Sunday, 31 May 2015

Am I really going to read "Green Eggs and Ham" again?

9 Wood Street East, Hamilton, ON
I'm curious by nature. I love looking at old pictures, finding ancient pottery in our flower fields, and turning over rocks just in case there's something hidden underneath. (Actually, I do have a collection of old pottery pieces I've found in our field, and I have a theory that they're from an ancient civilization. My wife thinks they're from the previous homeowner who happened to have dropped a ceramic plate! Sheesh...can't a guy dream?) Back to my curiosity...

So, I'm driving my son to his friend's home in Hamilton, and with two eyes on the road - ok, one and a half - I spot something unique...at least to me. Now, I can't say I'm a globetrotter by any stretch of the imagination, but I have read a lot, and I like to think I pay attention to things that many people view as the visual form of 'white noise. If I haven't seen it, I've at least heard, or read about it. Not quite. Not even close. This so-called white noise that I see is in the shape of an old schoolhouse perched atop a pole. No - it's not a birdhouse or a leftover version of 'The Burning Schoolhouse' of last week's May 2-4 fireworks display; it's a library! It's a mini library - about 2 cubic feet. But, I can't stop. This landmark is bookmarked for memory.

About 3 minutes later, using my fail-safe short term memory, I relocated the 'library on a stick' and decided to stop and have a closer look. It was remarkable...this head scratcher is called "The Little Free Library". Inside this 'library' were about a dozen or so books with a smaller section below containing children's books. On the little window, there was a sign "Take a Book - Return a Book". Brilliant! It was a free resource for the community to share books with one another and encourage reading.

Doing a little web research on the "Little Free Library" opened up a wonderful story of the library's originators and the success story it has become throughout the world. In 2009, with a modest goal of initiating 2,509 mini libraries in the United States, it now boasts of over 25,000 throughout the world. Apparently, there are 2 in Burlington, 2 in Dundas, and 4 in Hamilton - all within a 15 minute drive! Huffington Post, NBC News, and the Saturday Evening Post have all run stories on this remarkable effort.

Since stumbling across this library, and researching its roots, I can't help but think of a question asked on the Little Free Library's website and the answer given,

"Can you imagine a world without books?
​We can’t either, but for many this world exists. They live in book deserts -places where books are difficult to access or afford. In fact in some places there’s only one book for every 300 children. We can all help change this book barren landscape."
 
Book deserts. That's another phrase I've never heard before, and it's uncomfortable. My family has shelves full of books that are collecting dust and haven't seen the light of day in years. Do we really think someone will read them? Not one of them is a collector's item...except for the odd Hardy Boy or Nancy Drew epic cliffhanger! What about the 7 or 8 children's Bibles hidden away? We're 'book rich' and unknowingly hoarding our wealth. (A quick look in a closet confirmed Scotia Bank's claim. We are richer than we think!) We think of helping others with food, clothing and furniture...but not books. That's going to change. I've got some books to give away!

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The language of saying 'Yes' to God's love

Today, I struggled. Not in the sense that I couldn't cope or was finding it hard to carry on - I struggled  with words. I found the need for suitably descriptive words to be inexhaustible today.

Thankful. Abundant. Gracious. Faithful. Protection. Covenant. Promise. Spirit. Fire. Wind. Water. Love. Words that I used or heard today in one way or another.

We forget though - we don't always need words to express ourselves or to describe the scene. There were many moments during our Pentecost Sunday worship service where words seemed almost unnecessary.

This morning, I listened to a personal testimony of a lady committing her life to Christ. She talked about how God called her back from the edge of a bridge and how he surrounded her with people who befriended and discipled her, and reintroduced Jesus into her life. I saw her kneel with her two young children. And I saw the water splash from the baptismal font, flow out of the Pastor's hands, and trickle down their faces onto their clothes. They were cleansed. And, we didn't need any words. We saw his grace.

I heard four young adults - two of them our own children - confess publicly that Jesus Christ is their Lord, and Saviour. We listened to their faith journey as they described the moments in their lives when they accepted Jesus as their Saviour. As a father, I learned for the first time that a few years ago privately, my son said 'Yes' to God's invitation during a SERVE event and my daughter said 'Yes' while attending a GEMS' retreat. This morning, they responded to God's calling publicly. And, we didn't need any words. We saw his faithfulness.

I witnessed a battle. Satan doesn't like to lose - and he doesn't like being reminded that he lost 2000 years ago on Calvary to Jesus. I saw a 'spiritual wrench' thrown into the life of one of God's children in a failed attempt to thwart this morning's service. I'll never forget the look in her face when in defiance to this attack, the words, "Jesus will protect me" were spoken with such fiery conviction. I hugged her. And, we didn't need any words. We saw his protection.

I saw promises fulfilled. Promises made by friends and family to God that we would train our children in his ways, and would remind them that they were God's own children. Promises made by two young parents amid the whirlwind of demands made by twin babies who were completely oblivious to the significance of the moment. And, I saw these same friends and family celebrate under a tent 6,181 days after they made those promises on June 21, 1998. And, we didn't need words. We saw his fellowship in the communion of saints.

Words...yup...there're useful occasionally. But, there's a conversation going on around us that you can only see and hear with your eyes. It's the language of  saying 'Yes' to God's love.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Repeating mistakes, expecting different results

We pleaded using our best 'Robinese' but, they ignored us. We told them that ravenous creatures roamed late at night but, they told us they could handle it. We shared stories of previous squatters who boldly claimed the right to nest only to leave on a wing and a prayer - sans fledglings. Year...after year...after year.

You see, we have a covered porch that wraps around most of our house; and many of God's creatures, (some wanted, but many of them unwanted), share living and breathing space with us rent free. Some of our tenants, like our robin friends, have attempted to start a family in the rafters above a certain light fixture under our porch's roof. I guess the warmth and light create an ambience similar to a fireplace in a log cabin conducive to...oh, where was I? Back to the robins. We've never attempted to remove or discourage nest building activity because it usually happens in the span of what feels like "Hey, where'd that come from?" or so. And, more than that, have you ever studied how intricately built a bird's nest is? However, for all their ingenuity and craftiness, they really don't behave wisely or rationally.

I don't know if they are the same robins year after year, but today we witnessed the calamity all over again. The robins had spent the last few days building a nest, slightly to the left of last year's settlement; Mrs. Robin had laid her eggs and had started her 12 - 14 day staring competition with our straw filled scarecrow. Day 1 hadn't even concluded and her progeny fell to the paws of a ruthless, but I can only assume, hungry raccoon. Although, skunks are known to prey on bird eggs, too. Judging by the sort of 'nature' left behind, I'm going with a raccoon!

It's puzzling. Each year, the same scene happens over and over...like Groundhog Day with Bill Murray...but, this one never ends well - save for one mating season a few springs ago. Wouldn't it make sense if the local robin community banded together and taught each other about the perils of starting a family under the Vanderlaan porch - cozy and inviting as it might seem? If only last year's unsuccessful pairing could fly by and chirp, "Hey, we've flown a mile in your talons. We have a much better spot than that poor excuse for a bird house." Nope. Instead, this year's lovebirds thought, (and I use the term 'thought' loosely), this is the year that will be different only to fly away as empty nesters for all the wrong reasons yet again.

And, really, what am I thinking? They're birds!! I mean, if they were rational, and understood predator behavior, they wouldn't make the same mistake, ignore sage advice, or loving help from those who've been there, done that, and got the T-shirt.

So, for the purpose of this blog and really not for the benefit of robins who may or may not be able to read: to all those whose 'nest' is built on vulnerable perches, know that you're not alone. You're not the first person to build a nest where predators prowl. There is hope. More than that, there is help to rebuild.

When you're ready to fly, you won't be alone. Soar like an eagle, my friend, soar!

Sunday, 10 May 2015

"He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again." Happy Mother's Day!

My mom gave me this card for my birthday in 2004.
It has been on our fridge ever since.
It was like a 'take' from the old sitcom "Three's Company" except that my Mom had the role of Jack Tripper, (which was played by John Ritter, a physical comedy genius). Imagine: a class of 21 grade school kids and a few chaperones, including my Mom, at Tigchelaar's Berry Farm for a class trip sometime in the '70's. (Remember those field trips? Go to a farmer's field, run through a berry patch, and if there was a horse available, go for a ride!) Well, that was the case at Tigchelaar's and we each got to take a ride on their horse. So, when it was my Mom's turn she put one foot into the stirrup, and with youthful exuberance and the agility of a young teenager she swung the other leg over the horse's back and her momentum catapulted her over the horse and she landed 'gracefully' on her butt beside the horse!! And, in her characteristic 'nothing's going to stop me' unflappable fashion, she promptly stood up, dusted herself off, and climbed back on - only this time with success.

That is my Mom. Resilient. Fun loving. Adventuresome. Encourager. Faithful. Mom (x6). Grandmother (x17). Great Grandmother (x2).

I've never known my Mom to complain about the litany of physical ailments she's endured that already started when she was a young girl in her native Holland. Multiple doctors' visits, seemingly endless medications (which makes one thankful for drug benefit programs!), therapy sessions, and good ole' fashioned 'what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger' willpower have all been hallmarks of her nearly 8 decades of life.

Mom's note in the card to me.
But, the cornerstone - the anchor - that I've witnessed giving her the strength to continue is her faith in Jesus, her Saviour, and healer. I've often wondered and have been troubled why some of God's children are given what seems to be greater burdens to bear than others - as is true, I think, with my Mom. A possible answer that provides some peace is in the poetry of Annie Johnson Flint. Flint, whose degree of suffering makes one contemplate the mystery of pain and suffering, often captured the essence of God's grace during times of suffering through her prolific hymn-writing and poetry. One of Flint's more well-known poems is "He Giveth More Grace".

He Giveth More Grace
He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.
 
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

One day, it will all be made clear. Thanks Mom. Happy Mother's Day. Henry

Sunday, 3 May 2015

What's a flower grower to do on a warm, sunny Sunday in May?

Ah...Sunday. A fine May day - the sun's out, 24C, slight breeze, fields are dry, no chance of rain, my neighbor's on his tractor planting his field with a mystery crop, and, oh - did I mention it is Sunday? For some people Sunday is the bookend to a two day party; for others it's a day no different than, say, a Wednesday. For the self-declared, 'chosen' few Sunday is when you practice abstinence from a plethora of activity lest you provoke clergical (and/or parental) wrath; for others Sunday is a day reserved for 'going to church' to worship and rest. For me I like the 'worship' part to a Sunday..it's the 'rest' part I'm still learning to do! And, by rest, I don't mean napping because, according to my family, I don't have any issue with that!

Let's just say I wasn't a huge fan of Sunday when I was growing up. I'm not saying that I had as many restrictions as others I knew had, but we had our fair share. There were lots of things we couldn't do and a few things we could. Fortunately, riding our bikes, swimming, wearing shorts, and reading were on the list of acceptable activities. Going to stores (although few were open), buying gas, cutting the grass, playing league sports were all frowned upon. As a kid, it was all explained under the massive "Keep the Sabbath holy" umbrella. And, as I recall, that umbrella was shaped like a big stick!

I'm thankful that what I didn't see as a hassled teenager I see now. The umbrella that looked like a big stick when I was a teenager looks more like the shape of the cross now. In response to God's love for us and out of thankfulness to him we strive to live our lives in accordance to God's will.

Two things came home to me this morning about living in obedience and in response to God. The first thing was I mentioned to a friend that it was hard for me to 'sit on my hands' and not plant my fields on such a beautiful spring day. She said she understood, but told me that her father's (who was farmer) testimony was "even if his neighbor was planting his crop on Sunday, and he waited until Monday the crops were ready at the same time". That's a testimony to believing in God's faithfulness!

And the second was the song "When it's all said and done" by Robin Mark:

When it's all been said and done
There is just one thing that matters
Did I do my best to live for truth?
Did I live my life for you?

When it's all been said and done
All my treasures will mean nothing
Only what I have done
For love's rewards
Will stand the test of time

Lord, your mercy is so great
That you look beyond our weakness
That you found purest gold in miry clay
Turning sinners into saints

I will always sing your praise
Here on earth and in heaven after
For you've joined me at my true home
When it's all been said and done
You're my life when life is gone.


I don't know my friend's dad. But, from a few stories I've heard I get the sense that he lived his life in complete response to Jesus' sacrifice for him. He lived his life for Jesus...and that meant his tractor would have to wait until Monday. And, so will mine.           

A stumble, a tear and a rainbow

Greeted by a surprise rainbow on Mom's birthday! It was at a dressed up gravesite that 40 or 50 people gathered around last Tuesday,...