Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Friday, May 13, 2022

WANTED: Skilled Harbor Pilot

In preparation for a new novel, I’ve been immersing myself in books and documentaries about the Halifax Explosion of December 6, 1917. Possibly not my smartest move, given how difficult it already is these days to maintain one’s mental equilibrium. Reading about the horrors of that event can drag you into dark places, but it offers lessons as well.

This prairie girl is learning so much I never knew, not only about that disaster but about Halifax itself, World War I, and the shipping industry. I’ve studied maps, listed names, and made pages of notes.

Before this, if you’d asked me what a “harbor pilot” does, I might have taken a stab at it. Like an air traffic controller for boats? Maybe from a helicopter?

Not quite.

Harbor piloting is a career that depends on where you were raised. Most pilots grew up on and around boats. They know their local harbor like they know their own mother’s face. They understand its tides, currents, and hazards. They know which ships are currently in the harbor, at which piers they’re docked, what they carry, and how fast they’re moving. They know the depth of the water and exactly what lies hidden beneath.

When a ship approaches the harbor, its captain requests one of these local pilots, who arrives alongside in a little pilot boat. He boards the ship by climbing the ladder tossed over the side for him. Once the pilot is safely aboard, the helmsman of the pilot boat tootles off to his next pick-up or drop-off. The pilot stands alongside the captain and guides the ship in, sometimes taking control if warranted. If the pilot does a good job, he’ll likely be called upon when it’s time to navigate out to sea again. With that complete, the pilot disembarks the same way he boarded.

In 1917, a full complement of pilots in Halifax harbor was 25, with eight apprentices. With so many men away fighting the Great War, Halifax was down to 14 pilots at a time when the harbor was busier than ever. Ship captains were not legally required to engage harbor pilots. They were, however, required to pay the fee for one. No captain would be foolish enough to forfeit this paid-for assistance, especially his first time in a port.

As I studied, a spiritual application arose. Have you ever wondered where that line between God’s sovereignty and your free will lies? This relationship between captain and pilot might provide a helpful picture. Although the captain remains responsible for his own ship, he knows his knowledge is limited. He needs someone wiser to guide him. To navigate. He can choose whether to allow the pilot on board. 

He can choose whether to accept the pilot’s advice. He is free to listen or not. Listening proves challenging among the thrumming engines, squawking gulls, crashing waves, and tooting of other watercraft. No matter how knowledgeable the pilot is, the captain always has the option of acting upon the pilot’s advice or going his own way.

Francis Mackey

In the case of Harbor Pilot Francis Mackey aboard the ill-fated SS Mont Blanc, language proved another barrier. His limited French and Captain Aimé Le Médec’s limited English proved an unfortunate combination in an already tumultuous situation. Both were prone to human error, as was the crew of the SS Imo with which they collided, setting off a chain of events that would result in the world’s largest man-made explosion prior to the atomic bomb.

Here my illustration weakens. God cannot make an error. Still, he gives me the choice to invite him onto my ship. He knows every detail of the harbor, but he still grants me the freedom to choose. Will I tune out distractions, listen, and follow? Or go my own way?

You’ll pay the fee either way. Why not throw the ladder over the side and welcome your Harbor Pilot aboard?

Friday, May 6, 2022

A Word to Expectant Parents

On the day my eldest child arrived, I already felt like a failure as a mother.

Like every expectant mom, I wanted to do everything right. Hubby and I had signed up for weekly childbirth classes with a reputable instructor. A fan of natural childbirth, this woman had recently birthed her fifth child at home, drug-free. She’d served as a midwife for others. Clearly, she’d walked the talk.

As classes progressed, confidence grew that we’d handle the birth without drugs or unnecessary intervention. With a little support from extended family, we may have opted for a home birth ourselves. Our instructor not only made home births sound better for everyone, but she also convinced us of the intrusiveness of hospital births—especially surgical delivery. 

Statistics for Caesarean deliveries were rapidly bypassing other births at the hospital we toured. The reason, she told us, was that C-sections were much more lucrative for doctors. They were also quicker and easier for staff—especially when scheduled. Meanwhile, recovery for the mother was slower and more problematic. Babies missed out on the needed stimulation and hormone infusions that occur with labor. Only rarely, she said, as a last resort, would any ethical doctor perform a Caesarean. She felt the same about any sort of drugs used in childbirth. Bad for baby. Unnecessary for mom.

So this was the mindset we both held when my water broke on Friday evening of the May long weekend in 1981. Determined to stay home as long as possible, we finally left for the hospital the next day around five pm, expecting to deliver that evening. First-time parents don’t know that if you can still play cards between contractions, you’ve got a long way to go. We were disappointed when we arrived to learn labor had not progressed very far, but we kept up our spirits. For a while.

Nurses ended their shifts and new ones came. The night dragged on. Other mothers came, delivered, and left. Staff injected Pitocin to speed things along. Daylight came. Nurses returned for another shift with disheartening words of surprise: “You’re still here!”

By noon, the dreaded C-word was being tossed around. Our doctor assumed we’d feel relief at the suggestion. We did not. Determined we could somehow make this baby come out, we fought to keep trying. Eventually, our doctor made the call and delivered our son by Caesarean section at three o’clock Sunday afternoon—about 40 hours after my water broke and contractions began. You could say we both missed the birth since I was under general anesthetic. You could also say it imparted a whole new meaning to the term “long weekend.”

Photo from Canva

In the months that followed, I mourned because I “hadn’t done it right.” I’m embarrassed now to admit I felt angry and cheated, though I knew I should feel nothing but gratitude. Had it occurred fifty years earlier, my son and I would probably have died. Knowing this only added to my guilt. It would take years—and two subsequent natural deliveries—to help me realize how ridiculous we’d been. We had a beautiful, healthy baby—a privilege denied to many through no fault of their own.

In hindsight, I suspect my tumbling emotions were common to most mothers. I simply chalked them all up to the delivery method. Sure, the childbirth instructor was partly to blame. But she was merely sharing her own experiences and beliefs.

I share this now, all these Mother’s Days later, because, if you are an expectant parent, others will bombard you with stories and opinions. The internet will flood you with articles about the danger or safety of certain practices or drugs. Hopefully, you’ll receive the clear message that there’s more than one right way to give birth. That bringing a new human into the world is always beautiful. That you’re allowed to make it less difficult. And that your tears are best reserved for expressions of joy and gratitude.

Happy Mother’s Day!


Friday, April 29, 2022

For Love Nor Money

Full disclosure. I did not know that tipping your gas bar attendant was even a thing until recently when my husband began pumping gas for a local filling station. The first time he brought home tips, we were like, “Really?”

Once we thought about it, the idea made so much sense. We tip restaurant wait staff who, though they work for minimum wage, can at least do so in the comfort of a heated or air-conditioned building. Why wouldn’t we also tip gas attendants working for the same wage but freezing their hands and faces while they do? Why had we never thought of this before? We wish we could go back in time and tip all the people who’ve pumped our gas over the past forty years. Alas, on a gas attendant’s wages, we can’t afford retroactive tipping. But you can bet we’ll tip going forward. More income to claim on your tax return!

Is yours done yet? Did your charitable receipts reduce what you owe?

Last fall, the Liberal party won another election. Page 4 of their platform promised, among other things, that they would, “…no longer provide charity status to anti-abortion organizations (for example, Crisis Pregnancy Centers) that provide dishonest counseling to women about their rights and about the options available to them at all stages of the pregnancy.”

I can’t think of anyone who would support an organization that provides “dishonest counseling,” can you? I’m happy our local pregnancy support center supplies accurate, scientific information about how a fetus develops in addition to outlining a woman’s legal options. I’m thankful they offer practical, emotional, and spiritual support to each client, whatever choice she makes. I’m grateful they provide a safe place for the hurting and afraid. I’m glad women don’t need to be alone at this vulnerable time.

So if your organization always tells the truth, you need not fear. Right?

I know. That may be the most naïve statement I’ve ever made.

I’m not here to argue which point of view has science on its side or to speculate how government officials might interpret these new rules, should they pass. I’d rather pose different questions. When it comes to charitable giving, how big a factor is your tax receipt? Where did we get the idea that charitable tax receipts are a God-given right? Why do organizations assume their supporters would stop giving if they couldn’t receive that magic receipt?

I suppose some might. But if the main reason you give is for the tax deduction, my friend, your heart is not in the right place. When God instructed us to tithe, to support the work of those “in the trenches,” so to speak, charitable tax receipts did not exist—though the government of the day certainly collected taxes.

What if this turns out to be better for everyone? What if those who believe in the sanctity of human life from conception rise to the challenge? What if more people volunteer? What if the rule forces churches to declare where they stand? If God cares about this issue, is he limited by whether or not you and I receive a tax receipt? If he’s that limited, are you sure he’s a god worth following?

A few things to ponder as we wind up another tax season.

“Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:7-8 (ESV)