Prov 17:22

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

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Universal Language of Christ

In 2002, we visited Switzerland and while there, attended a Sunday morning service at an upbeat church in Sursee. While we looked like most of the people in attendance, we could only smile and nod as folks greeted us warmly and shook our hands. Though we couldn’t understand the sermon, we knew that family surrounded us—our spiritual family. When the worship music began, we tried to follow along with the German words on the overhead screen. As we joined in praise to God as best we could, I was struck with a brief glimpse of how it will be when we gather around the throne of God in heaven, every tribe and tongue worshipping together. The thought brought goose bumps and tears.

In 2014, hubby and I walked the five blocks from our house to North Memorial Park where the Harvest Call First Nation Church had set up a big white tent for its nightly gospel meetings.

I won’t lie. It felt out of my comfort zone. That may sound odd coming from someone who has attended church all her life. But I’m not First Nations. I’m not Pentecostal. I’m not a fan of country gospel style music, and I’m not used to services that go on past my bedtime. Part of me just wanted a new experience. Part of me wanted to better understand my First Nations neighbours. Part of me wanted to know how the courageous handful of First Nations people who attend my church must feel. Mostly, I hoped to have my heart uplifted.

This time, we did not look like most of the other people in attendance. But this time, we could communicate easily and saw a few familiar faces. (Plus, we knew we could be home within minutes if things got weird.)

We tapped our toes as the singers and musicians warmed up and the tent gradually filled. We listened to wonderfully encouraging stories from people whose lives changed for the better because of their faith, many of whom testify they would not even be alive today were it not for Christ.

When Pastor Bernice Catcheway officially opened the night with her powerful prayer for our city, I once again experienced what I had in Switzerland. This time, I could understand every word, and this time, it occurred in my own community. But again, I was struck with a glimpse of how it will be when we gather around the throne of God in heaven, every tribe and tongue worshipping the same God together. Again, the thought brought goose bumps and tears.

I love how Jesus makes sisters and brothers out of strangers, regardless of colour, customs, or language. 

When God showed the Apostle John the future, here is one of the things he described: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9)

When that day comes, I won’t feel out of place. I’ll understand every word. I’ll know all the lyrics to every song. And I won’t be too tired to stick around for the food.

I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

How (on Earth) Does Your Garden Grow?

Taking someone like me on a garden tour is like taking a crow to the symphony. The crow returns home and does one of three things: knowing it will never sound like the symphony, it shuts its mouth never to caw again; or, it purposely flies beak-first into an oncoming freight train to relieve the world of its hideous cawing; or, it resigns itself to cawing as best as it can and appreciates the work of the symphony musicians. This crow will try to choose the third thing, while she pleads with her pansies to bloom.

My friend Gail (whose own backyard could have been part of the tour, though she modestly and vehemently denies it) accompanied me on the PDAC Artful Garden Tour this past Saturday. 

Holy Hollyhocks, Batman.

We gawked our way through some of the most amazing and creative feasts for the senses I have ever, um, sensed. Gorgeous trees, fragrant grasses, colorful flowers, bubbling fountains, and artfully arranged paving stones spelled one word to us: work! In some cases, the grass mowing alone looked like a full time job. Or the compost bins. Or the fish ponds. These folks don’t sit around on their asters, I’ll tell you that.

After picking our tongues up off the perfectly manicured landscaping, we walked away burdened with questions about the gardeners:
Where do they get the energy to maintain all this wonder?
Where do they come up with ideas?
Don’t they ever sleep?
Doesn’t everybody get the same 24 hours in a day?
Do they ever eat?
How have they not been carried off by mosquitoes?
Do they ever do anything else?
Do they have some special “in” with God or what?
Do they have any clue how amazing their artistic skills are?
Gail and I consoled ourselves by deciding the gardeners’ houses are probably a filthy mess, even though deep down we know they probably aren’t.

Thank you, Jeff and Lynn, Mitchell and Linda, Vern and Pat, Tristan and Gabriele, Cam and Beryl, and Chris and Sharon for welcoming us into your wonderful sanctuaries. George Bernard Shaw said, “The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.” I don’t know about digging for God, but seeing your work helps me understand why he placed his first people in a garden. I hope you know he considers you a valuable partner in bringing beauty to a world that so desperately needs it. 

Following the tour, Gail and I enjoyed lunch at the PDAC Gallery where we took in the current exhibit called “Double Vision,” and found ourselves doubly amazed. Twin sisters Debbie Richards and Diane Stewart are both textile artists. One lives in Ontario, the other in Saskatchewan. They start with a photo and an identical set of fabrics with which to interpret the picture, but do not see one another’s work until it’s complete. In the gallery, these finished pieces hang in pairs, one typically more traditional and the other more abstract. What we thought from a distance were stunning paintings are actually created from zillions of itty-bitty pieces of fabric. Sometimes additional beading, embroidery, or paint is added. It’s absolutely brilliant and you really must go see this exhibit while it’s here (through August 1). The Arts Centre is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11am to 5pm, and there is no admission fee.

Here’s what moves me most when I experience the creativity of all these remarkably gifted people: whether they acknowledge it or not, their talent reflects the one in whose image they were created. If a mere human can create such wonder, how wonderful must be the one who created the human?
That’s one thing I hope to keep crowing about until my final breath.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What's on Your Summer Reading List?

I'm officially on vacation. When people ask what big plans I have for my time off, it sounds nerdy to admit what excites me most: having time to sit on my deck, reading. Last January I started keeping track of the books I read, lest my aging brain forgets and I waste precious time starting on one I’ve already read. I average a book per week, hardly enough given the gazillions of volumes waiting to be ingested. Makes me wish I’d paid more attention in those high school speed-reading sessions. At the time, I thought it made me sound sophisticated to say I didn’t want to read fast because I wanted to “savor” every word. Horse feathers.

I picked a few from my reading list from the first half of 2014 to share with you. None are brand new and all are available at our local library. (God bless whoever invented the public library!) If you’re blessed with an e-reader, you can download them as well.

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova is a fictional account of an actual neuropsychological condition called Hemispatial Neglect, made especially fascinating because it’s told from the victim’s viewpoint. A traumatic brain injury completely erases the left side of Sarah Nickerson’s world, and for once, Sarah relinquishes control to those around her. Without the ability to even floss her own teeth, she struggles to find answers about her past and her uncertain future. I couldn’t put it down.

I became a fan of Christian author Deborah Raney after meeting her at a writers’ conference last year. Face of the Earth presents a dilemma for its main character, Mitch Brannon, when his beloved wife Jill doesn’t return from her conference. He enlists the help of Jill’s best friend, Shelley, in the search. Months go by, with no inkling of what happened to Jill. As Mitch and Shelley’s friendship grows closer, Mitch must decide how he will honor his vows to a woman who may never return—or who may walk through the front door tomorrow. Deb’s other books are equally intriguing.

For this category, I chose one local and one formerly local writer. Rusty Rutherford’s autobiography, A Steep Climb, recounts his years growing up as a British war orphan sent to boarding school and then foster homes in Canada and follows through to the present day, including his earning of the Queen’s Jubilee medal. Whether you know Rusty or not, you’ll find his story truly interesting. 

I Am Hutterite by Mary Ann Kirkby opened my eyes to much I didn’t know about our Hutterian neighbours. I’d heard it said that Hutterites never have a childhood because they’re made to work hard from the time they’re small and never play. While it’s true they learn to work, Kirkby’s experience points to an idyllic childhood rich in community, security, and fun. Only upon leaving the colony did life grow difficult, as she struggled to belong in a strange new world at an age when fitting in means everything.

The Good Book
With my morning granola, I read a chapter of the Bible. To be honest, many days the words on the page seem to make little difference. But frankly, that’s true for the granola as well. I must simply trust that little by little, both are nourishing me in ways I cannot see, making me stronger, wiser, healthier. And frequently enough, mornings come when I read exactly what I need for the day. Or God sends a little joke my way, like these words from Ecclesiastes 12: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.”

Enjoy your summer reading!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Quintessa Takes Flight

Airborne at last, Quintessa stretched her neck to view the panorama below.

“Bloody business, this,” she mumbled. “Can’t say I’m particularly enchanted to be a mosquito, but it sure beats the larval stage.”

Dare she admit how much she loathed the idea of seeing, let alone sucking blood? Eventually, she knew she would probably have to concede to nature, but for now she would play the role of the royal aviator and set her inner monarch free. Focusing on her flying after all those long days wriggling in a scummy birdbath felt like heaven, even though her peers already seemed to be zeroing in on warm-blooded targets. Gluttony and greed might be appropriate for the lower classes, but not for this little princess. Her goals were loftier and far more glamorous than those of the riffraff surrounding her.
“I’d much rather become a flight expert than merely go on a feeding frenzy,” she told herself. Just because she was a Culex didn’t mean she must settle for the life of a savage. “Keep your blood, you ugly vertebrates! Let me fly!”

Mosquitoes around her swarmed toward what appeared to be a farm, where horses, cattle, and pigs created an all-you-can-eat buffet, but Quintessa buzzed past the uncivilized offering, her proboscis high in the air. Not for her, these barbarian habits, these boorish customs, these beastly obsessions and brutish dependencies. Only the crème de la crème was good enough for Quintessa.

Pressing past the horde, she felt chagrined to find herself inexplicably drawn to the heat and smells emanating from the farm. Quintessa, however, remained as strong as her wilting wings allowed, convinced only the weakest of her species would dive for the nearest available food without first enjoying the freedom of flight and fancy.

Resting for a moment on a low tree branch, the little mosquito panted and tried to calculate how much longer she could fly without ingesting blood. She knew she could live on nectar and plant juices like her male counterparts, but if she were ever to reproduce, imbibing remained her only alternative. 

“Tasteless, absolutely degrading,” she muttered. Unless she chose to abandon the ultimate goal for which she was hatched—to lay eggs—she knew she must submit to protocol. Vampirism seemed the only means to succession of her self-appointed crown. 

Weakening rapidly now, Quintessa’s attention was drawn to the raucous cawing of a crow above and she immediately sensed a possible solution to her predicament. X-ray vision might have come in handy to help her home in on the bird’s body, but she relied on her heat sensors until she found a tender spot to latch onto, beneath a wing. Yellow feet suddenly dangled in mid-air as the crow took off, and Quintessa felt electrified to find herself once again airborne, without draining an ounce of her own energy.

Zoonotic arboviruses such as West Nile lay dormant while the Princess Quintessa reigned supreme on her private aircraft, feeding and flying and fulfilling her life’s destiny all in one glorious jaunt from the loftiest of heights—at least for now.

Did you notice? The story above uses 26 letters, each beginning with the next letter of the alphabet. Hope you liked it!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A funny thing happened on my way to this column

Folks ask me if it’s hard to come up with something to write each week. Writer Gene Fowler said, “Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

I don’t stare at blank paper, but I’ve certainly spent large chunks of my life staring at a blank computer screen. Can’t say I’ve produced blood yet, but if I ever do, you can be sure I’ll write about it. 

My path to a weekly column typically looks a bit like this:
It’s Saturday, 8:00 a.m. and I still haven’t got an inkling what next week’s column is going to say, even though I need to submit it on Monday. I really must park my butt in the chair and write. And I will, just as soon as I’m showered and dressed. But wait. I haven’t worked out in a while. I should really do that today. 

Forty minutes later, I drag my sweaty, sticky self into the shower. Thirty minutes after that, I’m clean, dressed, and in a better frame of mind. Time to write my column. 

Maybe I’ll just make a cup of tea first. When I fill the kettle, I empty the water jug (we use distilled). Better start the distiller while the kettle boils. On my way to the distiller, I notice our dehumidifier is full. Can’t have the basement getting all humid and dank. I wonder briefly if I could pour the dehumidifier water into the distiller, thereby turning moisture from the air into our drinking water. I dismiss the thought.

When I enter the bathroom to empty the dehumidifier, I remember I had intended to give the sink a lick and a promise, so I stop to do that. I hear the tea kettle click off in the kitchen and quickly fill the distiller and reassemble the dehumidifier. But as I walk past our bedroom, I notice the bed’s still unmade. Can’t have that. What if my mother-in-law from South Dakota pops in unannounced?

By the time I’ve made the bed, the water in the kettle has cooled. I start it again. While I wait, I’ll quickly check Facebook. You know, just in case any important messages await me. Sure enough, there is a message. I’ll just answer it in a jiff, then log out. But wait. There’s a little quiz that will tell me which Broadway musical best describes my life. I get “Sound of Music.” How stupid. This leads me to another quiz, “What celebrity were you in a previous life?” I’m not falling for that time suckage. I’ll log out just as soon as I take a quick peek at the cutest kitten videos ever. And copy the recipe for healthy brownies somebody posted. And take the quiz that answers the burning question, “What career should you have?” 

I get “writer.”

My kettle has cooled again.

While I wait, I find myself a snack. This time, I mean business. With a cup of tea in one hand and a bowl of almonds in the other, I head back to my computer. 

I’ll just check email first, real quick. You know, just in case. Besides, I can’t really write and eat at the same time. Sure enough, there are emails to answer.

Well, would you look at that? It’s lunch time. Which reminds me. If I don’t make a big pot of soup, there’ll be nothing for lunch all week. By the time the soup’s done, I’m pooped and need a nap before supper.

It’s Saturday, 10:00 p.m. At some point during the day, I’ve somehow managed to hammer out 600 words of mindless drivel. I reward myself with a good book and go to bed, knowing I’ll continue to periodically tweak my column right up until I hit “send” on Monday afternoon.

Easy as pie.