Nor Height, Nor Depth

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For I am convinced

that neither death,

nor life,

nor angels,

nor principalities,

nor things present,

nor things to come,

nor powers,

nor height,

nor depth,

nor any other created thing,

will be able to separate us from the love of God,

which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

(Romans 8:38, 39 NASB)

 

The height of the abuse of power. The depths of depravity. Neither are a match for love.

He Wraps Himself in Light

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He wraps himself in Light, and darkness tries to hide
And trembles at His voice…

How great is our God, sing with me
How great is our God, and all will see
How great, how great is our God.

(-from How Great is our God by Chris Tomlin)

I have come as a light to shine in this dark world so that all who trust in me will no longer wander in darkness. ~Jesus

(John 12:46 The Passion Translation)

 

Survivors and Guardians

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There is something about loss that creates greater value for that which survives.

When I went out for a drive with my camera yesterday I decided not to check out the areas devastated by forest fires last month. I decided to look for those precious places that survived.  One of those places is little Mineral Lake. According to the map the fire came very close, just beyond the hill there at the end of the lake, but the amazing fire fighters kept it at bay.

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There are signs along the rough road of the cost of preserving little known spots like this. A huge slash cuts through the forest and directions to staging areas still hang on trees.

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I remember meeting a group of fire fighters in the hospital emergency room. I was there because of annoying allergic reaction. They were there because one of their own looked like she had broken ribs from an altercation with heavy equipment. Soot streaked their faces, ash and mud crusted their clothes and they smelled like a cloud of smoke came into the building with them. But I loved them, the fighters, the preservers, the guardians.

I decided that one of the best ways to honour them would be to appreciate what they were fighting for. With a grateful heart I present photos I took yesterday at a little gem of a lake up a dirt road few people know about.

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Thank you.

 

Faith Knows

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The mountain, seen dimly through the haze of summer wildfire smoke, is no less solid than the mountain seen in cool crisp detail on a clear spring morning.

The promise of God, seen faintly through the haze of seasonal untamed pain, is no less solid than the promise seen in the clear still glory of His Presence.

Faith knows.

Praise Him Still

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When the morning falls on the farthest hill,
I will sing His name, I will praise Him still.
When dark trials come and my heart is filled
With the weight of doubt, I will praise Him still.

For the Lord our God, He is strong to save
From the arms of death, from the deepest grave.
And He gave us life in His perfect will,
And by His good grace, I will praise Him still.

-Fernando Ortega

 

Foster Daughter

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Foster Daughter

Sadie tied her hair with twine;
Helen wore high heels in a snow storm.

Sadie whistled to the birds in the willow tree;
Helen bought a budgie at Simpson Sears.

Sadie sat on a stump scraping hides with a blade;
Helen sat on a lawn chair spraying the grass with Raid.

Helen placed rose-shaped soaps on the toilet tank;
Sadie hung rusty traps on the kitchen door.

Helen served eclairs for tea;
Sadie served Spam for dinner.

Helen read Chekhov and Dickens to me;
Sadie asked me to read the mail to her.

And now, my two mothers,
I sit here on the steps,
jewelled watch on my wrist,
beaded moccasins on my feet,

and wonder who I am.

 

I wrote this poem after fostering several children from Indigenous families. Some were “status” and some were not, even though they were half-siblings. I wondered what this move back and forth between cultures was like for them.

But this was also my own experience. When people read this poem they assume “Helen” was the foster mother. In my case, “Sadie” was more like the substitute mother I spent the most time with. My mother alternated between working long hours and recovering from frequent illness. I went to live with my grandmother as an infant before my mother was released from the hospital and I bonded with her. Grandma was my main caretaker in early childhood and after I started school our extended multi-generational family lived together until I was 16.

Grandma grew up in the area now known as Algonquin Park, miles from the nearest road. Her formal education ended when the school burned down after she attended sporadically for two or three years. Reading remained a struggle for the rest of her life.

School in Bark Lake

Her father hunted and trapped to support his family. He met her mother in an aboriginal village. We always assumed she was of indigenous extraction. Great Grandma taught my grandmother how to live off of the land, the importance of community and imparted to her a deep reverence and connection with creation.

My father told me stories of how his grandmother chewed hide to make moccasins for all her grandchildren, how she was a crack shot, and how she knew every plant and every sound in the forest. She raised ten children to adulthood without access to modern medicine, relying on herbs, raw honey, and prayer.

Dad learned that her father, a logger who spent months in the bush himself, abandoned her after her mother died. She was sent to live with a foster family in New York who treated her, as many unclaimed children were treated in those days, as a slave. She slept in the barn and did chores instead of attending school with the other children. She never did learn to read.

Ethel didn’t talk much about her early childhood, but something about her mistreatment prompted her to take the risk of running away. With only her dog as a companion, she set out to look for her father. All she knew was that he lived in northern Ontario.

She must have been a resourceful kid because she lived for several months on her own in the northern woods before some Algonkin people found her, took her in and raised her as one of their own. Eventually, when she was a young woman, she met my grandfather when he came into the camp carrying a buck over his shoulders to share. His size, strength, and generosity impressed her. She left with him, but the ties to the community remained and their way of thinking and doing life was passed on to the woman who shared in raising me.

On a whim, I searched for Great Grandmother’s birthplace when I was labeling old photos for my father. I was shocked to learn that not only was she entirely white, but she was a descendant of American royalty – the first Pilgrims in Massachusetts. I’m not part native Canadian after all. My straight dark hair and high cheek bones came from elsewhere, but I still have a deep love and respect for Indigenous people and the role they played in our family history.

I wonder if Canadians are less prone to put more weight on individual concerns than community concerns than American culture does because of the stronger positive influence of indigenous connection in early days. It made no sense whatsoever to my grandmother or great grandmother to see perfectly good food thrown away when people were hungry, for example. It would be like one person feasting alone after a successful hunt while hungry villagers looked on. In a harsh environment, community is essential to survival. It’s called caring.

Grandma felt the same way about possessions. She never understood why everyone on the block needed to own a ladder when she never saw more than one person at a time using a ladder. She just helped herself to “the” ladder when she needed it. The fact that it was stored in the neighbour’s garage turned out to be problematic – more for the neighbour than Grandma. She had no problem with friends and neighbours using whatever she had and didn’t understand why they were so stingy. She was incredibly generous and sheltered anyone who needed help. Her boarding house in Calgary became a community itself.

I think Grandma could hear the trees weep and the rivers wail when short-sighted resource-gathering practices hurt them. Even when she was in her 80s she begged my dad to set up his trailer in the middle of nowhere so she could revive herself in nature on a solo retreat. He argued it wasn’t safe, so she went to work as a camp counselor instead.

One day she taught her cabin of girls how to track by circling around and following the search and rescue people who had been sent out to look for them when they failed to return on time. “On time” was another problem. She was as likely to show up hours early as hours late.

My mother was definitely European. She was accustomed to excelling in competitive environments and creating order out of chaos. Grandma thrived in let-it-be chaos. In fact, she was often the source of it.

Growing up with two mothers who thought differently and had different priorities and values confused me at times, but I learned early there is more than one way to perceive a situation and that love overcomes a multitude of misunderstandings so people can honour each other’s strengths and live in harmony. I am richer for that inheritance.

Today on National Aboriginal Day (and soon to be known as Indigenous People’s Day) I thank the First Nations people who fostered my disadvantaged grandmother and enriched my life as a result. You laid stepping stones for us all and I am grateful.

Outflow

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I read somewhere that the Koine Greek word translated as “head” (as in Christ is head of the church) in most English versions of the Bible, carries the connotation of head as in headwaters.

This thought came to me as I came across a photo I took at the south end of Columbia Lake. These are the headwaters the mighty Columbia River that eventually supplies water for irrigation and shipping systems for much of the western USA.

What’s behind that mighty river is a beautiful lake in our backyard that collects the abundant run-off from the mountains.

Christ taught servant leadership.

Jesus: You know that among the nations of the world the great ones lord it over the little people and act like tyrants. But that is not the way it will be among you. Whoever would be great among you must serve and minister.  Whoever wants to be great among you must be slave of all.  Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to be a servant—to offer His life as a ransom for others. (Mark 10: 42-45 The Voice)

It is what flows out of a person that makes them a great leader. If they are in alignment with Christ as their living head, Christ’s love can flow through them. As others join in unity of the Spirit a confluence grows that pours out in an increasingly deeper and wider outflow, providing for many downstream.

When a leader, any leader, demands homage and lords power over others the direction of flow is reversed. When it becomes all about respect for titles and offices and need for recognition coming his or her way the stream dries up. Submission to the type of leadership Jesus demonstrated is cooperation and confluence, not slavery. It produces much fruit.

We love Christ because he first loved us. Our love and worship is a response to him. Love must be voluntary or it is not love at all. It is something else entirely devoid of freedom.

Freely you have received. Freely give.