Is faith a magic charm? Some people think so, but not me. Faith is not my “lucky rabbit’s foot”, or special hat that will ensure my life goes smoothly. Faith doesn’t protect me from failure, or accident or illness. Faith won’t even keep my loved ones alive. So what good is it?
Faith is that strength from God that comes when I feel totally overwhelmed. When I’m amazed that I actually survived such a tough time, I know that God joins me in life’s journey. Faith tells me that God’s strength will sustain me through the joys and tragedies that come with living. With faith, I will not just survive, but live creatively. My faith is my anchor for living. I will not lose hope. When darkness surrounds me, God gives me enough light for the next step, and that is all I need.
My faith also calls me to journey in gratitude. I am grateful for the abundant blessings I receive. I am also grateful for God’s presence carrying me, leading me through the storms of life. I am grateful that I can trust that there will be new life at the end of the storm. God will not be defeated.
Forty-five years ago, a sixteen-year-old high school student painted an intriguing masterpiece just for me. It hangs in my living room still today. In the picture, a teenager stands at the water’s edge with her dog. Wind blows her hair and clothes. White caps roll in. Thunderclouds fill the sky. There is a gap in the clouds with just a sliver of sun showing. Sometimes, my guests think the teen is watching a storm coming. Sometimes they see new life in the sun that is peeking through the clouds, bringing an end to the storm. I see faith in that painting. The presence of the son, whether or not he is hidden by the clouds, is always there waiting, loving, giving strength. The teen in the picture can face whatever comes, and whatever has been. For me, that high school student of so long ago captured Jesus’ words, “I will be with you always, even unto the end of the age.”
What a fabulous day. We started with the four of us attending worship at Wild Rose United church, another of our United Churches that is flying on God’s Spirit. Filled with friendly people, adults, teens and children who greeted us warmly. The service itself was informal and lively. One member told us her faith story. The teens provided opening music, lit the Christ candle, and music during the offering. The theme was Broken yet Blessed. The service was followed by lunch. A great introduction for the four of us to Wild Rose UC. Outside is a beautiful meditation area (see picture) but this morning it was too chilly at 1 degree Celsius to enjoy using it.
This afternoon, I connected with my friend and colleague Rev. Jennifer Ferguson. We had a delightful time catching up on each other’s lives. Friendship is precious. Although we see each other once every 2 or 3 years, we always just pick up where we left off as if the time between didn’t exist.
Tonight Will and Claudia took us to “Illuminasia”, a Chinese lantern and garden festival at the Calgary Zoo. Tonight the entertainment and displays featured the Japanese culture. The lanterns, some of which took three artists, three days to produce were amazing. They featured wild animals, flowers, butterflies, dragonflies, and more. The Japanese displays and activities were interesting and fun. We had a grand evening.
Every day I look for God’s presence. Although I realize that God is with me every step of the way, the special time today took place at “Illuminasia”. I was enjoying the display of fans and umbrellas, I complimented a young girl (approx.. age 5) on her beautiful kimono and asked to take a picture. Her mother offered to take one of me with her. Another little girl came running over to join the picture. Afterward, I asked if I could post the picture on Face book. The one mother said a tentative no, and then added but of course many people would post it anyway. I shook my head and said, “No, if you don’t want it posted, I won’t post it.” At that point she smiled, took my hand and said, “thank you, so much.” The second mother piped up with, “but you can post my picture.” So you have a picture of me with the two beautiful Mom’s in their Japanese kimonos. I’m not sure why this felt like God’s presence had touched us, but I certainly felt the Spirit there with me, smiling and saying, “Thank you, Janet, thank you so much for caring for my children.”
Today we drove back through “Kicking Horse Pass”. Coming out to Vancouver, evening was approaching as we drove through this section of the TransCanada highway. We were so focused on getting to the town of Golden before dark, we did not appreciate what we were seeing. Also today every detail, every tree, rock, and snow patch is glistening in the glorious sunshine. I took pictures but my little camera cannot see the height nor the depth around us. The highest point of the pass is 5,390 ft. We looked way down over the guardrail to the valley bottom below and way up to snowcapped Mount Hunter. My heart filled with the majesty and wonder of it all.
Every little while we saw workmen, cranes, giant excavators almost hanging off the side of this mountain. My mind slipped back to pictures of the people who built the railroad through this pass. The hardship and risk they undertook to unite Canada from sea to sea.
The sun shone on the snow, bounced off the rocks, sparkled and danced over the evergreens and brilliant yellow poplars. Wow! Yes, there is a God, guaranteed. All the science in the world can never explain the beauty of this world. As Tom said, every bend in the road yields another treasure. I’ve seen this place in movies, on TV, in books but nothing can compare with being here. I worked hard at restraining my tongue. My natural impulse was to keep saying, “Wow, look Tom, see that.” We do want to get home in one piece. He does have to look at the road occasionally.
Further along we saw the scars left by clear cut logging, patches of barrenness in the middle of this rugged beauty.
Every once in a while we passed a bicycle. Now that’s an accomplishment. This was the most gorgeous day for driving we’ve had. Along the highway right of way we saw miles of high fences which help the animals find their special safe crossings. These wild life bridges are a relative of the salmon ladders built to help salmon get around dams.
When we got to Banff we were ready for a break. We checked out the United Church but is wasn’t open on Wednesdays. Further along, St. George’s in the Pines Anglican Church had a neat sign, “Come in and Pray.” So we did. We stepped into a beautiful, quiet, dimly lit sanctuary and gave thanks to God for this fabulous journey. We stopped by the church office to talk with the administrator. “The rector is only here on Thurs.,” she said. She took our info. We walked to the park for a picnic lunch on this sunny warm fall day. A grade one class, some teenagers, tourist families, everyone was enjoying the day, just like us.
Next stop Canmore. Another beautiful tourist mountain town. On the main street we found a local dairy selling yummy, chocolate peanut butter ice cream. Tom virtuously declined the indulgence. I, on the other hand, enjoyed every lick.
By the time we got to Calgary we were out of the mountains. Golden grass covered the parched, flat ground. This too is beautiful. Son Will and partner Claudia welcomed us with love. They prepared a scrumptious vegetarian dinner. It’s so good to be with family once again. Thank you God for a fabulous day.
Without little Alex to visit with, we slept in till 7:30 this morning. Both of us would much rather have enjoyed Alex than extra sleep.
After breakfast we visited two very different United Churches here in Kamloops. The short journey to Mount Paul Pastoral Charge required a winding trip down the mountain from the hotel into Kamloops and across the North Thompson River. The mouthwatering aroma of possibly home made soup welcomed me when I opened the door of the church. Straight ahead I could see a small army of Grandma’s, hard at work in the kitchen. Down the hall, I found the thrift store. Three more seniors, busy sorting used clothing greeted me. One said, “This is our bag day. You get to fill a bag with anything you want, except jewelry, for the paltry sum of $2.00.” A second woman lifted up a baby’s cuddly lion’s costume. “Any little ones in your house,” she asked. This church, obviously manned by seniors runs a soup kitchen twice a week, and a thrift shop and the list went on. “Yes we’re busy,” they said. “We even have day care here.”
I thought, Gone are the days when small churches were locked six days a week and opened up on Sunday morning for four hours. The churches in towns and cities across the west that I have visited are beehives of outreach. When I arrived at Kamloops United (my second church of the morning), I found a billboard announcing condominiums for sale with only six left. “Come inside and talk to the sales people,” the sign said, it’s arrow pointing to the door marked church office. Once inside, I asked the administrative secretary, “what’s happening here.”
She grinned and said, “Big changes. We used to have a gym and now there are condo’s under construction. It will be lovely when finished. We’ve already done the renovations to this part.” She pointed out the almost circular sanctuary with chairs instead of pews. Down that hall are Sunday school rooms, and a kitchen. When the apartments are built we’ll have the church office on the ground floor along with our thrift shop. This church right in the center of town is stepping out with new ideas and yet is still caring for the community in traditional ways as well.
Rev. Bruce was there. We had a good conversation. He bought all three books – I’ve started calling it my $40 package deal. (Dipping Your Toes, Fireweed and Spectacular Stella)
After Kamloops UC I walked up the street to St. Paul’s Anglican. I introduced myself to Verna who was sitting on the steps. “The church is locked,” she said.
“Your minister isn’t here?” I questioned.
“We don’t have a minister, only an interim,” Verna answered. “I’m a church warden . Maybe I can help you.”
“Yes, you can,” I declared and sat down on the sidewalk beside her. We had a great conversation. I showed her my books and explained about them.
“I’ll buy ‘Dipping Your Toes’ ,” she said. God must have wanted you to come today. I’d like Fireweed but I can’t afford two books. Have you any information on these that I can bring to the meeting tonight.
Sure do,” I said, and handed her my info package. We talked a bit more and her husband arrived to take her home. Thank you God, I said as I walked back to the car.
Camera Close up showing Glacier
Tom returned from visiting his mother’s cousin who is in hospital in Kamloops. We had crackers and cheese for lunch in the car and headed off east, thinking we might get to Lake Louise. Once again the drive was absolutely breath taking. For me, believing in a loving Creator is easy when we journey among these mountains, some of them so high they are snow-capped. We stopped a few times, once for ice cream at the Sicamous dairy. Wonderful treat but we’re still both Kawartha Dairy fans.
We arrived in Golden at 6:30. The sun was dropping fast. We had gained an hour so we moved our watches to 7:30. “Let’s forget Lake Louise and stay here,” I suggested. Tom immediately agreed. Neither of us want to be driving through the mountains in the dark. Besides the animals that might be wanting to share the road, we’d miss the scenery. We’re settled into the Ramada Inn – the same room we had two weeks ago and the same price. We’ve had another excellent meal at “The Bear’s Den” and enjoyed the hot tub.
It seems that God is a part of every visit I make to a church. Whether or not they buy books, I feel the joy of the Spirit with each encounter. This is truly a blessed journey.
Today was a very different day. I awoke with the bites on my arm enflamed again and several new ones. I had waited for healing and it hadn’t happened. We went to the pharmacist who recommended an antihistamine but didn’t know what had bitten me. She suggested I go to the clinic next door and ask the doctor. My wait at the clinic was short but the results the same. He didn’t know for sure. Take some antihistamine and use some hydrocortisone cream to relieve the itch. Wash all your clothes you had in that hotel in very hot water and dry them in the dryer to kill whatever is in them. The bites will go away in a few days.
I drove Tom to the laundromat so he could begin the washing while I talked with Rev. Jenny Carter the new minister at the United Church in Salmon Arm. Jenny and I had a good conversation. She bought both Fireweed and Dipping Your Toes. When I returned to the laundromat Tom and I decided to buy a new suitcase rather than search for chemicals to kill whatever might be in there. He wanted to continue the washing so I shopped for the suitcase. By the time I returned the second time the laundry was washed, folded and waiting. The old suitcase had disappeared. Tom said, “I put the old suitcase on top of the garbage can for disposal. While I was tending to the washing machine, the suitcase disappeared.” We packed up and left.
The drive to Salmon Arm was uneventful. We snacked on crackers, cheese and grapes in the car. Once again the mountain scenery was gorgeous. The road wound around the mountains. With the speed limit at 100 km per hour, and the drop off considerable, I had trouble focusing on the beauty. My heart raced as I encouraged Tom to cut back to 80 km per hour. Even that felt fast. Of course the cars and trucks gathered behind us in a long parade. Every so often a passing lane appeared and our following roared by. I couldn’t take my eyes off the road, even though Tom was actually driving. So there aren’t many pictures tonight
We arrived at Carol and Ross’ home about 6 (I think). They greeted us with hugs and welcomed us, bugs and all into their home. Now that is friendship. Actually I think we’ve won the battle of the bugs. At least I’ve no new bites and the itching and redness is beginning to recede. Carol and Ross served up a delicious meal. Barbecued pork chops (a favourite of mine), potato and lettuce salads, carrots, and applesauce made a colourful plateful. Dessert was ice cream cake. The food was good and the conversation delightful. We’ve had a good evening together.
Was God with us today? Oh yes! I’ve never had such fast service at the clinic. I’m sure God smiled when our old suitcase was claimed so quickly. The new one came from Canadian Tire. I asked a young man in a white shirt for directions to the luggage. “Just this way,” he replied and started leading me to the back of the store. In transit, I told him our sad story about the bugs and bites. He showed me a Swiss made suitcase. “This is an excellent brand,” he said. The full retail price was over $200. It was on sale for $150. When I shook my head, the young man who happened to be the store manager said, “Let me see what I can do.” He went off to his computer and returned. That’s an excellent brand of suitcase,” he said. Back in July we had a huge special on these that’s why there’s only the one here. I can give you the July price of $67. “That was a bargain I couldn’t resist. We now have a brand new four wheel suitcase. I’m sure God had a part somewhere in that transaction.
Now it’s time for sleep. The antihistamines are supposed to be non-drowsy but I’m falling asleep as I type.
Wide open prairie for the entire trip today. The sea of wheat surrounded us. I tried hard to take pictures but my camera just couldn’t cope. I was reminded of the wondrous ability of the human eye to see depth and colour and creativity and emotions and so much more. The scripture reading for this morning was Psalm 19:1-6 . “The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims God’s handiwork.”
We drove for about four hours when suddenly Tom said, “Is that water?” I lifted my eyes from the computer and stared. It looked like a mirage. The sea of wheat had become water complete with waves. The highway carried us closer until we were on a “causeway”, a strip of land as wide as the highway with a slope of possibly two feet down to the water. It looked to me as if a heavy wind would have waves washing over the road. We were passing Big Quill Lake outside of Kandahar. This is the Yellowhead Highway, a main artery in Saskatchewan. I pictured November weather, and then ice. Courageous people live in this area. That psalm didn’t say it but for sure I would add, the earth also declares God’s glory, and creativity, and power. Wow!
We reached Saskatoon about 5 p.m., not the best time to arrive in a strange city. I’m getting quite good using my cell phone as a google information source. I had checked out hotels and picked the Comfort Suites on the west side of the city. Our job was to find it. For the first time, I used the GPS on my phone. The nice lady carefully guided Tom as I watched the arrow move with us onto the ring road that circles the city. She brought us right to the hotel. Both Tom and I decided it takes courage to trust that contraption but it works. The hotel, with seniors discount is very reasonable. Our room is fabulous, the best yet. We have heaps of space, a full chesterfield and a chair as well as a big desk and chair, larger than usual fridge, microwave, closet, just everything you could ask for. And there’s a swimming pool and hot tub. I bet breakfast will be good tomorrow too.
We had supper at an Italian restaurant just down the street. My trout was delicious as was Tom’s stirfry. It came with salad and soup. Tom and I have been eating hotel breakfasts – eggs, sausage or ham, toast, yoghurt, fruit etc. lunch out of our store of cheese and crackers, and then buying supper. That is sure stretching out dollars. Problem is it seems to be stretching our waistlines as well.
Oh yes, we have one more story. As I have said before we are stopping at church’s to tell people about my books. In Wynyard we went to the town hall in search of a bathroom. While there we visited with one of the workers. She told us where to find the United Church. “The minister is a lovely young woman,” she said. “She drives a jeep. If you see a jeep parked at the church, she’ll be there.”
We found the church no problem but no jeep. While I was at the bank Tom went for a walk looking for a garbage can. He saw a lovely young woman pull up close to the church and park her jeep. So he walked up to her and asked, “Would you by any chance be the United Church minister.” Tom told me after that she looked like a deer caught in a car’s head lights. So he explained why he had asked. She laughed and shook her head and went on her way. Tom hoped she at least heard the compliment that he thought she was a lovely young woman.
Was God with us, today? Of course, God lives within us so is always with us just as Jesus promised. Did we notice God? Oh yes, out there on the highway in the vastness and abundance of the prairie, in our courage to trust modern technology to help us find our way, in the people we talked to all day – waitresses, city workers, bank tellers, and more.
May God bless all of you who are reading this daily report of our journey. Janet
We had a slow start this morning. My sister Anne’s phone call finally woke us at 8:30. Still, we were packed, had breakfast and on the way by 10:30.
Our trek across the prairies began today. Miles of flat straight smooth road stretched out across acres and acres of golden wheat waving in the prairie breeze. Above us a beautiful blue sky seemed to go on forever. No camera, least of all a cell phone camera could ever capture the vastness, the abundance, the majesty of all that precious farmland.
We ate lunch at the Anton Lake rest stop. By then a heavy prairie breeze was blowing across the parking lot. A stand of trembling aspens offered some protection at our picnic table. The sun warmed our backs and still we felt the chill of northern autumn air.
We reached our hotel in Yorkton by 4:30. When we stepped out of the car, that cool air and gusty breeze reminded us that we have left the warmth of summer behind. The main street of Yorkton is wide…very wide.
Supper at Brown’s Social House was scrumptious. Our waitress congenial and efficient. The cast on her broken ankle didn’t cramp her style or her work. She said the three inch heel on her other foot helped to keep her balanced.
When we stood to leave, a man at the next table started up a conversation with us. It turned out that he was from Chatham, Ontario, just a half hour away from my childhood home. He and his two colleagues are in in Yorkton to teach people how to ride Harley Davidson motorcycles. It seems to me that could be a young person’s dream job. After much laughter we gave me my card and returned to our hotel. I’ve spent this evening writing emails and this blog.
When I look back over my day, I believe I met God out on those beautiful prairies and at the restaurant in both our waitress Michelle and the friendly people at the next table. God’s presence has been there, quietly in the background keeping my eyes open to the wonder of life.
Today our goal was to visit churches with my books. I did my homework and got the phone numbers and addresses for some of the churches in Sudbury. My first surprise was the number of churches in the Sudbury region. The world keeps telling us that religion is dying. In Sudbury the people don’t know that yet.
Our second surprise was that church offices here tend to be open in the mornings only, especially in the summer time. Our lovely lazy morning with Sharon meant that we found open, only St. Andrews United and the Anglican Church of the Epiphany.
Our third and fourth surprises came as we visited those two downtown area churches. The St. Andrews Church office is on the third floor of its senior’s apartment complex. My aversion to elevators meant that I had a long climb. It was worth it. The office administrator welcomed us. She listened to my description of Fireweed and bought one. She emailed the minister, Bill Steadman and he appeared from another part of the building. She couldn’t have been more helpful, a wonderful front-line ambassador for St. Andrews. Rev. Bill had spent time in Bay of Quinte Conference, so already had a copy of Dipping Your Toes. He purchased Fireweed, as a possibility for a study group.
Feeling buoyed up by this reception, we walked next door to the Anglican, Church of the Epiphany. I was grateful this office was on the main floor. I pushed through the double doors and met the office administrator. Once again I received a smile of welcome as I introduced myself and Tom and told her why I was there. You’ll want to speak with Rev. Tim, she said and brought me to his office. It’s wonderful to enter a church and receive such a lovely welcome. Rev. Tim, like his colleague next door, was warm and welcoming. He invited us to sit and listened carefully as I talked about my books. When I was finished he said, “I’d like to buy both Fireweed and Dipping Your Toes. I’ll have some of my people read them, to consider buying more. My problem is we don’t keep any money here.”
I responded, “I have a ‘square’ to process your credit card on my cell phone. The transaction completed, we got up to leave. I mentioned that I’d be glad to come and speak to both small groups and on Sunday morning.”
“I was thinking about that,” he replied.
“To come so far I would need some travel expenses.”
“Of course,” he said.
I fairly danced out of that church. We decided we’d done enough for one day. Between sales and new contacts we’d had a good afternoon. It was time to return to Sharon to prepare for our dinner out with Sharon’s friends Cliff and Fern.
Tonight we planned the next leg of the journey to Sault Ste. Marie.
Where had we met God today? Well God had been with us all day, especially at the churches. For me the church is always God’s sacred place. Writing books is fun. Selling books is exhausting. Today four people made the job easy. Through them I heard God’s affirmation for my writing ministry. I am truly grateful.
Tom and I were square dancing in Marlbank. During a rest break, we told Pearl about our encounter with a deer on the way home the week before. After hearing a detailed description of the accident and giving thanks that we weren’t hurt, Pearl said, “Driving can be dangerous. My husband and I say a prayer each time before we get in the car.” Then she laughed and said, “Never leave home without a prayer. Never leave home without it.”
We both chuckled, and the conversation moved on in another direction. On the way home, we joined the holiday traffic parade on the 401 instead of the more remote Highway Seven. I thought, that’s good advice, Pearl, not just for travelling, but for going to work, to the doctor’s, to school, anywhere. Always take your awareness of God’s presence with you. God is our companion. We can do more than stop for prayer before we go out the door. We can keep the conversation going, giving thanks, asking for guidance and strength. Our approach to life changes when we acknowledge God’s presence right beside us, God’s hand on our elbow, patting our back, holding us.
There is a plaque that says, “God is a guest at our every meal.” For me, God is more than a guest at meal times. There is a wonderful old hymn that talks about Jesus as our companion. The chorus says, “And he walks with me, and he talks with me. And he tells me I am his own.” Whether you walk or drive or fly, don’t leave home without reminding yourself of God’s presence in your life. Say a prayer, and not just for safety. Give God thanks for your blessings, and ask God to help you be God’s blessing for someone else. Give it a try. Don’t leave home without it. Prayer will make a difference in your life.
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” (Ephesians 6:18 NIV)
Last week, I wrote about the value of lining our year with prayer because we need God’s help. Jesus’ words, “I will be with you always even unto the end of the age,” assure us that God’s presence, strength, and comfort is always with us.
This week, I offer you Psalm 139, in which the writer also speaks about God’sinescapable presence, this time from a different perspective. Years ago, George Orwell, in his novel, “1984,” talked about the never-ending presence of “Big Brother.” In essence, the Psalmist tells us that God is that “big brother,” or “big sister” but in a very different way.
Often strangers gasp when they first discover that I am an ordained minister. Guilt flashes across their faces as they scramble to consider what they may have said or done in the half hour since they were introduced to me. That gasp tells me that they will be nervous around me for a long time. Being with “Rev. Janet” reminds them God is present with us always.
God is a guest at every meal whether or not we give thanks. God matches us stride for stride as we play hockey, ski, or run. God listens to every conversation, every thought. God is with us when we lose patience with our partner, our friend, our sibling. God knows when we claim we’re sixty-five when we’re only sixty-three in order to receive a discount. The psalmist asks, “Where can I flee from God’s presence?” and answers. “If I ascend to heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there… “ (Psalm 139:8) That is when we need to gasp. Let’s live every day of 2014 fully aware of God’s presence. God offers not just help, guidance, strength, but also love and forgiveness, as well. We cannot hide anything from God. Let’s endeavor to have nothing in our lives that we would like or need to hide.