Prov 17:22

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

Thursday, February 26, 2015

My 56th Trip Around the Sun



Just for kicks, I decided to turn 56 years old this week. All the “freedom” of the past year has been getting on my nerves and it’s time for something different. Not that I expect much to change. I will no doubt discover still more useless information stored in my brain while remaining unable to retrieve the stuff I actually need.

My Twin
Who is this, anyway?
Well, it’s official. My sister Shanon looks more like me than I do. If she and I both competed in a Terrie Todd look-alike contest, she would win. (We have seven years and two siblings between us, so the odds of us actually being twins are slim.)

Shanon doesn’t write a column, but she keeps me abreast of the random people who tell her they enjoy her column, and how she enjoys saying “thanks.” 

I always figured she invented these stories to make me feel good. Then it happened.

I was in the Co-op one day when a distant acquaintance came over to me and said, “So I was reading your sister’s column the other day….” 

I waited until I knew whether she liked the column before correcting her.

My Other Twin
Then there’s my birthday twin who looks nothing like me. I met Linda (I can call her that now) when I was a high school student and she was my Home Economics teacher. I still remember her telling us, “If you want to be a sweet little old lady someday, you need to be a sweet young lady now.” Sadly, I chose sarcasm over sweetness and now I’m mostly just old.

Linda and Glen (I can call him that now) welcomed me into their home on several occasions, where they treated me to scrumptious homemade breads, soups, and cookies and modelled a healthy, faith-filled marriage. Linda and I discovered we shared the same birthday. Now we stay in touch by email and Facebook, especially on our birthday. She is, of course, older by a decade or so. But with each passing year, the difference becomes less significant as we compare notes about our ailments and grandchildren. Funny how that works.

What not to wear after fifty
Advice abounds about all the things women my age should stop wearing, like blue eye shadow, bejeweled jeans, and long hair. I say wear what you like and follow the better advice given by Michelle Poston Combs on Huffington Post recently. Among the things she says women over fifty should stop wearing? Shame and regret. A stiff upper-lip. The weight of the world.

My years on this planet have taught me I can’t even manage to carry my own burdens, let alone others’. I’m forever grateful to the one who bore the weight of the world on his shoulders and invited me, as a child, to cast my cares on him because he cares for me. (I Peter 5:7). He invites you, too. Happy Birthday to us.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Lesson in Leaving Well



My heart is a little broken.

On Friday, June 13, 1980, a 20-year old named Sharon walked into City Hall in Portage la Prairie to apply for the job of switchboard operator. They put her to work that afternoon.

On Friday, February 13, 2015, Sharon walked out of City Hall after nearly 35 years of dedicated service, minus a couple of maternity leaves. 

Sharon progressed through many roles and sat at several desks over those years, finishing as Manager of Administration. She survived several Strawberry Festivals, the strike of 1983, the installation of the first computer at City Hall; the forest fire evacuation of northern Manitobans from God’s Lake Narrows to Portage in 1995, the creation of the Island of Lights, the building of the PCU Centre, the switch to paperless Council meetings in 2010, and more. She worked with nine different mayors and a multitude of City councillors and staff. 

Sharon knows every room of the old castle on the corner of Saskatchewan Avenue and Royal Road, what’s in it, and where to find the key. She knows whom to call when the toilet overflows, the photocopier malfunctions, or the fire alarm rings. She can direct you to the right person if you need your water turned on, or your street is flooded, or you believe you have a claim against the City. She can arrange for your street to be closed while you host a block party or assist you in obtaining subsidy for the in-line backwater valve you purchased, or register you to speak to Council. If you live in Portage la Prairie, you need to know you have benefitted from the behind-the-scenes attention given to detail by our Sharon. 

She even knows how to run a smooth election.

When I came on board as an Administrative Assistant nearly six years ago, Sharon trained me and has been my supervisor and friend ever since. Although she taught me everything I know, she did not manage to teach me everything she knows. That’s because much of her knowledge is carried around in her memory bank, surfacing when needed. Although Diane is already proving herself a capable replacement, even she cannot be expected to automatically know all the stuff Sharon knows. If the walls of City Hall have ears, they are wondering why they no longer hear the oft-repeated phrase, “ask Sharon.”  

Which means the rest of us will need to grow up a little. We’re thinking of wearing WWSD bracelets: “What would Sharon do?” Actually, Sharon’s done an admirable job of helping us make that transition over the last several weeks. Even though it’s a human tendency to mentally and emotionally check out once your exit date is set, Sharon stayed invested in her job and in her working relationships right through her last afternoon. We can all learn from her example, and I hope I do as well when my turn comes.

But I hate saying good-bye. 

Not that I begrudge Sharon’s retirement. When you’ve worked at the same place 35 years, you deserve to retire. Yes, even though you are younger than I am. (OK, so maybe I begrudge it an eensy-weensy smidge.)

Sharon, thank you for all you’ve taught me in your calm, patient way. I will always be grateful for the privilege of working with you. Your easy-going nature has made work an enjoyable and safe place to be. You are dearly loved and will be sorely missed. God bless you.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

No Present Like the Time



Valentine’s Day approaches and you want to express your undying affection for the love of your life, but you’re stuck for fresh ideas. Flowers fade much too fast. Chocolate makes you fat. Jewelry and perfume seem cliché.

Don’t misunderstand; most of us girls appreciate any of the above. But there’s no better gift for guys or gals than your time and a shared, enjoyable experience you can talk about for days to come. In 2006, I received ballet tickets from Hubby for my birthday. It felt like receiving three gifts in one: the gift-wrapped tickets on my birthday, the anticipation as we awaited the day, and finally the event itself. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet interpreted Handel’s Messiah, accompanied by the symphony orchestra and the Mennonite choir. The curtain was barely up and tears were already finding their way down my cheeks, so moved was I by the beauty of it.

You can take your sweetie to a top-notch, professional performance without leaving town. Here are two options:
Roy & Rosemary will perform on Valentine’s Day, February 14, at 7:30 p.m. at the William Glesby Centre. After hearing about these world-class performers, I checked out their website  and was blown away to think this dynamic piano-violin duo is coming to little ol’ Portage la Prairie! On their site, you can watch video clips and see what I mean. In addition to traditional performance, they usually do an interactive last half where audience members can request songs (from Charlie Brown to Star Wars to Beethoven to the Beatles), or even participate as new songs are created on the spot. Sounds like a fantastic experience. Tickets cost $30 and you can buy them at the Glesby Centre or online.

If you don’t mind delaying your Valentine’s date by a few days, the ManitobaTheatre Centre is bringing a production to us! On Friday February 20, at 7:30 pm, they will present a play called “Armstrong’s War” by Colleen Murphy. (You can see a video clip and read a review here.) Corporal Michael Armstrong is recuperating in a rehab hospital when he’s ambushed by an optimistic 12-year-old Girl Guide in a wheelchair. Halley’s mission is to earn her Community Service badge by reading to a wounded soldier. In spite of himself, Michael becomes engaged in their sessions and when he musters the courage to share an explosive story from his time in Afghanistan, the unlikely allies show each other how to stand tall. The play runs approximately 85 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $20 from the William Glesby Centre.

For you outdoorsy types, did you know that access to all provincial parks in Manitoba is free for the month of February? You can take advantage of this opportunity for a little snow-shoeing, snow mobiling, cross country skiing, skating, tobogganing, and more. You can even take your sweetie ice fishing at Spruce Woods provincial park from 1:00-4:00 on Valentine’s Day; all supplies are provided and no fishing license is required. For a full list of things going on at provincial parks and weekly trail grooming reports, go to www.manitobaparks.com

As for us, we’ve offered to spend our Valentine’s Day chasing three little rascals so their parents can enjoy a night out. An excellent investment all the way around.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

This Could Change Your Life



Hubby and I enjoy movies, although our tastes follow the stereotypical gender lines—he prefers action, shootings, and explosions. I like romantic comedies or dramas based on true stories. 

We’ve wasted many hours on mindless stinkers that, at best, bring a chuckle or two. But often enough, the stories we watch feel like time well spent. They pull us out of our own little worlds and open our minds to new ideas. Or they move us emotionally as a profound truth seeps in, dislodging a memory locked deep inside. Often, we learn things from history we didn’t know before. Sometimes movies simply make us laugh, and laughter is good medicine.

The best kind of movies, in my mind, are about real life heroes. Stories like Life of a King, Schindler’s List, and A Beautiful Mind inspire us with how ordinary individuals can overcome horrific obstacles to become heroes. One such movie about a modern-day hero is coming to theatres for two nights only—March 4 and 5.

The Drop Box is an award-winning documentary about the work of Pastor Lee Jong-rak of South Korea and his heroic efforts to embrace and protect his community’s most vulnerable children. In 2009, Lee installed a drop box in the outer wall of his home to provide a safe place for babies who would otherwise be left to die on the streets. Since then, he has saved hundreds of babies and adopted as his own many who would have perished. It’s a heart-wrenching exploration of the physical and emotional toll associated with providing refuge to those deemed unwanted by society. But it’s also a story of hope and a celebration of the reality that every human life is sacred, purposeful, and worthy of love.

Official reports say over 600 babies and young children are abandoned in Seoul annually, but actual numbers probably run much higher. Hundreds die in the street.

“The baby box should not exist,” Pastor Lee says, “but we live with a government where inaction and lack of concern prevail.”

Two years after the drop box was built, American Brian Ivie came across an article in the Los Angeles Times titled, “South Korean pastor tends an unwanted flock.” After reading the article, Brian knew he must find a way to share Pastor Lee’s story.

“If I don’t do something, everyone will forget,” he said.

Six months after reading the article, Brian Ivie and his production team from Arbella Studios headed to Seoul to live with Pastor Lee and film his story.

“Through this movie,” Ivie says, “I’m hoping people see a type of love that spends itself on behalf of others and doesn’t expect anything back. Because that’s what God’s love is like. It goes to the gutters for the broken and the lost.”

In Winnipeg, The Drop Box will play at the Cineplex Odeon at 2190 McGillivray and at Silver City Polo Park—March 4 and 5 only.You can buy tickets for yourself or obtain group sales for your friends, family, neighbours and small group at www.dropbox.focusonthefamily.ca. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

New Furniture, Same Old Heart



After 37 years of marriage, hubby and I recently bought our first new furniture. Call us late bloomers.

Somehow, the items that have furnished our home until now have always landed by default. Most of them came gently used by parents, grandparents, or siblings. A couple of dressers were included with our first mobile home. We’ve owned at least six televisions in those 37 years, but have never actually purchased one. And a couple of things I can’t imagine parting with, like my solid oak World War II desk and the stuffed rocking chair I rocked my babies in, came to us free from storage warehouses.

And we’ve got along just fine.

Lately, though, the shortage of seating for guests and the mishmash of cast-offs in our living room (I counted nine different kinds of wood) were getting on my nerves. I began to dream of things that actually matched and spots for every bum. I decided to use the money I’d saved from my column-writing—usually reserved for writing-related expenses—on new furniture instead. So I thank you, dear readers, and the advertisers who keep the Central Plains Herald Leader going. You’ve unwittingly played a role in this new acquisition at the Toddheim.

With our first furniture shopping experience, I discovered you’re never too old to learn things about yourself. I didn’t know what kind of furniture I liked, having never chosen for myself. I learned I don’t like leather—too cold. I learned I prefer warm beiges and browns over cool greys and blues. I felt bummed to learn how much new furnishings cost. While I’d hoped to replace both seating and tables, my money ran out before we got to the tables. Guess I better keep the columns coming for a while. 

But there’s one thing I already knew about myself because it’s true for every human on the planet. The joy provided by new possessions is temporary. The stuff we chase after will never fill our hearts. Don’t misunderstand, I’m thrilled to see the new furniture in my home and hope I’ll feel thankful to own it for years to come. I enjoy the satisfaction of knowing I earned it with the writing skills God gave me. But I also know a nice, new living room will not make me a nice, new person. In fact, sometimes our possessions simply begin to own us as they require maintenance, time, and vigilance to protect. We become servants of our stuff instead of the other way around.

Khaled Hosseini (author of The Kite Runner) wrote a dark little tale about a man who finds a magic cup and discovers that if he weeps into the cup, his tears turn into pearls. But even though he had always been poor, he was a happy man and rarely shed a tear. So he creates ways to make himself sad so his tears can make him rich. As the pearls pile up, so does his greed. The story ends with the man sitting on a mountain of pearls, knife in hand, weeping helplessly into the cup with his beloved wife’s slain body in his arms.

A gruesome picture, but a vivid reminder of how greed destroys us.

Jesus understood the secret to living a contented life. In Luke chapter 12, he told his disciples,
“Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.” 

I’ll reflect on that as I nap on my comfy new couch this afternoon.