Sunday, December 09, 2018

Advent Week 2

The lighting of the candles in the Advent Wreath has been a long-standing tradition within many churches and homes. It began in the sixteenth century in Europe, yet it is less than 100 years old in North America. I did not experience it myself until recently, when I worked in a church which lit a candle on each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. This year I gave a wreath to my son and his wife, along with an adapted "advent practices" calendar for each day, and I set up a wreath in our own home for the first time.

The wreath's circle is a symbol of eternal life, and like the circle of a wedding band, reminds Christians of God's endless love and mercy. The evergreen leaves represent the hope of eternal life brought by Jesus Christ. The candles symbolize the light of God coming into the world through the birth of Jesus Christ. Various colours have been used for the candles throughout the centuries but each one represents four aspects of our faith to focus on in preparation for the second coming of Christ and also as a remembrance of his first coming as a baby.(1)

Week 1 candle represents hope, week 2 either faith or peace, week 3 is joy and week 4 is light.

As is the case with all symbols, they speak most loudly to remind us of God's promises of life when they are drawn directly out of our daily experience. Traditions and symbols are contemplative prompts which help refocus my mind and calm my heart. In this season, one is tempted to be swept away by the barrage of consumerism and excessive number of options for attending seasonally-themed events, programs and social gatherings.
Instead of becoming overwhelmed, I want to set aside time, using  prompts and symbols which return my focus to the One who is the Source of hope, faith, peace, joy, light and life.
Today I am reflecting on peace.
The second week of Advent we remember the gift of Peace we have in Christ. Peace is a gift that we must prepare for and work to preserve. God gives us the gift of peace when we turn to him in faith. 
Through John the Baptist and all the other prophets, God asks us to prepare the way of the Lord, whom the prophet Isaiah calls “the Prince of Peace.” As we light this candle today we look with hope for the day that Christ’s peace will reign in our hearts, in our homes, in our communities, and in our world. As we light this candle, we are reminded to work for that peace of Christ to come and take root in us. (2)

As we light the first candle for hope and today's candle for peace, we share with each other how we have experienced peace recently.

Loving God, we thank you for the gift of peace you give us through Jesus. Help us prepare our hearts for the Lord’s coming by working for Christ’s peace to take root in our family. We ask this in the name of the one born in Bethlehem, Jesus our Lord. (2)
Consider sharing your thoughts on peace today with your family members, and/or in the comments section. May peace be yours is great abundance today!

(1)  Geddes, Gordon; Griffiths, Jane (2002). Christian Belief and Practice. Heinemann. p. 97. 
(2)  Advent Week Prayers, downloadable PDF (adapted)
(3)  Other resources: Wikipedia and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Thursday, December 06, 2018

On Loan from God (Guest Poet)

My father was a poet, preacher, and songwriter. I came across one of his poems today that is quite timely after yesterday's blog post. It's intriguing to me to hear my father echoing words and feelings that I myself now experience. We are, after all, not so different, he and I. 

On Loan from God
Alternate Title: "Earth's Family Cycle"
by Frank P. Nickel

We take our infants in our arms.
No sacrifice, just joy!
And soon they take steps of their own –
our precious girls and boys.

They trust us so, and we in turn
don’t want to let them down
but we will fail, and they must learn
that God is God alone.

Reminded they’re just lent to us,
both for our joy and trust
and if we’d help them reach their goals,
show trust and hope we must.

Then comes the time to take hands off,
but heart-strings still hold fast;
and God keeps working, till one day
we’re satisfied, at last.

They find their niche in this wide world
by grace of God above,
and that is what it’s all about:
when they express God’s love.

Frank P. Nickel,
December 1980

(If you enjoyed this poem, feel free to browse the 200+ others at My Father's Poems.)

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos #8995377, standard license

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Anchors and Clear Sailing

In the life of a person, there are a very few anchors. For me, they are the relationships that keep one on an even keel, point to true north and keep us steady on toward wholeness and deep satisfaction. I am privileged to name mine as 1) Jesus 2) parents, 3) spouse, 4) child. From each, I have received unconditional love. My first anchor is the One who chose me from before the foundation of the world, loved me so completely he voluntarily gave his life to ransom mine, and now, by His Spirit, lives in me, to guide, sustain, provide, direct and complete.

When I am loved by those closest to me--my human anchors--those who love me best, I can more capably navigate the rest of life with its joy, trial, or trouble. This past weekend was one of those anchor-strengthening times and this blog entry is something of a journal entry. This unique weekend was one of those transcendent times that are hard to capture in words. Yet, I shall attempt to do so. Grab a cuppa something warm and read along if you like.

We had planned to possibly join my son and his wife on his birthday. As an only child, our family was small. When I was young, my very large family rarely ever celebrated birthdays in a personal or stupendous way. So, when he was young, we always made a big deal about birthdays. Now he is a mature young adult, it is only right and fitting that I share him. He is married, living close to his in-laws, and as a couple, they are quite socially active with their own circle of friends. I checked in with them about possible dates to come visit, and they'd already made plans for several close friends to come from out of town to spend his birthday weekend celebrating with him.

So we chose an alternative weekend when the Christkindlmarkt (German Christmas Market) was also going to be open in downtown Vancouver. Might as well include as much fun as possible with one trip. And much fun we did! We knew in advance, however, that there would be a third person with them: a dear young boy who had special needs. We'll call him "Joey" (not his real name). They had recently been approved by the government body who certifies relief care givers. They provide occasional care, keeping Joey the entire weekend, so that his foster home has a brief respite from his full time care.

My mother's heart was so enlarged by seeing my son and daughter-in-law's loving care for this sweet boy who'd been born with limitations he will never outgrow.  I was able to bear witness to how both of them patiently care for him, lovingly train him, and relate to him in healthy, life-giving ways. This was one of the most transcendent experiences of my life, defying definition. Gratitude and pride are mere shadows that barely approach the depth of emotion from our weekend together.

In these moments approaching holiness, I have learned to be silent. I used to be like the impulsive Apostle Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration, blurting out whatever comes to my head that "seems like a good idea at the time," but as I've aged, some wisdom has arrived that helps keep me humble (and closed mouthed) as an observer of the miraculous.

Please allow me to share some weekend highlights, and delights of all sorts. Rejoice with me. I record them because I want to remember.

Friday night we arrived after a full day of driving. The roads had been clear, with only a skiff of snow near the mountain pass. Driving through the mountains when the weather is good is such a gift and settles my soul every time. It is such mysterious, majestic beauty.

Upon our safe arrival, we checked into our favorite Best Western nearby, then went to my son's home. Joey was already in bed, so we visited quietly.

We had brought Andrew's birthday gift, a hockey jersey from his favorite team with the name of one of the rising young stars. He was delighted, as it had been on his wish list, which his wife kindly shared with us. Don't you just love giving your children gifts and witnessing their total delight?! And, of course, I also had to bring a gift for my grand-dog, Louise the Doodle. She enjoyed the tug of war rope I'd found for her. I also have begun an annual tradition of giving both him and his father-in-law a bottle of the annual release of Alberta's first local single malt whiskey. It's made using local grain, in small batches, at a certified farm distillery. It's a farm to glass operation, with some of their select batches coming from an old-fashioned harvest involving 4-horse-teams which pull a cutter/binder. This fall, Henry and I, along with a few dozen others, got to be "farmers for a day" and help stook the barley or assist later in threshing for a future batch.

Since the beginning of Advent was the next day, I had planned a special surprise for "my kids" -- even though they are adults, I suspect a part of us never outgrows our favorite childhood traditions. This is the first year I've made up a calendar on my own, rather than just buying a chocolate one. Our church held a fundraiser recently, sponsored by women from the sewing club. Proceeds go to our church camp, so I'm happy to support it by stocking up on stocking stuffers. One item I found there was this hand stitched advent calendar which can be re-used each year. I filled each pocket with two chocolates for both A & R. Gotta be fair!

(If you want to see more detail, you can click on any picture for a larger version.)

Then, I added individual notes in each day's pocket with a daily activity to help focus on faith. Each day the items rotate through either prayer, service, or a spiritual practice. The ideas and inspiration came from here. Since the prayer practices included lighting candles once per week, I also gave them an accompanying advent wreath and candles, so they can light them each Sunday to represent hope, peace, joy, love and (on Christmas Day) light. This is my first year doing this also, and I'm very excited to share the experience with them. It was fun picking out the candles and finally using the wreaths I'd purchased several years ago and saved for just the right time.

We finished our night with snacks and a couple quiet rounds of Azul, an award-winning board game which they had introduced us to on our previous visit. To my surprise, I managed to win both rounds. That's unusual, as I instilled a competitive spirit in my son and he's usually tops in most of our competitions.

Saturday we met for breakfast at Porters Bistro Coffee & Tea House, as is our favorite tradition. It's successfully managed by my son's in-laws, and no visit is complete without at least a couple breakfasts and an evening of scrumptious buffet dinner with live music in this heritage building built in the early 1900s. If you are the kind of person who likes to watch Hallmark Christmas Movies, you might see Porters featured in some of them.

Then we were off to walk Louise the Doodle. It was a lovely foggy day, with frost just clearing from the grass. The mist hung low over the school field as we made our way to the playground.

Then it was time for regularly scheduled therapeutic horseback riding for Joey. I can't share pictures of him, but let me try to describe it. The weather had turned into a wonderful sunny day which offset the chill in the air. We watched the ride, where Joey sits on the horse with someone walking alongside as a spotter and another person leading the horse. He did very well, sitting tall in the saddle, holding on by himself, and his smile gave testament to the joy of this experience.

Afterward, we all went to our hotel, had a quick bite of lunch and took a dip in the indoor pool, which we had all to ourselves. Joey loves the water, even the hot tub, which was very hot! I love being in the water, so this was a treat for me too!

Our evening was a repeat of the night before, but we brought in Vietnamese food for supper, and watched a hockey game, then just chilled with Louise the doodle, who is also learning some very valuable lessons as she now shares her master's attention with another person in the house.

Sunday morning started a bit earlier than usual, as we chose to attend services with A & R. Next, we explored the small, quaint, trendy town of Fort Langley, browsing the shops and discovering a new brunch place which made its own jams and sauces, and baked lovely pastries. They even had a lovely gluten free scone for me.

We picked up dried cranberries and cranberry tea from our favorite shop, and took a few photos by the artist's murals.

The nearby playground had another artist's installation that added a stunning, playful splash of colour to the day. Hanging from wires you can't hardly see, were several dozen open umbrellas. Aren't they fun?

After that it was well past time to go home and chill. Well, home to A & R's  place. Joey loves relaxing there and Louise was happy to see them and get her own walk and snuggles.

That afternoon, Henry and I took a drive into the city to spend a couple hours at the Vancouver Christmas Market. We headed across the bridge as the sun was setting, navigated the maze of big city streets and were pleased to find on street parking right in front of the market.

This is an annual tradition, a German-themed craft and food market for artisans of all sorts, set up around the Olympic torch on the Vancouver waterfront. A carousel greets you at the entrance, and in the centre is a very tall (2-3 story) revolving pyramid, and a very tall Christmas tree. For more details, go here.

We loved our time, sampled Gl├╝hwein, enjoyed bratwurst, and selected some Christmas gifts. The view at night over the waterfront and the seaplane harbour is delightful. Then we returned to A & R's place for a final visit and fond farewell.

The next morning, we met Andrew's in-laws for a lovely visit and breakfast at the Hilltop Diner, a long time fixture on the old Fraser highway between Langley and Aldergrove. That is also a joy-filled experience, sharing comfort food, life experiences, and parenting stories about our two children whom we love.

Our journey home was quiet and uneventful. Any time we drive the 11 hours between Langley and Calgary, especially in the winter, it can be a hair raising experience, but once again, the roads were clear, and we made the trip in Godspeed. I drove from Sorrento to Golden while Henry caught up on the sleep lost due to the one hour time difference and early mornings.

All in all, a joyful weekend and terrific start to the Advent season. Thank you for sailing along with me. I hope your season is filled with similar times of family joy.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Pilgrim Year: Advent

Advent is the 40 days leading up to Christmas. A season of attentive waiting and active preparation. Advent simply means to come, and we are waiting for the coming of the Christ. This takes its form both in reflecting once again on the first coming of Jesus as a baby and the anticipation of his second coming to gather his children home.

My start to observing advent this year is driven partly by my attentiveness to my One Word for 2018: "depth." It is the idea of intentionally seeking out more depth in my faith, in my relationships, in my life. To go beyond the familiar, the shallow, the easy, and to dig deeper into origins, values, history and meaning.

I began an advent reading on Monday, November 26, with a Kindle version of Waiting Here For You: An Advent Journey of Hope by Louie Giglio. It contains daily readings, scripture, meditation, and prayer which take you through this season of waiting. "It teaches that waiting is the means God often uses to carry his plans in our lives. It brings us back to the truth that our waiting is never wasted when we are waiting on God." It uncovers hope, peace and encouragement for your soul as anticipation leads toward celebration.

I am finding it both comforting and convicting. I commend it to you. The Kindle version is only $1.99 -- you can click the book title to order.

Another beautiful resource is Pilgrim Year: Advent. Steve Bell has written a series of booklets which follow the seasons of the Christian (liturgical) calendar year. It includes meditations, reflections, songs and poems. I just received my boxed set in the mail today and I am already delighted with the beginning writings on Advent. The first song lyrics have stopped me in my tracks:

Ready My Heart
Music and Lyric by Lois Shuford

Ready my heart for the birth of Immanuel
Ready my soul for the Prince of Peace
Heap the straw of my life
For His body to lie on
Light the candle of hope
Let the child come in

Alleluia, alleluia
Alleluia, Christ the Saviour is born 

Mine is the home that is poor and is barren
Mine is the stable of cold and stone
Break the light to each corner
Of doubt and of darkness
Now the Word is made flesh
For the birth of me

Think of it. Jesus comes: into our poor, barren parts; our stone cold "stables," where he will heap the straw of my life as his dwelling place. He lights hope in me, he brings his light into the darkness where doubt festers. He comes so I can truly live.

You can listen to Steve Bell's rendition of the song here.
You can purchase individual books or the boxed set here.

Photo 1: #26373653, standard license
Photo 2: Sourced online here
Photo 3: Sourced online here

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Grudge Has Met Its Match

Confession: I was about 30 years old when a friend did something that hurt me very deeply. She was one of those really nice people that everyone liked, always well-behaved and never stepped out of line.  It was a conversation she had with my husband when the three of us were together. I had no evidence that she intended to be rude or insensitive. There is no way she could have known that ignoring me during her brief banter with my husband had touched a very tender part of my heart and created a deep wound in an already vulnerable place.

I was generally confident in most things, talented, outspoken, opinionated. But our marriage was troubled. I was insecure about my relationship and this short conversation triggered fear. My husband admired her. A little too much, I thought. My imagination was a bit too vivid: I could be abandoned, rejected completely, as I had been completely ignored while the two of them chatted. A small wound began to bleed and I didn't address it, so it began a slow downward spiral towards a root of bitterness in my heart.

What she said was frivolous, a thoughtless, throwaway conversation. But it stuck like a fish hook in my mind, and I gave it meaning and import that it did not merit. The talons of suspicion and jealousy clawed deeply into the raw layer of "I am not enough." I nursed that wound. Dark thoughts began to creep in. From then on, I viewed every interaction with deep distrust. I saw twisted motives in everything she did. And the grudge grew.

Because you're not what I would have you be, 
I blind myself to who, in truth, you are.
~Madeleine L'Engle

I never talked to her about the perceived offence. There was a part of me that knew, deep inside, it really was my issue, my response, my pain, my fear but I didn't seriously sort through the emotions until years later. We were working on our marriage, but every interaction and observation with this person from then on was clouded by the firm (but flawed) conviction that she had the world handed to her on a silver platter and my husband was the next thing on her wish list. I believed this lie. I would ensure she never enjoyed our friendship again. If I could have, I would have tried to stop her getting anything good. It was a horrible place to be.

Holding a grudge against someone means 
you think you know what they deserve 
and you take it upon yourself to give it to them. 
~Dr. Timothy Keller

Instead of sitting with the pain and discovering what it triggered in me, I blindly blamed her. Blame allows me to deny my own responsibility for forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration. For years I distanced myself. For years I viewed everything she did with distain and contempt, not even giving her credit for genuine successes she attained in her life. When we had to be in the same room at the same time, I kept up the pretence of amiable acquaintance, but it was stiff and disingenuous. Bitterness ate me up inside.

Author, Serena Woods, writes about this kind of bitterness: "If everyone did everything right concerning you, you would have never learned what the pain taught you. Lessons are valuable and no price can be put on them. Bitterness shows that hanging on to the failures of others is more important than the lesson.

Bitterness shows that hanging on to the failures of others
is more important than the lesson. ~Serena Woods

This went on for many years. It's amazing the staying power of a grudge. I could still tell you the exact words of that conversation, but now, I've begun to let it go. In 2010, I started attending Freedom Session, knowing I needed Jesus' healing for this and many other issues. I learned my bitterness and pain were rooted in fear of abandonment, insignificance, displacement. I learned to stop blaming and to get out of denial. To stop believing the lies that I was "less than." I learned to take responsibility for my own attitudes, actions and behaviours. I learned to make amends. But even after taking the course twice, I still hadn't completely accomplished the "forgiveness" step.

Not for lack of trying! I confessed and wept before the Lord on multiple occasions over the last 30 years since The Incident. But it had a deep root I regularly tended, watered and fertilized before I began listening in obedience to the convicting power of the Holy Spirit.

"Forgive as I have forgiven you." (Matthew 6:12-15)

I thought I'd forgiven it, then from time to time it raised it's ugly head again. I'd have genuine, loving interactions with this person and then go home and the enemy would come in like a flood, suggesting nefarious intent of her part. It came like a roaring lion trying to devour me. I needed the armour of God!

But our gracious, good Father continues to wait, patiently, for the prodigal daughter to return. Over the past six years since I was widowed, by God's grace, I've begun to walk the path back to genuine, lasting forgiveness. I've sat with the pain, facing the stark reality of what unforgiveness has done to damage my relationships and my spirit.

The Holy Spirit gently points to what God has done in dealing with my sin. Can I do any less?
  • I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins. (Hebrews 8:12)
  • I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. (Isaiah 43:25)
  • As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)
  • Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean! (Micah 7:19)

There are those who may be given an extraordinary grace to forgive instantaneously. But in my case,  forgiveness has not been a "once and done" action. Over and over and over, every time those old feelings of bitterness begin to creep back in about that ancient offence, I must choose to say (sometimes out loud so my heart hears it twice), "I distinctly remember forgiving that." 

Now I need to release it.

Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, was reminded one day of a vicious deed that someone had done to her years before. But she acted as if she had never even heard of the incident. “Don’t you remember it?” her friend asked. “No,” came Barton’s reply, “I distinctly remember forgetting it.”

I love what Joanie Yoder writes in Our Daily Bread: “God doesn’t say He’ll forget our sins—He says He’ll remember them no more! His promise not to remember them ever again is stronger than saying He’ll forget them.” She goes on, "Because Christ died for all our sins (1 Cor. 15:3), God promises to forgive us and never bring up our sin again (Ps. 103:12)."

This is my prayer. To continuously forgive and to stop remembering. The grudge has met its match. I choose to let God throw it all into the un-remembered depths; into the sea of his forgiveness.

You too?

God, whose every way is perfect,
Said in justice and in grace
That our sins He’ll not remember,
And our fears He will erase.  

Photo 1 by Lina Trochez 
Photo 2 by Michael Olsen

Monday, November 26, 2018

A Psalm of Asaph, Chief Musician

Call on me in the day of trouble; 
I will deliver you, and you will honor me. 
Sacrifice thank offerings to God, 
fulfill your vows to the Most High
Those who sacrifice thank offerings honor me, 
and to the blameless I will show my salvation.

This is from Psalm 50, "A Psalm of Asaph." Who was Asaph?

King David appointed some of the Levites as musicians and ministers before the Lord. Asaph was the chief minister. Together with his brothers, they were to continually serve before the Ark of the Covenant to invoke, to thank, and to praise the Lord, the God of Israel. Asaph was a priest, musician, and poet; while others played the harp, lyre, and trumpet, his particular role was to sound the cymbals. (I Chronicles 16)

This beautiful song of Thanksgiving was appointed by David to be sung by Asaph and his brothers. It is a beautiful declaration we can sing before the Lord, to "ascribe the glory due his name" and keep our hope fixed on the one who is Lord of all:

David’s Song of Thanks

8 Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;

make known his deeds among the peoples!

9 Sing to him, sing praises to him;

tell of all his wondrous works!

10 Glory in his holy name;

let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!

11 Seek the Lord and his strength;

seek his presence continually!

12    Remember the wondrous works that he has done,

his miracles and the judgments he uttered,

13 O offspring of Israel his servant,

children of Jacob, his chosen ones!

14 He is the Lord our God;

his judgments are in all the earth.

15 Remember his covenant forever,

the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations,

16 the covenant that he made with Abraham,

his sworn promise to Isaac,

17 which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute,

to Israel as an everlasting covenant,

18 saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan,

as your portion for an inheritance.”

19 When you were few in number,

of little account, and sojourners in it,

20 wandering from nation to nation,

from one kingdom to another people,

21 he allowed no one to oppress them;

he rebuked kings on their account,

22 saying, “Touch not my anointed ones,

do my prophets no harm!”

23 Sing to the Lord, all the earth!

Tell of his salvation from day to day.

24 Declare his glory among the nations,

his marvelous works among all the peoples!

25 For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,

and he is to be feared above all gods.

26 For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,

but the Lord made the heavens.

27 Splendor and majesty are before him;

strength and joy are in his place.

28 Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,

ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!

29 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;

bring an offering and come before him!

Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;

30 tremble before him, all the earth;

yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.

31 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,

and let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”

32 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;

let the field exult, and everything in it!

33 Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy

before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.

34 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;

for his steadfast love endures forever!

35 Say also:

“Save us, O God of our salvation,

and gather and deliver us from among the nations,

that we may give thanks to your holy name

and glory in your praise.

36 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,

from everlasting to everlasting!”

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Fresh and New

It's a winter wonderland out there, people! The birds have already been at the suet, knocking snow off the rail but leaving the snow cap untouched.

Imagine pulling on boots, snow pants, parka and toque, to walk in the beauty. Feet crunch through the light crust on the blanket of unblemished white, crystalline sparkles dust your hair as you brush past the spruce tree.

The forest is quiet.

Birds hunker down in the moderate cold, deep in the branches away from the flat grey light, as if waiting for the sun to clear the high cloud cover. The air is crisp but not brittle, you can walk or ski or snowshoe to your heart's delight, and you feel like the only person alive who has been gifted with this peaceful morning.

What will you do next?