main characters Patrick and Rachel as well as secondary characters Terri, Steve and Potts are seen and interpreted through Sophia’s eyes in satisfying physical and psychological detail. Sophia’s penchant for people-watching leads to some amusing reflections - like this one at the Christmas dinner table, when most of the guests are gushing about the pin Sophia got as a gift and Sophia, catching the look on teenager Mindy’s face muses:

"Mindy is eying the pin, frowning slightly as if wondering how such a small thing, something she would never be caught wearing, can evoke such emotion from adults. Perhaps she will tell her friends about it later: “And this fat old woman was wearing this weird-looking bird pin that everyone was having a cow over!”

Langston Turner’s prose style is simple. In one place she has Sophia overhear aspiring writer Patrick report to Rachel “in painstaking detail” (Sophia thinks Patrick is an incredible bore) something his teacher has said about “two kinds of simplicity – one producing art, the other banality.” As I read this book, I got the feeling that simplicity producing art was the effect Langston Turner was after and, in my opinion, achieved. But if the prose is simple, other stylistic features like Shakespearean lines as titles and the descriptions of bird behavior under those titles, both of which are then woven into the story line of the chapter, make the book satisfyingly thoughtful and layered.

Death is a theme that runs through the entire story. That’s probably not surprising, as Sophia is 80 and feels that her own is imminent. This theme is underlined again and again as Sophia watches the goings-on at the mortuary across the street and obsessively reads the "Milestones" columns from old Time magazines, paying special attention to the obits. Other themes that emerge as the back story unfolds are betrayal and deception. What finally transforms this often pessimistic story into a hopeful one is the message that love has the power to heal and restore.

The Christian aspect of the novel is handled with a light touch. Sophia, herself a skeptic throughout the book, does a good job of articulating common objections to belief. These are countered not with platitudes and sermons but with actions. Rachel, Patrick and others do a good job of showing in their own imperfect ways, what it means to serve and love the way Jesus taught.

This book is easily one of my favorites of 2006. The beautiful writing full of wisdom, literary allusions and stylistic elegance give it the moodling possibilities of poetry. Its quiet but compelling plot, realistic characters and sly humor made me wish it were twice as long. It reminds me of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and, like that book, it’s one I’m planning to read again, this time with highlighter always at hand.


November 18, 2006

InScribers Review: Reluctant Burglar -- Janet Sketchley

Review by Janet Sketchley
Reluctant Burglar by Jill Elizabeth Nelson
Multnomah Publishers, 2006
351 pages, Trade Paperback $16.50 in Canada

Desiree Jacobs inherits more than just the family business when her father is killed. She’s horrified to find a cache of stolen paintings. Should she turn them over to the authorities and ruin her father’s reputation – and the family business? Give them to the menacing “Chief,” who ordered her father’s death? Or carry out her father’s plan to secretly return the paintings to their owners? Dare she trust attractive FBI agent Tony Lucano? Dare she trust her friends, for that matter? But she trusts God....

Desiree is a wonderful character, spunky, determined, real enough to have self-doubts and struggle to apply her faith... and she’s got a quirky humour that I love.

Reluctant Burglar is fast-paced and fun, with some daring antics that had me holding my breath. Full marks to Jill Elizabeth Nelson for delivering a great read.

Bring on the next in the series: Reluctant Runaway releases in March 2007. I’m looking forward to spending more time with these characters.

This is a review of one of the most fun books I've read this year:



November 16, 2006

Saturday's Sweats and Sunday's Gown by Pamela Mytroen

I love dressing up on Sunday. My favourite dress is a burgundy rayon with a crossover opening and pewter buttons in a long line down the side. And it’s gorgeous with antique silver and burgundy jewelry. But before I can dress up on Sunday I have to slop around the day before in my Saturday sweats or my white-blotched paint shirt. Mopping the floor on my hands and knees has to be done before I can stand and praise on Sunday.

Sometimes Saturday feels really long and I begin to feel that laundry is the never ending story.

A young man from Canaan once felt the same way. The Saturday of his life lasted 13 years before the Sunday of celebration. He had dreams of wearing royal robes and of being a great leader over his people. But before his dreams were reached, he had to slop around in some undesirable clothing too.

He started out in a beautiful embroidered robe, made especially for him by his father, Jacob, to show special love and attention. His jealous brothers ripped it off Joseph, threw him in a pit and sold him as a slave.

Joseph exchanged his beautiful robe for rags of slavery. He served Potiphar, captain of the guard in Egypt. During that time his rags fit him well. They taught him to serve others, work hard, to be honest and trustworthy. He grew from a 17 year old who was used to his father’s lavish care to a young man who depended on his Father in Heaven to watch over him in a strange land.

He was promoted from the rags of slavery to the garment of leadership in Potiphar’s household. He enjoyed wearing this new robe, giving orders to the other servants and being in charge of all Potiphar’s crops. But it didn’t last long. God had another robe in mind for Joseph

That was the day that Potiphar’s wife set up Joseph. When he was all alone in the house doing his work, she tugged on his cloak and invited him to lay with her. Joseph ran right out of his robe as he fled temptation. Potiphar’s wife used the robe in her hand as evidence against Joseph and her husband sent him to jail.

This wasn’t the promotion Joseph was hoping for. Once again he wore the lowly rags of a prisoner. Here he spent the darkest, most despondent years of his life. It was there in the darkness that he sharpened his eyesight to see God. It was there on his knees that he laid down his own dreams and began giving life to the dreams of others. When Pharoah threw his chief wine-taster and chief baker into the dungeon, Joseph cared for them. He prayed for them and God gave him the meaning to their dreams. Two more years passed while God continued preparing Joseph for robes of royalty.

Finally the day came when Pharoah called Joseph up from the dungeon. When Pharoah asked Joseph to interpret his dreams, he said, “I cannot. But God can”.

At last, Joseph had grown out of his childish robes of pride into a royal robe of humility. Pharoah placed a fine linen robe on his shoulders and paraded him through the streets, saying to all the people of Egypt, “Bow down, bow down!”

Thirteen years – that’s how long Joseph wore servile clothing, while waiting to be clothed as royalty.

Sometimes we, too, wear a robe of darkness and despair. We can’t see God. But God may be using that time to sharpen our vision of Him, to grow us from pride to humility, from trust in ourselves to dependence upon God alone.

C.S. Lewis in his poem, “As the Ruin Falls” says this:
“... And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile and grow man.”

God takes all the experiences of our lives and uses them to grow us from exile to maturity.

C.S. Lewis continues:
“The pains You give me are more precious than all other gains.”

Whatever pains we are going through on Saturday will prepare us for the robes of Sunday. Whatever our dream gown is, it will not fit until we allow God to grow us.

Like Christian in “Pilgrim’s Progress”, we won’t stay in the dark Dungeon of Despair. Through prayer, God will release us with the key of promise, as Christian discovered.

It may take 13 years as in Joseph’s case or it may be sooner, but persevere! God is growing you while you are on your knees scrubbing at your dreams. He’s preparing a beautiful gown for the Sunday of celebration!

Isaiah 61:10 “I delight greatly in the Lord; for my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness” (NIV).

~ Pam Mytroen



November 10, 2006

A Tribute by Donna Fawcett

For those of you who have been following the Inscribe emails, you will have known that I lost my mother to chronic radiation poisoning this past August. In her memory and to honour her courageous battle, I didn't think you would mind my posting a tribute to her. It's not something that will likely ever be published but through it, I hope those of you facing similar struggles will be blessed. God bless.

A tribute to you, Mother


You would laugh in embarrassment to know that I have written this to you for all to see but I can’t help but think it is all that I can give you of any worth. And so I write to you—and of you.

As children, we are foolish and na├»ve, unable to see the value of what we have until it begins to fade from the tightly clutched fingers of our hearts. And then we get an inkling—a small sampling of the treasure of what our lives have been.

We, your children, are opening our eyes to the prize that has been ours the whole of our time while you were among us. And it has only been in your dying that we have seen it for what it has truly been.

All who know you have seen the example you have been and have nodded their heads in open respect--for we children haven’t turned out too badly have we? And yet it was in your last weeks of trial where your true faith shone through. Your whole life was filled with firm and loving examples of the Christian walk. But it was in your dying that you showed the confidence in Christ spoken of so many times in the past. Your continued concern for the spiritual direction of your family marked you as being beyond the average soul—in spite of overwhelming pain and the shock of a quick and final diagnosis.

And so we all—the family, the hospital staff, the few strangers who heard murmurings of the brave lady in room 114—watched you as the husk that was your outward self faded while the brilliant light that was the true you, burst through worn seams and faded coverings. We shook our heads in awe as you showed us the truth of your beliefs in the peace and contentment presented. And we were left empty—and yet inspired.

Not one of us will ever look at dying without thinking of you and knowing that the chance of living beyond dying is a real and vibrant thing. You showed us that. You opened the heavens and allowed us a brief glimpse into what was in store for you. You made us yearn to join you and share it with you. And you gave us courage to face the days ahead without you.



November 09, 2006

A Prayer and a Bear by Elsie Montgomery

We were tenting in a mountain campground. Our youngest was still a baby and the other two were about four and eight years old. About midnight my husband Bob and I woke up to loud crashing and scraping noises. We quickly peered out the tent door window. Much to our amazement and only a few feet away was a large black bear.

Bruno was intensely interested in our metal cooler. He straddled it and pulled off the drain spout releasing the smell of food inside. This drove him into a frenzy. However, batting it ten or twelve feet at a time was not working. After half a dozen swats, he decided to take a run at the door of our tent. He stopped several feet away then whirled back to the cooler. Repeatedly, he charged the tent, each time coming closer. Soon Bob could smell and feel his hot breath.

Our little guy was still asleep. The older two were awake, shaking in fear. Bob handed me a knife and said, “When I tell you, cut a hole in the back of the tent and take the kids to the washroom.” It was a few yards behind our campsite.

My mind was strangely calm. In fact, running through it were the words of a comical country and western song: “Lord, you delivered Daniel from the lion’s den; now for goodness sakes do something about that bear.” I took the knife, wondering if cutting canvas was difficult.

In a few moments, the occupants of the next campsite drove into their parking space. Earlier, we had asked them to be quiet because their noisy party kept our baby awake. They left and now were back, obviously from another party.

Getting their attention seemed to take a long time but once they spotted the bear, their bottle-derived courage flared. One started yelling. Soon all four were throwing rocks. The confused bear decided the food in the cooler was not worth this harangue. He lumbered off.

After thanking our rescuers and safely stowing the cooler in the trunk of the car, we went back into the tent. The children went back to sleep. Bob and I enjoyed sudden peace with trees silhouetted on the wall of our tent. About an hour later, we woke again to a new silhouette. The bear was back, but again, we were unexpectedly calm. He snuffed up to the tent, dug a small hole near our heads, then shuffled away. Soon we were sleeping.

Common sense says we should have been terrified, or at least much more concerned than we were. Yet faith reassures me of what really happened that night. God was there — and He taught me at least three important truths.

One is that prayer does not have to be theologically deep, solemnly spoken, in King James English, or said on my knees with heartfelt emotion and pleading. It can take any form, even that of a silly song running through my head. As the Bible says, God “hears the cry of our hearts.”

Second, I learned that God answers the needs of the moment. His response may not be a miracle, nor is He limited to our ideas of what makes up a miracle. Also, His answers may not come through angelic beings or even pious people. If God wants to meet our needs using the drunken bravery of four partying campers, He can do it. He says, “Call unto me and I will show you great and mighty things which you do not know.”

Third, I learned that when I am in the care of God, I do not have to be afraid; nothing can harm me unless He wills it. That bear may have been the biggest and most dangerous in the park, but God knew how to influence its actions and choices.

Our tenting days are over now. Our children do not even remember that night, but I will never forget it. It is a strong memory, not just because of the bear, but because of God’s faithfulness to hear and answer a prayer that was never quite prayed.

© Elsie Montgomery.
Published once, in the Edmonton Journal, July 4, 1998

November 07, 2006

The Crippled Lamb - Bonnie Way

This story won an Honourable Mention at an Inscribe Spring contest a few years ago, inspiring my grandma to submit it to the Olds Albertan, starting a series of animal stories in that paper. The story was later reprinted in the Edmonton Journal as well.

Straw scattered in all directions as the ewe lunged towards the far side of the pen, leaving behind her a tiny white lamb with droopy ears, big eyes, pink nose, and soft hair on his face. The other lambs dashed after their mother, but this little one’s attempts to follow only ended with him tumbling into the straw in the same place he’d been sitting. He stayed there until Vern reached over the edge of the pen to scoop him up.

The little lamb hung in the big hand, looking even more pitiful, as Vern passed him over to me, saying, “You can have him for nothing; that’s about all he’s worth.”

Something in that comment stirred the fight in me. That lamb would get every chance to live. Riding home, Mom called him Ebenezer, meaning ‘he whom God has helped,’ for he would need all the help he could get. He was tiny, weak, and crippled. Not very good odds for an orphan lamb, who have less chances of surviving anyway. Mixed formula isn’t the same as real milk, and lambs bottle-fed at certain times, instead of getting their mother’s constant supply of milk, don’t grow as fast. Orphan lambs are also more likely to get bloat or illness. Ebenezer had these things going against him, but his mother had also either had troubles birthing him or had stepped or sat on him. His legs were shaky and weak, almost useless.

I had to hold him when I bottle-fed him, for he couldn’t stand and drink at the same time. Though at first I had to coax him to eat, he soon developed a healthy appetite, bunting the bottle from his sitting position. When he finished, I would help him stand up and encourage him to walk. He’d get his three weak legs under him and hop around the pen, until his legs got tangled in the straw and he tumbled down again. He never appeared to be in pain; as far as he knew, it was normal to have weak legs. That never stopped him from trying to chase me or the other lambs.

About a week after we got him, I went out and found he couldn’t walk. His left side appeared totally paralyzed. I helped him stand, but he could only support himself on two legs; his left legs just hung there. It was a mystery what happened to cause this latest set-back, but Ebenezer wasn’t one to let it bother him.

When he started walking again, it was on only two legs. He’d push himself up and take off, doing fine as long as he could keep going. But when he stopped, he would lost his balance and fall over, and have to struggle to his feet again. The cats would sit watching him, this little lamb barely half their size. He’d scurry over to check them out, and invariably fall on top of them. But falls never deterred him; he would be up and at it again as soon as he’d rested a minute.

That was life as normal for Ebenezer, until he broke his leg. Bad luck seemed to chase him everywhere he went. I made a splint for him as best as I could, and bound his leg securely, but a break on his left hind leg above the knee was very hard to fix. At first, Ebenezer had troubles with the splint, because it was big and awkward. I wondered if it did more harm than good. He kept falling over, and I kept picking him up, worrying that he was hurting himself further. But he wasn’t content just to rest in the straw; after every fall, he would try to get up again, and so I let him keep trying.

In a few days he’d gotten used to his splint, and was going around as before. When I saw him starting to use his splinted leg – adding the occasional push to the other two legs as he darted around – I knew it had healed. So, three weeks after he broke his leg, I took the splint off, and Ebenezer started using three legs, chasing the other lambs around as best he could.

He never became a big lamb, always being slightly smaller than my ewe’s lambs or even the other orphans. He got a rather bushy face, with curly wool on top of his head and under his ears. In the evenings, when the lambs got frisky, he’d lead them around the pen, hopping stiff-legged like a deer on all four legs. He was the fastest, and could dart, dodge, stop, and take off again without any hesitation.

He loved to follow me, and was happiest when he was with me. I had to learn to sneak out the gates, for Ebenezer was fast and small, and could slip out behind me before I could stop him. Then he was most stubborn about going back in, and as he got bigger it became a tug-of-war between us as I tried to push him back inside. Sometimes, when I let him go with me, he’d stop to nibble on something and I’d get a little ways ahead. Then when he noticed he was being left behind, he’d kick his heels up, give a twist, and be off after me as fast as he could.

In the fall, as I watched him charging about on four strong legs, I smiled, remembering the little lamb who came in the spring – the little lamb who was “worth nothing,” but who wouldn’t give up.

The Opening Scene - Marcia Laycock

This is the opening scene to my novel, One Smooth Stone. It's about the fourth or fifth time I've changed it, but I'm quite happy with it at this point, and so is my editor. Any and all comments are most welcome. :) Marcia

Alex Donnelly was alone. That’s how he wanted it. He told himself that’s how he liked it. That was a lie.

He twisted the throttle on the boat motor to the off position, leaned back, pulled his floppy-brimmed river hat off his head and turned his face toward the sun. The silted water hissed against the bottom and sides of the boat. A breeze tussled his thick black hair. He heard a hawk whistle from a high cliff and squinted to watch it plummet from its perch.

Closing his eyes, he slumped low. He would let the current take him home. He had all day and there wasn’t anyone waiting for him, except his dogs. They’d howl their welcome in anticipation of food but Alex knew there was no love lost between them.

The hawk whistled again and Alex opened his eyes, letting them fill with the sweeping green hills and wide brown Yukon River. As the boat caught and circled in a whirlpool he dipped his hand into the cold flow. Two minutes, he’d been told. If he fell in – or jumped – it would take two minutes for this river to kill him. He knew it was true because it had almost happened. He’d been looking for the cabin where he now lived, had beached at the mouth of the wrong creek and decided to wade to the other side to search for a trail. Half way across he realized he was in trouble. It was deeper than he’d thought and his legs were giving out. Then the bottom dropped off completely and he’d had to swim. He barely made it to the shore in time; he couldn’t stand when he got there. His legs were useless for several minutes, even though the sun was high and hot that day. He remembered he’d shivered for two days.

His eyes caught the gray shifting of mist in the rift of a small valley far ahead as thick clouds spilled their burden of moisture down toward the river. He could smell it as the wind brought the fragrance of poplar toward him. The trees on the banks seemed to turn their leaves toward it. He pulled his hat back on and shrugged into an old slicker. As the rain came toward him he started the motor and steered the boat closer to shore. He knew a wind could come up strong enough to keep him at a stand-still. He snorted as he thought about that. It was the story of his life right now. Standing still. But at least he wasn’t running anymore. He wondered how long it would last.

Just before the rain hit him a sudden shifting of light curved over the hills in a faint rainbow. God’s promise. Funny how he always thought that when he saw a rainbow. Someone somewhere must have said it to him. He pulled his hat down and cut the motor again, to listen, as the first softness of rain touched him. Everything around him seemed to whisper. He breathed deeply and almost smiled. Out here a person could almost want to believe in God and promises. Almost.