Friday, December 31, 2004

the top ten of my 2004

(...in order of occurrence, not importance)

1. My husband Ernie retired - and we’re still talking!

2. We celebrated Mom’s 90th birthday. I organized (with lots of help from others) two back-to-back partes in the party room of Mom’s condo, where we hosted about 150 people. All my eight siblings, from Victoria to Saskatoon, and Kelowna to Fort St. John, were there!

3. My poet friend Barbara paid a visit.

4. I published my first poetry collection, Calendar.

5. I attended a writers’ conference in Guelph Ontario (Write! Canada - sponsored by the Word Guild) with friend my Helen Lescheid. Met many wonderful people and returned home full of inspiration and two prizes in the 2004 Word Guild Award competition - best story/article in the Children / Young Adult category and best story in the First Person Article category (image 118 & 110). On this page of photos, also spot Helen Lescheid, Janette Oke, Janice Dick, Nancy Lindquist, Sue Careless, Linda Hall, Denyse O'Leary - and others!

6. Ernie and I became part of the consolidation team* at our church.

7. I finished writing my children’s devotional Bible Drive Through and sent it off to the Writer’s Edge, where it was deemed publishable and is listed in their October bulletin.

8. I began this blog.

9. I became editor of the children’s column, "The Tree House" - FaithWriters Magazine. The first column ran in the December issue.

10. Our daughter Sonia was engaged to Matt.

In the context of current events, mainly the recent devastating disaster in Southeast Asia, I feel unaccountably blessed. I realize how tenuous life is, and that disaster can strike in an instant and change everything. I know the blessings I’ve experienced come from God’s hands. I welcome and revel in His good gifts. But I know He also sometimes wraps gifts in hard, painful, stretching circumstances. I hope when those come, as they surely will, I will be as effusive in my thanks.

Today, though, I cannot do anything but thank Him for a wonderful year. The paraphrased Psalm fragment below expresses the gratitude in my heart:


Praise Prayer (paraphrase of Psalm 21:1,2,6&7).

O Lord, I rejoice in your strength
How great is my joy in the victories you give!
You have granted me the desire of my heart
and have not withheld
the request of my lips. Selah
....
Surely you have granted me eternal blessings
and made me glad with the joy of your presence
For I trust in the Lord
through the unfailing love of the Most High
I will not be shaken.

********************
* Consolidation team: Group of people who connect with those new-to-the-faith, making sure they get nurtured and plugged in to community.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

endings and beginnings

Today feels like the official beginning of endings and beginnings. For weeks I’ve honed in on Christmas and the celebrative season. But as the 26th bleeds into the 27th, then the 28th and now the 29th I feel the focus change. The sense of my brain shifting gears is an almost physically palpable thing. I become aware of all the year-end jobs I could do - clearing out file drawers, backing up, then deleting stuff from the computer, giving thought to next year - the big outline, then filling in details. Mentally I begin to list the projects still unfinished, the things I’d like to tackle, the must-dos to fit in between...

I love this time of year - everlastingly full of hope and new possibilities. But before I get too carried away, I need to remind myself of an even bigger frame I inhabit. As a child of God, property of Jesus, I am first of all at His beck and call. So I’d best not let myself get too far along any self-manufactured paths. In fact, I’d best not set out on them in the first place.

So, Lord, I bring the urge to tidy, organize and plan my life to You.

For I am God’s own handiwork, His workmanship, recreated in Christ Jesus, born anew that I may do those good works which God predestined, planned beforehand, for me, taking paths which He prepared ahead of time – living the good life which He pre-arranged and made ready for me to live. (bold mine - paraphrase of Ephesians 2:10 - Amplified Bible).

It is God who arms me with strength
and makes my way perfect....
You broaden the path beneath me,
so that my ankles do not turn. (Psalm 18:32,36 - NIV).


Help me to find and walk Your path for me in the year ahead. Amen.


Tuesday, December 28, 2004

tsunami clips

Tsunami videos from Cheese and Crackers

christmas stories

Full of turkey, mince, nuts and candy? Then it's probably time to push back from the table and get your fill of something else - Christmas fiction.

(Pssst - my story was one of the chosen to be posted on the faith*in*fiction website!)

Monday, December 27, 2004

a sparkly night to remember

Well, our little girlie is engaged! Oh my - this is a Christmas season we won’t soon forget.

It had its tense moments, though. Like yesterday noonish. We’re sitting in Mom’s apartment watching TV while cooking the food for the one o’clock lunch.

Matt, who by this time is en route from Kamloops, is in frequent touch with Sonia by cell phone. She has it always within reach. As soon as it gives it tinkle/jangle ring, she grabs it and leaps up to go talk in another room. After one of these conversations, she comes back to where we’re watching the news of the Indonesian earthquake, looking grave.

"I think his car broke down," she says. "He said, ‘Oh no, oh no - I’ve got to go,’ and then hung up."

Oh no indeed! I go immediately into silent prayer mode and I’m sure Ernie does the same...But about four hours later, just as we’re about to pass out the gifts, there he is at the door. Hallelujah!

"It’s a miracle," he says as he comes into the room, Sonia hanging onto his arm, having met him downstairs to let him into the building. "The car jerked and sputtered so I couldn’t handle the phone. There I was, stopped on the other side of Merritt with trucks whistling by me. And I was thinking, do I just try to get to Merritt so I can hop a bus the rest of the way? And I was praying – as hard as I’ve ever prayed in my life.

"So I tried starting the car again. It started, and now it drove just fine. As I passed Merritt it seemed I should just keep going. It drove the rest of the way without any problems. It’s amazing. You hear people describing things like this but it’s altogether different when you’re living it!"

The party at Mom’s breaks up at six. We leave for Surrey (45 minute drive) after the kids. When we get home they still haven’t arrived.

But someone else pops up from the lighted Japanese spruce at the front door. It’s Jeff, Matt’s friend. It seems THE PLAN is going ahead.

A little back story here. Two weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon, we get a call from Matt. Can he pay us a visit the next day. (It doesn’t take a lively imagination to guess why this kid would make a three-and a half-hour trip to the coast to visit us oldsters!) He arrives Monday in time for lunch. Finally, after exhausting all small talk in sight, he gets to the point - does he have our permission and blessing to ask for Sonia’s hand in marriage. Some gentle - and of course appropriate - father-of-the-bride grilling follows (one can’t make these things too easy after all!) and then Ernie and I happily give our consent.

Shortly after our discussion ends that day, Jeff is at the front door. It turns out Matt has asked his good friend to pray during our conversation. And it’s Jeff who is going to help him set up the proposal staging which he has planned for the 26th. Matt has in mind something to do with a canopy complete with twinkle lights set up in the park behind our place where Sonia used to play.

Now this selfsame Jeff is in our yard and, yes, the whole thing has been set up in the park. We go up to look out our bedroom window and sure enough. There, beside the snake tree is this twinkly bower.

It’s another twenty minutes or so before Sonia and Matt arrive. He has her blindfolded. He leads her out of the car and down the path out of our cul-de-sac, to the place.

About fifteen minutes later there’s a knock at the door. It’s a girl I’ve never met who introduces herself as Kate. "I videotaped the whole thing," she says, waving a camcorder. Needless to say, she’s wet and shivery, having been in on the whole hours-long set-up-and-wait with Jeff.

(You see, they met Matt at one of the Chilliwack exits of the No.1 Hwy. where he gave them the stuff - canopy, lights, a cord, a little table, rose petals and a couple of long-stemmed roses to put on top - OH MY!)

A few minutes later while I’m mixing Kate a hot chocolate, Jeff arrives to collect the boxes and cartons and pack away the props.

Then Sonia comes in, glowing. "I’m engaged!" She’s sporting a lovely diamond solitaire, set in white gold.

Hugs all around, and more hugs when Matt and Jeff finally come in, their cleanup complete, and more hot chocolate and turkey sandwiches and laughter and stories and comparing Sonia’s solitaire with mine and phone calls to girlfriends - whose shrieks manage to come through those tiny cell phone speakers to be audible to the whole room (but rats - I forgot to take any pictures)!

Ah yes, it’s a sparkly night we will always remember!

Sunday, December 26, 2004

merry boxing day!

What a fabulous day, yesterday, with our little family - just the four of us. Sonia was home from Kamloops and Ben deigned to spend the whole day with us - that is until evening, when it was off to see the girlfriend.

Much richness for me under the tree. I got a beautiful sweater from Sonia (I should always let my 21-year-old daughter dress me - she has fabulous taste!), a CD from Ben (Revival in Belfast II), lovely smelly stuff from Ernie, and books and $$ to buy some more clothes (yes, I will take S. on my shopping trip - but we won’t go today - for once the 26th falls on a Sunday and I don’t have to feel the least bit of shopping pressure, although I regularly, on principle, resist the pull of this biggest shopping day of the year anyway - crowds and unbridled avarice make me crazy).

The books I got are the stuff of salivation:

The Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. I’ve read this one, but it was S’s copy, which she reclaimed. Now I have one of my own.

The Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge - I’ve heard so much good stuff about Eldredge, I just had to ask for something by him.

Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharias - I’ve always loved listening to Ravi Zacharias. I still treasure a tape series we bought after a conference he did in our then-church (Circle Drive Alliance in Saskatoon) way back when his hair was still black. And for a Christian living in the Canada of 2004/5, I think Christian apologetics is required reading!

Finally, How to Fast Successfully by Derek Prince. Fasting is a discipline I find fascinating, but ‘out there’? Don’t know why I’ve avoided it. This together with Foster’s book may get me started.

Today, though, we don’t fast. Today we go to Mom’s in Abbotsford for more food and family. My sisters Bea (and her twins Jacquie and Adrienne) and Doris will be there, and my family. Ben brings Amelia and Sonia’s boyfriend (Matt) arrives from Kamloops sometime today (and I am secretly whispering prayers till he arrives, as he must drive the Coquihalla and it rained here all day yesterday which means they probably got a dump of snow in the mountains).

So, am I not rich?

Now I must start getting ready my contribution for the family dinner. To add to Rebecca’s Cranberry Apple Pie, I will bring cheesy potatoes (for which I now grate half an onion - and how DOES one get that onion small off one’s hands?).

Merry Boxing Day everyone!

Friday, December 24, 2004

tonight all ordinary life is done

It is Christmas Eve day and so we enter the year’s parenthesis - that interlude when we break from routine and focus on home, family and how wonderful life is. It’s a time we want everything to be perfect - the food, the ambience, the relationships. And yet even in my small world the imperfections threaten to overwhelm.

One set of friends who have for weeks planned their Christmas family reunion, have now seen their plans changed by the death of their son-in-law’s grandad. Instead of spending Christmas with them, their daughter and her husband will be trekking halfway across Canada to attend the funeral. Another set of friends have requested prayer for a neighbor who is dying of cancer, and who has asked them to help him plan his funeral. A third friend is contemplating resigning from his job after weeks of personal turmoil. The husband of another on-line acquaintance had heart surgery yesterday. The list goes on and on.

My friend Charlie ended his poem "Christmas" with the words:

Star-maker long ago agreed
tonight He sends His Son
tonight all ordinary life is done.


Part of me rises up in a grand "Yes!" to these words. But part of me, in the face of all that is wrong, twisted and hurtful asks, how did that night change anything at all?

Then I remind myself - that night was only the beginning of the last act. The play is not over. My response in every scene affirms the ending I know by faith:
Your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Matthew 6:10 (NIV)

Thursday, December 23, 2004

My Messiah

I shiver under my goat hair cloak. It’s cold at night on the hills outside Bethlehem. I wish I were at home in bed. But a few weeks ago my father said, "Joel, you're 12. You need to learn the night watch." And so here I am, cold and sleepy, but I have to stay awake because it’s my turn to watch the sheep.

I look over at the flock, an island of wooly pebbles. Beside me, father snores a soft rhythm. Nearby, Abiram and Kohar, still awake, talk quietly.

"Plugged with travelers," Kohar says.

"Caesar is insane to command a census at this time of year," says Abiram. "He just wants more names for his filthy tax list." Then, lowering his voice so I barely hear, "I met a man in the village who's gathering an army to fight those Gentile thieves. He's training them to use swords." When he notices I’m listening, he stops. "The lamblet has, big ears." He winks at Kohar.

He doesn't want me to hear because of my father. Father’s the chief shepherd and he doesn't approve of resistance fighters. He has one passion. It’s to see the coming of Messiah.

"Messiah is coming," he always says, "and when He comes, He will be a true Savior. He will bring freedom and set up God's kingdom in His own wonderful way."

In the past, I never doubted him. But the talk tonight reminds me of the anger I feel when I see the Roman soldiers. They ride into Bethlehem and inspect it on snorting horses. They beat people who don't pay taxes. They make fun of synagogue teachers. They treat us like animals.

Above me now, the black sky is dotted with stars. Is there really a God up there? All my life I’ve heard there is, but lately I wonder. Maybe God and Messiah are only wishes. My father serves God without question. Yet for our family, things only get worse. The price for wool goes down, my mother has to open a stall at the market and my father works longer - for what? Just to give Caesar more?

I imagine my fingers tracing the cold metal handle of a sword under my cloak. I shiver, get up, toss a few sticks into the fire. The flames lick and began to dance.

Then blinding brightness!

At first I think something has flamed in the fire pit, but in the next instant, the sky turns from dark to dazzling and I see the light is coming, not from the fire but from a man. I can’t move. Is this God? Has He read my doubting thoughts? Is He going to punish me?

Around me the others sit up.

"Don’t be afraid," The shining man's voice booms. His bright eyes look right into mine. "I bring you the most joyful news ever told. And it’s for everyone! The Savior has been born tonight in Bethlehem! Yes! This is the Messiah, the Lord. How will you know him? You’ll find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth, lying in a manger."

Then the sky gets even brighter and as far as I can see are more shining men. They stretch way into the distance like an army, and they are chanting. "Glory to God in the highest Heaven. Peace on earth, good will to men. Glory to God in the highest Heaven. Peace on earth, good will to men."

It’s grand, majestic, the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. I wish they would never stop. But gradually the sound gets quieter and the shining army fades. Finally only the flickering firelight shows a ring of stunned faces. I hear the t-whoo, t-whoo of an owl.

Then everyone starts talking at once.

"Angels! Those were angels"

"Thousands, millions!"

"Messiah! He said Messiah!" It’s my father. "I'm going to Bethlehem to find that baby."

"We're going with you!"

"Father, what about the sheep? Can I come too," I ask.

"If God can fill the sky with angels, He can surely watch a few sheep," my father says, with a laugh. "Joel, I wouldn't have you miss this for the world!"

As we hurry into town, the talk turns to how we’ll find this baby in the whole town of Bethlehem, and at night. Father's faith is unshakable. "If angels told us about the baby, we'll find him," he says. "It’s a baby in a manger."

"Many mangers here," Abiram says as we enter the town.

Bethlehem sleeps. As we pass house after house, inn after inn, no one’s awake. Then I see a light.

"There Father," I point to the dim glow, coming from a shelter behind an inn.

We trot across the courtyard and push open the door. Inside, a man leans over something in the manger. Then Father and I hear the cry of a newborn baby.

"God be praised!" Father exclaims. The others crowd into the doorway.

The man straightens up and looks at us. "We have permission," he says. "The innkeeper—“

"We're sorry to bother you,” Father says, “but we were told about the baby by angels."

A young woman sits up from a pile of hay. Bits of straw stick to her hair and cloak. The man picks up the wailing baby and places it in her arms.

My Father walks over and crouches down beside her. "The angels called this baby Messiah," he says as he reaches out and touches the child, then kneels. "My Messiah."

The stable is full of a holy presence and we all fall to our knees.

As we troop through town on our way back to the hills we sing and talk and laugh.

Someone in a house along the way flings open a window and shouts, "Quiet down you drunks! How's a person to sleep?"

Father calls back, "We're not drunk. An amazing thing just happened!" Then he tells it all.

As he’s talking other windows open. He tells and retells the story.

"Incredible! Amazing!" the people say. "Do you believe it?"

At our hillside encampment the sheep are still there, all safe. Only embers glow in the fire pit. I toss in some sticks and sit close to the warmth. It feels like days since I was last here.

A minute later, Abiram comes and sits beside me.

"No need to tell your father about the resistance army, Joel," he says. "I won't be joining."

I think, neither will I.

about "My Messiah"

A few years ago when I was department head of the Grade 5 & 6 Sunday School department of our church, I had the idea of getting the kids to do a Christmas newspaper - but as it would have appeared at the time of Jesus’ birth. This meant we had to study those times, so we could put ourselves into the Bethlehem of the nativity. "My Messiah" was my own contribution to that project.

In 2001 I sent it to Essence Publishing, where it was included in the Christmas compilation Celebrating the Season 2001.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I resurrected it to be worked over by an online critique group. They offered many valuable suggestions on how to improve it. I edited it, and sent it to Dave Long’s Christmas fiction contest (webmaster of the faith*in*fiction blog). It appears here as one of a collection of Christmas stories (to which I will post links as soon as I have them).

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

christian carnival - christmas edition

Lots of Christmas and non-Christmas fare at Patriot-Paradox, the Christian Carnival - Christmas Edition.

a night not to be silent - 8

(Hang on... this is all coming to an end...)

this is a poem

this is a poem about the last page
this is a poem about feeling panicked
this is a poem about lists
this is a poem about putting up lights and garland and angels
this is a poem about shopping and tired feet
this is a poem about finding mom’s recipe
and buying butter – for baking
this is a poem about choosing the right card
and signing my name 47 times
this is a poem about wrapping paper, tape and ribbon
this is a poem about bells and snow and old records
this is a poem about feasting
this is a poem about getting around to reading the familiar story
and wondering, how did something
that started out so simple
get to be so complicated?
this is a poem about Christmas

© 2001 Violet Nesdoly

I wrote this originally as greeting card verse for my next-door neighbor. I thought it was perfect until I re-read it 24 hours later and realized - this sounds really negative, as if I’m resenting Christmas (and yikes, maybe she’ll think I also resent the cards and gifts we regularly exchange). So I sent a safe, off-the-rack, professionally written card instead and filed my effort away.

I didn’t give the poem another thought until the following summer. Then in response to a Christmas contest, I sent it off to Essence Publishing. Happily, it was included in the finished Christmas collection, Celebrating the Season 2001.

And that’s it for the Christmas verses. If you’ve stayed with me for the duration, Thank You!
(There were other fine poems in our modest collection, but I’ve not been able to reach the writers to obtain permission to post them.)




HAVE A BLESSED AND JOYOUS CHRISTMAS!


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

a night not to be silent - 7

Suddenly There Was the Angel

And Suddenly, by the creche, on the altar tonight
in the overcrowded Christmas Eve church
a little velvet dressed girl, in green with white lace,
puts her cheek against a ceramic white lamb
and cuddles. This moment happens as suddenly
as the angels appeared in the heavens,
as suddenly as the multitude of heavenly host
praised God and tonight the congregation
watching the embrace of child with lamb
suddenly feels with our whole beings,
Glory to God in the highest heaven
and on earth peace to this child
and to us whom He favors

© 2004 Mary Elizabeth Lauzon


On the Birthday of Life

Show me an image
of the invisible God.
Show me the first born of all creatures.
Show me how to see
everything in Him,
heaven, earth, visible, invisible.
Show me how everything continues.
Show me the fullness residing in Him
and I will kneel at every crib scene I see.
I will kneel to every carved and molded
infant on straw, to every blue-gowned Madonna.
I will kneel by my bed every evening.
I will kneel to the radiant dawn.
I will kneel at every revelation of wisdom.
I will kneel every time I’m set free.
Show me on this birthday of life
newness, fullness, fulfillment,
and I will spend my life kneeling
to the invisible God.
I will spend my life free.

© 2004 Mary Elizabeth Lauzon


Christmas

Unmask me, child Jesus.

As I gaze on the memory
of your innocent eyes,
gaze too on me.

Let me lay my life down
in your manger
and be,
transparent, free, myself.

Break me out of the mold
of exiled conformity
I have laid in
all my life
and show me this Christmas.

In the gaze of your newborn eyes,
my truth, my being,
my own original
God-created love.

Let me become
a transparent reflection
of all I see
in your eyes, Jesus.

Imprint me with wonder
and let me, too,
be Christmas.

© 2004 Mary Elizabeth Lauzon


Mary lives in Calgary Alberta, where she is wife, mother, nurse, poetry teacher and therapist, volunteer...the list goes on and on. In 1998 she published The Kisses of His Mouth, a collection of her work. More of Mary’s poems are found here.

a night not to be silent - 6

Mary Had a Little Lamb

at birth He first
smelled musty, dusty straw
mingled with manure

He heard ewes
baaa a welcome
to their humble home

His birth announcement
came to shepherds
"Go, find the lamb!"

Lying in a manger
slimy with animal saliva
they saw Him

the sacrifice Lamb
born to die

© 2004 Arlene Knickerbocker
Arlene Knickerbocker lives in Michigan and offers a full menu of writing services from her web site The Write Spot. You may have read her writing in Union Gospel Press materials, Anchor devotionals (Haven Ministries) and in the Global Prayer Digest. Her deep love for the Lord is communicated in everything she writes.

Christmas Cake

November or early December’s the time
to start on this year’s Christmas cake


Pour several cups of sweet anticipation into a large bowl
- the first snowfall when we hauled out the Christmas records
- all the dolls in the Sear’s catalogue
- paint smells from the basement

Cut in a pound of cold reality
- the year I worked nights and slept through
- the first Christmas without Daddy
- the one I broke my wrist
and cream these ingredients.

When blended and smooth stir in –
one cup at a time
the plans, ideas, long wish lists
credit cards and shopping trips
decorating, light’s a-blinking
records circling, CDs spinning
here we come a-caroling, keep on smiling

Fold in the surprises next
- a perfect tiny poinsettia for the coffee table
- a leisurely lunch on the Starlight Dinner Train
- room on a standby flight Christmas Eve

Finally toss in
- a teaspoon of worry (surely I’ve forgotten something)
- and a pinch of pride (the house glows by candlelight
while we sip our eggnog Christmas Eve)

Give it the final flourish
– signed! The last (late) card of the season
and bake in a turkey-fragrant oven

You know it’s done
when the last chocolate is eaten
all the tinsel’s vacuumed
and the house is New Year tidy once more.

(Guaranteed never to turn out the same)

© 2004 Violet Nesdoly
I wrote this poem in early December a few years ago in an attempt to deal with my annual bout of seasonal ambivalence. On trying to figure out why I was feeling negative, I realized that every Christmas is built on a foundation of all the others one has experienced. As a result, I have a tendency to prepare for the celebration with a combination of idealism, impossible expectations and fear that this year will not measure up. I think writing this poem was my way of telling myself, it’s okay. Let this Christmas unfold as it will. Each year has something unique to contribute.


Monday, December 20, 2004

a night not to be silent - 5

Sleepover

clean pajamas
clothes for the next day
his favorite blanket
a note in his backpack
a flashlight
all this to spend one night
sleeping two doors down
with his best friend
even then
I’m up half the night
praying

You sent your Son
naked
squalling
helpless
to a stable full of strangers
knew he wouldn’t be home
for thirty years

and who do You pray to?

© 2004 Susan Plett

Susan lives in Alberta, Canada and writes often (though not only) about her family. I always enjoy her poetry. (Her poems remind me of the writing of one of my favorite poets, Linda Pastan). Read more of Sue's work here.

Adoption (A New Birth)

Somewhere across town, or the universe
an angel laughs, points, nudges his neighbor,
Christ is born.
Another heart by divine intercourse
cracks open, locks torn –
finds the bundle of Love left
parked upon the heart’s threshold;
receives Him whole, rocks in absolute wonder,
cradling heaven’s delight.
Stars wink back and forth.
A horn sounds, songs erupt.
Tears of joy splatter unchecked
wet the Boy, God’s Son
nestled snug within His newfound home.
His hand visible, waving, tells all,
come, gather round, meet the newest
member of the holy family.

© 2004 Darlene Moore Berg

Darlene writes from her home in Missouri. I find her poems accessible but profound. She’s also prolific, and has collected her poems into several chapbooks. Somehow she found time to put this project together - on top of running her pediatric practice and shouldering much responsibility for her family and aging Mom. Thanks Darlene! (Again, read more of her work here.)

Sunday, December 19, 2004

a night not to be silent - 4

Christmas Lights

A thin denim jacket shelters shoulders
slumped against darkness
arctic air squeezes
through broken zipper
temporarily reverses the sign
"Out of Work, Please Help!"

Plaza lights cast a rosy glow
shoppers maneuver through stores
hastening their pace
changing course to avoid,
or completely ignoring
the sign that asks more
than they’re willing to give

Occasional shoppers press
warm dollar bills
into cold, weary hands

The rosy glow of plaza lights
outshines the Light of CHRISTmas
tonight.

© 2004 Frances Howell

Fran lives in Kentucky. Besides poetry, she loves writing stories. A story she recently entered in a contest in England was singled out for publication in the Lincolnshire Echo. To read more of her stories,* type 'Fran Howell' in the search line here.
(*Sorry, these stories are no longer available online.)


You Come

You did not come to be the rosy-cheeked baby
on gold-embossed Christmas cards
or the centerpiece of a Faberge creche.

You did not come to be the ornament
near the top of a Douglas fir tree
or the shining light of a storefront display.

You did not come so we could give gifts
to each other over mulled cider and bon-bons
or eat turkey with our families.

Born in the Middle East into poverty and scandal,
You were birthed by a young Jew who lay
exhausted and unsure of things to come.

There was no feast for the half-starved animals
that welcomed You into the world,
no family to gather and coo your tiny features.

You grew up to face clamorous crowds and
sinister accusations – violent opposition –
invasion of peace and privacy around every corner.

You were born in a stable amid the sweat and dirt
of a long journey to Bethlehem – no – to earth,
and thirty years later You died on a cross ...

You come to bring Hope to a ruined humanity.

© 2004 Annie Erickson

Annie lives in California. Honesty (and humor) mark her work. I couldn’t find any of her work online, which is a shame, because she’s written some pretty amazing poems. Annie, here’s to seeing you published some more!

Saturday, December 18, 2004

which artist would paint you?

VG
You have the Vermeer girl look. A Vermeer girl
appealed mostly to the old masters of the Dutch
school, who painted pictures of everyday life
as they knew it. With her fine, fair skin, she
suited a light, natural, dewy make-up. The
Vermeer Girl loved homely things, such as
homemade soaps and candles. The following
artists would have liked to paint you; Pieter
de Hooch and Jan Vermeer.

'Pretty As A Picture' - Which Artist Would Paint You? - brought to you by Quizilla

Via Rebecca Writes

two-timing

(A meditation based on 2 Kings 17)

"The Israelites secretly did things against the Lord their God." 2 Kings 17:9

Secretly? Really! Did they think God was not aware - that they could pull one over on Him? It reminds me of the myriad incidents in the Bible where people tried to lie to God or His servants - Saul to Samuel, Gehazi to Elisha, Annanias and Sapphira to Peter. In all cases, and in many others, God saw. He whispered the truth to His servants. The thought that we can keep things a secret from God has always been an oxymoronic one.

But the Israelites in 2 Kings 17 tried it anyway. Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were building high places, setting up sacred stones and Asherah poles, burning incense and praying to idols.
"They worshiped the Lord but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places. They worshiped the Lord but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought" (2 Kings 17:32,33)

Do we, do I, do this? Of course I don’t make images, erect poles, consecrate sacred places where I kneel before statues physically. But what do I bow to, put my hope and trust in, in the sanctuary of my heart? Have I perhaps done more two-timing worship than I care to admit - at altars of career success, achieving a personal agenda, collecting nice things, insisting, at the very least, on self-manufactured security?

I know when there is an irritation in my spirit, when I find myself troubled and restless, very often I find I am clutching something – a personal ambition, a design to gain prestige or attention, a fixed agenda, an expectation. My dis-peace or unease signals a two-timing heart, divided worship.

It feels unnatural and dangerous to give up the controls, to put complete trust in God. Surrendering everything, especially that last idol, is a wrenching thing. ("Jesus looked at him - the Rich Young Man - and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go sell everything you have.... Then come follow me.’ At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad because he had great wealth." Mark 10:21,22.) But only after we have, can we offer true worship.

a night not to be silent - 3

Star

God didn’t mean to torment the astrologers.
He would fulfill the promise,
Send the shimmering Guide at
precisely the right moment.
But then, as ever, their seeing was as dark
as a moonless night.
How many eyes winked and squinted
Imagined holy stars that weren’t
Each rhinestone of Orion’s belt was suspect.
God clucked his tongue, sighed, and waited
another few hundred years.
They watched.

They waited. Then His Star.
Utmost intelligence of Light, not part
of the heavenly coruscuation,
Specially sent by God for this,
a spy mission – "Lead the allies
to the rendezvous point, and beware
of the evil king!"
This follow-the-leader Luminary
could zig through palms like a shuttle,
bob to a hilltop, stroll, enjoy the vista
like a guide waiting for his huffing tourists.
No static star – a bounding, bouncing ball ablaze
("come-ON-come-ON-the-KING-is-BORN")

Their shock on beholding
Ball of Holy Spirit fire
dazzling before them,
waiting for them in the eastern sky,
is not recorded. I imagine them
awestruck,
eyes and jaws finally slack,
and a wise man mutters,
"That’s what He meant by a star!"

© 2004 Jennifer Zolper

Jennifer writes from her home in California. Her work sings with honesty, creativity, and humor. Read more poems by her here. She’s also a graphic artist.

Chosen

Mary
handmaiden
chosen
among women
not for your wide hips
or easy stride
chosen
when so many others
would have nursed
and cuddled
deity
brushed curls and tied sandals
wiped tears
turned back caravans
to collect pre-teen
independence
from the temple
chosen
from so many
that could not walk
death up Calvary
weep salt boulders
into the cracks of the
Wailing Wall
without losing
their faith

© 2004 Jan Wood


Jan, who lives in northern Saskatchewan, Canada, writes thoughtful, dense poems which remind me of rich mocha mousse garnished with a bitter black coffee bean - a sort of brain caffeine, with the edge of espresso. Her poem, "In a Civilized Society an Adulteress Isn't Stoned," won first place in the 2004 Utmost Poetry Contest. Read more of her work here.

I Cannot Write About a Manger

I cannot write about a manger
without thinking of a cross.

When angels are glad-singing,
joy-bringing, I hear
sorrow-sobbing
desperate joy-robbing,
cries from a crowd dispirited
at the de-souling
of the incarnate God.

All streets in Bethlehem
lead to Golgotha,
that skull-shaped
cross-draped hill
where Satan sought to kill
life, but killed death instead.

And so, it is not just a birth
I celebrate this Christmas,
but a rebirth –
and that rebirth mine!

© 2004 Mary Lou Cornish


Mary Lou, a native of Ontario, Canada, draws from deep wells to express what is almost inexpressible. Her poem, "If This World Hung from Some Other God’s Arm," won the 2004 Word Guild Award for Best Poetry. Read more of her work here.

Friday, December 17, 2004

a night not to be silent - 2

Christmas (an excerpt)

How did you find it
this ordinary stable
beachhead of peace
tabernacle place
God’s home invasion
snuggled down in hay of earth
with mother and father
back alley choir of angels
singing joy at your birth
a moment staked out in time
beneath the radar
of the Black Predator?

How did you find it
this ordinary night?

Low class shepherds
vision prod
left all to see
the birth of God

Star led wisemen
slipped street to street
seeking You
grasping an ancient
Sanskrit promise
any sacrifice was worth the chance
salvation had come

Star-maker long ago agreed
tonight He sends His Son
tonight all ordinary life is done.

© 2004 Charles Van Gorkom


Poor And Very Small

When you were born
it was third-world first-class
all the way
(wisdom of Father God)

Had the motel not been full,
the stable had no storey,
the manger no baby,

Angels might have sung
not to shepherds that night,
but to landlords and merchants
who may not have noticed
so intent were they
in the art of the deal–

Other motel-mates
would have been watching
cable T.V. or gambling online
Joseph calling for a doctor
would be annoying to the extreme.

The poor, as always, ignored
brushed aside, abandoned
(wisdom of Father God)

He sent you to the homeless,
the beggar, prostitutes and shepherds,
wisemen and children
(wisdom of Father God)
who celebrate this Christmas night
by starlight,
who in their own eyes all
are poor and very small.

Heavenward they call:
"Jesus, come and ransom me,
You are Wisdom of Father
God."

© 2004 Charles Van Gorkom


Christmas Prayer

By warm light of my shop fire
I write this.
The room is black shadows –
dancing.

Outside in the darkness
silent snow lightly falls
swirls in a circle of lamplight.

I remember long ago
on Harry Road
in a shed on Christmas night
I sat among sheep
with an oil lamp –
leaned sitting in the hay
against a fat sleeping ewe –

I was looking for Jesus
for angels maybe
a word, a vision, a touch;
I played my harmonica
"He Shall Feed His Flock" by Handel,
and every other carol I knew –

A wiseman’s offering, I hoped,
to give the baby king
a gift worthy of acknowledging –
by bedtime nothing.

In years that have intervened,
I did hear angels sing
the Christ I’ve seen
even lain upon the altar
of His offering
and was redeemed.

On Harry Road,
I sought an instant illuminating
but got instead a lifetime
of incremental awakening,
a boy’s prayer –
fifty years in the answering.

© 2004 Charles Van Gorkom

Charlie writes from his home in northern British Columbia, Canada. Years ago I taught elementary school in Hazelton, a few miles down the road from where Charlie lives now. His way with words reminds me of the way the salmon slip through the waters of those northern rivers. In his poems I often smell the smoke of cozy wood-burning stoves and the pungent pine of needle-covered forest floors. His poems are crafted with the same precision he employs when he makes boots. Most of all, I take comfort in his wise voice. I often come away from reading his work with the sense that my soul has seen a light in the window.

If you enjoyed these poems, read more of Charlie’s work here.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

a night not to be silent - 1

I love the way Christmas is being reclaimed as a time of unapologetic celebration of Christ’s birth. (e.g. read "It's Our Party!" from Rebecca Writes). We’re ignoring political correctness and wishing each other, and anyone who will listen, a Blessed or Merry Christmas (vs. dispensing Season’s or Holiday Greetings). Cities are putting up public creches again. Even newcomers to Canada, whose sensibilities we’re ostensibly trying to assuage by neutralizing the celebration, have joined in. Why this week we got a Christmas card from our member of parliament - who is Sikh by religion - wishing us "A Very Merry Christmas..." (Thank you, Gurmant and Nina Grewal!)

It was in this spirit of celebration that fellow poet Darlene Moore Berg suggested way back in August that as members of Utmost Christian Writers poetry forum we pool our efforts and put together a poetic Christmas greeting. In the intervening time we emailed our poems to Darlene who - despite a schedule already full-to-bursting with pediatrician, parent, and child obligations - put them together in a booklet. I got mine in the mail a couple of days ago. It’s a little too late now, I fear, to make more copies to send to family and friends. But my fellow poets have granted me permission to post some of their thoughtful and celebrative poems on this blog. So here, without further adieu is Part 1 of :
A NIGHT NOT TO BE SILENT

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A Night Not To Be Silent

Tell it
Sing it
Shout it
Stomp your feet
Clap your hands
Write about it
This night demands
that all know it
Christ is come –
the Son!

© 2004 by Darlene Moore Berg


Embryology

A subtle thing
one simple moment to the next
a rhythm, a pulsatile beat
and the heart of God
takes on a mortal cadence

In a dark, muffled womb
four chambers form – room
to comprehend the flow
of human blood...

A coil of ear widens open
to the Voice of Heaven –
whispers of Divinity
knit into the ossicles

A mouth slit thickens
lips smile, a tongue
thrusts against a palate, teeth
proclaims Truth
the Kingdom come

Buds of limbs grow
flower into legs, feet, toes
skip across Galilean waters
pace the length of Israel’s
rocky soil

arms extend, hands flex,
fingers grasp a hammer, a nail
unroll a Scroll
palms open skyward
in piercing wail...

And eyes unblinking blue
will one day open darkened,
fill with strain of tears
endure in pain man’s stubborn
pride
and fears

embryonic genesis
a life takes flesh,
manifests ultimate Love
stretches forth
across a Universe
to be born within a human
heart...

© 2004 by Darlene Moore Berg

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If you enjoyed these poems by Darlene Moore Berg, read more of her work here.
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Read more of A Night Not to be Silent - 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

writing short fiction

Recently finished reading The Art and Craft of the Short Story by Rick DeMarinis. What a fabulously interesting book - if you can call a book on the craft of writing interesting. (I - strange person that I am - can!)

Unfortunately I didn't highlight most of it - just grabbed my highlighter towards the end, so really need to read it over to consolidate what I've learned.

Here are some insights I gained.

1. I may never feel proficient at writing short stories - he doesn't after writing hundreds.

2. He starts out writing just from some intriguing thing - from a free write or just because when you're a writer you sit and write and when you don't know what you're going to write about, you doodle on paper until something starts forming.

3. You don't, indeed, shouldn't have a preconceived notion of what your story is about - he quotes some truism - "If it isn't a surprise for the writer, it won't be a surprise to the reader." Here's what he says about that in the last chapter: "What you set out to do is not all that important. What is important is what develops along the way. The way is hard and my require many rewrites, but if there is something there in the first place, it will emerge.

4. You shouldn't force your story - but let it come to you. You shouldn't start out to make a point. "Sometimes your intuition will turn a story in a direction that disturbs you. You expected to do one thing, but now you're doing another. You had a plan, an intention, but it's been violated. You're now heading into uncharted waters. Chekhov criticizing a writer who wrote from a narrow agenda said, "He finds truth under the rock where he had previously hidden it."

5. Here's another good quote: "The short story is closer in spirit to the poem than it is to the novel. You can waste words in a novel and the novel will survive. You can never waste words in a poem or short story. Every word has to contribute to the final effect." P. 204 and "The short story, like the poem, can't afford even the mildest of false moves." P.197

6. Chapter 9 (p.171...) is an excellent treatment of "point of view," explaining the advantages and shortfalls of each.

7. In Chapter 8 (p.153) he explains so that I grasped it like never before, the structural parts of a story, calling them, "These are the fundamental bridge parts -- the cables, trusses and piers -- that span the chasm rim to rim." These parts are narrative, narrative summary and scenes. Of course bits of these can be interspersed within each other - a satisfying story is complex and seamless.

So, I think I need to reread this book, highlighting sections all along the way. Predictably, this book makes me want to try my hand at writing stories (fictional) again. And someday I may. Only, I don't want it to be in the confines of a deadline in a fiction forum where I feel pressure to come up with something, must share it with others and will most likely feel embarrassed by what I produce. I think I'm in Mr. DeMarinis' camp - writing a short story for me is a major undertaking, that can take years, and that I do primarily for myself.

His assertion: "You shouldn't start out to make a point..." makes me wonder - is it even possible to be a Christian fiction writer under these conditions? Or do one's Christian's beliefs constitute the atmosphere of the story - its very universe, its laws of time and space, of gravity and seasons within which the story plays out. A universe where the Christian part is not even negotiable. Where one doesn't set out to convince, but to tell a story and let the ash settle where it will after the eruption? In some ways, I can't even conceive of a Christian story that doesn't come off sounding in some ways like propaganda.

(PS - here's a story I wrote - a kids' one)

Monday, December 13, 2004

country school christmas

(From grades one through eight I attended a one-room country school in Saskatchewan. The Christmas concert was the highlight of the school year for me. They just don’t make Christmases like that any more...)

Every fall, just after Remembrance Day, teacher dug around in the file cabinet for the play, poem, monologue and music books. It was time to plan the Christmas Concert.

First teacher and the older kids studied plays and chose two or three. Then it was time for casting – "Pick me! Pick me!" Somehow he got all the roles assigned and the newly dubbed Uncle Matt, Sambo, Mama and a tribe of others went home clutching mimeographed scripts with red underlined parts to memorize.

He also picked Christmas carols for the whole school to sing as a choir. He chose my best friend, who was good at memorizing and reciting with expression, to say a monologue. The seven grade ones and twos made a perfect WELCOME acrostic. I was in grade three and a herd of us older kids got to be in the drill – choreography to "Star of the East."

We started working on it a few days later by learning to walk in a straight line. Then we practiced getting everyone to move evenly forward, then back. Finally we got to hold rulers as wands in an arch so that the end of the line could snake through it. Even after all that, when we finally added the piano we had to go over our dance again and again before our troupe’s movements were neat and we all ended up in the right place at the end of the song.

At costuming time teacher’s wife was waiting for us in the teacherage, with tape measure and pins. Over the following weeks, white crepe paper dresses took shape. Finally one day we could try them on – careful, don’t rip the paper, or stretch it! She’d trimmed the collars with gold sticker stars, stitched itchy tinsel around the sleeves and made a gold sash for each of us. As a final touch, our ruler wands were exchanged for thin wooden dowels that had big, shiny gold stars stapled to the ends.

About two weeks before the concert date came the most exciting day of school – the day the desks were lugged to the basement, the stage hammered together and the curtains strung up. That meant that our half-hearted efforts at schoolwork could officially end and the whole day would be spent working on Christmas!Plays were torn apart scene by scene and rehearsed, endlessly rehearsed. Songs were sung and re-sung. Our drill was drilled.

If we weren’t involved in the rehearsal, teacher demanded silence and good behavior. To help pass the time, someone brought a spool knitting project.

"I need a spool," I announced at home.

Mom hunted down a chunky wooden one from thread. Dad pounded four small-headed nails in the top, found a slim shiny nail for me in his shop, I scavenged wool from Mom’s darning bag and joined my friends, making long colored tubes of knitting – worms that we eventually coiled and stitched into dollhouse rugs.

As the date of the concert came closer, a new urgency and excitement took over rehearsals. We needed props. Someone found the manger in storage and a call went out for a table, a rocking chair, a telephone. We did the program in the order it would happen on concert night so the curtain pullers and stage hands could learn their cues. When the dressing rooms became loud and disruptive someone volunteered, "We have an old quilt to put on the floor."

"We have a cowhide," offered another. And so teacher muffled the dressing room noise with these things and by the time all the props were collected and stored, there was hardly room, stage right and left, for any people at all.

The morning of the concert was dress rehearsal. Everything must be perfect. Usually panic struck around that time. Shouldn't the curtain be closed during the monologue, so that the stage could be set for "Uncle Matt's Christmas Discovery"? How could the row of drill angels enter on-stage through the dressing room when it was bulging with actors for the next play? Should the black-painted Sambo and Mama simply join the choir before having their paint removed?

We went home at noon so the trustees could come in and set up the benches for the crowd. The afternoon was a blur of anticipation and apprehension – I couldn't even concentrate to read. "Time for supper," Mom called out about 4:30. My stomach, full of excitement, and had no room for food.

About forty-five minutes before concert time, we set out on the ten-minute drive to school – it wouldn’t do to be late. But we weren’t the first ones there. For our playground was now a parking lot and the small schoolroom was soon packed with nervous students, awe-struck preschoolers and smiling parents.

Finally it was time to start. As the curtain opened up to show the youngest students, holding their WELCOME letters, a hush came over the crowd. One by one, each said a little poem, then the audience went wild with applause and the tone of the evening was set.

How quickly the big night went by! Now it was time for my friend’s monologue and everyone laughed in all the right places. Now it was time for the choir to sing – my eyes darted from teacher's waving hands to find Mom, Dad and my little brothers and sisters. Now it was time to get dressed for the drill. And now teacher announced, "Star of the East"

We paraded nervously from the cloakroom, past the crowd and onto the stage. When the music began, our troupe, like parts of a wind-up music box, went into motion, making each turn precisely, each movement of the wand perfectly, smiling tensely at each other as we passed onstage. Then the music was finished and in a straight line we bowed our thanks to the cheering crowd.

Now, back in the cloakroom, we waited. Peeking through the door, someone announced, "They're on the last scene of the play!" Now it was time to join the others on the stage for "We Wish You A Merry Christmas." And now the concert was over.

"Did you like it! Did you like it?"

Never effusive in her compliments, Mom said, "That was pretty good."

Dad just smiled and said, "You did your part perfectly."

Then, in all the bustle, we found the place where the trustees were handing out treat bags with peanuts, candy and an orange – one for each child school age and younger.

"Don't crack the peanuts in the car!" Dad said, as we piled into the station-wagon.

The night after the concert, I had a hard time getting to sleep. I relived the magical evening and savored all the excitement again – relieved it was over, but wishing, too, that it wasn’t. Oh well, there was one consolation. Now that the concert was done, Christmas day itself was just around the corner!

Friday, December 10, 2004

the spirit of canadian times

Yesterday the Canadian Supreme Court ruling came down in favor of same-sex marriage. I feel punched in the stomach, embarrassed for my country and, as a Canadian Christian wondering, am I somehow culpable?

I know the final chapter hasn’t been written. Now it’s up to the governing Liberals to introduce and pass the whole mess into law though, predictably, the issue is dividing the party. Unless there is a miracle, though, and some parliamentarians find a whole lot of new conviction and backbone in their Christmas stockings, it’s only a matter of time.

How did we get here - and so quickly? It was, after all, a mere five years ago (June 1999) that the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly in favor of preserving the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

But the forces of change (read "gay lobby" or as I heard it referred to on last night’s news by Irwin Cotler, our Minister of Justice and Attorney General, "societal evolution") kept pushing through barrier after barrier with the goal of full recognition and the state’s blessing. In April 2000 Bill C-23 gave same-sex couples the same social and tax benefits as heterosexual and common-law couples. In May 2003 the Court of Appeal unanimously ruled that limiting marriage to heterosexuals violated equality rights. In June of 2003 the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld the lower court ruling allowing same-sex marriage. Finally, last fall Prime Minister Paul Martin asked the Supreme Court to express an opinion on three angles of the matter (he actually added a fourth which they declined to reply to) so when he drafts legislation it will be watertight to a court challenge.

People who support these changes question - how does broadening the definition of marriage impact any but the gay couples involved? However, one needs only to use a little imagination to see its effects will be widespread. Like toying with the foundation of a house compromises the building, this kind of change to one of our society’s foundations - marriage - has the potential to skew our society's structure, and will impact all its other pillars - religion, education and the family.

Though yesterday’s judgement answers "yes" to the question, "Does the charter protect religious groups from having to perform gay weddings against their beliefs," I take little comfort in that. Judging by how quickly parliament did an about-face from its decision to uphold traditional marriage in 1999 to being on the threshold of blessing same-sex unions and calling them marriage in early 2005, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before that protection is also challenged and revoked.
And so I see for Canada in the years ahead, for starters:

1. Clergy forced to perform these ceremonies or face litigation.

2. Non-complying churches losing tax-free and charitable-donation status.

3. The Bible labeled hate literature.

4. No freedom to teach against homosexuality in religious schools, with non-compliance leading to the withdrawal of public funding. (Already mandatory same-sex sensitivity training is part of the elementary public school curriculum and educators in some school districts are disallowing exemptions for kids whose parents object to it.)

5. Further challenges under the Charter, to include more liaisons in the definition of marriage - e.g. siblings (heterosexual and homosexual) and polygamous relationships etc. (one’s imagination is the limit in predicting where this society-driven "evolution"* will take us next).

6. Legislated affirmative action favoring gay couples in matters such as adoption.

Unless of course, this thing can be miraculously turned around. We will certainly not give up without a fight. Christians in Canada today need the spirit of the men of Issachar


"...who understood their times and knew what Israel should do" 1 Chronicles 12:32.

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* Read C. S. Lewis's "Evolutionary Hymn, " at the bottom of this posting in Another Man's Meat.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

das da one booka fo me

But da angel guy say, "No scared. I come fo tell you guys Good Stuff From God dat goin make you guys an all da peopo stay good inside. Dis day inside King David's town, one boy wen born dat goin take you guys outa da bad kine stuff you stay doing. He da Christ Guy, da Spesho Guy God Wen Send. He da Boss." (Luke Tell Bout Jesus 2:10-11)


Our God wen tell you guys awready, "Come! Be my guys!" Dass why we stay aks God fo make you guys da right kine peopo so you can do wat he like. We pray fo God's power fo help you guys do all da good kine stuff you like do cuz you guys stay trus him. Den, wen you guys make lidat, everybody goin say good tings bout our Boss Jesus, cuz dey goin know how awesome he stay. An cuz a him, dey goin say good tings bout you guys too. All dat goin happen cuz our God, an da Boss Jesus, God's Spesho Guy, dey like do plenny fo you guys. (Numba 2 fo da Tessalonika Peopo 1:11-12)

Let God take care all da stuff you guys worry bout, cuz he get big heart fo you guys. (Numba 1 from Peter 5:7)

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Find out more about the Pidgin Bible. Maybe even give one to a friend this Christmas!


Tuesday, December 07, 2004

the looming shadow of Christmas

(I wrote this essay about Christmas last year. It still expresses pretty closely the way I feel at about this time every year...)

I had my first Christmas thought of 2003 on June 25th - way too soon to get excited. Now, however, almost six months later, thoughts of Christmas have changed from distant and anticipated to imminent and (I must admit) a little dreaded. This season of celebration can cast a large and sometimes threatening shadow.

I’ve always thought of myself as a fan of Christmas. So why this ambivalence? Maybe it has to do with the five types of Christmas season I’ve experienced, and the remnants of Christmas past that I can’t seem to put down.

OLD FARM CHRISTMASES are bathed in the warm glow of earliest memories. The arrival of the Eatons Catalogue began the anticipation. The first snow, preparations for the school concert, parcels mysteriously sneaked into the house under bed-sheets, sounds of sawing and smells of paint from the basement - all helped ratchet-up the excitement.

Finally – when the Christmas concert was done and we’d survived the last few days of high expectancy – Christmas morning. I would awaken way too early and listen, in coiled suspense, to the sounds of the day slowly unwrapping: Daddy going out to do chores, Mom clattering in the kitchen, my brothers talking and laughing. Finally we were allowed downstairs. But the sight was always worth the wait, for the dining room had been transformed into a toy wonderland and, with that sight, the Christmas bar set forever high.

Of course, that bar remained safely out of reach during the series of OUT-OF-KILTER CHRISTMASES that followed. After years of idyllic and predictable childhood celebrations, it’s easy to see how spending Christmas Eve on an Air Canada flight or Christmas Day asleep because you’re working the night shift, feels entirely un-Christmas-like.

Through the years, Out-of-Kilter Christmases continue to pop up. The first year we decided to spend the holiday away from home, I wrestled with: do I decorate the house or prepare Christmas baking; do we open gifts before we leave, wait till we get back, or lug them, unopened, with us?

Of course Out-of-Kilter Christmases also have advantages. I discovered that snow isn’t essential to the holiday and adding new customs, like a yearly Christmas brunch with friends, can be a wonderful addition to the season.

It’s a little harder to see the advantages of the DISASTROUS CHRISTMAS. Now I’d be the first to admit that on the seismic scale of Christmas disaster, my worst would rate only about a 4.5. But any disaster shakes one up at the time. I’ll never forget the Christmas I slipped on the ice and broke my wrist just before our annual broomball game. Or the year the disposable aluminum roaster sprang a leak, spilling greasy pan drippings onto the hot element just as I was pulling the fully-cooked goose out of the oven.

Of course, once the kids came along, disasters, minor at least, became the rule rather than the exception. It was no fun nursing a seven-year-old through the stomach flu Christmas day when all the special flavors and fragrances of the celebration only made him feel worse. But even Disastrous Christmases have their upside. That year as I comforted my young sufferer, I had time to reflect on the fact that this whole season had its genesis in what must have seemed like a disaster - a young woman, going into labor in a strange overcrowded town and finally giving birth in a barn.

Admittedly, though, Out-of-Kilter and Disastrous Christmases have, in more recent years, been supplanted by the HOUSE BEAUTIFUL / EMERIL LEGASSE CHRISTMAS – or they should be, imply TV specials, magazine features and lavish store displays.

I bought whole-heartedly into this Christmas mind-set when I was a stay-at-home Mom with young kids. What better way to brighten dreary autumn months than to stock up on Christmas fabric and join the crafters? During a several-year stretch I went from putting together gift baskets filled with homemade baking and preserves for all my neighbors one year, to renting tables at craft fairs the next, to making bathrobes or track suits for my whole little family the third, which, I guess, burned me out for I haven’t done anything that ambitious for ages. Old attitudes die hard though. Come October or November, I still find myself capitulating to the ‘should’s’ of trendy Christmas decorating and cooking with at least the token response of painting a room or buying the latest edition of Company’s Coming for Christmas.

Which brings me to my fifth type of Christmas, parts of which are found in all the others - the TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS. Though many sing the praises of upholding tradition as a way of fostering family unity and identity, I believe one can take the keeping of Christmas traditions too far (remind me NOT to buy a bag of unshelled nuts this year - Daddy’s long gone and I’m the only other person who eats them!). It’s probably this self-imposed aspect of Christmas, more than any other, that makes the holiday season ahead look duty-heavy to me.

However, it’s hard to face the ‘must-do’s’ on one’s Christmas tradition list with Wite-Out in hand. So yearly I engage in a self-debate that goes something like: if I don’t write the Christmas letter, there will be a gap in our family’s history; maybe if I mail-order all the gifts I’ll be able to withstand the pressure of Christmas marketing; but it doesn’t feel like Christmas without shortbread and Nanaimo bars (even though the kids complain of zits and the elders have bulges over waistbands).

So, as I face another holiday season with my hands still full of Christmas past, I wonder how do I face another season of celebration with its high expectations, its potential for disappointment and its ability to exhaust me? Do I have to throw out the old and start over again? Maybe I can do something less drastic. Maybe instead of discarding, I can use bits of all that I’ve assembled to create yet another Christmas celebration. I will call it the CAREFULLY CONSIDERED CHRISTMAS

I will tone down expectations, for I’ve learned that Christmas will never attain the glow and warmth of Old-Farm Christmases. I will pray that I have the wisdom to see the positive side of Out-of-Kilter Christmas moments, and the resilience and humor to deal with Christmas disasters. I will do my best to tune out the clamor of TV shows, shops and magazines as I press and put up the home-made muslin wreath I made in my crafting era, and trim the tree with the dear but non-color-coordinated ornaments assembled over the years. I will again re-examine our Christmas traditions in the light of our changing values and life situation, then tackle the ones I decide to keep with realism. And I will do it all with the generosity and love that God showed when He gave us Jesus that first Christmas.

In fact, now that I look at it closely - isn’t that looming shadow shaped like a tree? Where did I put the box of lights and trimmings, the Christmas CDs, the creche? Is that cinnamon I smell, and shortbread and chocolate? Mmm, I can hardly wait!

Monday, December 06, 2004

local celebs



A group of local women riding Clydesdale horses are the only Canadians invited to participate in the upcoming Rose Parade.

The Canadian Clyde Ride - eight performance riders and two flag carriers - bill themselves as the world's first draft horse musical ride. I caught one of their maneuvers at the 2003 Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver.

Clydesdales can weigh as much as 2,400 lbs. and have shoes the size of dinner plates. More photos here.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

more waiting...

Two of my favorite characters in the Christmas story are the senior citizens Simeon and Anna. I imagine many people of their day dismissed them as dull, boring and past usefulness. I probably wouldn’t have given them a second look myself.

But God saw past their unremarkable exteriors into their hearts. He was aware of Simeon’s tenacious faith and Anna’s single-hearted devotion. Though these two waited long and without fanfare – probably not even sure themselves of exactly what they were waiting for – they never lost their heavenly focus. Thus when it came time for God to tell someone His secret, He knew just who would listen.

When I was a kid, Christmas took forever to come. I now await it a lot less impatiently. But still I feel a general impatience, a restlessness, a sense there is more to come. I wait - no longer for Christmas but – for what? Like Simeon and Anna, I’m not exactly sure. But I think it is summed up in the Second Scripture Lesson for the second Advent Sunday (Matthew 24: 29-51).


42"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
43But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.
44So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. 45"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?
46It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.

The question I ask myself is, how can I wait well? For Simeon and Anna, waiting well was not letting themselves get distracted by the world and its values. For the servant in the story, it meant serving food on time, i.e. carrying on in the mundane job he’d been given. Being a wise waiter for me, is probably no more earth shaking. God probably doesn’t expect me to go trotting off to some foreign field or even quitting my job to volunteer at the church. But He does expect me to keep faithfully fulfilling my seemingly insignificant responsibilities where I am right now, even if my dependability is appreciated by only One.

My goal then, as I wait, is to carry on and "be God’s handiwork, His workmanship, recreated in Christ Jesus, born anew that I may do those good works which God predestined, planned beforehand for me, taking paths which He prepared ahead of time – living the good life which He pre-arranged and made ready for me to live" (paraphrase of Ephesians 2:10 - Amplified).

When my wait is over I hope to meet Him as Simeon and Anna did. And I hope I will be commended like the servant was, and given the faithful-servant promotion: "I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions." (Matthew 24:47)

Saturday, December 04, 2004

uncoordinated, but oh so dear

I spent a couple of hours yesterday afternoon putting the final trimmings on the tree. This after it had already stood for a day or two, decked with lights, garland and bows while I pondered, what do I want to do with it this year?

Each year it seems I go through the same mental exercise. I’m bored with my old decorations. I should really have spent some time between when the stores decorate, and I do, to sleuth the newest trends and come up with a theme - like pink balls and white angels, or gingham decorated gingerbread. At the very least, I could have replaced my fuzzy gilt garland with those gauzy wired ribbon creations which undulate around most trees these days.

But I didn’t. And so yesterday, as I was anxious to get the job done and on to other important things, like baking and writing the Christmas letter, it was back to unpacking my hodgepodge of tree decorations. I must admit, it’s not unlike opening a time capsule.

There sitting on the top were the balsa wood wild animals we bought at the Christmas shop in Niagra Falls on our honeymoon in 1981. Next I unpacked and put up the tiny "A Visit from St. Nicholas" plate, the Santa hot chocolate mug, and the tinkly porcelain bell - all limited edition decorations we get yearly from our next-door neighbors. Then it was on to the collection of brass bells, engraved angels, rocking horses, puppies in stockings, kittens in beds, drums and soldiers and wreaths of all kinds, many with the kids’ names on them and dated the year they’d been received. Near the bottom of the box I re-discovered the mirror ornaments I’d bought before I ever married, and the music-note-trimmed grapevine wreaths made by my sister, and the lace crochet angel and tree made by a friend, and the whole assortment of stuff made by the kids, from pipe-cleaner candy canes to mice, with rubber band tails, sleeping in walnut shells. And of course I always have to find a special place for the wild-haired bride doll and the black-hatted Cossack (made of Phentex - it will never wear out!) ornaments Mom gave us to celebrate our first Christmas as a couple. Finally, in the center of it all I hung the tiny gilt creche over a mini-bulb to light up its meaningful diorama.

As I said, it took me several hours to trim our five foot, five inch "Made in China" Delaware fir. After I finished, and stood back to admire my handiwork I realized, it did have a theme – UNCOORDINATED – with its range from child-made to limited edition, priceless to tacky, old to new. But I'm glad I resisted the temptation to sacrifice heart for optics. For it is also OH SO DEAR.

Friday, December 03, 2004

my poet friends

Kudos to friends whose poems won prizes in a recent contest at Utmost Christian Writers.

Jan Wood from Big River Saskatchewan placed first with "...finding the words..." It will take your breath away.

Calgary poet Sue Plett won second place with "There Should be A Word." It fits right in to the warm-kitchen atmosphere of the Christmas season.

Other winners were James Beard (3rd place) from Follett Texas and Linda Neff (honorable mention) from Guelph Ontario. I hope their poems are posted soon.

Note: If you’re a Christian poet, consider entering the Utmost Christian Poetry Contest 2005. The competition is stiff, but the fees are low, and the prize money is good and getting better (judging from how the Cdn. $ is gaining value every day)

Thursday, December 02, 2004

a sane remnant

If the media is to be believed, you’d think Canadians are collectively lighting their hair on fire in opposition to George Bush.

Not.

Earl McRae’s Wednesday article, "Signs of irritation in midst of crowd" Ottawa Sun, Dec. 1 illustrates that a sane remnant remains.

One of the protestors, a 23-year-old single mom and psychology student who came, with her two-year-old son in tow on a Kingston bus with other protestors, quoted her wise father:

"My dad didn't want me to be here. He called me twice last night and said I was off my rocker. He said I didn't know what I was doing. He said that's what war is like, people get killed, but it's for the greater cause...."

And at the edge of the crowd, the reporter's interaction with Iraqi expatriate, John Al-Hassani, holding a "Support Bush Sign" is illuminating:

"I came to this country from Iraq," he shouts in staccato bursts. "I have family there. I talk to them all the time. Look at these fools. They have no idea. They are idiots. They are simple babies. The majority of Iraqis are glad Bush liberated them from Saddam Hussein. But, you don't see that on TV, only the terrorist gangsters blowing people up. They don't speak for the people of Iraq.

"My country suffered under that madman. There was no freedom. He tortured and killed our people. Even Prime Minister Martin said the other day that the United Nations should change its policy, that democratic countries should have the right to invade countries with dictators who do genocide and torture their people.

"These people here have never suffered. They make me sick. You are a reporter. You should ignore them or you are a fool too. If Canada was a terrible dictatorship like Iraq was under Saddam, would these people tell Bush no, no, don't invade, we don't want you to give us freedom?"

John Al-Hassani glares at a protester who glares back. The protester's sign says: "Evil Bush Lied To Drag The World To War." Says Al-Hassani under his breath: "In Iraq if he'd said that about Saddam Hussein he'd be taken away and murdered."

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

i'm an editor!

I am now officially out as an editor. The December issue of FaithWriters Magazine has the first Tree House column with some fun Christmas stories 1 and 2 for kids, a poll and a quiz (bottom of "Carols in the Air"). Take a look!

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