Friday, January 27, 2017

Five Minute Friday: CONTROL

Today I'm linking up with Kate Motaung for Five Minute Friday. This week's word is "CONTROL."


When I was young, my brothers and I loved watching Get Smart: a TV show about a dim-witted secret agent, Maxwell Smart, who worked for the Control agency, battling against an evil organization called Kaos.

Even now we still quote lines from the show, like this one:

Oily villain from Kaos: "You're very loyal ... and very stupid." 

Max: "We're Control agents. We're trained to be very loyal and very stupid."

Or this: 

Max: "There are a hundred Control agents outside at this very minute."

Villain: "I find that very hard to believe."

Max: "Would you believe fifty Control agents?"

Villain: "I don't think so."

Max: "How about three Boy Scouts with slingshots?"

In Maxwell Smart's world, Kaos was no match for Control. In my world, though, control is rarely the solution to chaos ... at least not my control. I may have my own narrow ideas of how to solve problems or what should be done to make the world better -- but so often they fall short because I don't see the whole picture, only my small part of it.

Life works better when I accept my limitations and trust that God is in control. That doesn't mean I do nothing -- only that I recognize when it's time to stop forcing and accept that I don't have all the answers. It's actually a lot easier to see what my place and purpose are if I don't try to control everything. I need to remember that.


Monday, January 23, 2017

Trying a new thing

There are five words I don't think I've ever heard myself say: 


I don't. I like sticking to the normal (boring) things I always do. I like eating the same thing for breakfast every day, shopping at the same store that has a certain kind of pants that I really like, and ordering the same thing that I know I'll like at a restaurant.

But sometimes it's good to do something new because it changes your perspective -- and if you do it with a kid, it changes your perspective even more.

Last week Richard had bought two tickets for him and Jonathan to go to the Kingston Frontenacs hockey game on Friday night. Jonathan really enjoys these outings, so they try to go several times every season. I have never been too interested in accompanying them; I'd rather stay home and read or watch a period-piece movie, maybe play a game with Allison. But during the day on Friday, Richard came down with a flu bug and knew he wouldn't be well enough to go with Jonathan -- so I did.

 What an adventure!

First of all, it quickly became clear that I wasn't taking Jonathan on this outing; he was letting me come along only  because he needed to be accompanied by an adult. When we got out of the car several blocks from the K-Rock Centre, he walked so fast toward the arena that I had to run to keep up with him. He knew exactly where we were supposed to turn off, pointing and saying "That way!" with authority. He saw some guys in caps and hockey jerseys standing outside the arena and said "HI!" to them with a big smile, as if to be sure they knew that he was going to the game too. When we lined up to have our tickets scanned, he tried to go to the front of the line, shouting "EXCUSE ME!" Fortunately everyone was really patient and seemed to enjoy his enthusiasm.

Finally we got to our seats and I could catch my breath. We knew our friend Gary and his daughter Courtney (who is one of Jonathan's camp counselors at Extend-a-Family) were also going to be at the game, so I texted them and they came over to chat before the game started. Jonathan enjoyed that, but he wasn't shy about saying "Bye" when he was ready for them to go back to their own seats.

Then for the next couple of hours Jonathan and I reveled in the sights and sounds of the event. He enjoyed standing for the national anthem, which he's very familiar with from school, and he loved bobbing his head to the bursts of loud music that came on whenever play stopped -- especially "I Like to Move It Move It."

Given Jonathan's interest in garbage, recycling, and sweeping, he was understandably fascinated by the staff who skated out with brooms and shovels to clean up the ice. Every time a player removed his helmet to towel away sweat, Jonathan got concerned and yelled, "HAT ON!" He clapped at random times. But because there was already so much noise, he could be as loud as he wanted, whenever he wanted. Let the record show that there wasn't a single "Shhh" from me the whole evening.

There were a lot of empty seats in the rows near us, but a man came in alone and sat in the seat directly in front of us; he was probably in his 50's and appeared to have some sort of intellectual disability. He had a clipboard with him and some papers with hockey stats. Jonathan periodically tapped him on the shoulder to say hi and give him a beaming smile, and pretty soon the guy was turning around to us regularly to make comments about the game or respond to something Jonathan had said.

Halfway through the third period Jonathan started getting restless and repetitive, saying "Home? Home?" -- but he stuck it out until the final buzzer. The outcome (Frontenacs won 5-4) didn't matter all that much to him, but he was very glad to be given the task of putting his granola-bar wrapper into the garbage can before we descended the stairs and went back out onto the street. The excitement of the outing made it a little difficult for him to settle to bed after we got home, but eventually he went off to sleep -- a happy guy.

Next time hockey-game night comes around, he'll probably say "Mommy hockey game?" I don't know if I'll go next time or not; I think I still prefer staying home to read. But I had a good time. Observing Jonathan's enjoyment of the simplest details, and his desire to share his excitement with others, reminded me that it can actually be a lot of fun to try something new.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Five Minute Friday: REFINE

Today I'm linking up with Kate Motaung for Five Minute Friday.  This week's prompt is "REFINE."


Downton Abbey ended a year ago, and I'm still missing it. I loved that show. I still re-watch old episodes so that I can go back into that world again. I felt like the Crawleys and their staff were my friends, and sometimes I have this sense that they're still all out there going on with their lives, only without billions of pairs of eyes watching them.

The Crawleys were so refined. The women would come down to dinner in gorgeous, decadent dresses, dripping with jewelry. They'd sit straight-backed, their wrists (never their elbows) resting elegantly on the edge of the table.

And those voices! I loved their sophisticated English accents. If you want a good laugh, CLICK HERE to see a clip of Downton Abbey actors reading their lines in American accents. It's pretty hilarious to see Lord Grantham as an American mogul, pontificating to his kids about properties and acquisitions .... on second thought, let's change the subject. 

It's so easy to get starstruck by elegant people. Their beautiful houses, sophisticated clothing, refined manners ... they must be doing something right. They must be just a bit better than the rest of us.

But the truth is, we're all equal. No one is better than anyone else because of their status, their inheritance, their possessions, or their refined manners. This Irish song that I love, "John O'Dreams," reminds us that at the end of the day -- or the end of life -- we are all on the same level ground:
Both man and master in the night are one;
All things are equal when the day is done.
The prince, the ploughman, the slave, the free man
All find their comfort in old John O'Dreams.

The Bible also reminds us of the surprising humility of Jesus:

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. (Philippians 2:5-7, The Message Bible)

It's fun to immerse myself in the world of the rich and refined for a while, but my comfort comes in knowing that the trappings of wealth and power are not what matter to God. He is a friend to the poor, the weak, the lonely, the powerless. He became one of us to prove that.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

January 2017 "Quick Lit"

Today, as I do on the 15th of most months, I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy for "Quick Lit," where we share short (or long: let's not kid ourselves) reviews of what we've been reading.

(Anyone who is interested may also want to take a look at my "All the Books I Read in 2016" post: CLICK HERE.)


Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times (Jennifer Worth). The first book I read this past month was actually a re-read. Richard gave me this book for Christmas because we'd just finished watching all six seasons of the TV series of the same name. I thoroughly enjoyed going back to re-read Worth's descriptions of her years as a young nurse-midwife working with an Anglican nuns' order in East London in the late 1950's. This memoir is full of fascinating social, religious, and medical commentary, and the real-life stories of her patients and colleagues are told with humour and respect.


Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul's Path to God (Gary Thomas).  The heading on the back cover says "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's spiritual walk" -- which is a great way to approach this helpful and interesting book. Thomas covers nine different "pathways" to connecting and relating to God: 
  • Naturalists: loving God outdoors
  • Sensates: loving God with the senses
  • Traditionalists: loving God through ritual and symbol
  • Ascetics: loving God in solitude and simplicity
  • Activists: loving God through confrontation
  • Caregivers: loving God through loving others
  • Enthusiasts: loving God with mystery and celebration
  • Contemplatives: loving God through adoration
  • Intellectuals: loving God with the mind
He describes each pathway by giving personal and Biblical examples; discusses benefits and possible pitfalls; and provides a checklist for readers to test which pathway(s) might be right for them. I scored highest on Contemplative and Traditionalist, while Richard was highest on Caregiver and Naturalist -- no big surprises there! This would be a great book to study with a spouse or friend or in a small group. It encourages a greater appreciation for other perspectives and personalities and reminds us that there really is no One Way to have a spiritual life.


Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith (D. L. Mayfield). I confess that if I'd gone solely by the title and cover of this book, I might not have read it. To me, the main title gives the impression that this will be a  more journalistic exploration of how refugees and immigrants are treated in America -- and that theme is touched on. But I'd read some of Mayfield's writing in journals like Image and Ruminate, so I expected the book would be far more tender and personal than that -- and it is. 

This is a beautifully written, heartfelt collection of discrete but connected essays about Mayfield's relationships with refugees and other displaced people. As a Christian teenager wanting to please God and make a difference in the world, she started working with Somali, Bhutanese, and other refugees -- but as her efforts to teach English, share the gospel, or show the Jesus film languished, and as she got more overwhelmed by trying to meet the needs of her new friends, the more she was able to realize God's grace for herself. Through discouragements and humiliation, she slowly learned that sometimes ministry was just sitting on someone's couch and letting them feed her, without thanks or reciprocity or results. 

In relation to the Sacred Pathways book mentioned above, I think Mayfield's book depicts a very real, beautiful combination of Activism and Contemplation: of feeling that sense of calling to work for God yet also humbly beholding and adoring God as He appears in unexpected places and faces. In one of my favourite passages near the end of the book, Mayfield writes,

Like many of our stateless wanderer friends, my little family and I have moved a few times. And each time we pack up our apartment, my refugee friends and neighbours bring gifts: clothes for the toddler, fried fish cooked whole and sliced like a baguette, crumpled dollar bills that they shove into my shirt. Before, I would have felt ashamed, unworthy, like I could have done more. Now, I weep with relief, with the blessings of being loved. As my friends offer to help clean and pack and take many of our worldly goods back to their ow apartments, it feels good, even authentic, to be the recipient. To be the one in need. It confirms that this is quite possibly the only posture that Christians in this day and age can take, to be in a place where we freely admit our shortcomings, where we desperately need our neighbours. A place where we throw off the voices telling us to insulate ourselves from the great brokenness of the world and the burning fire that is the love of God.

If you're feeling jaded by triumphalist missionary stories, discouraged by failure in your own calling, or just ready for some moving and authentic writing, I'd strongly recommend this book.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Five Minute Friday: MIDDLE

Today I'm linking up with Kate Motaung for Five Minute Friday. Today's prompt was "MIDDLE."


Earlier this week we had a night of high winds and freezing rain. I was awakened in the middle of the night by the power going off. How the sudden silence of the house could wake me up, I don't know, but it did. 

Richard was sleeping in the spare room because he had to get up earlier than me, so I went upstairs with a flashlight to be sure there were no fallen trees or anything else (other than ice and wind) causing the outage. Jonathan woke up too, and wanted to get up, but since it was 4:15 (slightly earlier than I'd intended to get up for the day), I was able to persuade him back to bed.
photo: The Weather Network  

I lay there in the darkness and my mind immediately started racing, imagining and planning what would happen if the power wasn't on by morning. The gas fireplace would turn on, so we'd have some warmth. We could light the gas stove burners with a barbecue lighter and heat water for coffee, even toast bread in a frying pan. How many times would we need to open the fridge to cobble breakfast together? What if the power was off at Jonathan's school, though: he'd have to stay home, and I had a (rare) meeting on campus at 11 that I couldn't miss. But what if power was off on campus too? My mind was swirling at top speed.

Somehow these racing thoughts calmed themselves, and I must have fallen asleep, because I was suddenly awakened again by the bedroom lights coming on. Jonathan must have flicked the light switch on when he came in earlier to investigate what was happening. It was 5:15. I turned the lights off, got back into bed with a sigh of relief, and slept.

That wasn't the first time I'd lain awake in the middle of the night, with thoughts and worries swirling through my mind. I wish every time it happened, problems would be obliterated by a sudden burst of light -- but that usually doesn't happen. Most of the time answers are harder to come by, so I wait, wonder, and try to trust.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Five Minute Friday: CONNECT

Today, for the first time, I decided to participate in Kate Motaung's Five Minute Friday linkup. Each Friday Kate provides a one-word prompt, and participants do a five-minute freewrite on that word and post it on their blog.

The word today is "CONNECT." It jumped out at me because I've been reading a lot of blog posts where people choose their One Word for the year. I wasn't really planning on doing that, yet for some reason the word "connect" kept bouncing around in my consciousness. So when I saw Kate's prompt, I decided to write this little five-minute post.


Unusually for us, we traveled at Christmas. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law, who live 6 hours away, invited us; we arrived there on Christmas Eve and stayed three nights. They were such wonderful hosts. We ate lots of good food, played games, and had a chance to relax.

They got a new hot tub last fall. My sister-in-law, who is the youngest of 13 children, lost both of her parents in the past year and a half; family and connection were very important to her parents, so she bought the hot tub as a symbol of connection and being together. So far, she says, their three teens aren’t using it a whole lot, but for her and her husband, sitting in the hot tub in the evening is a wonderful way to relax and connect.

On our last night there, a few of us went out and sat in the hot tub. They turned off as many lights as they could so it was as dark as possible. As our eyes adjusted to the darkness, the stars seemed to pop out of the sky. There was the Big Dipper, hanging there reliably as ever. The stars seemed linked together in an invisible net.

Connection is something we can foster (by buying a hot tub or gathering for a meal or a holiday), but it’s not something we have to strive for. We ARE connected, like the stars in the heavens. God holds everything together, and we just have to rest in that knowledge and pay attention to the signs all around us.