Category Archives: Touching Lives with God’s Grace

Aging Gracefully

Three weeks ago, my Tom’s beloved mother, Rita, died. Rita was ninety-six, a good age. She’d lived long and well. Over the last ten years, the time that I have known her, she moved from a senior’s residence to a full care nursing home. Although she was ready for this next life with God, we will miss her.

One of the blessings she leaves with me is the inner joy that she carried right to the end. Every time we visited her, she greeted us with a smile that would light up the room. That smile drew us back to her over and over again. Even when her hearing had all but disappeared and conversation had become difficult, her joyous greeting wrapped us in love.

Growing old requires tremendous courage. It becomes a process of letting go. Eyesight and hearing become dim and walking becomes difficult. Maintaining our joy in life requires determination. I’ve no scientific proof, but my experience with the elderly tells me that as we age, our personalities intensify. A number of years ago, I decided that it’s valuable to live a life of gratitude. Already, I’m finding it easier and easier to be thankful. I’m grateful that my knees still work well enough to dance. I’m grateful that my hearing aids have restored my hearing. I’m grateful that we have grandchildren growing up and stepping out into the world. I’m grateful for family and friends. I’m grateful for my church family and the list goes on. If I live to be ninety-six like Rita, and a smile is all I have left to give, I’ll be grateful for that smile.

I suggest that you take a look at your life. What is the main focus of your personality? Do you want it to intensify as you age? If not, I suggest you seek out a new focus that will stand the test of time.

“Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18)

 

For more reflections by Janet Stobie go to www.janetstobie.com

 

Remember To Remember

Look closely.

As we age, our memory dims, particularly our short term memory. Do you remember your fifth birthday, or when the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series, or the tragic car accident that brought death to a stranger? We remember events that have wrought changes in the world, and/or in our lives.

“We will remember” are foundational words for Remembrance Day. We remember that Canadian men and women gave and are still giving their lives in an attempt to ensure that others here and in far off places might live with dignity, free from oppression and violence. Why must we remember?

Remembering will push us to live well in the present. Remembering will enable us to value individuals – strangers and family- as God’s precious creations. Remembering will help us to let go of prejudice. Remembering will encourage us to teach love, not hate. Our precious freedom is fragile. Every day on the news, we see the devastation and pain that comes with war. We are not isolated. We do not live on an island, secure from the evils of this world. Lessons of love and acceptance are essential.

Remembering will give birth to giving thanks, giving thanks for the incredible blessing of life here in Canada. Remembering will ensure that we work for a future of freedom, not just for ourselves, but for our world.

When standing at the entrance to the promised land, Moses instructed the Hebrew people to remember God and all that God had done for them in the past, so that they would keep God’s commands and ”that it may go well with you and your children after you, and you may live long in the land the Lord God gives you for all time.” (Deuteronomy 4:40)

Remember to remember on Nov. 11th and every day.

How Can I Forgive?

Anger dominated his thoughts. Like a slow poison, a litany of bitterness rolled over and over in his mind.

“I did my best. It’s just not fair. Their expectations are way too high.

All they do is nitpick. None of them are perfect either.

Two of them are out to get me. They just want rid of me.”

After several weeks, he offered his letter of resignation. His anger increased to a fever pitch when it was accepted. Now, rejected and bitter, feeling wronged and persecuted, he must move on. How?

Forgiveness is the antidote to the poison of bitterness Forgiveness isn’t easy, partly because we’ve been taught that to forgive we must forget. For some, forgetting means that somehow we must pretend the unfairness never happened. It’s as if we’re required to say it’s okay to be treated unfairly, or to be beaten.

For me, forgiveness means that I must stop fighting the reality of what happened.  Yes, my boss, my husband, my friend, took advantage of me. Forgiveness means shifting my focus from the people involved to how I can prevent that same situation happening again?

Demanding that others must see the error of their ways in order for me to feel good, can mean that I’ll have a life time of misery.  No matter how hard I try, I cannot force someone else to change. The only person I can control is me. Therefore, I must let go of the anger and pain because I need a clear mind to learn from what happened. I need to change myself so that I’m not in a position where someone can treat me unfairly again. For me, that’s what forgiveness is all about. That’s why, when Peter asked Jesus, “Lord how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me”, Jesus could respond, “…not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22.

 

 

Held to Account

This week’s Old Testament reading and the daily news have led me to write the following:

The last few weeks, Pennsylvania State Universityhas dominated the news. An assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, has been convicted of sexual abuse. The administration of the university knew what this man was doing, and took no action. The glory of their sports program took priority over individuals. The team assistant eventually had the courage to reveal Sandusky’s behaviour, Confronting the powerful is not easy.
            Our Bible tells a similar story of King David using his power to steal Bathsheba and manipulate the death of her husband. The prophet Nathan had the courage to confront King David for his behaviour. (2 Samuel 12) Hopefully, most of us will not have such a difficult task. Still there is a lesson to be learned from both of these stories.
            In many congregations, work environments, schools, there are people that we class as cranky. Because we know that underneath their often brusque manner and harsh words is a generous and hard working individual, we don’t want to hurt them. Instead we rush in to assure the victims of the sharp remark or negative words with: “Just let her words roll of your back, that’s just who she is.” Or “Just ignore his tone, he means well, he’s just passionate about that issue.” We make excuses and hope that the timid and sensitive among us learn to give these people a wide berth. In essence, we cover-up and make excuses, just like the head coach at Penn State University.
            Our lack of action facilitates the person in their dysfunction, and it is not loving. I’ve met too many lonely people in nursing homes, who all their lives have rode roughshod over others. Now in their final years, nurses struggle to be compassionate, family and friends come grudgingly to visit.
The story of Nathan and King David tells me that God would like us to hold up a mirror, as Nathan did. Giving someone the opportunity to see and understand the damage he/she actually causes, opens the way for transformation.
Yes confrontation requires courage. Yes, it requires love. Yes, it requires prayer. When we seek God’s help, we can give our “cranky” friend the opportunity for new life.

Sharing the Spirit

When I pull into my driveway, I am welcomed by glorious flowers. Yellows, reds, purples, all the colours of the rainbow shimmer in the summer sun. I smile and relax. “Thank you, God, for the gift of your presence here in my home,” I whisper.

When I step through the doorway at our Dunsford church, I am greeted by God’s  Holy Spirit, pouring out from the eyes, smiles and hugs of individuals in the congregation. Even on weekdays, when the building is empty, the echoes of their love enfold me as soon as I enter. “Thank you, God,” I whisper. “Thank you God for the gift of your presence here in this, your house of prayer.”

Last month, I was blessed with the privilege of gathering for worship at two Christian Conferences, one for writers and one for the wider church. Both times, my heart lifted in the presence of God’s Spirit that emanated from hundreds of others.

No wonder we lament our shrinking congregations. We speak of needing members to fill the pews, do the work and give the money. Those are real needs, yes, but more than anything, we yearn for the feeding of the Spirit that comes with numbers. Each one of us brings God’s Spirit with us everywhere we go. When we gather together, in God’s name, God’s Spirit rises up and overflows among us. Why are we missed when we stay home on Sunday mornings? Our bit of God’s Spirit is missing.

It’s easy to forget that others need us to share our gift of God’s Spirit. We focus on criticism, judgment, sadness, and we horde God’s gift of Spirit. When we do, we diminish ourselves, others and God. Next time you join with a gathering of Christians, intentionally invite God’s Holy Spirit to well up within you and flow out to others. Give God thanks for sharing the Holy Spirit through you.

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)

 

Graduation

Last Sunday, graduation pictures of church members, a congratulations sign, streamers, and balloons decorated our church sanctuary as we celebrated all the young people of our congregation who were graduating from Senior Kindergarten, grade eight, high school and university. During our minister’s conversation with the children, one young Mom announced that her son had just graduated from diapers to using the potty.
The scripture that morning described the confrontation between the shepherd boy David and the Philistine giant Goliath. Throughout the story, David declares that, strengthened by God’s presence within him, he can use his God-given talents to do God’s work. David needed only the courage of his faith, his ordinary slingshot and five smooth stones to complete the task.
            Although I have never liked this violent story, it carried a message for me and, I hope, for our graduates. During our lifetime, we will be faced with difficult tasks. Sometimes, like David, we’ll be aware of the importance of the task for ourselves and the world. Much of the time, we’ll think that our efforts will go unnoticed. But all of the time, we can draw on God’s strength. We can have courage because we know that God is with us, and has provided the gifts God knows we need to do the job.
            Last Sunday, as we congratulated our young people, I hoped that their time among us had helped them know four things:
1.      They are God’s precious children.
2.      God is always with them, giving them strength and hope.
3.      Their church family supports them with prayer and love.
4.      God asks that they live a life of love for others, for God and for themselves.
 The Lordwho rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”  1 Samuel 17:37

Celebrate Valentine’s Day

Every morning at breakfast, Tom and I join hands and pray. Instead of bowing our heads, we look into each other’s eyes. Tom begins with “Thank you, God, for my “just right” Jan.” I add, “and my wonderful Tom.” We go on to give thanks to God for food, family, home and friends, followed by offering up the people and events that are uppermost in our minds. Our breakfast “Grace Prayer” takes only a few moments. Some might think this is romantic, some that it’s ridiculous. For Tom and I, this short prayer time means that whatever the day brings we’re together on it and God is with us.
Our morning prayer reminds me to pay attention to Tom, to remember that I love him. Why, then, would I bother with Valentine’s Day. After all, I’ve heard it said that Valentine’s Day is just another money grab. It means nothing. It’s foolishness.
For Tom and me, Valentine’s Day gives us another opportunity to show that we love, value and respect each other. We know that God has blessed us with our relationship. Life experience has taught us that relationships do not prosper if they are left unattended. Just as a plant cannot grow and become more and more beautiful without water and sunlight, our relationship will only shrivel and become flat without love and care.
            There used to be bill boards that said, “The family that prays together, stays together.” Praying helps. Prayer is one of the nutrients needed. Speaking words of love and doing actions of love are also essential to a healthy relationship. I suggest you use this Valentine’s Day to add to the ways that you nurture your relationships with spouse, children, family, and friends. Endeavour to be a blessing to at least one person that you love, on that day and every day for the rest of 2012.
St. Paul tells us “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others; it is not self-seeking; it is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7).

Wrinkles

In a book titled “Laugh Yourself Healthy,” I found this wise saying: “If you laugh a lot, when you get older your wrinkles will be in all the right places.” At first, I thought about the “crow’s feet” wrinkles we call laugh lines that form around the outer edge of our eyes. With deeper thought, I recognized the wrinkles that form in our hearts from events that happen in our lives.
One summer night, when Tom and I were first going together, we got lost on a remote country road in northern Ontario. For some reason, instead of becoming angry or frightened, all the silly jokes about men refusing to ask directions began to march through my brain. Laughter bubbled up inside me until it burst forth. Tom pulled the car over to the side of the road. “You’re not angry?” he asked, his face full of surprise.
“No,” I answered. “Anger won’t help.”
“Thank you. You’re wonderful,” he said, and smiled. He pointed at the sky. “There’s the north star. We want to go west, so I’ll turn left at the next side road. That should take us back to the highway.” Sure enough, within five minutes we were on a paved road with signs directing us to the next town. That experience has been foundational for our relationship.
Laughter helps. We remember the times we laughed till we cried and our sides ached. Such moments of blessing leave us refreshed and exhausted. Scientists’ studies have proven that laughter brings healing.
Since I struggle to remember jokes, I have decided to start each week of 2012 reading in “Laugh Yourself Healthy” until I find a joke that causes me to at least chuckle. I will write it down and share it as often as possible. After all, I know I enjoy people who bring laughter into my life. And I know wrinkles are inevitable. They might as well appear in all the right places.

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”            (Proverbs 17:22 NIV)

How Many Lives Shall I Touch Today?

Some mornings when I first wake up, I do some stretching exercises. Often I find an excuse that allows me to skip them. After all, they aren’t rigorous enough to be part of a weight loss or muscle building program. Besides, it takes at least a week before I notice the stiffness creeping into my back and hips.

Living our Christianity, like daily exercises, requires intentionality. In my daily devotional reading I found this poem written by a person named “Jones”.

            “How many lives shall I touch today?

             How many neighbors will pass my way?

             I can bless so many and help so much,

             if I meet each one with a Christ-like touch.”

How many lives shall I touch today? Most of us come in direct contact with an entire crowd of people in any one day. Think about it: family, friends, co-workers, shop-keepers, restaurant workers, doctors, computer connections, strangers …

Being intentional about our interactions with people can add to the total love and joy in this world. Offering the waitress a word of praise can make a difference for her, and for all who hear you. A word of encouragement for a complaining teenager warms your heart and hers. Pausing to listen when a co-worker speaks of concerns or celebrations starts a wave of good feelings that emanates outward. We know this, and yet we get so wrapped up in ourselves, our concerns, our impatience, we forget.

During your morning exercises, prayers, or coffee, tally up the people you will be touching today. Follow this with a short prayer, asking God’s help in making each touch a Jesus touch of joy and love. Over time, this exercise will make a difference in your life and in this world.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)