November 30, 2007

Handsome Paramedics, Painkillers, and Overall General Stupidity

“Whatever you do, don’t leave the path!” my brother warned us as we left for a day of hiking Lynn Canyon in North Vancouver.

But what do you do when you see groups of people sun tanning on the rocks, laughing, and cheering each other on as they took turns jumping off the cliffs to the pure mountain water below? Well, you just saunter off that little trail and have a little look.

What could it hurt to have a look? That led to, “What could it hurt to change into our bathing suits?” From there it was as slippery as those water-fall drenched cliffs. “What could it hurt to peer over the edge at the pool 30 feet below?”

The cool water pulled me into its shocking embrace and popped me back up again after I’d jumped the first cliff. Delicious. Let’s do it again. Well, we really didn’t have much choice. The only way out of the canyon now was to finish cliff jumping. There were two more cliffs to go and then a trail leading up and out.

The next cliff was easy. It wasn’t slippery like the first one with a waterfall running over its edge. (Never tell your mom that part.) My sister and sister-in-law took different routes down the jagged rocks. It jutted so far out that we couldn’t jump from the top. We scrambled down the outcropping of rocks until we found a safe place to dive. But I didn’t see the rocks lurking beneath the dark blue water.

That hurt, I thought, when I dove in and struck my knee on a sharp rock below the surface. But the cool mountain water numbed my knee until I swam to the shore. When I rolled over and sat up, I saw something I’d never seen before. My knee bone. I was delighted at its white shine until the blood began to pour out.

People who cliff dive are all of one category: lunatics. So when I’d hurt myself, everybody joined in for the rescue. A stranger ripped off his t-shirt in slow motion to the tune of “Just when I needed you most” and sent it down for me to wrap my knee. Blood soaked it within seconds. I fell when I stood up. So somebody called the Ambulance and reported that a fellow cliff diver broke her leg. People, looking like little dots on the suspension bridge far above, waved at us and ran to the nearest pay phone (this episode was before the Renaissance) to call the Vancouver Fire Department and said they needed Paramedics to scale the cliffs. Some other enthused cliffie called the Vancouver Police Department to block off the suspension bridge. They would need to make room for the nearly "paralyzed" victim to be transported across.

The paramedic that strapped me into a harness and guided me up the cliff had a smile as decadent and tempting as dark chocolate. The throbbing in my knee became the rhythm to “We’ve only just begun...”, especially as he carried me over the suspension bridge swinging high above the canyon. All traffic was blocked from the bridge until I was safely across. Crowds of onlookers drooled in jealousy at a fellow cliff-diver in the arms of Donny Osmond.

Several stitches later and water on the knee erased the memory of the handsome paramedic and caused me to ask for my Bible and an extra painkiller instead.

Because I was such a wise young person, I was quick to share many spiritual lessons with my parents immediately after calling them from the emergency room: First of all I shared with them, with bitter disappointment, that good-looking paramedics never stick around. And they don’t help take away pain. God does. Secondly, listen to your big brother when he tells you to stay on the path. When you leave the path for a little look, it can lead to a little mishap. Thirdly, when you do have a mishap, God is there. “For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:11,12).

And as the years passed and my wisdom diminished with parenthood, I learned that you never, ever tell your children about the dorky things you did as a teen, lest they follow in your stupidity. Even if there was a gorgeous paramedic!

Pam (with a mysterious scar that her children often ask about...)

November 24, 2007

Where's the Room? -- Lorrie

Her days were busy, full of activity with little time to think. It was better that way. Better to fall into bed each night ready to sink into an uneasy sleep than to stare into the grim darkness that reflected the black hole in her heart. Better to fall into oblivion than to be crowded by the empty space beside her. Her heart was shattered, broken into shards that pierced and stabbed in every waking moment.

She rose with the morning light, filled with the ache of unshed tears for the loss of her beloved husband, Jacob. She moved through the day, caring for the needs of her guests. Rooms filled at a steady pace because of the egotistical whim of far-off Caesar. It was a nuisance, this census, but it was great for business.

Morning turned to afternoon and as the sky darkened, every room was taken. A knock sounded at the door and she went to answer it, a refusal already forming on her lips. The inn was full. She’d rented out even her children’s room, placing a mattress on the floor in her bedroom for them to sleep on. These travelers would have to find somewhere else to sleep.

She opened the door and saw a young man with tired, desperate eyes.
“Please” he said, “we need a place to stay for the night.” He gestured helplessly towards his wife.

The innkeeper’s eyes fell on the young woman leaning against her husband. One hand protectively cradled her enormous belly. The innkeeper looked into the woman’s face and read weariness in the drooping mouth and eyes ringed and dark. A question formed in her mind and was answered unspoken as the woman closed her eyes and clung to her husband. When the woman opened her eyes and returned the innkeeper’s gaze a flash of womanly intuition passed between them. The innkeeper sighed.

She knew that her hotel was full to the brim – there was no room anywhere. But how could she turn away travelers with such a compelling need?

“There’s the stable – it’s dirty, but the hay is clean and the animals provide some warmth. It’s all I have,” she offered hesitantly.

Relief washed over the faces of the young couple.
“Thank you,” they said as they turned towards the small cave behind the inn. “Thank you so much.”

The innkeeper’s thoughts strayed often to the young couple throughout the evening. When the pace at the inn slowed down, her guests replete and quiet, she collected clean linens and a container of hot soup and walked out into the starry night towards the stable. With only her husband there, the young woman might want some female companionship, someone who knew a little about giving birth.

In the hours that followed, the innkeeper and the husband bathed the young woman’s face, held her hands, and encouraged her labor. Their reward came as a squalling but perfectly formed child slid into their hands. The innkeeper wrapped the baby boy tightly, then, with a smile, handed him back to his mother.

An amazed look of joy filled the parents’ faces as they gazed at their son. The sight took the innkeeper back to the memories of Jacob’s exuberance at their children’s births. But there was something different here - the innkeeper sensed that she was in the presence of someone extraordinary. She, too, admired this little child. He looked like any other tiny, wrinkled newborn, yet there was a tenderness about the scene that gently touched her raw, oozing inner scars. A single tear trickled down her face to the corner of her mouth. She bit her lip hard but was unable to stop the salty water from covering her face. Seeing her emotion the young couple told her the story of the child’s conception, and the promise that he was the hope for whom they had longed, that somehow he would be the one who could ease her pain.

“Could it be?” The aching woman reached out to touch the baby’s soft skin. “This child? My hope?”

The innkeeper walked back to her work, her emptiness filled by the healing presence of hope breathing softly in his mother’s arms.

November 21, 2007

Community - Bonnie Way

The midwife only had to ask one question to get the women in the room talking eagerly. Those who had already been pregnant told stories from their previous pregnancies and what they had learned, and even those who were pregnant for the first time like me pitched in with their experiences. I listened as they shared what they were dealing with, what solutions they had found to the problems they encountered, what questions they had. The midwife mostly listened, adding comments when necessary or asking another question to keep the discussion going.

As I walked out of the room, I felt encouraged. Somehow it was good to know that what I was going through wasn’t unique; that other women were also dealing with it and it was just a part of pregnancy. It was also good to hear their “can do” attitude, that pregnancy is normal and natural and something every woman can handle. They were realistic about their discomfort or questions, yet also upbeat and enthusiastic. I could see in their faces as well that this support and encouragement was deeply needed and helpful.

It made me realize how much we need communities in our everyday life. Too often in our modern, busy world, it is easy to get caught up in our day-to-day tasks and to ignore those around us. I go to work, come home to my husband, dash off to dance classes or youth group meetings, come home to start it all again. Until something like a group prenatal appointment reminds me of how important it is to share all of that with others.

As women, writers, Christians, mothers, wives, friends – wherever in life we are – we can benefit from other people who can share our struggles and our joys, tell us that they’ve “been there, done that” and pass on their advice.

November 19, 2007

Better Questions - Janet Sketchley

It’s great to find an excellent book or CD and discover it’s by a Canadian. Inside, I give a little cheer for my fellow citizen and bask in a bit of shared pride. We have some amazing, God-given talent in this country, and too often we don’t hear about it.

I feel the same way when I find a book or CD by a Christian. Little cheer for my fellow believer, and a bit of shared pride: “hey, that’s my brother or sister in the LORD.”
Although I’ve read some great writing by Canadian Christians, and worshiped to some great Canadian music, today I want to tell you about the new CD from my favourite Christian musician, who happens to be American: Todd Agnew.

Better Questions (Ardent Music LLC, 2007)
Artist: Todd Agnew

Todd Agnew is the gifted songwriter who brought us the life-changing “Grace Like Rain” and “My Jesus.” The title of his new CD comes from the first track: “I’ve got better questions than I have answers….”

Better Questions’ music ranges from the rocky, driving “Least of These” and “War Inside” to the pensive “If You Wanted Me” and “Can I Be With You?” to the playful and catchy “Funny.” 

“Martyr’s Song,” co-written with novelist Ted Dekker, gives a poignant view of God’s longing to welcome His children into Heaven.

The songs are Agnew’s own, except for “Our Great God” (a duet with Rebecca St. James), “Can I Be With You?,” and the bonus track “Glorious Day,” which continues his tradition of reprising a public domain hymn in his own unique style.

Todd Agnew sings as everyman/woman, exploring Christians’ struggle to live right and challenging us to see past the labels we put on others into their hearts and needs. His lyrics leave no room for plastic Christianity.

The songs remind me of the group Casting Crowns, who also call Christians to authentic living, although Agnew’s music is heavier. His straightforward lyrics remind me of contemporary Christian music pioneer Keith Green, but they don’t have the harshness I sometimes felt in Keith’s delivery. There’s no judgement here, just an awareness of our common need for grace and a heartfelt “We have His heart, what is keeping us from being His hands?”

Better Questions packs a challenging message, but it’s no sermon set to music. Todd Agnew delivers vibrant music with raw, honest lyrics that could have come from our own souls—or our neighbours’. Like the old man in “A Corner in Memphis,” “he’s telling us our story, or at least his side.” It’s worth a listen.

Grace and peace,
© Janet Sketchley, 2007
For devotionals, reviews and conversation, stop by Janet Sketchley's blog, God with Us: Finding Joy.

November 13, 2007

God's Gift of Authority

One day as Jesus was preaching in the temple courts, the priests and the teachers of the law challenged him: “Tell us, by what authority you are doing these things? Who gave you this authority?”
Among this crowd were experienced teachers of the law and elders and leaders of the people. All of a sudden Jesus comes along preaching the good news of eternal life. Do you think that these leaders could have been threatened by his presence? Was Jesus convincing to them? Perhaps in their minds they could not deny God’s power of authority.

According to Matthew 7:28 the crowds were amazed at His teaching and they acknowledged Him. “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching because he taught as one who had authority, and not as teachers of the law." What was the difference then? It was this: Jesus responded to the challenge of the priests and teachers by asking if John’s baptism was from heaven or from men. After some discussion, they could not answer. But the answer was clear. The authority came from heaven. Jesus said: “My Father is always at work to this very day, and I too, am working.” I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees his Father doing because whatever the Father does the Son does also. (John 5:17 &18)

As believers, God also gives authority. We probably have the concept of having the authority to drive out Satan or rebuke sin when we have to. That may be so but the authority that God gives is the authority to build up the church. (2 Cor. 10:8) It is for building up not for tearing down. Using God’s gift of authority means availing of God’s power.

Jesus gave the disciples power and authority to cure diseases and drive out demons but also to preach the Kingdom of God. We can build the church fearlessly and with great confidence. We can build up the body of Christ and we can continue to preach Salvation. There is a profound verse that I would like to emphasize: “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.”
(2 Cor. 13:8)

Remember the question, Jesus asked? Was John’s baptism from heaven or from man? If it were from man there would be little convincing or conviction. When work is ongoing to benefit the Kingdom of heaven, God will give us the authority to make his truth and purposes known. That’s what makes all the difference in all we do!
Whatever we do, do as though working for the Lord! Go in the strength of the Lord. Amen!

Janice Keats

November 10, 2007

Holy Hush - Glynis

I stood with my family on that warm summer’s afternoon, watching, waiting, my eyes brimming. I looked at Mom. Her soft eyes were closed. The talking had ceased. The sobbing had given way to silence. All eyes were upon Mom as each family member, lost in private thoughts and memories, prepared for Mom’s crossing.

Even my 18-month-old grandson, Trenton, who usually cannot sit still for more than 30 seconds at a time, sat tranquil and silent in my daughter’s arms. The presence of God pervaded the room. The sunshine was glorious and so was the expectant look on Mom’s face as she awaited the hand of Jesus.

“Nanna!” Trenton’s little voice broke the holy hush.

Mom breathed her last. We shed our tears and took turns to kiss our beloved mother, wife, grandmother and great grandmother farewell.

I couldn’t speak. As I stood there trying to be strong for the sake of my family, I thought about my favourite scripture verse – Psalm 46:10a - Be still, and know that I am God.

Being still and knowing that God is in control sometimes makes me uneasy. Stillness is not my nature. I like to fix things and make it all better. But I could not fix my mother anymore.

It was okay this time, though. Mom was finally in the arms of Jesus. Something I had been praying for for years. I pondered how I had been there when she surrendered her life to Christ. A miracle. It soothed the pain of losing my sweet mother and made me homesick for heaven and for that day when I would once more feel her soothing, loving arms envelop me.

What I experienced in that moment when Mom took her last earthly breath was oddly magnificent. It was sacred. It was righteous. It demanded a holy silence.

The Holy Spirit offers comfort and reassurance. Jesus promised that He would not leave us comfortless. He gives us peace and leads us beside quiet waters, thank goodness.

“Let go,now” God whispered as I held my mother’s small hand. “It’s okay now. In this silence, I bore you up but now you need to weep; to mourn; to seek comfort.” Jesus wept. He felt sorrow and found strength. He gave the example and the directive.

In my grief, I realized that the well-timed silence had intensified my communication with God. My tears flowed. Jesus ministered to my heart and soul.

Dear God, the Giver of life. Help me to always remember what it means to be still and know that you are God. And then help me to be still and focus solely on you.

November 09, 2007

The Christmas Story

The children gathered just in front of the first pew as the pastor knelt to speak to them. It was Christmas Eve, time to hear the old, old story once again.

You’d think they would come willingly, eagerly. This is the “magic” of Christmas—the Babe in a manger, a guiding star, gifts from the wise men of the east—fascinating stuff. But some cried, “I don’t want to” and cling to mommy’s skirt.

The older ones shrink back and mutter, “This is embarrassing.”

A three-year-old runs from the back exit, stays for a minute, then dashes out again, exclaiming to his dad on the way by, “I don’t like it, it’s too hard.”

One little girl leads a similar-sized buddy in a game. They seemed to be trying to determine who can crawl the fastest on knees and elbows away from the storyteller.

Another late arrival holds his bottle of milk, not only firm in hand but firm in his mouth.

Eventually they settle. Some put their hands in the air in response to questions. When the microphone comes to their mouth, they shrug, forgetting what they intended to say. In response to, “What would it feel like to be a wise man?” one says, “I’d be scared, because I don’t know if Jesus would like me or not.”

A few speak loud and clear, proclaiming, “This is Jesus’ birthday,” proud of their insight. Several are eager to report whether or not mom and dad have “been good.” A few smile shyly at the attention from the congregation, but no one lingers when dismissed to their seats.

Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” It seems they were once eager to come, but what happened over these 2000 plus years?


The pessimist in me imagines Jesus in the pastor’s shoes. The children become adults and as Jesus speaks, “Come, follow me,” I imagine their responses.

That first child grows up and still clings to his mother’s skirts saying, “Sorry Jesus, I need time to go say goodbye to my mother and father.”

Those who dragged their heels will continue to hold back, and someday hear Jesus say, “He who is ashamed of me and my words, so shall my Father in heaven be ashamed.”

As for the little fellow who thought the story “too hard,” he will be like the rich young ruler who turned away sorrowing because he couldn’t give his all to follow Jesus. Because he had no intention of “counting the cost,” Jesus will tell him, “Anyone who is not willing to forsake all and follow me is not fit to be my disciple.”

These little game players will likewise become fun-loving but religiously reluctant adults. For them, Christianity will be a joking matter, the church a place only for bingo games and box socials. In His day, Jesus used a whip to clear such game-players from His Father’s house of worship. I understand His annoyance.

Then my eyes land on that little one with the bottle. I see him grown up and still carrying a bottle wherever he goes, its shape and contents changed but that bottle remaining his resource of choice. Jesus bids him come and be set free, but I don’t think he will.

The Holy Spirit pokes me. “Suffer the little children . . .” and I agree with Him that I am both negative and pessimistic. “Faith sees them with different eyes,” He tells me. I drop my pessimism and quickly experience the touch of God revising my ‘quick to judge’ attitudes.

Now these children appear different from what I first noticed. The one who loves his mother goes home as an adult to “tell her what great things the Lord has done” because he wants the most important influence in his life to be with Jesus for eternity.

Those who are embarrassed now with being up front are not a problem for God. In my eyes of faith I see them transformed into tireless, behind-the-scenes workers who are willing to stay in the background, not because they are shy but because they humbly recognize that even the most hidden deed done in His name will not go unrewarded.

As for the one who finds the story “too hard” I see God touch those ears and change that child into a counselor, or maybe just the best listening friend that someone ever had, or perhaps He capitalizes on his ‘no time for idle conversation’ attitude and turns him into a great student of the Word, intent on letting it richly dwell in his heart.

Even the game-players seem different. They have grown into men and women with great joy and a gift to cheer and comfort shut-ins. Their playful moods are quick to think of ways that lighten the darkest corners and heaviest loads.

As I watch the children with new eyes, I see that this one with the milk bottle growing faster than them all. The Holy Spirit transfers his dependence on his bottle to a deep dependency on the Lord Jesus Christ and this helpless babe has become a spiritual giant. God uses the milk of His Word and the power of His Spirit to bring him to full maturity.


Someone behind me whispers, “This is the church of tomorrow,” and I smile. Yes it is, and it is up to the church of today to see beyond their childishness to their childlike potential in Christ. It is up to us, up to me, to make sure I say “Yes” when Jesus invites the little children to come!

© Elsie Montgomery, 2007

November 06, 2007

Writer's Block--the Bane of the Author - Donna Fawcett

By Donna Fawcett

For the first time in my life I experienced that dreaded ailment. It is an illness that causes one to break out in a cold sweat. The heart pounds and the brain echoes that sentiment with a dull aching reply. Writer’s block.

Ever writer experiences that freeze in the neuron department. It can last for days—weeks—minutes. And it’s terrifying if you have a deadline to meet. So what is writer’s block and how can we ease past it? By definition, writer’s block (according to the Donna Fawcett abridged dictionary) is the inability to string two thoughts together in a coherent sentence and successfully put it on paper for the purpose of completing an article or book.

I was prepared for this nasty virus—armed with well-documented advice from other writers. The dictionary (no not my imaginary one) is an excellent tool to jump start the brain. Just imagine what can come from flipping open to a page containing the word Nilotic. If this doesn’t work, gather your pen and note pad and head to the local coffee shop. Eavesdrop. In this one instant it is completely polite and necessary. Just don’t make comments on what you are hearing. Read articles by other writers. You may have a different approach to the same thing. Hit the Google button with your subject of choice as a search topic.

For me, the solution came in the form of the problem. Yes, I was experiencing writer’s block when trying to prepare for this blog post. Yes, I tried the coffee break, a scan of other writings—and even a trip to the dentist’s chair for a brutal preparation for a crown replacement. It wasn’t until I returned to my computer, acknowledged the fact that I was experiencing writer’s block and focused on the problem itself that I moved on.

The next time you feel bogged down try some of these suggestions (perhaps with the exception of the dentist’s chair). You never know what neurological bunny trail you will find yourself on.