Prov 17:22

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

Friday, March 29, 2013

World Religions 101

The most important weekend of the Christian calendar may seem a strange time to offer a lesson on world religions. But I can’t help thinking that, like me, at least some of my readers sometimes wonder what the differences are. Frankly, I think it’s a great time to compare them. Besides, I’d hate to let my homework go to waste. Space allows me to provide basic snapshots of only four major religions here. Feel free to email me if I’ve gotten it wrong.

Islam is the second most popular religion in the world, begun in Arabia and revealed to humanity by the Prophet Muhammad. Followers of Islam, called Muslims, believe in only one God, called Allah. Muslims believe in a chain of prophets starting with Adam and including Abraham, Jesus, and the final prophet, Muhammad, born in Mecca in 570 A.D.
The Muslim scripture is the Holy Qur’an. Muslims believe it is the unaltered word of God. The five pillars of Islam are: Shahadah (declaration of faith), Salah (prayer), Zakat (giving a fixed proportion to charity), Saum (fasting during the month of Ramadan), and Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca.)

Buddhism began in India and is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha). Buddhism is different from many other faiths because it is not centred on a belief in a personal creator God. Buddhists believe there is a cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth which goes on and on. They believe that unless someone gains Enlightenment, when they die they will be reborn. If a person can gain Enlightenment, they can break out of this cycle. Breaking out of the cycle is called Nirvana—perfect peace, free of suffering.
Buddhists try to reach Nirvana by following the Buddha’s teaching and by meditating. Meditation means training the mind to empty it of all thoughts. When this happens, what is important becomes clear.

Hinduism is often referred to as Sanātana Dharma, meaning “the eternal law.” Its holy text is the Vedas, and the Ganges River in India is one of its holy places. Hinduism has no founder, single teacher, nor any prophets.
Hindus believe in one god, Brahman, the eternal origin and foundation of all existence. All other gods of the Hindu faith represent different forms of Brahman. These gods are sent to help people find the universal god (Brahman).
Hindus believe the soul passes through a cycle of successive lives and its next incarnation is always dependent on how the previous life was lived (Karma). Therefore, misfortunes in our present life are the result of acts committed in past lives. In the same way, our actions in our present lives will determine our fate in the lives to follow. 

Jesus Christ is the founder of Christianity. Christians believe: Jesus Christ was the Son of God, sent to earth by God to save humanity from the consequences of its sins; Jesus was fully human, and experienced this world in the same way as other humans of his time, yet lived a perfect life without sin; Jesus was tortured and gave his life on the cross; Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his Crucifixion (the Resurrection); Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament; by believing, any human can receive eternal life with God and avoid eternal punishment for their sin.
Christianity and Judaism share the same roots. The Old Testament and the Torah (Jewish Holy Book) have the same content. The Jews are still awaiting the coming of a Messiah or Saviour, while Christians believe Jesus Christ is the Messiah and are now waiting for his second coming.

It’s easy to conclude that Christianity is the craziest of all faith systems, for it is the only one whose founder rose from the dead. Who would be foolish enough to make this up and expect to be believed?
Unless, of course, it actually happened.

Call me crazy, but I’m banking heavily on the one who walked away from an empty tomb. Happy Easter.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Where Did God Go?

It will be my second time playing the wanton woman.

The first was nearly 20 years ago, for a short drama sketch at church called “One Day at the Bus Stop.”  My friend Ken Arundell, who is now with Jesus himself, portrayed a modern day Jesus with compassion and grace. He joined my character, a prostituted woman, on a bus stop bench where they shared conversation and a Coke. The well-written script did a moving job of its objective: to demonstrate what an encounter like the one between Jesus and the infamous woman at the well might look like today.

I confess I spent more time worrying about my outfit than truly attempting to get inside the heart of my character. We solved the immodesty dilemma by focusing on lots of jewelry, severe makeup, and really big hair (with everybody wearing big hair back then, I’m talking really, REALLY big hair!)

On the way home from Tuesday night’s rehearsal, with my hubby at the wheel and me decked out in the trappings of my character’s trade, the police pulled us over. I slinked down into my seat, praying, “Please don’t let him shine that flashlight on me.”

 It was one of the few times in my life I wanted to be invisible.

“Did you know one of your head lamps is out?” 

“Yes,” Jon said. “I have a replacement in the back seat and will fix it as soon as we get home.”

“Very well. Carry on.”

I breathed again.

For months we laughed about the odds of getting stopped by the law on that particular night, without giving thought to how the experience might have felt to my character. I wish I’d paid more attention to her heart.

This time around, I’m portraying an actual historical figure. Her name was Mary Magdalene and you can read about her in Luke 8 and Matthew 16. While tradition and art paint her as a prostitute, nothing in scripture substantiates this. Whether she was or wasn’t is irrelevant. She was a broken, wounded woman and while there may be degrees of woundedness, none of us is immune.

Nor is any of us immune from wounding others. We all need forgiveness. We all need healing. We all need compassion.

In the years between portraying these two women, my eyes have opened a little. No child grows up saying, “Someday I want to be a prostitute.”  What teen or young adult ever said, “I plan to be a thief”?  Who among us, upon the birth of our firstborn, ever thinks, “I sure hope I mess this kid up good”?

Yet it happens. 

As I prepare for this role in my church’s Good Friday service, I see my character through a different lens than I might have years ago. In the aftermath of Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary Magdalene asks, “Where was God?”

It’s a great question. You may have asked it yourself when tsunamis hit or terrorists attack. It may have really become personal when a loved one died or a child fell ill or someone betrayed you. I know I’ve asked it.

And an answer exists, though it isn’t easy or pat.

If you don’t already have other plans for acknowledging Good Friday, please accept this as my personal invitation to the special one-hour service at Portage Alliance Church, 2375 Saskatchewan Ave. W., on Good Friday, March 29 at 11:00 a.m. (Don’t let the new construction keep you away – traffic directors will help you park and get safely inside.) 

I’d love to see you there. Together, perhaps even with a little help from Mary Magdalene, we can come closer to solving that age-old mystery: where was God?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

How to be a Model Model

I’ve got one more thing I can strike off my bucket list. Modelling. 
Since it’s a story in need of celebration, I should probably explain how I ended up the sole subject of 130 pictures shot in the studio of Portage la Prairie’s own G.Loewen Photos. On March 1, I signed a contract with a literary agent who will now pitch my novel to editors on my behalf. If you know anything about the publishing world, you know how hard a legitimate agent is to land. (By legitimate, I mean she doesn’t make a dime until I do. The day that happens, there will be no need for a column about it because you’ll hear me hooting and swaggering from here.) I’ve been trying for years, so it is a pretty big deal to now be working with Jessica Kirkland of the Blythe Daniel Agency.

Make that two things I can strike off my bucket list.

Anyway. The agency places pictures and bios of their clients on its website and will soon require a recent and decent shot of Moi, as opposed to the do-it-myself, four-year-old mug shot my readers have seen on my column since its conception. I happened to be scheduled for a fresh haircut and colour with the super stylin’ Linda at Foil, so when Gayle Loewen was able to fit me in for a photo shoot following the hair do, it seemed like too good an opportunity. 

Along with her impressive collection of equipment, Gayle is blessed with two lovely assistants. (Either all three of them are related, or they all use the same brand of red hair dye.) One assistant fills the house-slash-studio with the fragrance of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies. This must be to cause the model’s saliva glands to go crazy and somehow create a more appealing portrait, I’m not certain. The other assistant serves as fashion consultant and official model fluffer, adding scarves and jewelry to the clothing selections I brought and giving a thumbs up or down as to what goes together. 

All the while, Gayle giggled and twittered as she shot me to death. I’ll tell you one thing: that redhead knows what she’s doing with her camera. And it’s a good thing, because the silly gadget possesses a personality all its own. Looking into its lens while it zoomed in and out proved mesmerizing, and I soon found myself in some kind of trance. Finally, I understood the facial expression on every runway model ever seen. You know the one. It says, “I hate everything and you are lower than the scum growing on the underside of scum.” Those poor girls aren’t angry. They are suffering from camera hypnosis. Funny no one has diagnosed this before.

One of the reasons Gayle loves photography so much is that it gives her ample opportunity to boss her subjects around. For the next hour or two, I tilted my chin this way then that way, no this way, no that. I changed outfits four or five times. I sat on a stool, on a chair, on the floor. I stood on my head. I may have made that last thing up, but in any case, I felt no need to work out later. Jillian Michaels has nothing on Gayle. Between the clothing, accessories, and posing, I fully understand how Barbie feels.

But you know what? It was fun! What a delight to observe someone absorbed in something she was so clearly created to do. None of those cranky-looking model expressions on this mug…I couldn’t have kept a straight face if I’d tried, what with all the laughter and cookie aromas in the air. The end result was a collection of photos I can truly aspire to look like, including this new one for my blog. While it may or may not have changed the state of my mind, it gives you something new to look at.

For more of Gayle’s outstanding photography, check out or

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Reflections on a Two-Year Anniversary I’d Have Never Chosen

Two years ago tonight I was reading in bed when I started to cough something up. I panicked a little when I saw the Kleenex full of blood. “This can’t be good,” I thought. Within a couple of weeks, I was coughing incessantly, feeling pain in my chest and back, and exhausted all the time.

When they found “something strange going on with your lungs,” I figured I’d be walking through one of three possible doors. Door Number 1 was cancer and I’d have six to twelve months to put my house in order. Door Number 2 was some easy-to-treat infection that would soon be a distant memory. I didn’t want to think about Door Number 3: a chronic illness that wouldn’t kill me but make life more challenging for the next 30 years.

 “I’m fine with going home early, Lord,” I prayed. “But please don’t let it be Door Number 3.”

Long story short, I was told I had Bronchiectasis (which in itself does not kill you, but is not known to ever go away). Meanwhile, other seemingly unrelated problems with other body parts surfaced, too.  After 14 months of various tests, they also discovered an atypical bacterial infection in my lungs known as MAC. At first, this made me happy because I thought, “at last, something they can treat.” But the treatment sounded worse than the disease and not highly promising.

So for the past nine months, I’ve been on a journey of naturopathic treatment requiring a complete change in diet, two or three trips to the clinic a week, additional self-treatments at home, and an uncomfortable amount of money.  But I began feeling better so quickly, it gave me the determination to keep going.

I’ve learned things I never dreamed I would. Like how to put together some pretty decent meat-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, and sugar-free meals. I’m playing the saxophone. I gave up coffee. I end every hot shower with a 30-second blast of cold and barely flinch. I exercise 3-4 times a week. I ’ve asked for prayers all over the place, going to the front after Sunday services numerous times and meeting with the elders a couple of times.  

And I really am much better. Energy’s up, coughing is down.  Yet they tell me the Bronchiectasis is actually a bit worse and the infection is still present. Which tells me my lungs were not necessarily my biggest problem and whatever was causing the fatigue is, indeed, being addressed.

I’ve come to see our bodies like a Whack-a-Mole game at the carnival. While one specialist whacks one mole, another pops up, and another and another. Meanwhile, something is wrong with the basic mechanism of the machine and it’s being ignored. Naturopathy addresses the underlying problem. By building the body’s immune system, we strengthen it for battle so it can fight off the enemies regardless where they pop up. This is what I’m hoping for, and why I’m sticking with it for now.

The parallels between my road to health and my road to book publication are uncanny. Sure, I could self-publish my book and be done with it. But first, I need to know I’ve done everything— EVERYTHING — to make this book the best it can be and I know the best way to do that is on the long road. Taking advice from contest judges, critique partners, editors, and my new agent. Rewriting and rewriting and rewriting again. 

I have no way of knowing how either of these journeys will end, but at least no one can accuse me of taking a short cut. And I know something else. God walks with me, every step. He’s teaching me, every step. And I don’t want to miss anything he has for me along the way.

Today, I’ve been listening over and over to a Robin Mark song called All is Well. Please, please click the link and listen to it. These lyrics really resonate:
All my changes come from Him who never changes
I’m held firm in the grasp of the Rock of all the ages
All is well with my soul
He is God, in control
I know not all His plans
But I know I’m in His hands.