What Do You Expect This Christmas?

 What do you expect this Christmas? Society has painted a picture of a happy family gathered around the dinner table by the Christmas tree.  Abundance prevails – gifts, food, laughter and love. This may be the reality for a few, but not for all of us.

Years ago, Bing Crosby sang “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” Loneliness, sickness, grief, job loss, hunger and more, do not disappear just because we’ve flipped our calendars to December. Our Christmas story reminds us that on the first Christmas, Jesus was born into poverty, not abundance – in a stable, not the Best Western, and far from home. And yet I am sure there was abundance – the abundance of love and joy that can come  with the birth of a baby. Christmas is the celebration of love and new life in the midst of whatever life offers at the moment. There is truly no ideal Christmas for us to expect.

Instead, each year at Christmas, we receive the peace, hope, joy and love that come from new beginnings. Regardless of our circumstances, even if we are in the midst of deep sorrow, anxiety, fear, we can expect God’s presence among us. We can open our hearts and feel God’s love enfold us. We can pick up a baby, hug a loved one, drop money in a Salvation Army bucket, bring a meal to someone in need. We can expect God’s presence on the street, at the food bank, in the palace, in our homes.

When we expect to meet God, we will.  God is always with us, in the people we meet. All we need do is open our eyes, our ears and our hearts. God will come in stranger, enemy, friend.

I suggest that you expect an opportunity to hold the Christ-child this Christmas. Let me know how Jesus came to you this year. Your experience will be a blessing to me. Thank you.

Hypocrites

It’s Advent and I have been out selling books at church craft sales. For me, it’s a struggle to sit behind a table, try to catch someone’s eye and say hello. I’m not a salesperson, but I do want people to read what I have written. Very often, people glance at my table, read the signs and keep right on walking. I can only think that they see the words “anchored in faith” and make the judgment – Don’t look at those books. They’ll be selling religion.”

One of the biggest heartaches for me as a Christian is the judgment of today’s world that all Christians are fanatics and hypocrites. As I talked with the people who had the courage to stop at my table anyway, I heard stories of difficulties experienced with “religious people”. One man said, “I used to be involved with a church, but the people weren’t helpful. They said they were being followers of Jesus’ way, but they weren’t. They spoke the words, but they didn’t live them. I didn’t leave God, I just left religion and the church.” He walked away his mind closed to my message of God’s peace and love because, in his mind, all church people are hypocrites.

Today, it is widely believed that church people should be able to totally live as Jesus taught. They should always be compassionate; never judge; always accept everyone. The list of “should” goes on and on. Christians should be perfect. When we’re not, our message is thrown away.

My suggestion, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31NIV) Christianity is a life journey. As Christians, we go astray at times, some of us further than others. We get tired; we are grumpy at times. We are passionate; we get lost in our enthusiasm and overwhelm others. We have all the temptations to greed, violence, whatever and we make bad choices.  We are not perfect.

What we have learned through experience is that together, we can more often make good choices. Together we can encourage one another. Together we are stronger, more able to live that unconditional love that Jesus taught. Together, we learn and grow in our understanding of Jesus’ message. Our religious rituals help us on the journey. Being church people helps us live the faith. Christmas is a perfect example. As we gather this Christmas, to hear once again the story of the baby born in difficult circumstances to ordinary parents, our hearts will soar at the peace, hope, joy, and love that fills our souls. Once again, we will be renewed and drawn back to the journey of a life of Christian love.

Here Comes Christmas 2018!

My November started out dreary. My world felt as grey as the cloudy sky. Where was the sunshine? We may need the water, but day after day of rain, then snow felt endless. I tried counting my blessings. Tom’s five week wait for surgery is half over already. And the miracle of a new hip is amazing. In our wonderful province, our public health insurance pays. And there are so many more blessings. My gratitude list was long. Still, I needed something new to lift me out of the doldrums now that Christmas 2018 is drawing near.

Another day dawned. I rose early to pray. I gave thanks for a magical evening the night before with our Vancouver grandchildren, Lise 2 ¾ years and Alex 4 ½ years. Once supper is over their nightly routine includes baths and storytime. One at a time, Tom and I cuddled our beautiful little grandchildren and read book after book. My love exploded and filled my soul as I soaked in the warmth of their young bodies between us, their relaxation, enthusiasm and laughter as they pointed out special parts of the pictures.  When we’re old and sitting in our rocking chairs, the memory of that evening will bring smiles and joy.

As I poured out my gratitude to God that next morning, God spoke, “Create a book for them.” Immediately, I remembered a story I started a few years ago, I had titled An Elephant at the Manger. I smiled. Of course, I could finish it. Maybe Tom would help. Could he do the illustrations? He’ll have time as he recuperates from surgery. A new book created with love by Grandma Jan and Grandpa Tom. What better gift of love for these two precious children, God’s gifts to us! It could be our Advent project, maybe not ready for this year, but possibly for next. I trusted that God would help.

Today, I suggest to you, regardless of your state of mind – dark and gloomy, overloaded with busyness or relaxed and at peace. Seek out an Advent project that uses your creative gifts – growing things, woodworking, cooking, whatever – create a special gift for someone you love. Yes, it will be work, and it will take time. Trust that God will be a part of your project, helping, applauding, welcoming your efforts to share your love. After all, giving gifts at Christmas is our response to God’s gift of love to the world in Jesus. God’s gift required a long journey, struggle, pain and risk. So why shouldn’t ours? Remember, God will walk with you as you prepare your gift of love.

Give a gift of faith this Christmas. Check out Janet Stobie’s books for children and adults at www.janetstobie.com

Snap Judgments

We have all made snap judgments of persons by the way they look. I am often initially influenced by others’ dress, hygeine, tattoos, piercings, I notice the way they behave or interact, be they bossy, cranky, or inappropriate. After spending some time with them, I  later discover  they live our values of caring, love, and gratitude. As part of my morning prayer time with God, I am reading a wonderful book titled Boundless Compassion by Joyce Rupp. Today Joyce talked about “walking a mile in another person’s shoes,” so that we can look upon their heart rather than judge their outward appearance and/or behaviour.

Shifting from judgment to compassion is not easy. I tend to call the process acceptance: letting others just be themselves. After years of working at it, I am becoming better at seeing the person within, rather than their outward appearance. At times, fear can still overwhelm me when I meet with a  tall, assertive man whose size or color feels intimidating.  When it comes to behaviour, I am still at the self-talk step. At least my first response to a person’s sharp tongue is no longer hurt or anger. Instead, I feel surprise. At that point I choose to imagine reasons for their behaviour, my first step in looking on their heart.

Today’s reading from Boundless Compassion reminded me of the importance of continuing on my journey into acceptance. As I focused on Joyce Rupp’s words. I felt affirmed in my progress so far and challenged for the journey ahead. She reminded me that I did not want to lapse back into self-righteousness, just because I was better at ignoring the outward appearance. In fact, my goal is not to ignore, but to accept the person as I encounter them. This will give me the courage and the freedom to search out the story behind the tattoos or the crustiness. Those stories will lead me to the person’s heart. And there I know I will discover God’s presence.

  But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  (1 Samuel 16:7)

Give a gift of faith as well as fun for Christmas this year. Check out Janet Stobie’s books for children and adults at www.janetstobie.com

 

Give a Gift of Faith!

 

Give a Gift of Faith!

As I live my ministry of writing, I trust that God’s inspiration is with me. I trust that God’s message of peace, acceptance and love is woven into each of my books and my reflections. My life is good and fun and I am grateful. And now, it’s almost Christmas season again. Usually at this point I have lined up several guest speaking engagements, and four or five Christmas craft sales.

This year I’m not doing that kind of marketing. Today we’re on the way to Vancouver to visit our grandchildren and my Aunt. We usually go much earlier but circumstances prevented that. When we get back the end of November we will have less than two weeks before Tom gets his new hip.

This year I need the internet to sell my books. How do I make that happen? What would it take? When I ask for advice the marketers tell me I need my blog to reach a wider audience. “Ask your subscribers to share your reflections with their friends and ask their friends to share them with others. Make sure you have a recommendation about your books at the end of each blog. Just a short two sentence ad with your web address as well.

Following their advice, I make this request of you, my web friends. Each time I post a blog, either on my website, facebook or twitter, please hit the share button.  Let’s see if you can be the source of one of God’s miracles as I care for Tom over the Christmas season.

And yes, I will still continue to sell my books, one and two at a time. Every where I go. You can find me at the Christmas craft sale at St. John’s Church, Peterborough on Dec. 1 and at the one at Keene United Church, Keene on Dec. 8. And of course, you can visit me on line at www.janetstobie.com. As you do your own Christmas shopping, remember that my books are a great Christmas gift, hostess gift, and donation in Christmas baskets. They are a gift of enjoyment and faith. If you email me for a book or two, or more, I will sign them for you or you can find many of them on Amazon as well. Remember the more you order the lower the shipping cost. Happy shopping! And thanks for your support. Blessings Janet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unconditional – That was the difference.

This week, with a number of my colleagues, I experienced compassion, not just for us as people, but as clergy. I had signed up for a retreat, an opportunity to rest, learn and relax. I received so much more. There was plenty of learning, personal renewal and connection with colleagues. The retreat setting, Kingfisher Bay resort, provided loving hospitality, fabulous food, and walks in the woods by the lake. I felt refueled by the worship, especially the songs and the scripture. And underlying all of that was the unconditional love and respect for all of us as clergy expressed by the event co-ordinator, Kathleen Whyte. She showered us with caring. She spoke with humility about the joy she received from having the privilege of planning this event just for us.

As we gathered in a circle to say goodbye, Kathleen placed worship stoles around our necks. Kathleen and her friend Dianne Ross had designed, hand made and painted each one for us. Her joy in giving will remain with me always. We all said, “Thank you,” but there are no words to describe the value of Kathleen’s ministry to us.

I offer you this story as a seed for your living. In our lives, we have professional people, trades people, store clerks and more who serve us. When we judge their work good enough, we sometimes remember to offer thanks. Seldom do we consider the gifts of talent, energy and love they bring as a group of clergy, doctors, teachers, electricians, etc. I suggest to you from this week forth, to offer a prayer of thanksgiving to the paid servants that make a difference in our lives. We can follow Kathleen’s example.

“The Back Story”

 

The Back Story

For the last  14  years, I’ve been writing and telling stories. Two of my books are short story collections based on Bible stories I learned as a child. My stories are a form of Midrash in the Jewish tradition. For thousands of years, Rabbinic scholars have studied holy scriptures and discussed them with others in order to interpret them for daily living. Undertaking a similar process, I’ve learned that the context of the story – the culture of the time it was written, the setting, the participants – what story tellers call the “back story” – is absolutely essential for us to hear God’s word with understanding today.

Amy Peterson contributed the October 10th reading in Our Daily Bread. With it, she taught me something new about our Easter story. Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples was a seder, a Jewish Passover meal. This celebration gathering is filled with ritual, traditionally ending with the singing of the Hallel, which we know as Psalms 113-118. Jesus, although facing almost certain torture and death, would have sung the Hallel that Passover night, singing about the goodness of God. Jesus would have chanted his willingness to complete the task of loving us even unto death. My imagination tells me that Jesus sang from his heart, not as ritual, but pouring forth a statement of trust and commitment to his calling from God .

In our United Church hymn book are songs of commitment that bring tears to my eyes every time we sing them. As I write this, I remember singing at my ordination:

“Here I am Lord. Is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night.

I will go Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.”

(Chorus of “I the Lord of Sea and Sky” Words & Music by Daniel L. Schutte)

Even as I type out these words, I recommit my soul, my life to serving God.

Knowing that Jesus sang the Hallel at the end of the Passover meal brings me a new perspective to our Easter story. In my imagination, I can hear Jesus’ willingness to commit as he sang.  Today, as I prepare to lead my workshop on Midrash Storytelling at the Canadian Festival of Biblical Storytellers in Burlington, ON,  I reaffirm my commitment to “telling the stories of Jesus” to the best of my ability.  Once again, I hear God’s call to bring the “back story” to our beautiful Biblical stories.

Try a New Habit.

Give Thanks in All Circumstances?

In the Bible St. Paul says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances.” (1Thessalonians 5:18 )  “Give thanks in all circumstances?” Impossible! Wrong! I can’t give thanks when I lose my job, my loved one dies. How then do we follow St. Paul’s words?

Check the prepositions. St. Paul says, “Give thanks IN all circumstances,” not “FOR all circumstances.” Search for the goodness of God, IN the midst of grief, fear, disappointment. There will be goodness.

When my daughter was badly injured, I wasn’t grateful for the accident. At first, I could only be grateful she wasn’t paralysed, and for the ER doctor who consulted the specialist in Kingston as soon as he saw the X-rays. As the days passed, I gave thanks for the young Mom who brought her two-week-old twins to my daughter’s hospital bedside. As Mom laid her baby on my daughter’s chest, I saw her first real smile, and knew healing would come. My gratitude list from that accident is long. When I opened my heart to the blessings, they were there.

In tough times, the search for blessings is easier if we have already developed a “gratitude habit” – a habit of seeking out and giving thanks for the blessings in our lives every single day. Internet research reveals the following two principles concerning developing a habit.

  1. New habits require over two months of repetitions and still they are fragile, easily discarded. Therefore, forget about the time required and do the repetitions.
  2. Make the commitment. Then failures won’t matter because you will just resume doing it. Neither your financial resources, your health, nor your age, nothing can steal your ability to give thanks once you’ve made the commitment.

Seeking out and recognizing our blessings is worth the effort and practice. This Thanksgiving, I suggest you develop a gratitude habit. It may not mean more money, or things, or success, but it will mean more joy in your life. The gratitude habit will shift your focus from not enough to counting your blessings.

Nana Sinclair (a Barnardo child – British Child Immigrant)

At the back of my latest book, To Begin Again under the information about Nana Sinclair, I promised to add extra information about both the Barnardo Children and my grandmother, Margaret Sinclair’s life as a British Child Immigrant. I have finally begun that process. Today I offer a picture of the ship she sailed on from England, as well as information about that boat, the S.S. Dominion 2. There are links which will lead you to details about travel as a steerage passenger on the ships in 1903.

My Grandmother, Margaret (Maggie) Sinclair and other children travelled to Canada on the S.S. Dominion 2.

dominion

The ship that came to be known as the Dominion (2) was launched in Belfast in 1893 as the Prussia and sailed for the German Hamburg-American line. In 1898, the Prussia was sold to the British Dominion Line and was renamed the SS Dominion (2). At this time she was refitted and reconfigured to provide accommodation for 200 First Class, 170 Second Class and 750 Third Class passengers. This rebuild took only a few months before she was ready to go on the Liverpool – Quebec – Montreal route on the Dominion’s Line’s principle service in May 1898. Other ports of entry included Halifax and Portland, Maine.
The Dominion (2) carried 6,876 British Home Children to Canada from various organizations including Barnardo’s, Dr. Stephenson’s National Children Homes, the Fegan Homes, Miss Bilbrough and Rev. Wallace of Marchmont Homes and Mrs. Louisa Birt. There was a steady stream in the numbers of children sailing on board the Dominion with the busiest years being 1903 (786 children), 1905 (562), 1906 (1121), 1907 (905) and 1908 (1130).
When the White Star/Dominion joint service to Canada was instituted in 1908, the Dominion (2) was largely unneeded, so from then until 1915, she was periodically chartered to the American Line for service on American’s Liverpool-Philadelphia route. Originally a British company, the White Star Line was absorbed into the International Mercantile Marine Co. (IMM), a large American shipping conglomerate in 1902. The American Line was also part of the IMM.
During World War I, the SS Dominion (2) served mainly as a supply vessel although she did carry some troops. She returned to commercial service in 1918 but was converted to a cargo carrier in 1919. Her final sailing was from Liverpool to Portland, Maine in 1921 before being scrapped in Germany in 1922.

http://britishhomechild.com/the-dominions/ 

Try a New Diet

Try a New Diet.

Here are my thoughts as we step into another “new beginning” this September.

We worry a great deal today about being clean. Many of us shower every day. We wash our hands after just about everything, our clothes after one wearing, dirty or not. Why do we have this obsession with “clean”? Science has taught us that dirt carries bacteria that can harm us. Our natural immunity can become overwhelmed. We know that the scientists’ advice has merit.

I suggest we apply that advice to our hearts and minds as well. They too have a natural immunity through the innate love and goodness of God that is born within us. In today’s world, society lays out a virtual banquet of violence, hatred, destruction, ready for and enticing us to taste and see how exciting it is. The internet, books, TV, movies can show us torture, abuse in living colour. With video games, we can be the perpetrators of violence earning fame and fortune in the cyber world. Of course, we aren’t actually doing those things ourselves in the real world. We believe that our natural goodness, our value system will keep us safe from harm. But, like the germs and bacteria that can overwhelm our physical immunities, a steady diet of images of violence, hate and destruction can overwhelm our natural goodness as well.

As we begin again this September, I recommend we try cleaning up our entertainment diet. Let’s give our hearts and minds a head start by cleansing the food they receive. Let’s try coming to the thoughts banquet of love, laughter and kindness. Let’s be the first to stop inviting into our minds, hate, hostility, and judgment. Let’s make sure our leisure and work time is filled with ideas and actions of love, humility, and acceptance. I can’t imagine a better way to begin September 2018.

Our Bible tells us, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)