Be Mine

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I ripped the cellophane wrapping off the small package with delight. The cards my mother had bought that morning were perfect. They were bright red with hearts all over them and short funny sayings appropriate for Valentine’s Day. I spent all that evening addressing the envelopes and signing my name to all the cards. All, that is, but one.

There was one card in the package that was larger than the rest. It said, “Be Mine,” and the verse inside was not funny. In fact, to me, it was so serious that my heart beat faster. This card was going to someone I thought was deserving of something so special. His name was Darryl. I was ten years old and I was “in love.”

I did not sign my name to the card addressed to Darryl because I was afraid. I did not want to admit my feelings for fear of being rejected. What if he just laughed? What if he threw the card in the trash and someone else saw that it was from me? What if he left it behind on an empty desk for anyone to see? No. I would not put my name on that card, but I would pray that Darryl would know who it was from.

Giving your love and affection to someone is a risk. You become vulnerable to being hurt, to rejection, perhaps even to ridicule. Jesus knew all about that when He agreed to be born as a tiny babe on earth. He knew that many would spurn His love. Many would scorn his affection. Many would just laugh. And then a mob would demand His death. No one would understand. None of it would look like a fairy-tale and the ending was anything but happy. It would look like defeat and it would stink of death.

But it was the greatest act of love this world has ever seen. Christ gave up the glories of heaven, took on the physical limitations of a human body and then allowed that body to be tortured and killed. He did it all so that we would be able to live in the presence of His Father’s love eternally. He did it with an anguished cry of, “Be Mine!”

Jesus was neither afraid nor embarrassed to sign his name on the card that revealed His love for us. His card was a cross erected on a hill outside the city of Jerusalem. He signed it with His own blood and when it was delivered to the world at the moment he died, all the barriers between us and God were torn down. Forgiveness was ours for the asking and hope became a reality.

It was therefore true when the apostle Paul said to the people in Rome – “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

That is a Valentine worth cherishing.

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Until that Day

operating-roomI’ve had cancer. Twice. These are a couple of things I learned:

1. Someday Jesus and I will be face to face; He is here, with me, right now.

2. All the ambitions I have, and all the fears I harbour, are insignificant in view of those two facts.

I learned those lessons as I lay on a cruciform table in an operating room, reflecting as the anesthesia took hold. I could wake up in heaven, I thought. The idea excited me, but it also made me realize I didn’t want to die. There were things I still wanted to do and see, people I wanted to continue to love and some things I needed to set right. But I knew the possibility of dying that day, or in the not too distant future, was very real. The fact that it would happen, some day, was undeniably clear.

That made my writer’s heart beat a little faster. There were articles and books I still wanted to write, plays I wanted to see on the stage. The idea of dying in the middle of it all made me squirm a bit on that cold table.

So I prayed and that wonderful peace that passes all understanding flooded through me. I realized if I was about to meet Jesus none of my fears and suddenly rather silly ambitions would matter. If He was about to take me home, that meant the purpose for my life, and my work, had been accomplished. If He chose to allow me to continue on this earth, I could trust that he would be there beside me, guiding me all the way. It was a “win, win” situation.

Then I woke up in an ICU on a respirator with my hands tied down. My first thought was, Well, I don’t think this is heaven. As my brain struggled to register the words the nurse was saying, telling me I had had an allergic reaction to the blue dye they had injected into my body, I tried not to panic. What did that mean, exactly? I was relieved when she told me they were going to remove the tube down my throat and untie my hands. Yes, I thought, that would be very nice.

Then I saw my husband’s face. Then I had a moment. It was brief, but quite powerful. What if it had been the face of Jesus? I thought of Isaiah’s reaction when he saw the Lord and cried out, “Woe to me, for I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). Understatement of the century, in relation to myself, I knew. But then there is the rest of the story, in which the angel tells the prophet he has been cleansed and The Lord presents him with his life’s purpose.

I too have been cleansed and presented with mine. So I will continue to write, to live my life,  remembering those two things I learned on that operating table. Until He takes me home.

 

Go For The Gold

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A cross-country runner lengthens her stride and qualifies. Another throws himself over the finish line, even though he has fallen. A long jumper forgets about past injuries and puts every ounce of courage into competing. Athletes. We’re going to be seeing a lot of them in the days ahead, as our televisions broadcast the hour by hour and even minute by minute reports from the Rio Olympics. Millions will be watching because the stories of victory and defeat, top dogs and underdogs, are riveting. There are those who just can’t seem to lose and those who just can’t seem to win. There are those who are there as veterans, having competed many times, and there are those who are there for the first time, looking at future dates when they might ascend to the podium of medal winners. Whatever their status, whatever their level of skill, there is one thing that seems to characterize them all: focus. They are all focused on going for the gold.

Being singleminded is a quality that is referred to in the Bible many times. Throughout the history of the Hebrew people, detailed in the Old Testament, we hear God saying, “don’t be double-minded.” It was understandable they would need to be warned. People who worshiped many gods surrounded them. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, they were under the dominion of a culture that encouraged multiplicity. Walking through the streets of Rome and most of her conquered territory was like walking through a museum of idols made from every imaginable substance. The temptation to ‘hedge their bets’ was intense.

By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, God was also warning His people about the idols in their hearts. He was specific about some them, telling them point-blank, “You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Luke 16:13) Even in that far-away corner of the world, the Roman Empire had brought a measure of prosperity. Goods and services were readily available. Commerce was thriving. Many had made it their god.

Sound familiar? In our culture, where ‘going for the gold’ has more than an athletic ring to it, the distractions are many and mighty. Material success is lifted up to the highest place on the podium, with production and efficiency running right behind. We depend on them to keep us safe, to keep us fed and clothed, to keep us happy. They are our gods.

The scriptures teach another way. The apostle Paul put it well, in the book of Hebrews: “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.” (Hebrews 12: 1-2) As with the athletes competing in Rio, it’s a matter of focus. Like Paul, we must “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14) The goal, the prize, the only gold worth winning, is Christ Himself. Go for the Gold.

 

Man Hands

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“Definitely not a job for my man hands.”

I chuckled as I watched an episode of The Amazing Race recently. The contestants had flown off to Bali where they had to go through various tests. One of the challenges proved difficult to some of them in an unusual and unexpected way.

Bali is one of the world’s largest salt producers. The workers follow a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation for over one thousand years. It was put to the Amazing Race contestants to mimic that process.

They had to wade into the ocean, draw the salt water into two hand made buckets slung over their shoulders with a bamboo beam, carry the buckets across the beach and then scatter the water onto a designated plot of sand. As the sea water evaporated the salt was left behind. It was a physically challenging event so the men had the advantage. At first.

But it was in the second half of the event that the tables turned. Once they had enough salt water poured on the sand they had to then scrape the salt residue from a trough into a basket and pour it into four small bags, sealing them by tying the top. That’s when the men discovered they were at a disadvantage. The woman who was judging whether or not they had completed the task successfully often rejected the bags because they were not full enough. That meant the knot at the top had to be very tiny.

It was managing those tiny knots that proved difficult for “man hands.” They simply weren’t designed to do such a delicate task.

As I watched them struggle with it I thought of all the times I’ve tried to make things work in my life, only to discover that I too, have “man hands.” The task before me was difficult because I was not designed to make it work. The task, in fact, had been designed by God to show me that I needed His help.

Many people say they live by the Ten Commandments. I wonder how many realize that the commandments were not designed to make us work harder to please God. They were designed to show us that we cannot achieve holiness without Him.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, for instance. Really? How can I possibly do that? Love my neighbour as myself. Are you kidding me? Do not covet … oh yeah, that’s an easy one, right?

Go down the list and you will see that none of the things God asks us to do are possible in our own strength. We need Him. Desperately.

Are you trying to tie up your life and finding your “man hands” can’t do it?

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5,6).

The Most Excellent Way

The Most Excellent Way by Marcia Lee Laycock

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Yes, I know, Valentine’s Day has come and gone. But love is always worth thinking about.

“Till death do us part.” We’re all familiar with that phrase. It’s repeated in the marriage vows of thousands of people each year. It’s a vow, and a hope, and sometimes a wistful wish. Unfortunately we all know that the statistics tell us the majority of marriages don’t see the fulfillment of that vow. For many the hope of growing old with their partner is crushed in the early years of their relationship. For many more, the wistful wish turns to a bitter memory. Love, it seems, is hard to hold on to.

The uncertain climate of love in today’s society can be attributed to many things but it always comes down to a common denominator – people -ordinary, everyday people who have flaws and issues and self-centred tendencies. We are, in many ways, a hard people – hard on ourselves and hard on others. We’re not prone to forgiveness or compassion or empathy. It’s so much easier to walk away, walk by, and we’re very good at convincing ourselves that it’s okay. Everyone does it, everyone expects it.

But Jesus has said he will show us a “most excellent way.” (1 Cor. 12:31) Then he goes on, in 1 Corinthians 13, to tell us what it looks like:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1Corinthians 13:1-8).

A most excellent way, indeed, but how can we, who are so inclined to do the opposite, ever accomplish such love? We are all like trees planted in a desert, unable to thrive but, as the scripture says, we can be trees “planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.” (Psalm 1:3).

When we draw from the source of love itself, we can and will love truly. That source is Jesus Christ. And His way is, indeed, most excellent.

 

 

What If?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was at a crossroads in my life. I had graduated from high school over a year before and had worked hard to save enough money for one year of university. But which school and which program should I pick? There was a good journalism program in a school only one day’s drive away (Plan A), but there was a creative writing program at a bigger school on the other side of the country (Plan B). I studied the catalogues of both, my eyes often shifting from the more pragmatic alternative to the one that drew my heart. I weighed the pros and cons and added the figures over and over again. Plan B just wasn’t viable. I couldn’t afford it and the prospect of getting a job at the end of the four years was unlikely.

I chose Plan A. I lasted two years. I learned some valuable lessons and skills, but decided journalism, at least the kind of journalism I was required to do in the nation’s capitol, was not my cup of tea. Frustrated and disillusioned, it was many years before I pursued my dream of becoming a writer.

I often wonder about that choice. I often wonder, ‘What if…’

Recently I came across a video clip of famous actor Denzel Washington, talking about his faith. One of the last things he said in the interview struck me – “Don’t aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference.”

And again, I wondered, ‘what if …’ What if I’d had that perspective way back then. What if I had that perspective today?

Jesus said something similar to his disciples one day – “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:25,26).

He also said. “But store up for yourselves treasured in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).

It took me many years before I was willing to follow that advice but once I did the world became a brighter place, because I had discovered my place in it, as a writer, and more importantly, as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Mr. Washington also said something else that resonated with me – “Put your slippers way under your bed so when you get up in the morning, you have to get on your knees to find them. And while you’re down there, start your day with prayer. Ask for wisdom. Ask for understanding,” he said.

Start with prayer. A good idea. A good Plan A.

What if? …

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Interested in learning to write devotionals of distinction? Course starts March 30th. Email vinemarc AT telus DOT net for more info. 🙂

 

What’s in Your Fridge?

Fridge

I stood staring into our fridge with one thought in mind. My brother-in-law was coming to visit. He has a bit of a reputation for being a little OCD when it comes to fridges. And mine was in dire need of cleaning out. I sighed and started, putting jars and containers that were still good on one counter while pulling the garbage can closer for those things that had been there too long. Like the bowl of left-over spaghetti, the jar of mayo long past its due date and the spicy pickled beans only my husband will eat that were sprouting a growth of light grey fuzz. The garbage can was close to capacity by the time I was finished. I sighed again. I hate throwing food away. If only food wouldn’t spoil, I thought.

A verse in the Bible came to mind – “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:27).

I pondered that verse. What is the food that spoils? Possessions, money, fame, even the very paper these words are written on. All of it is fleeting and of little or no significance.

What is the food that endures? Lives changed, people drawn into the kingdom of God, people moved to live according to His purposes.

We are flooded with information from those who would push us to work for the former instead of the latter. We get those messages pouring into our email inboxes, into our living rooms via the TV, and into our brains via social media sites of all kinds. Buy this course and you’ll never have to work at that drudge job again. Spend this money now and be earning six figures a week in no time. Buy this item now and happiness will be yours forever.

But Jesus invites us to work for the food He will give us – food that will give us the purpose, the enthusiasm, the motivation to do His will in the world.

I wonder what His messages would be? Oh right, He’s already sent them. Messages like: “I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” John 15:5).

And then there’s this one: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Mark 13:31).

Good words to keep us focused on what is worth our time, our energy, our passion. Good words to help us focus on our true purpose on this earth.

“Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

So, have you looked in the fridge of your life lately? Are there a few things in there that need to be tossed out?

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Wishing I Could Be Jesus

Angel & Carolllers

I recently attended a funeral for a young man who died too soon, leaving a wife and three young girls. The sadness overwhelms at times and it makes me wish I could be Jesus, just for a few minutes, just long enough to say, as He did, “arise.”

But then, I realize that He doesn’t need me to do His work for Him. He has already done it. He has already said that wondrous, mysterious word and brought that young man into His kingdom, given him time to have a productive, full life here on this earth, and then brought Him home, to the place where he has wanted to be, as a believer in Christ.

Often things don’t seem right to us. The world seems off kilter and full of so much pain and suffering it overwhelms us at times. And we want to be Jesus. We want to snap our fingers and make it all better. But He has already been at work. He has a plan for this earth, for each one of us, a plan that goes far beyond what we could ever imagine. He told the Hebrew people that when they were in circumstances that were full of pain and suffering – their captivity in Babylon. Living as slaves they no doubt often cried out to God to bring them relief from all the suffering and pain they saw around them.

This was His answer – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

At this time of year some of us are in circumstances that are made even more difficult by all the joy and/or jollity around us. And sadness overwhelms.

Here are a few things we can do when that happens:

Look up. When we see all those decorated Christmas trees, look up. Look for the star or the angel on the top. And know Jesus is with you.

Look around. There are others who are struggling. Is there something you can do for them that will lighten their hearts, and yours?

Look ahead. Jesus has promised a bright future, and given us a way to know we are secure in his hand.

Yes, there are times I wish I could be Jesus. But then I remember – He is the Messiah, the Living God, our hope and our comfort. We don’t need anything else.

War Story

Mel Lee In Canadian Air Force uniform, age 25

My father usually refused to talk about the war. But once, over a cup of late-night tea, he did tell me one war story. He spent the first years of World War II in Canada, a clerk in the RCAF offices in Halifax. There’s a picture of him in uniform, brandishing a rifle, the Halifax harbour behind him. Then he was moved to England where he again worked at a desk. There’s a picture of him on a golf course in Ireland. Then, as the war was ending, my father was sent to Germany with the occupation forces. He found himself with the liberation army at the gates of Bergen-Belsen.* It was at that point, as the allies won and World War II was over, that my father’s war began.

He would never say what it was, specifically, that caused it to happen. Perhaps he looked too long into eyes glazed with hunger and shadowed with pain, eyes belonging to men and women who looked a hundred years old, ‘though they were in their twenties. Perhaps he could not stop staring at the piles of dead bodies, the bones and skulls, or perhaps he was required to record the numbers, the unfathomable numbers. Perhaps he could not bear the smiles of survivors who welcomed their deliverers in silence. He would never say what it was, but something that day, in that place, made my father’s mind stop. It stopped and could not go beyond the horror and the fear.

The fear put him on a psychiatric ward in a German hospital. He was afraid to leave it, afraid even to go for a walk beyond the grounds. One day a nurse came with some clothes and told him to get dressed. Thinking they were taking him for a walk in the hospital gardens, he complied. The nurse returned and escorted him out to the front gate. She locked it behind him and, without a word, left him there.

The familiar panic attack was immediate, but this time something else rang in my father’s mind. In the midst of his fear he became overwhelmed with the need to find a church. So he started walking. He found one of the huge gothic cathedrals so common in Europe. Though part of it had been destroyed by bombs, he stepped inside and sat down. Above the altar, high stained-glass windows glowed with light. As he stared, they began to move. My dad said he did not know how long he sat there watching, but the entire life of Christ flowed by before him, as though on a movie screen. When it was over, my father was no longer afraid. He returned to the hospital and told them it was time for him to go home.

My father’s war story is about a miracle, an event that healed his mind and his soul. In the midst of horror and fear, God was there. Isaiah said it well – “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation” (Isaiah 12:2).

*April 15th, 2015 will be the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen Belsen. My play about my father’s experience, A Pattern in Blue will be part of the Budding Playwrights Festival in Rosebud Alberta in May.

The Spur – A Defining Love

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“I think you’re my pastor’s wife.” The elderly woman smiled up at me from her wheelchair. I nodded and chatted with her for a moment. When I looked up, I saw her husband brushing away tears. His wife had days when she recognized hardly anyone. It was only a matter of time before she would not even know him. The tears were brushed away quickly and he kissed the top of her head as he told me she’d been doing very well lately. Then, as always, he told me how much he loved his wife. “More every day,” he’d say. “More every day.” As he wheeled her away I stood in awe of such love.

It takes a special kind of love to care for those who are not able to respond, like patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. That kind of love is described in the Bible this way:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

When we see such love lived, we stand in awe. How can this be done? How can we love this way, consistently, when it takes so much courage and strength and pure will to focus completely on someone else?

There is only one way, by relying on the One who is Love incarnate. His love flowing through us gives us the courage and strength and will. When we turn to Him and ask, “how can I do this?” He answers: “And now I will show you the most excellent way.” His love is pure and unconditional and totally other-focused. To demonstrate it, He gave his life for ours. He is the source of a pure and defining love.

Indeed, He is love.

Care giving for a person who has Alzheimer’s is one of the most difficult things anyone could attempt. To do it, one needs the kind of love only Jesus can provide. With Him as our source, anything is possible.

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This post is part of a blog tour honouring those who suffer with Alzheimer’s disease and those who care for them. Click on the links below to follow the tour.

Nov. 6th –Ruth L. Snyder- http://ruthlsnyder.com/

Nov. 7th –Sheila Seiler Lagrand- http://sheilalagrand.com/

Nov. 8th –Giovanni Gelati- http://gelatisscoop.blogspot.com/

Nov. 10th –Ruth L. Snyder- http://ruthlsnyder.com/

Nov. 10th –Cindy Noonan- http://www.cindynoonan.com/

Nov. 11th-Sue Badeau- http://suebadeau.webs.com/apps/blog/

Nov. 12th-Peggy Blann Phifer- http://www.whispersinpurple.com/

Nov. 13th-Sandy Sieber- http://pahistorybooks.blogspot.com/

Nov. 13th– Joy Ross Davis- http://joyrossdavis.com/blog/

Nov.14th –Karen Gass- http://www.cottonspice.net/

Nov. 17th –Patti J. Smith- http://gridirongrannyfootballfanatic.blogspot.com/

Nov. 18th-Tracy Krauss- http://www.tracykraussexpressionexpress.com/

Nov.19th –Melanie M. Jeschke- http://melaniejeschke.blogspot.com/

Nov.21st– Andrea J. Graham- http://www.christsglory.com/

Nov.22nd-Linda Wood Rondeau- http://lindarondeau.blogspot.com/

Nov.24th-Diane Huff Pitts- http://dianehuffpitts.com/

Nov.25th –Mark Venturini- http://markventurinijourney.blogspot.com/