October 9, 2015

To the Top Three Percent: What Blessing Means to Me

From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. John 1:16 NIV

When you hear the word blessing, what comes to mind? Your home, family, food, a new iDevice maybe? Ask any group of children and these are the types of answers you will most likely hear. One of my favourites last year, ‘I’m thankful for Jesus and meat’, was accompanied by a drawing with Jesus in the center and the girl off to the side eating meat at her kitchen table. These are all good things to be thankful for. Definitions for blessing range from "a beneficial thing for which one is grateful; something that brings well-being" to "God’s favor and protection". (source)

Yes, we are blessed. But wait a minute. Can I measure the degree of my blessing from God by the amount or type of things I own? I have more material goods than someone living a nomadic life in Nigeria, does that mean I have been granted a greater blessing? What does the blessing of God truly look like? Is His blessing in the two thousand square foot home, the Costco-sized pumpkin pie or the latest iDevice? We may have these things, and it is certainly not wrong to be thankful for them, quite the contrary, but I am frustrated when people refer to these things as ‘blessings’, like those who do not have them are not blessed. North Americans on one modest income of $30, 000 per year make it into the top three percent of the wealthiest people in the world. You can check out your own income here.

We live privileged lives, but does privilege equal blessing?

I think God has more for you. No, not more stuff. More of Him.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8

I believe there are blessings given by God that you cannot see. It does not matter where you were born or how much money you make, these blessings are for you. They are the great equalizer. Young or old, rich or poor, man or woman, living in Canada or living in Cambodia, these blessings are for you.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Ephesians 1:13 NLT

If you believe in Christ, you are an heir to His promises, you are His child, you will live and reign with Him forever. Talk about blessing.

Redemption, forgiveness, grace, relationship, these are the blessings I’m talking about. There is no discrimination, they are a free gift and guess what? You cannot earn them, You cannot buy them. You cannot perform for them. They are a gift because you are united with Christ. And the best part? Nothing can take these blessings away. Not rust or moth, or rot or fire or time. They are permanent.

I asked a class of students today to think about the blessings in their life that were not things. I was curious. Family and friends came up, (and those are amazing blessings), but they just kept rolling with it. Love! Faith! Forgiveness! And my heart was saying Yes! You get it! Thank you Lord, that these children can recall what we sometimes forget. The most valuable blessings in our life will never be things of this earth, but the wealth of God’s upside-down Kingdom.

May your heart find joy in the true blessings of God this Thanksgiving, and may He be at the center of all our thanks.

February 8, 2015

In the new beginning there was Simon Cat

Just popping in to share a bit of fun, furry news with you... we've adopted a ten week old kitten and he is just the sweetest, cutest little thing!

He is bringing joy to our home, and I feel like God has restored a missing piece of our family. Sometimes after a much-loved pet passes away it is easy to begin again with another, and it helps the pain of passing. Sometimes it takes a long wait. Living arrangements can be a factor, and then there is the interesting process of looking for just the right pet. 

Here is our new-pet-finding story...

Every month since the fire I have scanned local animal rescue sites. After Christmas this past year, we were finally feeling like it was a good time to add a cat to our family. You would think picking a cat would be easy, there are so many wonderful animals out there who need loving homes. We visited the local Humane Society, and brought home a cat who looked very much like our Cadi. Unfortunately, her personality was nothing like our sweet previous cat. After a couple days of hissing and growling, we decided she needed to go back to the shelter. It was strange to have an animal in the house that looked so much like Cadi and yet acted so very differently. I'd catch myself wanting to call her Cadi, and it just felt sad and hard. So we crossed tortoiseshell cats off the list. Discouragement set in, and we thought maybe trying to have a cat again was just not going to work. After all, we had waited so long, surely the first cat we try should be the one, right? 

A couple weeks later, with a fresh burst of hope, we were off to look at a six month old black and white kitten who was being fostered by Second Chance Animal Rescue volunteers. His description on the website matched our cat-personality wish list to a tee; cuddly, personable, a true lap cat. Surely this was the cat for us! However, when we arrived all we saw was a black streak as he shot off down the hallway, afraid of strangers. My heart sunk. Then, peeking around the corner, a little grey fur ball waddled in. Too young, and not yet ready to be adopted out, he was not on the website and therefore not on our radar. After being assured that the black and white cat really does warm up quite quickly we decided to give him a try, but asked about taking kitten as well. He would not be ready for another week, so we agreed to come back for both cats once the week was up. 

We did have both cats in our home for a couple days, but something still felt off. The black and white cat did warm up to us quite well, but we just didn't feel like he was the right cat for us. After Neal had a bad allergic reaction to this cat rubbing on his chin, we knew that either both or at least one of these cats had to go.

Driving alone in the car early the next morning I prayed about this whole cat situation. Tears of frustration and confusion leaked out of tired eyes as I asked God to make it clear to us. Were we done with cats? Why doesn't any of this feel right? Neal and I were a team, we were in this together cats or no cats, so I asked God to speak to both of us about the best choice in our situation. Surrender comes a bit easier with practice, and I knew I could trust the God who numbers the hairs on my head (and maybe the cat hairs on my couch?). I loved this little kitten already, but did not want Neal to suffer allergic reactions like he had with the other cat (this was kind of a new thing as he never had any reactions to Cadi). Not confident in my logical decision making capacity in this highly emotional situation, I asked God that if we were to keep the kitten, the idea would be presented by Neal first and not myself. We had agreed the night before that if both cats went back, this was the end of trying to have another cat.

But that is not where this story ends.

Not long after I was home, Neal said he had been thinking of trying just the kitten. The black and white cat went back to his foster home that afternoon, and we adjusted to having just the little one around. Something good seemed to sink in and the nervous, fluttery feeling I was struggling with was gone. After a week of settling in, we knew this little one was here to stay. 

His name is Simon. He came to meet me at the door after church today, tail straight up and purring the moment I began to pet him. He is everything we were looking for and more.

And so, we begin again, and all things are made new.

Just a side note on animal adoption... shelters are stressful places for the animals awaiting adoption. It was unrealistic on our part to assume we could just walk in and find a perfect, friendly cat. Some cats may act friendly at the shelter and not be so happy in your home, and others may be fearful at the shelter but fine after settling in at your place. They all deserve a chance. With that being said, I do believe that there are animals who will be just the right fit for your family. Thankfully most shelters and animal rescues give you some time to settle in together and see if it will work. It is a little easier to assess how an animal will be in your home if it is being fostered, but you never really know until you try! In any case, a rescue is a fantastic place to find your new furry family member and we are so thankful for the people who work with these animals as they await their forever homes. 

December 22, 2014

When Waiting is Over

"The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."
John 1:9-15

The Word became flesh. The Word who existed at the beginning of all things, when the earth was formless and void. The holy, beautiful Word who spoke into existence day and night, who separated the waters, who imagined every every sunrise, every bird's song, every morning frost, who is every glimmer of beauty, this word became flesh and dwelt among us. I find myself in awe again this season, in awe of a beautiful, holy, creative God making a way to rescue us, his creation who turned away and did not choose him. But He chose us. He never gave up on us. His birth broke four hundred years of silence.

"In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."
John 1:4,5

We do not have to wait any longer. He is here. The Light has come.

December 12, 2014

Project Life 2014

This past year was a big one for us. I could feel it brewing last fall, changes, big things. Some changes could be seen outwardly; selling the Slave Lake house, building a new house where we are living now, a new job with the church, being confident in taking a step back from full time teaching. Other changes were hidden inside; the molding of my heart in this continued wait for a child, building faith, dealing with doubt, growing, learning to appreciate all life holds. Learning to fly on new wings. Learning how to wait. I am still learning.

I set out last fall to capture a video clip or two each week for a year. This is the result. It is a glimpse into the places I found beauty. I hope it inspires you to think about the beauty in your past year too. 

November 24, 2014

Winter Adventures In Banff National Park

Sometimes you just need to go on an adventure, no matter the weather, the road conditions, or what you could be doing at home. We cast all that aside the other week to escape to Banff for a few days, to see what kinds of adventure we could rustle up.
If you wear enough layers (and can still walk), you can hike into frosty, snow-capped woods. We tried a few trails near town; Fenland Trail, Marsh loop (seen above), and the Cave and Basin trail and boardwalks. More often than not, it's the gorgeous scenery, not the cold, that takes your breath away!
Whenever we are in the mountains wildlife is on my mind, yet the only wildlife we saw were a few little chickadees and one shy squirrel. Deer made an appearance, but they showed up in our hotel parking lot, not the least bit concerned with all the tourists taking pictures near them.
Our routine for the trip was first to hike, come back to the hotel to warm up and eat lunch, then hit the trail again for the afternoon. On our first morning we hiked to a viewing platform with a beautiful panoramic view of the Banff Springs Hotel.
We decided to visit the hotel one evening and tour around (it goes on and on, rooms galore!), but those pictures will take up their own post.
One morning it was particularly frosty so we decided to visit the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. My absolute favourite exhibit (though it's hard to even pick a favourite) was 'Side by Side, Paintings by Peter and Catharine'. Peter and Catharine Whyte lived and painted in Banff in the early 1900's and are the founders of the museum. Their paintings are impressionistic and (to me) really embody the spirit of place. If you have been to Banff you can almost smell and feel each area just by looking at the paintings. I'd like to move the whole collection to my living room, but I settled for bringing home a print of one of our favourites.
Also near town is the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, where we braved the sulphur smell of the springs to hike Marsh Loop and explore boardwalks around the interpretive centre. Natural mineral hot springs are something to see in winter. The steam rising from warm ground water covers everything in a thick frost, yet anything growing in or beside the water is completely green. Some people even let some (un-natural) tropical aquarium fish loose in the pond and they have survived and reproduced. It was quite a sight to see dalmation mollies swimming around in a pool when we were bundled up to the nines with frost nipping at our noses.
The warm steaming water felt great on chilly fingers and later that day we enjoyed a dip in the Upper Hot Springs. It was during evening hours and so wonderfully quiet. If you go later at night, chances are you'll only hear one kid singing 'Let It Go', as compared to the ten you might hear during daytime hours. Also, the frost build up on your hair is fabulous.
Banff is packed with unique little shops, which we wound in and out of during a few warm-up hours between hikes.
We thought about renting snowshoes from Banff Adventures, but we found the trails quite manageable without much gear, and made due with our hefty winter boots. One saying kept running through my mind during our time away; "There's no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather" (John Ruskin). As long as you are dressed properly, no winter adventure is out of reach!
The time away was refreshing and soul-satisfying. I may have just come away with a few more stars in my eyes, and heart full of gratefulness.

“Long, blue, spiky-edged shadows crept out across the snow-fields, while a rosy glow, at first scarce discernible, gradually deepened and suffused every mountain-top, flushing the glaciers and the harsh crags above them. This was the alpenglow, to me the most impressive of all the terrestrial manifestations of God. " 
(John Muir)

November 6, 2014

All the Creatures

These little squirrels are really quite pesky, but it's easy to forget that when they stare curiously into your camera lens all cute-like. A click of the lens seems the only way to capture them, almost unrecognizable in rare moments of stillness. Otherwise they are all hurry-scurry. Chickadees too. And then, from all the movement of the forests little creatures, a moment of quiet. Sunlight catching silent golden webs, spiders unseen. This is my therapy.