December 22, 2006

The Day God Laughed - Marcia Laycock

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

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

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

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

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

Until the day God laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 15, 2006

How the Natal Star was Born by Violet Nesdoly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2003 - V. Nesdoly


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


December 05, 2006

Country School Christmas - Violet Nesdoly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We have a cowhide," offered another.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

December 02, 2006

My Jeffrey by Pamela Mytroen

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 01, 2006

The Art of Peeling Onions by Elsie Montgomery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Elsie Montgomery