Tuesday, January 01, 2019

New Year's Eve, 2018 Edition


There's no denying it's been a very tough year. Winter seemed to carry on almost till the end of May; baby calves struggled in the plunging temperatures and vicious winds, and the orphans fared terribly despite the best meds and food and love they could receive.

Summer was far too short; and with not much rain came the anticipation of scarce feed and the resultant high prices of what was available. Of course, right then, the cattle prices dipped too …

On the house front, I had resolved to get rid of 40% of my personal "stuff" that I dragged with me when I moved out here, and that didn't happen.

Relationships seemed like so much work too. What used to come easy was now often a struggle. The nature of friendships changed in certain instances. I missed my family.

I couldn't even get into a proper rhythm with music or with reading. My personal quiet time with God fluctuated - I never once doubted that He was there for me; it was I who was unsettled and insecure and withdrawn.

And over it all, the hazy, barely visible veil of sadness and anxiety floated, ready to settle into the creases and crevasses of my heart and soul at any time. The intensity had abated somewhat from last year; the days when it was a struggle even to get out of bed were slightly fewer. During some days when my doctor was on maternity leave, I could barely breathe. When she came back, it was the best day of the year!

She and her nurse - like God - never left me or forsook me, despite my unreasonableness and lack of progress. They never made me feel what I often am, hopelessly incompetent and not worth the time and effort. They never told me to suck it up and think how fortunate I am compared with 98% of the world (I know, I know!). Before the ubiquitous hashtags, my doctor was already on the front lines, fighting, mitigating, reassuring. She proffers hope and I must trust her enough to accept that it can be so.

I kept as busy as I could, trying to fill the gap my Dad's passing had left in my life, maybe. But I never seemed to catch up with what needed to be done.

There were, of course, amazing days, wonderful people in my community whom I finally started getting to know a little bit. Friends came to visit, even from great distances. Everyone was so kind.

And now here it was, the day before New Year's Eve. Driving home from church I wondered what promise I would receive this year. I specifically asked God to show me what to do to make it through the upcoming year.

As I rounded the correction corner on the 855, I was greeted by this:


I continued up the road to the venerable old Lund house, and it too was graced with promise:


I was reassured that whatever promise I received would give me the key.

New Year's Eve we drove to a nephew's place - passing the holiday baton from one generation to the next has been remarkably easy as one hosted Christmas, another hosted new year and yet another supplied the entertainment!

Just before midnight we dimmed the lights of the house and pressed our faces to the window to see the annual fireworks display put on by nephew #3. For some reason, this was the first time I was ever witness to this part of the evening. As the lights shot up into the sky and came dancing back down to us, my heart soared.

And then. Midnight was almost upon us and we gathered for the single most beloved annual tradition in our family. The promises originally chosen and typed by my Dad are now produced from his lists, on his word processor, by my sister, much to the relief and gratitude of the rest of us!

Allan read the passage to close out the old year from one of Dad's favourite daily reading collections; we sang a couple of songs; Allan prayed, asking God to help each of us be directed to the special word each of us needs for the coming year; and then a sister offered the carefully arranged plate to the people in the room.

I was one of the last to select. I chose green. Again.

As soon as I read my promise, it was like I could hear God saying these words to me: "This is the answer to your question. You've gone about it all wrong this last year. Seek Me first. Make Me your first call. Everything will work out as it should."



And I thought about the fireworks we had enjoyed just a few minutes earlier. They didn't explode into showers of light and colour immediately after they were lit; they had to shoot single-mindedly up into the air to start with before their magical beauty and incandescence were released.

For me to find the solutions to my problems, to find beauty amid ashes, I need to get single-mindedly to the source of my strength. I need to seek Him first, not seek solutions from people or ideas or things that are by their very nature finite, imperfect, also struggling.

This isn't going to be an easy verse to take hold of this year. But if I can be guided by it, it will be so worth it!

Happy new year. To all of us.


Tuesday, December 25, 2018

A Love Like No Other

Happy Christmas! 

The wind is down and the moon is up: all is calm, all is bright.


I have been deeply moved by a little baby boy who arrived in the 855 neighbourhood a matter of weeks ago. His parents had yearned for a child for years and now, incredibly, just in time for Christmas, they are holding their son in their arms. He was given to them to love and to cherish. He was destined for this family.


A
s I listened to the Christmas story last Sunday - the greatest love story of all, Pastor Allan said - I realised that adoption is at the heart of the story of Christmas!


The first love we see in the Christmas narrative  is of a man for his betrothed, who - he had been informed - was pregnant. Joseph was understandably shocked, confused, crushed. Of course he was going to have to break the engagement; he had the right to have her stoned, according to the law of the day! 


But he loved her. Despite this apparent betrayal, he resolved to break their betrothal quietly, in order to mitigate her pain and her certain suffering in society.


Troubled, he went to sleep. And in his dreams he was visited by an angel who told him not to hesitate to marry his love. She had not betrayed him. She was carrying the Son of God.


And thus we see the second great love of the story - Joseph's love for his God. He awoke from his dream and never looked back. He married the woman he loved, but he didn't consummate their marriage until after she had delivered her baby.



www.jasonjenicke.com
Ahh, that baby! The love Joseph had for him! He could never have predicted how his heart would be rocked to its core by something so little, so dependent on him, so precious. "I can't even!" exclaimed tiny Rio's mom, and that's exactly how Joseph must have felt. He adopted this child as his own, and it was Joseph who taught the little fellow everything he could. He taught him his trade, carpentry. But he also taught him how to read, taught him the sacred texts, taught him how to be a man. He showed him how to treat women - with respect, as an equal, without judgment. He showed him the love of a father for his son. 

As Pastor Allan said, there was never a more influential father in the history of humankind.


And then there was the baby's mother. From the minute she started to show, eyebrows were raised. Months were counted off on fingers. If not Joseph's then whose? 


The talk never died down, even when her son was grown and off on his own mission. She would travel to hear him when she could; she heard the retort they spat at him that day: "We are not born of fornication …" and the stabbing pain in her heart returned as she tried to catch her breath at the injustice, the hurtfulness, of it all.


Over the years she would think long and hard about all the things she had experienced since she agreed to be the mother of this child: her cousin Elizabeth's proclamation; Joseph's steadfastness; the stable; the glittering kings from the east with their unusual presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh; the megalomaniac ruler who decided to slaughter any threats to his position, resulting in her, Joseph and the baby acquiring refugee status in Egypt where, unable to work, they were bankrolled by those same, extremely expensive gifts; the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem where this boy of hers went missing and where they found him, three days later, discoursing with the leaders in the temple (the boy's respectful but firm reply, "Don't you know that I must be about my Father's business?" had caused her to glance over at Joseph. She saw her husband's dear face registering his understanding, his acknowledgment that this son - loved fully with his whole heart from the moment he helped deliver him - now had a higher claim than Joseph's paternal authority on his life. But he would never stop loving this boy. He was his son. It was a love like no other.); the slurs and innuendo that surfaced from time to time when people felt the need to "put him in his place"; right up to his death on that splintered cross where he remembered her and - in a strange parallel to his being given to her from the beginning of his life to be cared for - gave her to his dearest friend to be cared for until the end of hers.


She was a quiet, humble woman and she kept all these things in her heart. But she never, for one moment, doubted the plan for him. She never, for one moment, stopped loving him.


The next person in this love story is God himself. Despite his being holy, unable to tolerate evil and sin, he loved us. And all of us can acknowledge that we have messed up more than a few times in our lives! Back before the story of Christmas people all around the world, from every culture and religion, had been trying to atone for their wrong doing, trying to live a good life, to make things right the best they could so that they could gain the favour of their deity and be assured of a safe landing when they died.


The birth of this baby in the manger was the beginning of the end for humankind to have to try to find a way. This baby was God, who - while never losing his deity - became human to reach us, to provide a way for us to be able to reach God. 


Pastor Allan commented that the text Billy Graham used more than any other in his sermons was this:



For God so loved the world 
that He gave His only begotten son 
that whosoever believes in him 
shall not perish, but have everlasting life  

He loved the whole world, and his birth son died to take away our sin - which is what separated Him from us - so that we could be forgiven, freely enjoy His love and one day be with Him where He is.


He knew there were people who would reject him outright. He died for them anyway.


People who would mock him and scorn this "plan of salvation" and yet continue with their own plan to fill the God-sized hole in their heart that yearns for lasting peace. He died for them.


People who would raise their eyebrows and query what was so special about this particular man. He was used to raised eyebrows. He died for these people too.


He loved … the world. The greatest love of all.


The last participant in this love story can change the whole outcome, and it's us. We have been created with agency, with free will. We can choose to accept this gift - the first Christmas gift! - or not.


Pastor Allan told us we can come to God as children and simply say, "Will you be my Dad? Can I be your daughter? Can I be your son?"


And when we accept his gift of salvation He adopts us into his family. That baby in the manger - himself adopted by Joseph so long ago - becomes our elder brother. We become equal heirs with him in all that our heavenly Father has to give his children.


And it's not "in spite" of our being adopted, Pastor Allan went on, with a catch in his throat. It's because we are adopted. 


Pastor Allan should know. He and Dina have adopted their three children. 


God should know. He gave his son up for adoption. 


The greatest gift of all.



Monday, December 17, 2018

Community Christmas Carol Service






I have grown to love this new community in which I find myself, and a lot of it has to do with my friend Jodi.

Jodi has spent pretty much all her life here and - along with her family - is part of the warp and weft of the fabric of this area. She has tucked me under her wing and introduced me to people who have welcomed me and graciously invited me to step inside their circle.

It was Jodi this summer who was the first to sign up to host a Five-day Backyard Club, and who even accompanied me to Moose Jaw to learn more about the program.

Then after a successful week, it was Jodi and a couple of the moms who wondered if we could continue a program for the kids in our area. We decided to see if we could start up a Club DJ (short for David and Jonathan - a king-to-be and a king's son who covenanted together to be loyal to each other and to God). 

And thus a fledgling little group has started meeting together in the Endiang Hall on the first and third Sunday evenings of each month; and so for our last meeting of this year, we wanted to do something special for our much-loved little town, something that would gather friends and neighbours into an old-fashioned expression of love, joy, peace and celebration.

We decided a Christmas carol sing-along would be the very thing.

But who could sing?

Whenever I have encountered obstacles to ideas that come into my head, I have found that- nine times out of ten - someone in my own sibling group will be able to point me in the right direction, or even provide the solution.

This event proved to be no different. I called my brother, Allan.

He and my sister-in-law have been making music together for 30 years, and they consented to come. The Good Rancher also mentioned it to their two sons, good musicians in their own right, and they promised to talk it over with their wives.

A sister familiar with the workings of churches and celebrations and d├ęcor designed the invitation at the top of the page; she also sent me design tips …

My brother sent me the list of carols he had selected for the evening, and I asked my friend Susanne if she would be willing to tell the story of the little pine tree who wanted nothing more than to be beautiful enough to be chosen as the queen's Christmas tree.

Another sibling with an unerring eye for beauty and design created the cover for our carol songbook:





And Sandra at Tumbleweeds Print and Sign Shop in Hanna managed to print them for me in a three-hour window!

Meanwhile, Jodi and I decorated the beautiful little Hall in Endiang.

Esmerelda and Asher -
does anyone remember them from 
the Tea House days?!



Jodi's mom found this utterly charming 
nativity for the entrance to the auditorium 

At last it was almost time to open the doors, and in walked my handsome nephews carrying instrument cases and with wives and babies in tow - they all came this wonderful evening!

They were followed shortly by the handsome Buchwitz brothers, who had committed to being the greeters and handing out songbooks for the occasion. (This picture is from a previous occasion; alas, I missed getting all three of them together as they were far too busy with their guests!)



We delayed the 6 pm start for a few minutes as we added more chairs and got the last comers seated.

The house lights went down, the stage lights went up, I said a few words of introduction and welcome, and then the music started.

"Joy to the World!" rang out the invitation from the stage. Those of us in the congregation cleared our rusty throats, set aside the busyness of our everyday lives and "let heaven and nature sing" in response.



My brother wove the story of that first game-changing Christmas, and how its impact transforms lives even today, through the melodies and the words of the songs. When it came to "Go tell it on the mountain," he called out, "Wait for it!" and Luke beckoned us to follow him as he danced his bass guitar down the scale from the verse to the chorus.

Next the sweet strains of "Away in a Manger" - we repeated the last chorus with no instruments as we sang "Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care" and we looked around at a beautiful representation of those very kids singing along so sweetly and earnestly with us.

And then - the story I had been waiting for. Susanne told us of the little pine tree in a forest where the trees growing there were all in competition to be the one chosen by the Queen for her Christmas tree.

It was small, true, but it was perfect. It was sure that if it just kept growing a little more, it had a chance …

But then there was a terrified rabbit being pursued by hounds. All the other trees tightened their branches so that the rabbit couldn't hide. As the little creature drew close to Little Pine, the tree made a split-second decision: it lifted its lower branches and the rabbit darted in, trembling but safe, just as the hounds charged past looking for their prey.

The next morning, Susanne remarked sadly, those lower branches were not able to return to the perfectly symmetrical shape they had been before the rabbit had found refuge.

Oh well, Little Pine thought, Maybe there was still a chance if the Queen didn't notice the lowest branches …

Fall turned into winter and a mother bird was caught in the middle of a snowstorm. She flew into the copse of trees looking for shelter and a place to wait the storm out.

The big trees had one goal in mind, however; they tightened up their branches until they became impenetrable. Little Pine, however, saw the fear and the exhaustion in the mother bird`s eyes; opening up a little gap in its upper branches, it motioned for the bird to fly in and take shelter until the storm blew itself out.

After what seemed like a very long time, the weather grew calm and the bird gratefully slipped out of its hiding place. Little Pine stretched and reached, but could not get the branch that the bird had rested on to curve back to how it looked before.

And then, as winter dragged on and food became scarce for the animals, a little deer stumbled into the group of trees. It had gotten separated from its mummy and was frightened and hungry.

You know what happened: the bigger, more sensible trees with their goal  looming even closer put up their barriers; so Little Pine welcomed the baby to nibble on his tender needles, to get sustenance from the bark and pine cones. The fawn received the strength it needed to be able to go on and find his mum.

But Little Pine looked very much the worse for wear.

And that weekend the Queen came on her sleigh to choose the tree herself for this very important celebration.

She entered her forest, expecting to see the beauty and majesty of the trees and make her choice. But as the sleigh came near to Little Pine, the Queen saw the sorry state it was in, and she became incensed. What was that wreck doing in her lovely forest? she wanted to know, and ordered her men to chop it down and burn it.

Little Pine had never felt more wretched. A gummy teardrop trickled off one of its wounded branches.

But as the driver clucked the horses past Little Pine, the Queen looked more closely. She saw the footprints of the rabbit disappearing under the lower branches. She looked up and caught a glimpse of a feather where the bird had rested. She saw where the bark had been rubbed and the needles nibbled on by the baby deer.

And she glimpsed the heart of Little Pine, understood that it had sacrificed itself and its ambitions to help these poor, vulnerable creatures. This is the one! she proclaimed.

So the henchmen cut down Little Pine and carried it tenderly to the palace, where it was placed in the spot of honour and festooned with the most beautiful decorations imaginable.

Pine trees to this day now grow without perfect symmetry, the story concluded, for the good Queen had recognised that Little Pine had lived how we should all live - in service to others. Because what one does for even the least of the Christ child's creatures, one does to Him …


A couple of carols later we found ourselves listening to the haunting introduction played by Angie on piano and Craig on guitar (he made that visually stunning and acoustically perfect guitar!) to "Mary, did you know?" The plaintive melody combined with the powerful imagery made me think of all the seeming contradictions of Jesus, God's son, born to die.

The last line of the song reads, The sleeping child you're holding is the great I Am. In the hush that inevitably followed the song, Allan explained that "I am" was God's promise to each of us that He can fill the void of heartbreak, pain, loneliness, sorrow, need, despair - whatever it is we truly need, God will be for us.

Here's a simple, gentle version of the song, featuring its composer, Mark Lowry:


The evening started to wind down. I read the Christmas story of a mother riding into a strange city and - finding nowhere to stay - delivering her baby in the stable with animals and her faithful husband Joseph as her attendants.

As the beautiful, familiar words of John chapter 3 and verse 16 started to fill the hall, Jodi dimmed the stage lights and turned on the spotlight, and all eyes were drawn to this magnificent sight:


Just before the last song we would sing together on this wonder-full evening, Allan sang one of his favourite songs as a solo: "Down from his glory."

Then he got the kids who had been practising for school to join them on the stage, and they signed as we sang "Silent Night"



As the last notes reverberated in the air, Allan offered a quiet prayer of thanks - for the evening, for the food and visiting we were about to enjoy, for the greatest Gift of all; the house lights came on and most of us moved downstairs to enjoy the unbelievable treats people had brought.



Some of us, however, stayed upstairs to chat for a little longer, basking in the new gentleness of this room, harking back to memories of special Christmas concerts past at this very place.



There was not much time for nostalgia, however, as the floor curlers were booked in bright and early on Monday morning! I wandered upstairs after mingling for a while in the basement, only to find that two magicians by the names of Jodi and Twila, along with their contingent of elves - Joslyn, Ryder, Bronc and Colter - had pretty much packed everything up! These two women know what it is to open their arms and their hearts on a regular basis to help others in need. Tonight, our community of carollers felt their generosity of spirit, saw the love we had sung about in action as by their example they taught their children that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

And what better time to learn that timeless truth than at Christmas?

Peace on Earth, good will toward all!






Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Birthday Party!



The party was in full swing, the guest of honour making nice in the kitchen, when suddenly she appeared.

"I need to hug my boy right now," she whispered. "It's exactly one year ago that he was born …"


Levi.

Against all odds, we were gathered this day to celebrate his first birthday. The theme was Curious George, reflecting his genuine interest in everything around him.


His due date was January 20, 2018; his "adjusted age" says he is actually nine months.

He has undergone two major brain surgeries.

Three months in Neonatal Intensive Care.

Numerous trips to clinics and doctors offices.

Regular tests and measurements - of head circumference, of range of motion, of sight and hearing and strength and height and weight  until they all start blurring together.












Levi.

He has discovered water and the pleasures of swimming lessons and bathing in the kitchen sink.

He has developed a love of music, especially of percussion instruments.

He sits up, stands if he can hang on to the edge of something.

He chatters away, and he laughs. He has favourite stories.

Levi.

Courtesy of Auntie Rachel
He would rather eat apple sauce and sweet potatoes than birthday cake.

He truly engages with people with whom he comes into contact.

"Hi," he will say.

But across a crowded room, his eyes will search out his parents.

Levi.

Those four letters spell four words: EVIL, VILE, LEVI, LIVE.

It could have gone either way. But, like the song says, "God can make a way when there seems to be no way."

Levi knows.



He sings himself to sleep: "Way, way, way …"


His mother texted me the day after his birthday: "One of the most impactful things that was said to me in those early days was … that 'none of this is a surprise to God'. The Lord knew that was what my heart needed to hear in that moment and has helped me countless times over the year … God continues to be so faithful and kind." 

Thank you all for your love, your prayers, your kind thoughts and words and messages.

Thank you, Levi, for the many, many people your little life has already touched, for how you bring people together, how you point them to God's faithfulness.

Levi.

As the Good Rancher would say, "Ride 'em, little Wrangler …"

Sign made by his Uncle Allan.
He actually wore that tiny pea cap ...

















Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Thanks Giving Day

Don called the Good Rancher on Friday: a few men were going to be slipping into a neighbour's corral and loading up her cattle, as quietly as possible. Hoping to do it on Monday. Was he in?

Oh yes.

Shooting for 11:30.

Done.

The Good Rancher has many, many admirable qualities; punctuality is not on that list. Nonetheless, on Monday morning he jumped into Henry the Ford, buckled up and sped to the destination.

He was there at 11:27.

It was -2 and the wind was starting to make its presence felt. Don and Lonnie were waiting for him, and they were joined in short order by Robert, Cliff, Rod, and Glen.

They paused for a moment and then in unison squared their shoulders, took a breath and stealthily made their way to the corral.

They didn't want to spook the cattle.

This was their Thanksgiving gift for their friend.

Everything had seemed a bit off-kilter since two Wednesdays earlier when Barry, good old Barry, had slid out of his chair and his spirit left this earth forever.



His funeral had been the following Wednesday. His cousin Jack officiated, bringing to life for us the young Barry he had known. His three beautiful all-grown-up nieces each gave us glimpses into this man who loved them, who treated children with whom he came into contact with special care and dignity. Following them, his friend Twila spoke - with a sentence or two from her three elder children, who were already missing their buddy.


As the final notes of the final song started to fade, Jack rose, walked over to Rosemary - the love of Barry's life - and gently hugged her. Two of the people closest to Barry, realising the great gap his absence would occupy, clung wordlessly to each other for a long moment.

Each person there to honour him that day would have had their own Barry story. He had a coffee route. He teased a lot, but it was never malicious. When he got something into his head to do, he would do it.

Gopher hunts.

Chopping wood.




Helping a neighbour.

 







Helping lots of neighbours.


 Making funny faces.



Stettler on Tuesdays with his Rose.

Thanksgiving with Jill and Les. 

One of my favourite Barry memories:
his and Rosemary's 45th anniversary supper
Observing the beavers at work on the lane leading to his house. Observing all the beauty - both extravagant and unobtrusive - this part of the country has to offer. 


No doubt this and much more was on these men's minds as they somberly took their stations and lifted their cattle sticks and got to work, sorting the calves from the cows, tagging the bulls, checking the pens.











Barry's three buddies were there as well, keeping an eye on things - the next generation, learning to love the land.


It was all completed in short order - all these men know their way around a corral! - and after a brief coffee break, they gathered to watch for Jim.





Jim, who left his family Thanksgiving dinner early in order to drive the herd to auction at Olds, trundled up slightly before the time he had said he would be there. 

Clearly, an unspoken code was at work. You might be late for your everyday stuff; for an occasion as weighted as this one, you put your best foot forward for your friend.







The road lurches a bit at the curve, and with the snow and slush, Jim's truck needed a bit of traction. Of course, the guys were one step ahead and the tractor was already running, the chain already prepared.





The animals loaded fairly smoothly - "a beautiful set of cows!" was the verdict. All of them know that a difference of a few cents a pound can make an awful lot of difference to the final payout. They were all relieved for Barry, happy for Rosemary.




The paperwork was done under Ivy's careful tutelage; Debbie was there, keeping the coffee coming, keeping the tears at bay. While the men were out working, the ladies had been recording each tiny detail - drawing brands, locating premises ID numbers, making sure there was no hitch at the receiving end.





And then everyone stood back as Jim climbed up into his truck again. 

Eyes blinked a little faster than usual. "Once you get going, don't stop!" called out Lonnie a bit hoarsely.

Jim headed down the hill; Cliff was already waiting in the tractor, just in case. Fortunately, the tractor's services were not needed again this day.


As the truck pulled out of sight, there was a bit of a general sigh.




"He was a good neighbour … 

"a good rancher … 

"a good friend …

"It was a good day."

It was another example of neighbours helping neighbours in the Byemoor and Endiang community.

It was Thanksgiving Day, 2018.