Friday, March 30, 2018

Five Minute Friday: SETTLE

Today I'm linking up with Five Minute Friday, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word: SETTLE.

Last night I entered the darkened church and settled into a seat. I had arrived a few minutes before our Maundy Thursday service was to begin. There was quiet music playing and a notice on the screen inviting us to sit quietly in preparation for worship.

Images and directions on the screen guided us through the service. At one point a picture of a basin and a towel appeared, and parts of the Scripture passage from John 13 about Jesus washing the disciples' feet were shown: 

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well.”

Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."

 The instructions on the screen directed us to reflect on the passage. As we did so, the sound of water being poured into a basin could be heard over and over and over again. I imagined Jesus pouring water from a jug into a basin, kneeling before one of his friends and washing his feet, then dumping the water out and pouring in fresh water before moving on to the next man. 

Then I imagined Jesus kneeling before me and performing this humble service.

"Maundy" comes from the word "mandate" -- and the washing of the disciples' feet symbolized Jesus' new mandate for his followers. 

Jesus knew that the end was coming; soon he would be arrested, beaten, and crucified. Yet at this moment, his priority was not to strategize with his disciples, or distribute arms and supplies so that they could protect themselves. His priority was to show his disciples what true love is -- and to demonstrate this, he settled on the most menial act of service: washing the hot, sweaty, grubby feet of his friends.

Love is humbly and sacrificially serving others. Even those who might betray or deny us. Even those who already have. 

I can't stop thinking about this: the sound of the water pouring over and over into the bowl, and the realization of Jesus' love being poured out over and over for me -- an ordinary, flawed person, yet one whom He calls friend.


Saturday, March 24, 2018

Five Minute Friday: ROUTINE (a trip to the doctor)

I'm joining the Five Minute Friday community today (and yes, I know today is Saturday!) writing for five minutes on a given prompt. 

This week's word is ROUTINE. I went over the five minutes because I wanted to describe a particular episode that illustrates our autistic son's love of routine.


People with autism, at any age, often have a particular fondness for ROUTINE. Jonathan (age 15) in particular thrives on routine in his life. I thought I'd illustrate that by writing about this week's trip to see a doctor.

Jonathan fell and got a mild wrist fracture last month. We saw a pediatric orthopedic doctor in late February, and she gave us a removable wrist brace for him to wear and wanted to see us again in three weeks. So we went back this past Thursday.

The clinic is familiar to him; it's the same place he goes twice a year to see the pediatric neurologist who follows him for his seizure disorder. It is in one of our local hospitals, not far from our church, so we usually park in the church parking lot and walk the 4-5 blocks to the hospital.

Jonathan insisted we take the exact same route we always do -- pretty easy, since it's the most convenient route.

When we arrived at the front entrance, Jonathan excitedly noticed the shovels and brooms over in a corner outside the hospital. He is quite fixated on shovels and brooms, so he hurried over to check them out. He had to move one of the brooms slightly so that it was leaning against the wall just the way he liked it.

When we entered the hospital, we were met with tantalizing cafeteria aromas. "Smell soup and sandwiches!" Jonathan said loudly, for everyone to hear. I agreed it did smell very much like that.

We went into the clinic to check in. The receptionist we got was particularly friendly and greeted Jonathan by name. As he often does, he said a few random things (loudly) like "HOT CHOCOLATE!" She laughed and said that sounded really yummy.

We got settled in the waiting room, and Jonathan immediately wanted to get out the mini DVD player  and the Wiggles "Rock-n-Roll Preschool" DVD we'd brought. This is the DVD we brought last time we'd gone to the doctor, so of course it made sense to bring the same one this time.

While we waited and quietly watched the Wiggles, Jonathan kept a furtive eye on anyone in the waiting room who was eating or drinking anything. He is extremely interested in putting wrappers in the garbage or empty coffee cups and lids in the recycling, and thinks nothing of going up to a stranger and grabbing their granola-bar wrapper or water bottle right out of their hands. So I monitored his interest in these fascinating goings-on and made sure he knew these were other people's things and he could not have them.

The nurse came to call us in. Jonathan jumped up and said, "HOCKEY GAME TONIGHT! HOT CHOCOLATE TONIGHT!"

We went into the examining room and waited for the doctor. Jonathan started to climb up on the examination table to lie down, but I told him that would not be necessary for a wrist exam. The doctor came in, checked the wrist, and assured us it seemed to be all healed up, so we started getting ready to leave.

Then the true crisis happened: we could not find one of Jonathan's mittens. Part of his love of routine is wanting to wear the exact same mitts, hat, and coat all the time; he has been wearing these same gray mittens for 2 or 3 years because he almost never loses anything. I knew I'd put his mitts and hat in the bag with the DVD player, but now only one of his gray mitts was in there. I checked the examining room and the waiting room, but no luck: the mitten was gone. 

"GRAY MITTS!" Jonathan yelled. 

"I think it's gone - do you want to wear my black ones?"

He put one of my black mitts on for about two seconds, then yanked it off. "GRAY MITTS!"

"I guess we'll have to find it later," I said. We left the clinic, Jonathan still complaining vocally.

We got back to the car and I drove him to his school (he was arriving about an hour late because of the appointment). His Educational Assistant came out to meet us, and Jonathan immediately yelled, "MITTENS GONE!" 

I told the EA about the lost-mitt crisis and said I had put the rejected black mitts in Jonathan's backpack.

When I picked Jonathan up at the end of the school day, he was wearing the black mitts without complaint. Soon he won't need to wear mitts at all, and by next winter he'll have forgotten about the gray ones altogether.

I HOPE.....


Thursday, March 22, 2018


I enjoy books.

I enjoy questionnaires.
So it's only natural that I would enjoy doing a questionnaire about books.

My friend and fellow blogger, Elliott Blackwell, wrote a blog post earlier this week called (quite appropriately, I think) "Book Questionnaire"; I enjoyed reading his answers and thought I'd provide my own. I don't have quite as good a memory for childhood books as he does, but I did my best.

What was the first book you had read to you?
The first book I remember having read to me and my brothers was Nan Gilbert's 365 Bedtime Stories (or as we called it, "What-a-Jolly Street," after the street the children in the book lived on). At bedtime I would join my brothers in their room and Mom would read us one of the one-page stories each night. 

What was the first book you read on your own?
I honestly do not remember the first book, but I know I read independently very early (though not as early as my daughter Allison, who could read at 3-1/2). I was five when my maternal grandfather died, and a cousin of my mom's took me and a couple of my brothers to her house to stay for a few nights. Her daughter, who was in her teens, kept giving me harder and harder books to see how well I could read; I think I made it to grade five level and impressed her pretty well.

What was the first book(s) received as a present?
The first I recall was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, which I got for my 10th birthday. I still have it; it is a purple hardcover with a picture of the four March girls on the front.

What was the first book that really made you become a reader?
I can't think what the first one would be (seems to me I was always a reader!), but I do vividly remember One Mitten Lewis, about a boy who was always losing one of his mittens. His mother kept buying him new pairs so he'd always have two that matched, but eventually she gave up and sent him out wearing a red one and a green one; he used them to play traffic light with his friends.

*After rereading my published post, I thought of so many more of my beloved early books; here are two:

  • Heidi by Joanna Spyri - I thought everyone in Switzerland must live on the side of a mountain like the Alm-Uncle, so the one time I went to Switzerland we stayed in Bern and I was disappointed at first that I couldn't see a single mountain! But when I did -- WOW, was it ever worth the wait.
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson - that one fascinated me and I probably read it a thousand times.

What was the first book series you ever read?
Probably the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Who was your favorite author(s) as a child?
I don't recall thinking of them as my favourite authors at the time, but I was absolutely enthralled with the Laura Ingalls Wilder books as well as the Betsy-Tacy-and-Tib series by Maud Hart Lovelace.

What was the first book(s) that transitioned you from reading children’s books to more mature literature?
The book that stands out in that regard is The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Up to grade 6 I think I was reading fairly standard kids' fare, but in grade 7 Language Arts we had a far wider range to choose from for independent reading and book reports -- and The Outsiders made a huge impression on me, particularly since it was written by a teenager.

I also recall reading The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson around that time; it had a huge impact on me too.

What book did you read later in life that most people read when they were younger?
The Chronicles of Narnia (read it in my twenties).

What book have you attempted to read but have never been able to finish?
Crime and Punishment.

What book have you read the most?
I am an avid re-reader. The ones I've re-read most are Little Women, Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, and all the Jane Austen novels.

What book do you recommend the most?
Probably Tattoos on the Heart by Father Greg Boyle.

What book changed your life?
Here are several that had a significant impact:
The Power of the Powerless by Christopher deVinck
Silence by Shusaku Endo
Tattoos on the Heart by Father Greg Boyle
Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer
Changes That Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud.

What author would you most like to have lunch with?
Father Greg Boyle, who wrote Tattoos on the Heart and Barking to the Choir about his experiences working with gang members in Los Angeles.

What author do you admire but would never dare to have lunch with?
Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of Between the World and Me, We Were Eight Years in Power, and more -- I think I would be intimidated by him because he is so brilliant.

What literary character(s) would you like to have lunch with?
Elinor Dashwood, Professor Dumbledore, Frodo and Sam.

What are 5 of your favorite books?
Little Women 
The House of Mirth 
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 
The Lord of the Rings (yes, that's technically 3 books)

What book have you read that others might be surprised you loved?
This was a hard one to answer. Maybe A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold, the mother of Columbine killer Dylan Klebold -- it's a very painful book about a horrible subject, but I loved it.

What book have you read that others might be surprised you didn’t like?
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

What was the last book you finished?
Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor.

What books are currently on your bedside table to be read?
Everything Happens for a Reason by Kate Bowler 
Searching for Boko Haram by my archaeologist brother, Scott MacEachern 
Reclaiming Hope by Michael Wear

What is your most cherished book?
Probably that purple-covered copy of Little Women that I've owned for 44 years. I also really prize my full set of L.M. Montgomery's Selected Journals (five volumes).

Please feel free to share your own picks, or your thoughts about my answers, in the Comments!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Five Minute Friday: PROVIDE

Today I'm linking up with Five Minute Friday, where we write for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word is PROVIDE.

In the Sermon on the Mount recorded in the book of Matthew, Jesus tells his listeners, "Do not worry." He encourages them to look at the birds and flowers, who don't spend time worrying about where their next meal will come from or whether they'll have warm clothes to get them through the winter. Be like them, Jesus says. "Your heavenly Father knows you need these things." He will provide.

Those are easy words for me to accept. I live in a warm, comfortable house. We have enough money to pay for heating and food and clothing -- and plenty left over for luxuries. I have never worried about whether I'll have enough food or clothing or whether my gas supply will be cut off in the middle of winter, leaving our family in the cold. But the people Jesus was speaking to must have had reason to worry about these things.

Jesus goes on to say, "Seek God's kingdom, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." It sounds like a simple equation: "Put God first, and all your material needs will be provided." 

But it doesn't seem to work that way in real life. Millions of people in the world still do worry about food and clothing and shelter -- and those needs are not met. They will go to bed hungry and cold tonight, whether or not they've tried their best to put God and his kingdom first.

Some Christians, faced with the undeniable reality that God doesn't always provide, reach for simplistic cliches that attempt to get God off the hook, like

  • "If you don't have something, that means God knew you didn't really need it." (Uh, well ... we need food to survive.)

  • "God sometimes tests our faith by making us wait for what we need." (Imagine God making a starving baby wait just a bit longer for milk in order to test its faith.)

  • "Doesn't the Bible say 'You have not because you ask not'?" (This is a classic example of snatching a phrase we remember hearing somewhere in Scripture and applying it completely out of context, while also implying that those in need are probably doing something wrong.)

Using these pat statements is something only the privileged can afford to do (and I include myself in that). Privilege allows us to keep the poor at arm's length and makes us feel entitled to counsel them from a place of superiority.

But Jesus is not preaching from that place of privileged superiority. He comes down to our level to stand in solidarity with the poorest and meekest among us and invites us to a new life with him. Those of us who are privileged and well-provided-for should be part of helping to provide for others' needs and seeing their well-being and ours as a common cause.

I have a long way to go to even get close to this radical way of thinking and living. I find it way too easy to feel comfortable and complacent about what I've been provided with. No wonder Jesus commented on how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

March 2018 Quick Lit: What I've been reading

Today I'm joining in with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit linkup, where we share short reviews of what we've been reading. I read one novel and four nonfiction books since my last Quick Lit post.

Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese. This novel by Canadian native author Richard Wagamese (who died in 2017) tells the story of a native boy, Franklin Starlight, who has been raised in seclusion by a non-native man referred to only as "the old man." When Franklin is sixteen, his father Eldon, a dying alcoholic who has been in and out of Franklin's life only sporadically, asks him to take him out on the land so that Eldon can die like a warrior -- and so that he can tell Franklin his own story of war, love, and shame, achieve some measure of reconciliation with his son, and be free of the demons that have haunted him all his life. A beautiful, haunting book about the cost of forgiveness, the meaning of family, and the power of story. (By the way, I just learned that Wagamese wrote a sequel to this book before his death; it is entitled Starlight and will be published this summer.)

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor. In this book Taylor tells of her time as Episcopal priest in a small-town church in northern Georgia: how the joys and demands of pastoral ministry changed her, revealed her own brokenness and need, and gave her a new appreciation for the church, for the reasons people do and do not gather in Christian community, and for God's presence in the people and places where God is least expected.

Born a Crime: Stories of a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. This book by the comedian and TV host chronicles his life as a boy growing up in South Africa as it emerged from apartheid. Noah was born to a white father and black mother, so his very existence was a "crime," as indicated in the title. He tells hilarious, shocking, and heartbreaking stories of his isolation as a mixed-race child, his life of petty (and not so petty) crime, his strong Christian influence and upbringing (particularly by way of his mother, who is the central figure in his life), and his relationships with his father, stepfather, extended family, and friends. I enjoyed this book, but (although I recognize by the subtitle that it is meant to focus on his younger years) I found myself wishing it had covered Noah's entry into acting, comedy, and broadcasting.

Self to Lose, Self to Find: A Biblical Approach to the 9 Enneagram Types by Marilyn Vancil is one of two books I read recently about the Enneagram system of personality types. This would be a great book for anyone seeking an introduction to the Enneagram that focuses on Christian growth. Vancil is clear and accessible as she explains the types and centers of intelligence; connects the Enneagram to Jesus' invitation to disown ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him; and explores the contrast between our Authentic and Adapted Selves.

(A note re the above picture of the book cover: the book does not have a barn on the front, but I noticed I had a coaster with a barn on it with the exact same colours as the book cover -- so I put the coaster on top to create this effect.)

The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth by Christopher Heuertz. This book is a deeper, more complex exploration of the Enneagram: besides describing the types, centers, and triads, it also addresses the Enneagram's role in helping us engage in contemplative practices of (depending on our type) silence, solitude, or stillness. I appreciated Heuertz's thoughtful, pastoral style. One helpful feature at the end of the book is a chart listing contrasting characteristics of all pairings of types; these succinct descriptions (e.g. Five seeks knowledge while Six seeks security, or One focuses on means while Three focuses on ends) could be very helpful to someone who is not quite sure which of two or three types they might be. I should add, too, that the book is very visually appealing, with its deckle-edged pages and soft watercolour drawings throughout.
No longer endorsing this book because Heuertz has been the focus of multiple accusations of spiritual and psychological abuse of colleagues/friends, June 2020.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Five Minute Friday: TIRED

Today I'm linking up with Five Minute Friday, where we write for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word is TIRED.


The picture below shows a plaque that I made when I was a teenager, and that I still have.

At the time, my dad was sawing wood, and this thin slice of a log ended up on the woodpile. I took it inside, dried it, and then simply used a pencil to draw a picture of a pathway and mountain and write these (now faded) words:

"They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles.
They shall run and not be weary,
and they shall walk and not faint."
Isaiah 40:31 (King James Version)

This was my favourite Bible verse in those days, and I still consider it one of the most encouraging passages in the Bible.

Two of the verses before it say,

"Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak."
Isaiah 40:28-29 (New International Version)
Tired ... weary ... weak. These are familiar words. I often get tired of the demands of parenting. I get weary of repetitive words and activities. I feel weak when I stop and think about the overwhelming prospect of a lifetime of caregiving.

But in this Bible passage, God seems to be speaking directly to me -- saying, "Yes, I know you get tired and weary and weak ... but I do not. I understand what you are going through. I never sleep. I made this world, and I will help you. I will strengthen you and give you what you need to keep going."

When I made the plaque 40-some years ago, I didn't know what challenges the coming years would bring -- and maybe it's just as well. But I think I had a sense even then that reliance on God to renew my strength was going to be an important theme in my life. Today, I draw encouragement from the One who never grows tired or weary.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Five Minute Friday: REGRET

Today I'm linking up with Five Minute Friday, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. 

I thought I'd try a poem in response to this week's word: REGRET.

The gray cat trotting past my house
purposeful yet unhurried
the black squirrel leaping
from my roof and swinging 
like Tarzan from a thin branch
before scrabbling up the maple's trunk
 the cardinal flitting through
my back yard in a flash of scarlet

they know nothing of regret
subtract no hours 
from their lives by ruminating 
on tasks done or undone
roads taken or not taken
words spoken or unspoken

Jesus said consider the lilies 
because they teach us 
about living fully and freely
in the Now of the Father's grace
unworried and unregretful