Thursday, November 14, 2013

Burden Bearing

My Dad has often talked about a sermon he read years ago. It was delivered by the Rev George W Truett on June 12, 1917, in Fort Worth, Texas. It was entitled "What To Do With Life's Burdens."

There are three texts in scripture laying out how we should deal with the burdens that weigh us down in different degrees.

1. Each person should bear his or her own burden. The Apostle Paul's letter to the Galatians chapter 6 and verse 5 says this: "For every man shall bear his own burden." Another translation puts it this way: "For each will have to bear his own load" (ESV). 

Each of us has been born with a purpose for our lives. And with that purpose comes a responsibility to pull our weight, to face up to and accept what it is we are called to do. No one else is just like us; so no one else can do for us exactly what we need to do for ourselves. We need to carry our load when we are able, with the strength and the talents we have been given.

2. We should bear one another's burdens. Verse 2 in the same chapter of the book of Galatians says this: "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ."

I thought about that quite a bit. What is the law of Christ to which Paul is referring? Jesus said that the commandment Love your neighbour as yourself is second only to loving God himself. And in the room where he talked to his disciples shortly before he would be arrested and crucified, he made the words even more personal, even more pointed: Love one another, he said to them.

If we were to care for someone as we would care for ourselves, we would do what we could to help that person, wouldn't we? One of my favourite verses is to be found in the letter to the Ephesians, chapter 4 and verse 32: Be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you. This is how we can bear each other's burdens: kindly, with tenderheartedness and forgiveness, knowing that that is how God treats us. We should do whatever we can to ease our fellow journeyers' load when we can.

3. Cast our burden onto God. The 55th Psalm, verse 22, tells us just that: Cast your burden upon the Lord and he shall sustain you; he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved. There are some things that are just too big for us to bear alone. It seems like the waters are so muddied, the situation so difficult, that there is no one to whom we can turn except God. And he encourages us to do just that; he promises that when we do, he will be there to support us, to carry us through the deep waters we are encountering.

I saw all of this firsthand today. I encountered a difficult situation with a client yesterday evening; I thought late into the night what I could do to rectify the situation, to get us back on track. At about 2 a.m. I came to the conclusion that there was absolutely nothing I could do. I couldn't bear this burden by myself. So I cast it onto God. You know better than I do, dear Father, I prayed. Please take this situation, take control of it. Let it play out to benefit this client, to work for Carswell, and to glorify you. I leave it with you.

Enter my friend Sandra. She is located in Toronto but she works alongside me to ensure our key customers' information and service needs are met and that they are empowered in turn to do their job, whatever form that might take.

Sandra and I on my trip to head office in October

I emailed Sandra this morning, laying out the situation. Not too much later I received an email back saying she had researched behind the scenes, an area I cannot touch out here in Alberta; and she had orchestrated the solution - it was all taken care of.

You know what impressed me most of all? This customer is not even a client that falls under Sandra's umbrella! She bore my burden on top of bearing her own heavy load today. And in addition, she gave me words of encouragement: "You have the customers' interest at heart at all times ..."

Sandra is one of the dearest people to me at Carswell. Not only do we work together, we have prayed together and laughed and cried together. I can tell her things that I can't talk about to many people because I know that she listens with tenderheartedness and holds my confidences with kindness. She seeks my good, as I do hers. And she seeks the good of all those around her. She truly loves her neighbour.

Through Sandra's cheerful hoisting of my burden onto her shoulders today, I experienced all three aspects of burden bearing. I carried the burden for myself for a while; when it grew too onerous for me, I gave it to God; and he in turn led me to Sandra, who took up the part that could be fixed with our human capacity.

I hope that every one reading this has strength for the day and for the burdens you have to bear; I hope you have a Sandra in your life to pick you up when you are bent double; and, most of all, when things are at an impasse, I hope you know God is always waiting to hear us, ready to take up our burdens himself.

I am so blessed.
Our colleague Derek, who also does all
he can to help with the load!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Desert and the Josh Tree

This time two years ago ago we were preparing for your funeral. The shock of your death hung in the air like ghostly ice crystals on a crisp November morning.

You're probably used to a whole different way of keeping track of time now. But I'm staying with the boys - just like I was two years ago - and I'm listening to your buddy Oliver upstairs, on a take-your-kid-to-work morning, watching a video on his computer and chuckling every few seconds, and I'm wondering which job you would be going to shadow today, what you might be interested in perusing if high school were to loom large in your future.

I think of you often, boy I never met who, regardless, resides in my heart. I think of your parents and your sibs and your aunts and uncles.

This morning as I thought of them and prayed for them, the sweet promise of the prophet Isaiah came to my mind:

The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose (Isaiah 35:1)

They have gone through the wilderness, your family has; they have lived in the solitary place. Grief is that way, as you know, Josh - it hits you in waves, sorrow smashing over you and pummeling you into the gritty sand you were trying to ignore below as you crested, happy and free, for a few seconds of bliss.

The desert of the verse in Isaiah is the beach minus the waves - nothing to exult in, to relieve the dryness, the sameness, the desolation.

The promise, though, is that there shall be tiny signs of life, there shall be tender shoots of joy that poke their heads up almost against their will. 

Remember my Josh Tree, named after you, the little lilac tree given me by BA and Deb? Someone expert in horticulture told me last year to pull it up, throw it out; there was no hope for that dead little twig, she said.

Here is how it looked this summer:

It was bursting with life and colour; and if you got close enough, you could catch a delicate perfume pushing its way determinedly from its blooms.

O Josh, there is life; there is hope, as we heard at your funeral:

There is hope for the helpless, rest for the weary
Love for the broken heart
There is grace and forgiveness, mercy and healing
He'll meet you wherever you are
Just cry out to Jesus
Cry out to Jesus

When you're lonely and it feels like the whole world is falling on you
You just reach out, you just cry out to Jesus
Cry to Jesus

But if you think your friends don't think of you, don't miss you still, listen to the song Oliver was playing on his guitar this morning, shortly after we had been talking about you. (I wonder, would Death Cab for Cutie have been one of your current favourite bands too?)

You are not forgotten, dear Josh ...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

So This is What the Mayor and his Wife Do in their Spare Time ...

What a dreadful snowfall: heavy, thick, slushy, settling in gleefully for an early winter.

Dad was due to preach in Hanna today; but when he spoke on the telephone with the service leader at 8:30 this morning, the man told him not to come: the roads were impassable and it would be too dangerous.

I faced the TH's crazy parking lot with nothing but a shovel and desperation this afternoon. After working on it for over an hour and a half, I was half done. But my shoulders and my calves told me that, actually, they were done. Plus the rice pudding for my friend Barb's lunch was trying in vain to cook without my encouragement the longer I was outside.

Still, it was a beautiful day.

Still, I was in despair at how much left there was to do.

Finally, at about 2:45, with half left to go, I simply asked God if someone - ANY one - in the trucks and cars passing my way would take pity on me and give me a hand.

Literally, no sooner than the words were out of my mouth than Terry pulled up, rolled down her truck window and said something to me. I couldn't hear a word above the snow blower that the neighbour across the road - who had been keeping an eye on me shoveling the hefty gobs of snow since I started - was running on his tiny driveway and stretch of sidewalk. So Terry pulled over, got out of her truck, and said, "Tim is on his way with our snow blower to do Mom and Dad's driveway. Let him finish yours for you. Here: give me your shovel and I'll take a turn at this for you."

Seriously? Tim was less than half a block away! Before I had finished my little cry / rant to God, His answer was walking toward me, and the herald of the message was already taking the shovel out of my hand! The words from the prophet Isaiah, "Before you call, I will answer,"  hit me right on the forehead. There was nothing else for me to do out there. I went inside and took an Advil, and then got cracking on my rice pudding.

Between the two of them, they got rid of the snow and ice before the TH doors opened at 3:00. All that remained for me was to throw some of those blue salt crystal things on the ground and hope that no one slipped ... 

Thank you, Your Worship. And thank you, Terry, who ably supports him in everything he does! It is no wonder that under his leadership the entire Three Hills Mayor and Council were acclaimed at this past election time. I have never met anyone more community minded than Tim Shearlaw. 

And thank You, God, for caring about the little things.