As we move into the new year, I could go all out and make declarations of what I want to see new, different or changed. I could exercise more (absolutely), yell less at the children, read the school newsletter more vigilantly (today we kept the kids home by accident on their first return day for the new year! oops), I could be a better wife (and be the first to get up and make coffee), I could be a better sister, daughter, nurse… but the goals I have for this year hold few details, they are ideas. They are a paradigm perhaps, a filter that I want to apply to the lens of life, so that everything I think, do, consider is shaded through these two themes. Lewis quotes famously, “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.” And in the same way, I want to see the life around me cloaked in Light so brilliant, embraced by a Love so deep, wide, and freely poured out.
I hold a fascination with Light. The way that it can dance and shine, personified on water, glittering down upon the snow, twinkling through the clouds, covering the earth in a blanket of sunshine. It changes every minute, a cornucopia of hue and colour and quality, can be both dim and brilliant,-harsh or warm. It can give heat, burn, cool down, it comforts and calms, spreads, Illumines, it reflects, refracts, bends, brings understanding and revelation, It provides the power to grow, fosters a way in the darkness, it guides, it crests the horizon bringing hope of a new day, it closes the day of sorrows and allows the dark to birth stillness, it jewels the sky bringing light from years away, galaxies beyond. It is first and last, endless and ageless. It was in the beginning, “the light” and shall continue to be…
To be “Light”, knowing all the qualities that it bears, is not an easy task. “You are the light of the world” This is a tremendous calling, a difficult, maybe dangerous, brilliant and beautiful task.
Love… one another as I have loved you. (John 13)
18 Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
A sermon I heard recently dealt with this passage in Luke 5, the story of the paralyzed man carried to Jesus on a mat and lowered down through the roof. This story is one of my Sunday School favourites. As a child as I would sit cross-legged playing with the ruffles of my dress and wondered how did they make a hole in the roof? And although I have heard this story countless times, the speaker highlighted something I had not really stopped to consider before. This man’s healing, his encounter with Jesus came about because of the tenacious love of the people around him. There is little mention of these men, all that is said: “some men came carrying…” SO who were these men? Were they friends, family, were they strangers? Maybe it started with one man who picked up a corner of the mat and urged bystanders to help, maybe it was a group of relatives or friends who came together to meet the need, whoever these men were, their time, energy, persistence, insistence, made possible that this paralytic, who needed healing, saw Jesus. The speaker went on to say- as Christians,
“We know that works do not save us, but perhaps it is your works that God will use to save someone else.”
It made me think about what I do that allows others to see Jesus. What act of love, whether easy or tenacious, costly or free, whether planned or spontaneous, perfect or flawed can be given to another to bring them closer to an encounter with Jesus?
And as much as we would like believe that loving others comes naturally, that is not usually the reality. We love our family, our children, our spouse, our friend, that sometimes comes easily (sometimes not!) But loving without an agenda…that is a bit of a different story. It does not come so naturally. We give because we might get a tax break, we serve because others might be watching us, we donate because it absolves our guilt, we spend time in relationship because we hope to perhaps gain something, whether favor or fame or a helpful contact a convert. Altruistic, sacrificial Love, happens but it isn’t easy.
We talk candidly of ‘showing God’s love” and not really know or grasp the sacrifice that such love involves. Even if we can manage the 1 Corinthians 13 checklist of love, patient, kind, gentle… we fall short of the type of the Love that God has for us: (Ephesians 2) EVEN while you were still against me, while you were still messed up, still cracked, flawed, broken, even when you were self-righteous, too good for Me, while you were shaking your fists at the heavens, I loved you, I made a way for you…
“It was love to the children of wrath; love to those who had no love to return to him; love to the alienated and the lost. That is true love – the sincerest and the purest benevolence – love, not like that of people, but such only as God bestows. Man loves his friend, his benefactor, his kindred – God loves his foes, and seeks to do them good.” (Barnes commentary)
Loving with nothing to gain, loving sacrificially, loving tenaciously. Two themes, interconnected. You are Light because of Love, You love because you bear the brilliant Light that somehow (I pray) will find a way to shine into the moments and memories of 2017.
The Jr. Camper and Ranger Jay…
So if Jr. Camper of the Week (thank you Dave Schmidt!) makes you super qualified to plan, lead, direct, organize a camp,- well then I am your man… or lady… Then again, Jay did do the “Jr. Rangers” course when he was in his late teens, and since coming to Nova Scotia we have both spent an ample amount of time chopping firewood…so perhaps with a lot of prayer and grace (and help from some people with actual skills) we can pull this off after all….
We are SUPER excited about Camp SOAR- (Support and Outreach for Africans and Refugees) that will launch August 19-26th. We have about 35-40 spots for children/youth to attend this one week overnight camp, where our goal is to have a ton of fun, but in doing so introduce kids to creation and an awareness of the Creator! When we asked around various government organizations whether there would be a need for a camp such as this, wondering, “Are there enough Africans and/or Refugees or new Canadian children who would be up for this kind of thing?” The answer was, the trouble will not be in finding children, it will be turning children away! So, we move forward in faith that we can raise the funds needed to run the camp, offering 36 sponsored spots to allow an opportunity for children who may have never been to camp, who may never have heard of Jesus, who come from all sorts of countries, experiences and backgrounds to, on a few nights in August, unify by a campfire to take in the greatness of creation, sitting under constellations by the light of a fire,
The Africa Squad
I think in the 90’s there was an Amy Grant song that started out, “If these walls could speak, of all the things they’d remember well…”
I doubt our house ever remembered a time where there was so much energy, laughter and noise contained inside it! 15 African students came out, tentatively, not sure what to expect with the invite sent to them to “join a Canadian family” for an African themed supper. We had hoped for maybe 5 students to come… but as we eyed the room of students waiting at the International student centre to join us, my calculations on how much curry I had made entered my mind and a wee bit of panic set in. Enroute to the house, I asked the group in my car…”ahhh…Do you mind if we make a quick stop?” jumping out I started off running through the aisles of the Superstore, flash grabbing items and food trays and super sized pizzas.
It was a lovely evening and thankfully we didn’t run out of food! The group who call themselves, “The African Squad” sang who hale from Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Bahamas, played piano and UNO and a host of other games. We recently repeated the event a few days before Christmas hosting a Christmas supper for those students who remained on Campus over the holiday. Being much more confident in preparation of Canadian Christmas cuisine, I made enough for 25 and… not a lick of food was left over!, well perhaps only “crumbs that were too small for other “WHO” mouses.” We are planning some tobogganing for January. Can’t wait! Thank you for praying as we connect, share life, fun and food with these young people.
The first ball thrown by the Syrian side was a strike! Faces lit up, arms lifted in the air, Eve, taken with the excitement claps, “YAY!” An onlooker comments,’ You don’t look like the typical bowling group!” Indeed we are not, and we are glad of it. We are likely a funny looking bunch, as mismatched as the bowling shoes we wore… head scarves, toques, sandals, boots…
We continue to enjoy volunteering in the family to family program meeting with a Syrian family weekly. Over the last few months we have struggled with language and words, but the heart communicates with a language of its own and we connect through actions, food, laughter, presence. We pray simply we can show love, show grace to this family. One day, perhaps when I learn Arabic, or maybe when they are confident in their English, we can hear the full story. Leaving their homeland, living displaced in Lebanon for years before finally arriving here in the middle of winter! I shy away from the recent news on T.V., the images of Aleppo and I can not imagine how their hearts must grieve for those left behind, relatives and friends and family who are living in a world apart, how must it be to hold a deep well of sadness for such loss, while at the same time feeling relieved and glad that somehow your application was received and your family now relocated in a new place, a new life.
And it is a new life really, new language, school, customs, friends, pressure to integrate, new health care, weather, transportation…. Just about everything is different. Volunteering at the health clinic, I look at the faces of the many that are coming in and see shy smiles and thankful hearts (and a few terrified cries from the children when they realize the inevitable needles). There are nods where there isn’t language, attempts to say hi and introduce with a name or a motion. But, no doubt there are also shadows, worries, sleepless nights. Parents who worry about their children fitting in, the transitions, the future. And in our small efforts to support, befriend, journey alongside, to offer friendship and bowling and share in the Syrian experience of grape leaf-wrapped delicacies, nuts and flat bread feasts we pray that one day we too could share a Story with them.
Thrill of Hope…
You know one of those Sundays,- when the last thing you feel like doing is going to church. The kids are fighting, one is wearing the pants with a gaping hole you have not yet patched matched with last night’s spaghetti stained shirt you can’t entirely rule out was not slept in, another, well, we are not sure where the outfits are coming from, hair sticking out; the house is a disaster, and visitors expected to drop by afterwards. The last sip of coffee remains in the bottom of your cup, as you haven’t had a chance to finish for all the directing of the buckling cars on the train of life now seemingly starting to slip off the tracks. The dog pees on the rug, the van doors are frozen shut and we are nearly out of gas, starting out 12 minutes too late to make it on time. Calling the kids to get in the van and hurry up and get in and “Don’t forget your coat,- it is -20 outside!” reaches an intensity that should only be saved for end of the world destruction. I sit in the car, waiting to go, hands in my lap. The words (“maybe we should just stay home”) just sit in my mouth, I keep quiet, for fear that if I open it, the pressure and angst brewing inside will pass my thoughts along with a torrent of other possible commentary on how the morning is going. I have learned (after many years and many regrets) that sometimes it is best to keep silent, verbal volcanos which erupt are rather difficult to clean up (especially in enclosed spaces). Repeatedly I am drawn into the mental argument that it would just be better to turn around and go home…
We get into church a good 15 minutes late, surprised and a little uplifted that the greeter hadn’t left her post and there was still a welcome left for a straggling family coming into the building in spits and spurts.
I sit there and although my heart still constricted with the tension of the morning, and my spirit low with the events of the week, Truth seeps in. It enters the hard places and they begin, ever so quietly, to soften and swell, to crack just a little bit, I let my guard down, and for the first in a few days I breathe a few short gasps… of hope.
It is not that I do not believe in Hope,- or that I had forgotten, but there are some times where you need to hear it not in a verse, or a sermon, in an academic reading, or a song but as words of Love gifted to you from God. Words of Hope. And those burdens, whether guilt or shame or fear, anxiety or anger, sadness, or suffering are lifted. Lifted by the One who saves. The One who redeems, who restores, renews. He lifted my burden that morning- in the message of Advent, in the coming of a Saviour, in the promise so amazing, yet so reachable by any, by all. He encouraged my heart that miracles are possible, they happen perhaps in unexpected ways, when hope is dormant, in the dark of night, in places, in hearts, in lives, with resources that seem insufficient, with people that are broken.
I am not sure what it was exactly, whether it was the discourse on the Shepherds, being lowly yet entrusted with the greatest message of all time, whether it was the fact that Mary and Joseph were overlooked, even when something amazing and miraculous was about to happen, perhaps it was the striking contrast of a Saviour being so small and vulnerable, wrapped in human flesh, as it were the gift of humanity, to humanity,- so that we do not have One who can not sympathize with us. And I, as Mary want to ponder these things, to treasure them.
Hope and miracles, a love that enters the quiet of the night, a plan that is not thwarted but advanced through the efforts of the ordinary, the unexpected, A Saviour’s sympathy, a mother’s sacrifice.
Somehow hearing again of the advent makes the world around me make more sense than before (or maybe less sense) but somehow it is not so dark, there is not so much horror, there is not so much need to pin my hopes on the goodness of what is around me, or within in me. He has come, He came, He is coming. He continues to wait, to reach, to love, to offer mercy, to give the best gift – the Gift of His undeserved grace, inextinguishable love, and unimaginable Hope.
Thank you for journeying with us!