☀️ Beginnings

A Sunday Doxology

In the beginning, God…

It all began with you, didn’t it?

You declare,

I am the Alpha and Omega, the

Beginning and the End,

and yet you have neither

end nor beginning

and ever since you commenced creating

you keep on creating, recreating,

beginning again —

initiating new mornings and new moons

forming new and clean hearts

bestowing new names

establishing a new covenant

ushering in a new way into

new birth and new life

beginning again and again and again.

What glorious hope —

a hope that invites me, not to a

monotony of déjà vu

here-we-go-again restarts,

but to a renewed strength that

enables me to run, to walk,

— even to soar —

without growing weary,

without fainting under the strain of all

that has yet to be

redeemed, restored, made new.

☕️ Thinkski

A Saturday Caesura: New Year’s Edition

Grey snow clouds smudge the horizon. Falling snow blurs the middle-ground and slowly whitens the foreground. I bundle up for a New Year’s Day “Thinkski.” Although I skied these trails yesterday, the new snow muffles my tracks, leaving them at best discernible parallel grooves, at worst, blown into oblivion by the wind or stamped out by snowmobiles. Maintaining my own trails is both an exercise in futility and an act of love for skiing. I reset the tracks more than I ever simply ski them nicely packed and smooth.

As I settle into a rhythmic swish-glide, I think about how this almost daily resetting feels so much like the past year where so many days required a reset of expectations as the world was blown over and apart by pandemic fears, racial violence, political divisiveness, and conspiracy theories. Many days felt like a beginning again, a re-finding of something we used to call Normal even though its exact configuration has always been so elusive that we keep renaming it The New Normal to accommodate all of its mutations. Ski, snow, blow, storm, reset, ski, thaw, snow, reset…

My eyes scan the snow ahead, looking for signs of the trail, but it is my feet that tell me whether I have found it or not. The foundation trail beneath the fallen and blown snow is firm and reassuring. This is the way, it says, ski here.

I think there is a foundational trail through the year ahead as well, just as there was one that brought me through last year and the year before that and the year before that… Choosing each day to orient to that foundation is most certainly an act of loving life and Lord and neighbour. “Stand at the crossroads and look,” said the Lord through Jeremiah, a prophet well acquainted with unrest & lament, “ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”

This is the way, God says, walk here. He is firm and reassuring, a faithful refuge, a steadfast guide.

Finding Home: an Anniversary

We arrived in Alberta mid-August 1999 in a convoy of anticipation, uncertainty, brokenness, and hope. Unlike most places we previously lived, this new place contained no extended family, no memories connected to family or personal history… no roots.

The newness was both a welcome novelty and an isolating reality.

2019 marks our 20th anniversary of living here, and I’ve thought much about what it takes to know a place, put down roots and feel at home. In some ways I still feel like a newcomer; in other ways I feel rooted more deeply here than anywhere else.  

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Settling in initially required time and energy, so we had little of either left over to explore the physical landscape. Over time, traversing the tidy grid of range and township roads, wide swaths of primary and secondary highways, and a meandering assortment of forest service roads and trails has enabled us to gain at least a cursory knowledge of the region.  “Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea…” Substitute ‘wild rivers’ for ‘flashing sea’ and Henry Van Dyke’s lyrics for the final movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 capture the essence of this land. Always enhanced by the expansive and expressive sky above, continual shifts in colour, texture, and tone animate the land and propel it through the seasons.  

The land is vast, but it is not empty.  Even in a narrow radius from our house, creatures abound: waterfowl, frogs, songbirds, owls and hawks, muskrat, beaver, rabbits, squirrels, weasels, foxes, coyotes, moose, elk, and deer…just this morning a stately buck was cavorting with a young doe outside my bedroom window.  I have tried to be an observant student of this place, anticipating the first frog song in spring, discovering (accidentally) that grouse roost under the snow, watching the marsh wren stuff sticks in all the birdhouses, wondering about a goose laying eggs in an eagle’s nest – the more I see and learn, the more I appreciate the rhythms of life here and the deeper my roots burrow into my backyard, the marsh, the fields, the mountains. Like poet Wendell Berry, I have stepped “into the peace of the wild things.”

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When I first started commuting 45 km to teach school in another community, my route took me past numerous farms owned by Nameless Farmers. Like a settler arriving in a new land, I tried to establish a sense of place and belonging by naming landmarks along the way: three large grain silos became the Three Musketeers (until several more bins were added and the name no longer fit); a tidy row of eight grain bins parallel to the road are still the Butler Family; an old homesteader’s cabin half-buried in carragana became…well, Carragana House.

Fifteen years later, I still drive past those landmarks, but I rarely think of the names I gave them. Instead, the names that now orient me to the land are those of many of the farmers – families of students who have sat in my classroom – names rooted deeply in the soil of the land they farm.  This is another way of knowing a place: by a long habitation, a steady working and stewarding the land, a passing of knowledge and skill to younger generations who willingly carry forward a passion for place – not to exploit it, but to utilize its riches to sustain life and families and legacies. Perhaps this is one reason I still feel like a newcomer; twenty years even on a large town lot in Wembley seems like mere pittance in a land patchworked together by generational family farms.

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Beyond a growing knowledge of the land, I have slowly developed connections and belonging among the people here. It is rare that a trip to town doesn’t include bumping into a student, former student, colleague, friend, or even a stranger who somehow becomes a temporary friend in a checkout line. “My people” will never be a large and expansive group, but I am grateful for the depth of relationship and friendship that has found me here.  

I came somewhat worn around the edges, heart still raw from previous disappointment and hurt.  I wish I could say that being here has meant nothing but restoration and healing, but it has actually included unfathomable pain, new disappointments and hurts that threatened to unravel worn edges completely. In 1999, I never envisioned that part of belonging to this place would include a grave in the local cemetery, that burrowing roots would literally mean burying a son in the ground.  I never envisioned that life would sometimes feel like an unbroken chain of Hard Things.

So it seems incongruent to say that I feel more deeply at home here than any other place I have lived. But I think it is precisely these Hard Things that have helped deepen my appreciation for the small things, the ordinary routines, the diverse people that are part of this place. Hard Things have a way of forcing us to plow deep, find sure foundations and strong roots to keep us from toppling over in defeat.  I understand in more profound ways what it means to live in community with all of its potential for messiness, to journey with others from a place of pain and heartache, to live love and live loved.

At the center of my reflections on my years of coming to know this place, this place that we came to more out of necessity than choice, is a profound realization stemming from the name Immanuel that was bestowed on Jesus to declare the purpose and significance of his birth.

Immanuel means God With Us.

In this name, the Eternal God, Creator and Sustainer of a vast universe, declares His place of choice – with us.  

I have found a home in this place of glorious sunrises and brutal windstorms, of baby birds and buried sons, of deep community and strained relationships, of opportunity and disappointment, of field and forest, of joy and sorrow because He is with us. With me.

Grace upon grace upon grace.

Sola Gratia

 

What the Snow Reveals…

It’s a new year and I’m thinking about snow. And not because it is actually snowing (intermittently) after several days of cold too brittle for freshly formed flakes. No, I’m thinking about snow because I like the way it covers and hides the Uglies: roadside litter, dead leaves, brown grass, brown everything. It creates a pristine white blanket that sparkles fresh and clean. A new year often carries that same sense of clean promise; I’m not fond of looking at last year’s Uglies.

It’s a new year and I’m thinking about snow because it not only hides and cleans, it reveals. The Uglies may not be currently visible, but my backyard is hardly a glistening untouched rendition of white Christmas dreamscapes. No, my backyard and beyond are riddled with evidence of lives lived. Thoroughfares, interchanges, exit ramps, fence-crossings, and assorted detours carved out by pointy-hoofed deer and moose would befuddle even the most skilled cartographer. A private frontage road runs along a section of the marsh berm, thumped out by some rabbit road crew. Teeny-tiny paths imprinted by a gazillion teeny-tiny mini-rodent toes form scurrying connections between shrubs and bulrushes. A meandering single track across the frozen marsh signals that a lone fox is on a hunger-prowl.

I’m ever so grateful that I do occasionally see some of the critters that inhabit my backyard and beyond, but the snow reveals how little I actually know about the nature of their presence, their comings and goings, their patterns of movement and hunting or foraging. Snow even reveals where they burrow for shelter or crater their beds.

I’m thinking about snow as a new year begins because I wonder what my last year would look like if it was etched out like the intersecting freeways that have pockmarked and crumpled the pristine covering of snow around my home. What would be my most worn pathways – worry? grief? love? Where did I burrow most often – in work? in front of a screen? in prayer? If someone was observing my ‘tracks’, what would be revealed about my priorities, my faith, my fears, my weaknesses, my integrity?

As we step into the pristine newness of this year and each day it contains, may we give careful thought to the paths for our feet. May we pause at this crossroad of time to look and ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and choose to walk in it. *

May I live in such a way that my comings and goings reveal a life surrendered to the Giver of life, Creator of snow, Sustainer of the millions of sunrises that we group into days and months and years.

* from Pr. 4:26 & Jer. 6:16

A Live Lived and Living Life

The beginning of a new year represents an opportunity to close the door on everything awful and hard and chaotic from the previous year and open the door to fresh possibilities and positive outcomes. This is a comforting and even hopeful sentiment, but what I have noticed is that a new year is simply a continuation of the old. Shocking, I know. The awful-hard-chaotic do not magically disappear no matter how much I resolve that they will. While positive possibilities do exist, they only need a sunrise to present themselves and not some special dropping of a shiny ball in a city that is not even in my country…or time zone.

Over the past years, my ushering in of a new year has looked less like closing doors, making resolutions, and watching fireworks than simply pausing on the path to see patterns of ‘coming’ that can inform my ‘going.’ For example, the Have Learned/Still Learning pattern:

Some of the many things I most definitely and definitively learned this year (which means that they can be completely avoided in the future, or be repeated with absolute confidence of success, or be added to a growing body of either useful or trivial knowledge):

– how to photo bomb a wedding party. Or NOT (perhaps some lessons from the PM would have been helpful on this one...)

– what an olecranon is (companion learning to the above)

– how to cook a prime rib roast (I know, I know, just stick it in the oven, but there’s that changing the temperature thing, and that thermometer thing…and I’d never cooked one before, because…that $$$ thing…)

– how to find a way to record attendance digitally for flex block at school (sounds positively simple…yeah, not so much)

– what Edison must have felt like when his light bulb worked after so many failures (companion learning to the above)

– that I can successfully grow spaghetti squash in my garden (I’m probably the only person who even remotely cares about this…)

– that kingbirds like to hang out in my backyard treetops (funny I never even noticed before…)

– how to identify a Northern Harrier (the only hawk in our area that I can positively identify – so like, this is a big deal for me)

Thank you 2016 for such informative lessons.

But here is the real crux of the matter. Most of what 2016 taught me are the same things I’ve been learning for years. They defy closing doors and well-intentioned resolutions because they do not operate by calendars or clocks or timetables or lists. They operate within the bounds of a lived life…

What I am continually learning (sometimes with moderate gains, sometimes with huge setbacks…but never with the jump to Have Learned).
– that it’s okay for me to correct people when they mispronounce my name, to let people know that my introversion is not snobbery and that my need to process things quietly is not disengagement. 

– that although I will never be the fun-loving, story-telling, “life-of-the-party” type, I do have a voice and that simply listening in on the fringes often provides the most meaningful opportunities to exercise it 

– that adding my voice to some situations or conversations requires a bravery that I do not inherently possess

– how to meet the ever-increasing demands of curriculum and pedagogy without neglecting or overlooking the deep emotional and relational needs of the students who sit in my classroom

– that having adulting children and aging parents places me in an important role as a link between two generations – a role that requires a giving forward and a giving back and a need to do both with wisdom

– how to live love in a purposeful and authentic way, even if it is not reciprocated or even acknowledged

– how to live fully and unreservedly before an Audience of One  

Only madmen, geniuses, and supreme egotists do things purely for themselves. It is easy to buck a crowd, not too hard to march to a different drummer. But it is truly difficult- perhaps impossible- to march only to your own drumbeat. Most of us- whether we are aware of it or not, do things with an eye to the approval of some audience or other. The question is not whether we have an audience but which audience we have. This observation underscores another vital feature of the truth of calling: A life lived listening to the decisive call of God is a life lived before an audience that trumps all others- the audience of One. Os Guinness The Call

Welcome, 2017. I have so much more to learn.

Stars and Light

The deep darkness of the sky last night only made the myriad of stars more vivid and awe-inspiring. Odd how the darkness necessary to see all those pinpricks of light scattered across the universe is never the focus when we gaze skyward at night. Rather, we stand amazed and spellbound by the beauty of the light, as minute as it seems from our earthly vantage point.

The year that ended in the middle of that starry night was filled with much darkness. We saw it on our news screens, heard it in our voices, felt it grip our hearts, tasted it in our fears. It became the focus, and we missed the stars, the light that makes the darkness lose its power to pinion our hearts and minds.  

We just celebrated the incarnation of Jesus, the arrival of God in human form, as a baby no less. But perhaps in all our celebration and tradition and other trappings of the season, we forgot this foreshadowing of the larger story: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” 

Darkness in the world is not a product of modernity. 

The miracle in the cradle is only worth celebrating because of the sacrifice on the cross and the defeat of death and darkness by the empty tomb. Jesus declared to his followers, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”  

Light inhabits eternity.

There are 525,600 minutes in a year.

 Astronomers estimate that the Milky Way Galaxy alone contains about 100 thousand million stars. 

So here is my thought: if we can be in awe of the thousands of stars we can see with our naked eye, and focus on them rather than the darkness, is it also possible that we can see the Eternal Light in those 525,600 minutes rather than allow darkness to render them meaningless? 

“This is what God the Lord says— the Creator of the heavens (including the billions and billions of stars!), who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: ‘I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you…I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them (the year ahead is certainly unfamiliar), I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” 

An invitation for 2016: “Come…let us walk in the light of the Lord.” 

________________________

Isaiah 9:2; John 12:46; Isaiah 42:5-6,16; Isaiah 2:5

Photo by Mathias Krumbholz

A New Year

The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose, new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes.” G K Chesterton

Indeed, it is not a new year that is needed, but a new way of living the small moments that collect, collide, and coalesce into the larger collage of time we designate as a year.

I need:

New eyes – to see the wonder of the ordinary, to understand the significance of the mundane, to know the profoundness of simplicity…

New ears – to perceive truth when lies seem more credible, to attune to quietness when the noise of living deafens, to discern wisdom when uncertainty mires me in the crossroads…

New feet – to walk softly alongside the broken, to tread expectantly upon the ancient paths, to run and not be weary…

New hands – to release rather than clench, to cradle rather than crush, to reach out rather than withdraw…

A new heart – to pulse life in spite of the gaping holes left by death, to stay in sync with God’s heart instead of sliding into discouragement’s arrhythmia, to remain tender and malleable rather than retreating into the stony protection offered by a myriad of hurts…

And all of these things:

Eucharisteo. With gratitude.
Coram Deo. Before the face of God, the Audience of One.
Sola gratia. By grace alone.

100% Chance of Flurries…

The past few weeks have been characterized by flurries: flurries of finish-before-Christmas-break-school work, flurries of get-ready-for-Christmas activities, flurries of snow, flurries of grief, flurries of thought. White-out conditions in my brain…

And now a new year has dawned and people wax eloquent about new opportunities, new starts, fresh goals and noble resolutions while my thoughts drift deep into the inexpressible. Somehow all I can think is how fleeting all of this is…that if all we have are wishes for a happy new year and for things to be different than last year or self-devised plans to better ourselves and our lot in life, then all we can be sure of is a repeat of the same cycles of defeat. The resulting frustration and discouragement often leads to misappropriation of blame…school marks aren’t what I hoped for so I blame the teacher…church life isn’t what I wish it was so I blame the pastor…work environment isn’t meeting my needs so I blame the boss or co-workers. There is never a shortage of people, events, pets, schedules, weather, or circumstances to blame for why we recycle goals and resolutions from year to year.

I am not denying that external factors do indeed affect our lives in often deeply profound or devastating ways, but we are often too quick to discount the internal factors of our own attitudes and choices. Looking at the faltering and failings of others is always easier and more assuring than facing our own.

According to Socrates,“An unexamined life is not worth living.” While most of us attempt to examine our lives at some level, even if it is only as we face a new year, on what criteria are we basing our evaluation? There is never a shortage of standards by which to judge the success of our lives… if I base my life on media portrayals then I definitely need to lose weight and work out more and wear more makeup and colour my greying hair and re-design my wardrobe and my house and my yard and upscale my car, my phone, my blender, and change my toothpaste brand and stop eating wheat and drinking milk. If I base my life on the expectations (real or perceived) of others, then I definitely need to do more (or less), say more (or less), smile more (or less), laugh more (or less), be more efficient (or less so)… perhaps even consider a complete personality make-over because who I am and what I do are woefully inadequate to someone in any given circumstance. Using the wrong criteria leads to mis-focused and confused living. Recycled failures.

So my flurry of thought finally settles here: I am so grateful that God calls me to live based on His standards that never change and are firmly grounded in eternity, righteousness, and holiness. I am grateful for His steadfast love and unending forgiveness because He knows that I am not able to live this life apart from His enabling grace; in my weakness His strength is made perfect. I am grateful that I can invite deep examination of my life and know that He is my rightful Judge and trustworthy Counsellor. So today I say, “Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind,” so that at the end of this day and of this year I can honestly say: “…I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness…” (Ps. 26:2,3)

Where past and future meet…

I sit here on a ridge overlooking a new year, but rather than peering into the mists of a future yet undisclosed, I look back upon the laborious climb that brought me to this place. Although many events, situations, people, and emotions stand out from the everyday routines of life that glue the passing of a year into one coherent whole, I am drawn to reflect most specifically on the presence of God in the midst of the complexities of life. I have sought to live this past year with a deeper thankfulness and gratitude for all things; all of life is a gift and God’s hand of blessing is so very evident. Blessing, however, does not mean absence of hurt, disappointment, or disillusionment, and thankfulness does not erase or even necessarily mitigate them; it simply means that God can still be found even in those moments. When God meets us in those deserted places we find that He is ever-sufficient, that “our lived experience in this world, no matter how mundane or seemingly trivial, no matter how awful and dark, no matter how joy-filled and hopeful open a door to the presence of God. Nothing is excluded from telling the story of who we are and of how God is at work in the events of our lives.” (Margaret Manning)
And so my story continues into another chapter marked by the passing of a unit of time we call a year. I have many questions about the days and weeks ahead and those questions seem to march hand-in-hand with anxiety, fear, and weariness. One of the greatest encouragements to my spirit is the knowledge that God not only knows my questions, but He already knows the answers. Seeing God at work in all of life also means trusting that the large purposes of God come down to those particulars that are the ebb and flow of daily living. Oh, for grace to trust Him more…

Forging ahead…

This is the time of year when our cultural propensity is to look back in reflective retrospect and look forward with renewed resolution. A new year symbolizes an opportunity to close a painful chapter, to start over and hopefully undo or avoid previous mistakes, to move on into something that must be better in some way than what came before. We live in a world where progress is measured in empirical terms…we want to see it, experience it, buy it, or measure it…and we don’t want the process to get there to be too long or arduous. We are enamoured with the instantaneous. Perhaps this is one reason why living a life of faith in an eternal and unseen God seems ludicrous to so many. If you want to gain life, you must lose it. If you want to be first, you must choose to be last. How counter-intuitive to progress is that?!

This one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.