Thursday, December 21, 2006
"Each December, I vowed to make Christmas a calm and peaceful experience. I had cut back on nonessential obligations -- extensive card writing, endless baking, decorating, and even overspending. Yet still, I found myself exhausted, unable to appreciate the precious family moments, and of course, the true meaning of Christmas.
My son, Nicholas, was in kindergarten that year. It was an exciting season for a six-year-old. For weeks, he'd been memorizing songs for his school's "Winter Pageant."
I didn't have the heart to tell him I'd be working the night of the production. Unwilling to miss his shining moment, I spoke with his teacher. She assured me there'd be a dress rehearsal the morning of the presentation. All parents unable to attend that evening were welcome to come then. Fortunately, Nicholas seemed happy with the compromise.
So, the morning of the dress rehearsal, I filed in ten minutes early, found a spot on the cafeteria floor and sat down. Around the room, I saw several other parents quietly scampering to their seats. As I waited, the students were led into the room. Each class, accompanied by their teacher, sat cross-legged on the floor. Then, each group, one by one, rose to perform their song. Because the public school system had long stopped referring to the holiday as Christmas, I didn't expect anything other than fun, commercial entertainment - songs of reindeer, Santa Claus, snowflakes and good cheer. So, when my son's class rose to sing, "Christmas Love," I was slightly taken aback by its bold title.
Nicholas was aglow, as were all of his classmates, adorned in fuzzy mittens, red sweaters, and bright snowcaps upon their heads. Those in the front row-center stage -- held up large letters, one by one, to spell out the title of the song. As the class would sing "C is for Christmas," a child would hold up the letter C. Then, "H is for Happy," and on and on, until each child holding up his portion had presented the complete message, "Christmas Love." The performance was going smoothly, until suddenly, we noticed her; a small, quiet, girl in the front row holding the letter "M" upside down -- totally unaware her letter "M" appeared as a "W."
The audience of 1st through 6th graders snickered at this little one's mistake. But she had no idea they were laughing at her, so she stood tall, proudly holding her "W." Although many teachers tried to shush the children, the laughter continued until the last letter was raised, and we all saw it together. A hush came over the audience and eyes began to widen.
In that instant, we understood the reason we were there, why we celebrated the holiday in the first place, why even in the chaos, there was a purpose for our festivities.
For when the last letter was held high, the message read loud and clear:
"C H R I S T W A S L O V E"
And, I believe, He still is. Amazed in His presence... Humbled by His love. May each of you have a Merry Christmas as you reflect on His Amazing Love."
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Mount Kilimanjaro! The Roof of Africa! The highest point on the continent and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. This week I have been remiscing about this fantastic mountain as it was two years ago that I stood on the top of it! One of the most exciting & proudest moments of my life. Oh, it isn't a very technical mountain, as far as that goes. It's more of a challenging hike, you just need strength, endurance & perseverance to get you to the top as opposed to mountaineering skills.
Africa is definitely a fascinating continent. I was at a point in my life where I needed to get away & I needed a challenge. As an avid hiker, I had a hiker friend tell me about Kilimanjaro and suddenly a desire was growing in me. Not only did it seem like a great challenge but it was located in this far off land of amazing animals, exotic people, diverse cultures and beautiful landscapes. I had to go.
Aside from all the wonderful things I saw & did while in Africa, climbing Kili was the reason I was there. It landed in the middle of my trip and I got so nervous as the days drew closer to my climb. When I finally got to Arusha, in Tanzania, I was introduced to my climbing partners, Uli from Germany & JP from Denmark, as well as a team of porters & guides. We were so excited to get started.
One term you repeat every day while on Kili is "Pole-Pole" which is Swahili for slowly! And here more than ever PATIENCE is a virtue. It was tough going, that is for sure, but it wasn't until the final ascent where I had to find something bigger than myself to get to the top. Imagine getting up at midnight, to climb the steepest & most dangerous part in the dark. Its freezing cold, the snow is falling & the wind is blowing and you're just going up, following the guide with no indication that you're near the top, other than knowing that we will be summiting at sunrise.
My toes were freezing, I was exhausted, I just kept looking over my shoulder at the horizon where the sun would be coming up, hoping to see an indication of light to tell me we were almost there. I wanted to quit but the fear of going DOWN in the blackness of night was just another motivation to keep going up & trusting the guide.
When I thought I had nothing left in me, I found some encouragement by remembering & reciting every Bible verse I could think of that spoke of strength, endurance & help. I thought of favourites like:
"But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:31
"For we walk by faith, not by sight" 2 Corinthians 5:7 (it was dark)
"lead me to the rock that is higher than I" Psalm 61:2
" I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip, he who watches over you will not slumber." Psalm 121: 1-3
"Wait on the LORD; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the LORD!" Psalm 27:14
And when I couldn't think of anymore, I just kept repeating "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" Phillipians 4:13
I made it to the top, and all the way back down & found my strength in the word of God! Are you facing a challenge in your life. I hope that you can find some strength in these verses as well!
I DID IT!!!
Monday, December 11, 2006
Have you ever experienced true contentment at any given moment in your life? I think I have found it in this moment of mine.
My husband & I have felt so blessed over this past year that we can't help but feel content with everything. We are nicely settled into our tiny snug house & can't think of anything more we could want but to be together in it.
Oh we have certainly done some renovating & painting here & there, a bit of new flooring & stuff like that, but I'm talking quality of life contentment. We don't desire the 'bigger & better' things of life. Its easy to look around at the people we know & think we would want a bigger house, a fancier truck, an exotic vacation etc. But right now, we just don't. We have found ourselves at a place of contentment & we're happy to be in it. We call it our bubble. And we are happy inside it. Reality is quick to burst bubbles these days. People find a spot of happiness or peace & the real world finds ways to damage it.
This time of year, Christmas Shopping Season, we are certainly bombarded with covetousness & discontentment. Advertisements tell us to want & buy & consume & spend! Gift giving has also been a part of my family traditions. Its something we enjoy doing for eachother but its certainly easy to get carried away. Every single year, some statistic will tell us that 'people are spending more this year than last year'. Most marketing schemes are designed to make you WANT something better than what you have. Its hard to find a contentment in a world of consumption.
My wish for you in this season of consuming is that you find your place of contentment amidst the demands for wanting, spending, giving & getting.
Graphic by In His Image Graphics
Friday, December 08, 2006
I had this verse reference written on a note on my desk for the last few days to remind me I wanted to write about it but I couldn't remember what it referred to until I looked it up again today. Then I remembered 'Persecuted Christians'.
Many of us who live in North America don't really have any idea what it is like to be persecuted for our Christian faith. Some of us may endure ridicule or embarrassment, maybe some hateful words or actions but in our mostly free countries, we don't really have to face persecution like some do.
According to my trusty dictionary site, PERSECUTE is "to harass or punish in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict; specifically : to cause to suffer because of belief" and there are thousands of Christians facing this in our world today. Its only going to get worse. Many are imprisoned, beaten, threatened or martyred for their faith in Christ. They are the ones that cling to verses such as these when they feel alone or helpless. The reminder that God is there with them no matter what they are facing.
I get email updates from "Voice of the Martyrs" on a regular basis which provide details on where Christians are persecuted around the world. According to their own Mission Statement on their website at www.persecution.net "The Voice of the Martyrs exists to glorify God by being Canada's effective and reliable source of information and support of persecuted Christians around the world." I invite you to have a look at their site for yourself so you have a better understanding of how & why there is persecution in the world.
I think at Christmas time, my thoughts often wonder about the 'less fortunate' in the world and I try to think of ways I can give a little bit back. For example, I send out shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. This year especially, I've been wondering what else I can do. Then this email update from Voice of the Martyrs put my thinking in a different direction. It reminded me that I need to pray! Its easy to forget about the power of prayer when my own life is going so well. But when I am reminded of others suffering, this is when I need to pray even more. I need to pray that they feel God's promises & presence even stronger. Please join me in praying that they will cling to this verse in Hebrews knowing that God will never leave nor forsake them.
Friday, December 01, 2006
I know Christmas isn't a joyous time of year for everyone & I respect that. A lot of memories are built in to special holiday seasons & they aren't always good, sometimes hurtful, sometimes painful & sometimes angry feelings come out around this time of year. Some people would love to skip Christmas altoghter. Some people hate the hustle & bustle of the commercialism of Christmas. Some people believe Christmas is too religious or not religious enough. Many people are afriad of offending others by saying "Merry Christmas" as opposed to "Seasons Greetings". I'm not one of those people.
I love that Christmas is both a religious holiday and a commercial holiday. I love that its a day where Christians can celebrate the birth of Jesus. I love that the decorations & gift giving brings me such joy. I love singing "Silent Night", "Joy to the World" and "Hark the Herald Angels". I also love singing "Deck The Halls" and "Jingle Bells". Do I contradict myself? Perhaps. Am I sitting on a fence about it? Absolutely not! I find joy in both parts of Christmas, both the spiritual & the commercialism. It is certainly possible that its one or the other for you? Or both! My wish for you is, whatever your Christmas traditions are, that they bring you JOY for the month of December.
So if you find your joy by hanging garland around the windows or displaying a Nativity set on your mantle, or both, embrace those tradtions so you too, can anticipate this as a season of joy, year after year!
"Deck the Halls with boughs of holly, tis the season to be JOLLY"
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Its cold today! I mean really cold! For a southern town that doesn't see much of winter, its got us in its clutches & won't let go. After the beautiful day last Friday, I knew that snow & cold were in our forecast but it still seems unexpected. But we are breaking the records today with our cold. Especially when there is wind. The wind chill factor makes the temperature more than double what the thermometer says. And I can feel it chill me to my bones. And I'm grumbling about it.
Got to work today & the heaters in our office just aren't keeping up with the cold outside of the office. The floor is cold, my desk is cold, my hands are cold. So I'm grumbling about that too!
We found an extra heater, the type you plug in, to help take the chill off the air & it started to warm things up, until it flipped the breaker. So we had to unplug it...and I grumbled some more.
If you're anything like me, sometimes you get comfortable with your discomfort. Grumbling & complaining feels good. Somebody hear me! Somebody sympathize with me! Don't solve it, just feel sorry for me! What an attitude! Its amazing the gentle way God reminds us to smarten up! My husband phoned to tell me he was about to go to work on a rooftop unit outside in the wind. *ouch* My grumbling suddenly seemed petty.
And then I started to think, what do I have to complain about really? At least I'm clothed & sheltered. When many are dying on the streets due to the extreme cold, I'm complaining because I'm a little chilly. When many are out of a job, I have one that pays me well enough to live in a house that also keeps me warm. I live in one of the warmest climates in all of Canada, what would those living in the north think of my grumbling? What would those desperate to find a job think of my grumbling? What does GOD think of my grumbling? He tells us in Philippians 2:14 to "do all things without complaining..." and reminds us in Philippians 4:4 to "Rejoice in the Lord always". Oh where is my rejoicing today!
View from my living room window at lunch today
Thank you Lord for those gentle reminders to stop complaining!
And thanks to those of you that have left comments on my blog so far. Its very encouraging!
Sunday, November 26, 2006
"You who laid the foundations of the earth, so that it should not be moved forever." Psalm 104:5
Southern British Columbia, to me, is one of the most beautiful places to live on the planet. I've seen some beautiful places in my travels but this will always be my top choice for the beauty of nature. Friday was no exception. It was a clear sunny morning, probably the last of its kind for November, and I was desperate to get outside with my camera.
I had the day off work so being out felt even more special, like playing hooky or something. I called up my friend Barb & we headed down to Hayne's Point for a photo outing. It was a great time & I captured some beautiful images in that little park. We felt so priveleged to be out in the glorious sunshine appreciating the beauty around us before the grips of winter covers up our blue sky. And it was comforting to know that we were in a protected park so that these beauties we were enjoying would be preserved.
Natural resource preservation is such a hot topic in this day & age. Conservation. Reversing the cycle before its too late. Stop Global Warming. Save the Planet. With all the reports & statistics out there, the predictions of global destruction are getting more and more prominant. Protect this! Save that! Reduce, reuse, recycle. Everything is pointing to the doom of our planet because of the way we have treated it in the last millenium. It seems inevitable that we are in a downward spiral to the end of the world.
Psalm 104 is one of my most favourite books of the Bible because of the way it beautifully describes our Creator and how the whole earth responds to Him. "He causes the grass to grow for the cattle" vs.14 "He appointed the moon for seasons; the sun knows its going down" vs.19 "The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their food from God." vs.21 "Oh Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all. The earth is full of your possessions." vs.24
Are we at risk of losing or destroying the wonders that God has created for us? I believe we aren't. Though the earth has suffered & will continue to suffer from all we put it through, God doesn't create second rate stuff! And there are several verses in the Bible that guarantee this like Psalm 104:5 "You who laid the foundations of the earth, so that it should not be moved forever." and Ecclesiastes 1:4 "One generation passes away and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever." Psalm 78:69 "...like the earth which He has established forever."
I got these references on the earth's endurance from a program my husband & I enjoy on prophecy by Jack Van Impe that we watch on line. Weekly, Jack & his wife, collect & share various world news & explain how it relates to prophecies in the Bible & the second coming. With all the wars & nuclear warnings happening in our world right now, its easy for many to believe that the end of the world is near. We believe the Second Coming is near. If you are interested in Biblical prophecies & end times stuff, I recommend tuning in to his website at www.jvim.com or watching their weekly program.
Monday, November 20, 2006
"From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I."
Knees shaking, fingers trembling, arms reaching, looking up. Rock Climbing is a great sport. I'm just a newbie to it in the grand scheme of things but from the first time I tried it I loved it. There is a great feeling of personal achievement when clinging to the side of a rock. There is a goal that you're looking at (usually its the top) and you need to find the route to get to it. Sometimes, the route is very obvious, but sometimes its nearly impossible.
I only have learned to do climbing with a top rope so far. You definitely have to trust the person on the ground belaying you. Your very life can be in their hands if you slip. If you have complete trust then you have some level of security that allows you to take a few risks when you're on a top rope because you know that they won't let you fall.
You also have to have some trust in the rock you are climbing on. Not all rock is good for this sport. Some rock is like shale, it easily will break off in your hands making it too dangerous to climb. Other rock is too smooth, and then it is too difficult to find hand holds or foot holds. And then there is the good hard rock, rough & bumpy, with cracks & crevices, perfect for climbers. You will believe that this rock will not give way on you.
I often think of that verse while climbing "lead me to the rock that is higher than I". In some ways it can be a metaphor. Going through troubles in life, you may look to God to lift you up, to protect you and to bring you through them. You may be reminded also that God is the rock that you can lean on during these times, he is unchanging & unmoving. Many times in the Bible God is referred to as our rock like in Psalm 62: 6-7 "...He only is my rock and my salvation...the rock of my strength and my refuge..."
For me, the verse was even more true than just metaphorically, because the first time I tried rock climbing, my heart was in a bad place, it was overwhelmed with things in life & I was lacking self-esteem & confidence. Encouraged to give it a try, I went rock climbing with my brother, his wife & a friend. What an amazing feeling to be clinging to rock that was 'higher' than I was, trusting in myself to hang on & trusting in someone else to not let me fall. Adrenaline rush? Definitely? But an exercise in trust & self-confidence, even more! I loved it & knew I wanted to do more of it! .
Of course rock climbing wasn't the only thing to pull me out of my tough time but it was a new found passion that came alive & little by little the other things about me came back to life too. And sometimes now, when I'm climbing something a little more difficult, can't find a hand hold or feeling like giving up & climbing back down, I think of that verse & am reminded that God, my rock, will give me the strength to climb to the rock a little higher than I am!
Photo is of my friend Janine who climbed with us in the summer.
Friday, November 17, 2006
As I looked down across the valley thru my viewfinder, one particular verse kept playing over in my head. "I will lift up my eyes to the hills - From whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth." Psalm 121: 1-2
As a nature lover, I find strength & rejuvination in the great outdoors. I feel refreshed, calmed & alive. It is also a place where I find I have the best communion with God. Nothing to distract me that hasn't been created by Him. The sounds of the birds are His, as is the voice of the wind. Standing on a mountain gazing down on a valley below, I find my strength in His creations and I find my peace.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Some people seem to come alive when the snow starts to fly. These are the snowmobilers, skiers, snowboarders, tobagganers and more. There is no shortage of things to do in the winter if you are a snow enthusiast. Others tend to go into a hibernation-like mode for the colder months of the year. All outdoor activities cease and they hole up in their homes, anxiously awaiting spring once more.
But, like a squirrel, I see the snow is nearing & it means I have to get busy. Get the leaves raked & bagged, get the gardens pulled & turned, get the patio furniture tidied up & get the warm sweaters out of storage. And winter tires! I breathe a sigh of relief each morning that passes because i have not had time to buy the new winter tires yet this year.
Recently, my husband & I bought an old house & right now our backyard is full of old appliances of every kind. I feel like a true red-neck with all that sitting out there, an old junky freezer full of cardboard, the world's oldest fridge leaned over & a ripped apart harvest gold stove lying in pieces...maybe it would make a good planter next spring. NO! Before the snow is on the ground, those metal beasts will be seeing a journey to the dump and all the cardboard boxes from unpacking will be sent to recycling. Only then will I look at the sky & say "I'm ready".
Forced to spend more times indoor in the winter is a bit freeing for me also. As soon as the snow recedes in February, I want to be outside, taking it all in. But come November, my indoor life returns. My scrapbooks come back out, I take more time to read & hopefully it will mean more time on the computer to process the photos I took the rest of the year. And I'm getting ready for my most favourite season: Christmas!
So, as I wait on the fringe of winter, enjoying the last few golden days of fall, preparing for the snow & anxious for the Christmas season, I am reminded that this is not time for the winter of my soul and that with determination, I will not let it go back into hibernation but strive to keep it fresh and alive, through the cold & gray winter days, renewed like the coming of spring.
"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:2 NIV
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day." 2 Corinthians 4:16 NIV
Saturday, November 11, 2006
What is a shadow? Webster first defines it as "partial darkness or obscurity within a part of space from which rays from a source of light are cut off by an interposed opaque body". Though a wordy definition, we all understand & have probably experienced this sort of shadow, especially on sunny days.
Other Webster definitions for shadow are "shelter from danger or observation", "an area near an object" and "small degree or portion". So, depending on the way you use the word, it can refer to many different things. Using the definitions like these, we will find that the word shadow is mentioned in 77 verses in the Bible (in the King James Version according to Bible.com)
Often it is referred to as a place of shelter, shelter from the heat & sun or a place of safety, usually provided by God. A place for us to find refuge under the shadow of His wings. "Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of Thy wings" Psalm 17:8 "in the shadow of Thy wings will I make my refuge" Psalm 57:1. I imagine a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings to protect & shield them & how much more the protection of God's wings would be for his children.
19 times, it is used as shadow of death. I think this refers to being near death, or being in the presence of death. Especially in the book of Job. "Before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death" Job 10:21 "For the morning is to them even as the shadow of death: if one know them, they are in the terrors of the shadow of death." Job 24:17 Job was certainly a man who was placed in the presence of death or near death during his many trials & tribulations, his faith in God bringing him through each one. One of the most famous passages in the Bible comes from Psalm 23:4 "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me."
One of the best verses that contains the word shadow is in James & uses the third definition "small degree or portion" This verse defines the best thing about God's character: unchanging. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."James 1:17 There isn't even a hint of change, not even in the smallest degree, to God's great character.
Have you ever felt yourself in the shadow of death? Remember at those times that you are also in the shadow of His wings and that He will be with you because there is no shadow of turning with God!
Thursday, November 09, 2006
These past few years have been a drawn out period of self discovery & exploration. Escaping to the wilds & wonders of Africa, I ran away from a lot of things in order to find myself. As wonderful as the experience was, I realized that "finding me", meant being back where I belonged, back around the people I loved & loved me. The future was exciting, full of love & happiness, adventure and a new start with a man I loved & who loved me back.
But as my independence & contentment grew, my soul fell silent. Like I began to no longer feel a need to communicate with God. Things were good, no, things were great, so slowly & casually, I began to leave Him out. I moved to a new town & forgot the desire to go to a church. My Bible lay at the bottom of a trunk, out of sight & often out of mind. I no longer prayed. I no longer worshipped. I just ignored it & let it go dormant. I quieted my soul in such a way that I stifled it into silence.
But God will not be silenced!
He's there! He always has been! I know He always will be!
For the past few months He's been reminding me of His presence, His desire to communicate with me & that burning desire in my soul that needs to be filled with Him once more. I see it now! Its a renewal that comes softly. Like a whisper in the darkness. The more I dwell on it, the louder the whisper becomes. And the more obvious. He keeps putting things in front of me, reasons for me to no longer ignore it. And now, its a thunder! I feel Him, I need Him. My heart is singing even though I have not yet found my voice. Its coming. Like the refreshing green of spring. The path is there and my feet have found it. Its time to step forward & reach up.