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Archive for December, 2016

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Unless you live under a rock, you would have encountered (and maybe even expressed) desire for the end of 2016.

It would seem that society, as a whole, have not appreciated the events of 2016. Whether it has been world events of human tragedies, atrocities or politics. Maybe the numerous losses of life of famous people (far too many too soon, and due to self-induced causes). Or maybe there have been individual and personal tragedies, losses and sorrows.

But, was 2016 so exceptional in a negative way?

As I opened up social media over the past few days I have seen the posts of deaths of famous people, the stupid twitter tweets, but I have seen so much more.

I have seen people posting images of friends and family, of well wishes for the Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Years. I have read tweets that inspire and motivate me to do and be better.

Then I read a post by an individual who has struggles, real struggles. I am not talking the struggle of the loss of her favourite actor, or no money to go partying on New Years Eve, but struggles caused by chemical substances in utero. Struggles that have plagued her since before she was born, and about which there is no cure. Real struggles.

And her post inspired me.

For, after acknowledging the common message that 2016 was the worst year in history, she declared the good that has touched her life this past year. She named individuals, events and successes that made this year wonderful.

Her post brought numerous quotes, verses (“For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” Proverbs 23:7) and a song from childhood:

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
*Count your many blessings, see what God has done.
[*And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.]

This chorus is not a sugar-coated Pollyanna way of looking at life, complete with rose-colored glasses. It is the power of acknowledging and giving our lives, every year, every day, to the only one who can give purpose to all of the events in our lives (as is clear in the verses that surround that chorus.

May we end 2016, with thanks, for the many blessings in our lives, and determined to change our thinking as we enter 2017.

Count Your Blessings

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings—*money cannot buy [*wealth can never buy]
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

 

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post called Where is Jesus this Christmas? In this post I was reflecting on our expectation, as Christians, that the world around us acknowledge our faith (i.e. wishing us a Merry Christmas, rather than Happy Holidays … by the way, the root origin of the word ‘holiday’ is holy day).

So, I decided to put my actions where my computer key-tapping fingers are, and do myself a little Festivus experiment.

Since the writing of the post, in early December, I have been intentional in wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. I have done so at every grocery store, retail business, coffee shop and restaurant. I have done it at my hair stylist’s shop, the gas station, with neighbours, and to strangers who I have held a door open for.

Despite the fact that many (I would guess most) of the people who I interacted with, are probably not confessing followers of Jesus Christ, and despite the fact that one of two business have declared that their employees would not be wishing customers a Merry Christmas,

not one person returned my Merry Christmas with anything but, “Merry Christmas” in return.

NOT ONE!

So, fellow followers of Christ … could it be that this has become an issue because we  have failed at initiating the conversation?

Paul tell us, in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

What we need to remember is that Paul is not referring to slavery at the hands of non-believers, but slavery to the laws that they, as Jewish believers, held so dear.

Paul continues in his explanation of freedom in Christ …

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (v. 13-15)

Hum … could he be saying that if we do not love each other we might destroy each other (and the very reason for the Christ mass / Christmas?). Then he continues with a fruit bowl filled with something that can nourish us, and those around us …

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

 

Folks, the world will follow our lead … but we need to lead, and we need to do so from a place of love, not the law.

For, as Jesus, himself, reminds us, (Matthew 5:13-16):

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Want a New Years (a new Life) Resolution?:

If we are the light, shine like we are reflecting the one who came at Christmas and who resides in us.

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He’s Still Older than Me

“You know you have a December birthday when you get a birthday gift that says Happy Birthday/Merry Christmas.” The Hubby

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I can guarantee that hubby will get a birthday gift, from me, that is only for his birthday … because we don’t exchange Christmas gifts 😉.

Well, another trip around the sun is completed and now he’s older.

Hubby has lived through:

Bell bottoms, skinny jeans, tear-aways and tight athletic shorts.

Long hair, short hair, mullets, long beards, short beards and goatees.

Rock, Disco, Country, and Indy.

The Vietnam, Cold, Falklands, Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan and far too many other wars and battles.

Space travel, AIDS epidemic, 911 terrorist attacks, and not one Toronto Maple Leaf winning season.

He is a good man, who can make others at ease with great ease.

As a son, he loves his parents, and strives to maintain regular contact with them.

As a husband, he is steady and committed.

As a dad, he will always drop whatever he is doing when one of his kids need something.

As a pastor, he believes in the God he serves and in the people in his congregation.

As a football coach, he desires the best for his players … on and off the field.

I pray that, today, he might know how well loved and needed he is. I hope to that he might be reminded that he has a wonderful life (spoiler alert … guess what movie we will go see later today?).

Happy birthday to my older, 49 (and holding … tightly) hubby.

 

 

 

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plan

As the year is coming to an end, I am feeling the pressure of wanting to have a plan, a full-detailed plan, for 2017 …

I don’t have such a plan.

This year our oldest has completed her undergrad degree, and is now working in her field (and starting the process of paying off student loan debt … aka welcome to adulthood). She just moved out into her own cozy suite, leaving ours empty.

Our middle child completed her one year training program and is now working in her first career, while continuing education for the next one. She would love to move into an independent-living situation, but is trying to balance the desire for that and the desire to continue education, debt-free.

Our youngest is in his final year of high school, and is considering the options for the year after high school and contemplating what to do with his life in the future. He is learning about the value of work, and how good it feels to have a job.

We, as parents, are on the edge change.

Though we are investigating using our suite as rental income, we (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘I’) are also feeling this home and property are more effort than joy. We have a lovely swimming pool, which gave summer employment opportunities to our oldest who taught dozens of kids to swim … but it now sits quiet much of the summer (and eats up many dollars … that could go into travel).

I, too am contemplating the age-old question,

what am I going to do when I grow up?

Though I love my current job/career with all my heart, I feel there are strengths and abilities that have been waiting in a dormant state for the door of the cave to open, and bring light to their usefulness. Do I go back to school? What would I study? Do I simply look for employment in my field, or look in an entirely different area?

So many questions, so few answers.

I’m waiting, and I don’t have a plan.

Many years ago the Israelites had a plan, given to them by God, through the prophets. They were going to be saved, redeemed, by a king, appointed by God. They knew he was co ing, they just didn’t know when.

The problem was, their perception of the prophesy and its fulfillment were two very different things.

They had imagined a warrior, who old not just redeem, but elevate them. What they got was a baby, born into low circumstances, who would grow up to be the saviour of, not just the Jewish people, but of Gentiles as well (“he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” 1 John2:2).

We each may be waiting, and wondering how circumstances in our lives will turn out. We may be dealing with the struggle of not having a plan.

But, there is a plan. Though the plan we think we have might not turn out as we had intended, it will be good, for it comes from the giver of good gifts, for all who believe.

 

 

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To me there is nothing more beautifully Christmas than a quiet Christmas eve, with snow falling softly, a fire in the fireplace, loved ones close by and reflection on the birth of the Christ-child. All the anticipation and preparation of the advent season coming to conclusion as the hours tick towards the day we celebrate his prophesied arrive.

Very little of my own vision of Christmas is accurate, as much of what I love is so closely tied to the things that make me feel good.

I do love the symbolism of a benevolent Santa Clause, gift giving, and decorative lights.

Though I will never be a Christmas nay-sayer, I do find it healthy to remind myself that what defines Christmas for me, is not necessarily the definition of Christmas.

Christmas is really the first steps of Jesus toward the cross.

Though the birth of a virgin-born baby is joyous and miraculous, the prophesy of a coming Messiah was not fulfilled until his death and resurrection.

Christmas is messy, from the beginning, with an unmarried, pregnant virgin, and a people in need of a Saviour. The story only gets more muddied as Jesus travels through his short life, with a group of followers who might best be compared to Snow White’s seven dwarfs. Then his life culminates in the dung hitting the fan as his Earthly life comes to a bloody, seemingly hopeless end. It is not until Easter Sunday, when the tomb is rolled aside, and Christ emerges brighter than Mr. Clean, that there is reason for celebration.

And that celebration continues, for all people who humbly accept the gift, even today.

“… we have a Christ gift the entire year.”
(Dec. 24, 1871) Charles Spurgeon

 

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humility

The past week has highlighted for me that I am so very blessed by the workplace community that I am part of, the people who I share the work with and the students who I am paid to assist.

The students I work with, work SO hard! Classes are SO challenging! Finding and maintaining friendships can be a daily struggle.

Earlier this week I was humbled by a student who I rarely get to work with. This student has struggles, for certain, but also great strengths. This year, I have felt like I needed to get to know this teen better. So I aimed to be intentional to say hi, inquire about their weekend, ask about things of interest. Then, the other day, I received a gift from them. I was speechless (a rarity, for sure). A small gift, roughly wrapped by the hands that offered it to me. It was those hands that offered a gift to me, that melted my heart, for I felt as though I needed to be the giver, not the receiver.

Then a student who exhibited great strength and the fortitude to do what was difficult, to be the bigger person, offering well wishes to someone who caused her sadness. As I watched the the humble act, I watched this student grow in years of maturity, right in front of me. This student, with special needs, initiated reconciliation and redemption of relationship right in front of my face … and I wondered if I would humble myself in such a way.

These students are laying the foundation well, for a great tower!

As we celebrate the Christmas season, we are celebrating the birth of the humble king, the ultimate humility. Born as a human baby, grew up in a family of humble means, then he humbled himself to the point of death.

“being found in human form, he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him
the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Philippians 2:8-11

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A Humbling Mess

“Your dog is a soft coated Wheaten terrier, he should be soft. Make sure he is getting brushed regularly. I don’t want to see knots in 6-8 weeks.”

This was my introduction to taking my Wonderdog to be groomed for the first time. That lady made my pooch beautiful (in a masculine, canine sort of way), but she also struck fear into my soul!

I walked out to the sidewalk determined to be the best dog-brushing pet owner who ever lived.

That was over four months ago …

For well over a month I have been delaying taking the WonderDog to the groomer, knowing that I would get a talking to. I have failed as pet owner of the year. My fur friend has knots and they are too far gone for a brush.

I did consider booking the appointment for a day when hubby is off, so that he could take the dog for his spa treatments (and receive the groomers failing assessment of our pet grooming).

Then I thought that maybe I could fix him up and then take him (kind of like hiding in the bushes in the garden of Eden). I went to YouTube and learned how to gently cut the fur ball off … he now has a bald spot. So then I went tot the pet store and purchased clippers. Again I watched YouTube videos to ensure I would be grooming like the pros … his fur looks like a patchwork quilt.

So, I have given up my DIY grooming (I am now convinced that Youtube videos are equal to the ‘easy’ DIY projects on Pinterest). Just a few hours after this blog post is published I will be making the phone call I have put off for far too long. I will, humbly, tell my tale of dog-owner failure, and ask for forgiveness (along with a shampoo, blow dry and detangling brushing).

I do not know what the groomer’s response will be, but it is time to admit that I am simply not able to cover this up anymore.

As I pondered my surrender the other day, I thought about the origin and purpose of Christmas.

Christ, the very son of God, was born a human, to pay a debt he didn’t owe, for sin only he could atone for. He was the spotless, perfect lamb.

Prior to the birth of Christ, the only way for sins to be paid for was the shedding of, usually, a lamb. But that sacrifice had to made for every sin. The birth, then death of Jesus was the once for all payment for the sins of humanity.

To benefit from this beautiful gift, all that we need to do is admit our sin, and ask for his life-giving redemption. It is there, always in reach, but we must receive what has been offered.

So often, like my hesitancy in calling my groomer, shame keeps us from that which would only improve our existence.

We all need to admit that we simply cannot cover our sin up anymore.

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where

“Does your nativity have Jesus?”

I collect nativity sets, and was bidding on one. As the time came for the bidding to be over, I took another look at the online image to ensure that all of the significant characters were present, and I could not be sure that Jesus was there. So, I sent off a message to the seller, asking if her nativity had Jesus. The replay was that yes it did, Mary was holding him.

If you are a Christian, and if you are on social media, you have seen the posts that go something like this:

“lets keep Christ in Christmas”

This is a valid and appropriate comment, for followers of Christ, but what are we really communicating? And (more importantly) what does our communicating this really communicate?

When I see such posts, I find my head nodding up and down in agreement … then my conscience gets the better of me, because I realize that (for me) I am longing for ‘the good ‘ol days‘. You see I grew up in a time when Christmas was still very much about the birth of the Christ child. Even school programs at this season were about the nativity, or at least featured Christmas hymns. In those days you could still find nativity sets on the shelves of department stores. And this was the season that the non-church member found a seat in a pew.

Today is not the ‘the good ‘ol days‘ of old.

Today, as believers, we need to do something to communicate our faith, not just post words of disgust, or disappointment, or condemnation.

James 2:14-19 remind us of this very thing:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

Perhaps, rather than fill our social media posts with longings for the days when we shared the in the beliefs of the majority, we should actually do something for those around us that communicates the hope, peace, love and joy of Christ …

In Matthew 5 Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount, his magnum opus (until his crucifixion, raising from the dead and rising into heaven). These are the words that, as followers of Christ, we ought to hang on.

“you are the salt of the earth”

If we are the salt, lets start sprinkling love on those around us.

“you are the light of the world”

If we are the light, shine like we are reflecting the one who resides in us.

 

Does your nativity have Jesus?

Go spice up and bring light to the world, not with your posts, but with your deeds.

“Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name
Fall on your knees …”
O Holy Night

 

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sno

A few days ago the wet west coast had a different weather system roll in. The air has a chill, the skies are brighter, snow has fallen and there are rumours of more flakey precipitation to come.

I am in a state of delight!

As we drove to work and school the other day, I was pointing out the beauty all aloud us, as though I was on speed.

“Just look at that blue sky”

“The white on that field is inviting”

“Oh those mountains! Fresh snow, and such a beautiful pink hue around them”

Now I know (because I’ve been there) that those (who live in other parts) who see the first snow fall and sigh, knowing that they will not see the end of it for six more months. But this weather change has birthed in me a joy and energy that have been sorely missed these last weeks (months) of rain-magenden!

How is it that something so small, something that makes me have to work harder (all those layers of clothes and boots), something that will cost me (when the natural gas bill arrives), something that others despise could cause such a change in the innermost parts of who I am?

Like the freshly falling snow, came the long-expected Jesus.

So small, some would say too small for a king. Helpless, dependent yet pure, innocent and captivating.

His arrival meant we would have to work harder. No longer bound by the Law, both Jews and Gentiles had a model of how to live, and following his lead would me, does mean, more effort, greater intentionality in what we say and do.

His human birth came with human cost … to him, through his willingness to endure the cross (and all that surrounded that) and to us. He has given us two promises: “in this wold you will have trouble” (John 16:33), but the second is the remedy for the first, “I am with you always, even until the end of time” (Matthew 28:20).

His arrival was not joyfully anticipated or even believed … then, or now. The prophet, Isaiah, said, “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:3). The world of humans still choose to eat of the tree of their own choosing … but, he does not force himself on us, for it was he who gave us the choice to make … he knows that love is most favourable when we can choose it freely.

His voice was quiet, soft and slow. Like a  Winter Snow came our redeemer …

Could’ve come like a mighty storm
With all the strength of a hurricane
You could’ve come like a forest fire
With the power of Heaven in Your flame

But You came like a winter snow
Quiet and soft and slow
Falling from the sky in the night
To the earth below

You could’ve swept in like a tidal wave
Or an ocean to ravish our hearts
You could have come through like a roaring flood
To wipe away the things we’ve scarred

But You came like a winter snow, yes, You did
You were quiet, You were soft and slow
Falling from the sky in the night
To the earth below

Ooh no, Your voice wasn’t in a bush burning
No, Your voice wasn’t in a rushing wind
It was still, it was small, it was hidden

Oh, You came like a winter snow
Quiet and soft and slow
Falling from the sky in the night
To the earth below

Falling, oh yeah, to the earth below
You came falling from the sky in the night
To the earth below

Audrey Nicole Assad

 

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x

I sat on the bed, ready to have a mini (or not so mini) petty party.

“Christmas is impossible!” leaked from my lips.

I am trying to be mature, really I am, but my individual desires are in the forefront of my mind.

facts:

Our family is growing up …

Christmas is but once a year …

I am trying to honour everyones wants, schedules, needs while at the same time, balancing my own desires.

I have been realizing for a year that this Christmas may, indeed, be the last one with all five under one roof. So my expectations of this Christmas together have been over the top. I want to ensure that we do it all, eat it all, love it all.

As a mom, Christmas day is my most favourite of the year. The phones do not ring and buzz, there is no place that we need to go, we often enjoy our Christmas dinner in our pjs (thus the lack of Christmas dinner photos). It is a day of quiet unity and togetherness.

Then I discovered that Christmas day falls on a Sunday …

Now, don’t judge me too harshly, folks. As a follower of Christ, I am intimately aware that Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus, and I would have not have it any other way.

Yes, we can roast our turkey any day. We can carve another day of togetherness out of the calendar.

But, well, I am human, folks, and my momma heart just wanted one more Christmas day of quiet unity and peace with my chicks (and the big, bearded rooster).

But, it got harder! As I spoke to my daughter on the phone, we tried to pick another day (around her work schedule, which currently included Christmas Eve and Boxing days, with Christmas Day a possibility too), I sunk just a bit lower. I hadn’t even tried to entertain when daughter number two will join her boyfriends family.

UGH!!

Christmas is impossible!

And it is … and it was.

A world in need of redemption from sin that we could not overcome on our own.

A baby, conceived by a virgin.

A baby, a most innocent, fragile being, born to save the human race.

Jesus came, whether the human race was ready of him, or not.

Whether it was convenient timing, or not.

So much of the Christmas story is impossible. And he came, anyway.

I think, this Christmas, I need to follow the example of Mary, and treasure all that is impossible at Christmas, and just let it happen as it will. For when we bend our will to that of God, the impossible becomes possible!

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Luke 2:1-20

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