Frost

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In lazy apathy let stoics boast, their virtue fix’d:
’tis fix’d as in a frost;
contracted all, retiring to the breast;
but strength of mind is exercise, not rest.

– Alexander Pope

It takes courage to ponder, to puzzle, to wrestle with a new way of thinking.

It takes strength to fully engage feelings without fear of the overwhelming flood.

It takes wisdom to care deeply and still govern oneself wisely.

 

Ancient Words: Changing Me, Changing You

The artist who created these masks, a therapist who helps people overcome addictions, gave me permission to share his work. I was deeply moved when he explained their meaning to me.

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As I recall, the first mask represents the moment when demon addiction can no longer be kept hidden behind an everything’s-fine façade.

The second mask symbolizes the honest appraisal of that realizes both a dark side and a light side exist in the same person.

The face in the third mask is covered with words from Psalm 51, in which the broken-hearted writer admits the need for forgiveness and appeals to God to create in him a clean heart and to restore his joy. The promises of God become his new covering. “You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O, God.”

The passage is written in Medieval Hebrew script. It is followed by the Lord’s prayer in Greek. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

These are some of the verses in the psalm that stood out to me:

Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins.

For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight…

Wash me clean from my guilt.
Purify me from my sin…

Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me…

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you.

Then I will teach your ways to rebels,
and they will return to you.

Unseal my lips, O Lord,
that my mouth may praise you.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
You do not want a burnt offering.

The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God…

(Selected verses from Psalm 51 NLT)

 

I believe true change of  heart needs more than an understanding of what motivated us to make the choices we did and gearing up for another attempt at exerting willpower. True change is insight and an effort to change powered by Gods`s grace that heals our hearts and creates an entirely new person through Jesus Christ.

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The song, Ancient Words, by Michael W Smith is playing in my mind.

Holy words long preserved
For our walk in this world,
Oh let the ancient words impart
Courage, peace, a loving heart.

Words of Life, words of Hope
Give us strength, help us cope
In this world, where e’er we roam
Ancient words will guide us Home.

Ancient words ever true
Changing me, and changing you.
Oh let the ancient words impart
A moving, quick incisive dart.

 

 

 

 

There is Always, Always Something to Be Thankful For

 

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Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends!

We Canadians celebrated our Thanksgiving back in October, but every day is a good day to be thankful, so I’m ready to celebrate again.

Someone asked why Canadians changed the date. Apparently Martin Frobisher held the first Thanksgiving celebration in 1578, forty years before the Pilgrims arrived in the new country — not that it’s a contest. I found out that I have deep roots in Canada, but I am also a descendent of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts, so I feel entitled to be thankful at least twice a year.

In fact, I am entitled to be thankful every day of the year. I don’t say that lightly. I don’t always feel thankful, especially after weeks of cluster headaches and other unexplained physical torments. Sometimes the sacrifice of praise is just that — a sacrifice. It’s not easy. Sometimes it comes through teeth gritted in pain or a heart broken in sorrow.

Coupled with hope, the sacrifice of praise is a pure, distilled form of worship, I think. It leads us to the table in the valley where the feast is kept.

“Yet, will I praise you,” the Psalmist wrote. “Your lovingkindness endures forever.” Praise re-focuses our attention on the character of the God of all comfort. Thankfulness helps us remember his provision. There is always, always something to be thankful for.

This week my two youngest granddaughters (on opposite sides of the country) both celebrated losing first teeth on the same day. I am thankful for their joy and evidence they are growing up.

This week the tax department told my husband he owes them more money. I am thankful that he still earns money and for good healthcare that doesn’t leave us destitute.

This week a friend dropped by with flowers, other friends prayed for me, my kids and grandkids called, I got to know a nephew better (what fascinating adventures he has had!). I am thankful for caring fellow-travellers on this journey.

I am thankful for a nearly blank calendar which allows me to rest when I need to.

Mostly I am thankful to Jesus, the Lover of my soul, who never leaves or gives up on me and still gives me songs in the night.

Lord, you never fail me. Thank you.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.

(Hebrews 13:15 NIV)

 

November Afternoon, Elizabeth Lake

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November twilight. The sun disappeared behind the hills by 4:45 in the afternoon today.

Haze from controlled burns faded distant colours. Now is the time to clear debris when the risk of forest fire is low.

Nearly all the birds have left the sanctuary. Only the crows remain, singing like an enthusiastic unpaid third-rate band willing to work for exposure.

Snow briefly gave a preview of winter’s intent, then melted in the sun. Some still hides in the shade.

Thin ice covers Elizabeth Lake like a sugary crème brûlée crust. A foot would easily break through and the mud underneath the shallow water is still soft enough to capture a shoe. On the water’s edge, kids smash the surface with sticks to see how far cracks will travel. Most of their make-believe spears pierce the ice and get stuck in the mud. Someone hollers that his feet are wet. He runs home.

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And then, before the sky is even dark, the moon glows in anticipation of its watch.

It feels like the sun is giving up on the day too soon. It’s hard to watch the ending of growing season full of colour and life, but there is still beauty in nature at rest — a subtler beauty, but still beauty.

 

 

Thank you, Lord, for every sunset because every sunset brings the promise of sunrise.

Tell It Like It Is

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When I was a teenager my long dark straight hair, parted in the middle Juliet-style, almost reached my waist. I was so proud of it.

My mother hated it. She showed me borrowed magazines full of photos of the cute curly-permed styles she would have loved as a teen, if only her stepmother had allowed her to cut her hair. It seems the fashion pendulum swings its way into the middle of independence struggles in every generation.

My mother did not approve of my skirt length either, but neither did I approve of hers – although I would never dare to say so out loud. We compromised. Rather, I compromised by wearing the skirts she bought and waiting until I reached the bus shelter before rolling them up at the waist.

Miniskirts were not designed for girls living on the prairies in Canadian winter. The January wind in Calgary left more than one of us enduring geometry class amid the distraction of chilblains on our thighs. That factor bore no influence on my need to not look like my mother`s generation, nor did the hazards of wearing fashionable unlined boots with absolutely no traction on ice. I bore frozen toes and ripped stockings with feigned nonchalant flare deserving of an Oscar – at least in front of Mom.

We quarrelled over music as well. I studied classical music and sang in my first opera at 14 (The Dew Fairy in Hansel and Gretel). “Old” music was not the problem. Our problem – ok, my problem – was old church music.

“Listen to this!” I said to her in a voice that was probably too loud for the living room. I played the last two bars of every song in a book called The Church Soloist, High Voice which she bought for me with her own hard-earned money. Banging out insensitive interpretations on the piano I complained, “Except for key changes every single song sounds the same as every single song we have sung in church since the Reformation.”

I don’t remember what she said. I wasn’t listening anymore. Door slamming may have been involved. I could be a horrible, emotional teenager. I knew she loved me, but sometimes I felt like I was fighting for my life. In a way, I was.

Years later I felt the same frustration my mother must have felt when my own kids rejected my taste. I was grateful for parenting classes that explained that the work of adolescents is to discover their own identity and forge their own relationship with God. Sometimes the only thing a young teen knows is that they are not their parent. The separation process begins at birth and accelerates in the years before leaving home.

My grandfather died before I was born. I heard stories about him, but I had no relationship with him. I could see photos and a gravesite, but he was like a mythical figure to me. My Mom had a relationship with him. I didn’t. I could see his influence, but I couldn’t see him.

God has children. God does not have grandchildren. In order to relate to him with a sense of integrity emerging independent young adults need to wrestle with him, interact with him, and enact their own faith by worshipping in a way that engages their own hearts. Parents get to pray a lot, get an opportunity for upgrade in their own faith, and get to try not to take rejection too personally.

The memory of the music battle came up today after I read that Kurt Kaiser died this week. Kurt Kaiser and Ralph Carmichael wrote Christian music that shocked our parents and convinced my grandmother that we were on the road to perdition. Their songs seem so innocuous, even embarrassingly bland now, but back then the adults didn’t like it, which meant we could. I remember practising the choral work for youth called “Tell It Like It Is” with my friends at church and feeling like this was cutting edge, daring stuff.

I found a recording of the musical on Youtube today. It sounds as cutting edge as an ice cream scoop now, but at the time it began to give a sheltered fourteen-year old hippy-wannabe an opportunity to express doubts and claim fledgling faith in my own way.

Anyway, I want to honour Mr. Kaiser and his friend Mr. Carmichael for noticing us. It was a start in making cultural connections. He showed me, before I reached that awkward spot in my parenting journey, that every generation needs to sing their own songs their own way. Bonus points if your parents don’t adopt it.

One song Kurt Kaiser wrote stayed with me. In words as simple as a nursery rhyme set to a tune that still had a range greater than a third, (my old person jab there) it communicates the most important message of all time: Jesus loves you and Jesus loves me.

Oh, how He loves you and me, Oh how He loves you and me.
He gave his life, what more could he give?
Oh, how He loves you; Oh, how he loves me; Oh, how he loves you and me.

Even Mom would have liked this arrangement.

Thank you, Mr. Kaiser.