September 29, 2008

Losses - Lynda Schultz

Loss dogs the steps of our daily lives, darkens the corners of our minds, and squeezes our hearts. Seventeen years ago, on September 26, my father passed into eternity. After such a long time, the date usually passes without too much notice but since I am reading through my father’s devotional book this year, I couldn’t help but be reminded.

Interestingly other events occurred this weekend to heighten the impression. On Saturday morning, I learned that my friend, Nancy, had lost her father the night before—the same date on which I had lost my own dad. Her experience brought back memories of my own.

On Sunday, I got word that another friend of many years had finally succumbed to cancer and was in the presence of the Lord. As I read the glowing words of praise for her life, I was reminded again that those dark corners in our life’s journey need desperately to be tempered by faith, hope and love.

The reading in my father’s devotional book for September 27 gave me a perspective on loss that sometimes gets overwhelmed by loss’s gloom. The author, James Hinton, writes: “Suppose you are bewildered and know not what is right nor what is true. Can you not cease to regard whether you do or not, whether you be bewildered, whether you be happy? Cannot you utterly and perfectly love, and rejoice to be in the dark, and gloom-beset, because that very thing is the fact of God’s Infinite Being as it is to you? Cannot you take this trial also into your own heart, and be ignorant, not because you are obliged, but because that being God’s will, it is yours also? Do you not see that a person who truly loves is one with the Infinite Being — cannot be uncomfortable or unhappy? It is that which is that he wills and desires and holds best of all to be. To know God is utterly to sacrifice self.”*

The style of writing takes a bit of analyzing to make it understandable, but the essence of the message is a reminder that trust in the dark places, as well as those places blessed with light, is essential and is evidenced not simply by a resignation to His plan, but by the embracing of it.

*Daily Strength for Daily Needs, Little, Brown & Company, Boston, 1920

September 26, 2008

Incredible Peace

Last night, because I was too tired to do anything else, I plunked myself in front of the television and watched an episode of ER, a show I’ve not seen for years.

In this episode, one of the hospital team members died. After the funeral, the ER staff gathered at a local bar to remember his life. They were sad and struggling. Death cast a shadow over them.

How different this scene was from the Christian funerals I’ve attended. I’ll never forget the first one. Irene was my mentor and her husband died. I was a new Christian, worried that God was going to ‘send me to Borneo’ or ask me to do something I didn’t want to do. At the funeral, I watched Irene lean over the grave, almost as if she wanted to jump in after her husband. My heart was pounding. Then she turned around.

Irene’s face shone. She was filled with joy, totally at peace with what was happening. I was astounded. At that same moment, God spoke to my heart. If I can give her joy at this moment, why are you worried about what I might ask of you? Even now as I recall this event from more than thirty-five years ago, I feel the same awe at God as I did then.

Irene explained. She knew where her husband had gone and she knew she would join him later. She even said, “The main reason for being sad is that I feel sorry for myself. If I think of him and what he is now enjoying, I cannot be sad.”

I’ve attended many funerals since then. When a Christian dies, the family is sorrowful because they miss the one who has left this earth, yet our hope is so real that we cannot help but be glad that our loved ones have been ‘promoted’ and are waiting for us in glory.

Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.” Because we know that Jesus is alive, we do not grieve the same way as others who do not know Him and have the same hope.

In Luke before Jesus came, the father of John the Baptist prophesied about his son. He said, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Jesus came to give light to those who sit in the shadow of death and in the darkness of not knowing what will happen to them after death. He came to direct those in darkness into a place of peace with God. By taking the wrath of God and our punishment for sin upon Himself, we can know that God loves us; we do not have to fear His judgment.

Jesus also came to direct us into having the peace of God. This is a peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), a peace that floods our hearts and minds and gives us deep joy. The light He gives opens our eyes to His love for us. We know He cares and we know that He is in control—even at funerals.

~ Elsie Montgomery

NOTE: My post was due the 24th, but with ICWF Fall Conference starting today, things are a tad busy around here. This is today's post from my blog, so another apology to those who read both. At least the topic is something worth hearing about more than once!

September 15, 2008

Morning Pages - Violet Nesdoly

If there's one kind of book I enjoy reading it's writing how-to. Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg, Heather Sellers, Anne Lamott-- I've read them all, and more. Books like theirs make me feel hopeful, optimistic and reassured that with perhaps a new method and just a little more self-discipline there is still hope for the writer in me.

I've come across another such book lately and, predictably, it's put me on a writing high. But these books also have a negative effect on me. Specifically they challenge something in my spirit -- the side of me that hears God's voice and wants to follow His call no matter what my self-will or others says.

The conflict comes because these books are, by and large, written from a humanist perspective. They espouse the world view that says the most important thing is me and realizing my own potential. If writing is part of that, growing and developing my gift becomes my first priority.

Take, for example, Heather Sellers' book Page After Page (a book I read some time ago). One of her main messages is that you need to treat your writing like the lover in the center of your life.

Now I have a little problem with that. You see, I already have a lover - it’s Jesus. And I’ve struggled against my natural tendency to make writing my lover enough on my own without being told to do it by others as well.

I found myself in the battlefield again last week after I'd read the first chapter of Julia Cameron's newest book, Finding Water. In it she prescribes three pages of journal writing in longhand first thing every morning (Morning Pages).

Now I know this is a good habit. Trouble is, I already have a routine where the first thing I've done every morning for years is have my quiet time (read the Bible, journal about it--another type of morning pages really, pray etc.). But because my current writing practice needed a boost I decided there'd be no problem with putting my usual practice in second place. I found an empty scribbler and began writing Morning Pages first thing in the morning.

However, after a few days of pre-empting my quiet time with Morning Pages (even though I had an abbreviated quiet time later), something seemed askew. I knew without much introspection what it was. By substituting Morning Pages, I was in some way giving priority to this (wo)man-made plan, rather than putting my trust in God -- to whom I've surrendered my writing life and its success countless times.

So about three days into Morning Pages, I made them my second activity (sorry, Julia Cameron). Because in the end, it's not writing success that's first in my life, but the "Well done" of my Master. I've decided it's more important that I meet with Him first every day than that I adhere to the prescription of the writing gurus, even if my writing suffers for it.

I know I'll continue to read, enjoy, and benefit from books about how to write. But as I read I will also need to keep reminding myself about whose I am and how my relationship with Him trumps everything else in life -- even the best writing advice in the world.

September 12, 2008

He Will Not Leave Us Comfortless - Glynis Belec

This week has vanished. It has been a sad week around our community. Two separate car accidents have claimed four young lives. On Sunday afternoon, what was supposed to be a family-fun outing at a volleyball game, turned into tragedy. An elderly woman went through a stop sign and t-boned a car. Daniel Hordyk, the 21 year old driver along with 15 year old Christina Bosman and 2 month old Chloe Bosman were killed. Sarah Bosman, Chloe's dear mother and David Bosman, her brother in law, were seriously injured. Then, in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, more sad news transpired. Garion Fowler, a sweet 19 year old young man from our church, was on his way to work. People can only speculate what happened next as Garion side swiped a dumptruck. He was killed instantly.

We ask why these things happen and we consider and contemplate. Prayers come fast and furious but seemingly without answers. Because our logical and finite minds cry out for answers, we sometimes get frustrated and even angry. Then we remind ourselves God is in control. He does not wish for His children to suffer and perish. He only allows it to happen because we live in a fallen world made up of choices and consequences and free will and death. All of us are doomed to leave this earthly state one day. Some deaths seem so untimely in our books, though. And that is the sad part. These young lives that were lost seemed so full of potential and hope and joy.

A baby dies. A baby just a little younger than Jocelyn, my granddaughter. I can barely fathom the sadness of the family. But God has called all these young ones home. They are in the presence of Jesus and are savouring eternity. The faith of all of the grieving families is strong and unwaivering. No, it does not make it easier to lose a child because you are a Christian, but the measure of comfort these families are finding in Jesus helps ease the burden. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30

The journey for friends and relatives of the Hordyk, Bosman and Fowler families is going to be a long one. Does anyone get over losing a child? Once the visitations and the funerals are over and everyone goes home, this is bound to be a difficult time for them. The grieving will intensify.

I hope that if you are reading this post, you will be moved to pray with me as we think of the tragedy and the brevity of life. When Jesus left this world, he prophesied that there would be sorrow and pain when He said He would not leave us comfortless. The Holy Spirit hears and knows and although the concept can be difficult to understand for some, the Triune God reigns and responds to those who call out to Him.

September 08, 2008

How I Spent My Summer Vacation -- Janet Sketchley

I don’t remember if I ever had to write the stereotypical back-to-school essay, but it’s September, and we actually had a cool vacation this year. Sweet Husband and I took Crazy Son, Special Girlfriend, Wise-guy Son and Imp Son to New York City for a few days.

We stayed at the Holland Motor Lodge in Jersey City – clean, affordable, close to public transit into NYC, and as it happens, very near some fine eating establishments.

Saturday: Supper at Bertucci’s Brick Oven Ristorante – wonderful food, and we drained their supply of raspberry iced tea. We trekked into NYC, strolled Times Square, and navigated through the Hershey’s store when I’m sure it was close to the Fire Marshall’s maximum load limit. (Some of us are introverts with large personal space zones.)

Sunday: Despite a preference to avoid Sunday shopping, we visited the Century 21 discount store (how can something claim to be 1) New York’s second most popular shopping destination and simultaneously 2) its best-kept secret?), had Charly’s famous chili dogs for lunch, and caught two shows: Mary Poppins on Broadway at the New Amsterdam Theatre and a family-friendly “Eight is Never Enough” improv comedy show.

Monday: The three teens explored the Ripleys’ Believe It Or Not! Odditorium while the rest of us made a pilgrimage to the Lindt store and a Barnes and Noble. Lunch at the Hard Rock Café (wonderful french fries, and great milkshakes). We left Wise-guy Son at the hotel and the rest of us headed out to see the Mets trounce the Astros. The starting pitcher stayed in the whole game and almost bagged a shut-out. Extreme thirst made me shell out $4 for a bottle of water. Extortion, anyone? The hotdogs were just as high. Taking the train home from the game sure beat sitting in traffic.

Tuesday: Imp Son and I headed for a Borders while Crazy Son and Special Girlfriend did Macy’s. Wise-guy Son and Sweet Husband chased down some tickets to Phantom of the Opera. Some of us had “Chocolate Therapy” at Ben & Jerry’s, and the rest ingested lots of ice cream too. Late supper took us back to Bertucci’s where we discovered another wonderful meal but a distinct lack of raspberry iced tea. Crazy Son looked so sad, the waitress was rather concerned until she discovered we were the probable culprits. He’s taken up Vitamin Water as a substitute.

Wednesday: Early start for train and bus ride to Six Flags Great Adventure, in New Jersey. Aside from Sweet Husband’s headache (who knew I should bring the whole bottle of Advil LiquiGels®?) we had a blast. The tigers put on an interesting demonstration, but my most vivid memory is of El Toro, the wooden roller coaster. Crazy Son talked Special Girlfriend and Foolish Mother (yes, that’s me) into the ride. NOW I read on the website that “El Toro features the steepest drop of any wooden roller coaster in the country at a record-breaking 76 degrees.” The first words to cross my lips as it stopped were “Thank You, Jesus” – for keeping me alive, or just that it was over, I don’t know. Looking back, I’m glad I went. I had my eyes closed, but Special Girlfriend said hats were flying everywhere.

Thursday: We were kind of draggy after the long day before, but we had a nice visit to the Central Park Zoo. I’d like to spend a whole day there. Pre-zoo, we stopped at the ESPN Zone. Television monitors in the bathrooms so you don’t miss a play? Hmm. But the desserts… we ordered something called “Chocolate Chip Cookie Sundaes”. Much bigger than we expected, given the moderate price. One is enough for two people. A huge cookie (I had mine cold, the default is heated) piled with excellent ice cream and whipped cream, with chocolate sauce…. Wonderful stuff. Then for supper we found a place called the Evergreen Diner. It wasn’t glossy or high-priced – just fast and with terrific food. Bummer for me, I wasn’t hungry (guess who finished all of her sundae when some of the others wimped out?) Imp Son and I went to Toys R Us (it has a Ferris Wheel) and back to the hotel, while the others attended Phantom at the Majestic Theatre.

Friday: All day travelling, because the two-part flight was significantly less expensive than the direct one. First stop on Canadian soil was Pearson Airport’s Tim Horton’s for some genuine steeped tea. I think they make it better in Nova Scotia.

Sparkling magic sights:
· something in the Times Square sidewalks sparkles when it catches the light, day or night
· a shiny black dragonfly with glittering wings paused on Imp Son’s hat, but didn’t linger for a photo
· tiny, glossy bubbles floated to greet us from the zoo
· the polar bear put on an underwater show… the bubbles and dust motes he stirred up sparkled in the light
· the Nicobar pigeon’s feathers shimmered as he flew through the bird exhibit
· oh, and my “Fish can fly” shirt that I bought at the Hard Rock Café sparkles too.

© Janet Sketchley, 2008
For devotionals, reviews and conversation, stop by Janet Sketchley's blog, God with Us: Finding Joy.

September 03, 2008

Write Every Day - Bonnie Way

The book title caught my eye: The Maeve Binchy Writer's Club. Was it fiction about a group of writers? Or nonfiction about how to write? Either way, I was interested, and I picked it up. It turned out to be a series of letters from Maeve to a group of beginning writers. The first chapter was her advice to find time every day to write. No matter what.

Great, I thought, and put the book down again. That was exactly what I'd been struggling with lately. How, between feeding, changing, and playing with a six-month-old, not to mention laundry, dishes, housecleaning, groceries, and other chores, was I supposed to fit in some writing? And yet I said I wanted to write. So I had to do it. Nap time would work, I decided. I could write while she was sleeping, and then I wouldn't have to worry about finding her new toys every five minutes or picking her up after she fell over (she's still learning to sit up).

For Maeve and other writers, getting up in the wee hours of the morning was what got their books written. The only times I've managed to get up very early in the morning to do anything were when my mother was waking me up, and wouldn't take "I'm tired!" for an answer. We used to go swimming twice a week at 5:00 in the morning. The drive to the pool was absolutely silent, as I was still half-asleep and barely consious. Once woken up by the swim, however, we had a marvelous chat on the way home. So waking up very early didn't seem like it would work for me - without, say, my husband kicking me out of bed.

But yesterday he started teaching. We woke up at 7:00. Sunshine usually sleeps until 9:00. I grabbed my opportunity and sat down at the computer. I was so excited to have a couple hours that I barely knew where to start. I researched markets, looked up guidelines, sent off a query, wrote a couple short pieces. Sunshine slept on as the clock crept towards 9:00 and then past. I read some more, wrote some more. She finally woke up at 10:00, and as we went through our morning routines, I felt good. I'd finally done it.

I read some more Maeve Binchy while I rocked Sunshine to sleep. She talked about inspiration, as Marcia did in the last post here. There's an old cliche that writing is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, but setting a regular writing time can help you train your muse. Seems I've been waiting for my missing muse lately, and just need to go on without him.

This morning, I woke up with my husband again. But so did Sunshine. So much for that plan, I thought, and waited for naptime. So here I am... writing.

September 01, 2008

The Joy of Mystery – M. Laycock

Someone posted a note to a list I read recently, quoting Luci Shaw, one of my favourite poets. Luci described the necessity of paying attention when “the muse” strikes. She said – “You have to wait for the images and the ideas to be presented and then be alert enough to catch them when they come, and record them." Most writers know what she means. There are times, and they are sometimes not the most convenient, when an idea or a line or a scene will come to mind and if you don’t stop whatever you are doing and write it down it will be lost.

I’m sure Mrs. Shaw would be the first to admit that there is a great deal to be said for discipline – the kind of discipline all writers need – that makes us stay at a computer tapping away even when we don’t feel like it, even when the ideas don’t come and inspiration seems like a word in a foreign lexicon.

But then there is that ‘muse.’

It has always been a mystery to me. I’ve written award-winning poems that flowed out like water and needed very little editing. I’ve had sudden overwhelming urges to write things down and found those bits perfect for pieces that weren’t even thought of until years later. And I’ve had those wonderful breakthrough ‘aha!’ moments after toiling out of pure obedience at the keyboard all day. Yes, the muse has struck me, but I don’t understand it, I can’t predict it and I certainly can’t control it.

Sometimes that drives me crazy. Sometimes I really want to be able to do all of the above. There was even a time when I thought it a little unfair that God has chosen to do it this way. If He has given us the gift, and I know He has, why not make it easy? Why not give us a muse that is as predictable and controllable as the tap at our kitchen sink. Yeah, why not!?

But then I think of the joy when those moments happen. You can liken it to an athlete finding “the zone,” when no matter what is happening around him, no matter what frustration or even pain he might have been feeling, his body reacts to all the training he has done, his actions become a thing of beauty and he senses a moment of complete fulfillment – the moment for which he has been born. It’s that moment that Eric Liddle described in Chariots of Fire when he said, “When I run I feel God’s pleasure.”

I admit I wish there were many more moments like that – I wish the muse were like the tap at my kitchen sink, but then I wonder if the joy would be as pure. Would I take that tap for granted? Would I respond with arrogance and claim it as something flowing from inside me? Would I spurn the gift and deny the hand from which it comes?

Sadly, I fear I would be guilty of all of the above. I am human and susceptible to all those human failings. So I’ll be content and grateful for those mysterious moments when the muse strikes. I’ll delight in them when they arrive and take joy in the mystery.