Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Grandmother Clock and the Challenges of Passing Time

My Grandmother Mantle Clock
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, was a most familiar sound in our family home growing up. There was what we called the old "grandmother's clock", that sat on a shelf in our home that was lovingly and methodically wound every day. On the hour it would gong out its reminder of the time and by 12 noon or at midnight, the loud resounding of its voice carried throughout the house a noisy reminder that another cycle of time was about to begin. If it was daylight outside, then it was mealtime, and if nighttime cloaked us in veil of darkness, then it was the beginning of a new day. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock; its rhythm, a steady beat like the beating of our hearts.

Time has a way of just forging on. It has no motivation or need to stop... it just happens. I remember after my grandfather died there was some discussion about whether the old clock would continue to be wound. After all, it was a rather noisy, loud reminder of the hour, and as more modern versions of time pieces began to be used, the loud ticking of that old clock seemed less inviting. A new slender clock, now owned by my brother, had a sweeter voice that chimed out the hours and it had a sleek, smooth, curved look and soon became the main time piece in the home. The old grandmother clock had its place, but its gonging hourly voice sounded, as the chime section of the clock was no longer wound.

Time did not stand still, though the gong on my favourite clock stopped. It ticked on for many years more and surviving a move to another home, still ticked for decades following that. It has a place in my heart, but no honoured place in my home… the ticking has now stopped as well. But time still marches on, while the clock remains in storage for future use soon at out cottage, as a centerpiece, evoking memories for me and perhaps conversation for others. Once we are able to spend more time there, as life settles into a more controlled cycle for us retirees, it will be set on our fireplace mantle and be wound once again... perhaps not the chimes, but the time section for sure.

Advancing years brought many changes. An old friend said just last night, "Who would have thought that a certain item would show up on Facebook, much less on a cell phone?" It seems that each year new innovations, along with advances in technologies, change our lives. Along with those changes come other things less desired, and are often debated as we watch society's mores or accepted standards and customs change, and not always for the better. My Dad used to say that he didn't mind change, but just don't do any of it until after he was dead. That seemed so strangely odd and bordering on the ridiculous 40 years ago, but has a familiar ring to it now, as I hear my inner thoughts evaluating change and wishing that it would slow down, so that we would at least have time to acclimatize to what is here before us now. But time marches on and we have to negotiate our way through the changes, and adapt the best we can in the time allotted.

In the study of human history it was always said that a civilization's existence is very cyclical in nature. The advancement of understanding leads to technology, technology to stability, stability to affluence, affluence to indulgence and indulgence most often to downfall. Great civilizations of the past have fallen, not because of technology, but because they rotted from the inside out. Affluence, indulgence, greed, pride and most of all jealousy paired with moral decay, lead them all to depletion and then defeat. It has its parallel in our lives as we age.

It is perhaps this path leading from understanding to downfall that has created the most fear for us as we begin to age. I know my sons-in-law watch the news daily for changes in the stock market. It is important for them as they are in the commodity business and need to know how both common local and foreign markets are doing and how that will reflect on the sale of their goods worldwide. Each day can bring alarming news and though we panic by nature, we also have to pause and remember that the very fibre of humanity, this cycle of movement and change, is as continuous as the tides of the ocean or the sun's rise and then its setting in the evening... time changes everything.

Just as the twelve gongs of the old grandmother clock on the mantle marked out either the noon day hour or the beginning of an altogether new day , the end of each December marks the passing of the old year, and the beginning of the new. We review the past 12 months and reflect on the good and the bad. We want reminders of all that was fun, exciting and would rather put behind us those that were challenging to the point of exhausting or that lead to disappointment and grief. People spend time making resolutions about how life will change for the better... better dietary choices, better body and mind choices, more time to relax and enjoy friends and family and perhaps for some some lifestyle choices about retirement and travel.

We are a people of plans made, but with purpose often left unidentified. As a child we made plans for the future. Each passing day a new focus took up our interest and we moved from plan to plan, based on the whims of availability and the interests of others. It is often never truly clear when we settled on "the" plan. According to stats over the past decade, people will change jobs more and more in years to come. For instance it was calculated that my generation would average at least 3 job changes in our lifetimes. I am not sure if that included what we do in retirement or not. We can see the fluidity of movement and how both need and interest changes and how we react to both. For some it is a forced change, for others it is a personal decision to seek something fresh and perhaps more challenging or with greater benefit for self and family.

Today the process of New Years resolution making, along with the process of the already guaranteed move towards its failure, will begin. I have never made a new year's resolution. I have decided to make some changes, through the years, when time and situation gave opportunity, but I was never one to strive to suddenly feel that change would take place just because a new year was beginning. Each year, as it begins, has its element of potential for our lives. My concern is for this time to be a reflection, more of a processing of where I went astray or how things may have been approached differently, to make life more loving, memorable or perhaps more tenable for us as a couple, or even as a family unit, distributed about the province.

Change is sometimes necessary, but how do we identify who "we" are and our "purpose" in life; that being function, role or what may become our usefulness to society. I think sometimes about Moses in the Old Testament. He must have wondered many times about his purpose, as he moved from positions of leadership of men to herds of goats and sheep and back to his fellow man again. His struggle in both judgement and paticence, along with a few other human frailties, led him along an uncertain path over a span of a long and tenuous lifetime. Purpose as we see it in Moses, seems to be based on both need and circumstance. It is that way for most of us today? Are we certain of who we are based on what we do daily? After all what we are doing now, here in 2016, may be altogether different in a year’s time. Does that change our identity and is our identity based on purpose?

Another question worth examining as we enter the New Year is, does our identity or purpose need to alway align with society's expectations of us? That may be a more personal question that may take some time and personal wrestling, to find an answer to. In my life I have played in that sandbox and I found little joy and much sadness experienced in exhaustion trying to fit into the world's view of my identity that changed with entoy into the different factes of my work. We can become overwhelmed by the energy it takes to meet the world's expectations and I am finding that I must refocus every day and find my center, my identity, my purpose, based on the needs that I find as I awake and begin to interact with the world that God has given me. Purpose is not as static as it was once thought to, it is a never ending chain of circumstance, environment and availability that cycle along with time and our willingness, or ability, to react in a positive manner. God uses us like he did Moses, perhaps not to lead whole peoples or nations, but to do our part with a resolve to accomplish what can be done, not limited by our skill set, but only by God's amazing grace.

Well... my ramblings will not change the world and likely will not even change your perspective on what New Years means today, tomorrow or years in the future. I have found that even my own children will only occasionally take time to read my "stuff ". When asked if they have done so they most often hesitate and so perhaps maybe even never have, in some cases. People ask if I write to remember or if it is a journal so that my children will have memories recorded for them in years to come, but that was never the case, not really. It may have some importance to them later, but busy lives dictate for them their own focus and we become for our children and grandchildren a reality of necessity more than need at some point in time. Necessity being what becomes their due diligence to family ties. I don't write for anyone in particular, I write because I want to share my thoughts, to scribe some memories that perhaps will touch a life, spur a thought or consideration not pondered before, but mostly just to give peace to my inner being from time to time. Only those who are writers, teachers or who those have had opportunity to create will know how it all works. An artist has to put brush to canvas, a sculpture must mould and shape the medium to create what is held there ready to come forth and a musician must hear the music and be carried by its rhythm to accomplish the depths of its influence.

That is how we are created. Each of us is to be individually important to God's purpose. The key is not so much the importance today to make or propose a resolution, but more importantly in my mind, to find a solution. That solution is most often keyed to what the circumstances of your life are; its flow and ebb, its trials and tribulations and its moments of challenge and lack of continuity of joy. We do our best to mask it all don't we? We diet, exercise, join clubs, travel, work and resolve to be a better "me"! But underlying much of the business and activity is a deep sense of mortality, the speeding of time that has gotten away from us and change that though inevitable, is scary and a constant challenge and bane to our existence. Today perhaps, the solution is something different. Maybe looking first upward and then inward would be more rewarding. I would have said outward, but that can be too exhausting for most of us with the conditions of the world in such an array of unrest and discord.

Start with upward... away from self and consider why we are here in the first place and what it is all about. For some, the precepts of God are not such a challenge… for others, they are mere childhood memories and details of myth and story time. But God is who He is... that will never change no matter the dialogue, debate or scientific argument. Then, looking inward, see if there is a void that has needs, such as unmet joys left behind. Perhaps for you today there is a necessity to just release the past and embrace a less complex design; one based on love of self, as God has made you. But it must be tempered with a love for others, so that together the two loves will shape and form a more acceptable identity of "self", in the image of who you are, not who others would expect you to be. This will be a trip to the edge once again. There may be no need for urgency, but nevertheless we never know. Who we are today and how we prepare for tomorrow is an exercise in preparedness for any daily approach to life.

Are you ready for 2016? I am! I am armed with a confidence that God is with me, His grace is supporting me and no matter the circumstances of the coming year... I will give Him the glory for helping me get up each day, no matter the physical pain of body or just life’s challenges being faced. I have a wife, who is my helpmate, and she is my “sweetheart” who loves me, along with a family that cares... added to that are the friends who pray for me and my family, each day. What more could I ask, I am surrounded with blessings galore. Well there may be one more thing I might request... only this... that people might love one another, putting away all that is folly, and embrace God's design for His creation that peace might reign supreme. May God richly bless you all as 2015 passes into 2016. Stay safe and make the right choices... the wrong ones affect not only you, but those whom you love as well. I continue to pray for you on into 2016!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Anticlimax of Christmas

Growing up in rural Nova Scotia was never without surprises. I have mentioned various gifts that made a difference in my life as a small child and how they impacted on my life with active memories. These days, as an aging and retired adult, I see things a bit differently than I did, say 50 years ago. Christmas is not so much about what I receive, as it is about the family time together and the joys of sharing, caring and fellowship. Our family now gathers in a group on Christmas day and as much as is possible takes time to share the exchange of gifts, the laughs of interacting with all the grandchildren, along with some catching up on the news.

This year has been much of the same, but for one slight difference. In my time spent puttering after a hard winter, I was able to finish the exterior of that workshop that my wife and I wanted built to house all the machinery that I had collected down through the years. Most of it is not new equipment, yet is workable and there are some newer acquisitions. I did quite a bit of research over the past winter and found a lot of interesting items. I also carried the reminder of those special items that I had to produce, to even the score of who got what, with those newest grandsons, who as yet had not been gifted anything that Grandpa had made by hand. So without too much persuasion, I began in early fall to make plans, collect wood and start models and full sized mock-ups of some of the pieces that were on my mind.

I have discovered that not every plan has the same outcome. I found that after a rather long hiatus away from my woodworking, I had begun to lose confidence in my skill; well maybe more my ability to undertake too large a project, that may have some complexities to overcome. So I started small. I had been thinking about things for gifts for our daughters, along with the requirements noted for those new grandsons awaiting Grandpas handiwork. It seemed to me that cottage life, combined with wood stoves and the rustic atmosphere of off the grid summers, afforded me quite a few avenues of creativity. The questions always arises though, “What would they like and would what I make for them find a viable use at the camp or cottage. It is much easier to have subtle suggestion, than to sit and ponder the likelihood of misjudging the value of my taste, or a whim of curious design, for a planned object. But, then the surprise of an interesting object or two that may carry with them memories of a Dad or Grandpa though the years that follow, can’t be all that bad. So this year that is what I did, I forged ahead. After I did a few practice runs at some easy projects, and tried some of the old skill sets on some scrap wood, I offered my projects up to my wife’s scrutiny…. And they passed.

But the quiet reminder of those specialty requirements and requests began to haunt me. Not having the confidence that I had 20 years ago, to undertake a new project just on a hunch or hand-drawn sketch, I felt that I needed more of a well-planned blueprint to keep me focused. The further I went in my crafting, the more confidence I found, the less I felt that shop drawings were necessary. In my earlier years I had watched a program on one of the TV educational channels, where a skilled carpenter used a story-board for keeping track of projects. It was merely a stick (narrow board) with lines and measurements, denoting the various transitions and placement of the elements being combined in the piece or project. I went with that method and then by trial and error, I soon accomplished what I needed to move from the story-board to the working pieces.

So by this time, you are likely asking if I got all the projects done. Well, surprisingly yes I did, along with some other orders from individuals for specialty projects for Christmas gifts and decorations for their homes. My wife seemed pleased with everything, and after some struggles near the end with fine tuning a couple of the projects at the last minute, we were ready for delivery and the joy of watching the faces of the recipients. Those youngest grandsons loved the box that one of their gifts, that happened to be a purchased piece, came wrapped in. That has been the standard reaction of most children down through the ages… a cardboard box and children… there is the fascination of imagery that suddenly transforms a box into a fortress or hideout.  But boxes come and go. The value of a piece of furniture, or an item with its own worth and versatility, soon out shadows a mere box. Or… perhaps the box is soon discarded by eager parents wanting their child to focus more on what was in the box, rather than the box itself.

The wrappings all finally came off and sum of the work was viewed. Some comments were made and the surprise of having Dad or Grandpa think of such an interesting gift soon changed into chats, laughter and the sharing of common meals together, as we gathered Christmas morning. I had one more surprise left for my boys (my son and two son-in-laws). I had wanted to make this Christmas an especially happy one for the immediate family. After long thought and planning I made 4 rather strange gifts that I felt may have somewhat of a different impact on the atmosphere Christmas day. It gave me concern, but not enough to change my plan. As the family finally all gathered, I told the boys I had something special that I had been working on. So I brought out some small spongy packages and allowed them to open them. Well, there were some odd looks, and a few smiles as speculation took over from curiosity. I had to complete their gifs, I told them, so off I went off to retrieved the second part of the surprise. I then asked them to open the gifts so that the others couldn’t see, but the grandchildren's peeking soon saw what was being opened, and a food fight soon broke out.

Now I know that there may be some who by this time may feel that this was over the edge…. Well, this blog is about living near the edge after all. Here’s the deal. The second part of the gift that each received was a marshmallow crossbow. Yes… you read correctly…. They were marshmallow crossbows. They were made of birch and teak… too exotic you say?… no… they were worth the work and sacrifice for my boys and their wives. So began a food fight that lasted through the day and had adults chasing each other around the house pinging one another and their children with marshmallows, while the feast of eaten ammunition soon made the availability of the miniature marshmallows, that we had supplied as part of their gift, a scarcity. So out came a new supply and after a couple of hours in the second round, a cheer went up from my son and youngest daughter, “This is the best Christmas ever!” I could feel the tears edging to the surface, but I forced them back to protect the joy of the moment.

Can Christmas have an element of anticlimax? Yes it sure can… but not this year… not for me anyway. More than anything I wanted smiles, laughter and fun to be the most important element beyond the true meaning and importance of Christmas, found in our Bible reading and stories. My joy now finds those moments of making and remaking, testing, fine-tuning all worthwhile, even though there were moments of frustration and fear that I may not get the crossbows completed before Christmas. The anxiety over what the parents might think of marshmallows being catapulted around their home melted away with the ring of laughter and sibling playtime, once again being the most important thing for the moment, beyond those gnawing concerns that have haunted us this year.

Ben wants to take his on the fishing boat with him… April wants to take her husband’s to school with her and surprise her boss, the principal, with a marshmallow attack. Of course this means the certainty of one thing. Dad now has to make more marshmallow crossbows for the spouses and the tradition of the great marshmallow fight will be on each year as we gather. Of course that can never be guarenteed to happen yearly. But it was such a joy to hear them say how much fun it generated for them, and how excited they were to think about being able to do it more often. More ammunition has been acquired, but it stilll remains to be seen if there is another “major” outbreak like that of Christmas day, until all the siblings have opportunity to gather together again. Will it matter?… not at all. The important part was the spontaneity that erupted from that first marshmallow fired and the ensuing fun it created .

What brought joy to the moments on your Christmas day? The answers may be as varied as they are many. It might be as simple as silent reflection and peace, or the boisterous jostling of grandchildren’s excitement with each new gift opened, along with the looks of pure joy and pleasure they gave as they hugged you showing their personal gratitude. Christmas has its own journey to the edge. We go there with both expectation and wonder. We go there to seek both solace and assurance. We want only the satisfaction that the work to get us there was worth it. But most of all is the calm personal awareness of a resolve to celebrate anew each year what God gave us as  a celebration event; a reminder of what the greatest gift of all was, and should remain to be, for all mankind.

This morning my daughter snuck down the hall with her husband’s crossbow in hand, to start the day with a burst of laughter and my heart sings with the joy of accomplishing what I set out to do. Ben is shooting his boat buddies and a grandson is likely in stealth mode awaiting the opportunity to turn his Dad’s weapon against him in a sneak attack. The edge for me this Christmas has not been so daunting. It has been a hill of preparation worth climbing, and you may ask if I will go back home with an anticlimactic attitude. No… not this year. For me, it is found in the near parallel sentiment echoed from my son and daughter; “This may have been just about the best Christmas ever!”

I pray that you found as much joy as I did. If not, and this Christmas has been a struggle, I will take time to pray for you. I don’t need to know the details… I am going to pray, and have been doing so daily. I know from past years how much pain there remains for some who cannot find the joy in Christmas that perhaps they once had known.  Lord I pray: Touch the hearts of those who are still searching for that peace that eludes, through the darkness of disappointment and pain, that there may be a lightening of those burdens and knowledge of release. Bring joy to hearts that call upon You O Lord, and the miracle of blessing where belief has its only foundation in evidence shown.  Amen

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

Well, it is hard to believe how the time has flown. It seem just like yesterday that the family gathered around on Christmas Eve and read the story from Luke Chapter 2 about the birth of the Christ Child, Jesus… the reason for the season. … The true meaning of Christmas. I wish I could say that it was a tradition brought forward from my youth and then passed down to our children, and on to their children, but it was not.  I am at least a 3rd generation Christian. My Granddad was a deacon, highly respected I understand, and my father followed him as a deacon, and yet I cannot remember the reading of the Christmas Story in our home with them more than perhaps just a few times, or later after my grandparent’s deaths, with just my parents remaining.

I remember we had our own tree and Grammy and Granddad had one as well… a much smaller version, which I couldn’t understand at the time.  But, now older and much wiser, (Ya.. you all believe that one right?) I can see that it made Christmas, for them, a quieter more personal time together. They would always join us during the day as we ate Christmas dinner together, but they wanted that space, their time to reflect I believe, on their greater circle of family and friends… a very meaningful time for them.

Granddad always said grace. It was special to us who gathered around that table. It was not long, it was to the point, but meaningful. As we say in our family today, and I have heard a great many times, “Keep it short the food is getting cold Dad”. I was glad when I stopped being the token Pastor at gatherings and was finally just Dad or Edwin in those extended social gatherings. It is hard to imagine the joy I felt when my oldest daughter finally one day chimed in with the words, “Ok everybody I am going to ask the blessing… so QUIET!” Nowadays, during the more intimate gatherings ,our grandchildren take turns asking the blessing for the food and it is amazing how they will add further concerns or blessings to the grace. Perhaps some of the faith of the fathers and mothers has had a positive influence, now deeply engrained in them, I pray.

We’ve all gotten some level of  special Christmas gifts I am sure. Do you recount some special thing that you had hoped for and then received through your youth? One or two things have been highlights that are first on my list of memories from Christmas past. We wanted a wagon. Back then a wagon meant many things. It was a mode of transport when we were towed around by parents who found it hard to be carrying two boys while on walks. It was also a vehicle to coast down the hills on wild rides, and sometimes landing upside down in briar patches or in the brook at the bottom of the path leading to the road, until we were big enough to gain better control. But it meant work too… a load of wood piled too high so we might make fewer trips between the wood pile and the house when it was time to fill the wood box.

My adventurous spirit cried out for a sword. A fish vendor came by every week. A great friend of the family and to me, as it turned out. He gave me smoked haddock on the sly, to eat raw, when he came, and I am positive he never charged Mom for an ounce of it through the years that he visited our home. He was an older gentleman and we missed him when her retired, but he had one last gift to bring via a secret request made by my Mom.  I had been asking for this sword that I mentioned, and he brought me several swordfish swords. My Dad would patiently put them in the brook or an ant’s nest as prescribed by Scotty (our fish vendor’s nickname… his last name was Scott) but none of them turned out to be fit for making a sword.

One Christmas I opened a very special gift…. It was a sword. Scotty had gotten a wonderful man, who lived on Reed’s Hill in our town to make a sword for me. He was a native and had made wonderful hand-carved swords, and because he knew our family (likely friends with my Granddad or my Dad and our Scotty), he made me the sword for almost nothing. That sword, worth much money today ( for a mere 5 dollars back then), became a much loved possession that I have kept down through the years. I hope one day that one of my children, or grandchildren, will want it to be part of their prized possessions, along with some of the things I have made and given them. Heirlooms are not as popular perhaps these days, but I can dream that some of those things will be passed on to caring recipients.

But it is not about the stuff. It is about the meaning, and our home was filled with meaning. There had to be choices made and it was always without threat, when it came to faith and religious dedication to ongoing worship and celebration in the Faith. When others stayed home on days when Christmas landed on Sunday, to open gifts and play with toys, we opened gifts and then went to Church to celebrate the greatest gift of all …. The birth of Jesus. “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Found in Isaiah 9:6) It was not a burden; it was enlightenment that one day became a way of life, a meaningful extension of who we would become as modern shepherds, and wise men, women and children, who would seek out the Christ Child each year. Oh it may have had its moments at first, when disappointment found our hearts, having to leave those gifts behind, but that did not last for long.

These past 40 plus years of married life have brought changes, once we had a family of our own. Yes there were the disappointments that families face. The Christmas after we lost our first son (he would be 41now) was hard for me and likely was even harder for my wonderful wife, but we knew that God would provide and He did. A year later a new joy found us with our first daughter beside the Christmas tree and through the ensuing years another daughter and then another son followed. Christmas became so much fun and along with the joy of gathering, we started reading the Christmas Story on Christmas Eve, and we set forth new traditions. Some years, while living away, we traveled hours to get home to spend time with our parents, so that they could share Christmas with the grandchildren who they got to see only a few times a year. These were important family times, filled with opportunity to record the smiles, the excitement, and the joys of just time to chat. We rehearsed the past and watched children who had a whole lifetime ahead of them dream of every adventure possible, that evolved from those gifts unwrapped and scattered before them on Christmas morning.

Now we watch our children and grandchildren lead the way in celebration as they ring forth His praises, “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and goodwill toward men”, in word, pageantry and song. One day perhaps, one of them or maybe even a few of them, will be thinking back over the years and remember their Granddad’s long ,and hopefully meaningful prayers with them at Christmas, regardless of the worry over the food growing cold, and record for the next generations their thoughts about the joys of Christmas. May they carry those memories forward and show their children and grandchildren the true Reason for the Season, while remembering some of the ghosts of their own Christmas’ past.

It is a journey not everyone who reads today will want to take or enjoy taking, I am sure. There may be those of you who will not have fond and lasting memories of Christmas in your childhood or even as adults in family together. Many the times there have been, when I had to pray for families who were spending Christmas in fear, unrest and anger, as discord was the environment in the home. The answer is not in the stresses of affording, wrapping and giving, it is in the time spent together and it is what we do with that time that counts. Yes, too spend a lot of time preparing, making things to give my family, because I have the time.  I can do the work myself and it becomes an extension of the love found in gifts that I can both afford to give and without expectation, give freely just for the joy of doing so. But, most of all, it has become that teary moment, when seeing one of our grandchildren sitting on their father’s knee reading “The Story” from Luke 2 while their Dad helps he or she with the difficult words… a moment this grandparent will never forget, a memory cherished for a lifetime.

What will your Christmas bring to you this year? I pray there will be more to it than the stress of preparations being made and a mad rush of gifts being pulled open on Christmas morning. There is too much suffering from the syndrome of anticlimactic disappointment, as people wonder where it all went and ask themselves, “is all that energy I expended getting ready really worth the effort? “I have been there, so don’t beat yourself up. My journey into frustration with Christmas lasted several years while our children were in their teens and following. Children must make their way out of the nest, and in doing so have to leave us behind temporarily. Those years were lonely and I withdrew somewhat wanting to find a solace, in the comfort that Christmas still had a meaning beyond our children and gifts… a reinvestment you might say, in the true meaning of Christmas. If you are there today and frustrated… take time to consider why and who we celebrate, and try to realign your perspective more towards what may have been left behind.  At this point walk away from the edge…. Yes, you read it correctly dear friends… away from the edge, and go back to the core of what Christmas is really about. This is not the time for just the fringe benefits of Christmas… you and I need the core, the central blessing of the Season…. “But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

I continue to pray for all who need help and ask. I pray for my dear family today, as we have lost another of our loved ones. Christmas will be a more reserved celebration as a husband, a sister and nieces and nephews recall a life that was precious, now gone from their presence. But the Prince of Peace still reigns and He said, “"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. You heard that I said to you,  I go away, and I will come to you. If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.” (John 14:27-28) This is the child, become a servant on our behalf, whose birth we celebrate… He brings the peace we seek… Seek Him this Christmas! Sometimes the perspective from there brings unexpected joy! Be blessed in Christ as you celebrate this weekend, remembering Jesus’ birth…. Amen!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Ell Chambers and Glory-Hole Boxes

 It is a rainy day here in Southwest Novi. The dark sky and lingering fog makes it hard to get up the energy to motivate myself, but I have craft orders to finish and so when all is said and done, that will get me going at some point. These dark days are hard on my well balanced temperament… Ya… you all believe that. It just reminds me of the weight of the world and sunny days are more my style. What better time to pound a few keys and ruminate … ok chew over… some of the memories that have been popping up over the past weeks in the shop. For you newbies to my rants, that is my woodworking shop in the back yard that my son Benjamin built for me a couple of years ago. I was down in the basement/cellar the other day, looking for more tools packed away after the last move (home) and ran across some of the items from my youth.

When I was really young and terribly short, I used to visit two places in our home quite frequently. One of those places was the ell chamber. It was the attic over the north kitchen in the house and it was filled with treasures that I found, as I gained more courage to explore. Mom always warned me to stay out of things that didn’t belong to me. Yes, I know… that is the standard line from our Moms when we get to the age and stage of exploration. Well, I had opened an old dusty cardboard box one day and came across the remnants of Dad’s 2nd World War “stuff”. It was for me like finding buried treasure. I knew so little of Dad’s past and here was a treasure trove of information… or the beginnings of it at least.

When the time was right I asked Dad about the things I had discovered. He was short in answer and said that it was just stuff that he had brought home. But there were numbers there… well a combination of numbers and letters that seemed important. They were stamped on a lot of the items in the box. I memorized those numbers and have them imprinted in my mind to this day. They were Dad’s formal identification for the army, F41005. Not much of a description of him, but it proved to be so important once again as Dad grew older and needed assistance from the Royal Canadian Legion with pension and home care. Along with that important identification were other items of much interest to a little boy whose curiosity often got the best of him. There were parts of a uniform, a duffle bag, 2 backpacks, a water bottle and of all things, a grenade. I handled that puppy with care I want you to know. I later found out that it had been disarmed, but you know I kept that stuff safe all through the years. Dad’s duffle bag still hangs in the cellar-way, along with one of his backpacks that still has his favourite hunting knife attached to it.

The second favourite place I often found myself in was the back pantry/closet in our north kitchen. It was a long closet type room that Mom divided in half with the use of orange crates as a dividing wall, that became shelving for pantry items. The other side of that room opposite her makeshift pantry held a wood-box and more orange crates used for storage and lots of coat hooks for Dad’s and the family’s coats and items. In one of the orange crate cubbies was a box that was the dream of every small explorer… a “glory hole box”.

As a person interested later in life, in language, I studied English, French, and then Greek; I was intrigued by the name that this old cardboard box received, that held such an eclectic assortment of items. I imagined that the words, “Oh glory where will I put that!” was combined with the box in which things could be stuffed; just a hole for a temporary home for items. Hence, it became a glory-hole-box. I would close myself inside this back closet and pull out that box and dig through it to see what treasures it held, and it did hold some mighty powerful stuff. There were tools, tape, holders, shelf brackets, compasses, old cutlery, old safety razors… well… name it and there were items there that only one’s greatest imagination could dream of finding at such a young age. Mom put a ban on that the first time she found that I had been poking around in it. There were stories of Mom’s frustration with us boys getting into her “stuff” that have become the historical rhetoric during family get togethers, as we share our fondest and funniest memories. Some will never be shared here, but that is the debate that will always be ended with, “No… Mom wouldn’t want that to get around… what are we saying.. .that is too funny not too tell!”We all have memories like that; things that will just not fade with the passing of time. That is because they are important, identifying our past and our present, as to how we got here and who we traveled with.

Some of the items in those two boxes, as I stated, are still with me today. Dad finally talked about his time in the army, the death of his brother, who was a prisoner of war just before the war ended, and how much it affected him. He showed me his enlistment and discharge papers when I took over the family history years ago and those are part of the archival files and are stored both in my home and memory as long as I am around. The question will be… am I losing those memories as I grow older. No, they seem fresher and easier to recollect as the time marches on. What I don’t want to happen is to have false memories that creep into the mix of things, that I imagined happened or are happening around me now. This trip near the edge sometimes scares me because my parent’s minds were so sharp even into their late 80’s for Mom, and early 90’s for Dad. So perhaps it is good to embrace the past as I write. It is a documenting of things that were important back in the day, but it is a record of things that my children may want to know about… or even other family members who may read, and knowing my life and my parents to some deeper extent, could appreciate those things that were the mix of that Allen household and family time.

As I remember I walk toward the edge. I think about my past and wonder about my future. Not all of the past brings pride, but some things do stand out. The eclectic nature of my past experiences may not differ from many others who will read, but may be so far from the norm, that there may be those who might think that my life is a mere fantasy of some things hoped for yet never attained, thus becoming my pseudo person, good for the writer and his stories. But that is not the case. I am walking the paths of memories that are real and true. I have traveled most of North America, I've traveled to India 4 times to lecture, train and minister to the needs of those who are less fortunate, chaired a board for a major Theological School for 5.5 years… I guess I have lived a full life. Now in retirement I travel around the edge of a new reality of advancing years. These writings are and will always be reflections of what I saw, experienced and remember, that may help others along their journey through life. Now, I am looking for peace from the storms of business of past life and seeking comfort in the knowledge that I have a family that loves me, along with friends and acquaintances that I am reuniting with through both my rants here and social media on the internet.

What is your edge? What drives you daily and what brings up memories that may even cause a tear to seep from the corner of an eye without much provocation? We all think back more as we move ahead in life. That may be your trip to the edge. I have my faith to help me rediscover even the painful memories that haunt me from the past, but I allow myself to go there, so I can reinvest myself in the learning process that brought me back to safer ground, and on a trail that leads to higher ground of satisfaction with life. St. Paul writes that there are 3 great actions that make up life. They are faith, hope and love and he said the greatest of these is love. I believe that.  Faith often has its basis in our capacity to let go and we are not big on that. Hope is not always enduring and is most often dependent on our perspective on life, based on our upbringing, training and orientation to this world. Love on the other hand can and will endure, it always has…. If not yours then, it is that of the supreme “Other”… God who is love and manifested His love to us… We celebrate that love this month; it is “Christmas”. If I love, then no matter the pain caused, love can find a way to help me survive and rebuild and it always has.

May you find an ell chamber or glory hole box that you can remember sometime. It will brighten your day and may send you towards the edge, but hey, as I always say, it is about the perspective you see from there.  May the Lord richly bless your day and especially as you enter the fray of the festive season. Merry Christmas to all and to all, now go find a memory and let it brighten your day!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

My Father's Hands

My son and I were driving home from the city after one of his medical appoints and he looked down at my hand that was resting on the gear shift knob between us and said, “Dad I had never noticed that your hands look just like granddad’s hands”. I just smiled and remarked that they were not only shaped like his but now were wrinkled just like his used to be. He only said that he hadn’t noticed before that they had wrinkled, but seeing them now, they looked like granddad’s used to look.

My Dad was not a young man when he married and had children, of which I am the younger of us two boys. By the time I was old enough to note such things; Dad had begun to wrinkle in his mid-fifties. I often remarked how his hands were on the smaller side and seemed to curl inward like he was not opening his hands enough, to which he always answered that it was from holding hammers and tools for so long. It always made me laugh and when I questioned it he seemed to be adamant that this was the reason for them taking that shape. I understand more, now that I am in my sixties, how one’s grip changes, maybe not always from usage of hand tools, but from time taking its toll on our body as a  result of either arthritis and/or abuse. While working in my teens I saw so many men with sometimes as many as 3-4 fingers missing from work related accidents along with those misshapen from breaks and bad cuts.

When we take time to look at people’s hands we see the many variations of shapes and distinctive marks and family characteristics. For me it is shape and wrinkles, for others it may fimilar family traits that show up, but none of us can come close to those marks left on Our Father’s hands. I mean the hands of Jesus. This time of year we celebrate the coming of the “Christ Child” and even though the world is trying to lessen the impact of Christian influence by moderating the celebration, calling it happy holidays, there will never be the erasure or diminishing of what took place with God the Creator come to earth in the child form of Jesus of Nazareth.

People will argue over the possibility of a virgin birth, the actual time of year, an angelic choir and the visit of Magi from the east to see the birth. But, in the end the principle of what took place and what it represents will be neither forgotten nor be allowed to degenerate into a mere fictional coinciding of myth and folklore. The reason is because, the reason for this season is “Jesus” the Christ Child, “God with us”; “King of Kings” and “Lord of Lords”.

Those small hands that reached up to his new mother were the same hands, though grown strong through the years that touched, healed, calmed the seas and finally sacrificed their perfection as they were nailed to a cross for all who would believe on His name and follow His path to eternal life. (See Mark 8:34  “And when He had called the people unto Him with His disciples also, He said unto them, “Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”) You just have to identify your personal cross; that which is your burden, whatever that might be, and come to Him… not die under the burden of it… but to live freely with it! We have to hear Jesus say in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

It is hard to understand that the human hands can face such diverse situations and yet survive, can take on such misshapen form, but still affect those who see, hold and are comforted by them, once fear is cast aside and familiarity becomes a peace and assurance. Perhaps that is one of the reasons for people fearing coming to Christ, believing and most importantly, responding…it is the anxiety over the expectations that both the Church and believer put on others sometimes. Yes, believers put very high expectations on the idea of coming to Christ too often. It was the Father’s hands that did it all. They bore not only the weight of his own body, but the weight of the sin of a whole world past, present at his death and the future to come. Accessed only by acceptance and submission that path to eternal life can become scarier than many would choose, while many would outright reject.

Do I have my Father’s hands? Yes, I do, but in looks only. My Dad worked years in auto-body repair and mechanics, and though I started out in life using tools I spent most of my life’s career in ministry. I pushed a pencil and used a computer, visited, taught and preached. I never knew really knew the kind of hard work that my Dad’s hands went through in his lifetime. But I love the thought that even though I don’t like to think about the coming wrinkles, I do have my father’s hands. Perhaps, somewhere along the pathway that I have travelled, I have accomplished even just a bit of the work that my Heavenly Father would have me accomplished so that the name of His Son Jesus would held high... though sometimes I have fallen far short. If anything was accomplished I always prayed that Christ would have the credit and that God the Father would be glorified. Our hands are just extensions of a human form… the Heavenly Father’s hands created, saves and sustains… that is out of my purview… so I most often say, “The Father gives, I only deliver” just like the postman or the local courier.

Have you looked at, or do you remember, you father’s hands. Have you ever wondered what he might have wanted for you or expected of you? It is not always an easy thing to do… to remember, I mean. But when you do, perhaps you may find more joy than you may now think. Close your eyes and with your mind think about, or back to his hands. Perhaps what you will see is scars… or you may just see the shape or the wrinkles, but most of all I pray what you will remember most is the love they gave. Today that is my walk toward the edge, towards my Heavenly Father's Hands.

Remembering is a bitter-sweet exercise sometimes. I loved my Dad so much and I know that he loved me and he sacrificed for me. I miss him so much… all the time. That is just like my Heavenly Father, with only one difference… God dwelt among us in His Son and then sacrificed that self same Son for you and me. So He wants us to love Him too. Just like our earthly fathers, God wants that and perhaps a bit more. As creator and sustainer He wants the respect, worship and glory that are due His name. That is part of the Christmas Season and celebration... not just a happy holiday!

May you be richly blessed this day. Put your hand in your father’s hand but more importantly perhaps, put your hand in the Father’s hand and let him keep and guide not just through this “Christmas Season” but through all the seasons of life. Take a walk towards the edge with Jesus, the Christ, the Reason for the Season…  walking near the edge is not bad, it has moments of testing, moments of required courage and moments of extreme joy... It's all in how we define the view from there.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Fallen Only To Rise Again

Throughout most of my teenage years I worked for a local business that was started by my Great Uncle. It was one of the larger employers in the town for many years. The company was diverse and had a grocery store, a feedlot, a hardware department and building supplies along with a complete mill, a kiln and sash and a molding/box factory. I was privileged to be asked, after working there for most of my teenage years in various departments, to come join the company as part of the office staff in accounts receivable. I hammered away on a 24 column posting machine, looked after customers and delivered pay packets to employees when the paymaster was busy, which was most of the time it seemed. Maybe he (a cousin) just wanted me to do all the walking. Part of the training I underwent was to go with the management up into the deep woods where the timber for our mill was cut and learn the lay of the land, how the timber was surveyed and measured for board foot capacity for harvest, while it was still standing.

Back in those days the cutting was done with resource management methods. Though there was the use of tree-farmers that did tear up wide trails through the woodlots, but selective cutting was done. The business had two mills at that time. There was one old diesel mill by a huge mill pond on site and a new total electric mill that was the envy of this end of the province. (I remember going to visit another mill up country to see how it was set up before Long Lake Lumber installed a new diesel electric mill with a 600 volt landline backup in the late 80’s. The company, Ohio Electric Ltd., of which I was partner along with Peter Covey, wired that particular mill when it was built… I nearly froze my feet off that New Years doing temporary set up of the diesel-electric generator all alone at 15 below zero.) But at the early stages of my life being in the woodlot with the management was so educational and I learned a lot.

To see a huge pine, hemlock or fir fallen and readied for transport to the mill, was something I will never forget. It perhaps was what kick-started my deeper love for the forest and its resource management. I had watched log trucks taking the product to the mill as a child and while on hunting trips with Dad saw old mill camps, logging roads and stumps among the regrowth of new generation of forest. Out of the stumps of hardwood grew new growth that would become the hardwood forest of the future. Among the stumps of new softwood cuts, there sprang up new young firs and birch trees. But most amazing of all were the huge stands of hemlock, which made an enormous canopy over the ground below; usually nearby a stream or river. Nothing could match those experiences at that point in life.

The mill turned out so many products over the years.  My favourite spot was the sash and molding factory. The men who worked there showed me so many things and were always accommodating when I asked all them questions… perhaps seeing my genuine interest in what they did and how everything worked. Both Russ MacKay and Lester Harris became close friends and were so helpful in developing an understanding of machines and product. Russ coached me on tools and made me my first wooden mallet to use with my new purchase of top quality chisels that he recommended when I started woodworking  as a hobby, while still employed at Woodworkers. I was like a sponge, soaking up information and storing it away for future use… and it all came in handy through the following years.  I was amazed at how easily wood ran through the sawyer’s main saw, the re-saws and planners and were later formed into windows, doors and moldings that left the shops almost as fast as they could be produced. A once tall standing tree, fallen, transported, sawn, shaped and now rising again as something beautiful again, gave me a deep sense of pride that I was part of it all.

But it all ground to a stop one day when my cousin fell ill and the then president suddenly died of a heart attack, all in a short span of time. All of us younger men who would have naturally fallen into management positions lost our jobs one by one and new management and owners took over. The mill was closed, dismantled and a new future loomed on the horizon for the business. I felt sad, perhaps in terms of cast down… fallen like the trees that were mere product that could be used and then reused for something else. The work  ethic back then, was that you stuck with your job and did your best, but times had changed and change being as it was, called for more drastic adjustments to life and plans for the future for myself and my family.

To rise again is to see life, not in terms of just new adventures or experiences, but how we visualize who we are and what we can accomplish. Sometimes it is a complete make-over or re-establishment of priorities, or maybe even a comeback from a disastrous mishap. We all have something that at one point or another, changes the master plan; that kicks our stumps (our supports) out from underneath of us. It is then that ready or not decisions have to be made and contingencies caused to kick in. These “what if” plans ,known as contingencies, are not important to the youth of most generations, but dreamers, on the other hand, are full of ideas, plans and contingencies that can be kicked in whenever needed or as an opportunity arises. Fortunately, I am in that category… a dreamer, thinker and planner. Well, … maybe fortunately. The fortune comes in that I have a wonderful helpmate wife who can plan for the day in other ways, unless catastrophic misfortune hits and it has in our lifetimes.

I was listening to two old worship songs that we used to sing in our quartet years ago. One we sang at the Blackwood Brother’s All Night Camp and Hymn Sing back in the late 80’s. Yes… Ok… so I am getting long in the tooth (old)… get over it!!!! The first was “Rise Again” and the other was “A Song to Sing at Midnight” which we sang in the competition in Pennsylvania. These two songs, as I listened to them again early this morning, bring me peace. There have been a pile of mid-nights when I needed a song while the prevailing darkness of need and sorrow filled my mind and heart. And the other “Rise Again” is a reminder that no matter the situation now… there will be better days ahead…. If not tomorrow or the following days, they will come eventually in this life or most importantly, the next for sure.

We make so much of temporary setbacks. If trees could feel, I am sure they would say, “Now I am lost!” But, whether bound for the fire to keep somebody warm, as newsprint carrying words to the world, or as building materials to provide shelter, comfort and joy to someone… they for the most part rise again… even from the roots of their fallen tops, or their seeds scattered years before. We are after all temporary for the most part. I said in one offering some time ago that after 2 generations we become unknowns to the family that follows. But we are affected by change; mostly by the bad. That is when we feel most vulnerable, most at risk and afraid. But how we handle the change becomes our legacy to family, friends and to the world out there that is watching, listening and sometimes waiting … and not always for further falls, but for the rising again to better and more productive times, that might enhance their lives as well.

Take heart my dear readers. God is not finished with us yet. When Dallas Holm sings “Rise Again” we can feel the sense of hope that it gives to those who are looking, waiting and praying for relief and release to a better day and Christ gives us that answer. You may be sitting on the edge right now, you may be facing harsh realities that were never expected or planned for, or you may be so worn and weary worrying, that reality is no longer an apparent issue, but don’t lose hope… Someone is holding on to you. First and foremost it is God and secondly it is those who know you and pray for you and who love you…. Now that is worth rising again for.

May you be blessed this day and if I know your need I will pray with you, for you and on behalf of those needs that are weighing you down. May that help to give you a different perspective, as you walk on or near the edge.  After all, it may help your perspective on life look different from there, knowing that someone cares … for you!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Dwelling On The Positive When Life Goes Negative

It is Sunday, August 23, 2015, and I struggle to think about the direction of today’s blog. I feel the urge to write, to put down in words my thoughts, to communicate feelings pent up over months of stress and distress and make a break from the silence that has haunted me. I am a writer of sorts; I need to put thoughts to paper… in this case the screen, and in doing so feel relief. Does that make sense… I pray that it does.

These past months have been a bit of a roller-coaster for the family with our son Ben finishing his combination radiation and first round of chemo and moving back home. He has a cancerous brain tumor (found in fall of 2010) and has had two cranial resections to date. He will continue with further stronger chemo treatments until next Christmas. We know he has begun to feel the effects of the treatments and our hearts long to just hold on to him and do things for him, but that will not be his answer. He needs to live, in the fullness of wellness and assurance that he can beat this cancer with the aid of his treatments and a regimen of exercise and good diet. He tires easily and has over the past months admitted that he finally understands my own plight of ill health.

So how have we fared through all of this? Overall we are doing fine. There may be our weak moments but those are to be expected. There is so much to be thankful for. It is through our deep faith that we know that through it all we are never alone. We have a God who hears our prayers, friends who love and care for all of us and share in our struggles, as they communicate and pray with and for us. For that reason,  I continue to keep an eye on my friends and pray for them daily. I made it a practice some years back to write to those who struggle, even in some cases when I didn’t know them personally and tell them that people who cared were praying. If you take those messages in, you soon see and hear of those whose lives have been turned on edge by illness… and it seems the numbers are increasing as we age.

It is so often difficult to remember that you are of concern to others. It may seem that you are in the middle of a huge puddle and are merely one toad that comes to drink. You know the feelings we get some days… “Is there really anyone who cares?… everyone is busy with their own lives!” The doldrums of life can cause our hearts to question and fog the reality of the true depth of friendship and love. Hearts may turn away from what they do not understand, but in the depth of true friendship there remains a caring heart and an open mind. People stop to listen but do they really hear or care? Well, some do and those that are in the “do” category are our lifeline lots of the time.

Perhaps life has been dealing some hard blows of late, or there may be that tinge of question about the pathway being a bit lumpy these days and aging or family life has not been quite what was advertised. If it is of any consequence, there is always someone who cares not only about you, but also for you. I may not know all of you personally, (I pray that I do know most of you) but I do care in the greater sense of the word. When and where I can, I want to affect your life for the positive. I want to pray when I know of your needs and most of all remind you that though life has its up and downs, its twists and turns and on many occasions it fill of saddening disappointments, you can survive and find strength beyond yourselves, as you lean on your faith in God. Of course that means you must believe. Eugene Peterson once told me at a conference one day, as we chatted following his lecture, that belief is a choice… one of so many we make so freely each day. There is no mystery… we just choose to believe and God does the rest.

So today if you are struggling (or maybe not), take a few minutes to reflect on the blessings that have been yours this past week, month, year or through life as a whole. No life is perfect, I know mine is not and never has been, but I have been truly blessed in my life. God has forgiven my shortcomings, adds new life each day and helps when I am no longer able to help myself. He carries me as the “Footprints” prose states.  God is carrying you today. You may be too close to the edge and feeling shaken or disturbed, but look into the face of God who loves without question and just let go of the pain. It takes effort, but it is worth the work. After all living on the edge may not always be what you want or expect, but there is a different perspective, based on faith, from there.

May you be blessed this day and in the coming days… decide on a few positive choices even though you may have to walk near the edge. I am praying for YOU!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Time Changes Everything… Or Does It?

I still get calls/emails, after all these years, from old friends and associates who wonder what I am up to and inquire about my taking a Church somewhere as an interim for a while. The conversation generally starts with how I am feeling these days, my state of health and how the family is doing. They don’t always like to ask directly about our son who has been fighting cancer (brain tumor) for the past 5 years and who is now undergoing treatments that will run until around Christmas. (He started those treatments this week and he needs our support not only in prayer, but more practical ways to help support his family’s needs. It has been a long 5 years for us all in so many ways.) Illness comes in several ways and to many of us. Even I have had my fair share through these years and it has left me weakened physically and sometimes low of spirit. I no longer desire the pastoral role, or the stresses that come with that role. I needed retirement to heal and now even more in the throes of Ben’s extended illness. It is hard to say the words, “No not really… I need time and healing and want to be here for my family just now” for even though my body is weak, my heart somehow feels guilt in not answering yes when asked.

I have often wondered why we feel the need to question decisions about retirement for people we know. I know it has often been said that people waste away once they retire, but I was not one of them. I had plans to help others with the electrical and carpentry skills that I had gained through the years. I had hopes to go into business helping my son with a construction business that has been his for quite a few years now. I had plans to perhaps continue to go overseas teaching and lecturing as long as my health allowed me to go. I had plans.

Back in my youth I had one focus in mind and that was to follow my Dad in the mechanical and body repair trades… to help him… to work along-side of him. But that was not to be so I found my heart leaning towards teaching and using the mechanical skills, along with carpentry, until I found that business was drawing me out and away, as doors closed and others opened. So many times I have asked questions about why doors closed before me, except that new ones always opened immediately, beckoning me forth into something just as rewarding. People told me that time would heal the wounds I often felt, when something I felt comfort with, and good about, turned out to be a disappointment or a dead end.

When changes come in life, we want to feel that time will in fact heal those wounds that have been opened. It only stands to reason that the rigors of living life every day would help us to forget, or at least begin the healing of major issues, but that is not always the case. Many carry the scars of past events that are hidden just beneath the pretense of both psychological and spiritual wellness.  We think that the bumps and lumps that we get along the way are only minor and putting on the so-called “Happy Face” will help us overlook the pain, or at least bury it beyond the discovery of others; away from those prying questions that would break open those wounds again.

We might ask ourselves then  if we can apply the stiff upper lip and just get on with living normally. The easy answer is that some can, but most can’t. In fact, the truth is that very few of us in life can, and not suffer future consequences that will cause more trouble than we might ever expect. It is a known fact that stresses carried through life most often have harsh and sometimes devastating effects on our health that can change the course of the very life being lived or planned.  How we handle those stresses should always be of great importance as we go about our daily lives. The Bible tell us that we have several options available to us, and if adopted with faith, these options could indeed make a difference in both the immediate life we live and the years to come.

What is most important to remember when searching for scripture verses to help with life’s trials, is that most were written, not with an all-inclusive or universal fix in mind, but more in line with a contextual answer to a specific need that confronted a group of people or specific person. It is most important to remember that we are never alone.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” While this verse opens our minds to the commonality of distress, tribulation and all of the debilitating factors that life can bring, there is a reminder that God has always been there for his creation… for us.

Paul wrote in his second letter to the Church at Corinth in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”  Paul was reminding the Church in these verses that we carry daily the pressures of life being lived and these pressures though heavy, and can weigh us down, yet they are not impossible to carry. The difficult key to finding our way through these messy times is looking at the future not the moment.

Have you ever broken a bone and suffered the pain and inconvenience of a cast, or maybe something even worse like an appendectomy? These more minor physical ailments are just that, minor. Yet there is something very true in our ability to adapt, looking at the setback as only temporary and being able to acknowledge that life would find a level of regained normalcy soon.  A bee sting does not last forever but truly hurts… a minor parallel? We wish this could be case in all our life’s trials, disappointments and tribulations, but it is not. There is a level of truth though to be considered, in how we can look ahead in life, and gain the ability to leave behind that which we cannot change. A portion of a prayer, adopted by recovering addicts, that was written by Reinhold Niebuhr says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The bee sting is so very real and can bring tears to the eyes of a small child and have a long lasting effect on a genuine fear of bees for years to come. The Theologian Niebuhr saw the plight of the human soul in the battle against those things that could not and would not be assuaged by our skill or ability to overcome by will power alone. His answer was found in releasing to God that which we find ourselves unable to fix or change. Human courage can get us beyond some things but not all… knowing where the difference lies is then the key. When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth, there were many problems to be addressed. Some could be easily fixed, but many could not. His advice was for them to begin to sort out problems both corporate and individual/personal and look more to the future; being things that are eternal and not temporal in nature. In layman’s terms we could say, “Let’s evaluate what may seem to be there before us and measure it against what is going to be there in eternity.”

I try to see each day some good beyond the pains and aches of aging process/illness that I face or even the limitations that life brings in other ways. My Brother-in-law calls it the "AGE Virus". I look ahead to the next moment, next hour and next days, weeks, months and years that may stretch before me and pray that God will continue to open the windows of my life and let His Son shine in, so that I may allow His Son to shine out through me, no matter the situation I face each day. It is not easy. It takes a level of release that is not easily learned… it takes practice and for those who rely on faith, it can be stretched almost to its limit. But it is not impossible. Some days I lose; most often though, are the days when God wins.

Do I enjoy the challenge… no! Do I regret that I must try so hard when my desire would be that God would simply take away those challenges? No! Without those challenges in life we would not be inclined to lean on God when life gets tenuous. I will leave you with three things that Jesus spoke about His purpose in coming to earth and living among us.

Matthew 11:28-29 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Walking toward those words we can find peace… walking away just adds to the depth of despair with the worldly affairs that become heaviness in life. Maybe it is living on the edge… just maybe it is worth the view   from there. May you be richly blessed as you walk towards God in tribulation... not away, as it is for many  the habit to do... Especially as the day of His return is nearing.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Hope Springs Eternal – An Easter Thought

I remember in my youth, many, many light years ago, how the Church celebrated the Easter weekend in a big way. I am not sure how many times we went to Church for 3 hours on a Good Friday through the years. The service seemed long for someone who was not only short in stature but also not long on patience. Yet, I have fond memories of those times. It always seemed like something was happening and what we were doing was worth the effort of trying to stay both focused and awake during the time in the pews. My Dad used to carry large nuts and bolts in his pocket, when we were really small, and when it seemed like we were just on the edge of making a bit too much ruckus, he would hand us those simple toys to keep us occupied so as least we would not disturb too many people around us.

I often wondered if my parents ever got really upset with us when we became a bit overzealous. I know as a small boy I must have had lots of energy and was known to be too talkative. Even today I am accused of being too wordy. I guess some of my family find my blogs to be too much and in that category… so I know the stories about my constant youthful chatter must have created more than one stressful moment even in Church. It seems, from my mother’s former reflections, that they always held to the hope that even though my brother and I were young, we were getting something out of what was being said during services. Their hope was that we would respond one day to Christ.

Today, we seem to think that children are far more energetic; perhaps they may even be considered far less attentive, but as I reflect I wonder sometimes if that is really true. The back pews of our home church had initials carved into them. The hymnals had youthful drawings, pages torn out and the corners turned down and almost ragged…. I know that few adults would do such destructive things. On one occasion the suggestion was made to keep a group of youth from attending Church as they were much too disruptive and destructive to the church building and furniture.  I questioned the validity of that reasoning and those few of us who felt that these boys needed to be part of our congregation, that they might see both God’s love and our love, finally won out.

Children have always been a concern to the crowd. They have always been noisy…they love to play and create, no matter the time being centuries/decades ago or today. In all ages the youth of community have followed their parents and have needed something to both keep their attention and challenge them, and it has been the challenge of the parents to keep them amused and in hand so that their youthful exuberance would not overly upset others around them. Perhaps the older we get the more easily we are distracted… No... Not at all… The older we get, it is more likely that we want “our” focus not challenged by others around us.
During a time of teaching the people, Jesus was asked to bless some small children. The disciples rebuked those who brought the children and wanted the children sent away. I have often wondered why this might have happened. We can only speculate, but it may very well have been a response to what may have been seen to be some disruption created by those same children, while Jesus had been speaking to the adults earlier. It is so interesting to read what Jesus response to that rebuke was. Verse 14 of Matthew 26 records, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Then he laid his hands on them and blessed them before he moved on.

There are so many things in life that we do not see clearly, do not understand fully. People often question where hope lies in the hearts and lives of those who seem to be paying no attention to what is going on in the context of faith in Christ and their Heavenly Father. Many the time I have heard common folk both Christian and non-Christian label, criticize and judge those who looked, acted and seemed in some remote way different from themselves. On one occasion years ago my heart ached for a man who was greeted by a neighbour, as he entered the Church to attend one of our Sunday services. The harshness of his comments turned that man away and nothing I could say could bring him back, just because one critical comment from a judgmental person broke his spirit and resolve to come back to God’s house to worship.

I never gave up on my friend and continued to pray for him even though he would not change his mind to attend. He did however say that he believed and I know that was the most important part of his faith journey. Years later a man who had never attended Church approached me with a gift, along with a note that said, “This little hurricane lamp is to remind you of the years you spent holding out the light to those of us in the community” Some must have been looking and listening and a few years later that same man who gave me the light became a deacon in the very Church I had pastored all those years.

As Christ approached the cross, though his personal courage seemed to be weak, his spirit of resolve was certainly strong. God did not leave His Son to die alone, rejected and forgotten by mankind, His creation. There was hope, an answer to Jesus’ prayer for former glory to be renewed. Even for the thief on the cross near Jesus, there was hope. Though he may have been rejected of man for his crimes, he was immediately forgiven and given the hope of eternity though he would not be baptized and may not receive a believer’s burial. We are often too quick to condemn ourselves and others, too full of grief, regret and self-abasement, to realize that God has more to give than we can ask for. He has always been full of grace and love… we are often too busy with life to see that clearly. It is so simple, yet we make it so complex. Hope is not just for the perfect but for the imperfect as well, not just for the uplifted, but for the downtrodden too.

With God’s creation there came hope intact and active, seen now at the Cross of Jesus. Though we are created with free will and can decide to accept or reject, that hope need never fade. Because of Calvary’s Cross and what God accomplished there through His Son Jesus, all have hope and that hope springs eternal for all and for all time. Today, don’t turn away from hope. Give hope its due. It is not something that need fade in our lives for it springs eternal every day. Like living near the edge, it is all in the perspective we take from where we are. My Mom always said that where there is breath there is hope and I guess she kept me breathing through the years with that hope in mind. I pray that this Easter you will take that hope into your heart and life, and give it a chance to grow…. Just like those little snow drops and early spring flowers prying their way out through these late snow falls. Hope does spring eternal!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Staple of Life... Joy and Its Blessing

I was touched today by a simple quote published by a longtime friend …Thank you MLG. May I ever see through the din of life’s activity, the struggles of others, and take the time to reach out the hand of friendship and healing, not from my own fading strength, but of my resolute love for life and for others, even as I have been loved and felt the hand of healing from those who have reached out to me.

Joy is easy from the mountain’s vista, from the ocean’s rugged shore, midst the tall trees of a virgin forest or watching silently the beauty of a Northern Aurora Light Show; and most surely while spellbound by a perfect sunset which calms the soul… but joy is elusive and in but a moment, in the twinkling of the eye, that joy can pass and life is changed. The poor lone seeker whose life is awash in a valley’s barren landscape may be too weak to see, too look up and notice as that which may perhaps lift him up, is passing him by. From the strong comes the opportunity to help the weak, from the bold a possibility to embolden the shy, from those already rich in joy comes the occasion to share, to clothe, feed and nurture those whose joy has been smothered by chance or misadventure.

Truly seeing the burden of others “must” pain our souls, this is a given. But, to apply the salve of healing, as we share our joy with others, can assist those burdened in life, to acquire strength from those who do offer themselves, and may aid them in seeing once again joys that have become clouded by life’s misfortune.
I remember some years ago meeting a wonderful example of strength from which I gained a deeper knowledge of life. That meeting did not guarantee a steadfast and sure cure for a heavy heart, but certainly went a long way toward being an anchor for my outlook on life. I am able to claim that moment, when I can see beyond the clouds of despair and at times when I am reminded that life is not always fair… it is fraught with pitfalls, not always of our own design. What we do in those moments of trial will often gauge the outcome and where we look for answers can surely affects the ability to find joy in the worst of moments. This meeting was in a nursing home. It was nothing spectacular or miraculous. It was during a Bible Study with seniors and I had asked a simple question about skill and endurance. A lady, advanced in years, smiled and gave a simple answer to my question. She stated that she was able to jump the distance between two lines on the floor (about 6 feet apart) with no problem. After many a chuckle from others, I asked how and why she felt that way, as she was a double amputee and sitting in a wheelchair. She said with all calmness and sincerity, “I am jumping that distance in my mind just like I could when I was 16 years old!” Her misfortune in life did not limit her joy in living.

Today is a good day. Not all my days are like that. I have a lot on my plate as I deal with personal struggles of health and circumstance, but I see from the edge of life, the turmoil of others and pray for their healing and relief from their pain. A friend and I were talking the other day about how we often allow the “stuff” of life to rob us of our joy. I am glad that as a Christian I have another answer to my plight… that is my faith. I write from the background of that faith, and I am not ashamed of where I stand or my desire to accept that which seems too large for empirical truth in the non-Christian world. I am reminded of what a lecturer, writer and theologian Dr. Eugene H. Peterson once said to me following a conference, “Life is a matter of decisions and those in your life will make decisions about what they choose to believe… it is not rocket science… we choose to believe or not to believe, it is that simple.” (I paraphrased). The key is freedom to make that choice and allowing love to be the foundation on which those decisions can be made.

Today may be a tough day for you as you read and reflect on life. For some there may seem to be little sense in struggling some days. Perhaps, there may be someone you know who has had their joy robbed by harsher realities of life that have come to overwhelm, and now despair reigns instead of joy. Not all of life is laughter as we also know that not all of life is tears. Today there may be decisions to be made about our lives or life for others. We can construct walls of protection or walls of privacy, blocking out the cries of others. On the other hand we can open our lives to their pain and as we feel its reality and do something to disarm or arrest whatever brings desolation and heavy hearts to those around us. It may be a note of encouragement, a smile and warm greeting, but even more it may be a hand reaching out in love and fellowship over coffee, a meal or a long walk down memory lane. It may be a simple sharing of faith or a quote aptly shared… we never know. But this is living near the edge. It can be scary, it is surely demanding, but it can be so uplifting.

Joy washes us with a cleansing that little else in life can attain. It can melt the dinge of life, reset enthusiasm to encourage us to overcome and go on, and it has a healing quality that is unmatched. To see beyond the moment into the clarity of hope is uplifting to say the least. To live there is almost unimaginable, yet to grasp it is almost a primary goal for most who struggle. It can not be forced, yet it can be shared. It comes neither in a bottle, through a prescription, nor can we buy it online through sales and distribution sites. Joy is found by looking. That is the key. The simplest things of life can lend us untold amounts of joy if we are able to see them clearly and plainly. It may be a book read, a small child's laughter or even a cartoon shared. To clear our minds of the traffic of stress, we must stop and rest. Yet, there is truth in the old adage that says, "Should you stop to think... don't forget to start again!" The key here may be in where you start from. Seeking joy takes us on a different path than when we stopped to rest. I seek to rest in my faith.

Can you, or do you, pray? Praying is the foundation on which your faith will grow and the garden in which the practical applications of life are shared, where empathy grows hands and feet with which to go forth, that we might touch the lives of others.  May we all do our part to help clothe our fellow strugglers with joy through life in times of tribulation and trial. You may need to be clothed one day yourself. Be kind, as someone reminded us the other day…. We never know what trials those we meet are facing. May the Lord richly bless your day and may you find some unexpected joy when, and from wherever it should come, wrapped in the knowledge that though this gift is sometimes fleeting, it is yours for this precious moment.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Willing His Will

We serve a God who is loving, gracious, gentle and kind... but... we serve a God who is a Sovereign God, omniscient beyond our comprehension, who sees the greater picture of His creation (and its best interests) and who makes decisions that our spirit does not always understand. We seem to accept that God answers prayer in His time and in His will, but do we truly accept it, much less understand it.

 The two greatest examples are found in the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6) in the phrase: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" and in the example of Jesus Christ's statement (Matthew 26) as he knelt in the garden, facing alone his impending death and wanting that that cup of death to be removed from him: "Yet not my will, but Yours (God’s) be done!"

What do we see here in these two examples taken from Scripture? In the Lord’s Prayer there is the request that things happen on earth the way they would happen in heaven. What does that mean? Can we allow ourselves to relinquish control of outcome in life, to God’s will; all those things which we do not understand and most that we cannot see? YES! This is the true test of our faith; to allow God to reign in our lives here on earth, as though we too were in heaven. Here then is the value of our understanding of that phrase that is most often thought to mean that we want earth to be pure, innocent and as virgin as heaven is. If we accepted God’s will here on earth, as it is accepted and followed in heaven… earth and our lives on it, would be so different.

This first phrase, from the Lord’s Prayer, then leads us to a greater understanding of a fuller meaning of Christ’s prayer in the garden, before his death. The will of the Father (God) for His son was ”this death He faced”. Cruel, in our eyes perhaps, but necessary, as humanity alone could not atone for the sin we commit daily in our lifetime. How do we come to understand that God’s Holy Will was secured by this one phrase? It was secured in the knowledge that God, who created, must now not only sustain, but deliver… deliver from death (which He did in the end), deliver from guilt and deliver from the pain of that guilt. That kind of true love, and the fullness of true love, could only be found in heaven. Our peace therefore is only found in true and full surrender in love; that being the relinquishing of our will to that of the Father.

When we pray therefore, we pray for the Father's will to done. In other words, that our will be in accordance with His will, yet it most often seems to be the opposite; in us wanting God to bend His will to fit ours. Yet our prayers must meet the criteria of a loving selflessness that was found in Christ's new command, to we who would yearn to be His true Disciples: "Love one another as I have loved you". Can we see any greater love than that of Christ surrendering his life so that we might gain life? In this knowledge therefore, we learn to pray for others in love, desiring their health, safety and blessing. We pray that God might show us favour in our prayers, while leaving everything fully in His hands. Can we truly pray with that resolve…That God's will be first and foremost, even when it does not seem to fit our picture of what is right, good and expedient? We who stumble and fall our way through life have no other recourse or answer, but to approach God through Christ, in reverence and humility, bringing our petitions for ourselves and others to Him who hears and then answers.

There are so many things that I desire for those I love, as well as those things I covet for my own personal life. Knowing that we expect God to hear and answer prayer, it is suggested that we must blindly follow the ideal praying not just knowing that God can, but that He will answer, granting what we ask. This though depends on how we approach that ideal. It must be understood that there has to be a full releasing of each request in prayer, to the Will of our Sovereign God. It is true that not only can God, but He will… but, within His will.  I do not ask therefore: “God bend Your will to mine, but that You hear my loving prayers directed to You, the Giver and Sustainer of life, and bring peace within my heart and the hearts of others as I pray, and for whom I pray, as Your will desires. Then Your Will shall become my will and my heart shall not relinquish its love for You, if I find that I do not get my way because my will is not found being in accordance with Yours. This is not fatalistic… it is the reality of surrender, the very basis of peace; that which sustained Christ.  He was sustained not only in the garden, but from the garden to the cross, even as he cried; “My God, My God, why have your forsaken me?” This seemingly not a cry of one sustained, but surely of one deserted? This was merely a cry from the human part of that human soul found in Christ… a cry we most often utter when life’s disappointments befall us. It is a  cry to our God who knows better than our mortal understand, what which is greater than our need, the need of the Father for His will… and beyond us perhaps, the need of some other. Here God acts beyond our human frailty with grace, forgiveness and love.

Help me then to pray Lord every day that I may find peace in the midst of this life which I do not understand and on so many days finding tears to be more prevalent than laughter. Let satan not rob me of my joy, but let any peace reigning within my heart and my will, be only found in accordance with that will which is Yours. Forgive me for when I have fallen, quicken my heart to the needs of others that I may give fully and freely even, as You have give unto me. This I pray in faith believing and in Your most Precious and Holy Name… That Name which is above all names. … Jesus Christ Our Lord.  Amen.

Today living life near the edge these past weeks has not been fun, it is has been hard and it is challenging. But ,even so, I am granted opportunity to see, in faith, beyond that which I do not understand, to that point of grace in faith where walking becomes easier because I am not alone. Today I pray that you as well will perhaps realize this for yourself. You are not alone. Someone is with you even as He is with me, and that changes our perspective as we walk near the edge… and it is all about perspective! Blessings to each of you who read today, tomorrow or when opportunity and God’s providence brings you here to this page. May your trip to the edge be done while holding God’s hand, awaiting His will to be done and may you too be granted peace.