Saturday, December 28, 2013

Here Comes the Sun

Images this morning as I returned from picking up my car where I had left it yesterday afternoon in order to drive with my friends to Red Deer:


We had been at the Red Deer Rebels hockey game on Friday night. We got on the road and discovered wind flailing the snow until it was tumultuous.

Three of us wanted to turn back and stay in Red Deer. But the driver felt we needed to keep going, that there was a reason ... We stopped at every vehicle that had hit the ditch, ensuring that there was no one inside; the reason we were not there ourselves was that there were three of us navigating between the bumpy yellow centre line and the suddenly wavy outer white lines - on both sides of the highway. 

 We had just passed a little town called Huxley when we encountered a complete white-out. With our hazard lights on, we sat in the middle of the highway for a few moments until the wind died down somewhat and we could inch our way forward again. 

Suddenly: "Are those footprints?!" and a few yards up ahead there was the bobbing figure of someone walking on the side of the road. We picked him up. His truck had swerved all over the road before coming to rest, stuck at the side. He had no cell phone and had running shoes on his feet and a Red Deer Rebels cap on his head. He was trying to get to Trochu, where he lived. He had about eight miles to go, and he was pretty frozen and somewhat disoriented. 

We drove him to his home: his wife was sitting in the semi-dark next to their front window. And then we pulled wearily back onto the highway for the last 15 kms to Three Hills. 

What if we had stayed in Red Deer and that man had been struck by a vehicle in one of those white-out spells or had wandered off into a drift himself? We ourselves made it safely to Three Hills, three hours after we had set out from Red Deer. I am so grateful that our driver didn't listen to the majority vote and listened instead to the "still small voice" in the middle of the storm compelling him to carry on. God moves in mysterious - sometimes terrifying - ways!

And we, all four of us, are so grateful.

Three Hills, AB

    Current Conditions

    Observed at:
    Three Hills
    12:00 AM MST Saturday 28 December 2013
    Not observed
    NNW 51 km/h
    Wind Chill:


      Graphic forecast

      27 Dec

      Chance of flurries
      • 60%
      • -19°C

      28 Dec

      Chance of flurries
      • 60%
      • -15°C

      29 Dec

      • -8°C
      • -21°C

      30 Dec

      Chance of flurries
      • 60%
      • -12°C
      • -14°C

      31 Dec

      A mix of sun and cloud
      • -7°C
      • -17°C


      • -4°C
      • -10°C


      A mix of sun and cloud
      • C
      • -9°C

      Detailed forecast

      Issued: 1:33 AM MST Saturday 28 December 2013
      Blowing snow warning in effect.
      Snow ending overnight then mainly cloudy with 60 percent chance of flurries. Amount 5 to 10 cm. Blowing snow with visibilities frequently less than 1 kilometre. Wind north 50 km/h gusting to 70 diminishing to 30 gusting to 50 overnight. Low minus 19. Wind chill minus 27.
      Mainly cloudy with 60 percent chance of flurries. Local blowing snow early in the morning. Wind north 30 km/h gusting to 50 becoming light in the morning. High minus 15. Wind chill minus 31 in the morning.

    Wednesday, December 25, 2013

    Christmas 2013

    After dinner there were presents, interspersed with moments for private conversation. 

    "Blessing kiss": Dad and Bronwyn

    With hearts full, we thought of the Creator of the world who, 2100 years ago, could find no place to lay His head; who spoke the world into being but yet had to gestate for nine full months before being born to Mary; who holds the world in His hands, and yet was fully dependent on His mother to care for Him.

    And in gratitude we cry out with the song writer: "O come to my heart, Lord Jesus; there is room in my heart for Thee."

    Advent 2013, Week 4: Love for the World, and for Me

    On this last Sunday before Christmas, Pastor Allan lit the fourth candle and said that today we would talk about Love.

    But we wouldn't waste our time on the "Man, I love pizza!" or "I just love walking in the snow on a quiet moonlit night ..." kind of expression by which we have diluted the meaning of the word.

    In these troubled times of war, famine, flood, cancer, abuse, disease, homelessness, anger, loneliness, depression - we could go on and on - we often lose sight of the fact that God is a loving God.

    But God does love us. God is love, and everything He does - or allows to happen - is based on that love. John chapter 3 and verse 16 says that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes on Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

    When God loves, He takes action. His love is not based on an emotional response that could change by the next day

    The gospel written by Matthew, chapter 1 and verses 18 - 25 never mentions the word love in it, but it is the story of Joseph who loves first God, and then Mary, the young woman to whom he is betrothed. Joseph's love came at a high cost to himself: he would have been scorned for the rest of his life as the cuckolded husband. But because of love, he did exactly what the angel said and married Mary, raising Jesus as his own son.

    Pastor Allan pointed out that God's love is not exclusionary; John 3:16 says that God love the world - everyone. Anyone who believes on Him, regardless of background, is welcomed by Him.

    The Lord Jesus Christ came to die for the whole world, Pastor Allan went on; "but He would have done the same thing if it had been just me." 

    I was sitting with this thought as I went to sleep on Sunday night. And it was illustrated for me so perfectly the very next day, through another Allan.

    My brother has been doing some renovations for me, and everything was accomplished with his usual precision, attention to detail, and distinctive eye for the beauty that can be found in the mundane. I couldn't have been more pleased with the result.

    But after lunch, when I was cutting up a pan of Norma's inimitable Rice Krispies squares for dessert, I sliced the tip of my thumb fairly deeply. "Ahhhhhh!" I cried out.

    Then from the table came "Karyn!" - my name from my brother's lips uttered with such concern, such immediacy, such anguish, such deep love. I have heard that exact sound only once before in my life ...

    ... and it was also from my brother, and it was the morning of September 11, 2001. I had been working in Ottawa the night before and was due to fly in late September 10. There had been various issues with the plane but we finally made it to Calgary in the early hours of the morning, over four hours late.

    I was in my house getting ready for the day when the phone rang. "Hello?" I answered, all unaware of how the world was changing.

    "Karyn!" My brother's voice filled my ear, and then he burst into tears. "I just wanted to make sure you were okay, that you had gotten home okay ... I love you."

    And on this past Monday afternoon, with blood dripping from the gash on my thumb and Allan's exclamations echoing in my head and heart, I completely understood what it meant that Jesus loves me. I could hear Him saying my name with even more intensity, more love, more depth of concern, than my brother had.

    More than from his perfect workmanship, more than from everything else he has done for me over all these years - and it's been a lot - when he said my name in that particular way, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt Allan loves me; and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God loves me. Love forces action; the love of God for us - for me - compelled Him to send His Son to effect reconciliation between a righteous God and unrighteous humankind.

    If we love God, Pastor Allan went on, we too will be forced to love others as well. Jesus' commands were very simple: "Love the Lord your God; love your neighbour." It isn't possible to accomplish the second without experiencing the first. The Greek word ἀγάπη ("agape" pronounced agápē) came into use during the establishment of the early Christian church, denoting Christian love or charity not looking to advance its own ends but a reflection of God's love for us - a perfect love because it was not only voluntary but also unconditional. It was a sacrificial love so radical, so different, that it caused people to give up their wealth, their possessions, even their lives. The second-century Tertullian wrote in his Apology 39:  "What marks us in the eyes of our enemies is our loving kindness. 'Only look,' they say, 'look how they love one another.' " 

    This Christmas season marks the greatest love of all, that God sent His Son - knowing full well the horrors of what would come 33 short years later when He was crucified - for all of us.

    For Karyn.

    Sunday, December 22, 2013

    Advent 2013, Week 3: Joy for the Woebegone

    A number of small but significant events happened in my week that caused me to pause and think about the trajectory of my life. Other people make choices that impact me; but I, too, make decisions that impact the direction my life takes. And these decisions - something as little as my response to a situation - can take on a life of their own and become of greater consequence than the initial action that spawned this response.

    I went to Big Valley Church on Sunday morning and sat in the back row by myself. In the quiet I got out my notebook and made two columns: the things I felt I would be sacrificing comprised the left column and what I would be gaining went into the right column. In my present state of unhappiness, the two columns were tilted heavily to one side. My bleak mood darkened several shades.

    And then Pastor Allan lit the third Advent candle. "We're going to be talking about Joy today," he said. "One of the biggest misconceptions is that in order to be joyful, you have to be happy. 

    "But joyfulness and happiness are not mutually inclusive."

    Back in the day, when the Ark of the Covenant was being brought back to Jerusalem under the cautious auspices of King David, the people were joyful - including David! There was dancing, trumpets and cornets blaring, percussion pounding away, people shouting. Allan commented, "So often today we sit still and say, with glum faces, 'We have the joy of the Lord ...' But we don't have to be afraid of showing the joy that we have. We are reconciled with God - we should be joyful!"

    He gave us three instances where we are encouraged by the joy of the Lord:

    • Nehemiah tells us that it is our strength
    • The Psalmist says that if we put our trust in the Lord God we should be joyful because He is our defender
    • The Psalmist again says that God is his exceeding joy
    In each of these three situations, Allan, pointed out, it is God who is both the source and the object of our joy: He brings joy to us, and He is the one to whom we offer our joy back.

    And then, a few minutes later, Allan said something that made me wonder if I had been saying my thoughts aloud, if someone had been reading over my shoulder at my list. "Circumstances!" he said.

    It's easy to be joyful when everything is good; but the letter that St James wrote challenges us to be joyful even in terrible times, looking ahead to see the result of our trials should we allow our faith to work. The writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us that this is what Jesus Himself did: He thought of the trials, the desertions, betrayals, denials, beatings; He thought of the actual crucifixion and burial; most horrific of all, He thought of His own Father turning His face from His Son. Jesus looked past all of this, willing to endure it all because of the end result: reconciliation of humankind to the God who so dearly loves us despite ourselves.

    We need, sometimes, to have that physical, material suffering to produce spiritual strength, Allan mused. No one is happy about suffering - Jesus wasn't happy about the horrendous suffering He would endure, and He doesn't tell us to be happy in our trials; rather, He says, through James, "Count it all joy ..." You cannot possibly be happy in the circumstance of a terminal illness, the death of a loved one, a job loss, a physical calamity. But you can be joyful.

    We need to have a vision of what is on the other side of our suffering in order for us to be joyful through the untenable circumstance in which we might find ourselves. We are more than just physical creatures; we're also spiritual beings, and as we go through our lives, the deeper our spiritual relationship with God is, the deeper the joy we will experience.

    "Seek God for your strength," Allan urged. "Seek God for the joy you need. Don't look at just your external circumstances; look at God."

    As he dismissed us I looked at my list again, and made a break for my car. Every single thing in the negative column was a secondary, external item. As I sat in the driver's seat, stunned, my friend Winnie came out and squatted down to talk to me. I told her a little bit about the impact the sermon had had on me, and how all the negative emotionalism and feeling sorry for myself was swept away by the objective words I had just heard. 

    Then I glanced down at my list. On the positive side the top three things were, none of them, superficial. And this beautiful woman, it turned out, was at the top of the list. God sent specifically her out to my car to remind me of what was important, to remind me of the people He was bringing into my life who would befriend and come alongside of me.

    And I thought that even in our moments of doubt, even in our trials, God often provides us with tangible support. All we have to do is to keep our eyes fixed on Him:

    Turn your eyes upon Jesus
    Look full in His wonderful face
    And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
    In the light of His glory and grace.

    It's simple; it just isn't always easy. 

    If we could only seek His face more and look less at our own "stuff," our circumstances might not change one whit; but our attitude and our inner resolution will rise up with joy, giving us strength for the next hour or day or circumstance.

    Wednesday, December 18, 2013

    Advent 2013, Week 2: Peace for the Waiting

    He sat slumped in his chair in the corner, for the first time since I have known him unable to summon a smile. "It's been two years now," he said softly.

    She sent me a note. The birth mother had changed her mind: 

    Just a bit ago we got a call from [her] birth mom, and she's reconsidering, and wants to come pick [her] up tomorrow. Throughout this whole process I've guarded my heart so carefully, and I do feel like even last night The Lord reminded me that we only have any child for the days he numbers.. But this is really hard, and our hearts are a mess right now. We appreciate your prayers, and really long to be able to say that all the time The Lord is good. Thanks for interceding for us. It's really hard to right now.

    Last month Dad spoke to a local congregation, a message he entitled Here and Now. (To hear the whole thing, click here and then scroll over until you see Dr. Allan Ironside 11-17-13; follow that link).

    Here speaks to place; now speaks to time, Dad prefaced his sermon. We all live in a here and a now.

    He turned our attention toward the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, to the story of an elderly couple whose names were Elisabeth and Zechariah. Their here and now was Jerusalem in the rule of one of the terrible despot Herods. It was an awful time to be living, and yet despite everything they carried on with their lives and their callings.

    Dad broke it down quite simply as follows:

    Their character: In spite of their surroundings and difficulties, both Elisabeth and Zechariah were righteous before God. Zechariah was actually a priest in the temple.

    Their problem: 1) Elisabeth is unable to have a child; and 2) they are both old.

    "Consider what Elisabeth experienced!" Dad exclaimed. Verse 25 speaks of her reproach - for all those years she lived under a cloud of shame and disgrace. Very often in eastern cultures, even today, a woman who fails to bear a child is almost a pariah. "Elisabeth lives with this, and Zechariah feels it," Dad reminded us. 

    Zechariah had been praying for years that they would have a child, but to no avail. "Sometimes we have to face delays in our lives: this was no yellow light - it was a red light." There was a sense of failure, a cloud of sorrow and helplessness in their home. 

    And yet, through it all, the two of them remained righteous and blameless before God. They carried on loving him and serving him despite the burden they bore ...

    Dad then got us to turn to Isaiah 28:23-29, where the prophet is insistent that we pay attention to what God is saying. "Give ear!" he urges. "Hear my voice! Hearken! Hear my speech!" We are to listen carefully and with intelligence; we are to respond with obedience.

    Then the prophet talks about the different stages of growing a crop. First the soil must be prepared - but that is not forever. The land must be tilled. Next the seed appropriate to the soil is planted - not all the same seed.  And when it comes time to harvest, the crop is not extracted the same way - it depends on the crop itself.

    God is the one who instructs this farmer on how to proceed, on how to make the best decisions for the most abundant crop. God wants what is best for us and he is wonderful in his leading. We ourselves might not understand his purposes; we might be confused as to what it is he is doing in our lives; but we have to believe that he wants the very best for us.

    These verses in Isaiah tell us that God knows the best PLACE and the best TIME and MEANS to attain his purpose in our lives. And because we are all different, he deals with us in the best way for us.

    Back to Zechariah and Elisabeth: Zechariah is serving in the temple when the angel makes the announcement that the elderly Zechariah and Elisabeth will have a child.

    Six months later, the angel comes to a teenage girl and tells her that she, too, will be having a child. "Your cousin Elisabeth is also pregnant," the angel assures her. "With God, nothing is impossible."

    And Mary decides to go visit her cousin. It would have been a long journey for a sheltered, frightened girl. But suddenly, one day, she was at Elisabeth's house - what a wonderful surprise for Elisabeth!

    What was even more amazing were the words that tumbled from Elisabeth's wise old mouth when she saw this young cousin of hers:

    Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. (Luke 1:42-45)

    These words could never have been uttered by Elisabeth if she had not had to undergo all the pain, the disappointment, the waiting, the scorn, that she had spent decades of her life living with.

    Listen to Zechariah when John, their son, was born:

    68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
        for he has visited and redeemed his people
    69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
        in the house of his servant David,
    70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
    71 that we should be saved from our enemies
        and from the hand of all who hate us;
    72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
        and to remember his holy covenant,
    73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
    74     that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
    might serve him without fear,
    75     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
    76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
        for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
    77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
        in the forgiveness of their sins,
    78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
        whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
    79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
        to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:68-79)

    Their extraordinary gift of a son, the one who would come to be known as John the Baptizer, the one who proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, his cousin and Lord, Jesus.

    John had been born at the exact right time. If Elisabeth had had him when she was a young woman - if she had not had to wait for God's time and place - there would have been no special encouragement for Mary in her unique situation, no extra measure of understanding and joy from her cousin. The words "with God nothing is impossible" would not have been uttered - they would not have been appropriate if John's was an ordinary birth.

    Elisabeth and Zechariah could look back at the barren years culminating in their deepest heart's desire being fulfilled and say, "We just wanted a child. But think of what God has given us - far more than we could have imagined or hoped for!" 

    It was all worth it.

    Think for a moment of the mighty King David who, after coming through an inordinate amount of suffering and danger, exclaimed joyfully, "As for God, His way is perfect ... and He makes my way perfect" (2 Samuel 22:31-33).

    Elisabeth and Zechariah: two people living in a real world with real problems and unbearable heartache. We may not have their burdens exactly; we may not understand why - though we pray and pray and try to live upright lives - our burdens don't go away, why it seems like God is not answering our prayer.

    The old southern funeral hymn starts with these lines:

    I like to think my Father knows,
    My Father knows it all ...

    That's the here and the now. We don't necessarily see the breaking up of the soil, the harrowing,  the seeding, the harvesting, the threshing out in our lives. But when the day comes that all is revealed, we will say, "This is far more than I could have imagined!"

    The stories of my two friends mentioned at the beginning continue - he was asked for a continuance into the new year.

    And she - there is another sweet baby, a little one determined to keep her cracked heart open and tender. Her beautiful son - she will love him as long as God gives her strength, as long as He gives her him.

    Like Elisabeth, she will never entirely forget the anticipation and the sorrow, the high hopes and the ensuing pain that went before. But she can say with the wise author of Ecclesiastes: "He has made everything beautiful in his time(Ecclesiastes 3:11).

    We just need to learn to rest, in peace, in Him.


    Monday, December 9, 2013

    The Parents' 2013 Christmas Event

    On the twelve days of Christmas your offspring gave to thee:

    First we start with dinner,

    Leonard Cohen's anthem,

    Ineffectual stingers,

    Bearing our sorrows,

    Multitude of praisers,

    Reassuring angel,

    Little lights a-twinkling,

    Wild honey pot!

    Pretty shoes and dove,

    That black sheep,

    Crunchy bugle snacks, 

    And their pictures on a gold tree

    For the past six or seven years Elliot and Oliver have tried to do something to make their parents' Christmas sparkle. This year they decided on the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra's annual performance of Handel's Messiah.

    But an Event has to have build-up, of course, and a lot of discussion including eating (also of course! The two boys and their Auntie K love to eat together!) ensued:

     Boston Pizza ...

    Starbucks ...

    Kinjo ...

    We had to keep eating until we settled on the clues building up to December 6, and how it was all going to work. There was going to be one cryptic clue added to a tree each of the 11 days before the Messiah. Each clue would reference some song from the masterpiece.The last one - the one that invited The Parents to dinner - would be placed at the base of the tree on the morning of the 6th.

    They were to tell their mother to take a picture of the tree each day and send it to Auntie K, who followed up on Facebook with the Twelve Days song you see above, as part of the clue.

    They were not to give any other clues to The Parents until the last day.

    Here are the solutions to the clues:

    Day 12: Julia Child's confirmation trivet that we were on the right track, along with an invitation to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse

    Day 11: The Hallelujah Chorus, of course!

    Day 10: O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

    Day 9: He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.

    Day 8: And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

    Glory to God in the highest!

    Day 7: (There were shepherds abiding in the field keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo! The angel of the Lord came upon them and the glory of the Lord shone round about them and they were sore afraid.)

    And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour which is Christ the Lord.

    Day 6: The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

    Day 5: The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

    Day 4: How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace!

    Day 3: All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way ...

    Day 2: The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible!

    Day 1: For unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given!

    After a mouth-watering experience at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse we ran through the Plus 15 walkways, very necessary to Calgary winters and gratefully received by our party this night, to the Jack Singer Concert Hall. We slipped into our seats - Row E Centre - just as Michael Hope, the CPO's second bassoonist and so much more, prepared to deliver his opening remarks and acknowledgments.

    Here is the official review from the Calgary Herald:

    From our vantage point, five rows away from the stage, the soloists did full justice to Handel. Perhaps Daniel Taylor was more fragile than I have heard him in the past, but we wondered if he was battling a sore throat or the like as he seemed to sip more water than usual. As for baritone Peter Harvey, his delivery was consistently high and his "Trumpet Shall Sound" was fresh and triumphant. Tenor Colin Balzer launched the evening with "Comfort Ye" and we knew we were in for a treat. But the astonishing gift of the evening was soprano Sherezade Panthaki, whose voice soared to high D on one memorable run and who sang each of her solos with understanding, grace and deep sympathy. Her exquisite delivery made me want to weep, made me glad I was sitting next to Bronwyn, made me want to share the moment with my friends Jane and Mary.

    Conductor Ivars Taurins has to be mentioned - what he drew out from the orchestra and chorus was nothing short of mesmerizing. It was a fresh, crisp, quick Messiah to be sure; but at the same time his profound knowledge of the work enabled him to let the soloists set their own pace, confident that he would rally the instruments and voices back into time. 

    The Hallelujah Chorus left Bronwyn and me with tears rolling down our faces; and the Amen Chorus at the end sealed the evening, growing from a muted Amen to soar and swell in wave after wave until the rafters of the Jack Singer auditorium resounded with praise and confidence that "worthy [indeed] is the Lamb that was slain, and hath redeemed us to God by His blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing."

    In my humble, untrained opinion, Handel's Messiah is like no other score ever written: its musicality and virtuosity is unquestioned, but it is more than that - it opens up the scriptures and sets the story of Jesus to music in a way never accomplished before or since. And this year's magnificent performance was one for the books.

    The evening drew abruptly to a close as winter highway driving stared us in the face. Quick hugs and goodbyes and we went our separate ways, thanking God for Handel, thanking God for each other, thanking God for two young men who arrange a Christmas Event for their much-loved parents each December.


    (Tafelmusik's recording of the Amen chorus; Ivars Taurins conducting)