Make It Count

The last page was written in the concluding chapter of the ‘Book of 2015’. It wasn’t an easy book to complete. There was illness, deep pain, sorrow, challenge, and never ending heartache. My beloved and I have never experienced anything like it in our entire marriage. But GOD…was there.

In the valley, He carried us many times when we couldn’t walk. He wrapped us securely in His loving arms of rest when we were so tired we couldn’t speak. He bound up our wounds in His love, when we were in such pain, we were overwhelmed. We fellowshipped with our precious Father through our suffering.

We experienced His Presence like never before. He was with us in every moment. He wiped our tears. He has never given up on us. He spoke words of truth into our crushed spirits.

The Lake House on Huron is our sanctuary where we have drawn aside and rested. We have read Scripture, prayed together, built fires, walked the beach and hosted more people than we can count around our table. Strangers have become friends, friends have drawn closer and we have been surrounded in love. The kind of love that provides life to the weary. A cup of cold water to refresh our parched spirits has been offered.

As a result, we are ready. Ready to continue waiting on God’s direction for our lives. Waiting for Him to teach us today about His mercy and grace. Waiting for Him to lead us toward His glorious plan. But…while we are waiting…and as we close the book on 2015, it is our prayer that God will take the pain and MAKE IT COUNT.

We want to make it count in our growth. We pray it will count as we empathize with others in their time of need. We pray it will count as we love our neighbours enough to tell them about the amazing Good News of Jesus Christ. We want to make it count in our family – appreciating them and loving them like never before.  We want to make it count in our marriage, as we have tenderly supported one another through everything.

We know that God will not waste this pain. We are different people. God has used this time to refine us and bring us into greater conformity to Him. We are very thankful for it all. For every beautiful intruder that has become ours, we give thanks. And we mean it. “He has all things beautiful in His time.” Ecclesiastes 3:10 (New International Version)

We feel fit and healthy to start 2016 in our spirits. God, in His mercy, has nurtured us and we trust in His grace for this day in 2016. While we don’t know what is in the future, we do have great confidence in our God who is with us always.

“I’m not saying I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: by no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward – to Jesus. I’m off and running and I’m not turning back.” Philippians 3: 12-14 (The Message)

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The Protection of a Faithful Shepherd

Thanksgiving in Canada – what an appropriate time to offer thanks for…well…everything. I am so blessed. However, it is an opportunity to express our appreciation to our pastors. The shepherds who must give an account for our very soul. We, the sheep who are prone to wander. What a difficult job – to be a shepherd. He must be with the sheep in the rain or the blistering sun ensuring they are fed and safe from harm – wolves, for example. It is a lonely job. Surely he cannot perch on a hill and test the satellite signal for Facebook or Instagram. Seriously, how many selfies can the shepherd post of sheep safely grazing – even though the peaceful moments under his watchful eye are a beautiful thing to behold in the Church.

Speaking from the personal point of view as a sheep in the fold, I’ve been reflecting deeply about my own growth in Christ through His Church recently. Teaching, preaching, praying… the investment of time that has been poured into me from the pulpit is incredible. I’ve been a believer in Jesus Christ for almost 50 years. I’ve attended churches that proclaim biblical truth for the same amount of time. That is a lot of teaching, preaching and prayer! I am beyond blessed.

For almost two thirds of my Christian life, my beloved has been my pastor. What a special privilege for me. He has poured his study, preparation and prayer into ME! I have flourished under his ministry. I was challenged and chastised. I knew God more as a result of his ministry. I loved God more as a result of his ministry. This sheep was well fed and protected by my beloved under-shepherd.

At the time of this writing he is not a shepherd vocationally, but still cherishes sheep as his most loved pass time. While sheep wander the countryside, his heart reaches out to them to see if they need shelter or food. Do they need a shepherd to guide them? Once a shepherd, always a shepherd, I’ve discovered. His love for sheep has never waned. Always loyal to the Chief Shepherd, he walks about looking for those who need a hand or a hug or his heart. What love for God! A faithful shepherd in his calling from God’s Word – Jesus said: ‘do you love Me? Feed My sheep!’ This was his call. A call he took seriously. A call he prepared for over many years. He only wanted to do his very best for God. His heart’s desire was to preach the Word with integrity and to see lost sheep come into the fold of safety.

It is moving to see his desire continue in his chosen path to this day as he prays for those near and far. He has the scars on his body that tell the stories of wolves, bears and ravens who have tried to attack his flock and he fought them to the point of death. It doesn’t matter – he loves sheep. He dedicated himself to their care and protection and will never give up.

The majority of my Christian life has been lived under his care. I am so much better because of his loving protection and green pastures where he has lead me. I have been nourished and I have grown. This is the shepherd whom I appreciate so much in this time of ‘Pastor Appreciation Month’. He has always lead his flock faithfully to the Chief Shepherd. ‘My sheep hear My voice; I know them and they follow Me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of My hand.’ (John 10: 27-28).

Thankful. Blessed. Nourished. Loved. In Christ, My Chief Shepherd, through His faithful man, my beloved.

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Finding God in Groceries and Gladiolas

While it bothers me to admit it, I can be very stubborn. If I have decided on a certain course of action, then I must complete it without opposition.

I wanted to buy a ham in Michigan for a picnic we were hosting with our small group from church. I love a good bargain with groceries as it enables me to buy more, so that we can share more with others. We drove 20 minutes to the border area but noticed immediately that there was significant traffic. So congested, that upon checking the web for the update, it would take almost 2 hours simply to cross the bridge. That wasn’t going to work, since my beloved sidekick was inferring that the time spent was not worthwhile.

I was completely exasperated in the moment. I had ‘a list’. I had ‘a plan’. Now it was foiled. I used the ‘Return to Canada’ lane and headed back towards home. Knowing I had to re-calibrate my plan was totally frustrating. In the moment, I couldn’t even think straight because it meant starting over, when I had been thinking about it for a while. I felt overwhelmed in the moment. My desire was altruistic, get some great food for a great price. Now what?

My beloved was trying to offer some words of helpfulness and encouragement. I wasn’t receiving them at all. My thoughts were racing with ‘what now’? I felt compelled we must to go to No Frills. Start small and expand from there, I thought. So it was….the grocery store parking lot was quite empty, making me feel a little peaceful in this storm.

I entered the store and one of my favourite flowers was being sold in bunches for $8.00. GLADIOLAS – big, bold, beautiful colours. Right then and there, I stopped and smiled. I felt like God beckoning me further into the store so that He could show me how He would provide what I needed, on HIS agenda. I stood there and thanked Him for the flowers. They made their way into the cart.

My next stop was ‘meat’ for it formed the basis of the rest of the meal. A major sale was happening with ground beef – I had to stop, load it in my cart and say ‘thank you Lord’ for showing me how to get started on this meal. God is my Provider! With each step, my confidence grew – in God. He provided lemons, and chip dip and relish….all for great prices….I hadn’t left the produce area, but I felt God so near, that I was smiling at how He was leading me through the store. No list necessary, just an open heart to hear Him speak to me through the groceries and the gladiolas.

The task was completed without bridge traffic and time wasted. Money was spent wisely. Lots of food was provided. The outcome two days later? The fellowship was sweet. The Lord’s name was lifted high. No one even knew that the sidelined trip to Michigan was so that I could find God among the groceries and the glads. I rejoiced as I was reminded of Matthew 6:8 ‘your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.’

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This is Where the Healing Begins

It’s the time of year when my beloved and I are marking an ‘anniversary’ of sorts. Not the joyous anniversary of our marriage or our first date. It’s an anniversary of the closing of a chapter in Christian service. It’s a somber time where we reflect on the years spent in preparation, studying, going, serving and ultimately leaving.

The details of the past 36 years are actually irrelevant in earthly terms. It is a story of two people loving God, desiring to serve together in His chosen place. As we reflected and prayed together this morning under cloudless skies and golden sun, we remembered ministry comrades – seminary students, missionaries, pastors who have also had their careers ended before they expected to be finished.

As we shared fellowship today we talked about men and women who serve us at war or in protecting our country. Sometimes their service lasts one day, and sadly, they are gone. Others serve to the very end of their lives before they are finished in their career. When a soldier gives their life in combat, they are returned to us as a hero. Indeed, they are a hero. They sacrificed of themselves to protect our nation. Others may not die, but are returned as the wounded and scarred. All heroes. We owe them so much.

Our thoughts returned to our fellow workers around the world and we could see a spiritual picture rise from the discussion. Christian workers – pastors, missionaries, teachers and the like are the ones who have dedicated themselves to full time Christian service in love and loyalty to our Saviour. They are the ones who teach, preach, comfort, guide, lead and direct in a wide variety of activities in the name of Jesus. They don’t choose their vocation for money or fame. Their work is done out of love for God.

This important global work from the beginning of humanity has been met with opposition, disloyalty, grief, shame, pain, torture. While there are earthly rewards – certainly, the cost is great. Paul, the Apostle was a diligent, faithful man who gave his very best to bring the message of Good News to the people. He suffered so much, including beatings and imprisonment – yet buried in the depths of 1 Corinthians 16: 14 he exhorts us to ‘Do everything in love’.

The work of the ministry is very hard. It is very rewarding. It is a rollercoaster of highs and lows. To see someone understand what Christ has done for them, is probably the most incredible experience you can have in this Christian walk. When we have felt so tired from ‘doing’, yet we would never dream of quitting. We were God’s soldiers and faithful soldiers don’t give up and walk away. Hebrews 12:1 instructs us to run the race with endurance. The Christian walk is not a sprint. It is a gruelling marathon.

One year following the culmination of ministry preparation and service since 1979 has been very hard. It has been filled with grief and sadness. Lots of tears. We didn’t want to give up. God has selected a different assignment for us. Isaiah 55:8 says ‘MY thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways MY ways, says the Lord’. God’s plans for us and our precious co-workers that have been assigned to God’s Waiting Room, are higher than our plans. Our wounds from ministry are completely understood by the ONE WHO was wounded for us. While we know that God is not finished with us yet – HE has a plan for our lives, our race seems to have been halted. We are overcome with sadness about this fact.

While we grieve, we HOPE. We hope in God. HE is our Guide, our Rock. It doesn’t make the sadness lighter, but it does provide context. We are in a temporary situation. We will be with HIM forever. For now we need to rest secure in HIS promise that HE will never leave us. HE does have a plan for our lives. We rest confident in this fact.

The marathon isn’t finished! It has become very difficult as we are getting closer to the end – and this was recognized by Paul in Philippians when he said ‘Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead, I press toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me.’ It would be amazing to receive God’s approval for a race well run.

So we need some refreshment and a time to reset before we continue running. THIS is where the healing begins.

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The Final Leg

July 5, 2014

With clouds gathering, we set our GPS for the final autobahn ride to Harley Warehouse in Frankfurt. We agreed that if rain should start, we would pull over and don our rain gear (it would be miserable being wet on the autobahn). And then, we were off – gently – happily – racing on the highway as German countryside rolled by. The rain came, gear added, journey continued. Shortly before arrival in the city, we stopped to fill the tank, pay our last E .50 toll for a bathroom, pack away rain gear and ready ourselves with the now severed GPS.

My beloved deftly followed the route changes leading us closer to the completion of another safe trip. Before we knew it things began to look a little familiar and we had arrived. What I wasn’t prepared for was a Manhatten (Germany) Harley Club gathered in front of the building observing the spectacle of us un-loading our bike, re-packing and walking away with our rolling cases and backpacks like we were bereft.

My human GPS a.k.a. tour leader found our way to the train which would haul us to our final hotel of the journey in the heart of Frankfurt. By all accounts, Frankfurt is a totally forgettable city – borne out of industry and big business. We were 100 metres from Skyline Plaza and since everything is closed on Sunday (the next day), we hustled to complete any purchases we hoped to find. An English book for the plane….We noticed Chipotle and since we were tired of heavy German food, decided on a burrito as the centrepiece for a hotel picnic so we could watch more soccer. We were cozy and peaceful – we had one final adventure planned for the next day – our trek to visit an English church north of the city.

We are definitely ready for some rest off the bike and some downtime. The Central Europe tour of 2014 is quickly drawing to a close.

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Guten Morgan Nuremburg

July 4, 2014

The room darkening shades were very effective. Wondering why we couldn’t relax any longer, we looked at the time – 8:30! What a restful night in a lovely hotel. As we ventured to the breakfast room, we were again taken with the little details in the hotel – its sheer loveliness – for E 100.00 including breakfast. We lingered over coffee, talked, and then in an unhurried manner, prepared for our more detailed tour of Nuremburg.

Having gotten the lay of the land last evening, we were very comfortable expanding our walking tour and checking out historic sites. We found an interesting tour of a cellar that sheltered Nuremburg’s important works of art during the bombing of the city. While we waited for the appointed time we found yet another restaurant nearby in the historic area established in 1826. Not requiring a heavy meal, we ordered from the vegetarian lunch menu. What came was mouth watering ‘noodles and cheese’, salad and potato pancakes. Sigh…comfort food at lunch too!

With stomachs soothed, we went to connect with our tour – alas the guide didn’t show up. With so many things to see and do, we were untroubled. We strolled through antique shops, selecting an artist’s depiction of the area where we had just eaten lunch – it was a great keepsake.

We decided to shop for some small gifts and simply take in the city. Before long, we happened upon the Friday open market area – perfect for a bright sunny afternoon – people selecting their flower bouquets, fruits, and cheese for the coming days. As an avid shoe shopper, I spied Birkenstock in the distance and felt fuzzy with excitement. Would I find my special ‘take home shoes’ today? I did! I found a pair of black patent fine German design. My beloved laughingly calls them ‘winter sandals’ as very often I will wear sandals all winter. I was thrilled.

Emboldened to tackle the rest of the shopping we trudged on in the punishing 30 degree heat. Staedtler was on my list – as an office supply junkie – its like the mothership to me. I made some selections, ooo-d and awwww’d over others and moved along. My beloved was feeling the heat and so we rested while I tackled Muller (a German department store) – a couple more gifts and keep moving.

We were also thinking the Germany-France soccer game was about to begin and we needed some serious air conditioning (scarce here). Starbucks is so reliable on all fronts. WIFI, Toilet, Large Coffee, and Comfortable. We hung out to cool down and just ‘be’. After about an hour and a half, we had the energy to tram it back to the recently discovered grocery store and bought our desired picnic food for tonight’s game in our lovely room at Hotel Klughardt. We also bought a couple more goodies for loved ones.

Even though we didn’t tour museums, we felt we maximized our experiences in this incredible city. From rubble to regal, the Nuremburgers have risen from tragedy of the war to restore their medieval city to greatness. We loved our time in Nuremburg but most especially at Hotel Klughardt with the gracious Elizabeth. As we departed she said – ‘always remain happy. Auf Weidersehn’

Indeed Elizabeth – we would love to see you again!

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The Black (green) Forest – Bohemia to Bavaria

July 3, 2014

We are hoping the highway out of Prague heading to Germany will be better that our approach from Austria. At any rate, we left after rush hour to minimize stress to both driver and passenger. Departure was so much better than arrival! The GPS was in my death grip so I could be the navigator out of Prague. For any who know me – navigator is the farthest thing from who I am and what I do. I feel stressed to the max! However, I worked hard at staying calm – and together we did it 🙂

The highway out did prove to be much better. We were grateful for lovely weather, gentle autobahn and a peaceful start with our destination for the day – Nuremberg. With our Czech coins left behind we wondered what experiences would be ahead in Bavaria. The forest became thicker, the cheesy CZ border was imminent and then – the Black Forest. Lush, green, tall and straight. A good place to nod off except the 140-150 km speeds tend to keep you a little more alert due to the wind battering your head.

We found a roadside gas station that was serving fresh food like salad and meat loaf. For a few Euros, the sturdy German lady lady says ‘it’s gut German food’. We agree – delish! Ready to roll the last hour or so to the best kept boutique (inn) I’ve ever seen – Hotel Klughardt – very near the centre of Old Town (on the metro). The owner – Elizabeth – an elderly lady warmly greeted us. It was a small hotel, but completely updated – we were thrilled. We settled in quickly, bought our now standard metro passes and headed for our first taste of Nuremberg. What a delight! We got off at the main station and meandered through the streets to get our bearings. We ventured into the old (circa 13-14th century) walled city and quickly found a biergarten established in the 1800’s. We trusted the English menu and ordered pork knuckle and sauerkraut with knoedel (potato dumpling) with our waitress’s curt approval. We always share meals so that we can broaden our food sampling. Both meals were German comfort food made by mom! WOW! The ‘crackling’ on the shoulder was to die for…crispy, smoky goodness. The meat fell off the shoulder into a pool of seasoned delicious sauce…..mmmm…The knuckle was so tender is forked away and each bite dipped in mustard was more compelling than the prior one. Brought back memories of my mom making ham hocks which I was thought were totally disgusting then…..boy was I wrong!

German food is plentiful and cheap. We feel wasteful but we cannot finish our plates. We packed up and walked through this photogenic town – here – there – everywhere. Since our German was limited to pleasantries, our ability to understand is correspondingly limited. However, we did see a sign that resonated and, in the end, captivated us – ‘Summer in the City Fest’. We love ‘fest’! Before long, we saw huge crowds, masses of umbrellas and beach sand! Hundreds of beach chairs! It is ‘summer in the city’ to be sure! People everywhere were enjoying an evening drink as if they were on the beach – except they were in business attire for the most part. There was fun food, palm trees, tiki huts – a real party for this landlocked, very warm city. We bought into it as well…found our places courtside for beach volleyball and people watched for awhile. As darkness was falling, we reluctantly left to find our night tram home. It left us tired from the sheer fun of it – can’t wait till tomorrow!

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