Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Out of the Darkness

In this part of the world we're past our shortest day. The Christmas lights in the village brighten the dark evenings and now the time between sunrise and sunset increases a bit each day.

On October 1st, I began taking the poinsettia to a dark corner of the basement for fourteen hours of no light. If it has ten weeks of this, the lush green plant that filled a large spot in the garden during the frost-free months is supposed to renew its vibrant colour. In mid December mine was just as green as it was in July. Confession - I completely forgot to put it in the dark on two different nights... and there may have been a tad of light over the rafters on occasion when I was sometimes in another part of the cellar. For whatever reason, my efforts failed. Perhaps it will break forth in a brilliant red at some other time of its own choosing - very unlikely without the conditions it requires for the change.

Dark times do a special work. I love the late tenor, Paul Sandberg's, rendition of Andrae Crouch's "Through It All". He sings, "My trials come to only make me strong." In Sparkling Gems from the Greek, Rick Renner teaches the value of difficulties. He encourages his readers to regard times of struggle as opportunities to grow in whatever way is necessary to achieve victory and that the challenge is essential for growth. He suggests that our outlook can be the determining factor in causing hardships to become beneficial to us. (Nov. 16 reading)

We can't know the precise date of the darkest time of events in this world, but we do know that brighter days are coming. In the mean time we can refuse to let trials hinder our progress and instead use them, as Sandberg's velvet voice declared, to make us strong.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Listening



I'm watching chickadees and house finches and the downy woodpecker coming and going from the feeders outside my window and I'm thinking of Jesus' words in Matthew 6:26. "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" (NIV) Father God pays attention to the needs of all His creation.

When I wakened the other morning I listened like always for Mr. Whiskers. Was he knocking on the wardrobe? Was he doing his wee squeak (He doesn't know how to mew.) that means, "You'd better get moving, woman. I need to go outside."
Before I'd even checked to see whether he was still on the bed or curled up on the window sill, the thought came, this is how God listens for His children, the way a mother wakens and immediately listens for any sound that would mean her baby needs her. And God assures us that even if a mother could forget her child, He will never forget us. (Isaiah 49:15 NIV)

Every relationship involves communication between two individuals, and it's love that makes us listen; the greater the love, the greater the desire to pay attention. God's love for us is off the charts. Psalm 34:15 says that He is watching over us and "His ears are attentive" (NIV) to His children. In Isaiah 50:4, I read, "He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen." (NIV) I love my fluffy buddy and I'm willing to listen for him in the morning, but my desire to be tuned in to God is way greater. I'm asking Him for a hearing tune-up. I don't want to miss anything that He chooses to share with me at the beginning of each new day. Nothing in me desires to be a part of the folks the Lord Jesus describes in Matthew 13:13 who did not hear.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Backward Blessings

We're betwixt and between various countries' special days of Thanksgiving in the northern hemisphere. Even if April is your peak month of harvest it's okay to mull over a bunch of your blessings in October.

Sometimes we h
ave to come at them backwards to see the good side, like the other morning when I opened the back door for Mr. Whiskers to go out. The pond pump was doing a weird clacking - because the pond was close to empty. So... a herd of water buffalo had stopped by? There was a crack in the plastic form? The ground wasn't trampled and I couldn't see any gaping openings. I refilled the pond and went about my business. Less than three hours later the water level was nearly as low as it had been at 7:00. I unplugged the pump. The lawn around the pond wasn't soaked but the water was gone.

It is such a blessing to have the Holy Spirit, the most precious Helper, always with us. I grumbled and prayed and let it be for a bit. Shortly the thought came, "It's the hose."

"Thank you, Father God!" That made perfect sense! Short of visiting water buffalo, only the trusty little pump could get rid of that much water so quickly. It must have disappeared beneath the waterfall rocks. I was meeting a friend for lunch at noon in the town where I'd purchased the pump; didn't even have to make a special trip; bought new hose
and had time the next day to replace the cracked one. As things go in this life, there were further complications. When I shifted rocks to change hoses a foundation stone shifted and eventually slipped into the pond on Thanksgiving weekend. A couple of strong guys next door hefted it back into place and the plants I trampled rebuilding the little rock wall will have forgotten all about their trauma by the time spring arrives.

A second backward blessing happened on our Thanksgiving weekend. I picked a meagre two pounds of grapes from our vines. They had ripened beautifully and were sweet, but two pounds of grapes only turned into four small jars of jam. The flip side of my disappointment came when I was popping the skins off those little suckers and was oh so glad to see the bottom of the basket. I'd forgotten how much time that tedious task demands.

It would be misconstruing Habakkuk's intent to slip in verse18 of the third chapter of his book here - when he said that he would rejoice even if there were no grapes on the vines. Anyway, as is often the case, once the wee harvest was bottled and capped, I would have gladly started all over again to have more to give away. And all it took was a heart-felt word of appreciation from one recipient to make it more than worth the effort. We have been given an amazing ability to encourage with just a simple "thank-you".

We can bless our Father God with a heap of thanksgiving all year round. I love David's words in Psalm 139, verse 5 - "You hem me in - behind and before." (NIV) His goodness surrounds us, coming and going, backwards and forwards.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Liebster Blog Award

Many thanks to Janet Sketchley, author of God With Us: Finding Joy, for including Beech Croft Tales among her nominations for the Liebster Blog Award.

Criteria: This award features bloggers with less than 200 followers in the spirit of pay-it-forward.

Rules: Mention and provide a link to the blogger who awarded you the Liebster and mention five other worthy blogs with less than 200 followers.

The five bloggers I wish to honour (in alphabetical order ;}) with hopes that you can take time to have a peek at their blogs are:

Bonnie at The Koala Bear Writer

Dorothy at Dorothy Bentley

Lynda at Grains of Sand

Michele at At Heart Level

Michelle at Epicphany

Enjoy the variety of gems these five writers share, plus Janet's postings at God With us: Finding Joy.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Dominion...over a bat?


Bees grazing on black-eyed-susans in the sunshine, bats swooping to catch mosquitoes at dusk... nature is grand when each does what it was created to do where it was intended to do it, but in August one little guy got off course, to his dismay and to mine. Usually at least once each summer, a bat finds its way into this old house and I cannot claim to be much braver now with white hair than I was as a little kid with pigtails.

Once I know one is in the house I am able now, in my golden years, to go back to sleep - if I know it is not in my room and the bedroom door is closed with something stuffed along the bottom of the door. Can't imagine the poor thing crawling under the door from the hallway, but I feel safer with that space covered. One night sometime after 4:00 a.m. at the peak of this episode in August, Mr. Whiskers patted on the bedroom door to go out. I opened the door, battened down the hatches immediately when he'd made his exit, and Whiskers and the bat had some together time in the rest of the upstairs rooms and hallway. When they both were tuckered out, Whiskers knocked on the door and came back to bed and the bat eventually found somewhere that he felt safe for the day.

I had an appointment in the morning and, in the midst of rushing around to get ready and be on my way on time, I grabbed a hoodie that was hanging on the back of another bedroom door and plunked it on t
he railing post. The hood didn't seem right and I flipped it to straighten it. Out plopped that poor little critter! It landed with a smack on the tiny landing two steps down at the top of the stairs. For him to be thrown out of that hood at nine in the morning was probably like someone tossing us out of bed at midnight. He never spread his wings. He was huddled in a small black ball, comparable to our fetal position I'm guessing. No wonder, with this woman screaming and jumping in the hallway just above him!

I called the gracious neighbour who does the bat rescue for me faithfully every summer - no answer. In order to get downstairs and outside to see if
he was working in the garden, I had to step down and around that bat in a very small area. I had heard a message the day before about God giving us dominion so my frantic prayer was something like, "Okay, I'm the one in charge. He's the one in terror of death, but please, Lord, make him stay put and give me the courage to step around him and down the stairs."

When I connected with Ken, he was on the run too. "Throw something over him, and we'll get him out when we both get home." I remembered in one of Jean Little's stories, a bat was trapped in a waste basket and the child put a book on top and sat on it. I have waste baskets! God, in His mercy kept that
bat from moving for several minutes. I placed a waste basket upside down over top of him and plunked a six-pounder, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, on top. Then, for good measure I added another copy of the same volume in case Mr. Whiskers decided to investigate and tried to move the pyramid.

By mid-afternoon I wondered if the critter would have suffocated, but he was very much alive when Ken slid the wastebasket and our prisoner into the huge landing net kept for bat detail. God is so good! I just happened to have chosen a small round wastebasket that fit perfectly inside the round mouth of the net. Ken freed him in a wooded area and we encouraged him fervently to head for the river or the next town. By dusk he was probably cruising for mosquitoes with his siblings in the yard again, but I did gain fodder for this post. When I told Lawana Blackwell about these doings, that dear lady replied, "It's an ill wing that carries no good."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Living Hope



Peter speaks of the living hope believers were given through Christ's resurrection. (I Peter 1:3 NIV) When you think about it, without hope what is the point of doing anything? Why would we plant a seed in the earth if there was no possibility of a plant growing from it? Why would we cultivate the soil around a seedling and water it if we did not expect it to eventually produce fruit?

Hope is powerful. In July our church held Pandamania Vacation Bible School for five mornings. The leaders chose to purchase resources, set up and decorate the stations, prepare the lessons, organize volunteers and advertise throughout the community, giving their time and talents so the children would have a great week.

Good seed w
as sown and we expect a harvest. The kids had fun, at the same time learning that: 1) God made them; 2) God listens to them; 3) God watches over them; 4) God loves them no matter what; and, 5) God gives them good gifts.

The weekend before VBS began, a dear member of the director's extended family was in palliative care. This lady loved and served Christ throughout her life. Her loved ones knew she was leaving illness behind and moving on to a life of total well-being, peace, contentment, joy...forever. With that knowledge they served all week sewing, cultivating, watering - teaching the children Bible truths. Living hope motivated and empowered them. On the weekend at the end of VBS, they celebrated their grandmother's home-going.

Isaiah 40:3 declares that, "those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." (NIV)

God has given freedom of choice to each of the five to eleven year-olds who attended. All those who helped at this Vacation Bible School hope that every child will make the best life choice, the choice that brings true freedom.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Time to Chill



The orange boy on the railing is mine. He is the intense one, wired to flee if necessary from Roxy, below, who is petite, in charge, surveying all that's going on.

After a bit of a marathon of commitments in June, my goal for July is to get unwired (Maybe Mr. Whiskers will ease up too.), disconnect from the hustle, even let a few things that are pressing just fizz out. Most of them are not life-and-death essential.

On my way home from the closing session of the excellent Write! Canada conference, I stopped at my niece's home to deliver her daughter's birthday gift. The party was over but we visited, talking about how Ali might use her gift. Two days later I found Ali's card with the cheque on my desk! Yuck! Whose card had I given her? They stopped around and we exchanged cards and chuckles while she still had time to get to the bank before her school trip to Quebec. I blamed the mix up on post-conference brain freeze.

The pace didn't slacken a whole lot between great visits with friends from the Maritimes and cousins from Alberta. Strawberries ripened and I was gung-ho not to miss picking while they were at their prime. I roared out to the pick-your-own farm. A lady was sitting in a small sedan beside a white van parked at the top of the lane. I thought, "What is this lady waiting for?" and drove around her anxious to get to the field, fill my baskets and get home. Past the barn with the fields in view, I realized there was not one person in the rows and no cars lined up beside the patch. The white van was there to lead customers to the area they would open for picking and the lady was patiently waiting. She was first in line. I circled the barn and pulled up behind her, second in line. She was very gracious and we had fun getting acquainted until 5:00 p.m. when the owner led the parade to the field.

That dear woman must have gone home completely befuddled. At one point while we chatted just before she left, we were sorting out something that was happening and I said, "Well, Sunday was the 26th. Monday was the 27th. So this is the 28th - right?" She paused and said, "Yes" in a slow, thoughtful way. Help me, Father! It was Monday evening, June 27'th! Mr. Whiskers had me up around 5:00 a.m. By the time I'd done a bunch of chores and gone back to bed later for an hour, the second rising felt like another day that was a packed-full doozy with strawberries to hull at the tail-end.

This month I choose to chill - with books purchased at the conference and back issues of "FellowScript", InScribe's newsletter, which, for me, is as valuable as "Writer's Digest". "FellowScript" is a first class publication typical of the organization behind it, InScribe Christian Writers' Fellowship. I love the heart connection with members who continually encourage one another and share their expertise. Anyone who is interested in discovering more about InScribe can click on InScribe Summer Blog Tour. If you leave a comment at the site you become eligible for some great prizes. You just might win something that you will enjoy reading in a shady spot as you let this busy world zip on by for one lovely summer afternoon.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Solomon, Work and Wonders



Friday I wrote - Rain is coming. Clothes are on the line. If we have another half hour of this grand breeze, even the hoodies will be dry. - And the rain did hold off. The laundry dried and that afternoon I scrubbed the bird baths, cleaned the pond pump, planted another tiny row of lettuce, tied the new growth on the clematis to the trellis, and pruned the japonica.

I've been thinking about Solomon's thoughts in Ecclesiastes. I agree with his conclusion that what really matters in this life is to fear and obey God. As far as his view that everything is meaningless, much of what I did Friday will need doing again in a few days, but for me it was not useless effort. Getting that much done produced a lovely feeling of satisfaction.

There can be joy in the doing. With such a cool, wet spring, only a week ago I planted annuals. "You open Your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing." (Psa. 145:16, NIV) always comes to mind when I'm stirring a bit of fertilizer into the hole prepared for an impatiens. That patch of bright pink and purple under the beech tree gives instant gratification - a garden just planted and already in bloom. Maybe Solomon had been so blessed that there was no longer anything that could stir deep joy within him?

There must have been times when he reveled in the beauty that surrounded him. I love the words he attributed to Wisdom in Proverbs 8:30, 31: "I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world." (NIV) Been doing lots of that lately - driving down country roads lined with lilacs, discovering delicate yellow Lady's-slippers, graceful stems of Solomon's seal, and Jack-in-the-pulpits - wonders of creation in these delightful days of transition from spring to summer in Ontario.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

His Becomes Ours



"What do you mean, 'Move over!' I was here first."

Mr. Whiskers looks like a Maine Coon, but his actual pedigree is questionable. Nevertheless he has the confidence of royalty. In his seven-plus years, it has not occurred to him that he does not have every right to enjoy any corner of Beech Croft that appeals to him
at any time.

Many years ago a sermon based on Tennyson's "The Lord of Burleigh" struck a deep chord. Rev. Reese told us about the village maiden and the artist falling in love and marrying, and how the groom took his bride home without revealing who he was. When they entered h
is ancestral home he explained, "All of this is mine and thine." The message was that the Lord Jesus, like the Lord of Burleigh, will bring His bride home and will share all that is His with those who love and serve Him.

Years later I read the complete poem and was crushed to learn the lady had died while still quite young, never able to feel worthy of the privileges she'd been granted through marriage. If she'd only had a barn cat to show her how to adjust...

It's a
lesson most Christians will likely grapple with until we are with Christ. We have amazing promises - in writing - ours for the taking. The answer we need is before our eyes on the printed page. Thrilled with the assurance, we receive it and praise Him, but... if the evidence doesn't show up quickly, we slip into the mindset of that village maiden. It's there for others, but not for me. Only a special few get answers like that.

The Apostle Paul told the Philippians God would supply ALL their needs. That about covers it... except we cannot dictate how or when. Regardless, with Christ we have eternity without sorrow or pain, and the present with spring flowers blooming and tiny leaves appearing. If we take our cue from the resident Maine Coon, it's all ours. Just trust and enjoy.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Winterpast



In Jan Karon's At Home in Mitford (p. 390), I love when Father Tim discovers that Willard had inscribed, "Winterpast" on the center beam in the attic of the home he hoped to share one day with Miss Sadie as his wife. Below this word, Song of Solomon was carved into the beam to remind them of the verses, "See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land." (Song of Songs 2:11,12 NIV)

Those of us who live where there are four distinct seasons connect with the joy of these verses. Mom used to say, "We'll be glad when April comes." She said "Apraal" the way her Scottish grandfather pronounced the word. And we are glad, even when one more slushy snowfall plops on the wee blue scillas and snowdrops.

Today the ice in the arena goes out. No more Monday afternoon skating f
ollowed by a tea-time visit with friends until next fall, but raking dry leaves from around the green shoots in the flower beds provides plenty of exercise.

When Mr. Whiskers steps out into the darkness, robins are already calling the sun to get up. The first curly green evidence of leaves is showing on the rhubarb's red nubbins. Fragile stems of parsl
ey, cherry tomatoes and salad greens are stretching bravely above the potting soil in their containers. If I've kept her stories straight in my memory box, the enamelled tub I've started the salad greens in is the basin Mom bathed her babies in... so the old pan is still being used for the care of new life.

With winter past we enter a time of new beginnings. In spite of chaotic events occurring worldwide, spring offers welcome changes. I'm not able to fix a multitude of things that need fixing, but I can plant a seed. I can speak an encouraging word. I can share the hope I have in Christ that He longs to give to anyone who is willing to receive Him. If He can cause life-giving food to grow from that tiny hard bit in the soil, he can use my words to instill the desire in someone to look up and move on through difficult circumstances... because a new season is coming.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Our Wake-up Call


My furry friend is on the prowl each morning watching for the first hint of dawn. He prefers to do his official check outside before the sun is even thinking of rising above the horizon. That only becomes possible if I open the door, which only becomes possible if he can get me out of bed. I hoped fervently that he would not hear about the clocks going ahead one hour on the 13th. A 6:30 a.m. wake-up call held way more appeal than 5:30. I actually looked forward to giving up that hour this year.

He's just a cat. How can he be so "up" on current doings? It may have been 5:50 Sunday morning. He does have a bit of range, tending to let me sleep later when there's more cloud cover. But somehow he must have heard that we were changing to daylight saving. Or, perhaps he is smart enough to count the bongs on the grandfather clock. He's always had a keen interest in its workings, and a particular liking for the chains that dangle from its weights. In any case, he continues to knock relentlessly on the wardrobe door every morning - some days at 5:25 a.m., some at 5:35 - until my feet connect with the floor. A 6:30 wake-up call has not happened. Might there be hope for a lapse when we turn the clocks back in a few months?

I'm thinking this is another one of those things that only gets the ultimate fix in eternity. In his book, Flight to Heaven, (pp. 100-101), Dale Black describes everything happening there in harmony, at a relaxed and natural pace so that we will be comfortable with all that's going on. When my body is craving another hour of shut-eye, Mr. Whiskers' incessant knocking is definitely not comforting. The future with Christ and all events occurring in sync will be grand.

Many are sensing a time change in the spiritual realm as well as in the natural, arguably an advance of more than just one hour. Recent earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides and floods may indicate that the very active evil powers listed in Ephesians 6:12 know that their time is short. If this is the case, my feline buddy is doing me a huge favour. Each of us who already enjoys a close relationship with Father God needs to be up and at it making use of every opportunity to share God's truth and expose the enemy's lies. We don't want anyone to miss the good things God has prepared for those who love Him, no matter what it takes to get us mobile - even if it has to be a big orange cat.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Purr-able


Mr. Whiskers and I share more than the same initials. We both tend to spend time peering over thresholds deciding whether we will dare to venture forth.

My boy's modus operandi:
First he looks and sniffs and listens with just his head peeking around the edge of the open door. If no danger threatens,half of his body crosses the sill. On a sub-zero morning, I am tempted to lift him the rest of the way and shut out the surge of freezing air, but I love my buddy. I understand his fear. He's being cautious. When only his flicking tail prevents me from closing the door, our domestic harmony is fragile. He may sense greater tension behind than in front. Whatever is transpiring between his orange ears, off he goes to investigate the new day.

Had he scooted outside in reckless abandon from the day his world expanded beyond the confines of our home, I might not have realized that I too often stand and peek around the edge of the doors that are opened for me. In an "aha moment", I realized Mr. Whiskers and I are alike. Father God has been so patient. He gives me time to examine each opportunity. In a variety of ways, without pushing, He encourages me to begin the thing He wants me to do. I may wait a minute or two for Mr. Whiskers. Father God has waited for years!

Is there some area of your life in which you are keeping Him waiting? He has great plans for you.

Wish I'd been the first to come up with the term "purr-able". It's purr-fect.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Joy Regardless...



On this January afternoon Mr. Whiskers and I are purring in sync. It's the first day we've had a blaze in the fireplace and the den with its three outside walls is actually cozy. The chickadees, nuthatches and finches are on the feeders braving the rain/snow mix and Mrs. Downy Woodpecker has showed up to work on the suet. Juncos have arrived - a lovely mix of activity... outside. My house buddy and I are much less industrious than these feathered creatures just now, but I did exercise with Joyce this morning.

A note of clarification - Joyce teaches. I do the stretches. Joyce Meyer's program, Enjoying Everyday Life, helps me begin weekdays with a positive outlook. And, I confess, it doesn't take something huge to get me upbeat. Even a memory that stirs the chuckle juices will suffice.

For example, a couple of Sundays ago a lady, who for some reason is a special delight to tease and was sitting directly in front on me in church, turned and asked if I had an extra pen. I told her I did. Head down she continued doing whatever she was occupied with, assuming I was scrambling to find a second ballpoint. After a short pause I asked, "Did you want one?" Immediately one arm attached to the body in front came whipping over the back of her seat attempting to clobber the tickled instigator behind, and smiles crept over a face or two close by.

Without question, this mind-set comes more easily to one not coping with bereavement, illness or other troubling circumstances. Nevertheless, if not in acute distress at the moment, it is possible for a deep settled peace and happiness to surface. The last words I remember Mom saying were, "Oh, I've just enjoyed the day." It was May of 2003 and she was in a four bed hospital ward restricted to one visitor a day because of a worldwide outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. Nothing had happened to bring her joy. She was at peace on the inside regardless of her situation. I think she was in palliative care the following day.

Even with the horrendous suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul associates joy. He writes, "Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross." (Hebrews 12:2 NKJ) And in John 15:11 Jesus says, "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full." (NKJ)

Full joy, abundant joy, has a great ring to it. A bit of teasing may be required to bring some smiles down the row, but that infectious spark can warm hearts just as a burning log ignites the chunk next to it.