December 31, 2007

Another year over, a new one just begun

Resolutions never work for me. I begin in a flurry of activity, doing all the things on my list, but soon, within a few days or weeks, real life takes over. The resolutions disappear leaving faint traces of failure and disappointment in my own abilities.

This year, I'm taking an idea from someone else. Instead of resolutions, she establishes a theme for the year. And so, I've been thinking about a theme for several weeks, searching and praying for what the Lord might suggest to me. Two verses have been impressed upon my heart.

First came a group of verses from Deuteronomy 30:11-14 "Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, "who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?" Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, "Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?" No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it."

I realize that I keep waiting and waiting for signs from God to show me what to do - with my writing, with my love of art and craft, with my longing to create in various forms. It was as if a rock had landed in my front yard, engraved with these words. Do what is in your heart, for I, your God, have put it there.

Then, on the Sunday before Christmas, the sermon included this verse, "Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished." (Luke 1:45)

I especially like this because it was written for a woman. When I believe, I can leave results in God's hands, not my own. That frees me to create with abandon.

And so, my theme for 2008 - In Belief...Create.

December 28, 2007

Treasuring and Pondering -- Janet Sketchley

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” [Luke 2:19 New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.]

My firstborn arrived surrounded by trained professionals, including a doctor whose compassionate determination brought the baby to delivery when I was ready to give up. I’d had prenatal classes, but the experience overwhelmed me.

Mary, after enduring the community gossip about her condition, was uprooted from her home to travel to Bethlehem at nine months pregnant (can you imagine the donkey ride?). Full inns meant not even a soft bed or bowl of warm water to wash away the road dust from her face. Labour hit, and who did she have to deliver her baby? Not a midwife, but an equally tired and dirty husband who had no previous delivery experience that we know of.

The miracle baby wrapped in cloths, she might have been starting to regroup when this chattering horde of shepherds burst in babbling about an army of angels and a message. Seeing the Christ Child would confirmed their excitement, and they left to spread the news. Would this mean more visitors?

And then Luke tells us, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

She can’t have understood what was going on, nor even had time to catch up with all that had happened. With too much to comprehend, she treasured each thing and pondered about it. Instead of a passive helplessness, she trusted God and looked to see what He was doing.

May God help us learn to do this too. Even when we don’t understand what’s happening, we can trust that He has it all in His hand, and we can ask Him to increase our understanding.

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

December 27, 2007

Our Christmas Tree

A week ago, my husband, grandson and I drove to our river quarter to cut down a Christmas tree. My husband thought we should use my mother’s old artificial tree but I love the smell of the freshly cut pine. Our daughter, although still in Australia, confirmed the decision earlier, stating, “A Charlie Brown tree is better than artificial.” It took less than an hour to drive there, cut and load the tree and return home.
I chuckle when I recall the time our second oldest daughter helped me cut a tree. As I drove down a hill, I spotted the perfect one sprouting out from an embankment. We parked the truck and walked across the narrow river, dragging two saws.
To cut the tree, we had to stand on a limb and stretch. Eventually, the saw made its way through but to our dismay the tree toppled over and fell about ten feet onto the frozen ice, top first, and broke.
“Should we cut a different one,” my daughter asked.
“No, I can fix it up.”
We dragged the pieces back to the truck and threw them in. On the way, my daughter looked back at the tree. “The tree is gone!”
“Oh, no! I hope no one has picked it up.” It never occurred to me, no one would want it.
We drove back, found the bruised tree lying on the gravel road, loaded it up and drove away. We had to retrieve it one more time before making it home.
After setting the tree in its stand, duct taping the top on, pruning and decorating with lights, garland, ornaments and icicles, no one was the wiser. It was a beautiful Christmas tree. And every year, I can hardly retell the event from laughing too hard.
That tree is a lot like some of us. We come broken, bruised and damaged, out of shape and ugly; but, God takes us in His loving hands, prunes and tapes our wounds and changes us into something beautiful, fit for His kingdom. GM

December 19, 2007

Workout With God

"… train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." I Timothy 4:7b, 8

I just came in from a four kilometer walk. I burned close to six hundred calories and took over ten thousand steps. My blood pressure dropped ten points. Besides all those healthy physical benefits, I got out into the fresh air, enjoyed a stroll through the bush with no one for company except squirrels, birds, and God.

Paul's right—physical exercise is a good thing. He says that it holds "promise for … the present life." Amazingly, he knew all this before diet books, aerobic tapes, and personal trainers. My morning walk is good—I might even live a few minutes longer because of it.

However, Paul's primary concern is the relationship that the "here-and-now" has to the hereafter. The important question in his mind, as it should be in ours, is how many "kilometers" we have walked each day with God. My spiritual workout in pursuing God and being godly, not only benefits me here, but it also has implications in the life to come. Because it has a wider application, that spiritual exercise ends up being more valuable than its physical cousin.

The time I spend exercising with God doesn't prolong the eternity that I will spend with Him. After all, eternity is, well, eternity. I think Paul is referring more to quality than he is to quantity. Just as physical exercise improves quality of life, so spiritual exercise—the pursuit of God and godliness—improves the quality of life here, and multiplies the joys which await me in the hereafter.

 When I seek God and His righteousness, the calories of the world are gradually burned off. As I move closer to Him, the weight of stress which often characterizes life in this present world, melts away. The uphill battles are easier as I become more conscious of the invigorating breath of His presence filling my spiritual lungs.

From spiritual exercise I gain temporal and eternal benefits which only cost me a little bit of discipline.

I am not normally given to making resolutions when a new year dawns on the horizon. However, I will make an exception when it comes to committing myself to more spiritual exercise—after all, next year I'll be that much closer to eternity.  

© Lynda Schultz 2007

December 18, 2007

God is Really With Those Who Are With Him

After Jesus had chosen His 12 disciples, they, along with many followers, traveled to various towns and villages sharing the good news of eternal life. Jesus spent most of His time with them in training and preparing them of what was soon going to take place. After awhile something peculiar began to happen. Many of Jesus followers began to doubt and question who Jesus really was, and many of them deserted the crowd and Jesus teachings. Even His disciples became despondent.

John 6:60 says: “On hearing it, many of His disciples said, “This is hard teaching. Who can accept it?” They could only understand Jesus speaking in human capacity. Jesus explained by asking, “Does this offend you? Then what will you think if you see me, the Son of man, return to heaven again? It is the Spirit who gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But some of you don’t believe me.” (John 6:62-64)

They were challenged! I wonder what their thoughts were when they did see Jesus ascend into heaven? Were they thinking in human terms then?
Imagine that moment in time when all travel plans stood at a standstill. Can you just hear Jesus saying: “Friends, are you with me or not? Do you believe in the Gospel message or not? At one point Jesus did question the disciples saying, “Are you going to leave, too?”

The promises of God are very sure you know. Jesus promised that he would send the Holy Spirit in His absence when the time came to enter back into heaven. God knows those who are His. There are those who hang on in the times of doubt, there are those who remain in the truth despite those who may ridicule, there are those who are willing to follow whatever the cost, and there are those who truly believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came to offer eternal life.

Sad to say though, that some folks did turn away and discontinue the journey. That still happens today doesn’t it? And it is still sad to hear. The disciples and the rest of the followers continued on. That good news still brings joy. There’s a song that says: I’m going on, I’m going on, I’m going on toward the mark toward my goal, so many things depend on what I do, give me the strength dear Lord, I’m going on for you.

That sounds like determination. When you live for God and decide to follow, He will provide strength and endurance for the journey. God is really with those who are with Him! As we all travel toward our goal, Jesus will never turn back and leave us there in the middle of the road with no direction. Neither would he have bypassed the cross where He suffered and died along the way. He detoured up the hill and lay His life down for His followers and all who would follow after. You and I are included in that provision.

So when the journey gets tough, and you feel that the Christian life is too hard, and you too ask the question, how can anyone accept it? as the disciples asked, then I say to you, focus your thoughts toward faith in the true God who provides strength by His promised Holy Spirit. If we try to comprehend the Gospel message by our own human efforts, then we may not accomplish the Gospel mission that leans toward eternal life. Instead lean on the Holy Spirit who will take you through to the end.

Copyright 2007 Janice Keats

December 17, 2007

Willy and the Look

I bought a red convertible that year, to impress women. It worked, for a while. They liked my car but they didn’t like me much. At least, they didn’t hang around long, after a date or two. At first, having a different date every weekend seemed blue ribbon but after a couple months, it seemed more like the booby prize. In August, my mind whirled around life and what I should do with mine. Washed up? At twenty-two? Am I really a loser?

My old man used to say, “Sit and sulk or git up and do sumpin’ about it — that’s yur choice, kid.”

Do something? Like what? That fall was a wipe out too. The more sumpin’ I tried to do, the less the women were impressed, at least until I met Willy.

Willy was three years younger than me, black, and smooth with women. Not smooth like a slick salesman or a TV evangelist. He was smooth like the medicine Mom used to give me mixed in white corn syrup. It was delicious and went down without a fight. That just about describes Willy and women. Only he couldn’t get rid of them if he tried. The more he took, the more they gave. And I say they, meaning six of them, at the same time, and they knew each other, and they knew he was dating all the others, but they didn’t walk away mad. Heck no. They kept coming back for more of Willy. So I asked him to teach me what he had. He agreed.

He started slow, then talked for hours about the look. It wasn’t the look your folks give you when you are in trouble. It wasn’t the look like “Honey, I want to eat you up.” It was a look that said something like, “I have life by the tail and I know you are itching to come along for the ride.” It was a look of delight, like Willy had a secret with you. He said the women loved it. They loved thinking that they had an ‘in’ with him, a shared delight that wasn’t defined, but that made it mysterious and precious, and they were going to hang with him until they found out what it was. Other women might have his body for a time, but with that look, they had intimacy. And Willy said, “Boy, that is what women really want.”

I couldn’t do it. I tried. Jennifer thought it was a silly grin. She wasn’t impressed. Helen wondered if I had just heard a stupid joke and blew up at me because I wouldn’t share it with her. Jeannie thought I was mocking her. She slammed a door in my face and left.

I went crying back to Willy. Well, I didn’t cry on the outside, but he seemed to know that I was just about that desperate.

“Boy, you just haven’t got it yet. And you know why? It is not something you fake on the outside, man. You have to have life really by the tail, not pretend you do. If women want to go along for the ride, they have to know you are genuine, man. Don’t you get it? You really can’t fake that. The look is an inner thing first, somethin’ that comes from the heart.”

“But Willy, how do I get that in my heart? I always thought that if you acted really hard that you were somebody, you would become somebody. That’s what you did, isn’t it? Don’t you have that look because you have convinced yourself about this whole thing? Nobody really has the world by the tail, at least not guys like you and me.”

“Oh, but that’s where you are wrong, boy. I’m totally sure of me, myself, and I. I know who I am, and I can look at anyone with confidence that comes from right here.” Willy pounded his chest with his fist. My chest just pounded. This was nonsense to me.

I started watching Willy, sometimes when he wasn’t noticing that I was watching. He seemed sure of himself, all the time in fact. Then August came, and Willy started coughing. He wasn’t feeling well either. He tried telling me that he was okay, but he kept coughing and losing weight so I rounded up his friends and we ganged up on him and talked him into going to a doctor. It was not good. Willy had cancer, in his lungs.

The first thing to go, besides some pounds and a lot of oxygen from his chest, was that look. He lost it. His eyes dimmed. No smiling. No jaunty glances at the pretty ones. Willy was like a balloon without air, a rose with no petals (he wouldn’t like that description very much) or a Porsche that had run out of both oil and gas (better, much better). His listlessness turned into blank and horrible staring, punctuated by coughing spasms.

I drove him to the hospital on November 1. He was in pain, his head lolling against the window and his body making little effort to keep from folding into a fetal position. After the paperwork was done, they put him into bed in a double room. The man in the next bed also had lung cancer. He smiled at us. I wondered why he had a shine on his face. Willy’s face was pasty, if a colored person can have a pasty face.

Willy didn’t notice, but I did. This roommate man had a look. It wasn’t the look, not a saucy, come-with-me-baby look that the nurses fell all over themselves for, but nonetheless, it was a look. He coughed like Willy too, but the look didn’t go away.

That first day Willy moaned and mumbled thanks, but I knew he didn’t want me or anyone he knew to watch him like this, so I said goodbye and went for a walk. The halls in a hospital are long and lonely this time of day. I passed many rooms where folks were huddled around a person in a bed, their eyes full of tears or outright sobbing aloud. I felt like blubbering myself. Poor Willy.

I didn’t pay much attention to where I was going until I passed the door of a room and heard a man praying. He prayed in a firm voice, like he knew who he was talking to. He was not praying for himself though, but someone else. He asked, “God, you know the pain and the deepest needs of this fellow’s heart. You know that whatever is going on in his body is not nearly so dangerous as the emptiness of his soul. Lord, I just ask that you have mercy on him, that you reveal to him the source of true peace and joy, that you give to him meaning and fullness of life as only you can. I pray that you will show him that having you in his heart will give him great peace and joy, a confidence and a hope that cannot be robbed, not even by lung cancer.”

My heart started skipping beats. I lifted my lowered eyes and looked in the room, but even before I did, I knew who the man was, and I knew that he was praying for Willy.

Willy died two weeks later. I didn’t go see him very much before it happened. I wanted to, but couldn’t handle the way he looked. Besides, he was drugged up and we couldn’t talk much. I feel guilty. It was pure selfish discomfort on my part.

The funeral was large for someone so young. We all cried, all of his friends, all of the girls who had known him back then. The pastor talked about the hope of eternal life. Afterwards, even though I’m not one to do such a thing, I got up and told all of them about the man in the next bed and about his prayers for Willy. I even said, “Who knows. Maybe God answered that man, and maybe Willy has that confidence and hope that he prayed for. Maybe Willy has life by the tail now, far more than he ever had it while he was alive.”

I still shake my head remembering that I said that, because I didn’t think I was a religious man. I still don’t, but I have to say that after Willy died, I decided to visit that room. Maybe it was the guilt, but I knew someone would be in it, someone who was dying just like Willy, and I felt I needed to pay my respects to someone that was alive.

I was surprised the first time I went. That praying man was still in the next bed. Not only that, he hung on for months. He coughed, and he lost weight until he looked like bones wrapped in skin. He was in pain too, but the shine on his face was like a magnet.

Eventually I told him I overheard him praying for Willy. He smiled, then he said, “Do you want me to pray for you too?”

I did. And he did. Before he went to join Willy in death, he shared with me the secret, his secret. I didn’t ask about that look that he had, nor would have, but he told me anyway.

I was surprised. I still am, because, you see, I have it now, the look. It is not to catch girls even though they find me much more interesting than I was before. Instead, I have this same look that man had, not the one that Willy lost.

My look does for others what his did for me; it makes them stop and wonder. Some even ask why I’m so darn sure of myself. I just smile and tell them, “It’s not me that I’m sure of, but if you are interested, I’d be happy to tell you how to get this look. . . .”

© Elsie Montgomery (remembering Janice W. who told me that before she believed, she knew who did because their faces shone!)

December 11, 2007

Window Shopping - Marcia Laycock

The street twinkled with Christmas lights. Our boots crunched on a skiff of snow that had fallen the night before and my daughters and I smiled and laughed as we window shopped, chatting about possible gifts for members of our family. It was fun window shopping – oohing and ahhing over the bright Christmas displays and pointing out things we liked. Now and then we’d see something we all thought was particularly ugly and we’d all groan at the same time. Now and then the display in the window was enough to draw us into the store.

Window shopping is fun, but it can’t beat being able to walk into the store and buy the perfect gift. It can’t beat taking it home and wrapping it in bright paper, knowing it will soon make your loved one’s eyes light up when they open it. It can’t beat the feeling of anticipation as you put it under the tree.

As we turn to spiritual things during the Christmas season, too often many of us just window shop. On the internet it’s called lurking. We look but don’t buy, we listen but don’t participate. Standing on the outside looking in has its advantages. We believe it’s a safe place – God can’t ask anything of us if we don’t make a commitment. We won’t have to change if we stay on the edge and stay quiet.

But window shoppers never get to feel the excitement of finding the perfect gift. Lurkers never get to express their feelings and thoughts – no relationship develops with other people of like mind. Similarly, those who do not make a commitment to Christ never know the joy of the gift of salvation. They are never able to dialogue with Jesus as a friend, a brother, a saviour. Too many are missing the perfect gift – the gift of Jesus himself.

Are you window shopping but never buying? Are you lurking but never participating?
Find the true joy of Christmas this year. Step inside where it’s warm. Find that perfect gift and take it home. The perfect gift is Jesus Christ and He’s waiting for you.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

December 07, 2007

Musings on Mary - Bonnie Way

The other night my husband and I watched The Nativity. It got me thinking again about what it must have been like for Mary to carry the Savior in her womb. Being pregnant this Christmas has made me see her story in a new light.

I wonder, when she said yes to the angel, if she knew all that it would bring. I certainly didn’t, when my husband asked me, “Do you want to have a baby?” and I said “sure!” Oh, I’d heard about pregnancy from other women, and so had Mary, probably. She was with Elizabeth for part of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, and the movie shows Mary’s fear and wonder as Elizabeth gives birth to baby John. Yet that scarcely prepares you for going through it yourself or for the unique experience that every woman has in carrying a baby.

And while I carry my baby supported by family and friends, Mary had to deal with a husband who considered divorcing her for unfaithfulness and a society that thought she’d been immoral. In the movie, even her family questions her story. I wonder if Mary herself had doubts about what the angel said, in the first few weeks when there wasn’t any sign of the new life growing inside her. And yet soon enough she would know, and so would everyone else… and that could mean her death.

Part of me marvels at God’s trust in placing His only beloved Son in virgin’s womb. At times I have felt overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for and protecting this tiny person inside me, but I’m married and don’t live in a society that stones unwed mothers. Did Mary think of that when she said yes to the angel? Or did it occur to her later? And yet God knew that the man He had chosen for her would take care of her and her Son, would save her from the stones of her neighbors, though likely not from their gossiping.

And then, just before her baby’s birth, to have to travel a long distance because of an emperor’s decree… to leave behind all the women who could help her through her labor and go with a husband she perhaps barely knew to a city she’d never seen before… I marvel at her courage, her simple acceptance of everything thrown at her, the faith that must have carried her through those days. I have the choice of a hospital fifteen minutes away or one half an hour away; a midwife or a doctor; all that modern medical care can offer; but Mary just had herself, her husband, and a few cows in a stable. Was she scared? Was she nervous? Or did she just trust God?

So this Christmas I muse on an old, familiar story, one that I’ve heard so many times over in my growing up years… and yet one that has become new and fresh again this year and still has the power to make me ponder, as Mary did, everything that happened.

December 05, 2007

Links of history

I am the writer of our family’s annual Christmas letter. I have, in my "Christmas" file, a copy of each one I’ve written! One of these years (maybe this one) I’ll make a photocopy of each and compile scrapbooks for my now-adult kids. But before I indulge in that luxury, I’ve set myself the task of writing this year’s letter.

For me the hardest part of composing this yearly newsletter is getting started. To help me with that I usually reread past versions to see how I’ve done it before. And so on Friday, I hauled out the Christmas file and flipped through this family history-in-letters.

The first thing that hit me was how technology has changed things. The earliest letters were handwritten on lined notepaper. A couple of years after that I designed letters that folded into cards with calligraphy or pen-and-ink drawings on the front. I painstakingly printed the artwork and the letter itself on parchment paper those years to keep the ink from fuzzing, as it did if I used bond. Then I photocopied them.

In 1990 I must have hauled out my old manual Olympus to do the Christmas letter - because it definitely has the typewriter look (white-out and all). Then in 1991 I used a borrowed word processor. Finally in 1992 I got a computer which I’ve used till the present, printing the letters on a variety of Christmas stationary.

In addition to mirroring advances in technology, a bit of the history of the times comes through these letters too. For example the 1990 letter begins:
In only a few more weeks 1990 will be history. It has truly been an amazing year in our world, with the unexpected toppling of much of the Eastern Bloc, the sudden flare-up in the Middle East and looming uncertainties throughout our country as befuddled politicians tackle one brush fire after another...

(My goodness, that last bit could be a description of Canadian politics any year!)

In 1997 a mail strike was pending and that year’s letter started out:
To write or not to write that is the question,
Whether the mail will move we do not know
But when it comes to friends, e’en the suggestion
That we’d forget them’s answered with a ‘No!'

And a year later, as email became the favorite mode of communication for me, I jingled:
Email would be faster
a visit even better,
but as tradition would dictate,
from us a Christmas letter....

The most favorite part of rereading these letters, though, is reliving times with the kids. Here are a few favorite bits.

From the 1990 letter when B. had just turned five:
...This is a conversation we overheard between him and a little boy in the next seat on the ferry this summer. They were watching some object in the sky.

Little Boy: ...maybe it will go as high as Santa Claus.

B.: Santa Claus is a sham

Little Boy: (silence)

B: Do you know what a "sham" is? It’s a fake.

We nervously glanced at the little boy’s parents and were
relieved when the two boys started talking about something else.

(Though Santa was never part of our Christmas tradition, we did not coach our kids to dash other kids' illusions about Father Christmas - honestly.)

And from that same letter:
S’s comeback to B’s endless knock-knock jokes:

B.: Knock-knock

S.: This is a recording. There is nobody home.

Finally, from the 1993 letter, when S. was 10 and not the keenest pianist:
...I brought some dispute between the children re: piano practice times to Ernie, our resident mediator and after he suggested a solution to the problem, he declared, "I’m as good as Solomon," at which point I heard S. mutter, "Yeah, cut the piano in half!"

Alas, reading all these old letters brings me no closer to starting this year’s. But I’ll think of a way to begin it in due course. Because I wouldn’t want to break this letter chain– which already spans 20 years!


I first posted this on my blog in late November 2005. That year I did get around to putting together a collection of letters for the kids. I made color copies of each, slipped them into plastic protective sheets, printed a photo collage cover, put the works into D-ring binders and called the project "Our Story in Letters."

So take up that pen or head over to that keyboard to write your annual Christmas letter. After all, you're writing much more than a letter - you're writing history.