Thursday, January 16, 2020

Living on Purpose


A friend once asked me how I was doing, and I answered by telling him I’d decided to live. His brows shot up and I hurried to clarify. What I meant was, I’d decided to really embrace life, to live on purpose, to grab hold of it with both hands and make the most of it. To be honest, some days I do better at that than others. I find it helps if I have something to reach for, something to look forward to.

For the last 35 years or so, my husband and I have made a point of setting goals in January for the coming year. We started the practice because of the post-holiday blues that can sometimes set in when all the hustle and bustle of Christmas is past. When so much energy goes into preparing for the holidays, the quiet days that follow can leave us (me) drifting aimlessly or crashing altogether. We wanted something that would energize us, give us a target to aim at, and create a little excitement and momentum in the drab winter months. We figured a date night that included a dinner out followed by a bit of brainstorming would net us a few plans for going forward into the new year.

That first year, we sat down and made a list of categories. It included things like financial goals, personal development, home improvements, ministry goals, vacation, and a few others like hobbies, that could conceivably fall into one of the categories already mentioned. It might sound dry, but it actually wasn’t. It got us talking and dreaming a bit as we jotted down our ideas. Once the list was made it got tucked away in a folder and we didn’t look at it again until the following year. We didn’t really need to. Most of the things we wrote down got fixed in our thinking just by talking them through. We were keen to get started and January came to feel like a fresh beginning.

Of course, we recognized right away that we would need to hold those plans loosely. After all, God is the one who is steering the boat. Proverbs 16:9 says that the heart of a man plans his way, but God directs his steps. Stuff happens and being flexible is a good thing. There was nothing hard and fast about those goals. There was no pressure and no guilt involved. Some years we were able to check off nearly everything on the list. Then again, there were some years when life took an unexpected turn, and a whole new set of goals got made on the fly. We still considered it a win even when we didn’t actually achieve much of anything that we’d originally planned on. Each new year, we’d pull that folder out and take a look at the road behind us before we started dreaming for the year ahead. It’s become an annual thing. The folder is getting full now and all those sheets of paper make an interesting record of the things we’ve done or thought to do from one year to the next.

This year, we’ve put off our planning date and may not get to it till the month is almost over. It seems like life may be taking one of those unexpected turns before we even get the year started. One or two unanswered questions could make a big difference in how the year unfolds so it’s probably worth while to wait a bit before we sit down to talk about goals.

Whatever 2020 might bring, we want to tackle it full on rather than as passive bystanders. You can’t steer a boat that isn’t moving. The specific goals we set aren’t really so important. What is important is that we live on purpose. No one knows for certain what a given year will hold but we know we’ll be able to handle the twists and turns that come our way because we trust the One who is at the rudder. It pays to remember that He loves us, and we belong to Him.


Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Peeling Back the Layers

I was riding in a friend’s car once and noticed a little square of black electrical tape stuck on the face of the dashboard. Curious, I asked what it was there for.

“Oh, it’s nothing, just that annoying little check engine light. I can’t get it to turn off, so I covered it up. The car is running okay anyway.”

Foolish? Perhaps. Those ‘trouble’ lights are there for a reason and when we ignore them, a small problem can sometimes turn into a much bigger issue.

Lately, I’m realizing that I have ‘trouble’ lights of my own that I don’t always pay attention to, and I’m not talking about my car. There are any number of small indicators in how I respond to the issues of life that hint at some underlying problem. It’s often easier to ignore the signs than to dig a little deeper to see what lies beneath.

For instance, when I get annoyed or impatient at how slowly something that is outside of my control is happening, I often treat the symptoms with several deep breaths and a treat or a distraction of some kind. My coping mechanisms are like putting a band-aid on my check engine light. Getting to the bottom of things takes time and hard work. It can be painful to discover that my annoyance might be due to my own issues.

When I’ve taken the time to examine the ‘why’ behind my emotions, I’ve occasionally been forced to recognize a need to be in control just below the surface. If I peel back that layer, I discover fear tucked away underneath it. Fear that the result I am hoping for will not happen if I don’t make it happen, fear of failure. Where does that come from? One layer deeper, and I realize that I’m actually afraid of being judged or measured by my performance. And hidden beneath that is the lie that my worth is based on how people see me. I’m not even going to touch on how pride figures into all of that.

Once I’ve peeled back enough layers to discover the lie that is so often at the root of my lack of peace, I can do something about it. Repentance is a good place to start. Follow that with the choice to actively trust in God and what He says is true. He says that my worth is incalculable, and it doesn’t change. I am precious in His eyes. It is not dependent on my performance or what people think of me.

Now, when I find myself shaking a fist at a driver who insists on moving 20 km/hour below the speed limit, I automatically catch myself. I don’t have to start from scratch this time. I remember what was under the surface when I peeled back the layers the last time and give myself a little shake. The annoyance drains away as I am reminded of who I am and who God is, and that He is in control. It’s quicker and more effective than chocolate… and easier on my waistline.  

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Memories


We just got back from a visit in Northern Ontario where we had a much enjoyed taste of winter with my brother Dave in Elliot Lake. We got to go snowshoeing through the woods and across the lake to have a winter picnic complete with campfire and toasted sandwiches with a cup of bush tea to warm us as we sat on a log in the sunshine. We did get to see a wolf but not while we were on our hike. He passed by Dave’s building where it backs on the bush at the edge of town while we watched through the living room window. We were snowshoeing on that same trail but saw no sign of him other than his prints in the snow. There is something wonderfully peaceful about the silence of the snowy wilderness on a cold, still morning. Even the swamps are beautiful in their carpet of white. It’s one of the things I miss, living in the south. It brings back a whole landscape of happy memories.

I thought about that on the long drive home. Memories are such a gift, treasures to be brought out and enjoyed over and over again. Sometimes I like to capture my favorites on paper so they can be shared.

When we passed the sign for Black Creek just north of the turn-off for Highway 17 I was reminded of another one. It’s a 50 year old memory now and back in 1993 I wrote it down. I thought I’d share it here.

“The Cabin on Turtle Lake”

Dad built the cabin in a lonely spot close to the eastern shore of Turtle Lake. To reach it we travel up Black Creek by canoe, crossing eight beaver dams in the process. The trip takes hours and we mark the distance by the number of times we clamber out of the canoe to negotiate those barriers of interwoven sticks and mud. When the count reaches eight we begin to watch for the trees to thin out and allow us our first glimpse of the lake.

Turtle Lake is long and narrow, with a rocky shoreline that in places rises up like the walls of some ancient fortress. At its eastern end, where the cabin sits in a clearing on the banks of the creek, the land slopes down more gently and the birch and poplar trees give way to tall grass and bulrushes. The swish of our paddles sounds loud in the stillness as we push through the reeds to land. The trail from the shore to the clearing in the trees is carpeted with autumn golds and the clean smell of wet leaves and distant pines is like a tonic.

The clearing is dominated by the squat shape of the cabin. Its rough walls of pine logs rise only five feet from the ground. They are topped by a peaked log roof covered with black paper that smells of tar when the sun warms it. A length of old blackened stove pipe sticks up from one corner at a jaunty angle. The low door is made of smooth unfinished boards that have weathered to a dull grey. It has hinges made of old tire rubber and sports the only window in the place. That tiny square of smudged glass and the rusty latch look almost out of place here. A squirrel chatters a welcome from the woodpile stacked neatly along one side of the building. Two makeshift sawhorses of crossed poles stand ready with an uncut log resting securely in the notch formed by their upthrust arms. The ground below is littered with sawdust and wood chips.

The dim interior of the cabin smells musty after the fresh air outside. The odours of pine gum, old wood smoke and lamp oil envelope us as we step over the threshold onto the hard packed dirt floor. There is only one room. In the corner stands the stove, made of an old oil drum propped up on bricks. Two sets of bunk beds line the side walls. Actually, they are just frames made of rough cut poles and strung with chicken wire and padded with a thick layer of canvas, but they look inviting after a long day. The only other furniture is a small sturdy table sitting opposite the stove with a box of kindling under it. There is a shelf on the wall above it that holds the oil lamp and an old, faded tin snuff box that we keep matches in. A chipped and battered enamel cup also sits there. It holds the wilted remnants of a handful of wild flowers that once provided a spot of colour to the otherwise drab room. The cup fits my hand like an old friend as I lift it from the dusty shelf and carry it out into the late afternoon sun. Leaves is what we want this time, I think to myself. Orange and yellow and gold.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Much More Than Goodbye

I originally wrote this post for Family and Faith Matters in 2014.


This morning when my husband set off for work I saw him off at the door with a hug and a kiss and a “Have a good day”. I’ve been doing that for almost 34 years and I suppose it’s a habit now. It’s much more than a habit when I stop to think about it though. It’s a wish and a prayer and a blessing all in one and it carries the love and respect I have for this man who is my partner and soul mate right out the door with him when he goes into his day.

The concept of sending people off with a blessing is not a new one. The word goodbye actually originated with the phrase God be with ye.

I was watching the movie “Gladiator” recently and in it the Roman soldiers parted with a hand grip and the words “Strength and Honour”.  What a great way to send someone off! Honour is a word we don’t use much these days but it is another way of saying integrity or uprightness of character. I can almost feel myself standing a little taller and stepping out with a little more vigour when I hear that parting wish.

Most of us are familiar with the old Irish blessing.

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

I suppose I might try saying that to my husband as he leaves for work in the morning but it is a bit cumbersome. I’m more likely to stick with my simple “Have a good day”. It has a power and beauty of its own when accompanied by that hug and kiss. Or maybe I’ll mix it up a bit and add an occasional “Strength and Honour”, or even the Vulcan “Live Long and Prosper”. I can just see the raised eyebrows now. At least he’d be going out the door with a smile on his face.

The next time you say goodbye make it more than just goodbye. It’s the chance to send someone off with a wish and a prayer and a blessing all in one.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Seasons

I originally wrote this post in the fall of 2014 for Family and Faith Matters.



Photo courtesy of  Suat Eman @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The last of the raspberries are picked and safely stored in the freezer for our supply of winter smoothies. I’ve gathered all the apples and their fruity scent makes my mouth water whenever I go into the front porch where they are waiting for my attention. Over the next few days I will turn those baskets of apples into jar after jar of applesauce to sweeten our mealtimes during the cold season. Today though, the kitchen counter is covered in tomatoes and peppers that came from my husband’s flower bed vegetable garden. It’s time to make chili sauce.

I love living in a country that has seasons to mark the passing of time. Each season has a unique beauty to enjoy but there’s more to it than that. There’s a rhythm to our days when we live in a place that has seasons. At least that’s true when we are part of an agricultural community. We spend the summers growing and gathering and storing food for the winter. We spend the winters renewing our strength and planning and preparing for the next growing season.

Life has seasons too. Ecclesiastes 3 says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…” No matter what particular season I am in at the moment, whether it is a time of mourning or a time of dancing, I know that it is only for a time. I believe that God uses each season in my life to prepare me for the ones to come. I can embrace whatever season I am in and know that there is a purpose to it that goes beyond whatever my current reality is. That gives me satisfaction and confidence and hope. My life is in the hands of a Master Gardener and nothing ever gets wasted in His economy.

What should I do with the time that I’m in? That’s the million dollar question. How can I make the best of this particular season while it lasts? Thankfulness is always a good place to start. Then, I think I’ll start on that chili sauce.

Chili Sauce

12 large tomatoes

4 large onions

½ bunch celery

1 ½ green peppers

Chop all finely

Add: 2 ½ c. vinegar

         3 c. sugar

         2 T. salt

         1 T. pickling spice in cloth bag

Cook 3 hours on low boil or until thickened. Seal in jars.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Don't Lose Your Balance

I originally wrote this post for Family and Faith Matters in 2014.


How are you at keeping your balance? I don’t mind admitting that mine isn’t as reliable as it once was. There are no gravity defying stunts in my repertoire. In fact, I like to keep both feet firmly planted on the ground whenever possible.

It was actually a little difficult going for walks this past winter with the sidewalks often icy and deep snow making the footing treacherous. I tend to be quite cautious because of a fall I had a few years ago that left me with a dislocated elbow and a broken finger. I still remember the flash of panic I felt in the split second when I realized I was going down.  

It wasn’t long after that when I decided to take an exercise class that was designed to improve core strength and balance. When I started out it was a little dangerous to stand anywhere near me. I had serious wobble issues and would often fling an arm out in a desperate attempt to stay upright in some of the positions we were asked to assume.                    

I did improve as time went on. It helped a tremendous amount when my instructor told me to keep my eyes focused on one spot on the floor about six feet in front of me. I learned to pay attention to where I put my feet and not to lean too far in any one direction. Those were important lessons in more ways than one.

I am a mother of three married children and I have seven grandchildren with one more on the way. Add aging parents and friends who need support to the mix and it’s easy for me to get so outward focused that I forget about my own needs in the process. I lose my balance and once that happens, the desperate fling of an arm is not enough to keep me from going down. When I crash the consequences can be both painful and far reaching.

A dear friend reminded me recently that self care is not the same as selfishness. I need to keep my balance in this busy life of mine.

That means choosing carefully where I put my feet. It’s okay to say no.

It means not leaning too far in any one direction. I need activities that will feed my soul and bring me back to centre.

Above all, it means keeping my eyes focused on the one thing that doesn’t change – God and His love for me.
 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Seize the Day


I originally wrote this post for Family and Faith Matters in 2014.
 
 
I have a confession to make. I am a natural born procrastinator, unlike my good husband. He likes to know that when the sun goes down at the end of each day, his efforts have made a difference and he can check things off of the ongoing list that he carries in his head.  One day I found a list written on the white board on the side of our fridge. I was glancing through it when one item caught my eye. There, in bold red capitals, were the words, KISS YOUR WIFE. The rest of the items got erased one by one but that one stayed for as long as there was a list. It made me smile. Those three words would jump out at me whenever I went into the kitchen. They let me know that I was more important than anything else that needed doing.

I’ve learned to set goals and to reach them eventually. I may not like endless lists of jobs to be done and I suppose I will always have a tendency to put things off until tomorrow, but people are too important to be allowed to slip through the cracks.

We live in a world of todays and none of us knows how many of those we may have. We’ve lost a number of friends in recent years, some of them suddenly and without warning through accidents or heart attacks or devastating illness. As we grieve each loss, we are achingly reminded that none of us really knows what today will bring. We have our goals and our plans, our dreams for the future, and yet, today may be the only day we have.

I can’t really afford to be a procrastinator when it comes to the people in my life. There are some things that shouldn’t be postponed. Things like forgiveness, simple appreciation, random acts of kindness, and words like “I’m sorry”, “I love you” or “I am so very proud of you”.  I don’t want to let opportunities for the really important things slip by me because I am telling myself that there’s always tomorrow. That just may not be true.

We’ve all heard the term Carpe Diem or Seize the Day. It doesn’t sound like something a natural born procrastinator would live by but I think it’s a good motto. Perhaps it’s time to take some of my good intentions and put feet on them.  Are there words that need saying or people I should see? I need to make this day count because it may be all that I have.