Prov 17:22

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

Friday, August 27, 2021

A Sparrow Tale

Photo from Canva
Recently, I received a message from a friend who was in the middle of reading my newly released novel, Rose Among Thornes. She had just finished a scene in which a little sparrow plays a significant role and wanted me to know how much the passage touched her.

I remember writing that chapter, set in Hong Kong. Although I felt sure sparrows are universal little birds, I’m learning to not assume anything. When I did a little internet research to confirm whether China has sparrows, I found a lot more than I bargained for.

Have you heard of Chairman Mao Zedong’s plan called the “Great Leap Forward?” From 1958 to 1962, a public health project took place in China called the “Four Pests campaign.” Its goal was to eliminate rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows, thereby reducing many of the diseases running rampant through the human population. The first three pests carried disease, while sparrows were considered crop consumers.

The Chinese destroyed nests, broke eggs, and killed chicks, pushing the sparrow population to near extinction. They encouraged people to eradicate sparrows by any means—even banging pots and pans to prevent the birds from landing until they dropped dead from exhaustion. The government published posters illustrating the need for fly swatters, drums, gongs, and guns as tools in the fight for improved public health. Schools held competitions to see who could kill the most sparrows.

Worst plan ever.

While the disease rate did initially drop, making the campaign appear a success, China upset its ecological balance and created an even worse problem. Insects, now free of natural predators, quickly devoured crops. This led to a famine that killed millions. Chairman Mao replaced the sparrow target with bed bugs. Eventually, the Chinese government imported 250,000 sparrows from the Soviet Union to replenish their population. In a 2014 Discover Magazine article called Paved with Good Intentions: Mao Tse-Tung’s “Four Pests” Disaster, journalist Rebeca Kreston wrote, "A sinister truth had emerged: tamper with the unseen balancing beam of predators and prey at your peril or else nature will create a level playing field at your expense."

In other words, don’t mess with science.

The Bible says a lot about sparrows. In Matthew 10:29-31, Jesus asked his disciples, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father... So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

We used to sing an old chorus based on that passage. “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.” In a newer one simply called Sparrows, Jason Gray sings, “If he can hold the world, he can hold this moment. Not a field or flower escapes his notice. Even the sparrow knows he holds tomorrow.” The lesson seems obvious. God will take care of me and I need not fear.

A closer look at that scripture in context, however, reveals that Jesus is telling his disciples they can expect to be arrested, flogged, hated, and persecuted—but they should not feel afraid. He never said, “I won’t let a single sparrow fall.” Sparrows fall every day. Some pretty horrible things happened to those disciples. Some pretty horrible things happen to us, too—but never apart from God’s care.

Which means it all boils down to trust. Can you trust him to carry you through, no matter what? Do you believe nothing will happen to you that God, in his great wisdom and love, has not allowed?

Friday, August 20, 2021

Don't Miss Your Glory Moments

One Sunday morning with high temperatures in the forecast, I set out for my daily walk early to beat the heat. I caught myself thinking, “What a perfect morning. Too bad we need rain so desperately.” I felt guilty for enjoying the sunshine when I ought to be praying for rain.

Immediately, I felt what we believers call a “check in my spirit.” I could almost hear God saying, “Hold the phone. How does the fact that you need rain change the fact that this morning is beautiful? Are you seriously going to let this perceived lack rob you of the joy that can be yours right now, in this moment?”

I adjusted my attitude.

Not my feet. Photo by Canva.

Two more weeks went by without a drop of rain. Then, when it appeared some might actually fall, I declared I was going for a walk anyway, and if I got caught in the rain, big deal. When I got about as far from home as possible on my regular route, the sky opened. I became drenched in seconds, my finish line still fifteen minutes away. My runners squished with every step. I needed to keep wiping raindrops from my eyes, but I did not wipe the smile from my face. It felt glorious!

I’ve always admired people who could live in the moment. I’ve spent most of my life as a task-driven person who feels most satisfied when she’s checked off all the items on her to-do list, regardless of whether she even exchanged a word with another human all day. As a kid, I dreaded “group projects,” preferring to do my own, efficient thing.

That preference did not serve me or my team well while on staff at my church. I would far rather spend a morning creating a monthly schedule for volunteers than to take one of those volunteers out for coffee and hear about their life.

So I’ve been called efficient. Organized. Hard-working. None of that is bad, but how much better when the first descriptors in others’ minds are words like loving, encouraging, or good listener?

Covid restrictions have pointed this out to me in new ways. For the most part, isolation has suited me well. Now that I’m releasing another novel, however, I’ve come to realize how much more “efficient” it is to hold a big launch party in a public place where you can sell a hundred books in an hour and half— bada-bing-bada-boom, job done.

This time around, I’m selling them from home. It will take weeks to sell the same number—if I ever do. But after about the third customer, I began to realize a significant truth. Little, one-on-one visits were happening at my front door with folks I hadn’t seen in months, all of whom have been through tough times. Those conversations wouldn’t be possible at one of my typical, efficient, launch parties.

In her novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith wrote, “Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”

God is reminding me what’s truly important, what it’s all about. To value what He values. I pray I learn the lesson well.


Friday, August 13, 2021

Our Times, His Hands

The old joke “everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it” has lost its humor. Agreed? For years, we believed the weather was completely out of our hands. Historical and current weather phenomena are proving us at least partly wrong.

A 1930's dust storm
I recently read Kristin Hannah’s The Four Winds, a riveting novel set in the American Great Plains during the Great Depression. I remember my grandmother talking about “the dirty thirties,” but Manitoba’s experience paled in comparison to Hannah’s vivid descriptions of the terrifying dust storms and relentless heat of the Texas and Oklahoma pan handles. Hundreds of thousands of farmers migrated west out of desperation and starvation, only to become the unwanted destitute trying to survive in disease-infested squatters’ camps. When I try to imagine myself in the worn shoes of the main character, a young mother of remarkable strength, I am certain I’d come up sorely lacking in the grit and determination department.

Turns out those dirty thirties were largely a result of man-made mistakes. Farmers plowed and planted without regard for soil conservation or erosion prevention practices. When combined with a drought, results proved catastrophic. Once agronomists identified the problem, government stepped in to create educational and retroactive programs to help bring about the end of those preventable dust storms.

For years, environmental experts have been trying to tell us our disregard for the planet would deliver dire consequences, that global climate change is causing the weird weather across our planet. With the wildfires, floods, drought, grasshoppers, and heat all wreaking havoc, maybe we are finally listening and wondering whether it’s too late.

John Maxwell said, “People change when they hurt enough that they have to, learn enough that they want to, and receive enough that they are able to.” Learning and receiving won’t do much good until we hurt enough. Perhaps that time has come.

In May, I started a cover-to-cover sprint through the Bible, subjecting myself to endless records of violent wars and battles too gory to describe. Humans treating other humans in the most despicable and misogynistic manners, seemingly with God’s blessing. What a relief to reach the Psalms, although they, too, contain their share of despair.

It’s reminding me that none of the things we’re currently experiencing are particularly new. The Bible has much to say about injustice, pestilence, plagues, drought, and even wildfires. Look at some of the passages I’ve come across in this ancient book recently. Could they not be describing the daily news?

In Psalm 83:14 and 15, Asaph tells God what he should do with his enemies. “As fire consumes the forest or a flame sets the mountains ablaze, so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm.”

In 2 Chronicles 6:28, King Solomon’s prayer when he dedicated the temple included these words: “When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain … When famine or plague comes to the land, or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers, or when enemies besiege them in any of their cities, whatever disaster or disease may come…” Almost as though they expected it.

The ancients were no strangers to the troubles we’re experiencing, but perhaps they were a little better at knowing where to turn. “My times are in your hands,” David said to God in Psalm 31:15 when surrounded by trouble on every side.

Those ellipses I placed in Solomon’s speech represent more positive promises about what happens when God’s people turn to him, confessing their wrongdoing, requesting his help, and acknowledging that he alone understands the human heart.

Could the biggest reason this all feels so strange to us is because we’ve had life so good for so long? Could it be that, just maybe, God really does have the whole world in his hands?

Friday, August 6, 2021

What's Your Event?

If you know me, you know I’m no sports fan. I can’t tell a foul ball from a touchdown or a body check from a birdie. Yet somehow, I find myself glued to the Olympics for a couple of weeks every four years. Not that I understand the rules or how the scoring works. The other day I watched a judo match just because one of the athletes was a Canadian and contending for the bronze. To me, the two grownup competitors looked like a couple of toddlers going at each other. But, whatever. The Canadian won, so I cheered.

Speaking of toddlers, have you watched the skateboarding competition? I shudder while athletes as young as 13 perform extremely dangerous stunts. My mama heart kicks in. Who lets their babies do this? Why aren’t helmets mandatory?

I also watched the synchronized diving off the high platform with trembling heart. Eye-yi-yi. I can’t even fathom standing up there, let alone walking to the brink, then turning around to stand tippy-toe with my heels hanging over the edge. And yet, like witnessing a car accident, I can’t tear my eyes away from the scene.

I watched Maude Charron lift 131 kilograms over her head to win gold for Canada, then I shed tears when she stood on the podium as our anthem played. As if I had anything to do with anything. Athletic women intimidate me at the best of times, so I can only imagine how I’d act around one who could pick me up and toss me like the bag of chips I’m eating while I watch.

Of course, the “artsier” sports like gymnastics, synchronized swimming, or figure skating in winter are always my first pick. Which do you like best? If you could become an Olympic athlete, which sport would draw you? If you could create your own event, what would it be? I laughed the other day when a local radio DJ suggested “Red Rover.”

If my writing world had Olympics, these weekly blog posts would be the sprints. A novel would be a marathon. The research portion would be diving into a deep pool, while thinking about my story between writing sessions feels like weightlifting. Battling with procrastination, self-doubt, and lack of motivation compares to boxing, judo, and wrestling. 

Helping design a cover feels like artistic gymnastics. Developing the back cover copy is like a basketball game—lots of rim shots before the ball finally goes through the hoop. Getting the book to publication resembles a triathlon relay as it’s handed off to agents, editors, printers, and distributors and each runs their own leg of the race. The promotional and marketing efforts seem a bit like the same four advertisements CBC plays over and over between coverage—interesting at first, but soon everyone’s sick and tired of it. Negative reviews or low sales numbers will put me on the “also ran” list, while receiving the occasional award feels like standing on that podium—minus the national anthem and several million viewers.

Maybe I’m more of an athlete than I thought.

What’s YOUR non-sporty Olympic event?

“Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” (I Corinthians 9:24)