Sunday, 26 April 2015

The joy and comfort of spring and baby birds

It's like clockwork. It's my simple joy and comfort. By the end of April, they've all returned. And, by the last week of August, they leave. I've seen it year after year. No - not university students...I'm referring to barn swallows! The return of barn swallows is a simple joy I've been able to witness for the past few years. It's one of the sure signs that spring is here.

I'm amazed by the predictability of these birds. I'm never sure of the exact day, but I know that one day at the end of April, I'll open the barn's door and be greeted by a family of swallows. This was last Friday, April 24 (my Dad's birthday). So, for the next four months I'll have to walk strategically to avoid any falling treats from the sky! In another month or so, I'll get to listen to a cacophony of tiny bird tweets and have to dodge even more sky poop. It's awesome because I see God's faithfulness in the change of the seasons and the patterns of life.

We might complain and worry about the changing climate. As an outdoor flower grower, I'm all too familiar with 120km winds, flash flooding, drought, early frosts, and other 'acts of God' that make farming difficult, but a simple barn swallow returning from the south reminds me not to worry. In the midst of life's uncertainties we can be confident that our world is not on auto-pilot.

The predictability of robins returning, the smell of freshly cut grass, pink crab apple blossoms, a cardinal's morning song, yellow daffodils debuting, cows grazing in the meadow (not until May 10 I'm told) are some of the signs - simple joys - that affirm we're not here simply because of time, chance, and matter. There's too much intelligence in nature to ignore our Creator and his simple comforts.

I don't know how he did it. But, I believe he did. Six days? A billion years? Dinosaurs? Adam's belly button - was there one? I don't know. But, I do know that my swallow friends will leave at the end of August.

And, by God's design, they'll be back in April 2016! D.V.

Do not buy!

(p.s. Don't waste your money on these flying fake owls...they only make good landing pads!)

Sunday, 19 April 2015

It takes a village to raise a greenhouse

photo credit: Jon Vos
It was truly an amazing sight. Wind gusts of up to 60km per hour weren't enough to deter 20 - 25 area men from coming to help a 'brother' repair the roof of one of his greenhouses. With spring flower sales literally around the corner, a band of loosely connected friends came out to lend a hand in resealing a portion of a greenhouse roof that blew off its arches early this morning. Hundreds of hanging baskets and large planters were threatened due to the impending cold front blowing in from the east.

On his regular morning walk-through, Mike Zwiers, owner of Garden Source Greenhouses, located on Centre Road, in Flamborough Centre, came across a sight that no greenhouse operator ever wants to witness. The roof vent which extends the full length of the greenhouse was standing straight up and taking the full force of the wind's fury. To minimize further structural damage and a greater crop loss, a quick thinking Zwiers quickly unhinged the plastic and secured any moving parts with ropes, straps - even anchoring the roof's ridge to his 30ft trailer parked on the ground.

While doing his best to "batten down the hatches", a small army of men had assembled on his property to help wherever needed. Methodically, in unison, and well orchestrated by several experienced men, the roof was repositioned with ropes and heavy equipment and the plastic was 'wire-locked' into place.

For some, Sunday afternoons are sacrosanct...a time to relax, to nap, play golf, read, or just 'chill'. But, not for those men today - they came to help a man and his family in the most critical time of their business cycle. A community of volunteers comprised of university and high school students, a veterinarian, salesmen, a financial advisor, a city manager, other local greenhouse operators, transportation specialists, an electrician, to name a few - all responded to the call for help.

It was a miracle on Centre Road. It was a convergence of volunteers helping a man and his family at a time of need. It was a moment in time when personal interests were laid aside.

There's a time for everything under the sun. Today, it was a time to build.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Thankful for 'Smelly' People

One of the things that keeps me awake at night is the mystery of why the phrase "Smell you later" has never caught on. While my wife anxiously awaits a text from one of our newly minted teenage drivers saying they've arrived safely; I'm thinking of odour. (And, if I really want to engage in a mental pursuit, I'll consider whether railway tracks are bent on site, or if they bend them at the steel mill before they're installed. Ah, but I digress...)

Of our five senses, why have our greetings gravitated toward sight - as in "Nice to see you", or "See you later"? Substitute any of the other four senses for the word 'see' and you're in for a societal lesson on appropriateness! I couldn't (nor wouldn't) say to my wife's sister...for example..."Nice to taste you" or "Nice to touch you". You get the idea. I hope. Clearly, I'm not a trained psychologist, but I think that sight is less invasive of personal space...and probably the most hygienic and the least threatening!

But smell - more than sight - is one of those senses that you associate with places you've been or things you've experienced. All I have to say is "fish market" and not only will you picture the scene, but its 'fish stink' will invade your imagination as well. Or, a smell may remind you of a time when you became violently ill after eating some pork back ribs. Conversely, a real estate agent will tell you that the smell of freshly baked bread or cookies will invoke happy memories and may expedite an offer to buy a house. Or, the smell of coffee brewing might bring you back to grandma's house.

People smell; and their smell will either create positive or negative impressions. I'm not talking about body odor I'm referring to our actions, both verbal and non-verbal. I'm especially conscious of my smell - my Christian smell. Do my actions and words give off an aroma that is inviting or a stench that is revolting?  When I'm speaking to other Christians in the presence of non-Christians, is my conversational odor inviting or nauseating? These are important questions if I'm to take my witness for Christ seriously.

However, I'm thankful that Jesus can smell through it all. The smell of Lazurus' 4 day-old dead body didn't deter Jesus from raising Lazurus from the dead (John 11:39); and I'm grateful that Jesus wasn't repelled by my smell. He didn't mind that the places I've been, the thoughts I've had, or my actions emitted a certain repugnancy. No, instead he called me in spite of my 'eau de barnyard' and has made me clean.

I'm thankful for others who 'smell' like Jesus, whose cologne or perfume is heaven scent. I'm thankful for smelly Christians and their smelly witness! But don't worry I won't be invading your personal space anytime soon.

Smell ya later! Or, if you prefer, catch you on the flip side!

Saturday, 4 April 2015

A red tulip, an Easter song, and an innocence found

1974. Huddled together in the shade of an overgrown juniper hedge; protected by the close proximity of their home, a boy and his older sister slowly and methodically scraped away the soil to excavate a crude grave. Not too deep - just deep enough to lay down the now deceased. After covering it so nothing of its temporal body was exposed, the boy's sister gently etched a picture of a cross in the dirt of the newly formed mound with the tip of her finger. Following a moment of silence, his sister began to somberly sing the mournful words of a famous hymn.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

A sniffle from the boy, then a tear, then crying - a crying that only a mother's trained ear could detect above the sound of vacuum cleaner nearing its own last day.
"Denise!" "Stop it! You're making him cry!", yelled my Mom from an open window.
And there it was - my first encounter with death and sadness and tears.
No - our beloved pet cat, George, hadn't died. He had been blessed with 10 lives.

I. Cried. Over. A. Dead. Red. Tulip.

That's all it was - a dead, red tulip! But, Denise captured the moment perfectly and she unknowingly preyed on my innocent understanding of life, death, and everything in between.

Nearing the grand age of 8, she was more worldly than my 5 plus years of life had afforded me. She knew 'the dust to dust' speech, the 'til we meet again' song, the reverent moment of silence, the imagery of the cross, the way around a songbook...she knew lots about life. And she knew how to make me cry.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

It all came together that day. My Oma Gerrits had died earlier that year; Easter had been celebrated a few weeks before; Denise just learned the words to an Easter hymn, and tulips were dying all around. It was providential perfection! Time for a funeral. All that was needed was a little weeping...and it didn't take long for the tear ducts to take their queue!

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

I'm often reminded of that May day of '74 and our innocent play whenever I hear that song. Sometimes my eyes fill with tears as I think of those close to me who have died. But it's only momentary sadness, because I'm quickly reminded of the joy that awaits when we will be reunited. Our separation is only for a short time. We have the rest of eternity to spend our time together. (And, if you're of Dutch descent, 'tip-toeing through the tulips' might be on God's eternal itinerary.)

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Maybe, if my Mom would have allowed Denise to sing a resurrection song, the tears would have given way to laughter. Who knows? Or, maybe, we might have found something else to bury and commemorate its life. Like a daffodil, a crocus, or even the remains of a mosquito that had just met its untimely, unfortunate, and unseemly death between my hand and my knee.

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,...