Sunday, 22 February 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey and John McCrae

On Libya's beaches the blood flowed red,
From twenty-one martyrs their bodies dead.
Who heard their silenced screams for aid?
The West? With ransoms to be paid?
From comfort our heads in unison shake,
For not our lives we willingly stake.
Awful! Horrible!
What a horrific tragedy!
And in muted silence thank God it's them - not me.
Put down your Fifty Shades of Grey
and retake the torch from fallen poet John McCrae.
For we have broken faith with those who died
On Libya's beaches -
A crimson tide.
Henry Vanderlaan; February 22, 2015

Dear Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae;

I'm sorry to have waken you from your near hundred year slumber. You see, we once quarreled with the foe. We once held the torch high. We once kept the faith so you may sleep in Flanders fields under the blowing poppies.

Every year, on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, we faithfully read the poem you so eloquently crafted in May 1915 under the larks above and amid the guns below. Bathed in the poetic prose of your seemingly timeless poem, we praise the sacrifices made on our behalf.Veterans, whose numbers dwindle yearly, adorned with metals and poppies brave the elements and march in silence in remembrance of those fallen in wars past and wars current. We hold high the valor and courage of men and women who have served our nation with little regard for self yet with high regard for neighbor.

And now, on the beaches of Libya, innocent blood was shed because the murdered were "followers of the cross" - Christians. But, Mr. McCrae, can you tell us what torch we're supposed to carry? You didn't make that clear. What quarrel should we take up? Quarrels of faith? Of military might? Of economic power? Of gender equality? What? Mr. McCrae...WHAT??

Maybe...what you meant was quarrel only when convenient...when my rights are being violated. And then I'll shake my fist at the nightly news, turn out the lights, and go to bed. It'll be a new day tomorrow. It makes sense now.

You can go back to sleep, Mr. McCrae. Sorry for bothering you. I got this.

Now what page was I on in Fifty Shades of Grey?


A beneficiary of your sacrifice and 100 million others.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Faithfulness looks a lot like this...

"MOM! Can you help me?"

"MOM! I need you."


Racing up 13 stairs.
Turning left towards her bedroom.
There she is. On her knees. Praying.

"Just give me a few minutes. I'll be there."

That's all she needed to say and I knew things were going to be alright.

It didn't happen often - a handful of times, maybe - but often enough to forge a memory of my Mom that will stay with me forever. The several times I found my Mom kneeling beside her bed praying to her God was a moment of indescribable comfort. Words fail me. I'm glad my memory hasn't. Yet.

Thinking back to moments of my childhood when I saw the evidence of faith in my parents brings a certain joy and peace that seems reserved for only such memories. As I watch our children become teenagers and get closer to adult life these memories scratch the surface more frequently and they seem to be taking on greater meaning. My parents owned a faithfulness that was tangible. Their faithfulness was demonstrated in part by having daily devotions and praying before and after meals, to church attendance (as a teenager - regretfully, I'd argue it was akin to forcing a horse to drink), to tithing even when money was scarce, and to Christian day schools. I still hear my Mom asking one of us to get the 'black envelope from the hall closet' where she kept the money that was set aside for the weekly church offering.

Which brings me to this thought: faithfulness seems to fall off the radar when talking about the nine fruit of the Holy Spirit. I wonder if it's because faithfulness is an act that exhibits its fruitfulness most often within oneself. With the exception of 'joy', the other seven fruit - love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control - can be displayed in our actions demonstrated toward others. Faithfulness manifests itself in daily, personal prayer; in weekly worship with God's family; in sacrificial giving; and in teaching our children "when (we) sit at home and when (we) walk along the road, when (we) lie down and when (we) get up". Deuteronomy 11:19.

It's this persistent and gentle faithfulness that glows in Mom's face. For whenever I visit her, she seems to have just laid down her Bible and (or) it appears she had been spending time in prayer in the presence of her Saviour, Jesus.

Mom's speech has been impaired greatly since suffering a stroke in 1996. And, for a reason I don't fully understand, when she sings her speech is clear. It's as if God said, "My child, because of a lifetime of faithfulness you always be able to sing praises to me. I won't take that joy away."

And, if you listen very carefully, somewhere in the distance, you can hear Mom sing a song she often sang when I was growing up - I Love to Tell the Story (Listen to Alan Jackson's version.).

I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
of Jesus and his glory,  of Jesus and his love. 
I love to tell the story,  because I know 'tis true;
it satisfies my longings  as nothing else can do.
I love to tell the story, 'twill be my theme in glory,
to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love.

(Author: A. Catherine Hankey)

Sing it again, Mom. I want to hear it again.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Marked for Life, Made to Live

Picture this: there were two deer, each with 10 point racks, standing on their hind legs in a forest clearing. One of the deer has what appears to be a bullseye on its chest. And, the other deer looks at the first and says, "Bummer of a birthmark, Hal!"

A picture, a few words - 5 to be exact - and the stage is set! I'm sure Hal lived to be a very paranoid deer; always conscious that he was helping any would-be hunter get a better shot! Gary Larson, creator of "The Far Side" comic strip, had a great way of giving human qualities and personalities to wild life. His comics were often a single frame coupled with a one-lined zinger. But, that's all he had to say..."Bummer of a birthmark, Hal"...and in no time we can envision Hal living a very shortened life.

Funny, right? But, the odd thing about this cartoon is that I can identify with Hal. No, I don't have antlers or go by the name 'Buck', nor do I expect to live an abbreviated life because of a ill-placed bullseye, but I know first hand what it means to be the owner of a birthmark that's very prominent. It's not on my face as some people have. I was born with a dark, strawberry coloured birthmark that extends from the heel of my left foot, up the calf and to the back of my knee.

I don't remember when I became self-conscious of the mark, but I do remember one of the first times that I made an effort to hide it. I was 7 years old and I decided to wear long pants to my grade school's annual track and field day and I was determined not to be subjected to the questions from curious kids and less-than-tactful adults. When asked why I wasn't wearing shorts I recall making up the excuse that I forgot it was field day...(something a little unbelievable given the excitement and anticipation kids have for field days before they realize running and jumping are not at the top of their skill ladders.) While fumbling for excuses I remember one of my classmates, Marlene G, showing me a moment of undeserved grace and offering some elastic bands to help keep my pant legs rolled up.

Playing soccer wasn't a big deal because you could wear long socks and it would cover up my birthmark. But when I was 17 or so, going to Gulliver's Beach and wearing black jeans on a hot, summer day was a regrettable decision! I think that was the final straw. It was after baking at that beach and getting an even darker farmer's tan that I decided, if you don't like what's on my leg,...DON'T LOOK AND DON'T ASK! Now, I'm gentler and a little more accepting of peoples' curiosity, which is all it really is, isn't it?

A physical mark, a permanent spot on my skin, had partially defined me at such a young age. Starting from a very young age, we let all sorts of outside influences define who we are as individuals. We allow things like a birthmark, the presence or the absence of hair, the size of our house, our height, the make of our car(s), the types of vacations we take, how much money we earn, our job, the size of bank account, our ethnicity, athletic ability, the brand of clothing we wear, sexual identity, our friendships, how many views we get on Instagram, likes on Facebook, +'s on Google, favourites on Twitter (I'll pause here and let you fill in some more because the list is endless ______) to shape our identities. I've heard it said before that we allow our net worth to define our self worth. And, it's sad. Sad.

Look around. We're bombarded with ads that tell us we'll be happier with a drink in our hands, a diamond on her finger, a boat in the driveway, an in-home theatre, better smelling armpits, fresher breath, tighter abs and skinny jeans. Really? Maybe, for a few hours, or days, tops.

I'm not immune to it - I still fight the temptation to compare myself to others. But, here's what I try remember (and I'm not always successful): I was fearfully and wonderfully made by God (Psalm 139:14) and I'm storing my treasures in Heaven! (Matthew 6:20). That's all I need. I just can't use it as collateral on a bank loan!

Come to think of it, when asked by my epidermal inquisitors I should have replied, "Oh...that red spot...those are God's fingerprints he left behind when he made me."

Ah, story of my life...always a day late and a dollar short!

And, after all these years, a word to my 2nd grade classmate Marlene G. - "Thanks for your kindness! I'll never forget."

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Great day to be alive

Usually, when I get in my truck at 2 AM on a cold, snowy night I waste little time putting the transmission into drive. Not this past Monday. I turned the key and was welcomed with... "It's a Great Day to be Alive" sung by Travis Tritt." I just sat there shivering and listened. (Since I'm not gifted with awesome lyric recall like the rest of my family I had to look up the lyrics.) Here're a few lines:

"Sometimes it's lonely, sometimes it's only me
And the shadows that fill this room
Sometimes I'm fallin', deserately callin'
Howlin' at the moon, ah-ooh

Well I might go get me a new tatoo
Or take my old Harley for a three day cruise
Might even grow me a Fu Man Chu

And it's a great day to be alive
I know the sun's still shining'
When I close my eyes
There's some hard time in the neighbourhood
But why can't everyday be just this good"
(from writer: Darrell Scott)

You get the idea, I hope. Here's a man singing about simple blessings in life while at the same time acknowledging there's trouble all round - including in his own life - and he's thankful for each day. It resonated with me...and it brought me to smile.'s a good day to be alive - even though there's some hard time in the neighbourhood.

Just earlier that evening I heard that the family of a man I worked with for 17 years pulled him from life support. I hadn't seen 'Pro' (as we called him) for the last 8 years and I was thinking that the last time I said 'Good bye' to him was really the last time I'd ever say good bye to Pro. You never know when the last time is going to be the last time. You say good bye to your kids when they leave for school. You say good bye to your best friend after a night on the town. You say good bye to your parents after a long overdue visit. You say good bye to your spouse on your way to work. You say good bye to a coworker as you enter life in a new employ. Or, you never get to say good bye.

The small things in life that provoke mild irritation - or anxiety - seem to be appreciated or even welcomed when a tragedy occurs. Suddenly, I'm thankful (not a lot mind you!) for having to get up at 2 AM to plow snow. I'm thankful for the annoying birds that woke me up too early on a Saturday morning. I'm thankful for my teenage daughter who's practicing the flute while I'm trying to write this blog. (She's actually quite gifted...phew!) I'm thankful for having to turn up the TV's volume because the dishwasher and washing maching are fighting over who can be the loudest during the rinse cycle!

And, I's a great day to be alive.

Another great day: my mom watching her Dad (Pa) milk a cow. (See the wooden shoes!) 
The big things become bigger. Like watching my teenage son get into a van with his buddies - driven by one of his buddies. Yup - no parents at all. Just 5 - 16 year old boys, a van, some skates, a puck and in search of ice. And, I was thankful to watch it from my window. Or, witnessing my daughter and her friend confidently walk to the front of our church this morning and ask for donations for their upcoming mission trip to Haiti. And, if I could say this quietly so they don't hear me, I'm thankful that my oldest children will soon have their G2 driver's licenses. Not because I'll spend less time driving, but because, by God's grace, they've reached this milestone of life.

And, I's a great day to be alive.

I think it's generally a good thing that we don't know when the last time we say good bye..will be the last time. I'm thankful that future events are kept hidden and are revealed in time. I'm not sure many people could bear or would really want to know what the future holds.

But, whatever the future holds, and whichever 'Good bye' will be my last good bye, may this be my song:

Sunset in Indian Shores, Florida

"The sun comes up, it's a new day dawning
It's time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies beore me
Let me singing when the evening comes
Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I'll worship Your holy name" (lyrics Matt Redman)

And, I's a great day to be alive.

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,...