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.