Prov 17:22

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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Three Lessons from Momma Robin


     When a pair of robins began construction in the cedar shrub outside our kitchen window, I figured the only decent thing to do was stay out of the kitchen for a couple of months and give them their space. My husband, however, decided closing the venetian blind between us and the nest would grant them all the privacy required. Bummer.
     This process is providing a delightful education. Here are three lessons I have observed so far.

Number One: Do the thing that lies within you to do.
     With fascination, I watched the robins create the nest, placing the twigs just so, then tamping them into place with their little feet. I couldn’t build a nest like that without a kit of supplies, written instructions, and a whole lot of super glue. Even then, it would be shaped all wrong and probably fall apart in the first wind.
     Robins, however, can’t not build a nest. It’s what they are hard-wired to do.
     I believe God has placed within each of us at least one thing we can’t not do. Be it music, teaching, building, growing flowers—you name it—we know deep down we are hard-wired to do that thing. The difference between robins and humans is, we have a choice. We can abandon our one thing, and in the face of opposition, we often do.
     But it’s never too late to start again. The world needs your one thing, even when you’re tired or discouraged and would rather let it lie. A half-built nest is worthless.
 
Number Two: Defend what you’ve been given to defend. 
     Over the course of three days, Momma Robin laid three beautiful blue eggs and began the tenacious process of incubation. I knew there would be no more opening the window to snap photos unless I wanted a close-up of a bird attack. Just coming near the window earned me an instant open beak of warning. I wondered if she feels inclined to fly away instead, never to return.
     What have you been called to protect and fight for? Family? The poor? The abused? Your own gifts and talents? Guaranteed, your thing to protect will be threatened and attacked. The enemy of your soul wants your one thing destroyed, not blessing the world like it was intended. You’ll be tempted to let him win, to step aside and surrender because it’s easier. Please don’t stop fighting when fighting is right.

Number Three: Hang on tight through the storms   
     When the May 14 windstorm hit Portage la Prairie, we watched from the safety of our house while the cedar bush by the kitchen window swayed and swirled. What would Momma Robin do? Could she hang on? Would she find a safer place? Would the nest come apart, dropping the eggs to the ground?
     Though I can’t imagine how fast her tiny heart must have been beating, she held firm. This chick knows her priorities.
     I want to hang tough through the storms of life, too. And they do come, to all of us. Some bring more damage than others, but their threats seldom equal our fears. Morning eventually comes, bringing calm and sunshine and hope.
     That’s a lot of education from such a small creature—and all before the eggs hatched. Somehow I suspect there is more to come.

Friday, May 25, 2012

How to Train Yourself to Drink More Water (and just about anything else): from "A Chart-Freak's Guide to Conquering the Universe" (a book yet to be written)


     Of all my failures, I excel at this one: I’ve been a lousy water drinker all my life. My argument was, if I truly needed all the water experts say I do, wouldn’t I feel thirsty? Besides, I never enjoyed drinking water. Tasteless at best, it hurt my teeth if too cold. Where’s the appeal?
     Then I planned a conference trip to Denver. The organizers warned us to drink lots of water leading up to the event to avoid altitude sickness in “Mile High City.” I tried. I worked myself up to three or four glasses a day. Once there, it was easier because water stations appeared every few feet and the dry air actually made me thirsty.
     But it was too late. I spent my first night in a flu-like stupor I hope to never repeat.
     When I returned for the same conference a year later, I weathered the weekend without a smidgeon of altitude sickness. I know you’re dying to know how.
     As little as I love water, I have a love affair with charts. Just ask my children (also known as “Adult Children of Obsessive Chart Keepers”), who survived years of job charts posted on the fridge, each carefully crafted to include daily age-appropriate tasks for each child — including checking off their chart. (I admit that last one may cross the line into the compulsive category).
     Why not apply my chart-checking strength to my water-drinking weakness? Highly motivated the second time around, I developed what I proudly call “The System.” Creating a chart starting a month prior to my departure for Denver, I determined that each time I managed to get myself on the outside of a glass of water, I would check off a box on my chart. (Hey, an accomplishment is an accomplishment.)
     Week One’s chart featured the days of the week down the side and the numbers one through five across the top. Five glasses a day wasn’t too difficult. Week Two’s Chart displayed six numbers across the top, and so on, until the week before the conference when I pushed it up to eight.
     I quickly discovered three things. First, I can swallow a lot more room temperature water than water straight out of the fridge. Second, I couldn’t think about it too hard. Staring down a dauntingly full glass only intimidated me. “Just pick ‘er up, and down the hatch she goes” became my new mantra. Third, unless I wanted to be downing a liter of water right before bed, I needed to start early. New rule: must force down a glass first thing in the morning before allowing myself a cup of coffee.
     By my final week, I was consuming an additional 500 mL bottle (which I counted for two checkmarks) by mid-morning and another by lunch. All I had to do then was drink one with lunch, one with supper, and one in the evening. My reward was threefold: a neatly checked off chart, no altitude sickness, and the pride of accomplishment. The more frequent trips to the little girls’ room seemed a small price to pay.
     If you’re a lover of charts like I am, “The System” is sure to work for you, too. Just keep your chart out of sight of your adult kids. I take no responsibility for flashback trauma. 




Thursday, May 17, 2012

Auffahrtsumritt: Say, what?


     Ten years ago this week, I woke up to the clanging of church bells from a 900-year old Catholic church just across the narrow, cobblestone street outside my shuttered window. The four-story house in which I awoke was half that age. Once the residence for priests of the church, the house belonged to a young family who provided bed and breakfast to guests like us. Descending its solid wooden staircase, I was awed to feel the polished grooves of centuries of feet under my own. I was in Berom√ľnster, Switzerland, where our daughter Mindy worked as an au pair.
     We arrived the day before Ascension Day. The only thing I knew about Ascension Day was that it marks the day Jesus Christ ascended to Heaven, 40 days after his resurrection. But in Berom√ľnster, the day includes an unparalleled custom called “Auffahrtsumritt” in Swiss German.
     In the early morning, a colourful group of local clergy and other religious figures leaves the town on horseback, along with some two hundred believers. Large crowds follow on foot, praying blessings on the fields within the boundary line. The local priest leads the way, escorted by mounted soldiers, a brass band, church choir, and numerous crosses and flags. Stops are made at specific places, where readings are given.
In the early afternoon, the group completes the circle and enters the town to more ringing of bells. A benediction pronounced in front of the church brings the pageantry to a close.
     I agreed to participate with Mindy in the prayer walk. Starting at 5:00 a.m. (relatively easy to my jet-lagged body), we walked from village to village. It was a gorgeous day and those around us prayed through their rosaries as they walked. Mindy and I, however, having been separated ten long months, were less inclined to pray. Our constant chatter earned us at least one impatient shushing from one of the faithful.
     Ignorant foreigners that we were, I felt embarrassed and chastised but was far too happy to let it bother me for long. Who could feel anything but euphoric--reunited with my daughter, surrounded by fragrant, rolling meadows, the constant ringing of sheep bells, and gorgeous mountains in every direction? The breath-taking beauty around us left me longing for more.
     And so it should. Though my outward behaviour may have appeared disrespectful, I celebrated Ascension Day embracing Jesus’ promise that where he was going, I could one day follow.
     One of my favorite Carolyn Arends songs, Reaching, says:
“I guess I shouldn't think it odd, until we see the face of God
The yearning deep within us tells us there's more to come;
So when we taste of the divine, it leaves us hungry every time
For one more taste of what awaits when heaven's gates are reached.”
 
Happy Ascension Day!

"If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also." (Jesus in John 14:3)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Heartstrings


     It is late May, 1981 and I am in the springtime of my life. I’m in the hospital, cuddling my newborn son against my breast, a large pillow between him and the Caesarian incision. I gaze into his beautiful little face and realize a love I had never known. I have heard it said that “to be a mother is to walk around forever with your heart outside your body,” and for the first time, I understand. I realize with amazement that I would gladly die for this child.
     Fast-forward to early September, 1999.
     I am standing on the observation deck at Winnipeg International Airport watching a Royal Airlines jet take off for Vancouver. My handsome, six-foot-four son is aboard, excited to be off on his own for the first time.
     How did this happen? Had this changing of life’s seasons transpired while I had my back turned? I blink back the tears and make some wisecracks to dissolve the lump in my throat. I’ll have a good bawl sometime in the next few days when I’m home alone and can do it up right. For now, I am thankful for his two younger siblings who keep me grounded with their chatter, singing, and bickering on the ride home.
     If the season of raising children is summer and the empty nest fall, then it is the younger siblings who make the turning of the leaves gradual, gentle, tolerable.
     When a child arrives, we know the day will come when he or she will leave. We prepare ourselves as best we can, and the thought that was almost unthinkable when they were still in our arms becomes a little more endurable through the high school years. Still, there is that ache, that beating of the heart so many miles away...though we know this is the natural order of life and wouldn’t really want it otherwise.
     It’s why mothers need each other.
     It’s also why we need God. For just as we could not bear the changes of our Canadian seasons without shelter, we need His constancy, His faithfulness, His shelter to endure the changing seasons of our lives.
     Now enjoying this empty nest season of my life, I’m so thankful for a God who never changes. I know that my children are in His hands...that they were never truly in mine to begin with. And that there is no better place for any of us to be.
     Happy Mother’s Day.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

May the Fourth be with you...



     Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away…
     All right, fine. It was this galaxy and it was May 29, 1977. My high school graduation. I was far too preoccupied with important things like my Farrah Fawcett hairdo to concern myself with an insignificant science fiction fantasy with the unlikely name of Star Wars premiering the same week. By the time I actually saw the first Star Wars movie, I was an old married woman of 22 and expecting my first baby. I fell asleep.
     Fast forward to 1998. My husband was turning 40 and all the buzz was about the upcoming Star Wars “prequels.” I borrowed all three of the original movies on VHS and invited two other families over for a surprise movie marathon.  Starting around 3:00 pm, we watched Star Wars. Then we broke for supper. Next came The Empire Strikes Back. This was followed by birthday cake, ice cream, and presents. Finally, we watched Return of the Jedi, ending around 1:00 in the morning. The guests went home. I stumbled off to bed and have been pretty much Star Warred out ever since.
     Although I still think Harrison Ford is kind of cute.
     May fourth is dubbed “Star Wars Day” because of the infamous blessing, “May The Force be with you.” Fans around the world celebrate with Princess Leia earmuffs and light sabre fights.
     So, what exactly is “The Force?”
     According to Wikipedia, The Force is “a binding, metaphysical, and ubiquitous power in the fictional universe of the Star Wars galaxy created by George Lucas.”
     According to Obi-Wan Kenobi, one of the wise characters in the story, “The Force surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”
     Roman Kroitor, a cinematographer who went on to develop IMAX, said,  “Many people feel that in the contemplation of nature and in communication with other living things, they become aware of some kind of force, or something, behind this apparent mask which we see in front of us, and they call it God.”
     When asked if this was the source of The Force, Lucas said, “Similar phrases have been used extensively by many different people for the last 13,000 years to describe the ‘life force.’”
      Lucas is right. The book of Romans tells us God put within people a basic awareness of Himself and of the requirement to do right.
      Sometimes I think it would be handy if God were a “force” instead of a person. A force can be harnessed and wielded. God, on the other hand, is wild. He provokes more questions than answers. He may or may not grant my requests. He has a mind of his own.
     A force makes few demands. God wants it all: my allegiance, my obedience, my love.
     Then again, I know at least three reasons to celebrate God’s person-hood. First, The Force’s power was accessible to only a select few. God says, “Come to me, all who are weary….” (Matthew 11:28)
     Second, The Force did not create anybody. God says you and I are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14)
     Third, The Force will never promise you this:  “No power in the sky above or in the earth below--indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)
     Enjoy the movies. And may the Lord be with you.