Prov 17:22

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

Friday, November 22, 2019

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out!

Do you ever find yourself thirty minutes into a movie before realizing you’ve already seen it? I almost never intentionally watch a movie more than once, with the exception of Christmas movies. So, for my Christmas blog series this year, I’ll tell you about the movies I and my family watch nearly every year.

A movie set in the 1940s was released in 1983 to little attention in theatres. Over the years, however, A Christmas Story starring Peter Bilingsley as young Ralphie Parker has became one of the most played films on television. In 1997, Turner Network Television began airing a 24-hour marathon dubbed “24 Hours of A Christmas Story.” They ran the film twelve consecutive times beginning at 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve and ending Christmas Day. (We are not THAT fond of it.)

We were first introduced to this movie around 2005 by our adult children. It seemed odd that they loved it, given that the setting dated back to before even my birth. But to them, it’s a classic. Its Canadian connections add to the appeal. While the story is set in the fictional town of Hohman, Indiana, many of the scenes were shot in Toronto. Watching my kids enjoy something usually pulls me in, too. Somewhere along the line we acquired the DVD with special features like interactive trivia quizzes about the show and interviews with the now adult child actors. Today, you can tour the house in Cleveland, Ohio that provided the home’s exterior shots in the movie. Later, the owner remodelled it to look like the movie set’s interior and opened it to the public.

The charm of the film is the narration provided by the adult Ralphie Parker, reminiscing about the Christmas he was nine. The narrator is Jean Shepherd, the author of the stories on which the movie is based. His 1966 book, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, is a collection of semi-fictional anecdotes from his childhood.

In the movie, Ralphie wants only one gift for Christmas: a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. Ralphie’s desire is shot down by his mother, his teacher, and even Santa Claus at Higbee’s department store, all giving him the same warning: “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

Riddled with hilarious and memorable scenes, I can see why this movie became such an icon. Who could ever forget the kid who sticks his tongue to a flagpole on a double-dog dare, the terrifying visit to Santa, Ralphie in the despised pink bunny suit, the secret decoder pin, the old man’s major prize of a leg lamp, or the hilarious scene near the end in the Chinese restaurant?

The tenderness of this movie comes in the form of an unexpected present from Ralphie’s father. We see Ralphie snuggled in bed on Christmas night with his gift by his side, while adult Ralphie says this was the best present he had ever or would ever receive.

Who among us doesn’t long for an expression of love from a caring father?

Our heavenly Father gave us the best gift we have ever or will ever receive. The first Christmas present wasn’t purchased at a store or placed under a tree. It was a little baby who grew to become our Saviour—a gift of love and life and peace and hope and restoration. He is the perfect gift. May you find him this Christmas.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV)

Saturday, November 16, 2019

I'd Rather Die

In his book, I’d Rather Die than Give a Speech, Michael M. Klepper tells the story of how he went from “heart failure” to “speeches with heart.” He learned to hurdle what could have been a career handicap and turned it into an asset.

Glossophobia is the fancy name for fear of public speaking and it affects most of us to some degree. Rare is the person who’s immune to any form of nervousness or apprehension at the thought of public speaking and performance. Even famous celebrities deal with it. Many learn to push through their pounding heart, profuse sweating, shaking, and even vomiting. For others, it’s a paralyzing fear they never overcome. Often it begins in childhood.

That’s why we’re so proud of Brad.

At a recent meeting of our Portage Chamber Toastmasters Club, Brad delivered a speech about his greatest fear. As a boy, Brad lived with a stammer which grew worse with nerves. The other kids teased him, and you can imagine how little that helped.

Brad’s an introvert who loves working with numbers. He’s gifted in figuring out investments and how to make money grow. He was a natural candidate to become a financial consultant for other people.

Except for the people part.

Brad admitted he’d always suffered a fear of talking to people, both one-on-one and in groups. Standing in front of a crowd to speak became his most dreaded nightmare. But Brad knew if he was going to prove successful in his career—and in life—he needed to conquer this fear. And the best way to overcome any fear is by doing the thing you fear. Preferably, with people who will cheer you on and help you grow.

Brad enrolled in a twelve-week Dale Carnegie course. The course gave him a new level of confidence and the courage to take the next step. That’s when he joined our club.

Toastmasters is all about giving its members opportunities to speak in a safe, supportive environment. It works! In the brief year we’ve been meeting, I’ve watched people who, at their first meeting, took a pass when called on to say their own name. The next week they were able to stand and introduce themselves. The following week they introduced themselves and answered the question of the day. And so on.

Brad was one of these. The day he commanded the lectern and spoke for six minutes about his journey was not only a triumph for Brad. It was a victory for all of us.

And he didn’t stammer once.

Was it perfect? No speech ever is. And that’s the beauty of it. Even the best speakers have room to improve, and we meet to help one another do exactly that. Brad earned himself the flaming pink flamingo that day, a fun and super-classy award given out at the end of each meeting to honour our “most improved” member.

Your Creator did not intend for you to live in fear (See II Timothy 1:7). He smiles when you conquer your fears and move toward becoming the person he designed you to be. If public speaking is a fear you’d love to conquer—or even if you’d simply like to become more polished in your presentations—I hope you’ll consider joining us at Toastmasters. Regardless where you’re at on your road to better public speaking, you’ll receive helpful evaluations, growth points, and encouragement. You’ll go home having laughed a lot, applauded a lot, and been applauded for. A lot.

Our group is business-focused, which means if your employer or a group to which you belong is a Portage Chamber member, you are welcome to join. We meet every Monday (except holidays) for one fast-paced hour starting at 11:45 a.m. in the board room of Community Futures Heartland – 11 2nd Street NE in Portage. You’re welcome to bring your lunch.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Keepsakes of Conflict

In my ongoing quest for details that might spark my next set-in-Manitoba historical novel, I took myself to the Ft. la Reine museum to see the exhibit currently on display. It’s called Keepsakes of Conflict: Trench Art and Other Canadian War-Related Craft. Trench art is any item made by soldiers, prisoners of war or civilians, using war material, provided they are associated with armed conflict or its consequences. This exhibition interprets the human aspect of war, and how conflict affects us mentally, emotionally, and physically. 

Those who’ve never lived through a war might wonder why on earth anyone would want souvenirs from the horrors of conflict. This exhibit sheds light on some of the possible reasons. Many of the objects, like napkin rings and letter openers, speak to a life of refinement. They represent hope that life will be good and decent and civilized once again. Shell casings and bullets used to create works of art also reveal a soldier’s need to share his experiences with others. The uncomfortable quality of these pieces reminds us of the sacrifices made. Creating a beautiful vase from an instrument of death points out our need for transformation on so many levels.

 During World War II, 34,000 German soldiers were housed in prison camps across Canada. Their guards purchased or traded with prisoners for their craft items such as carved wooden boxes, canes, picture frames, ships in bottles or light bulbs, drawings and cartoons. In contrast, Canadian soldiers held captive by German forces had no such resources for self-expression. They turned anything they might get their hands on into something necessary for survival.

 You’ve probably heard of craft therapy for victims of PTSD. This idea is not new, as many wounded veterans recovering in hospitals during and after the war created wicker work, embroidery, wooden furniture and toys, metalwork and the like. Creativity can help heal all kinds of trauma. Wounded soldiers were the first to hand-cut red poppies used to commemorate Remembrance Day.

 The shocking contrast of this artwork reveals much about human nature. We have never learned to get along, to rise above destroying one another. Yet, made in the image of our Creator, we also long for beauty, redemption, transformation, and healing.

 Did you ever wonder why Christians choose the cross, a gruesome device of torture and death, to wear as jewelry or decorate our homes and churches? The symbol remains significant in much the same way as the war art. When Jesus was nailed to a rugged Roman cross, he fought the most significant battle ever: the war for our souls. 

 The enemy thought the cross was his own greatest victory. Jesus turned it into Satan’s greatest defeat. Christ’s triumph came three days later when he conquered death, clearing the way for us to live lives of redemption and transformation. The cross becomes beautiful because of the great reversal Christ accomplished there.

 Keepsakes of Conflict will be at the Ft. la Reine Museum until November 15, so this weekend is your chance to see it. This time of year, the museum is open Friday through Sunday only, 11:00 am until 3:00 pm. While you’re there, you will want to tour the whole place, so go early. Regular adult tickets cost $10 but if you’re a student or over sixty, it’s only $8. Children five to twelve get in for $5 and under four get in free. If that all adds up to more than $25 for your family, you’ll want the daily family pass instead.

 Lest we forget.