This is day five of our sister’s week. Each year since our Mom died, my three biological sisters and I have gathered to spend a week together. We add spice to our laughing and talking, by enjoying a bit of sight seeing. This year we’ve expanded the family circle to include our aunt and her four girls as well as a family reunion that lasted all last weekend. What a fabulous time we are having. Each day, I have given God thanks for helping me find this wonderful family, seventeen years ago.
Families sometimes have struggles, for sure. As human beings we can be mean, spiteful, even cruel at times. Yet when we focus on love, joy, & acceptance, as our crowd has been doing this week, joy explodes and pours out all around us.
Today God has reminded me that the whole world is our family. We are not called to judge people as enemy/friend, useless/valuable, different/equal. Instead, God has given us millions of brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, sons and daughters, we haven’t yet met. All we need do is open our hearts to embrace all people and watch love explode into the world.
Today, let us give thanks that we are all God’s children, one family. Offer your love to the world. Trust that God will make it grow.
I was thrilled yesterday morning to sit in our home with a group of friends at the end of a journey of listening, trusting, and persistence. We joined together at what became the beginning of a new path for everyone present, through using technology with all of its failures and wonders. The story is long, too long for a blog. I want to share the faith, the excitement, the learning.
I begin with my own practice of listening. For forty years, I have practiced listening for God and learning to trust that it really is God I am hearing. After all, my life like yours is filled with the noise of living. I call it every day static. In today’s world, it’s not easy to admit that I truly believe God speaks to us. I deeply fear scepticism and ridicule. Only fanatics claim, “God said to me…” Yet God does speak, and occasionally I hear and trust. The weekend of April 25-29 was one of those times.
In the midst of the most amazing church Conference Annual General Meeting I have ever experienced, God spoke, and I heard. I was sure God wanted me to put Rev. Wanda Stride forward as a nominee for Moderator of our United Church. Her gifts for leadership and inspiration surrounded me. I spoke out. There were complications. It was too late. Life is never simple. My motion was cast aside. I was sure of God’s Word to me but still, true to my personality I accepted defeat. God wasn’t defeated. God moved through others. My friend and colleague, Paul Reed brought his gifts of persistence and knowledge of church structure to the situation. Rev. Wanda’s home presbytery passed the motion anyway. Mine affirmed it. The obstacles persisted. Again, the Holy Spirit moved. The seed grew. More joined in. They listened. They trusted. They acted.
Yesterday morning, thanks to modern technology with all of its failures, frustrations and wonders, the procedural issue was resolved. God’s word to me has brought forth fruit. Whether or not Rev. Wanda is elected as Moderator at the upcoming national United Church meeting is up to God and those attending. For me, this journey has affirmed my faith. Over the years, my practice of trying to listen has changed my life. I’ve offered the words I was sure I heard to a few. This time, that message went out to many.
This morning I am cheering, laughing, excited, thrilled with God’s persistence and the faith of others. Thank you, God. Thank you, Wanda. Thank you, members of Bay of Quinte Conference. You have lived out Jesus’ mustard seed parable: Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustardseed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
The last few days, my thoughts have focused on Jesus’ story of “The Lost Son.” In movies, books, and life, I seek happy endings. I smile when the lost son realizes his folly and returns home. I nod when the grieving father runs out to meet him when he is still a long way off. The elder son’s response of anger and righteous judgment feels good and proper. The father’s response also feels good. Will the elder son understand his father’s plea for love and mercy? We aren’t told, so I can fill in my happy ending. Both sons have learned how to love. Father is wiser.
How does Jesus’ story end today? Too often today, addiction swallows us up leaving us lost, sleeping on the streets, even murdered. Sometimes it’s our commitment to overwork, an extramarital relationship, total self-indulgence, that carries us away from family, loved ones, God. Unlike the lost son in Jesus’ story, we don’t return home. We may have started home many times but we stumbled again and again and again. We can’t stay on that homeward path.
And so, too often, as parents, spouses, children, friends, we are left sitting at the gate, still loving, still praying, still hoping, still weeping. The opportunity to run down the path, arms open wide, love pouring forth, never comes.
Too often, as elder siblings, we keep plugging away, doing our best, resentment hidden and growing, judgment made. We want to hang onto our rage, our self-righteousness. We’re sure we are right. We don’t want help forgiving those who are unforgivable. We don’t want to face God’s unconditional love, God’s endless mercy, let alone participate in it.
Today, whether we are the lost son, the elder brother or the loving parent, we go to our death still paralysed, still lost on life’s journey. And so we think there is no possibility for a happy ending.
For me, the Good News, the “happy ending” comes when we learn to trust our Christian story which tells us that the power of God’s love is so strong, God’s plan for each one of us so flexible, so creative, that even death cannot keep us paralyzed. In fact, death, in whatever form it comes, opens the way for “new life,” the happy ending.
Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24)
Jesus’ own life story tells us that whether our death brings forth the possibility of new life, transformation, abundance.
Today, whether we are facing the loss of a beloved person, the ending of a life-long dream, the closing of our precious church,– wherever we find ourselves present in Jesus’ story, we can trust that the resurrection will come. God will not be defeated. We may not see the transformation, but it will come, if not in this world than in the next. Weeping will end. Joy will come with the morning. We are not truly paralyzed. We can open ourselves to understanding, forgiveness and love. We can receive God’s peace that is beyond our understanding because we can trust in God’s transformation, whenever it happens.
We have hope, for God has assured us there will be “a happy ending” in this life or the next. Our transformation is guaranteed through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
We can hear and live Jesus’ words: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27) For this, I am truly grateful.
Just a note to tell everyone that I’ve started taking pre-orders for my new novel, “To Begin Again”. The plan is to have the books in my hands by April 23. That’s my birthday and it will be a scary present to receive the shipment of 1000 copies of To Begin Again. It will be a fabulous present to have at least 100 of those books sold before they arrive. Preorders will give my courage a boost. That’s for sure.
Writing and publishinga novel is a humungus leap of faith and a huge investment of time and money. Today, I was at a UCW gathering with my books. When I asked the group to raise their hands if they owned a copy of my novel Fireweed and my worship resource Dipping Your Toes, nearly every one in the room raised their hands. There were 70 wonderful women present.
I took pre-orders of To Begin Again. Ten people invested in my book, even though I didn’t even have a picture of the cover to show them. The affirmations that I received for my writing from so many people was great. I know I’ve been called by God to spread the message of God’s love through my books, but sometimes human confirmation of that call helps. This was one of those times.
I am grateful for the support of the United Church Women of Shining Waters Presbytery. If any of you are wanting to preorder To Begin Again I will give you a 20% discount. That means the book sells for $16 rather than $20 it will cost on April 23rd. Just send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will organize the transfer of money and the shipping of the book. Blessings to you all. Janet
The Christmas season is over. We’ve said good-bye to wishing strangers Merry Christmas. Spontaneous generosity is tucked away with the decorations for another year. For some of us, we’ve made our yearly pilgrimage to church for the Christmas Eve service. No need to go again ’til next Christmas.
Does it have to be over? Do we have to let go of that Christmas Spirit? That’s a familiar lament. As I wrote these words, I looked up to see the quizzical face of George the Giraffe peering back at me.
George the giraffe came, as a special gift of love last summer. Every time I look at him, I think of my son, Dave, our daughter-in-law, Joanne and our granddaughter, Jenna. I hear their words to me as they handed me the package.” When you came to visit us in South Africa, we went on safari. You wanted to see the giraffes. When we returned, you were fascinated with the beaded giraffes made by the African people. Instead of getting one for yourself, you bought one for Vanessa. We decided you needed a giraffe, too.” They handed me George. He’s adorable. With his face full of curiosity, George is my precious reminder of the love of this part of our family living far away in South Africa.
Christians over the centuries have used icons – images, things and even people, sometimes – that help us remember God is the source of everything and that God loves and accepts us just as we are. That’s what the Christmas tree, the songs, the decorations, do for us. They remind us of our Christian story, and Jesus’ lessons of love and forgiveness. This year, I’ve decided that George the giraffe, with his rainbow coloured beads, his big ears that stick straight out, and his long neck and legs, will be my icon to help me remember to live God’s Christmas Spirit all year long. I see George every time I sit down with my computer on my knees. Every time I walk past the living room and see George, peering at me with his quizzical expression I will think of God’s call to love and forgive others as God loves and forgives me.
As you start another year, I suggest you identify something in your home that is connected to love, something that you see every day. It could be a family heirloom (Mom’s china cabinet, Grandpa’s favorite chair), a gift you’ve received (a painting, a bowl, a knick knack). Choose something to remind you daily of the many blessings you have received, something to trigger words of thanks for your abundance, something that brings to your heart a response of love. That icon can help you keep God’s loving Spirit that thrives at Christmas time, with you all year long. You see, we don’t intend to pack away our love and acceptance, our joy in living with the Christmas decorations. We lose our Christmas Spirit in the busyness, the sadness, the craziness of everyday living. Let your icon be the reminder you need for 2018.
“People like lists,” my friend said. “Write a blog with a list.” I love a challenge.
It’s summer: wedding season. Why not a list of the top ten reasons for getting married. After all, I’ve been married twice: twenty-seven years the first time, and fourteen years so far in this second one. And I’ve conducted a multitude of weddings overs the years. I believe in marriage.
As you read my list, consider this question about your significant relationship. Why did you get married in the first place? Or Why have you chosen a common law relationship
Please comment on my list: What, in your opinion, needs to be added, changed or re-prioritized.
Top Ten Reasons for Being Married.
#10. Being Married simplifies financial records, especially for the small business owner. I own my tiny business, buying and selling my books, but I never thought about it in terms of marriage. My young businessman friend informed me the other day that a common law relationship makes keeping your financial records more complicated than a legal marriage. Paperwork is simpler in a legal marriage.
#9. Financial – Also, he told me organizing benefits is simpler with a legal marriage. The whole financial setup is simpler and clearer. Just ask any gay or trans- person about the practical benefits of having a government-registered, same sex marriage.
#8. Pleasing Family – Some deny they need to get married, but claim parents really want them to have the ceremony. Marriage is the extra touch to please family and friends. Just watch their faces and experience their joy when you tell them you are getting married.
#7. Celebration – Joy shared multiplies. It’s wonderful to celebrate the happiness you find in each other with family and friends. Life affords no better opportunity for a party, a big party, an extravagant party.
#6. Commitment – Although you can make your own private commitment to each other as you live together, somewhere in the deep recesses of your mind there is always the knowledge that the government’s legal stamp has not been given. If you or your partner find something better, if you or your partner want to give up trying, you or your partner can walk away. You have what in business is called, “A golden parachute’, an escape clause. “Oh no,” you may say, “not us. Those thoughts don’t lurk in our minds.” At bottom, those thoughts do. Saying the words of commitment publicly and signing that marriage license involves a different quality of commitment. Two still exist as one each, but two declared together create much more than the sum of two individuals.
Watch for the other five coming August 7th. What will be number one? Make your own list. See how it compares.
Today began at 6:00 a.m. We wanted one last hug from Dave, Joanne and Jenna. They leave for school every day at 6:30. I learned that saying goodbye that early is just a little easier because sleepiness clouds my ability to feel. After everyone left the house was silent, too silent. We had intended to go back to bed but we didn’t. I worked on yesterday’s blog and we packed.
We didn’t bring our luggage scale and Dave doesn’t have one. We reverted to using the bathroom scale. It worked as we were not overweight at the airport.
We left for the airport at 3:00 p.m. in Jonathon’s flashy BMW, our last opportunity to live as the rich. I wrote that statement and thought, no that’s not right. Although we are considered Middle Class in Canada, we live as the ultra rich every day, compared to most of the people here in South Africa and around the world. I’ve always known that. Now, I have a deeper knowledge and an even stronger desire to share my many blessings.
Rain poured down all the way to the airport. Traffic became more and more congested. We were both glad we had left early and Jonathon was driving. The trip took a good half hour longer than expected, but we arrived with heaps of time to spare. A friendly and helpful man offered us a cart, loaded on our bags and took us to the check-in. We gave him 20 rand ($2.00 Canadian). He was delighted and so were we.
Took a while to go through security and immigration. Lots of people are travelling. Terrorists are certainly not keeping any of us home. We had brought a snack, so once inside that was our first task. We wanted to use our last few African Rand so I invested in a Hagendaz milkshake – 85 Rand – the Canadian Equivalent $8.50. That was obviously a poor investment as it was gone from my body before the end of the day. It did satisfy my desire for something sweet, taste delicious and may still be around in a few extra fat cells. After eating, we talked with a friendly french couple who assured us our ten hour lay over in Paris would give us plenty of time to hop the train to downtown. I’m wasn’t so sure. We decided to check out the weather in Paris. If it’s pouring rain, we might as well just stay at the airport. At that point, all I wanted to do was get home.
I was cold, so we decided to buy me a South Africa sweatshirt. The stores were ultra chic. Sweatshirts were not on the agenda. After asking at several places we were directed to a sports shop that specialized in souvenirs for South African rugby. There wasn’t much choice. I paid the equivalent of $55 Canadian for a white Springbok (that’s the name of the national rugby team) sweatshirt. I just pulled it on over the light sweater, and t-shirt and camisole I was already wearing. It felt good to be warm.
Food on the plane was great. I enjoyed my fish and potatoes and veggies. The salad was good too. When we bought our tickets originally Tom had ordered gluten free for me. They are doing a grand job with that.
A small blip on this first leg of the journey was a spill. As usual they offered me tiny bottle of red wine (equivalent of one healthy glass), free on international flights. I saved it to drink in the middle of the night when I would be restless. The time came and I poured my wine and set it on my seat tray for sipping. A little later I asked Tom to get something for me from his seat pocket. In the process he jostled my tray. You guessed it. My new sweatshirt, my light sweater and my beige jeans were all christened. Oh well, it may wash out.
Food on the plane was great. I enjoyed my fish and potatoes and veggies. The salad was good too. When we bought our tickets originally Tom had ordered gluten free for me. They are doing a grand job with that.
The Flight from Johannesburg to Paris went on forever. We both decided that overnight on the plane is not really our style. We just don’t sleep. When we arrived in Paris at 6:00 a.m. we just couldn’t face going anywhere. We laid down on the floor and slept for a couple of hours or more. That used up too much of the time we could have used to take the train into Paris and look around a bit. Next time we will plan a stopover for 2 or 3 days.
The flight from Paris to Toronto was fine. I even slept for an hour on the plane. Our bodies seemed to respond much better. We talked with a family, and two different single people, all returning to Canada from India (their place of birth). We thoroughly enjoyed our conversations with these nice people.
The arrival in Toronto was crazy. One of the airport workers said that 5000 passengers had all arrived at almost the same time. The line ups were long. We did an endless spiral dance to get to the customs machine and we were fortunate. Being Canadian citizens we could use the machines. Once past that point the customs people just looked at our Pass Ports and our landing card and waved us on. By the time we got to baggage, it was no longer rolling round and round. In fact a lot of the bags had been taken off the carousel. I guess the baggage crew were trying to get ready for the next plane.
We are home. Hallelujah! We had a marvelous journey that we won’t ever forget. And we are grateful and delighted to be back in good old Canada. It’s fun to travel and it’s fabulous to come home.
Tom’s brother Bob came with our car to the airport. The fact that he can store our car at his condo for three weeks and is our airport taxi, is so very helpful. We are truly blessed.
All in all, even though its a grinding trip home from Johannesburg, I know we have sent an abundance of God’s light of love out to the world in large doses today.
Over the last three weeks we have met a multitude of friendly caring people. God loves variety and I am grateful. Our world is amazing. Thanks be to God.
Today we were tourists and we had a grand time. After our trip to Klip Town Youth Program, where we experienced real life in today’s South Africa, we thought it would be good to experience some of South Africa’s history.
Lesedi Cultural Village is located in the heart of the African bushveld amidst the rocky hills within the Cradle of Humankind, a World Heritage Site. We visited five traditional homesteads inhabited by Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, Basotho and Ndebele tribes who live according to the tribal folklore and traditions of their ancestors. Lesedi means “Place of Light”. I struggled to receive the everflowing fountain of information that was offered because my hearing was defeated by the speed of speech and the lilting accent. I heard enough to learn a little, and there was lots to see. And then there was the dancing. The young people of the village were energetic and skillful dancers. Tom and I thoroughly enjoyed the show, the lunch and the overall experience..
Like good tourists we shopped. At this point we are familiar with the items that are every where and the ones that are made by artists. The selection at Lesedi Village was excellent. We purchased a number of gifts for family and even something for ourselves. We made the shopkeeper so happy that she gave us a zebra key ring.
We had a successful day. Dave picked us up and brought us home. This time it was our job to get supper. Tom and I had a grand time making pasta, salad and garlic bread. Two teens from the Ethiopia International School arrived today for a Music Program event at the school here. They are friends of Jenna’s and are staying here with Dave, Jo and Jenna til Sunday. It felt a little like preparing for family gatherings at home.
Tomorrow we pack and leave for the airport at three. It will be good to get home, and yet it is hard to leave. South Africa is amazing. There’s so much more to see. Our time with Dave, Joanne and Jenna has been precious. We will return for Jenna’s grade twelve graduation. They will be home come summer. That helps so much.
You can pick out the Joys that lit up my life today. One not mentioned, of course, is that we are both feeling much better.
Here are some pictures of Lesedi. During our visit we have taken several videos. I don’t know how to upload them. Guess you’ll just have to come visit us to see them.
We’re tired tonight mostly because we spent most of the afternoon sitting in the sun, watching our amazing granddaughter Jenna, play beach volleyball. We are proud grandparents. Jenna is an elite athlete. It’s always fun to watch her participate in her sports. The tournament was held at the German International School of Johannesburg. Among other things, there was a beautiful 25 meter pool, with lanes delineated ready for racing. Today, there were no races, so I had a swim between Jenna’s games. Jenna must have inspired me, because I swam 500 meters – 20 lengths of that pool. We didn’t bring a towel. In this beautiful African weather, the solar dryer did the trick.
Before the tournament we shopped in the Rosemount Rooftop Sunday Market. We are slowly gathering together our souvenirs of this trip. When we arrived back at Dave’s, we were thrilled to have almost an hour long conversation on Skype with Bonnie , Boris, and the children Lise and Alex. Another dose of home which was needed. Supper required little effort, as we had heaps of leftovers from last night’s party.
Now we’ll crawl into bed early. Those night’s are needed. Tomorrow, we return to being tourists as we travel to the Lesedi Cultural Village, a world heritage site.
My moments of joy started with Joanne our amazing daughter-in-law. She volunteered to drive us to the rooftop market, making herself late for Jenna’s tournament. She helped with the bargaining when we purchased something. While I was swimming, she went back to the city to get us all some lunch. She brought me rice cakes iced with yoghurt that are delicious, cheese and a gluten free granola bar. She always ensures that there is food for me without gluten. I know that requires extra effort. She is special and caring and very kind. Of course, there is Jenna. Watching her, talking with her, just being able to spend time with her, is a total joy. I have to include the swim. It felt so good to stretch out my muscles in the water.
Lots of light emanated from me today. I am truly grateful.
Today Tom and I enjoyed a slow day at the “White House”. I slept till 9:00 a.m., Tom quite a bit longer. For most of the day, I worked on yesterday’s very long blog, writing the text and organizing the pictures. We went for a walk to a strip mall up the street to buy a thank you card to send to Leone and a box of just plain tea. The tea of choice in South Africa is Roibos and Roibos Chai. It tastes good, but my digestive system hasn’t been all that happy. I decided the familiarity of good old English Breakfast tea might help a little.
Tonight we went to a tiny Chinese restaurant for supper with Dave and Jo and their friends Lee and Russell. The food and the company were both grand. It’s good to meet some of Dave and Jo’s friends. Jenna stayed home to do homework. Lee and Russell’s three boys didn’t come either. I guess the teens thought the old folks could use a night without them. Homework does rule a teenager’s life. Tonight we went on online to look at things to do in and around Johannesburg. We picked a couple. Tomorrow we’ll set them up.
One of my joys today was the pleasure of returning to my daily routine. I actually started the day with my meditation/reflection/prayer time. And I did my physio exercises. Routine has its advantageous. I felt a bit like I was home and I needed that.
A second joy of course was meeting Lee and Russell and sharing a meal.
Best of all was the grand conversation we had with Jenna after school. We were in the pool. She came out to talk. It’s wonderful to be a part of her life. Yes, even on this lazy day, we have had opportunity to give and receive love and add a little light to the world. Sometimes, we just have to be intentional about noticing it.