Sunday, 28 December 2014

It happened on the 4th floor of Joseph Brant Hospital



My eyes have always been drawn to the seemingly insignificant details of life.

Detail such as the elderly lady - a patient at the hospital where we were singing on Christmas Day - who was 'parked' in the hallway, perhaps, for a change of scenery.  To the the nurse who put the lady's hearing aides in her ears as we started to sing carols. How the lady reached from under the blanket for the song sheet I was handing to her. How she moved her mouth to the words of Silent Night while she tried to dislodge her stuffed animal from the tangles of her sheet. How she attempted to smooth out the wrinkles of her bed sheet with her wrinkled hand after she had twice unsuccessfully propped up her Teddy Bear on her bed's edge. How she happily accepted a home-made ornament from a child but declined a second home-made ornament from the same child.

However:

To me, she was the welcoming audience, the gracious host, the musical accompaniment, the gifted soprano, the quiet director, and the entire choir.
To me, she was the reason why we went to the hospital to sing Christmas favourites.
To me, she was why my teen-age children wanted to continue our tradition of singing at 'Joe Brant'.
To me, she was why Jesus came to the earth.

What might have seemed like an insignificant patient on the fourth floor of Joseph Brant Hospital was probably a lot like what Jesus' birth was to his contemporaries. Unimportant. Ho-Hum. Same ole, same ole. I imagine that most people thought that Jesus' birth was just another birth in an old barn. Poor luck Mary and Joe - should have booked your hotel room sooner. His cries were just another baby's cries from hunger pangs or a diaper that needed changing. The shepherds' visit, a little odd given their social status, but nothing too unusual or out of the realm of possibility. I imagine most of the events surrounding Jesus' birth went unnoticed save for a few who actively watched and waited, and who were open to the angel's messages.

I'm wondering if complacency and a general disinterest in life's details comprise our collective Achilles heel. If so, we might be missing a message that's revealing an eternal truth.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Where Christmas memories are held

Twice daily - usually twice - I pass the house I grew up in. More often than not I take a quick glance in some sort of nostalgic way. Sometimes I'll remember mowing the 3/4's of acre by hand or the rare water fights Mom allowed us to have. (We were only allowed half a pail of water since our well was only 18 feet deep and running out of water was a constant summer threat.) I'll remember the annual pumping of our house's septic system that we greeted with disdain. Or, the chicken coop that required daily visits to collect the eggs, which my brother, Duane, and I had to sell on Saturday mornings. We arranged our egg delivery schedule so we could end up at our neighbour's house where we were always invited in to watch cartoons.

And lately, I've been thinking about Christmas times spent when I was young. Mom and Dad didn't have a lot to spend but they made sure there were gifts under the tree for all six kids. I remember my Dad pretending he was Santa Claus one Christmas and saying 'Ho-Ho-Ho' as he carried a brand new Dutch Sjoelbak game (Shuffle Board) up the stairs from our basement. I remember decorating the Christmas tree and throwing the silver icicles and hoping they land in an orderly fashion. (Do they still make those?) I remember having to wash the dinnertime dishes by hand before we could open the presents on Christmas Eve. There were times when Mom would read a Christmas story from The Calvinist Contact before we went to bed. I remember the wooden hockey sticks and pucks that were waiting in our bedroom when Duane and I woke up.

And, then there was the Christmas that we wrapped everything in sight! Since my brother and sister and I didn't have any money to buy gifts we looked for items that were more or less forgotten in our house and regifted them! We would've wrapped our cat, George, if he would have let us! We wrapped old books, or silverware (that's what we called cutlery back then), or mitts and hats that hadn't seen the light of day in years. Or old business cards. My brother found a stack of old business cards that my Dad hadn't used and wrapped them and gave them to him for Christmas. I can still hear the laughter and delight in Dad's voice. I think that gift was the most precious to him that year.

Christmas' seemed simpler back then - and it probably was. Christmas wasn't as commercialized as it is now - the stores were closed on Sundays...even the Sunday before Christmas!

We can't turn the clocks back. And, I don't even know if we'd want to if we could. We have new memories to create and frame. Our kids are now teenagers and we we're just reminiscing of past Christmas' not long ago. I'm thankful for my family. I'm thankful for old memories and new memories. I'm thankful for Christmas' spent on Robson Road 'yesterday' and Centre Road 'today'.

Wishing you wonderful memories this Christmas as we celebrate the birth of our risen Lord and Saviour, Jesus!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

What story do your hands tell?

It's not what I was expecting when I turned the page.

Literally.

I wasn't just turning the next page in life - I was turning the next page of the morning paper. In the particular section of the newspaper I happened to be reading there's usually a list of people grouped in alphabetical order. And then, either on the same page or somewhere on the next few pages, you'll find the name repeated followed by a brief caption of their life and some other important details. More often than not these life notices will include a picture.

Not that day.

On that day the family who was left behind chose a picture of their loved one's hands rather than her face. Not only was it a hand that obviously had seen many days but included a younger person's hand - a hand that has just started life's journey.

We expect certain things. We expect morning to follow night. We expect spring to follow winter. And, we expect people to grow old. We expect to see in obituaries the faces of those who have died - not their hands.

I'm not sure what this person's family wanted to share by printing a picture of their now deceased's hand grasping a more youthful hand, but it spoke volumes. This was a hand of person who loved and was loved. Hands that worked and served. Hands that held and let go. Hands that wiped tears of sorrow and clapped in victory. Unique to her and like no others. This was a hand that held on to a youth in spite of age.

And, then there were Trevor's hands. It's not what I expected. At 5AM this past Friday morning I knelt beside Trevor for a few minutes before the paramedics arrived. Trevor's hands had had enough of the snow. His hands were cold and clenched. His hands had blood on them from his bleeding face. His hands tried to resist those who came to help him. Finally relenting, Trevor's hands allowed the medic to help him stand. The medics' hands now held him up and I saw Trevor's cold hands relax.

Our hands tell stories - in many ways they mirror our face. We may try to hide the wrinkles, or wash off the evidence. We may strike out with fists in anger or hug tightly in love. Our hands are often expressions of our souls. They are our title page of our life's story.

And Trevor...I pray his hands will grow old - and love - and hold.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

#NOTEVENCLOSE

The selection, the pregnant pause, the unwrapping, 'the ooh and the aah', the smile, the twinkle...there was everything! I had this one locked up! Could it BE any clearer? So, I waited for my number to be called. #7's next. Hey...I'm #7. Here was my chance to shine. I didn't have to go far to get it. I reached to my right and took it with confidence. Then - silence. Followed by...laughter. Lots of laughter.

I wasn't even close! Oh...the shame. Oh...the laughter.

Did I say #NOTEVENCLOSE?

Last night's Christmas party will go down in the history books - at least it will in my mind. If you've ever played the gift exchange game where stealing is encouraged, then you might understand the dilemma I faced. If you don't know this game, here's a quick look at the rules.
  1. Bring a wrapped gift. Preferably a gift that you received at your wedding 20 years ago and one that was never used. Or maybe a wall ornament that you have to blow an inch of dust from.
  2. Don't admit which gift is yours and make sure your spouse knows what paper you used.
  3. From a predetermined draw, wait until your number is called and either pick an unwrapped gift that was brought by another guest - or 'steal' a gift that someone else picked previously.
  4. And, if you do steal a gift, put it under your chair so that 'future un-wrappers' will forget about it.
That's about it. I might have skipped a few steps but if you're clever, you'll get the gist of the game. Basically, you hope to take home the best of someone else's unwanted or no longer used gifts.

Here was the dilemma. Pick something for me. Or, pick something for her. So, being all manly and stuff, I picked something for her. First the Christmas Carousel. Then the "NOooooo" from across the room from where she was sitting. Then the laughter. I thought she liked it. She oohed and aahed. She smiled. Her eyes twinkled. So, I stole it. I stole a gift from a fellow guest because I thought she liked it. The queues were all there. Any guy would have done the same. But the laughter. Oh the laughter. (Kind of made me feel like the Grinch - Jim Carey's version - when he came out with band-aids after shaving!)

Don't worry. It's all good.  I'm pleased to say that we now have a new Christmas ornament on our shelf and a great story to go with. But, for me, it's also a story of discovery. I'm still learning about my wife's tastes. Sometimes, when I think I've nailed 'it' I couldn't be more wrong. And, at other times, it's totally reversed.

I think it's a lot like how the fruit of the Holy Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control - grows within. These nine gifts of the God are called fruit for a reason. A piece of fruit starts from a flower and over the course of a season the apple, or pear, or peach, ripens to full maturity. Just like fruit, a gift of the Holy Spirit has to grow and mature within before it bears fruit. It doesn't happen over night and it could even take a lifetime before it's ready to be picked. So, when I first met my wife, believe it or not, I didn't know everything about her immediately...and, from last night's events, it's very evident there's along way to go! I love her and I'm still learning.

I love the Lord Jesus Christ and I'm still learning. The fruit is growing. I just wish 'patience' would ripen 'cause I can't wait for that one!

Oh...one more thing...I can't wait for Christmas either!

A stumble, a tear and a rainbow

Greeted by a surprise rainbow on Mom's birthday! It was at a dressed up gravesite that 40 or 50 people gathered around last Tuesday,...