Today I am competing in a slam. I’m not a competitor at least not in a formal way. I love to play games and enjoy winning. Still I enjoy losing as well. I play for the fun of it. I’m not interested in prizes. Games are more fun without them. There’s no stress or pressure. I seldom send my manuscripts into a publisher because I don’t like rejection. For me there is no thrill in the competition. Yet for some unknown reason I voluntarily entered this slam. No one suggested I enter, or coerced me.
Last month I went to my writer’s group meeting in Whitby and heard, for about the third time, about this slam competition. Tell a story from memory in no more than three minutes. The thought entered my mind, maybe I could do that. That thought took up residence, surfacing now and then, every day. Finally, two weeks ago, I filled out the registration form and sent the email. Why not? What do I have to lose?
When thoughts like that persist in my mind, I tend to listen to them. Usually I blame God for them. This time I just doggedly prepared and practiced my three minute story. As the days have passed my stress level has risen. I’ve spent the last few days wondering why am I doing this, especially now as I am preparing for the Easter services at Lakefield United Church? What kind of a masochist am I? I hate this kind of thing.
This morning I rose earlier than I needed. Good I thought. I’ll do my morning devotions. I opened “Our Daily Bread”. Today’s reading affirmed the assurance of God’s presence in all we do.
I chuckled and said thank you. Of course, you’re with me in this foolishness God. Of course, you will support me. I truly believe in your presence always. Yes, I was foolish to enter. Yet, I am as ready as possible. Yes, stress my turn me into a stuttering idiot. Does it matter? No God is with me. God will use this, is already using this experience to teach me and others. The teaching is not my job. My job is the doing.
So I ask you my followers. pray for me this morning. I’m going to need your support.
Have a blessed day. Remember you will be a blessing to others whether you know it or not.
Today, I am blessed once again with a beautiful quiet hour before the busy day begins. Thank you, God for waking me, calling me, to spend time in prayer. I offer all of you and all my readers, my thoughts this morning.
As many have said before, Jesus’ birth was not announced by royal trumpets. None of that society’s kings, emperors or government officials were present. Yet, God came and not silently. God came with the cries of a mother at birth, experiencing the pain and work of new life. Shepherds, society’s outcasts came to celebrate. They heard the angel’s voices – the heavenly trumpets.
This morning and every morning, God comes to us again. As I ponder the events of yesterday, these are my experiences of God’s presence. God started early by reminding me through Tom that I intended to give away two copies of my novel To Begin Again. I saw God smile, on the face of the person who received them. God came to me in the quiet request of a beggar on the street downtown. I offered all my change, maybe five dollars and the plea, please use it for food not drugs. I could feel God groan. Leftovers given begrudgingly, I thought. God came again in the greeting of the Salvation Army band at the mall. This time God nodded as I responded with money for their bucket and words of gratitude to one of the musicians. God reached out and touched my heart yet again in the grocery store. A teenager voluntarily helped me with my groceries. I responded with smiles and thankyou’s, and words of joy to the check out clerk. This time I felt God’s joy. And the list goes on. All day yesterday, it seemed that God was with me. The culmination of my joy and God’s came as I sat with my daughter and grandchildren and Tom at the Christmas Eve service and then enjoyed food and fellowship at home with good friends.
There was so much more yesterday. Blessings rained down on me, warmed my heart all day. They weren’t huge. The blessing was that yesterday, even in the noise and rush of the crowds around me, in the multitude of tasks, I didn’t miss God’s presence with me.
Today, on this most holy day, take a moment to step into the shoes of Mary the mother of Jesus, ponder in your heart the times you have experienced God’s presence over the last week. Open your heart to God’s visit today. Whether you’re in the midst of deep sadness and fear or surrounded by celebration and love – remember the miracle of God’s presence is with you. Like the shepherds, listen for the angel’s song of joy. It’s Jesus’ birthday. Give thanks.
In her book, Meet the Austins, Madeline L’Engle tells the story of parents rousing their children from sleep to experience the spectacular beauty of the world bathed in moonlight immediately after an ice storm. The scene, as described by a child, depicts the family standing lost in wonder amidst the beauty of God’s world. The hymn, This is God’s Wondrous World, flooded my soul as I read.
As I pondered the scene, I thought of similar moments in which I, too, have been lost in “wonder.” I remembered being overwhelmed with the majesty of nature, as I stood transfixed by the glory of a summer sunset. Flaming reds, yellows, purples, lit the sky, not just in the west, but overhead and around to the east. Five minutes and the colors changed, fading and shifting to patches of pink and violet as dusk descended. I remembered the thrill of watching the mating dance of two loons in the moonlight, while being rocked in our canoe on Sturgeon Lake – a momentary privilege, a gift from God.
My mind moved beyond the miracles of nature to family moments of God’s total love. We actually captured on camera the night we found my granddaughter asleep under her bed, cuddling her beloved chocolate lab. The beauty, the love, the innocence of a child fills my soul as I remember. Often, as I fall off to sleep cuddled up to Tom, I thrill to the total safety of his love.
This morning as I look forward to yet another year, the peace and joy of these amazing moments lift my soul. I suggest you, too, take time to relive your spectacular God-given moments of beauty and love. What better way to step into a new year. These moments are a resource of power and energy and peace. They can carry us through the tough and the regular times of daily living.
Every time we notice God’s presence, God’s overwhelming extravagance, love and forgiveness; every time we remember and relive these spectacular experiences, there is a tiny change, a small alteration in the entire world. With this simple shift, our world takes a step closer to being God’s intended kingdom. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
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.