Thursday, December 27, 2012

Advent for the Wounded, Week Four - Do You Love Me?

When Dad puts his sign up,
Christmas officially starts!

It's been four days full of love.

Mikayla and Mary

We started on the day before Christmas Eve: my first TH daughter, Terri-Lyn, came back for a visit with her Collin and my two "grandchildren" - more on them at a later date; but this day Mikayla and James wanted to have tea with Grandma Karyn, and then Mikayla - sensing the importance of the season - wanted to "have tea with Mary." I think Mary enjoyed the conversation too. Who better to discuss the season with than a tiny girl who loves you and wants to talk about your baby?

Kenton and Luke kept us in (on) time
Allan led the singing
Christmas Eve found us at church singing carols; lighting the Advent candle; hearing Pastor Dave read the old familiar story of the shepherds and the angels and the Baby; hearing him sing the words

Part of what I treasure at
the Carol service each year:
Pastor Dave's special
number and devotional

Cherish that beautiful name
Cherish that wonderful name
Cherish that matchless name - 
That name is Jesus

When the last notes faded away, we stepped out into that frosty night, sure of a warm welcome at the home of a sister and a nephew, who had traversed slippery roads to gather with us. Christmas Eve at BA's is a tradition started several years ago and it launches the family Christmas holiday for me. Twinkling stars and flickering candles, Christmas music and the glow from the fireplace beckoned us into the living room. We settled down for some serious hors d'oeuvres and sparkling beverage and got reacquainted under the auspices of goodwill toward all.

The next day - Christmas - 11 of us sat down to turkey dinner at the TH. After we had eaten our fill we moved to the other side of the room, to the comfy chairs, and talked and laughed until we felt we could broach the dessert table.

Moments earlier, she had
carved the turkey ...

"O Come all ye faithful"
Lunch buffet - ladies first!

The new way of
playing a game together

Dessert - no one makes 'em
like my Mommy!
Dad opening his gift - will it
replace his 'Kimble,' we wonder?!

On Boxing Day the party moved to my brother's and sister-in-law's home for lunch and a lazy afternoon.
Allan with the girls

The napkins said it all

Computer issues don't
take a holiday ...

A time of Joy ...
... and Peace

Later that evening, Don and Norma came over to visit and for a chance for us to catch up on our various Christmas activities.

We have Wedgwood
in the TH!!
And now I sit by my fireplace in soft red pyjamas - a gift from one who loves me - and think about my favourite contemporary poet, Mary Oliver, and my readings from her new volume, also given to me by one who loves me. In the hollow of my neck nestles a sparkly heart attached to a rope of pearls - yes, more love manifest - and I've been nibbling on chocolate-covered cherries and thinking about my magical Christmas, one of the sweetest ever. I have received treasures of great personal value from my Dad; friends have showered me with evidence of their care and thoughtfulness; and the cards have moved me to tears with their beautiful inscriptions ...

All of this to say that not once did I have to wonder, much less ask, if anyone loved me.

Jesus had to ask.

He had been betrayed by Judas; next he was denied by Peter, one of the three disciples who had been the closest to him for three years now - Jesus had healed this man's mother-in-law, for heaven's sake, and had rescued him from drowning on a rough sea; He had revealed to him who He was ("You are the Christ!" Peter had proclaimed with authority) and had rebuked him when he got carried away with his plans for protecting Jesus. In the garden of Gethsemane, He had saved him from the otherwise inevitable result of his hastiness when He restored the ear Peter had lopped off a soldier; even then, a very short time later, he denied - three times - that he knew Him at all.

And now, after the resurrection, Peter was discouraged and disheartened. "I'm going fishing," he said to his buddies. 

"We'll go with you," they replied; and so seven of them climbed into a boat, doing what was familiar to them, doing the only thing they thought they had left to them - and they didn't catch even one fish that entire night.

Nothing was going according to plan.

In the misty dawn morning, a voice called out to them, "Children, have you caught any fish?"

"No," they snapped back.

"Cast your net on the right side of the boat, and you will," was the response.

So they did - what did they have to lose? - and there were so many fish that the net was filled; later, when they counted, there were 153 large fish in all.

John got it first, just like he had at the tomb the morning of the resurrection: "It's the Lord!" he gasped to Peter.

Peter's initial reaction was akin to Adam's of old - he realized he was naked in the presence of God and he pulled on something to cover himself up. But that is where their stories diverge. Peter knew that despite his failings, despite his disobedience, he was in the presence of Grace; so he plunged into the water and waded the hundred yards or so to the shore. Unlike Adam, who hid, Peter knew that his only chance at redemption and restoration was to get to Jesus. 

Jesus had breakfast waiting for them.

And after breakfast, He turned to Peter. "Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me more than these?" 

In Peter's despair and anguish, he had slipped back all the way to who he had been before Jesus had said to him, "Follow Me." And Jesus, in His great kindness, could meet him all the way back there if need be. He used his old name - Simon. He referenced his old profession - more than these. And He used the word agape, a love that is all-giving, unconditional, sacrificial. The kind of love Jesus had for Peter, the kind of love that was willing to go back and start again. 

What could Peter say? He was in front of his colleagues, who knew perfectly well that he had denied even knowing Jesus a few days earlier. What's worse, he knew Jesus knew - Jesus had told him that he would deny Him, but that He would pray for him.

Peter knew that he couldn't grandstand like he had on other occasions. "You know I love You," he responded. He used the word phileo, the kind of love and affection that friends have for each other. He didn't dare claim the greater, purer love for the Master that almost certainly he would have proclaimed before It had all happened. 

"Feed my lambs," Jesus told him. 

Jesus asked him the same question again, and Peter gave him the same answer.

Finally, the third time, Jesus asked Peter, "Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me?" This time He used Peter's term, phileo

Jesus didn't say "I warned you, Peter." He didn't say, "Simon, are you sorry?" He didn't remind him of all the foolhardy statements Peter had made earlier in his bravado.

But this third asking broke Peter's heart. "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love you." Gone was the impulsive, spontaneous retort that would have risen so easily to his lips a few days earlier. He had denied Jesus three times and Jesus had now made him look each of those denials right in the eyes. Then Jesus let him know that He forgave him for each of those times. They were all covered and the page was turned.

Because Jesus didn't leave him there: He charged Peter with his life's assignment. "Feed my sheep," He told him. 

Earlier, Jesus had proclaimed to Peter, "On this rock [Peter's statement of faith] I will build My Church." Peter couldn't have absorbed that larger declaration now, not while he was feeling in every fibre of his being his great failure. But "Feed my lambs," he could manage. Not starting at the top, creating The Big Picture, but working at the grass-roots level with people who, like Peter, had fallen short.

Christmas, celebrated as it is on the cusp of the darkest time of the year in North America, never fails to remind me of my failings. How many times I have chosen the path of least resistance, the easy answer, the expedient response? How many times, through acts both of commission and omission, I have denied Jesus?

And yet His voice speaks softly to me through the voices of love that surround me as we celebrate His birth: "Do you love Me?"

His still, small voice, the voice of a baby who will grow to be a man; who will set the bar on what is good, on what it means to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God, as the prophet Micah spoke.

His small voice, from the Cross, saying "Father, forgive her, for she knows not what she does."

His voice, declaring, "It is finished" ... and then stilled.

And His voice, triumphant: "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes on me, though they were dead, yet shall they live."

Today this same still, small voice of love asks each one of us - in whatever state of brokenness, helplessness, despair we find ourselves - simply this: "Do you love Me?"

That is all we have to answer for today. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Monday, December 24, 2012

May and Joe and Curtis

(Image courtesy of Rosebud Theatre)
Saturday was the TH's annual Christmas Event. Twenty-nine of us braved nasty weather conditions to get to Rosebud Theatre for the matinee performance of May and Joe.

Here are a few glimpses of our group enjoying the meal and each other's company before the performance:

The Rosebuds who serenaded
us at lunch ...

From the Director's Note:

It's Christmas, when we dare to entertain the notion that mystical things could happen ... The story we're about to share with you is a little fiction that ponders what would happen if something entirely miraculous happened to a couple of people like you and me. What if it was possible? Dreams, miracles, and most compelling and maybe even frightening, love that enters our lives from beyond our limited understanding. Would we change? Would we wake up to our everyday with more sight, more compassion, more wonder? Would we embrace one another with more of an understanding of our mutual significance? (Morris Ertman) 

It's the story of a young man and a young woman and a pregnancy that she spoke of as a "miracle" and her fiancĂ©'s natural scepticism. He is impatient and impulsive and tender-hearted  In the middle of a fight he gets her a peppermint hot chocolate and a doughnut. She is principled and courageous and tender-hearted. She notices and mourns when he hits and kills a mouse on the road.

It is also the story of Angel, a guardian angel who had, some 2000 years ago, protected a Baby from the murderous wrath of a king but who, in the process, had not been able to protect the other male infants from being massacred. Angel had been unable to reconcile the horror with the heroics, the devastation brought on by the deliverance, and as a result he had retired from guardian duties. He meets May, who can see him because she has faith in the true meaning of Christmas; and he gets involved - almost against his will - in protecting this young couple and doing his part to make Joe (who can believe in UFOs but not angels!) see the truth and, in doing so, open his heart to the fullness of joy and love he had missed out on until he believed.

It was also Curtis's eighteenth birthday.

Curt brought his resume to me one week after he turned 14. He was shorter than I and, much like Angel, had little or no confidence in his ability to succeed. Even as he tried to spread his wings he would panic and withdraw. I remember once, early on, after he had filled three glasses of water and was preparing to carry them out to our Ladies table, he called me over and said, "I don't think I can do it."

Everything changed the day, several months later, that one of the ladies came in and said, "Erna needs some help getting out of the car."

"Can you go, Curt?" I asked. He demurred a little bit, because he didn't know how he would be able to help her; but in the end, he went out. He wrapped his arms under her arms and hoisted her out - and in that moment, two things happened. All the Oldies loved him and he became "our boy"; and he realized that, actually, he could succeed in what he tried to do.

Curt and Erna on the day that changed everything

He has never looked back. This child - as I still call him - is now 6 feet 1 1/4 inches, lean and handsome, and can run the entire dining room by himself. Our guests look forward to seeing him. Even last night, when he had taken the day off to celebrate his birthday with his family, people who had come from Drumheller asked me, "Where's our boy tonight?" Everyone reports back to me the funny, clever things he says to them and how well he has taken care of them at the table.

He can do almost everything in the kitchen as well, from carving meat to making and decorating desserts. He is a great influence on the new people as they are being trained. The words that everyone quasi dreads to hear from him, though, are "Rookie Mistake!" when there is something they slip up on. He has come through for me on special events when I have needed someone experienced to back me up.

In watching May and Joe I saw elements of Curtis in all three characters: Joe, the super cool guy who has a heart bursting with love and wants to do the right thing; May, who has a simple faith and wants to share it with the one who means the most to her; and timorous Angel, who bears the weight of those children who lost their lives, who cares more deeply than most of us can begin to imagine, who second-guesses himself - but whose wings hold strong and steady in the end. 

Curt is the person in terms of sheer calendar time who has worked the longest at the TH, not counting Brenda.

Oops: I don't think THIS was taken inside the TH!
He is the one who notices when people are having a bad day or aren't as responsive as they normally are.

He's the one who says to me when I'm fading, "Karyn, are you drinking water?" - and then goes and fills a glass for me.

He's one of the people who can get everyone working together in harmony.

I am starting to face the terrible truth that academically he's leading the pack and so there's not a very good chance that he'll fail Grade 12 four times, like I keep hoping. I'm starting to try to picture a TH without Curtis looking after "his" ladies or the President and Mrs Long or Pastor Ironside, or the Komorowskis or Ed and Ted or the Wiebes or the college girls or Coach and Mrs Coach.

I'm going to miss overhearing him talking with great kindness to the little boys who come in and look up at him in awe. He's discussed field trips and shinny and soccer and how hard grade one math is and which is the cooler teapot - Global Warming or the Pirate one.

I'll never be able to forget the occasions he has come to me with a burden on his heart for one of his friends. I want to be able to forget the pain I have glimpsed on his face when someone has hurt him - and I'll always remember that he never whines or complains; rather, he seeks to find a reason for the person who is being less than a friend.

After the play we went to the Rosebud Country Inn, where our friend BJ Janzen had pie, hot drinks and birthday cake for us to fete Curtis.

BJ with Alyssia (L, one of the TH's old girls!)
 and sweet Amy (R)

BJ bringing out the cake
Happy Birthday, Curtis!

With three of the five people who mean
the most to him (Karla and Barry at
another celebration)

Opening presents from the TH
in anticipation of college life

As our celebration came to an end and we pulled on coats and mitts and nerve enough to get us home on those slippery, snowy roads, my heart overflowed with gratitude for Curt's Oma, who got the ball rolling when she called about a job for Brent, who in turn has had the biggest influence in his little brother's life (and yes, Curt, I use the term "little" only in relation to age, not height!). I am thankful for his parents: the old-world gallantry and gentility of Oswaldo, the new-world determination and drive of Jackie, the unconditional, sacrificial love and careful direction each of them has bestowed on all three of their children.

And most of all, I am thankful this day for Curtis. He is self-effacing and funny (for example, after he had opened all his red kitchen appliances, someone asked him if my red handbag was really his. He reached over and took it, commenting without missing a beat, "Yes, but I prefer to call it a satchel ..."); kind-hearted and loyal; quick on his feet but slow to anger.

I am so proud of his many accomplishments and of the privilege of observing his maturity into manhood. 

As we left the theatre, hanging above the door was the little mouse. He had earned his wings. He was soaring!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Advent for the Wounded, Week Three: What Do You Want Me to Do for You?


Jesus was walking on the road, leaving the city of Jericho, with His disciples and a hefty entourage. The book of Mark chapter 10 and verses 46 - 53 tells the story.

On that road a blind man named Bartimaeus was sitting, begging. On this particular day he must have sensed the stir of energy in the air; he asked someone who was coming. "Jesus of Nazareth," he was told.

Bartimaeus had heard of Jesus - there had been another blind man healed by Him on this same road. He had one chance, and he was going to take it.

"Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!" he called out. 

Jesus was in the middle of talking to the people surrounding Him. For the last little while He had been trying to teach them what was important as He started to turn His focus from His ministry on earth to His death. 

He had met with the rich young ruler, who confidently proclaimed that from his youth he had not broken one of the commandments; but who baulked at giving away his money and possessions and following Jesus wholeheartedly.

He had addressed Peter's claim that they had given up everything to follow Him.

He had had to speak to James and John, who had asked for positions on His left and right in the new kingdom He had been talking about.

He had once again made short shrift of the Pharisees, who had again sought to trap Him, this time on the contentious issue of divorce.

And He had made time for the children who had been brought to Him. He hugged them and blessed them, speaking sternly to those who would have told the parents to take them away - children should be seen and not heard, don't you know? - "for of such is the kingdom of heaven!"

Once again the people tried to shush the disturber; all that did was make Bartimaeus shout louder, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"

Jesus stopped. "Bring him to me," He said.

The people now turned to Bartimaeus: "Take heart - He's calling you! Get up!"

Bartimaeus didn't have much in this world. He probably had a beggar's bowl; and he had a cloak, to protect him from the elements. Upon hearing these words, he sprang to his feet and, casting his cloak aside, he approached Jesus. The beggar's bowl was forgotten - Bart was that sure he wouldn't be needing it any more.

"What do you want me to do for you?" asked Jesus of this obviously blind man. 

The rich young ruler might have toyed with the idea of asking for a little more wealth.

James and John might have asked for titles to go along with their desired positions.

Peter might have asked what was in it for him because of everything he had given up.

The Pharisees would have snorted that there was nothing He could do for them, except go away.

The kids would have wanted to play one more game.

Bartimaeus could have asked for enough money to keep him in comfort for the rest of his life. He could have asked, Why me?

He could even have said, "Isn't it obvious?" - as no doubt the crowd was saying. "Duh!" I can hear them murmuring to one another, rolling their eyes.

"Lord, that I might receive my sight," he said simply, humbly. Asked and answered.

The thing I love about this man is his visceral response to Jesus. When he heard Jesus was on the road, he yelled out. When the messengers told him Jesus was calling him over, he threw aside the only security and protection he had - his cloak - and went to Him. And now, when he was asked what he wanted Jesus to do for him, he didn't say, "Give me my sight!" Rather, he said, "That I might receive my sight." He was a confident man, but he was humble. There was no hint of demand in his words; his confidence was in the Man addressing him. Bart didn't know how it could be done. He just knew it could be done.

Jesus didn't touch Bartimaeus's face; He didn't spit on the dusty ground to make a clay and place it on the man's eye sockets. He merely said, "Go your way; your faith has made you whole."

And that was that. Bartimaeus could see. 

The next step was so obvious to him that words were unnecessary. This simple, smart, direct man had heard Jesus tell him to go his way. Now that his sight was restored, Bartimaeus saw that clearly his way was where Jesus was going: "He followed Jesus in the way," Mark tells us. He was untrammeled by possessions, by past history, by expectations. All he needed to follow Jesus was to see Jesus Himself.

The thing that draws me to this story, to this question, at Christmas is the question itself. For one thing, Jesus knows everything, doesn't He. He knew what Bartimaeus needed; well, everyone did. Why did He ask him the question?

I have mulled over this for a couple of months now. I believe that Jesus wanted Bartimaeus to articulate his need, not for Jesus' benefit but for his own. And He would ask us the same question today: What do you want me to do for you? Sometimes just hearing our own voice say the words can bring our problem into focus, can help ease the burden. "Lord, that I might ..."

... find work ...

... be protected on the roads ...

... ensure my children are safe ...

... have enough strength for the day ...

... keep my fears in check ...

... understand why my husband took his life ...

... get through Christmas for the first time without my son ...

... not feel so alone ...

There was a reason Bartimaeus was on that road that day. And there is a reason each one of us is on the road we are on. Jesus is coming: He is walking down our road, walking in our direction. We might not be able to see Him yet. We might not have the specific words yet to speak the deepest needs of our hearts and souls.

On that first Christmas He came to us, God made flesh, to bring us to God. The candle we lit last Sunday - the rose coloured candle - represents joy. God with us

Thirty-odd years later He was coming toward Bartimaeus. He was going to be with him and change his life.

And today, as He approaches us, all we have to do is summon the strength and the courage to cry out, "Have mercy on me!"

He will stop. And even if we can't see Him, He will be looking at us. Quietly He will say, not for the benefit of the crowd but just to us, "What do you want me to do for you?"

What will we answer?

Friday, December 21, 2012

It's the Thought that Counts

Are you "ready for Christmas," whatever that means? Me, I've barely had the chance to step into a shop this year. I know that my family will forgive me: "It's the thought that counts," they will say with great kindness, knowing that buying presents at Christmastime is not my strong suit. I need a long time to think and to plan and shop for exactly what it is I feel the person might like ... and with the crazy schedule at the TH plus Carswell, time is the greatest gift I can be given at this point of my year.

Isn't it very special, then, to receive some gift or service, knowing how much time, thought and effort has gone into its preparation or selection?

For example, the first time I met Kent Wong he didn't say much at all. He sat me in his chair and silently measured my head with his fingers; he tugged on my hair and weighed it in his hands; he put gold and silver fabric swatches around my neck to see which provided a better complement to my skin tone. He sat back on his stool and stared fixedly at my head. All of this took the better part of half an hour.

He was not to be hurried as he washed and conditioned and cut and styled.

When I left there I had experienced the best haircut of my life.

And all this thought and care was delivered by someone who didn't even know me!

On Tuesday at the Robertson Manor weekly meeting, Dad spoke for just a few minutes on the birth of Jesus. Actually, he entitled his meditation "Behind the Birth of Jesus." We read the familiar story in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2. Luke was a physician, Dad commented, and he recorded details that we would never have known if it weren't for his acute attention to those details.

But for "the Christmas story summarized," Dad went on, look at the little book of Philippians chapter 2 and verses 5 - 8:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.(King James Version)

A newer translation, the English Standard Version, puts it this way:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus as the very Son of God - as very God - took on the form (meaning the essence) of a servant. He became a servant by being born in the likeness of human kind. And then He humbled Himself further, even to death on the cross, so that He could offer Himself as the sacrifice that would take away the sins of the world.

Long before Jesus came to earth, He was thinking of us. Psalm 139 verses 17 and 18 are David's exclamation of wonder that God was thinking of him:

17 How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!
18 If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.

The word thoughts has the idea of something that has been planned and contrived to bring to fruition.

Psalm 40 verse 5 says this:

Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.

Dad told the story of how, back in August 2007, Mum gave one of my sisters as quilt for her birthday. The back story is that some time later, Dad read Mum's note in her book for that day. She said that she had been up all night and had completed the quilt at 5:30 that morning. She was so happy.

Exactly one month later, she was dead. "Knowing what went on behind the scenes made the quilt even more precious," Dad said softly.

The value of something is often not understood unless you know what is behind the action.

Dad quoted the familiar line of a song: Long before time began you were part of His plan ...

"God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life ..." I hear and say the words of John chapter 3 and verse 16 often, galloping over the first part to get to the promise of eternal life. But what about the first part? The gift is of course important; but what if it had not been given in love?

In this Christmas season, as we reflect on how much we are thinking about our loved ones, let's keep in the back of our minds how much God had been thinking about us before Jesus was ever born that first Christmas night. And we can rejoice in the knowledge that He continues to think of us and want only what is best for us. 

Here are the rest of the lyrics for that old song - how appropriate for today!

Tenderly He watches over you, 
Every step, every mile of the way; 
Like a mother watching over her baby, 
He is near you every hour of the day. 

When you're weak, when you're strong, 
When you're right, when you're wrong, 
In your joy and your pain, When you lose and when you gain: 
tenderly He watches over you, 
every step, every mile of the way. 

Long before time began you were part of His plan; 
Let no fear cloud your brow, He will not forsake you now: 
Tenderly He watches over you every step, every mile of the way 

These are days when the world is uncertain, and the power of the atom unknown; 
But a far greater power up yonder 
Ever watches and cares for His own.

How much indeed the thought counts ...