December 31, 2008

Shaped by the Future - Janet Sketchley

We are the sum of our past. Well, at least we live that way.

But we don’t have to be prisoners to the past – the bad or the good. Think about how Jesus approached the people He met. Take Simon Peter: everyone else saw an impetuous fisherman, but Jesus said, “You are Peter [rock].” (Matthew 16:18a) Jesus viewed people in light of their potential – their future. Since Jesus came to show us the Father, that means it’s how God views us too.

Not that He ignores the past – or present. He knows the whole story, be it glorious or sordid, as well as the motives we may not have grasped.

But part of God’s forgiving and creating power is shown in the way He keeps His promise to transform us into the image of His Son. (Rom. 8:29)

So if God sees us in light of our future more than our past, how should we see ourselves? How should we see, period?

A present or past focus is self-focus, rooted in the temporal. On my own experience, my own perspective and understanding. Future focus is God-focus. On His character and promises, and what He will do. He is the focus, the goal, the prize.

Seeing what He will make me isn’t to boost my pride, but to give me confidence to act in Him in the now.

Seeing others with this “future view” is equally liberating. It releases me from negative expectations of them, which improves relationships and attitudes and opens the way for God’s future reality to develop in our lives.

Praise God for what He wants to do in and through us! Thank Him that we don’t have to be bound by the past. We can look back and see how He has brought us thus far. With a God-focused, future perspective, we can ask Him to shape us into what He designed us to be.

Let God bless you with the riches of His presence in 2009.

© Janet Sketchley, 2008
For devotionals, reviews and conversation, stop by Janet Sketchley's blog, God with Us: Finding Joy.

December 30, 2008

Taking Time to Wonder

I love Christmas – the music, the decorations, the baking etc. It’s a wonderful time of year. The week between Christmas and New Year's Day is one that always seems like a holiday. But what makes Christmas more wonderful than any other time of year?

We think Christmas is wonderful when the floor under the tree is loaded with presents, when there are lots of good things to eat, when the stars shine and the lights twinkle and the kids don’t fight. We have this picture perfect image of what makes a wonderful Christmas.

But where’s the wonder when…

- the kids all have the flu and you spend most of Christmas cleaning up after them
- or when the doctor says the dreaded words – it’s cancer, or it’s MS
- when you receive a phone call – ‘there’s been an accident’
- or a child dies
- or a teenage daughter says, ‘I’m pregnant’
- or a husband says, ‘I don’t love you anymore’

All of a sudden the wonder is gone. Those wonderful feelings disappear in an instant. Life is a burden, heavy and cumbersome. Loneliness overwhelms. We smile and carry on and wish we could just hide in a closet.

The wonder of Christmas is encapsulated in the message of the angel to Joseph – “The virgin will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.” God with us. God with me. God with you.

The wonder of Christmas is the wonder of Christ’s presence in all the ups and downs of life. Wonder is knowing that we are not alone. I want more than just wonderful – I want it to be wonder-filled. How can we do that?


What do we miss when we fail to pay attention? Women are great multi-taskers, and the younger generation can juggle so many things that it’s dizzying. They’re going to leave us in the dust. I went into my youngest daughter’s room one day. The music was blaring, she was studying for a class and she was chatting on MSN to a number of people. But what really took me aback is that she had her sewing machine set up, and she was sewing in between studying, chatting and listening.

In order to recapture the wonder we need to slow down. What a silly thing to say at this time of year when everything seems to speed up. Slow down? That might be possible for an hour in January, but in December – forget it. The list of things to do grows longer and longer. Everything takes more time because everyone is out in the stores. We stand in line and get even more behind. The calendar fills up more and more. We rush here and there, never pausing to think.

The Bible tells us “Be still and know that I am God.” I think one of the reasons that the song “Silent Night” is so appealing is that it conveys something of stillness. When you think that you don’t have time to just stop, that’s the time you need it the most. Take time to really focus on your activity, find enjoyment in what you’re doing, breathe deeply and relax. Know that God is with you in all of your busyness. He’s there standing in line at the cashier. He’s driving with you in the car. He’s in the kitchen when you’re cooking. Take time to sit in a chair and read the Christmas story from the Bible out loud. Read it to your children. Read it to yourself. Just stop.


I don’t want to become blasé about the wonders of creation. Creation tells us so much about God. The stars and planets show his glory, his majesty. The infinite variety of snowflakes tell us of his care for individuality.

A few summers ago Tim and I spent a week in the Kootenay mountains. One of the things we did was take a cave tour. After hiking up the mountain our guide gave us headlamps and gloves to wear. The cold and damp seeped into our bones and we were glad for the jackets we’d brought along. There, deep inside the earth, beautifully formed stalactites graced the darkness. I was struck by the care God took in creating the inside of the earth that few people would see. God created the world for us to enjoy. He could have made everything grey and dull, but he used his infinite creativity to delight us. So I encourage you to stop and look. Look at the faces of the people you love. Look at the bare branches of trees and admire their stark beauty. Use all the senses God gave you. Taste the food you eat – he made it all different when he could have made everything taste just like oatmeal and we would be nourished. But instead he made oranges sweet and lemons sour. Cinnamon and ginger, garlic and honey. What a variety of taste. Sniff your children’s necks, your husband’s hair, the food on your plate. Touch the hand of a friend. Run your fingers over the prickly needles of pine. Feel the softness of a sweater. Look and experience.


The world is full of noise. But is anyone really listening?

We all like to talk and sometimes when we look like we’re listening we’re really just thinking about what we’re going to say next as soon as we can get a word in edgewise. Our words are much more important to us than other people’s words.

God spoke on that night so long ago when he sent Jesus as a little baby. He said, “I love you. I love you so much that I’m sending my very own son to show you the way to have a relationship with me.”
“Listen to the words my son will tell you and you will be listening to me,” he says. “I care about you.”

The wonder of Christmas is that it’s never over. Christmas began in the loving heart of God our Father. It continues 365 ¼ days each year in the assurance that God is with us. God with us. God with me. God with you. In all of the joy you celebrate, God is there celebrating with you. When you dance, he dances. When you laugh, he laughs with you. And in those dark and terrible times, he is with you in the silence, whispering his love to you, weeping with you.

“I’m here. With you. I will never leave you. You’re not alone.”

That is the wonder of Christmas that can wash over us in great waves and then trickle into the very core of our being, filling all the hidden hollows of emptiness.

God with us. God with you.
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December 24, 2008

One Christmas Day - Bonnie Way

The scene stays in my memory like a sepia-toned photograph. I am perhaps five or six years old, for it is before my grandparents have moved from their farmhouse into town and while my great-grandmother is still with us. We are gathered in the farmhouse living room, the adults on the couches and a few chairs pulled in from the dining room, and my brothers and I on the floor. I am cuddled against Dad’s knee, staring at the Nativity scene on the low coffee table a few feet away from me, and trying not to think of the presents stacked under the tree beyond the coffee table.

Dad’s voice rumbles over the photograph, reading the story that, though I am only five or six, is already so familiar to me. “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.”

I look at the tiny cardboard stable, with the little ceramic figurines gathered inside. In later years, it is my job to set up that scene, to arrange each figure with the best view of Baby Jesus, but that year, I just look. I try to put life into the silent figures as Dad reads the story. Mary and Joseph kneel. An angel hangs above them and another sits among the sheep. One of the shepherds is black.

But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.’”

My brothers squirm on the other side of the coffee table. I see that they are staring at the presents under the tree. We’ve watched those presents appear there, but we haven’t dared to touch them. Now, finally, it is Christmas Day. It is time to discover what treasures are hidden beneath the brightly coloured paper. But first, as always, we start with the Christmas story.

In those days Caesar August issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town register.”

I feel impatient as Dad’s voice drones on through the chapters of the story. I wish that he could read faster, but he is a good reader, speaking clearly and evenly. And so I look at the Nativity scene, the presents, the tree that was chopped down somewhere on the farm and now stands in Grandma’s living room, the brown shag carpet. In later years, we will lose this tradition of reading the Christmas story. Presents will take precedence on Christmas Day, and I will miss listening to the old familiar story. But that year, I wish we could skip the tradition.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, for there was no room for them in the inn.”

I remember two of the presents that I got that year. One was a stuffed blue bunny that I promptly christened Fuzzy. And when, like every child, I felt an urge to try out a pair of scissors, it wasn’t my own hair that suffered, but Fuzzy’s. He gained a slightly shorter set of moustaches. The other present was a lacey bag of potpourri, that has left bits of potpourri in my dresser drawers ever since and is now probably only half the size that it was then. I cherish those presents still, and the sepia-toned memories that accompany them.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.’”

Verses taken from the Gospel of Luke.

December 21, 2008

Every Knee Shall Bow

(Photos by Anja Noordam: Morning Worship at Drayton Reformed Church)

This morning the angels took centre stage. The lights dimmed and the usual order of service this Sunday was placed gently aside while a creative hour caused us to reflect

"Every Knee Shall Bow," passionately presented by the ordinary folk of our flock extended a timely invitation. This invite did not have the typical 'bring squares, a casserole or a gift to the party' instruction. Instead, an array of interesting characters drew near to the Town Square Nativity. As they stood before the life size creche, God spoke to their hearts. Reactions were varied. Some argued with God about tasks and responsibilities. Others were refreshed and prompted to respond to God's invitation to come, follow Him. Families were reminded about God's truths. One chose to go it alone.

Enter Sarah. Sarah, a child, entered the square and unlike the others, hesitated not. She knelt before the little Holy Family with gusto and smiled at the doll who represented the Child who came to earth so very long ago. In all her sweet innocence, she flawlessly uttered words of love and trust to Jesus. When Sarah spoke her words, my heart cried and my eyes responded and brimmed with tears.

I know this was a play on stage during our regularly scheduled worship service, and Sarah was actually Joanna, but there was something about the words of that innocent child that stirred my soul. As I listened to the voice of Sarah conversing with the Creator of the universe, I was getting close to becoming an emotional basket case.

During his ministry, Jesus talked about becoming like a child and I often think about that. We, supposedly mature folk, are the ones who complicate things. We tack on the details of a commercial Christmas ad nauseum. But really, it is all so very simple. The invitation is for all. To pause. To kneel. To worship.

My goal is to become like Sarah this Christmas.

December 17, 2008

If only. . .

If only I’d come home earlier, thought Mike. If only I’d picked next week to go away. If only . . .
Sandra shuffled into the kitchen, yawned, dropped her arm on the back of a stool and wondered why she got up. Rain from the night left her garden too wet to weed. Mike and the boys left for their annual camping trip six whole days ago, so the house was too clean to clean.

She finished her Sally Wright book last night at 2 a.m. Yet another problem solved, another murderer caught. She felt a cool breeze. “Where’s that coming from?” she said aloud, grabbing her glasses off the counter.

The windows are closed. The rain came in that way at 10:30
. She peered through the living room. The front door was closed too. One step into the hall. She gasped.

Her back door stood wide open. But I shut it last night and twisted the knob locked. Then she noticed a key was in the lock, on the outside.

A chill, not from early morning breezes, stiffened her body. Wooden arms pulled what now seemed a very skimpy robe around her body. Her feet felt vulnerable, her hands naked and powerless. Who is in my house?
Mike was up early. Dawn in the mountains. Such splendor must not be wasted on the squirrels. He gazed with affection at Toby, 12 and Sammy, 7, still in their sleeping bags, still snoozing and snoring softly.

I won’t wake them. A jolt of early morning air is only for those whose internal alarm has already worked.

He laughed at his own mental verbosity and stepped outside the tent into the almost frosty air. Wonder what Sandra is doing? He glanced at his watch. If I know her, she stayed up all night with some book. She will be sound asleep right now, the sun soon streaming in, touching her golden hair.

Again he smiled, this time a little self-consciously. He loved Sandra with such intensity yet these were the times when he thought about her this way, when she was a 100 miles away. I should tell her more often, he promised himself as he started a fire to make coffee.
Sandra stood still for what seemed hours. She listened intensely, her ears bursting. Her heart had already pounded itself outside of her chest, raced back down the hall, and was hiding under Sammy’s bed, along with two stale sandwiches and a half dozen hot wheels.

She forgot to vacuum under his bed. What was I thinking? Oh, I remember. I’m supposed to make muffins for his scout troop next week. Carrot would be nice, healthy. Boys don’t like blueberries and chocolate is too . . .

A gust banged the back door against the closet wall. Sandra yelped from hysteria to action, ran to her room, slammed the door, locked it, scurried to the adjoining bathroom, slammed that door, locked it, dropped to the floor and quivered in a ball until she realized how silly she looked, even though no one was looking.

She knew she was not alone. You know when someone is in your house, but no one was here in this room. She cautiously opened the door and peered into the bedroom. Sun streamed across the pillow. She moved slowly into the room, then jumped and screamed. There was a figure standing there, in a dove grey robe, golden hair in a wild state.

That’s me. My God, I don’t even know me. If there is a burglar in my house, one look and he would be so traumatized that he’d leave.

Her surprising humor drew some of the tension. She grabbed a hair brush and put her head together. Jeans and a t-shirt made her feel stronger. She wondered if they had any weapons in the house. Toby has a baseball bat. Sammy’s biggest weapon is his wit. I could use some wits. Mike is so gentle. He didn’t like me buying a fly swatter. That bat, just across the hall.

She stepped to the door, then heard it—a soft scraping. Her hand froze on the knob.
Mike sipped his coffee. Why does it taste better in the mountains? He didn’t want to wake the boys. He thought about Sandra and surprisingly, her father.

I don’t want to think about him. He has been out of our lives for years. The only good he ever did was build our kitchen table. Otherwise his contribution to our lives, to Sandra’s life, is nothing but bruises. The outside ones healed, but I don’t know if inside ever will.

Mike tried, but he wasn’t a counselor and he couldn’t convince Sandra to go to a professional. She kept insisting she was fine, that God was healing her. Most of the time, she seemed fine, but Mike felt a knot inside him remembering her crying in her sleep, curled into a ball, her fists tight around her ears. She said it was nothing. Nothing, be damned. He wanted to shake that man.

But two years ago he just vanished. No more middle-of-the-night calls, no more pleading, no more attempts to see the boys, nothing. He was gone. Or he seemed to be gone. How can we know for sure, and will he ever come back?

His thoughts threatened to ruin both coffee and fresh air. He picked up a small pebble and tossed it toward a small sleeping bag. The occupant rumbled and rolled over. Mike tossed another pebble.

“Aw, Dad. Quit that!”
Sandra’s stomach was a volcano, a vise, a wild storm. She stood as still as she could, her breathing in competition with some invisible runaway train. The scraping continued. It was coming from the back of the house? No, the basement? It was the basement. She could lock that door? No, not from the outside. Whoever was down there could lock her out, but she couldn’t lock him in.

A chair? Like in the movies. I’ll put a chair under the doorknob. She grabbed a kitchen chair and leaned it against the basement door. It was two inches too short. She gasped, then quickly moved behind the table, shoving it toward the door. This will hold it shut.

As soon as the table touched the door, the door began slowly shoving the table.
Mike couldn’t help grin at his boys as they tried to dress inside their sleeping bags. He told them the night before to stuff jeans, T’s, clean socks and underwear down to the bottom. “It will stay dry there, and smell about the same as your feet,” which got another, “Aw, Dad.”

Sammy was quicker. His size helped him roll down to the end of the bag, into his wrinkled clothes and out the top a good five minutes before Toby managed to pull himself together. This morning Mike decided he might let Toby have a sip of coffee, but both boys wanted hot chocolate. The water was boiling so he mixed half milk from the cooler. They wrapped their boy-size hands around the chipped and colorful camping mugs Sandra packed for them.

Mike’s thoughts returned, reluctantly, to her father. He’s gone. Why think about him. He told her once that he was going to make her a roll top desk before he died. She always wanted a roll top. I wonder if she ever thinks about that, or him? Can she ever get passed this without reconciliation? She says he has to make the first move. Will he do it? I don’t know. I hope so.
Sandra was too frightened to scream. She watched the table slide into the room, afraid to move or even look at the basement door. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw something in the door opening. What was that? A saw? A hand saw. He was going to kill her with a hand saw? Sandra’s stomach lurched, but nothing came up.

The saw had a hand attached, an old, gnarled hand with wood shavings caught in the coarse hair on the back. Sandra felt time had stopped, but the hand didn’t stop. One more push and the table slid far enough for an arm, then a shoulder, then a full body. He stepped into her clean kitchen, joining the bright morning sunlight pouring in the windows, and the crisp curtains that hid her, and this man, from the view of anyone who might see and stop whatever he was going to do.

“Sandra, I wanted a sign, something to show me that you would not turn me away again. Something that showed me I could come and make up for all I’ve done, that I could build your roll top desk, and you would accept it, and forgive me. I prayed for something, anything, and when I saw the key in the door, I knew that was my sign, so I brought in the wood and worked all week, at nights. I’m sorry for being such a fool, still am. But I just want to please you and show you I’m not the same, and your desk is all finished. Please, please come down and see it . . . .”

December 11, 2008

God's Gift of Love

Christmas is the most wonderful time of year. Spending time with family, exchanging gifts, watching grandchildren perform in concerts and eating an abundance of goodies are great.

But Christmas is more than this. It is a time set aside to celebrate the birth of our Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ; a time to remember his lowly birth; a King, born in a manger.

How often I get caught up in the busyness of preparations and forget why I am celebrating this Special Day.

It’s not about fruit cake, Christmas pudding or turkey. It’s not about Christmas lights, the prettiest tree or candy canes. I don’t have to have my house “spic and span” to enjoy this season.

It is about Love. His love for us; love so great he left His home in Glory to come to earth to redeem us and to give us a glimpse of His Father’s love.

This same Love can flow through His children. This same Love can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, wipe away a tear, visit a shut-in and give an encouraging word or cheerful smile.

This same love can hold the door open for someone, be patient while standing in line or babysit for a tired mom.

I hope this Christmas and everyday I will be an example of God’s Love.

December 10, 2008

More Christmas - Nesdoly

this is a poem 2

this is a poem about the last page
a poem about feeling panicked
a poem about lists
this is a poem about shopping and tired feet
about choosing the right card
then signing your name 47 times
a poem about wrapping paper, tape and ribbon
this is a poem about putting up lights and garland
bells and wreaths, while playing old records
a poem about finding mom’s recipe
and buying butter – for baking!
this is a poem about feasting
this is a poem about getting around
to reading the familiar story and wondering
how did something
that started out so simple
get to be so complicated?
this is a poem about Christmas

this is a poem about hearing the songs
of baby Jesus, at the mall
and having the urge to go
and sing them to all your neighbors
this is a poem about the magic
of blinking lights, toy trains
and sipping a cup of warm cocoa
while you visit the Holy Family
come to your cul-de-sac
this is a poem of when home
is the only place to be
even if the tree is small, the gifts few
and your house is crowded as a Bethlehem street
this is a poem about candlelight and sweet carols
in a place where simple gowns and sequin crowns
transform even urchins and scamps
into shepherds, angels and wise men
this is a poem about Christmas

© Copyright 2008 by Violet Nesdoly

Check out my website, my writerly blog Line upon line, or visit my personal blog promptings for a daily Advent Calendar surprise (till December 24th).

December 03, 2008

Christmas Choices - Janet Sketchley

Celebration or commercialism?
Holy or hectic?
Relationship or routine?
Incarnation or inconvenience?
Sublime or silly?
Truth or trappings?
Mystery or mundane?
Abundant or agnostic?
Sacred or sugar-coated?

© Janet Sketchley, 2008
For devotionals, reviews and conversation, stop by Janet Sketchley's blog, God with Us: Finding Joy.

December 01, 2008

Hope that Quiets

Thou has created us for Thyself, and our heart is not quiet until it rests in Thee."
St. Augustine

The word that has been fluttering around the edges of my thoughts for the past week or so is "quiet." What an odd thing to be thinking of at this busy and often hectic time of year. But the more I've thought about it, the more I know that I need to focus on being quiet and still. This doesn't mean sitting in my chair reading beside the fire, although I'm making time for that. Instead, I'm concentrating on a quiet heart. I want to bake cookies, decorate the house, wrap gifts, do laundry and show hospitality to hordes while still maintaining a quiet heart.

Yesterday we lit the first Advent candle - the candle of Hope. And it is hope, I've realized, that quiets me. Hope in God my Saviour. He alone is my rock and my salvation. Hope for the present moment, hope for the future, hope that God will redeem the past. When I place my hope in him, my heart is quieted.

"The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." Zephaniah 3:17
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November 28, 2008

It's a Long Story - Bonnie Way

“Is that the new fashion?” My brother asks, pointing at my running shoe. I look down, remembering that I’ve tied the shoelace to the left side, rather than in the centre.

“It’s a long story,” I say, as I bend down to untie that shoe.

See, my husband and I were visiting his parents, and my mother-in-law and I decided to go for a walk one afternoon. After a few minutes of running around finding hats, putting on shoes, getting Sunshine into her Snugli, and telling everyone else in the house where we were going, we headed out. We stopped to see what my father-in-law and brother-in-law were doing at the cow’s watering trough, and then wandered across the cow field. I was watching carefully to make sure that I didn’t step in any cow pies.

Dad often tells the story of he and his dad went for a walk across the cow pasture with a city slicker once. The city slicker was carefully picking his way around every cowpie, worried about his shoes, while Dad and Grandpa just walked across without really noticing where they were walking. When they got to the other side of the field, the city slicker was the only one with any cowpies on his shoes. So I was thinking of that story and smiling, but being careful anyways.

We took a shortcut through some trees and into the back pasture, where we looked at the cows and the swamp and the quad tracks from the family reunion. Then, as Sunshine was getting tired, we turned around to head back. I was telling my mother-in-law about my trip to Ontario, and forgot to watch where I stepped. She was the one who noticed that I’d landed right in a cowpie.

I scraped my shoe along the ground, and walked sideways dragging one foot, and tried to get the cowpie cleaned off. But it was sticky and wouldn’t come. So when we got to the house, I kicked my shoes off outside, not wanting them to smell up the house. I went in and put Sunshine down for her nap, and by the time she was asleep, I’d forgotten to go back out and clean up my shoes.

The next morning, my husband and I were heading out to church. I stood at the top of the stairs and surveyed the stack of shoes at the bottom, trying to find mine. They weren’t there. I asked if anyone else had seen them. Surely nobody would walk off with my shoes? We search around the house and then I remembered I’d left them outside. But they weren’t there either. Finally, as my husband came to help look, then my father-in-law and my mother-in-law, I noticed one running shoe way out in the middle of the lawn.

My father-in-law slipped into his shoes and went out to retrieve mine, while my husband and mom searched around the other side of the house. Then my father-in-law saw the other shoe, down by the driveway, and brought them both back. Apparently some critter had taken a liking to them and dragged them away. He chewed off one shoelace, but otherwise the shoes were fine. So I put them back on again, tying the left shoe to the side because of the shorter shoelace, and we went off to church.

And that is the story of why my shoe was tied to one side.

November 25, 2008

Something to Look Forward To - M. Laycock

“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 above 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!
Marcia Laycock is the winner of the Best New Canadian Author Award for her novel, One Smooth Stone. Visit Marcia's website -

November 23, 2008

The Good News of Christmas - Jan Keats

The time came when the prophecy of a Savior was unfolding. God’s only son was going to be born. God sent an angel to Nazareth to proclaim to Mary that she was the chosen one to bear God’s only son. Mary was troubled by the message because she was a virgin. “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”(Luke 1:34) The angel assured Mary that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the Holy One that was to come will be called the Son of God. Mary accepted God’s will for her life. “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:38)

One can imagine the emotions Mary was feeling. After all, she was going to give birth to the Savior of the world. Oh, what joy and anxious moments that must have overwhelmed Mary and Joseph! What was God’s purpose for sending His son into the world? What was God’s purpose in choosing Mary to the Mother of this Holy infant?
We find God’s purpose in Matthew 1: 21-23, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus because He will save His people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel – which means God with us.”

In His adolescent years Jesus grew wise. Luke 2:40 says, “The child grew and became strong, He was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon him.” When Jesus and His parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, His parents learned just how wise He was. As the people were traveling home, they noticed that Jesus wasn’t with them, so they headed back to look for him. He was found sitting among the teachers, who were amazed at His understanding of the word of God. Luke 2: 52 says: “ Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and with favour with God and men.”

As an adult the time came for Jesus to fulfill God’s purpose that was set before him. He traveled many towns and villages preaching the good news. Many people came to hear Jesus and to be healed of their diseases. (Luke 6:18) He performed many miracles; Jesus enabled the lame to walk and to the many who suffered from terrible diseases, He gave healing and new hope again. The good news spread rapidly and many placed their faith in Him.
The Good News of Christmas is what many people looked forward to upon hearing of the virgin birth. (Luke 2:38) It is a joyous occasion that the angels and the shepherds exclaimed. And it is for all people. (Luke 2:10)


How would you feel if God had Chosen you to be the parent of His son?

How do you think the people of Nazareth reacted to the news of the birth of baby Jesus?

Do you think that it is more difficult to share the Good news of Jesus Birth considering the pressures in our society today?

Copyright Jan Keats

November 21, 2008

Follow the Leader

[Photo: Amanda ~ Chip off the old block~]

A funny thing happened on my way to adulthood. I was followed. My children were apparently eyeing me all the way. That delightful old adage - do as I say, not as I do - got tossed out the window. And no matter what I said, my children become more of what I did.

I spent most of the day yesterday helping my daughter pack for her impending move. With a 6 month old baby and a busy little two and a half year old, Amanda has to work double time to get her kit and kaboodle packed and ready for relocation. So I was happy to help. She's a bit stubborn like her momma' so I had to convince her to let me help and that she didn't need to do this all by herself.

I get a big kick out of how alike we are. She is very independent but she has a lot of my traits. Some not so good. Yesterday it was confirmed that I have created a junior packrat. She is just like 'yours truly' for stashing and saving. I totally sympathized with some of the 'but I might need this later' comments from my darling daughter. Our similarities are obvious in many areas.
There were moments, yesterday, when I knew she wanted me to tell her to toss out something but then we would both think of good reasons for keeping said object. Take the wine bottles from the many weddings that she had collected. Afterall, they had the nice label and the photo of the happy couple. I remember the same dilemma when I moved. I was so glad when I ended up purging my own collection of photograph-adorned wine bottles. So I shared this with her.
Finally we made a decision. She would only toss the empty photograph-adorned bottles. The full ones she would keep. We felt bad tossing the happy couples into the recycling box. But we moved on. And so the day continued. Decision after decision. Packing is not an easy task for packrats.

On the whole, we actually did well sorting and discerning between need and want. However, I must say that our packing session likely took a little longer than perhaps might be considered the norm. There were so many decisions to make.

Later, I again thought about how important a job motherhood is. As I watch my big little girl interact with her own little ones, I see me. She speaks with my grandchildren in the same manner I spoke to her. She disciplines the same way I disciplined her. We have the same sense of humour.

I left her house with a smile on my face and three bags of 'stuff' I might use (no wine bottles). Then I thought of a poem I wrote a while back for Amanda's birthday card.

Sometimes I watch you.

I watch the way you look at your children, my grandchildren.
I watch and wonder where the years have gone and how it is that you are now a mother.
Then I see the dependent, adoring way your children look at you.
I remember when you used to look at me like that.
But time marches on
You, my once desperately, dependent daughter have become a fiercely independent woman.
Did I teach you that?
We had our moments of conflict.
We faced joys and challenges together.
We overcame grief and sadness.We triumphed.
I love spending time with you.
I appreciate when you ask me for advice.
It makes me feel valued and worthy.
Our relationship is special.
We are more than mother and daughter.
We have become friends.

(God has blessed me beyond measure!)

November 19, 2008

Not This Dance . . .

Amy’s friend Arlene keeps pulling the conversation back to George and Florence. Amy resists and wonders if this is what a man feels like when his partner tried to take the lead in the middle of a tango. She leans hard toward tomorrow evening’s supper menu. Arlene sways again toward the latest gossip. Amy pulls the words around to the meal. Arlene tugs her back into defamation and slander.

Would she ever shut up?

“I really would like fish with all those vegetables. Any other meat would be just too heavy, don’t you think, Arlene?”

Arlene would have none of it. No fish. No vegetables. She only had tongue for George and Florence.

“Susan says they have done it several times,” she hints.

You have done it one too many times, thinks Amy. I’m not getting dragged around this kitchen floor again. Stiffening slightly, she rises and goes deliberately to the window. Cathy and Rider are playing in the sandbox. The thought briefly crosses her mind that someday someone might be talking about THEM just as their mother was trying to talk about George and Florence. She wishes they would have an argument or something, anything to turn off this torturous tango. But the children play on.

“I’m sure Susan wouldn’t lie, would she, Amy?”

Would she . . . ? Oh no, I’m letting her lead. Fish. What kind of fish? Some salmon? No. It might be too filling. Some sole? That would be nice, with a light sauce.

“Didn’t you hear me, Amy? Where is your mind? Are you paying any attention?”

“I’m sorry, Arlene. The meal tomorrow night has been more important to me than much of anything else I’m afraid.”

Afraid, my eye -- I’m terrified. The last time she dragged me into one of these conversations, my heart ached for a long time.

“What do you think of sole?”

“Sole? You are out of it, my dear. Anyway, the afternoon is slipping away. Call the kids for me, won’t you. I need to slip down the hall and then I really must run.”

Amy wondered if it was too soon to relax. Yes, it was. Words still rung in her ears, fragments about George and Florence, jarring, acid-etched fragments. As soon as Arlene is out the door she must turn on the radio. No, a tape. If I don’t play some praise and sing along, I’ll start to tango without her.
“Lord, teach me to be reverent in the way I live, not to slander, not to sit around drinking coffee and getting caught in the trap of the tango . . . that my life might glorify your Word.” (Titus 2:3,5)
by Elsie Montgomery

November 12, 2008

Book review and a Bonus - Nesdoly

Title: Hot Apple Cider - Words to Stir the Heart and Warm the Soul
Author: Edited by N. J. Lindquist and Wendy Anne Nelles
Publisher: That's Life! Communications, May 2008, paperback, 296 pages
ISBN-10: 0978496302
ISBN-13: 978-0978496302

True stories that deliver a shot of inspiration, non-fiction pieces that get you thinking, Robert Service-like poetry that champions the cause of the poor and hurting, fiction that delivers truth with a pinch of drama and humor: Hot Apple Cider - Words to Stir the Heart and Warm the Soul has them all. This anthology of 44 pieces by 30 Canadian authors was conceived and compiled by N. J. Lindquist and Wendy Anne Nelles, co-founders of The Word Guild, a professional organization for Canadian writers who are Christian.

“Today many Canadian Christians are realizing that they’d like to read literature that reflects their own culture, values and experiences,” says Lindquist in the introduction. Janette Oke in the foreword says, “I feel a bit proud in knowing that we, here in Canada, have so many skilled, inspirational writers who are able to present their work – their words – in this way.”

Hot Apple Cider does feature writing from across the dominion (although it's light on writers from Quebec, the Maritimes, and the Territories). In it you’ll read about a Lethbridge pioneer woman who championed the rights of women and the poor, a perceptive Yukoner who kept showing up, like an angel, when a lonely soul needed her the most, a childless Ontario couple who had their prayers answered in a most unexpected way, and many other accounts about the intersection of life and faith. Stories from abroad are also well-represented and include a tale of tragedy in the Australian Outback, a birth crisis in Nepal, and a terrifying night in a drug dealer’s apartment in Boston.

Besides being a powerful book in its own right, Hot Apple Cider also has value as a sampler. Many of the pieces are extracted from full-length works. Don’t be surprised if this book has you adding titles to the list of volumes you’ll want to read in their entirety – books like Seven Angels for Seven Days by Angelina Fast-Vlaar, Where Have all the Mothers Gone? by Jean Froese, M.D., Why Does God Allow Suffering?: An MD Examines by Brad Burke M.D., and a host of others.

Hot Apple Cider’s honest and thought-provoking writing combined with its tasteful cover and apple-themed photo illustrations may find you thinking of purchasing copies as gifts. And what better gift could you give than a book brimming with heart-warming stories to sip at over the Christmas season – or any season for that matter?

(Review first posted on Blogcritics, October 27/08)

Bonus: A behind-the-scenes look at how this book came together.
Purchase information.


Violet Nesdoly blogs daily devotions for children at Bible Drive-Thru, about things writerly at Line upon line and personal and community stuff at promptings.

November 05, 2008

A Song in the Morning - Janet Sketchley

As a little girl, I used to bounce out of bed early, chattering and ready to play. Somewhere all that changed. Most days in my adult life have started with resentful thoughts toward the alarm clock and an excruciating crawl out of sleep’s warm embrace into a cold and dreary morning. At least that’s how it feels, even in July with sunshine and birdsong.

I’ve dreaded waking up, dragging into another day’s responsibilities with insufficient energy and less joy. Somewhere on the planet are people who spring wide awake and alert, fully rested and eager to get going. If you’re one of them, congratulations but please don’t tell me.

Occasionally I wake knowing something exciting waits in the day: a trip, or any of the days I’m at Write! Canada. I’m still low-energy, but it’s easier to get moving because I look forward to what’s waiting.

Once, I woke feeling happy. Must have had a lovely dream. Dreams that encourage me spiritually or suggest intriguing stories let me wake with more cheer, as do the mornings when there’s a song in my head before the radio comes on.

I notice the music connection even more since CBC Radio 2 changed its format. Without the gentle classical music that used to comfort me in the waking, things have gotten harder.

Not long ago, I woke one morning with a worship song drifting through my mind and something finally clicked. I thanked God for the song, for how it made it easier to accept being awake. And that night I asked Him to please do it again.

He did.

Each night I ask, and each morning there’s part of a worship song to smooth my transition into the day. Focusing on the lyrics instead of just coasting on the tune brings me into God’s presence to start the day with Him.

I can’t say I look forward to mornings yet, but the dread is gone.

God is good.

© Janet Sketchley, 2008
For devotionals, reviews and conversation, stop by Janet Sketchley's blog, God with Us: Finding Joy.

October 31, 2008

Famous Journals - Bonnie Way

Many people, writers and non-writers alike, keep journals or diaries. My mom likes journaling so she can look back on what she was doing a few months or years ago. During a time when I was very lonely, the pages of my journal became a listening ear to my thoughts and feelings. Like Anne Frank, I found that "When I write, I can shake off all my cares."

Many of us feel like British author Frances Burney (1752–1840), that “To Nobody, then, will I write my journal! since to Nobody can I be wholly unreserved—to Nobody can I reveal every thought, every wish of my heart, with the most unlimited confidence, the most unremitting sincerity to the end of my life! For what chance, what accident can end my connections with Nobody? No secret can I conceal from No-body, and to No-body can I be ever unreserved. Disagreement cannot stop our affection, Time itself has no power to end our friendship. The love, the esteem I entertain for Nobody, No-body’s self has not power to destroy. From Nobody I have nothing to fear, the secrets sacred to friendship, Nobody will not reveal, when the affair is doubtful, Nobody will not look towards the side least favourable.”

And yet others journal in a more public way, sharing what they write with Everybody. In our modern era, journaling has gone electronic—it’s now blogging. As I’ve surfed through the blogosphere, many blogs that I’ve seen are one person’s ramblings on their own life—and more or less interesting, depending on their life and their writing skill. Yet with the millions of blogs now being published, there is something there that keeps us not only writing such blogs, but also reading them.

Martha Brockenbrough suggests that journals are a way to “learn about yourself and your fellow humans.” We are all curious about those around us, whether they think and feel and see what we do. And not only those in our own era, but those in past eras as well. Historically, journals are important documents about times past. Think of famous journals you’ve read or heard of—Anne Frank’s is probably the first that pops into your head, but other people such as Lewis and Clark, Sir Ernest Shackleton, David Thompson and Charles Darwin also kept journals that are now publicly published.

Recently, my mom and I were touring Dundurn Castle in Hamilton, Ontario. Our guide kept referring to the journal written by the thirteen-year-old daughter, Sophia McNab. It was easy to imagine a bored and creative young girl, confined by the manners of the time to the nursery upstairs, recording the daily happenings in the pages of her journal. It is interesting to consider that her journal would become the most important source about a time when children were to be seen and not heard and women belonged in the drawing room. As one blogger says, “Doesn’t it make you just want to keep a diary, something to ensure that the record is accurate, a reference book for the tour guides in the unlikely event that your house is still standing 180 years from now?

So whether you blog or journal in a more traditional sense, don’t think it useless or silly. You never know who may read what you write and learn from it!

October 28, 2008

The Source of Joy

A Christian friend and I met each other in a shopping mall recently and as we were chatting I couldn’t help but take notice of his expression of joy. I felt it was proper and due him to make mention of his exuberant joy that I know comes from serving the Lord. I said to him, “you are always so full of joy!”

He didn’t respond with words but by action. Placing his hands on my shoulders he whisked me around full circle and pointed upward to the store name that was directly behind me. It was called “The Source.” The word ‘the’ was in small letters and ‘Source’ was in very large and prominent letters. As I turned back, he paused for a moment and gave me that raised eyebrows look as if to say, “Need I say more? God is my source of joy, what else can I say?” he said reassuringly.

It is true that most Christians radiate the joy of the Lord. Sometimes people glow with the love of God when engaged in conversation. I especially noticed that before I became a Christian. When I was seeking Christianity some years ago, I found myself studying Christians just to find that something different about them to make me want to say, “yes Lord, I will follow you.”

After all, isn’t that what Jesus exemplified? Pure joy? Doesn’t He long for His children to experience His joy? Even in the midst of trials God is our ever-present companion. He provides the pure joy that gives us strength to endure all kinds of trials. In the book of James we find that joy is exemplified when faced with trials of many kinds. (James 1: 2-3)

Jesus promised that once we discovered His pure joy, no one would ever be able to take it away. (John 16:22) His words make our joy in Him complete. (John 17:13)
Even the angels become joyful as people choose to follow Christ!
As I continue to come in contact with my friend, his expression of joy is always evident, and his faith is always joyfully expressed. His true joyful attitude is one that has confidently spilled over to others and me.

Copyright Janice Keats

October 26, 2008

Wee Sleekit Cowerin' Timorous Beastie - Glynis

Robert Burns the Scottish poet coined the phrase ‘such are the best laid plans of mice and men’ in his poem, To a Mouse. He refers to the nasty little critters as ‘wee sleekit, cowrin’ timorous beasties’ and then rambles on about the poor mouse and how rodent fears are unfounded.
Mr. Burns was off his rocker. My daughter agrees. We came to that stunning conclusion one night as we sat huddled in terror on the kitchen counter top. The hideous rodent scurried and scampered haphazardly in front of us.

The wretched little monster ran around the kitchen floor like an out of control windup toy. Amanda and I became emotionally unraveled. Our screams were now interspersed with laughter and tears. Our behaviour bordered on psychotic, but our trembling bodies bid us stay put, out of reach of the darting, ghastly creature.

I tried to get a grip – after all I was the matriarchal influence who was supposed to teach my daughter how to react appropriately when in a threatening situation. At one point I lowered a leg to the floor. As if by radar, the repulsive creature which actually, upon closer inspection, looked like a mole, stuck its nose in the air and headed in my direction. The kitchen once again sounded like a chorus of distraught, shrieking seagulls. The rodent darted the other way. Then the foolish thing stopped near the fireplace brick. Didn’t it realize getting out of our sight would have decreased the decibel level?

Eventually Amanda and I calmed down enough to discuss our dilemma. My dearly beloved was gone for the day. We had a choice. We could stay stranded on the countertop for eight hours or we could attempt to trap the wretched pint-sized rodent. I opted for the eight hours on the countertop. My daughter thought otherwise.

Luckily we were perched directly above the plastics cupboard. Amanda leaned over and retrieved a margarine container. Like a couple of timid tightrope walkers, we slithered down the cupboard. Amanda held the lid. I held the bottom of the container. My job was to cover the creature. Amanda agreed to ‘slip’ the lid underneath.

The rest of the story is a blur. I remember screams and panic as the dratted thing wiggled and jiggled under the margarine container. We didn’t even attempt to put the lid on for fear the little wriggler would squeeze out. It wasn’t quite as terrifying watching a margarine container glide around the kitchen. At least the pesky critter was in jail – sort of. We, the two sleekit, cowrin, timorous lasses, meanwhile, headed for the basement where we remained for about eight hours and awaited our rescuer.

So I guess my question is...why? Why did God create mice or rats or moles or, for that matter, is there really a purpose for houseflies and mosquitoes? Okay, okay...He declared that it was all good, didn't He? I guess His thoughts are not mine.

Obviously Robert Burns knew something that I haven't yet figured out.

October 17, 2008


"Give and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you." - Jesus, Luke 6:38

Who doesn’t salivate at Jesus' word picture of abundance? Yes, bring it on!

But I wonder how often I don’t recognize the abundance I already have.

We have an abundance of food in our freezer and a well-stocked pantry

We have an abundance of books (this bookshelf x about 5).

I have an abundance of clothes.

We have an abundance of good memories in shelf-fulls of photo albums and many more photos in boxes and on computer disks.

We have an abundance of CDs (these are just the ones in my office).

I have an abundance of pens, pencils and paper.

I have an abundance of Bibles (many more than this!)

You get the picture?

I think this "good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over" has already hit me in many areas of my life. I think what I'm needing most now is an abundance of thanks!

October 14, 2008

A Thing Called Grog by Marcia Lee Laycock

Some people seem to have an underlying belief that writing about what is painful and ugly in life is somehow denying the goodness of God.

I disagree. We do not write about the ugly, the dark things of despair, in order to glorify them, nor to question God, but in order to put them in their place and to recognize that there is something more, there is redemption of all that is ugly and evil in this world, because of what happened on a cross at the base of a hill in a tiny country then called Palestine.

Psalm 12:6 (KJV) says – “The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. “Tried in a furnace of earth.” That doesn’t sound pleasant to me. “Purified seven times.” That sounds like struggle and anguish and pain that has been forged into what is pure and wholesome.

As a pottery student many years ago I learned that you can’t use just any old clay to make pottery. It has to be the right consistency, the right combination of elements. Some clay is too fine. When it’s thrown on a wheel it won’t stand up, won’t keep its shape, won’t survive the heat of the kiln, so a substance called grog is added. Grog is clay that has been previously fired in the kiln, then ground into fine particles. Grog sometimes hurts. As you throw a pot on the wheel you can feel it scraping your hands. Sometimes it even makes them bleed.

Our writing needs grog – that stuff that has been ground up inside us as we struggle. We must put the stuff of real life into it, or it won’t hold up. It won’t do what it is intended to do.

I wrote this short devotional for a local paper some time ago. I called it Hard Questions:

It seemed fitting that the sky hung heavy and low. It seemed right that the wind was bitter, howling with the fierce shriek of winter around a tiny country cemetery. There was a very small hole in the ground and a very tiny casket to be put into it. It seemed appropriate that we all stood numbed by the cold of that day.

A friend of mine once wrote a poem about Adam, Eve and God in the Garden of Eden. It was a good poem, well constructed with a strong rhythm and powerful images. One of those images often comes to mind when bad things happen to good people. It’s an image of God curled into a fetal position, and the wailing sound of His weeping.

Sometimes we ask hard questions. Why did that baby have to die, God? Why is my friend suffering with a painful cancer? Why are those people in Africa starving? We don’t usually get a good answer to those questions. They leave us numb and they leave us wondering if God is there.

But then there is that image and that sound. In my friend’s poem God mourned the first disobedience, the first break in His relationship with the creatures He put on the earth.
The picture my friend painted with his words was of a God who cares, a God who feels our pain, a God who mourns with us, especially at the graves of tiny babies.

He is also a God who will answer. He is a God who acted to redeem all that was broken in our world. He is a God who continues to do so. The redemption was accomplished on the cross of Calvary, but it is not yet complete. As the writer of the book of Hebrews said, God “… waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:13).

The process is sometimes painful, but the world will one day be made entirely new, entirely redeemed. The scriptures talk about creation groaning as we wait for that day. The groans do not fall on deaf ears, nor will they remain unanswered forever. One day that tiny baby will rise, whole and perfect as God intended him to be.

God’s plan is unfolding. What then, should we do in those times when we groan and feel there is no answer? Again, scripture tells us – “To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Humility before God bows the knee and continues to believe. Humility before God acknowledges His sovereignty and calls Him good. Even when babies die and the pain of this world overwhelms, humility before God says, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

The Sunday after that piece appeared in print, the father of that baby approached me in the lobby of our church. He said he was in a local restaurant when he read Hard Questions. He said it wasn’t long before tears were streaming down his face. I held my breath as he described what he was feeling. Many things flew through my mind. Was he angry with me? Should I have written and published that piece when it exposed not only my pain, but his?

Then, with tears brimming in his eyes he said, “Thank you. It was part of the healing. Thank you for writing it.”

Madeleine L’Engle has said - “The discipline of creation, be it to paint, compose, write, is an effort toward wholeness.”

This is our responsibility – to struggle toward that wholeness in our lives and in our work; to take our work deeper, to make sure it has enough grog in it to stand, and perhaps even to heal.

All to the Glory of God, because that is His plan for us, His plan for our work.

October 10, 2008

Keeping Close - Janet Sketchley

As we walk with God, are we like a dog with his master, sometimes at His side but often ranging away on our own? Testing the limits of the leash, investigating all sorts of interesting smells and sights?

How much better to be like a young child, slipping his hand into that of his parent just because he likes the closeness? The two walk together, talking about what they see on the way, sometimes stopping to investigate, but always together, always communing.

My word from the LORD this year was “return” – not in the sense that I’d been far away, but in the sense of “keep close by My side”. He’s right. I need to be close to Him. And wonder of wonders, He likes it when I am.

© Janet Sketchley, 2008
For devotionals, reviews and conversation, stop by Janet Sketchley's blog, God with Us: Finding Joy.

October 08, 2008

A Sacrifice of Thanks

Have you ever thought of thankfulness as a sacrifice to God? Psalm 50 talks about giving thanks in this way.

There's always something for which to be thankful. When our 10-year-old son, Travis, was struck by a hit and run driver and suffered severe head trauma he lay in a coma for a number of days. We were far from home, living in Ecuador and I started getting pretty grouchy as the days passed and Travis continued to just lie unresponsive in the ICU unit.

I knew people were praying. I read my Bible looking for comfort. I prayed. I cried. And I became frustrated and a real bear. I didn't even try to be nice. Then one morning I read Psalm 50 and was startled by the idea of thankfulness as a sacrifice. But I wasn't very pleased with my attitude and the Lord spoke to me about this so....

What did I have to be thankful for? There were many things.

My son was still alive. I could stroke his arm, watch his chest rise and fall, and sing to him.
My daughters were being well looked after at home in the jungle without me having to organize anything.
I knew many people were praying.
The MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) flight was able to fly us up to the capital city without any weather worries.
There was good medical care available.
Friends brought food.
My husband was by my side.

The list went on. As I gave thanks, nothing in my situation changed. Travis still lay in a coma, the outcome unknown. But I changed. I took my focus off of the negative aspects of the situation and thanked God for the things that were more positive. It's hard to be grouchy with a thankful heart. I didn't become a "Pollyanna" thinking that everything was going to be wonderful, but I gained a perspective that was oriented more to God and his work than to my impatient and frustrated desires.

There are many reasons to worry and be grouchy these days - the economy, the climate, family troubles, world issues - it's all a mess. But in the midst of troubled times, offer a sacrifice of thanks to God. You'll be amazed at the perspective you'll gain.

October 06, 2008

Conference Memories - Bonnie Way

Back before the ICWF Spring WorDshop in 2001, I bought myself a notebook to take to the conference. It went with me to Spring WorDshop the next year and to every Fall Conference since 2001. Its pages are scribbled with notes—some neat, some not so neat; some detailed, others not so detailed. It has dates, speakers, topics. It should be a veritable source of writing information, yet most of the time it remains in my drawer, to be pulled out and added to when conference time comes around again.

As I flip through it, memories flash back upon me.

LaVerne Erickson talked about how dreams impact our writing. He said that dreams don’t just exist in our minds, but in the mind of Christ; when God stops thinking of us, we cease to exist. Marcia Laycock talked about God owning words and lending them to us, and said that God has given each of us a field to write and speak in. Ross MacInnes told us to treat writing as a business; set a schedule and stick to it, have marketing plans, and do what works.

At the second Fall Conference I attended, in 2001, John Moore reminded us that we writers don’t find our identity in writing or ministry, but in Christ. He also told us to make sure that we do something other than write, or we won’t have anything to write about.

Kathleen Gibson said that God created us to be creative, for He is a creative God. Yet creativity is still hard, messy work. And sometimes, our most creative times come after or during dark times. According to Gibson, we were given creativity not only to make the world a better place, but also to impact it with the truth. Sigmund Brouwer also commented on that, saying our first audience is God himself and we’ll never know how many people our writing will touch. So write with your heart and soul; then turn off your computer and become a businessman like MacInnes said.

On and on the advice goes. Some names are familiar, others I barely remember—Carolyn Aarsen, Sheila Sims, Grace Fox, Susan Titus Osborne, Elsie Montgomery, Hugh Cook, Deborah Gyapong, Murray Pura, Larry Willard, Angela Hunt. They each passed on their wisdom, faith, and knowledge to a bunch of writers wanting to learn and grow. I am grateful for the opportunity that I had to hear what they shared. And maybe next time my writing is feeling dry or dull, I’ll take another peek into this little notebook.

October 02, 2008

Commitment and Providence by Marcia Lee Laycock

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative there is one elemental truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.All sorts of things occur to help that would never have otherwise occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings, and material assistance which no man or woman would have dreamed could have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.Boldness has genius, power, and magic to it.Begin it now." Goethe

Let’s play what if. What if Abram didn’t pull up the tent pegs and set off from Ur. What if Noah didn’t pick up the hammer? What if Moses didn’t pick up the staff? What if Gideon didn’t climb out of the winepress and break down the altar to Baal? What if Joshua didn’t march around Jericho? What if Ruth didn’t go with Naomi? What if David didn’t take the provisions to his brothers on the front lines? What if Solomon didn’t build the temple? What if Shaphan the secretary didn’t read the book of the Law to Josiah? What if Josiah didn’t tear his robes? What if Esther stayed home? What if Daniel didn’t pay attention to his dreams? What if Matthew didn’t walk away from the tax collectors booth? What if Peter didn’t put down his nets?

What if you don’t take up your pen?

September 29, 2008

Losses - Lynda Schultz

Loss dogs the steps of our daily lives, darkens the corners of our minds, and squeezes our hearts. Seventeen years ago, on September 26, my father passed into eternity. After such a long time, the date usually passes without too much notice but since I am reading through my father’s devotional book this year, I couldn’t help but be reminded.

Interestingly other events occurred this weekend to heighten the impression. On Saturday morning, I learned that my friend, Nancy, had lost her father the night before—the same date on which I had lost my own dad. Her experience brought back memories of my own.

On Sunday, I got word that another friend of many years had finally succumbed to cancer and was in the presence of the Lord. As I read the glowing words of praise for her life, I was reminded again that those dark corners in our life’s journey need desperately to be tempered by faith, hope and love.

The reading in my father’s devotional book for September 27 gave me a perspective on loss that sometimes gets overwhelmed by loss’s gloom. The author, James Hinton, writes: “Suppose you are bewildered and know not what is right nor what is true. Can you not cease to regard whether you do or not, whether you be bewildered, whether you be happy? Cannot you utterly and perfectly love, and rejoice to be in the dark, and gloom-beset, because that very thing is the fact of God’s Infinite Being as it is to you? Cannot you take this trial also into your own heart, and be ignorant, not because you are obliged, but because that being God’s will, it is yours also? Do you not see that a person who truly loves is one with the Infinite Being — cannot be uncomfortable or unhappy? It is that which is that he wills and desires and holds best of all to be. To know God is utterly to sacrifice self.”*

The style of writing takes a bit of analyzing to make it understandable, but the essence of the message is a reminder that trust in the dark places, as well as those places blessed with light, is essential and is evidenced not simply by a resignation to His plan, but by the embracing of it.

*Daily Strength for Daily Needs, Little, Brown & Company, Boston, 1920

September 26, 2008

Incredible Peace

Last night, because I was too tired to do anything else, I plunked myself in front of the television and watched an episode of ER, a show I’ve not seen for years.

In this episode, one of the hospital team members died. After the funeral, the ER staff gathered at a local bar to remember his life. They were sad and struggling. Death cast a shadow over them.

How different this scene was from the Christian funerals I’ve attended. I’ll never forget the first one. Irene was my mentor and her husband died. I was a new Christian, worried that God was going to ‘send me to Borneo’ or ask me to do something I didn’t want to do. At the funeral, I watched Irene lean over the grave, almost as if she wanted to jump in after her husband. My heart was pounding. Then she turned around.

Irene’s face shone. She was filled with joy, totally at peace with what was happening. I was astounded. At that same moment, God spoke to my heart. If I can give her joy at this moment, why are you worried about what I might ask of you? Even now as I recall this event from more than thirty-five years ago, I feel the same awe at God as I did then.

Irene explained. She knew where her husband had gone and she knew she would join him later. She even said, “The main reason for being sad is that I feel sorry for myself. If I think of him and what he is now enjoying, I cannot be sad.”

I’ve attended many funerals since then. When a Christian dies, the family is sorrowful because they miss the one who has left this earth, yet our hope is so real that we cannot help but be glad that our loved ones have been ‘promoted’ and are waiting for us in glory.

Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” Because we know that Jesus is alive, we do not grieve the same way as others who do not know Him and have the same hope.

In Luke before Jesus came, the father of John the Baptist prophesied about his son. He said, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Jesus came to give light to those who sit in the shadow of death and in the darkness of not knowing what will happen to them after death. He came to direct those in darkness into a place of peace with God. By taking the wrath of God and our punishment for sin upon Himself, we can know that God loves us; we do not have to fear His judgment.

Jesus also came to direct us into having the peace of God. This is a peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), a peace that floods our hearts and minds and gives us deep joy. The light He gives opens our eyes to His love for us. We know He cares and we know that He is in control—even at funerals.

~ Elsie Montgomery

NOTE: My post was due the 24th, but with ICWF Fall Conference starting today, things are a tad busy around here. This is today's post from my blog, so another apology to those who read both. At least the topic is something worth hearing about more than once!

September 15, 2008

Morning Pages - Violet Nesdoly

If there's one kind of book I enjoy reading it's writing how-to. Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg, Heather Sellers, Anne Lamott-- I've read them all, and more. Books like theirs make me feel hopeful, optimistic and reassured that with perhaps a new method and just a little more self-discipline there is still hope for the writer in me.

I've come across another such book lately and, predictably, it's put me on a writing high. But these books also have a negative effect on me. Specifically they challenge something in my spirit -- the side of me that hears God's voice and wants to follow His call no matter what my self-will or others says.

The conflict comes because these books are, by and large, written from a humanist perspective. They espouse the world view that says the most important thing is me and realizing my own potential. If writing is part of that, growing and developing my gift becomes my first priority.

Take, for example, Heather Sellers' book Page After Page (a book I read some time ago). One of her main messages is that you need to treat your writing like the lover in the center of your life.

Now I have a little problem with that. You see, I already have a lover - it’s Jesus. And I’ve struggled against my natural tendency to make writing my lover enough on my own without being told to do it by others as well.

I found myself in the battlefield again last week after I'd read the first chapter of Julia Cameron's newest book, Finding Water. In it she prescribes three pages of journal writing in longhand first thing every morning (Morning Pages).

Now I know this is a good habit. Trouble is, I already have a routine where the first thing I've done every morning for years is have my quiet time (read the Bible, journal about it--another type of morning pages really, pray etc.). But because my current writing practice needed a boost I decided there'd be no problem with putting my usual practice in second place. I found an empty scribbler and began writing Morning Pages first thing in the morning.

However, after a few days of pre-empting my quiet time with Morning Pages (even though I had an abbreviated quiet time later), something seemed askew. I knew without much introspection what it was. By substituting Morning Pages, I was in some way giving priority to this (wo)man-made plan, rather than putting my trust in God -- to whom I've surrendered my writing life and its success countless times.

So about three days into Morning Pages, I made them my second activity (sorry, Julia Cameron). Because in the end, it's not writing success that's first in my life, but the "Well done" of my Master. I've decided it's more important that I meet with Him first every day than that I adhere to the prescription of the writing gurus, even if my writing suffers for it.

I know I'll continue to read, enjoy, and benefit from books about how to write. But as I read I will also need to keep reminding myself about whose I am and how my relationship with Him trumps everything else in life -- even the best writing advice in the world.

September 12, 2008

He Will Not Leave Us Comfortless - Glynis Belec

This week has vanished. It has been a sad week around our community. Two separate car accidents have claimed four young lives. On Sunday afternoon, what was supposed to be a family-fun outing at a volleyball game, turned into tragedy. An elderly woman went through a stop sign and t-boned a car. Daniel Hordyk, the 21 year old driver along with 15 year old Christina Bosman and 2 month old Chloe Bosman were killed. Sarah Bosman, Chloe's dear mother and David Bosman, her brother in law, were seriously injured. Then, in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, more sad news transpired. Garion Fowler, a sweet 19 year old young man from our church, was on his way to work. People can only speculate what happened next as Garion side swiped a dumptruck. He was killed instantly.

We ask why these things happen and we consider and contemplate. Prayers come fast and furious but seemingly without answers. Because our logical and finite minds cry out for answers, we sometimes get frustrated and even angry. Then we remind ourselves God is in control. He does not wish for His children to suffer and perish. He only allows it to happen because we live in a fallen world made up of choices and consequences and free will and death. All of us are doomed to leave this earthly state one day. Some deaths seem so untimely in our books, though. And that is the sad part. These young lives that were lost seemed so full of potential and hope and joy.

A baby dies. A baby just a little younger than Jocelyn, my granddaughter. I can barely fathom the sadness of the family. But God has called all these young ones home. They are in the presence of Jesus and are savouring eternity. The faith of all of the grieving families is strong and unwaivering. No, it does not make it easier to lose a child because you are a Christian, but the measure of comfort these families are finding in Jesus helps ease the burden. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30

The journey for friends and relatives of the Hordyk, Bosman and Fowler families is going to be a long one. Does anyone get over losing a child? Once the visitations and the funerals are over and everyone goes home, this is bound to be a difficult time for them. The grieving will intensify.

I hope that if you are reading this post, you will be moved to pray with me as we think of the tragedy and the brevity of life. When Jesus left this world, he prophesied that there would be sorrow and pain when He said He would not leave us comfortless. The Holy Spirit hears and knows and although the concept can be difficult to understand for some, the Triune God reigns and responds to those who call out to Him.

September 08, 2008

How I Spent My Summer Vacation -- Janet Sketchley

I don’t remember if I ever had to write the stereotypical back-to-school essay, but it’s September, and we actually had a cool vacation this year. Sweet Husband and I took Crazy Son, Special Girlfriend, Wise-guy Son and Imp Son to New York City for a few days.

We stayed at the Holland Motor Lodge in Jersey City – clean, affordable, close to public transit into NYC, and as it happens, very near some fine eating establishments.

Saturday: Supper at Bertucci’s Brick Oven Ristorante – wonderful food, and we drained their supply of raspberry iced tea. We trekked into NYC, strolled Times Square, and navigated through the Hershey’s store when I’m sure it was close to the Fire Marshall’s maximum load limit. (Some of us are introverts with large personal space zones.)

Sunday: Despite a preference to avoid Sunday shopping, we visited the Century 21 discount store (how can something claim to be 1) New York’s second most popular shopping destination and simultaneously 2) its best-kept secret?), had Charly’s famous chili dogs for lunch, and caught two shows: Mary Poppins on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theatre and a family-friendly “Eight is Never Enough” improv comedy show.

Monday: The three teens explored the Ripleys’ Believe It Or Not! Odditorium while the rest of us made a pilgrimage to the Lindt store and a Barnes and Noble. Lunch at the Hard Rock Café (wonderful french fries, and great milkshakes). We left Wise-guy Son at the hotel and the rest of us headed out to see the Mets trounce the Astros. The starting pitcher stayed in the whole game and almost bagged a shut-out. Extreme thirst made me shell out $4 for a bottle of water. Extortion, anyone? The hotdogs were just as high. Taking the train home from the game sure beat sitting in traffic.

Tuesday: Imp Son and I headed for a Borders while Crazy Son and Special Girlfriend did Macy’s. Wise-guy Son and Sweet Husband chased down some tickets to Phantom of the Opera. Some of us had “Chocolate Therapy” at Ben & Jerry’s, and the rest ingested lots of ice cream too. Late supper took us back to Bertucci’s where we discovered another wonderful meal but a distinct lack of raspberry iced tea. Crazy Son looked so sad, the waitress was rather concerned until she discovered we were the probable culprits. He’s taken up Vitamin Water as a substitute.

Wednesday: Early start for train and bus ride to Six Flags Great Adventure, in New Jersey. Aside from Sweet Husband’s headache (who knew I should bring the whole bottle of Advil LiquiGels®?) we had a blast. The tigers put on an interesting demonstration, but my most vivid memory is of El Toro, the wooden roller coaster. Crazy Son talked Special Girlfriend and Foolish Mother (yes, that’s me) into the ride. NOW I read on the website that “El Toro features the steepest drop of any wooden roller coaster in the country at a record-breaking 76 degrees.” The first words to cross my lips as it stopped were “Thank You, Jesus” – for keeping me alive, or just that it was over, I don’t know. Looking back, I’m glad I went. I had my eyes closed, but Special Girlfriend said hats were flying everywhere.

Thursday: We were kind of draggy after the long day before, but we had a nice visit to the Central Park Zoo. I’d like to spend a whole day there. Pre-zoo, we stopped at the ESPN Zone. Television monitors in the bathrooms so you don’t miss a play? Hmm. But the desserts… we ordered something called “Chocolate Chip Cookie Sundaes”. Much bigger than we expected, given the moderate price. One is enough for two people. A huge cookie (I had mine cold, the default is heated) piled with excellent ice cream and whipped cream, with chocolate sauce…. Wonderful stuff. Then for supper we found a place called the Evergreen Diner. It wasn’t glossy or high-priced – just fast and with terrific food. Bummer for me, I wasn’t hungry (guess who finished all of her sundae when some of the others wimped out?) Imp Son and I went to Toys R Us (it has a Ferris Wheel) and back to the hotel, while the others attended Phantom at the Majestic Theatre.

Friday: All day travelling, because the two-part flight was significantly less expensive than the direct one. First stop on Canadian soil was Pearson Airport’s Tim Horton’s for some genuine steeped tea. I think they make it better in Nova Scotia.

Sparkling magic sights:
· something in the Times Square sidewalks sparkles when it catches the light, day or night
· a shiny black dragonfly with glittering wings paused on Imp Son’s hat, but didn’t linger for a photo
· tiny, glossy bubbles floated to greet us from the zoo
· the polar bear put on an underwater show… the bubbles and dust motes he stirred up sparkled in the light
· the Nicobar pigeon’s feathers shimmered as he flew through the bird exhibit
· oh, and my “Fish can fly” shirt that I bought at the Hard Rock Café sparkles too.

© Janet Sketchley, 2008
For devotionals, reviews and conversation, stop by Janet Sketchley's blog, God with Us: Finding Joy.