Friday, July 22, 2016

Hope is Kindled

The news lately is full of reports of racial violence, terrorist attacks and political turmoil all over the world. As footage of snipers shooting police officers played, with furrowed brow, our granddaughter Tippy asked us, "Do you think that now they'll look at changing the gun laws?" A rhetorical question.

I explained what I believe--that there is more going on than laws that need to be changed. Something is seriously broken in humanity, and there are spiritual forces at work all over our world. An apostle named Paul wrote about it in a letter to the people in a church in Ephesus, 2000 years ago (Ephesians 6:12.) These forces can't be battled with guns or argument, but with prayers behind which is God's power to demolish strongholds. (2 Corinthians 10.4)


Coincidentally, yesterday, Tippy, another young friend, and I, watched, The Twin Towers--the second in a movie series based on the trilogy, Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. When the wise wizard Gandalph frees Theoden from spiritual captivity by the evil Saruman,the portrayal of the actual physical transformation he undergoes as he is released is brilliant cinematography. When the spiritual battle has been won, Gandalph exhorts Theoden to, "Breath the free air!

Another spiritual breakthrough is depicted in one of my all time favourite movies, based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Alice Walker, The Color Purple.


In a scene that always moves me deeply, Shugg, a who is estranged from her preacher father, is drawn irresistably by a song in the air, coming from the nearby church. Not only she, but others, including her friend Celie's cruel husband "Mister," and Shugg's father, respond to a force that moves them all to acts of grace--undoing in an instant all the cruelty and sin that the human heart is prone to.



The scene reminds me of a story told to me by a dear old friend who was in Newfoundland during the early part of the 20th century. She described people being so anxious to get to the altar that they climbed over the pews. Someone must have been praying...

...As Gandalph says, all he has is "a fool's hope," but when he sees the beacons on the mountains set ablaze to call for help, he adds, "Hope is kindled."

There is hope, because our God is The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Yes, I am so grateful, hope is kindled.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

On Holding Back Less

I blurted it out, shocking myself more, I think, than the person I said it to.  In all their unadorned honesty the words were out, like marbles rolling across the floor--I had asked my friend why she couldn't, "Just be grateful." 

The evening was wrapping itself around us like a cloak as we drove back to my home, where her car was parked. She has had a lot to deal with over a prolonged period of time but I knew that her sense of  hopelessness was compounded by seeing things at the moment through a lens darkened by weariness. The words had popped out--starkly. I tried to explain what I really meant. "What you focus on, grows," I said, "gratitude is a powerful focus."

I thought of a book that I thought would be helpful, its focus on thankfulness in spite of circumstances--One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp. Before she drove off into the dark night, I promised to get a copy to her. But still I felt dismayed at what I'd said and that I was a crummy friend. I ordered a copy of the book to be delivered to her home--a belated birthday present.

It was a week later that she texted me (text shared with her permission):
It's starting--I'm starting to live "eucheristeo" (a Greek word meaning thanksgiving, to be thankful)...today I was THANKFUL to be given the day with my best friend and I told her all about Ann Voskamp and that thankfulness is the KEY to abundant life, true joy and witnessing miracles. . Dearest, I can't STOP breathing "thank you, Father" !!! I had a lovely thought that I would promise Him that I would tell as many people about eucharisteo as I had things to be thankful for...I don't think I will be able to, but I can try...Thank you for my birthday present...did you realize that you were giving me my life back (and better) when you clicked the "buy" button on Amazon???
To say I was grateful is an understatement. God can use even a graceless blurt it seems. But I've been thinking about how often we hold back from saying something that might be helpful, out of politeness, or fear, or not wanting to rock the boat--and what is then lost.

Our 18 year old granddaughter Tippy is staying with us for the summer and it's kind of like having a mirror held up to our lives. Sometimes it's hilarious, sometimes embarrassing--but I am grateful for her unfiltered insights. 


Paul and I were having a discussion recently when Tippy happened to be present, and her eyes widened as she perceived where it was going. "Why don't you just ask him?" she laughed at me, as it was obvious to her that I was making my point indirectly, but our wires were getting crossed. And then she shook her head, her eyes dancing with merriment. "You guys are like teenagers," she said. We are in our sixties, with a teenage life-coach! 

But her gentle, unintentional rebuke, made me think, and I was grateful. I know I can get better at communicating.

Whatever we say should be kind and loving and I'm not suggesting that "Why can't you just be grateful?" fits into that category. But I think that we need more from one another than we sometimes get in terms of challenge. The verse below puts it well in what it has to say about a wise friend's timely reprimand. Check it out--and I'd love to hear your thoughts too.  

Proverbs 25:12, The Message (MSG)

Saturday, July 02, 2016

The Whisperer

So grateful for the intimacy of relationship with God--his Spirit speaking to mine on a level that is softer than a whisper, but as sure as a shout...sweet communion.

As I quiet myself--embracing silence, God speaks.

As I still myself--creating space, God enters with his presence.

Acts 17:27b says that God is not far from any one of us.

Revelation 3:20 speaks of God standing at the door and knocking, with a promise that where he is welcomed as a guest, he will come in.

Daily I face a battleground populated by forces opposing quiet and stillness. My own undisciplined impulses and natural bents populate the field. My waking thought is to reach for the electronic device under my pillow to check the time. My next reflexive action is to check in with the world of social media. Before I know it, I can have frittered away my first waking half hour or more. Time gone forever from a finite day.


Late already, I battle procrastination--"I will start this task first--and then..."Too often the end of that promise--is broken.

I declare my own weakness to God and ask for his help daily in doing what I know is worth more than all the action in the world, simply waiting in his presence to hear from him. When I do, I find myself lifted from the dust of the day, into a sphere above it. I hear his voice.

I hear HIS voice.

And I wonder, why is there a battle? Maybe it's because there are battles I know nothing of that will be won or lost based on the choices that I make daily, that seem so insignificant. Choices as simple as leaving Facebook for later, and putting the care of my soul, first.

Because I want to hear from the Whisperer, who speaks in the silence...

Monday, June 27, 2016

Wisdom

I met her at a writers' conference--a woman whose age I found hard to guess, but whose slowed and stiffened gait told me she was at least a few years older than me.  Her voice carried the warm musical cadence of the Caribbean, slow and deep. She was quick to break into peals of laughter that shook her body. I was drawn to this woman, who arrived alone--but seemed at ease with her own company. I caught sight of her over the three days of the conference, en-route to the next workshop or pausing to take a rest, large red purse resting on her lap, while her hands held onto her bag of conference leaflets. It turned out that she is a self described conference addict--a Senior who believes in life-long learning--and this was her fifth conference so far this year.

We sat together at one point and my natural curiosity prompted questions, which she answered slowly and thoughtfully, I learned that she had endured three major tragedies in her life. No-one would blame her for being crushed by any one of them. But like the bruised reed that God refuses to break and the smoking flax he will not quench, she came back from the pit of hopelessness with the help of friends who called out her gifts and encouraged her. 

When I asked her about her writing, she reached into her red bag and pulled out a small book, which she said was a proof copy that she had to read through before it was published. It contained her story, including the life lessons she had learned. She doesn't use the internet, cell phone, or a computer, and the manuscript was written by hand, but what she's learned I would like to read sometime.

I had already taken out my suitcases on an earlier break, and was on my way out of the hotel, headed home at the end of the conference, when I caught sight of her checking out at the front desk and went over to say goodbye. "I'm just arranging for a taxi," she said. I was glad that I had caught her before she did. Moments later, we were headed for my little black Honda Fit in the parking lot, followed by a uniformed Holiday Inn employee, carrying her deceptively small black bags, which I later discovered felt like they contained everything but the kitchen sink. As I closed the trunk I noticed her talking to the brown skinned man with an east Indian accent.  I slid into the driver's seat and he was smiling through the rolled down passenger window. 

My new friend said, "I asked him if he would accept a tip, but he said no." 

He said, eyes sparkling, "I told her to pray for me--whenever she thinks of me--just pray." 

On the way to her home we talked gardening and I heard all about hers, which sounded amazing, and when we arrived at her home in Richmond Hill, indeed, her small front garden was overflowing with vibrant flowers of every colour and hue, and I knew that that an abundant patch of vegetable plants purchased on sale, was also thriving in the back.

Everybody has a story, and whenever I take the time to listen, my life is enriched. As well as all that I had learned at the conference, I went home with admiration for a woman I'd met only briefly and a man who knew what was of more value than money.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Friday's Child

Our second baby wasn't due until the middle of June, but in the first week of that month in 1972 I was seized by the a strong compulsion to clean the house--no matter that it was hot and humid and we had no air conditioning--everything had to be clean. For some time I had wanted my body back. I kept misjudging the proximity of doorways and bumping into furniture. I navigated space feeling like a huge, ungainly, ocean-going-liner. 

Paul was working in a facility for people with developmental disabilities, and the upcoming weekend would be a long one off for him. When he told me that he was bringing home a guest for four days--one of the people who lived there--I thought ungracious thoughts. With a toddler who had just turned two at the end of May, and our second baby due in just over a week, the thought of an extra person staying for four days was exhausting.  But when our guest Philip came home with Paul after his shift on Thursday, seeing how excited he was at the brightly coloured sheets on his bed, I gave my heart a shake.  Where he lived there were only white sheets and uniformity of everything else. Maybe the weekend would not be so tiring after all, I thought to myself.


That was before the drama unfolded next door. 

Paul had taken our toddler Peter with him to our neighbour's home and had gone down to their basement. Our houses were new and had unfinished basements with a rudimentary stair railing beside the stairs. We had added a board to the side of our stairs for safety's sake, but our neighbours' stairs had an open gap between the railing and the stairs.

Not long after he left, our door burst open and Paul ran in with Peter in his arms, crying at the top of his lungs. He had fallen through the gap on the stairs, onto the concrete basement floor where he hit his head. Paul quickly drove him to the doctor, and after being checked over, he was sent home with instructions that he be monitored closely and woken up every few hours through the night.

That night, with Peter soundly asleep, and Philip happily settled in the guest room, all was well. I crept into our bed with gratitude, but as I lowered my body, I felt a gush of warm liquid. "Oh, no!" I said, "my waters just broke."

I hadn't packed for the hospital yet, but I was so tired that I said to Paul, who was sitting bolt upright now, "Don't worry, I'm sure nothing's going to happen yet, let's get some sleep and I'll pack in the morning."

 We changed the sheets and turned off the light. A few moments later, it was I who sat bolt upright.

"Paul! I'm packing now," I said, "I don't think we should wait." The labour pains had started. We scrambled out of bed and I quickly threw things I'd need into a bag.

Paul's parents lived across the road from us, and we drove across to ask his mum to stay with Peter and Philip and wake Peter up every couple of hours.

As we left for the hospital, I said to Paul, "If we have a girl, can we name her Brenda, after your mum?" In 1972 there were no ultrasound images of the baby during pregnancy, so the sex of a newborn baby was always a surprise.

Our doctor was roused from his bed to deliver our baby who seemed to be in a rush to arrive, and at around 2.00 a.m., a nurse put our little girl into my arms.There is no feeling to compare with holding the tiny one who has been growing inside you for 9 months. Gratitude, love, anticipation, protectiveness--sheer joy--these words only begin to describe the flood of emotion I felt as tears trickled down my cheeks.

The little girl who was in such a hurry to be born, grew into a little socialite with blond hair and wide brown eyes. She would wake with the dawn every morning, singing, and the world was her friend from the start.

It's 44 years since that Friday, and today we celebrate her birth. I haven't stopped being grateful. As a daughter she is such a blessing--caring and kind--and I watch in admiration how she mothers her own daughters--and does battle for them when it's called for.

We are so blessed with our precious daughter!














Friday, May 27, 2016

The Night Before Last

The night before last I had a scary dream. It had the feel of a Ray Bradbury story, the ones I loved and devoured as quickly as I could, as a teenager. 

The dream had the same creepy menace and foreboding that I found so deliciously scary then, but it didn't feel so delicious showing up in my dream now. In the dream I was in bed, in a room whose walls held windows that were open to the dark outside, like a sun porch, only the windows were all around and a breeze rustled through them, an invader from outside.

I wasn't alone in the room. To my right there was another bed, a little further forward than mine. A young girl, with dark, bobbed hair, sat up in it, with her back to me. Because it was further ahead than mine I couldn't see her face.

I did what anyone would do--I called out, "Mum!"

And I heard her sweet, unmistakable voice say, "I'm here darling," and she put up her hand from the mattress on the floor where she was sleeping beside my bed. I held onto it and was immediately comforted and safe.

She had slept like that for the year we were homeless between when I was 8 and 9, all four of us living in one room in the house of my bizarre English grandmother (my other one was Dutch.) 

My brother and I were so insecure and scared living there. He is three years younger than I, and we slept in camp beds set up head to head, from one corner of the room in a V formation. Mum and Dad slept on the floor between our beds on a mattress. On the wall above my bed, was a portrait of a fair haired, somber woman in Victorian clothing. Her eyes followed me no matter where I went in the room, always staring. Across the room from our beds was our wardrobe and upon its polished wood the firelight cast shadows that I dreamed into people with ill intent.

Mum slept every night (I don't know how she did it) with me holding one of her hands, and Rob, my brother, holding onto a lock of her beautiful dark hair.

Hearing her voice was such a sweet comfort the night before last. The memory has stayed with me since, almost banishing the menace of my Ray Bradbury dream! :)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

We Need More of That

 The sun shone bright and the day was full of the promise of spring as our cars converged on the small church standing at the side of a quiet country road. It was a glorious day for our purpose: remembering someone who would have loved to be there but who had more pressing business in heaven.

The gathering was informal and simple, just staff of the agency that had supported the person as well as his friends and family. We simply sang songs that were his favourites and shared our memories.We laughed, and wiped away some tears and we all left with more than we came with.

I loved all of the stories, but two shared by one of his support staff stuck with me. To understand them you need to know two things: he loved to sing and was irrepressible if the moment called for song, and he had an intellectual disability.  At one event they were at, he left his seat, mounted the podium and took the microphone. Then he sang the song, "Jesus Loves Me," and his staff said there was not a dry eye in the room. He and his staff would go grocery shopping together each week and while she paid the cashier, he would pack the groceries as they came down the belt--all the while singing his favourite hymn, "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name" at the top of his voice. One day a customer said to her, nodding to the loud singer, "We need more of that."

Later as we had refreshments and chatted, someone said with a sigh, "Well, he's normal now that he's in heaven."  Inside my heart cried out, "No!" at the thought, because after all, we had just celebrated someone we all loved so much for who he was, and "normal" sounded to me like a downgrade. I wish I had said that, but instead I just made a little joke, and said, "And we will be too," and everyone laughed and agreed that we were far from "normal" now ourselves.

After I left, I couldn't stop thinking of the words of the customer at the grocery store: We need more of that.  Yes we do. 

Most of us struggle for much of our lives with self esteem and self acceptance. How different would it be if each child heard and felt from the start and every day of their lives, the benediction spoken by that customer? 

I would love to think that when God gazes at us, what he thinks is, "We need more of that." That while we are always "in process," being more closely conformed to his image; not one of our basic building blocks--how we are intrinsically made--is defective or broken but exactly what the world needs more of. 

And if only we could let truth that sink into our soul--the assurance of  our own perfect "belovedness," that he gazes at us with adoration and love we cannot even comprehend--it would just have to burst out, spill over, and envelope the world around us....and wouldn't that be wonderful to have more of?