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Friday, November 30, 2012

Silent Night

   I woke up to the sound of sirens.  It happens often; we live on a hill, and the sounds of sirens often echo in the valley below.  It seems to happen regularly in the wee hours of the morning; and I start the day with a prayer as I wonder who might be hurting, who might be frightened, for the paramedics who rush in to help.

  Sometimes I drift off, but usually I am half awake until the radio alarm jars my half-dreaming, and mercifully my hubby reaches to turn it off.  I'm not quite ready for the days news and love to nestle in and enjoy the quiet.

  Most of our lives are not quiet.  The TV blares, and sounds of cell phones, and chatter and traffic and machines of all descriptions color our days.

  And I think about that much loved Christmas Carol, Silent Night, and wonder - was it really so quiet?  If you listen in your head, you can hear the donkey's braying and the sheep bleating, and if your senses are really tuned, the barnyard smells drift in.  Perhaps a rooster crows in the distance.  The sound of large groups of people gathering, taxes to be paid and a bustling unsettled community there to do Caesar Augustus' bidding.

  And then you hear it, the mother's gasps of pain, the baby's cry.  A Saviour is born.  It is romantic to us, looking back from the twenty-first century, etched on ornaments, painted on cards, sold in a million varieties, the nativity how ever you want it!

  But I think it was far from romantic that night.  It was sweat and tears and noise and smells, and in the middle of all of it... unspeakable joy.  So full of joy that the heavens opened and angels sang!  Hardly silent, I think!!

  So where is the silence?  In this waiting for Christmas, this beginning of Advent Season, I long, more than ever for the stillness of my heart.  To stop, to listen, to rest.  I was reading a devotional this morning by Rob Descotes from Psalm 46:10, which says  "Be still... and know that I am God."  I've been thinking about that all day... Descotes suggests that these words were given as a command in the midst of chaos, of war... and God was reminding them that He was in control...

   And I thought... how appropriate.  In the middle of the chaos of the First Christmas there was a far greater plan... and in my life, in all of life, there is a bigger plan.  God says to me... Be still...there is holy silence in the midst of all the noise and distractions.

  So, "Silent Night"... as we enter into this which can be the busiest of seasons, full of noise and hustle and expectations and spending, and overindulging... I just want to stop.  To savor the silence, to be grateful for all the gifts life brings, to be thankful for a God who sends a little baby to be human, just like us, so that we can be known and loved by a God who cares.  I quiet my heart... and listen.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Drinking in Beauty

It was a beautiful weekend, a beautiful last few days.  A gift in November, really!  I often associate this month with grays, the drab undergarments of the winter to come.

  And I was surprised by beauty.

   The sun shone.  It cast bright shadows on the lake and hills, creating warmth and light.  And I was captivated by it, and drank it in.  

  This picture was taken coming home to Vernon from Kelowna on Sunday afternoon.  My little camera does not do it justice.  The moon hung low and heavy and you could see it's details against the deep winter-blue sky.  It made you want to reach out and touch it, it felt so close, and yet so many millions of miles away.  

    So much is beautiful.  And it is a gift.  All around us, in everything, in everywhere, in everyone, there is beauty to be found.

  It drew me to the word antidote.  Wikipedia defines it this way: "An antidote is a substance which can counteract a form of poisoning."  To drink in or take in beauty - what a beautiful antidote to weariness that so often overtakes us... for some it is deep sorrow or challenges, for others just life itself, with all it's challenges.

  We are so easily "poisoned" by the heaviness of life.  It is real.   I had someone ask me the other day if I believed God could exist in a world of such sorrow.  These are the difficult questions of people in pain.  I have come to believe that God doesn't cause pain and sorrow, but He is present in our suffering.  We live in a broken world.  And He gives us a powerful antidote - beauty, creation, love...  to drink in, to ease the weariness, to bring joy.    We just have to open our eyes and our hearts to see it.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

No, it's Not Made in China...

   I often hear this comment at the Art Center where I hang out... 'It's not made in China".  The hours spent in the creative process of making a piece of art is many.  Each pottery piece I make is handled several times, in the shaping and forming, in the cleaning, in the preparation for firing, in the glazing, and finally ... holding my breath for a good result... in the glazing kiln.

  This isn't a factory, there isn't mass production (although some artists are amazing in their output!), it is mostly a labour of love and joy.

  As I write this piece I look at my own little creations which will be going into our annual Art Show and Sale, and there is a little piece of myself in each one...

  I'm not in it to make money.  I am happy if I am able to recoup enough to pay for my art habit, for clay and studio hours.  It is not so for some of my artist friends.  Many of them rely on this income to help them live, to help with daily expenses.  I feel for them.

  In our economy it is so easy to run to Walmart or a Dollar Store and get what we need for next to nothing. We don't want to think of the cost of labour, or working conditions overseas - and indeed that is a political discussion.  And all of us really have too much stuff anyway.  Our thriving thrift stores are testament to that.

  So what's my point?  There isn't one really... but if you are spending Christmas money this year, think about a local artist, one who has lovingly produced and created pieces of art, and recognize that the price you pay is probably a good bargain for all the hours that went into it.  It is one of a kind, not mass produced.

  There are some beautiful things to be had and treasured.  Or consider the gift of art lessons or music.  These are gifts that feed the soul.  Thoughts for today...


Wednesday, November 21, 2012


  Patience is my word for today.

  It is not my favourite word.

  Years ago, when I was dating my first husband -  no, it was pre-dating - I was quite interested in him at the very young age of 14.   During that time, I went with our youth group where he told his story... or in some circles it would be called giving his testimony.    He talked about patience that night.  How he had asked God for patience, and some very difficult things had happened.  And God was teaching him through that.  It made an impression on me, well in fact I married him a few years later!  But I also decided then and there that asking for patience was not one prayer I really wanted to pray.

  I really think God has a sense of humor.  Whether I prayed for it or not, I have had a lot to learn, and have found myself many times in a place of waiting; of practicing patience.  Yesterday when we were reading our daily reading by Henry Nouwen, these words startled me: "The word patience comes from the Latin verb patior which means "to suffer."  Waiting patiently is suffering through the present moment, tasting it to the full, and  letting the seeds that are sown in the ground on which we stand grow into strong plants. "

  Nouwen teaches that patience is not passive.  He says, "Waiting patiently is not like waiting for the bus to come, the rain to stop, or the sun to rise.  It is an active waiting in which we live the present moment to the full in order to find there the signs of the One we are waiting for."

  We are coming up to the Advent Season.  It is a joyful season, but advent means to wait.  To wait for a Saviour.  As if the whole earth were groaning, waiting for relief from suffering.  I know many can relate as we listen to the news each night of bombs falling in the Gaza strip and in Israel.  I pray for my friends there.  We relate when we hear of tragedies all over the world.  We relate when we know loved ones in our own circles who struggle with grief or pain or difficult times.

  It reminds me of a cryptic saying I heard "Life is hard, and then you die."  Life can be hard.  This is true. But there is also hope to hang on to, that I refuse to let go of.  And even, in what seems to us the very worst, saying good-bye is saying hello.  To a new life, a free life, a life with God, a life without pain.  That is the ultimate hope.

  But in the meantime, we live here, in what often seems the mess.  There cannot be life without suffering.  I see it every day in my work.  And yet, there is also joy to be found.  Profound joy.  Joy in the moments, joy in shared smiles, in meaningful conversation, in the beauty all around us.

  I was thinking of a verse I've read from time to time, and now I just read it in "The Message" a lovely paraphrase of the Bible.  It says: "There's more to come:  We continue to shout our praise even when we're hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.  In alert expectancy such as this, we're never left feeling shortchanged.  Quite the contrary - we can't round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!"   Isn't that lovely?  

  It brings up more words to live by... gratitude, expectancy... but they can be words for another day.  I'm still not sure asking for patience is a favored prayer I pray readily, but patience can be practiced, and lived with, and accepted, and there is the hope of what is to come.  Like the seeds of plant, buried in the dark cold earth, often dormant for months, there is the hope of spring, of life, of things to come.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Powerful Words

   I recently visited a colleague`s office and before I left she told me to take a piece of paper with a word on it.  It was "my word" of the day... and it said "Creativity".  I loved it.  I thought about that word many times that day, and it inspired me.

 Earlier this year I was privileged to be on a prayer list for a young woman who was critically ill in the Vancouver area.  In their communications, her parents shared that they chose a word for each day - a word that kept them going.  Words like peace, and courage and determination, and hope.  (This young lady pulled through and is doing well today!)

  I have started to use this in my work and in my personal life.  It becomes a focus, rather than thinking about the dreary weather (hey, I know it is November), or the challenges at hand.

  I was thinking about the word Believe earlier this week.  We were in attendance at a wonderful celebration of our friends who were celebrating his life and his health after five years post-transplant.  It was wonderful!  I remember visiting him in hospital, and how fragile life seemed.  `During that time, I had found this decorative plaque - a simple cut-out of the word, Believe - and we gave it to him and his wife, as they sojourned in the hospital.

  At the party, all these years later, there it was... this word sitting on their mantle, adorned with autumn leaves.  Believe - a beautiful statement of faith, of hope, of hanging on.

  This week as I visited a patient with incredible challenges I said... I have a word for you.  Believe!  I printed it out for her to see... I could see she wanted to hang on to that word.  I visited another gentleman, deeply discouraged with lack of mobility after a health crisis.  Reading was difficult.  Try to imagine the word ``Believe`` emblazoned on your hospital curtain.   He looked, we both looked... and imagined.  His eyes brightened.  Just hang on to that for today... one step at a time.  It was a lovely moment, and hope had returned to the room.

  There are so many words... I am so inspired.  Hope, Endurance, Peace, Joy, Comfort.  One of my favourite verses in the Bible is full of words..  ``but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness``.... (Galatians 5:22)  Words to live by.  Words to think on.  Powerful words that encourage and give us hope.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


   I was walking outside the other day, and noticed on the sidewalk these lovely dark imprints of leaves - images left on the hard surface even though the leaf had blown away.  I wished I had my camera - I wanted to capture the delicate images, the traces of leaves now dead and discarded, probably washed away.

  It made me think of imprints, of images that are left behind.  I play with that daily, in my art work.  I love to imprint images into clay.  The fragile imprint of the leaf leaves a design I can't seem to replicate on my own.  And I love the effect, especially when I rub under-glaze into them and rub it off, and the leaf comes alive on the pottery.

  People can be like that.  Imprints on our lives.  I think of the imprint a mother or father leaves and how that influences our lives.  I've been thinking a lot of my mom - who turns 80 tomorrow (Friday, November 16) - so happy birthday, mom!  And I think of the positive imprint she has on my life, of a positive attitude, of loving people, of creativity, of hard work.  Thank you, mom!

  There are others too... I often think of my friend Dene Steven, who insisted last year that she would come to my art display at Artsolutely (Vernon Art Center), last year, even though she was weak. She died only a few weeks later.   She was such a good friend, and I miss her wisdom, friendship and advice.  She has left a lasting imprint on me..

  Imprints are not always positive.  We were talking today, about children, children who are neglected or not loved, or abandoned and how it affects their whole lives.  They need a lot of healing.  My heart often aches for those who have such sad stories.

  It also inspires me... how do I live my life?  To leave a lasting imprint, one that is positive and loving and beautiful.  And it also begs the thought of God, my creator who also leaves His imprint on us, on all creation. And it is beautiful.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Unsolicited Gifts... and a Solicitation

   My mail box is full these days.  I have received a number of sets of Christmas cards, all marked with various organizations hoping I'll return their kindness with a monetary gift.  I have more return labels than I will EVER use, some lovely notepads and even a gift bag.

   All unsolicited.  Very nice really, but it also annoys me if I am honest.  I didn't ask for this stuff, and I really don't want to feel guilty for not sending the money they hope to receive in return.  In fact, I'm quite suspicious if I do, the gifts will come even more often and freely  And I question the use of charities monies... how much is spent for these fund-raising efforts, gifts and return labels and seeds and who knows what else... and being sent to complete strangers.  When I send money, I really want it to go to the recipient.  Period!

  I believe in giving.  I want to give wisely.  I choose my charities carefully.  And I appreciate when they are open and honest about their finances and where the money goes.  I guess you could say, I want bang for my buck, I want to know that giving makes a difference.

  So because I hate to throw anything away, I will probably use those Christmas cards... not my choice, but they are sitting here.  Or I'll donate them to my local mission, perhaps someone can use them.  My grandsons can play with the return labels... great sticker material!

  On that note, I would like to share about an organization that IS dear to my heart.  New Hope started more than 15 years ago now, and has been faithfully supporting and providing services to widows, widowers and their families through drop-ins, retreats, their website, and many other ways.  They rarely ask for money, and I know they struggle financially, just to keep the little office open, and to pay for their part-time secretary.

  This weekend (Saturday, November 17th), they are holding their annual fund-raiser here in Vernon.  It is a lovely little concert featuring Celtic and country music by Abe and Mary Doerksen, and puppetry by Cindy.  There will be a silent auction and lovely desserts and Christmas baking to buy.  It is being held at the Vernon Christian Fellowship Church at 4507 29th Street. Everyone is welcome!

  But you don't have to attend to give... there is information on their web-site, and it is a little organization that keeps on going and giving and loving, and I want to love it back.  So if you are able, or have been helped by New Hope in the past, or know of someone who could use their services... look them up!  And I thank you. And yes, that was the solicitation!!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Quitting with Grace

  I have a little bookmark that is entitled "Don't Quit".  It contains a lovely poem about not giving up, and I have always believed that, embraced it.

  I also have a slogan in my head (might be from my days of watching Robert Schuller), that says (my translation), when tough times come, the tough get going...

  So last week, when I was trying to juggle all my duties and activities and work and play and family and school, the balls started dropping.  I literally felt like everything was falling apart, I could no longer do it all... and I quit.  Not everything, mind you!  But I dropped the school piece, and let it go.  For now, anyway.

  I listened to some wise counsel.  I took a deep breath.  I reevaluated what was truly important.

  We live on a crazy planet.  Go, go, go.  Some days, I just want to stop.  As we come up to the Christmas Season we ramp it up.  To-do lists abound.  One of the biggest challenges is to par that list.  To take a deep breath.  To gaze out my window (as I'm doing now) and watch the morning sun crest over the orchards colored in their autumn splendor.  To go for a walk.  To be still and pray.

  God, quiet my heart.  I think of those words from one of my favourite psalms... "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10).  To be still is a lesson I think I'll be learning for the rest of my life.  For it is in those moments of stillness that I find the energy and strength for the rest of my life.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Stormy Weather

   Just over a week ago I prepared a service on the topic of stormy weather - and where we find shelter.  Part of my job as chaplain is to hold services at the hospital and memorial services at the extended care facility adjacent to the hospital.

  So I was thinking about the time of year, and storms, and I looked for scripture and songs around that theme as I was looking for words of comfort and hope for these dear people, mostly geriatric, that have entered my life.

  Yesterday as I held the memorial service, these words seemed so applicable for this season -and for me!  I thought of those I love, and our lives, and it seemed that life has been a bit stormy of late for a many.  When tossed about by the waves, it is so easy to focus on them!!

  So it was so good again to be drawn into the words of that old hymn, A Shelter in the Time of Storm.  We don't sing it too often in church anymore!  But these words are so true, so comforting, so reassuring...

The Lord’s our Rock, in Him we hide,
A Shelter in the time of storm;
Secure whatever ill betide,
A Shelter in the time of storm.

Refrain:  Oh, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land,
A weary land, a weary land;
Oh, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land,
A Shelter in the time of storm.

A shade by day, defense by night,
A Shelter in the time of storm;
No fears alarm, no foes afright,
A Shelter in the time of storm.

The raging storms may round us beat,
A Shelter in the time of storm
We’ll never leave our safe retreat,
A Shelter in the time of storm.

O Rock divine, O Refuge dear,
A Shelter in the time of storm;
Be Thou our Helper ever near,
A Shelter in the time of storm.
Vernon J. Charlesworth (ca. 1880) 

A dear friend sent me this verse yesterday, translated in the Message.  I love this paraphrase - God's words come alive!  “When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end – “ (Isaiah 43:2 MSG)

  I've thought about all those who are affected by the great storm Sandy on the east coast.  I've watched pictures where they are literally hanging on.  Yes, hanging on... and it is a good lesson to hang on to Jesus... to reach out and hold on.  Storms come... and go.  So changing focus... from the waves to the Creator, who promises to never leave or forsake us, and He is a safe place in stormy weather.