Prov 17:22

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

Archived Columns - December, 2010

Making a Heartfelt Difference

     The older I get, the more I strive to heed this advice: when something moves you emotionally, be it with tears, anger, or some unidentified but powerful feeling, pay attention. Particularly when it seems out of proportion to the or circumstance. If it seems unreasonable, there's a reason. (I am not referring here to those seemingly spontaneous, random acts of culture so popular these days, like in the T-mobile commercials. If those don't move you, get help. Now.)
     Seriously, have you found yourself experiencing a strong reaction, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, to some seemingly small thing? It may be triggering an ancient hurt or uncovering a scar that needs to be examined. Or it may simply be touching a place inside you that is the truest reflection of who you are, and of the unique passion God placed in your heart. Do not ignore those moments! Take a good look at them and consider what you can or should do with what your heart is saying.
     This happened to me recently while browsing a World Vision gift catalog. You know the kind. You've no doubt seen at least one version in your mailbox this time of year. Each page shows an item you can purchase for a needy child or family. It shows smiling and grateful people whose lives have been changed forever due to one small (for us) gift. Compared with other catalogs from which we create our own Christmas wish lists, these catalogs are humbling. They give us a fresh perspective and remind us how incredibly fortunate we are. If you're like me, you wish you could purchase everything—goats, dairy cows, medicine, mosquito nets, soccer balls, school supplies, and more.
     So I was thumbing through it, each page doing its job of tugging a little at my heartstrings. Then suddenly something jumped off the page. A lump formed in my throat and my eyes welled up so quickly, I couldn't read to the end of the ad copy.
     “Give the gift of education to a girl.”
     In many countries, young girls never have the chance to go to school and achieve their dreams. They do not learn to read or write. Simply because they are girls.
     I am a girl. I am not “well educated” by Canadian standards. But imagining life without the ability to read and write is something, ironically, I cannot put words to. I might as well be unable to breathe.
     When, a week later, I looked at the same ad and had the same reaction, it was obvious which gift I needed to purchase. How can I not, when this gift was granted to me so freely, affects my daily life so profoundly, and has been taken so for granted nearly my entire life?
     A friend of mine tells a beautiful story of how unglued he became when his family gave chickens to a third world family in his name. As a kid, he enjoyed raising chickens and learning about them from his dad. For him, this was the gift that moved him beyond words.
     Which item tugs at your heart? Don't ignore it. Make a real difference for someone this Christmas.
     That someone might even be you.

Heartbreak Hotel

     The room we were given was small and seemed less than pristine, but we were exhausted and thankful for a place to sleep. We’d just driven all the way from Manitoba to Ft. Worth, Texas to witness our son’s Aerodesign contest and university graduation, all on the same weekend. We checked into the official hotel of the competition.
     Next morning I found Jon examining red spots on himself.
     “We’ve got bugs” he announced. On the off chance he was not simply being paranoid, I sprang out of bed like Tigger on steroids. There were definitely some kind of teensy critters moving around on the sheets. Eee-eww. We avoided the bed as we got dressed and packed, then reported it to the front desk. No one else from our group had found their room thus occupied, and we still needed a bed for another night.
     “Tell you what,” the desk clerk said. “I’ll give you the Elvis suite for the same price as a regular room.”
     We weren’t sure what the Elvis suite might comprise, but “Movin’ on Up” was playing in my head as we took the elevator to the top floor, wondering what we’d find when we got there. Rhinestone-studded taps? Glowing Viva Las Vegas signs lighting up black velvet paintings on the walls? A bed shaped like a giant side burn?
     For starters, there was a star on the door.
     “Finally,” I thought. “Somebody recognizes my true status.”
     The door opened to a classy three room suite with a beautiful mantle over a bricked-in fireplace--no hunka-hunka burnin’ anything in there! A plaque on the wall informed us Elvis Presley had been a guest in the room in 1974. (A quick calculation assured me it was not the room in which he died.) Other famous guests were listed below... Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante, and others. (They have no doubt added my name to the plaque by now.) It was a lovely room with lots of amenities, plenty of space, and best of all, it was free of creepy-crawlies! We had a good rest.
     I couldn’t help but wonder how an establishment which can keep up other rooms, lobbies, and grounds so beautifully could be so lax with others. Was this some sort of “two-tiered” system where cleanliness can be afforded only by the rich and famous? Imagine the indignation of one of the privileged ones had he been assigned the run-down room with the bugs.
     The experience got me thinking of a certain inn in Bethlehem and a guest who turned out rather famous but did not turn up his nose at the humblest of accommodations. Can you imagine him saying “Excu-use Me! I don’t DO straw. Now where’s the Baby Dior blanket I ordered?”
     “Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what... He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life…” --Philippians 2:5-8 

Christmas in Texas is Christmas Still

     “This is just wrong,” I mumbled as I stepped out of the store’s festive holiday glitter and into the lukewarm humidity of East Texas in mid-December. The Chipmunks were chirping “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” over the speakers in the parking lot where evergreen trees were being sold by teenagers in yellow rain slickers. Live mistletoe could be purchased in small bunches for a quarter apiece, and I decided to splurge. It grows wild there, a parasitic plant clinging high atop trees some entrepreneurial soul had enough courage to climb.
     It was 1980 and my first Christmas away from home in Manitoba where Christmas looks, feels, and sounds like it’s supposed to: the sharp crunch of snow underfoot, little kids bundled into snowsuits like overstuffed teddy bears, and wisps of white frost clinging to mustaches. Jon was in university and we were expecting our first baby. With money tight, we’d agreed a trip home was not feasible, so we would create our own holiday memories instead. We’d found a little artificial tree for $3 at a garage sale and decorated it with one small strand of multicolored lights and a set of tiny wooden ornaments in red and gold. Now we’d have a brand new tradition not available back home – real mistletoe!
     But as Christmas day approached, I grew melancholy. Thoughts turned to my siblings gathering at home, the coats piling up on Grandma’s bed, the homemade cabbage rolls and perogies being consumed, and the wild pandemonium of nieces and nephews tearing into their gifts. They’d be enjoying it all while we sat in our dreary apartment with our Charlie Brown tree, exchanging practical gifts like socks and pencils. Though longing to set up a nursery, my nesting instinct was trumped by our empty bank account. I yearned for a little snow. Surely all of this was rationale for a pity party, and I zealously indulged.
     Then, as Jon read aloud the familiar words from Luke 2, I looked down at my round tummy and thought of our coming child. I felt him move and found myself identifying with Mary. She, too, was far from the familiar faces of home. Truth be told, the climate in Mary’s homeland of Israel was far more comparable to Texas than what felt like “proper Christmas weather” to me. The stable where she gave birth was anything but cozy and inviting. Not only was there no nursery for her to decorate, there was barely a roof over her head! Yet her humble obedience resulted in the greatest gift ever given—the birth of Messiah. I’d been making it all about my own traditions and memories. Perhaps it was time to make it about the one whose arrival we were celebrating, wherever we found ourselves and whatever the circumstances.
     Let every heart prepare him room.


     I have a hero.
     My hero launched the greatest campaign in the history of the world to rescue me. He conceived the most daring of plans. Under cover of night, he stole into his adversary's camp incognito, a daring raid into enemy territory. Not everyone knows the story, so I am taking the liberty of sharing it here with the hope you will share it with your children and grandchildren, lest they remain unenlightened about what it is we celebrate this weekend.
     A very long time ago, in a place far from here, a woman named Mary and a man named Joseph were traveling to a place called Bethlehem. They didn't have cars then, so they had to walk or maybe ride a donkey and it was a long journey. Besides all that, Mary was going to have a baby soon. When they got to Bethlehem, the town was so full of visitors there was no place for them to stay! They ended up in a barn and that is where they were when their baby was born. It was a dirty, smelly place to have a baby, but they did the best they could. They knew this was no ordinary baby. An angel had told Mary her child was the son of God and would grow up to become the Saviour of the world! This was a gift her people had been anticipating with joy for a long, long time.
     After the baby was born, some farmers came to visit them and told Mary and Joseph the most amazing story. “We were camping out in the pasture with our sheep,” they said, “when the brightest light you ever saw lit up the sky! We were terrified! But then we heard an angel tell us not to be afraid. He was there to tell us a savior had just been born in Bethlehem, and this joyful event was meant for everybody, worldwide. He told us we could find the baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.
     Then the angel was joined by thousands, maybe millions, of angels! It was incredible! They sang the most beautiful song you've ever heard - 'Glory to God in the heavenly heights; Peace to all men and women on earth!'
     So we ran here as fast as we could, to see what the angel was talking about, and now that we've seen him for ourselves, we will tell everyone we meet!”
     Mary and Joseph named their son “Jesus,” the name an angel gave them before he was born. They took Jesus to the temple when he was 7 days old, and a very old man named Simeon took one look at the baby and said, “God, with my own eyes I have seen your salvation; a God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, and of glory for your people Israel.”
     Many more astounding things happened in Jesus' life after that, but the event that truly makes him my hero is a story for another day. Easter is coming.
     Merry Christmas!