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Zuleika, the Temptress

I stared at the cloak in my hand, the male scent of its owner still fresh in its weave, and I trembled with the myriad of emotions roiling through my body. Remembering the nosy servants, I straightened my back and pulled my own robe tighter over my chest.

The desire of my flesh had fled while I held fast to his garments. Who was he to say no to me? He is a servant in our house, an Israelite. My husband had given him all of his authoritative power and confidence. Where would he be without Potiphar’s love and trust? Nowhere. He’d be a servant in someone else’s house, tempting someone else’s wife.

Potiphar never stopped talking about Joseph, how efficient and organized he was. He hadn’t been with us long before my husband turned over the reins of his business to the man. Joseph had a lucky aura about him that made people trip over themselves to elevate his status, to reward his loyalty. Maybe it was his Hebrew God blessing him, as he constantly claimed.

Having so much responsibility in our household, Joseph was always on our doorstep. He had almost become part of the family. But his good looks, his charm, and his intelligent mind outshone those of other family members, including my husband’s. Lately, every time that man walked into our house, I desired to be closer to him. I wondered what it would be like to be held in his strong arms.

Today, I finally gave into my urges, using my authority as his master’s wife to invite Joseph into my bedroom and into my heart. But his loyalty, one of his most attractive features, betrayed me. He cited his allegiance to both my husband and his God as reasons for his rejection, pulling away from my touch and breaking my heart.

The hurt had quickly turned to anger. How dare he insult me this way? I am an attractive woman. I wield power over the running of our household. I am ultimately responsible for Potiphar’s success as captain of the king’s guard. Behind every successful man is a strong, supportive woman. I could have been that support system for Joseph too. We would have made quite a team. But no. Joseph thought himself too good for me. Well, he would pay for this humiliation.

I held my breath and strained to listen to the voice in the next room. I’m sure it was my name on their lips, followed by laughter.

“Poor Zuleika, indeed!” was the response. “She ripped his cloak right off his body, and he still ran away!”

The giggles identified the women as some of our young servants. Their disrespect would be dealt with in time.

But my burning face was his fault, not theirs. Joseph would fall for this. Not only was Potiphar captain of the king’s guard, he was also chief executioner. Joseph humiliated the wrong man’s wife.

I called the silly girls into my room and threatened their heads if they didn’t collaborate my story. Then I began to scream. My performance was so convincing that even my two knowing handmaids looked concerned.

By the time the first of our male servants ran into the room, I had tears streaming down my face, adding to the scene.

I held the cloak up high, evidence of foul play. “Look! My husband gave this Hebrew slave all the power, and this is how he thanks us? He came in here to rape me! After I screamed in fear, he ran, leaving his cloak here.”

When I saw doubt cross the first man’s face, I hissed, “There will be a job opening when he’s gone! He must pay for this betrayal.”

The servants gathered around me then and tended to me appropriately. They could do nothing for my bruised ego, however.

When my husband arrived home, I blurted out the story with similar dramatic conviction. His response, on the surface to those watching, looked genuine. He raged and vowed that Joseph would pay dearly for this disloyalty. But I could see the hurt behind his eyes, the suspicion that all was not what it seemed. He knew Joseph well, and he also knew me.

“What have you done?” he hissed when no one was in earshot.

As such, Joseph ended up in prison, and I ended up with an angry husband. There were no winners in this situation.


Aw, but there was a winner! Joseph, the hero of this story, became the world’s most powerful prisoner and later ended up in the palace as the king’s righthand man.

God rewarded Joseph for resisting temptation and remaining faithful to Him. If Zuleika (who is not identified by name in the Bible but in the Koran) was truly trying to seduce Joseph, the scene would likely include sights and actions more lewd than I described here. Sexual temptation can be challenging for any heterosexual male.

However, God promises that we will never be tempted beyond what we can bear. But our hearts have to be committed to the Father, like Joseph’s. 1 Corinthians 10:13 explains:

There’s a lot of evil in the world, and there are many temptations. Satan knows which ones are the hardest for us to resist, and those are the ones he’ll throw at us.

The Lord’s Prayer includes the line “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” While God never tempts us to sin, sometimes He allows us to be tested. But the verses above assure us that, with His strength, we can persevere and overcome such trials without giving in to temptations.

James suggests that we should be grateful for such tests and trials:

If you read the story of Joseph, you realize that he had a lot of growing to do before he reached spiritual maturity. That should give us hope that we will get there too!

Do you ever feel like the situations you face and their invitations to sin are beyond your capability? They may be beyond YOUR capability but not God’s. Put on the armor of God and team up with Him. That’s a force to be reckoned with!

If Joseph could run from temptation, you can do it too.

Father, I pray for Your strength and wisdom. Help me to recognize Satan’s temptations and to resist them. As I spend time with You and claim the promises in Your Word, my capacity to fight off the devil and his tactics grows. Thank You for loving me and watching over me. You are my refuge and strength. Amen.


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DON’T GO TO CHURCH To Get Comfort & Hope

The music is too loud. The flashing lights hurt your eyes. The person sitting behind you can’t sing but doesn’t seem to realize it. The people on the platform dress like they’re at a barn-raising, including the preacher. You happen to know that the lady sitting in front of you lives with her boyfriend, and the greeter goes to his car for a smoke halfway through the service. I hate to break it to you, but going to church is not the solution to your heart’s longing for something spiritually fulfilling.

As a former pastor’s daughter who went to church at least six times per week, I can honestly tell you that the act of regular attendance is not going to fill that emptiness or give you hope for the future. But I’d like to share what can. I’ll swing back to the benefits of going to church afterward.

Let’s start at the beginning—the very beginning. God created humans in His image. We were meant to talk to God regularly and enjoy a personal relationship with Him. Adam and Eve’s paradise was not only a description of the garden where they lived. They literally walked and talked with God.

The story of God’s love for us is found in the Bible, a book that has lasted for thousands of years that many like to call God’s Word. It wasn’t long after God made those first humans that they gave into temptation and disobeyed Him, creating distance between man and God. There’s nothing like lying and cheating to cause strain on a relationship.

When we don’t make space for God in our lives, we sometimes feel an emptiness or a void (as Adam and Eve must have felt immediately). We might question the purpose of life or focus on all the bad things around us that cause us anxiety or pain. We were never meant to face those things alone, my friend. The One who formed you in your mother’s womb wants to give you strength, comfort, and hope.

Later, humans separated themselves from God so far that He could only find one family that still revered Him. The Creator decided to destroy everything and start over with Noah and his loved ones. But even then, God had a plan to create a way for us to find that intimacy with Him that Adam and Eve experienced. He wanted to set up the lineage in which He would insert His Son. Because God’s plan involved sending Jesus to be born and grow up as a human, to show the rest of us earth-walkers what God’s love looks like and sounds like. The plan also involved His death—an unjust, dishonorable execution.

The only perfect human to ever walk this earth knew His Father’s agenda. Jesus lived a life of love and servanthood, and then He bore the punishment for all of us for allowing sin to separate us from God.

The resurrection of Jesus showed the world that He was not merely a human but the Son of God. The Father’s plan was complete, and He called it salvation.

Salvation is the key that unlocks comfort and hope because this free gift is an intimate relationship with God. When we accept His plan, we invite Him into our hearts and ask Him to reign there. We submit our lives to Him, recognizing that He is the Almighty God and rejoicing that He still sees each of us and loves us no matter what we did in the past.

It is from that moment of salvation that praying, reading the Bible, and, yes, going to church become ways to strengthen our relationship with God. We talk to Him, get to know Him by reading about Him and hang out with others who have similarly met Him. When we go to church as “believers,” our purpose isn’t to look around and nitpick about the music, the dress, or the sinful nature of other attendees. We join together with people who also need His daily grace and mercy to worship Him in song and listen to theologically-educated people share from His Word. Going to church each Sunday helps us grow in our walk with Jesus.

Without a heart change, however, going through the rituals of religion will not save us. It will not bring us comfort and hope. Only God can do that.

Have you invited God into your heart to be LORD over your life? How could that simple receiving of salvation change the way you live? Could you use more love? A caring Heavenly Father? Comfort when your heart is breaking? Hope for an eternity with Him?

What’s the downside? Don’t look for the Church to fulfill you. Look to God.

God, I need You in my life. I’ve tried to do it on my own but it’s just not working. Forgive me for thinking I knew better than the One who made me. Thank You for loving me enough to offer the gift of salvation and the promise of comfort and hope. Cleanse my heart from sin, and help me to grow and become more like You. Amen.

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His is Risen, Indeed!

I clung to Mary Magdalene as a tremor of fear rippled through us both. The earth shook beneath our feet again, and the eerie silence of the early hour intensified our fearful response. Our hearts ached with Jesus’ death, robbing us of sleep over the past two nights, so we had agreed to visit the tomb together even as the sun was just peeking over the hillside.

The last time the earth shook like this, Jesus had taken his final breath, and unbelievable events had occurred. The temple curtain had ripped in half, and many of our dead had risen from their graves! Even as we mourned our teacher’s passing, we rejoiced to see dear friends who had followed him, whom we had buried, now walking and talking as if they’d never died. Why had God valued their lives more than that of his own son?

As the tremors ended, I focused my eyes on the entrance area of the tomb, where several Roman guards stood next to the large stone. Would they roll it aside for us to tend to the body? Neither of them looked approachable or amenable to acting on such a request from two ragged women. We should have waited until it was fully day.

As I approached the man closest to us, the tomb suddenly lit up with a brilliant light. We shielded our eyes with our hands at the blinding radiance.

Mary gave a little cry beside me as I realized the light shone out of a man-like figure standing between the guards and us. He was dressed in white from head to toe, and his face glowed like a suspended flash of lightning.

My jaw dropped as we both stood paralyzed with fear and watched him roll away the massive stone as if it were nothing. He then nimbly hopped up to sit on it.

My heart pounded against my chest as we watched the guards fall to the ground, one by one. Had they died? Would we be next? I gripped Mary’s arm so hard that I knew she’d have bruises there if we survived this. I could feel her trembling, but I couldn’t look away from the mystical creature that sat before us.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said.

The heavenly sound of his voice flowed into my soul, and I instantly felt lighter. Despite the shaking earth, the possibly-dead guards, and the appearance of this supernatural man sitting before us, my spirit obeyed, and I was no longer afraid. This was about Jesus. In my heart, I had known this couldn’t be the end. I leaned in to hear his words even though his voice was loud and strong.

“I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.”

We both nodded mutely.

The angelic creature gestured to the open doorway to the tomb. “Your Messiah isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen.”

Mary and I looked at each other then. She mirrored my wide eyes and open mouth. Jesus was alive?

The angel moved to the doorway of the tomb. “Come, see where his body was lying.”

I forced my feet into action and pulled Mary with me to the entrance to cautiously peek in. Empty—it was empty! There was no smell of death, no body wrapped in cloth. But we had watched Joseph lay him there! Where was he? How could this be?

Too scared to ask the glowing creature standing behind us, his grin stretching from ear to shining ear, I looked at my companion. “Where is he?” I hissed.

Mary’s eyes were still big and round. She lifted a shoulder in response and turned toward the stranger, taking me with her since our arms were tightly linked.

He spoke again with authority, “Now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.”

As the edges of his body seemed to shimmer and become transparent, he said, “Remember what I have told you.” And then he was gone.

Mary’s fingernails were now boring into my arm as she tried to order words into a sentence, but they came tumbling out in a heap. Words like: Jesus. Gone. Empty. The tomb. Questions including What? How? Where?

“We have to tell the others!” I cried. “They will never believe it, but we have to tell them—Jesus is alive!”

We joined hands and danced, leaping in the air with energy we shouldn’t have had after two sleepless nights.

“Come on!” Mary laughed, “Let’s tell everyone!”

Then her face grew serious as she looked to the rock where God’s messenger had sat and pointed beyond it to the guards as they rose slowly with fear and anger written on their faces.

“Trouble is not finished here. We must not delay sharing this amazing news!”

We hurried off to the shouts of the guards, demanding we return with an explanation. Our hearts pounded as we pushed our legs to run as fast as we could.

When we had put some distance between us and the tomb, we stopped to catch our breath. The guards had not pursued us.

Bent over as I was, the first thing I saw was his feet. They still bore the wounds from the nails that had secured him to the cross. My increased heartbeat was no longer due to exertion. I stood up so suddenly that I swayed.

“Jesus?”

Mary’s head snapped up.

“Don’t be afraid!” he said, his warm, familiar smile in place.

We both fell at his feet and worshiped him. The Messiah was alive, and he was there! There in front of us!

After a few minutes of fellowship, Jesus repeated the angel’s message to us: “Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”

“We will, Lord!” we both said at once, then looked at each other and laughed. But when we looked around, Jesus was gone.

We ran giggling and crying with joy toward town. God chose us! We saw Jesus first, and he chose US to be his messengers! Praise be to God; Jesus has risen! He is risen, indeed.

As we read the accounts of Jesus’s death and resurrection in the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we read different details in each one. This retelling is based on the story told in Matthew 28. Were there more women present? Was Mary Magdalene actually alone? If we get hung up on these questions, we miss the main point of the story:

Jesus has risen!

God’s plan of salvation was complete. Jesus died as a punishment for our sins, and then He rose again to give us life. When we ask Him to become the Lord of our lives, repenting of our wrongdoings and selfish behavior, we become children of God—part of His family.

The Easter story is the pinnacle of our faith. We now have meaning and purpose in our lives because Jesus became a man and died for us. Because of the events in this story, we can have a personal relationship with a God who loves us and cares about everything we care about. We have hope for our future—eternal life with Him!

I thank You, Father, that Jesus’ resurrection brings us life. Move into my heart and resurrect it with a new awakening of Your love! Thank You for being the Way, the Truth, and the Life! Praise be to God; Jesus has risen! He is risen, indeed.

If you haven’t yet given your heart to Jesus, what better time than on Easter! He is ready to welcome you into the family.

Happy Easter, friends!

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The Messiah is Dead

I had no tears left. The Messiah hung on a cross, broken and bleeding, hardly different in appearance from the two criminals hanging on either side of him. Except Jesus wore that horrific crown made from thorns, a reminder of the treatment he received before they nailed him there. They mocked him, spit on him, and whipped him. Those were the things I witnessed with my own eyes; Father God only knows what they did behind closed doors. Angry shouts, jeering voices, and despairing cries filled the air.

But at noon, night fell as if someone had snatched the sun out of the sky. At a time of day when it shined its brightest, giving off the most heat, the sun disappeared completely, leaving us in a blackness that felt thick and heavy.

An eerie silence overtook the crowd, and Mary Magdalene and I linked hands as we moved closer. After the exclaims and cries of surprise at the unexplainable darkness faded, we stood quietly facing the gruesome scene, our eyes adjusting to the inky gloom. Standing with us were those who mocked him and wanted to see the end, those who loved him and wished to support him during his wrongful death, and those who were curious, who had heard of this Jesus of Nazareth but had not come to know him like Mary and me. Our tears silently washed our faces in the darkness. We knew who he was. We loved him.

My feet and legs ached from standing for hours, but I would not sit down. Jesus deserved my respect and adoration right to the end. His love had changed my life and the lives of so many others surrounding me. I only had to look into the eyes of the woman grasping my hand to see a soul he had rescued from the brink of Hell and saved from the torture of demons. How could they do this to a man who did nothing but love others and heal their minds and bodies? Fresh tears filled my eyes once more as I reflected on his goodness and gentleness, not only towards my friends and me but to everybody that he met. The poor, the sick, the broken: he touched them all. And now we stood, shoulder to shoulder, a vigil like no other, the darkness an appropriate backdrop.

A ripple of murmuring stirred me from my reverie. Jesus had lifted his head, and the crowd had noticed.

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” His voice echoed across the valley, cutting through the inky air.

My heart broke anew at that moment. How had he felt, hanging there as the life drained from him, compounded with his own Father’s refusal to intervene? God could have stopped this. If everything Jesus told us about Him was true, saving His son from this horrible death would be easy. He is a God of miracles, all-powerful. Why did He turn His back on Jesus now?

Voices called out from the crowd as they too questioned what was happening. Some misunderstood the words that Jesus cried out in his mother tongue, and they wondered why he called out to the prophet Elijah. The mockers resumed their jeering at him and scoffed that even God, who he had claimed was his Father, had left him to die. And those of us who loved him mourned with groans and cries of agony, reflecting his pain.

Someone offered him a drink of wine from a sponge at the end of a reed. After a quick sip, he raised his head again, quieting the crowd with another shout.

Suddenly, I heard a loud rumble and cracking sounds as though rocks were splitting apart, and I stumbled as the earth beneath our feet began to shake. Screams filled the air as the onlookers tried to keep their balance, fear overtaking them. As we tried to make sense of what was happening, shouts from those standing closest to the crosses confirmed that Jesus was dead.

Small groups of people broke off from the crowd and began making their way back to their homes or businesses. But one of the temple boys parted them as he raced towards the group of priests still standing off to one side.

“The curtain! The curtain! It ripped all by itself! It ripped right down the middle, from top to bottom!”

The crowd was still spreading this news about the temple’s heavy veil when another lad appeared with an incredible story of dead bodies rising from their graves and returning to the city. Fear and wonder rippled in waves through the congregation.

“This man truly was the Son of God!”

I craned my neck and squinted into the darkness to see who had shouted this. To my surprise, it was one of the Roman officers. It was a declaration that came much too late. Jesus was dead.

Mary and I stayed to see what they would do with his body. After the Sabbath, we would prepare it properly for burial.

One of the soldiers stabbed Jesus in the side to be sure he was gone, and a group of them removed his body from the cross. After a man named Joseph got permission to bury Jesus, we watched him wrap the body and place it in a cave, a new tomb he likely had for his family. We only headed home after a group of men rolled a heavy stone in front of the opening. We wondered at the reason for this—possibly to keep animals from going in to desecrate the remains?

The next day was the Sabbath. It would be another filled with mourning for this great man. The Messiah had come, and now the Messiah was dead. We went home with heavy hearts.

The day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is often called Waiting Saturday. As I retell the story of Jesus’ death from the perspective of Mary (the mother of James and Joseph), I recognize that Jesus’ friends hadn’t understood any of the references He had made to His resurrection. In their minds, their beloved Jesus was dead, and all hope was lost. The day after His crucifixion was only a “waiting day” because the women had to wait until after the Sabbath to properly tend to the body. While the hours dragged by, they may have even questioned if He was the Messiah; for them, this was the end. Not only did they mourn a man they loved, but they mourned for humanity, for the loss of the One who was supposed to save the world. He now lay lifeless in a tomb.

The darkness may have fallen early on the day Jesus died, but the following day would have seemed even darker for His followers. Their leader was dead.

But this is not the end of the story, my friends. Let’s pick it up here later this weekend for an exciting plot twist!

As we acknowledge Good Friday and consider the crucifixion of Jesus, can you imagine yourself there, at the foot of the cross, watching Him die? How does that make you feel?

Take some time today to read one of the accounts of Jesus’ death (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19) and thank Him for His sacrifice. He suffered for you.

Thank You, Jesus, for going through with Your Father’s plan, for suffering a terrible death as a human so that I would not have to pay for my own sins this way. Your love is overwhelming. Father, Your sacrifice showed immeasurable grace and mercy for Your creation. Thank You for offering us this way out, this doorway to forgiveness, and a stairway to Heaven. We wait today, not with sadness but with expectation, because we know how this story ends.
May God be praised.

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In Love

“Guess what, Aunt Valda. I have a boyfriend!” my niece looked at her dad as she giggled.

“Oh, really?” I hadn’t seen my niece for three months. This new development in her six-year-old social life was a shocker. “Who is your boyfriend?”

She stated his name. “He’s in my class at school.”

Her young face glowed. Were there animated hearts reflected in her eyes? As her head swiveled purposefully toward her father again, I quickly recognized that the love-glow on her face was not caused by a Grade One romance.

My brother-in-law responded predictably. “I don’t know what’s going on in that school!” He frowned at his daughter. “No one has a boyfriend here!”

“Yes, I do!” With another giggle, she twirled and ran off to find her favorite toy to show me.

I laughed and shared that I’d never seen so many romantic crushes in my Kindergarten class as I have this year. Was it the necessary masks causing a sense of intrigue?

We continued with our adult conversation, catching up on the family news. However, throughout the evening, the topic of my niece’s romance came up over and over again. She weaved the phrase “my boyfriend” into almost every interaction she had with her father, and each time, she punctuated her words with a pointed look and a huge grin. And my brother-in-law consistently rose to the occasion, responding with frustrated denial.

At his expense, it was quite entertaining to watch.

“Do you want to visit Park Omega to see the animals this weekend?” he asked her.

“No, I don’t have time. I’m getting married this weekend.” There was a pause. A head turn. A look. A grin. “To my boyfriend.”

She kept it up for hours—the merciless teasing. I was silently thanking God for giving me three boys.

“We’re in love!” she stated. “Me and my boyfriend.”

Indeed, there was love reflected in her eyes, but the real holder of her affection sat in the room with us. And he was no boy, but a grown man who loved her more than any six-year-old was capable of loving her.

Despite my brother-in-law’s reaction to his daughter’s boyfriend talk, he knows she is teasing him. He knows that she does it because she loves him.

Our heavenly Father loves us—His children—even more! I wonder how it makes Him feel when we tease Him with our other interests. I suspect it hurts Him much more than my niece’s innocent game.

Jesus summarizes the first four commandments of the Big Ten in Matthew 22:37:

Our heart is who we love. Do we truly love God more than anyone/anything else? Do we love Him more than our spouses? More than our children?

Some say your soul is your true nature. It consists of your thoughts and feelings and your resulting character. How often does our sinful nature affect what we think about and our emotional responses to people and situations?

Our mind is our control center. It rules our decision-making and our actions. Do we consult God before doing the things we do? Or do we often drive our lives without our GPS because we think we know where we’re going and how to get there?

David had it right when he wrote Psalm 103:1:

ALL that is within me …

Let’s strive to love and praise God with our ALL: heart, soul, and mind!

Are you in love with God? Do you make Him the highest priority in your life?

He shows His commitment to you by offering salvation and membership in His family. His love for you is unconditional.

What will you do today to show God that you love Him with your whole being?

Father,
I love You. I truly do. I’m sorry for all of the times I unknowingly teased You with my commitment to other things or people. I choose to put You back on top as my One True Love.
I surrender my whole being to You. Take my heart, soul, and mind and make them Yours.
Lead me where You want me to go and use my life to lead others to You.
Amen.

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Chaos

My teaching partner and I stood at the back of the room, watching our students as they played.

“What is going on today?”

“What a gong show!”

It seemed like we had spent the day refereeing. Our students’ voices were elevated and accusatory, and we fielded numerous complaints of unkind behavior. Two children were going home with scratches on their faces. Another pair had bitten each other.  I had to help a boy clean up after an intentional washroom accident (He wanted to go home, and at that moment, I did too).

There was no full moon to explain the behavior we were observing. I checked! They had gone outside during their regular time, so we couldn’t use “cabin fever” as an excuse. Our students’ poor conduct was unexplainable.

And ironic.

It was Pink Shirt Day. The children and staff all wore pretty shades of pink, some with frills and lace. We spent Circle Time talking about kindness and treating others with respect. THEY suggested ways they could be kind to each other during their play.

Yet, a couple hours later, they had forgotten their manners and were attacking each other with nails and teeth! Oh, the joys of Kindergarten!


In our bigger community, we finally saw the truck convoy depart from our city, leaving behind a massive debt and divided loyalties among friends. I still pass an occasional stranger carrying a cardboard sign speaking about FREEDOM, continuing their protest, but in a much more subdued way.

But before we finish the whoosh of breath resembling a sigh of relief, journalists turned the spotlight on the other side of the world. A protest about freedom in a country like Canada now seems trite compared to what people face in Ukraine today. The word WAR is being used in a context that infuses fear for their lives. And freedom is a fragile thing,  involving human rights that might be stolen.

Once again, I feel like throwing my hands up and crying, “What is going on?”

Trials, tribulations, wars—they are not evidence of a God who doesn’t care or doesn’t exist at all. These are reminders that we need Him. They are reminders to pray.

What do we pray for? We pray that God’s will be done. We pray that Ukrainians all over the globe call out to a Heavenly Deity who wants to be their Father. We pray that the driving force behind this invasion, the one calling the shots, has a come-to-Jesus moment. What would happen if he accepted God’s love into his heart? God sent His Son to die for EVERYone. Even a communist leader. Let’s pray for his soul, my friend.

Do you wish you could do something to help our faraway neighbors?

My friend’s husband, who works in the medical field, suggested canceling their March Break trip and going to Poland instead, to help with the influx of Ukrainians crossing the border. What a selfless, benevolent idea! We can’t all consider such an extreme measure, however.

What can you do? You can pray. Never underestimate the power of prayer.

Father, no matter how out of control things seem to be, I know that You still have power over everything. Thank You for loving us all enough to provide salvation and offer a relationship with You. I pray for the people of Ukraine and for their families who live elsewhere. Reveal Your heart to them. Draw them close and help them know You better.

I pray also for the Russian people who will likely be ostracized for their government’s decisions. May they discover your love too.

And work a miracle in the hearts and minds of the leaders. They are misguided humans who also need You.

I submit my own will to You. Accept my prayers, and show me what else I can do to help.

Amen.

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A Truck-Sandwich Delay

It was Book Club Night on Thursday – our first get-together since October. It was guaranteed to be a fun evening with friends, including food, laughs, and some poignant moments, as well, as we remembered our dear member who passed away since our last meeting.

After a pitstop for gas, I picked up a friend so we could carpool together. The ride should last about twenty-five minutes. But these are not ordinary times in our city. As I merged onto the highway to head to our destination, my vehicle joined an unnatural stream of traffic. My SUV, which is not a small car, seemed to shrink as it suddenly became the filling in a truck sandwich. We unintentionally shared the highway with the truck convoy that continues its siege on our city. These truckers from across the country are here in our nation’s capital to protest the mandates the government has put in place in response to the pandemic. Three lanes of traffic that typically raced at a speed around 120 km/hr now crawled along like a toddler across the living room floor.

My friend messaged our group chat to let them know we would not be on time. We had not anticipated this delay, but there was no way out.

We arrived an hour late because of this unexpected situation, tired and frustrated, with less gas in the tank but otherwise unharmed.

Unexpected delays. Interruptions. Cancellations. Who among us likes any of those words? Don’t you wish we had no need for them to be a part of our vocabulary at all? We often respond with statements like, “It is what it is.” or “That’s life.” Neither of them makes us feel better.

This is where you people who always leave early for appointments and Sunday morning church services get the last laugh. “See? We prepare for the unexpected!” you might say. I’d high-five you (or elbow-bump these days) if we were in the same room, but it’s not likely to change my own leave-at-the-last-second-possible ways. I’m a busy girl, okay?

Arriving at Book Club an hour late is not a big deal. But what about when more significant life plans are altered by unexpected delays, interruptions, or cancellations? What then? How do we cope with those situations? Health problems, job loss, death of a loved one, car troubles, relationship issues, natural disasters, a political demonstration … There are so many things beyond our control.

And for us control freaks, these things drive us mad, don’t they?
“It is what it is.”
“That’s life.”
These sentiments are far from helpful.

Except that’s a secular way of thinking. As Christ-followers, we believe that God has a plan and nothing deviates from that plan unless we turn our backs on Him. If we give our heart and our will to Jesus, our life becomes His to direct. The things that happen which seem like interruptions or delays are purposeful. They are part of His plan, which might not make sense to us at the moment (and might never make sense to us), but God is in control.

That doesn’t mean that believers won’t struggle or endure hardships. The promise God gives us is that He will give us strength to go through those hard times, and He will be there with us. That’s still a sweet deal: I pledge allegiance to the One who created me, and He adopts me into His family and takes care of me forever.

Letting God take charge is like having a manufacturer warranty. He created us, so He knows what is best for us. Our Manufacturer can fix us when we are broken (which often happens because we deviated from His plan and took back control). No matter how smart we think we are, God is the King of Wisdom; only He is omniscient (all-knowing).

Do you trust God with all of your plans? Do you submit your will to Him? Giving up control doesn’t have to mean losing control. It is a kind of freedom to pass everything over to Him. Not everyone will see it that way, though. Especially when you’re a control freak, and you like to see things done a certain way.

The next time you face something that seems to interrupt your life, why not whisper a prayer of thanks instead of responding in anger or disappointment? In God’s greater plan, He may have just spared you from something worse, or He may be putting someone in your path who needs your help. He might want to strengthen your faith. Thank Him for being in control.

Even if you are a truck sandwich, driving at 2 km/hr in the middle of a truck convoy …

Father, forgive me for wanting to be in charge and thinking I know what’s best. Your ways are higher than my ways, and Your thoughts are higher than my thoughts (Isaiah 55:9). I trust You in Your infinite wisdom, even when my life takes unexpected turns. I surrender the steering wheel to You. You are in control.

Amen.


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Lost!

I have a sneak preview for you today; here’s one of the devotions from my manuscript,

Your Morning Chuckle & Faith Challenge!

Enjoy!

There are parts of the city I hate driving in, especially the busy downtown core with its buses, taxis, pedestrians, cyclists. With so much going on, I wish I had an extra set of eyes. Finding a parking spot can be an even bigger nightmare and might require me to use that skill I dreaded most while practicing for my driver’s test: parallel parking!

My downtown driving anxiety decreased exponentially when our vehicles became equipped with a Global Positioning System (GPS). I merely tell my car where I’m heading, and a lovely voice recommends the best route to get there. (She doesn’t help with parking, but my car has another miraculous feature to do that.) Even when I miss a turn or confuse her directions, my GPS friend patiently redirects me and gets me back on track. She has given me driving confidence. I depend on her to get me to my destination in a relatively good time. (She has no control over the fact that I never leave with enough travel time to get anywhere ON TIME!) My trust in the GPS gives me the perception that I will never get lost—she’s got my back.

Have you ever been to a city, however, where the buildings are so tall, your trusty device can’t communicate with her satellite which tells HER where to go? That old anxiety comes flooding back that I will get lost—I will never arrive at my typical five-minutes-past-the-hour-I’m-supposed-to-be-there fashion. I might be too late to beg forgiveness! I might have to pay a missed-appointment penalty. So far, in those instances, I have managed to stay on course until the GPS reconnects to her mainframe-in-the-sky and continues giving me informed advice and trustworthy instructions. I wipe the sweat off my brow and continue with my mission.

With ongoing road construction and city expansion, sometimes our GPS gets outdated. She no longer recognizes the terrain because the information about road construction is no longer current. Suddenly, there’s a new road where only a field appears in her map content. When I use the new road that seems more direct and time-efficient, the GPS screen shows my avatar off-roading over green spaces and bravely driving across rivers. She doesn’t sound afraid or panicked, but she is determined to get me back on the right path. Over and over, she gives me directions to reroute to the roads she knows. Eventually, she can recalculate that final time when the new route connects to something familiar to her. This can also be a scary ride since I’ve lost her confident guidance. I seem to be beating a trail through the wilderness, and I can only hope the new road is taking me where I want to go (in the shortest amount of time, of course, because, seriously, I shouldn’t be more than five minutes late—that would be ill-mannered!).

These are usually the only two situations where I lose faith in following the GPS. So, one day while traveling to my son’s new apartment for the first time, I was surprised to end up lost.

My GPS friend was trying her best to get me there. There were no skyscrapers, no new streets. She just seemed confused. The directions she was giving me were nonsensical. She told me to go down one-way streets the wrong way and make turns where there were no roads. Her projected arrival time was much later than it should have been. It didn’t seem possible to be lost with a GPS next to me!

I double-checked that I had entered the address correctly. Yes, everything matched my son’s information. I used the GPS in my phone that day, which was usually more accurate than the built-in one that came with my car. This app could tell if there was heavy traffic or road closures and would give me the fastest route in real-time. But on this occasion, she was letting me down.

I called my son in frustration. (Yes, I was desperate enough to use my phone to call someone!) He tried to figure out where I was as I spouted off the street names on the signs around me. He suggested I put the address in my car’s GPS instead. I pulled over and did that. The new confident voice directed me to my son’s apartment with no errors.
The relief was instant. I hated the feeling of being lost. From the safety of my son’s couch, I opened my phone app again. What had gone wrong? It didn’t take me long to realize I had used the GPS while walking, not driving, the day before. The app still operated on the setting to walk to my destination! Her instructions all made sense if I had been on foot. WALKING on a one-way street in the wrong direction is perfectly acceptable. Some suggested turns were onto footpaths that crisscrossed the city, meant for pedestrians only. The problem was a user error. I could put my confidence back in the GPS for my next trip, and she would not likely let me down.


It’s not a good feeling to recognize that you’re lost. But, don’t we all feel a little lost sometimes? The expression we used in Newfoundland was, “I don’t know if I’m coming or going!”

One day while Jesus taught, He told three stories about lost things: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son (Luke 15:3–32). His main message for the first two was simple: just like the shepherd cares enough to leave behind ninety-nine of his sheep to hunt for one who has wandered off, and the lady sweeps her entire house to look for one coin, God actively goes after people who have wandered away from His love. When He finds the lost soul, and that person repents of their sin, all of Heaven rejoices and celebrates.

In the parable of the lost son, the young man didn’t deserve a merciful homecoming. He’d been foolish and greedy, taking his money and wasting it, shaming his family, and disrespecting his father. When he came crawling home, his dad could have made him squirm just a bit. But no, the elated man ran to meet his boy, hugged him and kissed his filthy face, and treated him like royalty, demanding of his servants, “Get the finest robe you can find, put a ring on his finger and some nice shoes. Let’s kill an animal and have a party!”

The son must have felt worse, hearing these requests, because he knew he wasn’t worthy of this welcome.

The point of all these stories is that God loves us all and welcomes us home, no matter how far we have wandered from Him. When His children show up with a repentant heart, He is ready to throw a party.

We have a GPS to guide us on the best route to our final destination: our home with Jesus in Heaven. That guide is our Bible. The voice that accompanies the written instructions is the Holy Spirit, which is the part of God that resides within us when we receive salvation.

This navigation system will only work if: we focus on our destination (desiring a Kingdom journey), we hear the voice of the Holy Spirit telling us where to go (praying and listening), and we follow the directions given to us (submitting our lives to Him).

There will be distractions along the route, road signs that will confuse us, and locations where the GPS’s volume is faint and difficult to hear. If we can’t use our navigation system to find our way, however, the fault is ours—we made an error. The Holy Spirit will never steer us wrong because our Father doesn’t want us to end up lost.

Push the Home button on your GPS. It’s time to make a U-turn and return to your predestined route.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. (Psalm 56:3 NIV)

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10 NIV)

The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

How confident are you in the life path on which you travel? Have you ever felt that you’ve taken a wrong turn and ended up lost?

Read your Bible and pray regularly. When you apply these spiritual disciplines, you can follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance with complete trust and confidence that you are in God’s will. He will lead you to your final destination via the very best route.

Take some time today to praise Him for His faithfulness and listen for His voice.

God, help me find my way back to You and the path You wish me to take. As I submit my heart and will to You and learn to listen, help me hear the Holy Spirit’s voice, directing me where to go. Every choice and decision I make in my life is a fork in the road where I can become lost if I take the wrong turn. I know that You can reroute me and guide me back if I get lost, but I will have wasted time and missed out on experiences that You wanted me to have along the way. Help me to put my trust in You as I follow Your directions. 

Lead me home, Father. 

Amen.

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Sweet, Hairy Lies

“Rapunzel! Rapunzel! Let down your hair!”

The pretty princess uncoiled her mounds of braids and let them fall from the tower’s window to the ground where the prince stood. Her rescuer had finally arrived, and her happily ever after was right around the corner—well, a few yards below her, to be specific.

I wonder about that marriage, though. Can you imagine the prince’s surprise at finding one of her hairs in his morning cereal? How many plungers and plumber’s snakes will he require to keep the shower drain clear? Could he ever sit next to her on the couch or lie beside her in bed without having her yelp and tell him to get off her hair?


I’m not a fan of hair. When I find one on the floor or in the tub, I move it like it was a vile creature that had invaded our home. Ew. I need a pest control service to call for capturing and removing hair! The only reason I’m not bald is that my pride issue is worse than my hair issue.

Since dying my hair red, I’ve discovered more hair in my tub after showering. I wondered at first if I was losing my mane. Then I realized that the platinum blond strands had blended in with the white tub. The hair had still been present; it had just been camouflaging! I find that a tad deceitful.

This morning, while lathering my red locks (gently so as not to pull out any hair), I heard the words, “Tell me lies. Tell me sweet little lies.” It was a song from my playlist of upbeat 80s tunes, blasting from my Bluetooth speaker. Did the words go together: little and lies? My blond hair probably thought they did.

The words were familiar, and I could easily sing along with the chorus, but I couldn’t help questioning why the singer would want someone to lie to her. Why would she suggest this was desirable? What relationship built on lies ever succeeded? If one survived, it was after numerous heartaches and hard work.

We sometimes categorize lies according to their potential for harm. Have you heard of white lies? Those are the little ones we tell by omission or redirection to protect someone from getting hurt or ruining a surprise. Those are okay, right? Or those grey areas like claiming certain things on your taxes or parking in the space for moms with young children. Those aren’t really lying, are they? What about the stories we tell children about a jolly old elf, an egg-toting bunny, and a tooth-loving fairy? Okay, I may have gone too far.

When we question the rightness or wrongness of things, our best resource is God’s Word. What does the Bible say about lies?

Before we get to the end of the third chapter in the very first book, we read about a lie that caused the very first sin. The serpent deceived Eve with untruths that enticed her to disobey God and taste something she was forbidden to eat. The results of that lie were far-reaching. Centuries later, we suffer pain during childbirth, work hard to make ends meet (rather than lounging in a garden paradise), and face the death of our earthly bodies. On top of that, the serpent’s lie led to every one of us being born in sin and needing redemption—needing Jesus to die. One little lie.

The Bible is clear that lying is a sin. God showed His displeasure about lying by including it in The Ten Commandments given to Moses. The Living Bible translation states it plainly: “You must not lie” (Exodus 20:16). Period. There is no further explanation breaking down this “false witness” or “lie” concept. Unlike our modern-day interpretation, God does not sort lies into categories that range from Okay to Hell-worthy.

Here are just a few of the verses about lying found in His Word:

Who is the father of lies?
Is lying comparative to murder?
The truth will come out.

Like my platinum blond hairs, those white lies might blend into the background for a while, but they will eventually be discovered.

I wonder what color Rapunzel’s long tresses were …

Do you ever find yourself justifying a “little” untruth?

Reflecting on the verses above, I think we can agree that no lie is little. No lie is acceptable to God.

If our desire is to grow to become more like Jesus, there is no room for untruth in our character. Let’s aim for honesty with discretion in knowing when to zip our lips rather than hurt someone.

Jesus, You are the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). I pray that your Holy Spirit will guide me toward truthfulness in every situation. Help me to know when to speak and when to be silent. Speak to my conscience when I consider saying or doing something dishonest. Use my life to glorify You. Amen.


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Val’s Review

As we open a new chapter with the page turn to 2022, like every year, many people will make New Year’s Resolutions and vocalize promises to themselves to make the future better in some way. For some, this means starting a new diet or an exercise plan. For others, the goal might be looking for a new job or vowing to repair a broken relationship. That relationship might even be with God.

Regardless of the type of goal one sets, following through with any resolution will require determination, perseverance, a support system, and the appropriate resources. I would like to take this opportunity on Val’s Stage to share a resource that will help you if your goal is to strengthen your personal relationship with God.

This afternoon, I was delighted to receive my own signed copy of my friend Carolyn Cheer’s book Do You Believe I Am God or Not? Anchoring Your Hope in God’s Promises. It was exciting to hold the product of months of Carolyn’s writing, revising, and editing with the accompanying prayers, sweat, and tears.

I opened the cover to see my name and a personal message of thanks in my friend’s handwriting. One more page turn revealed my name a second time, but in print, at the end of the review I wrote for this beautiful book that Carolyn co-created with God.

Adding the title of Author was a step of faith that my book will soon be published too!

My Review for

Do You Believe I Am God or Not?

Sometimes life can be challenging. When hardships come, we often try to navigate them on our own. The world around us encourages this self-sufficiency. However, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” is not the way God intended us to face those stresses.
Before even opening this book, Carolyn’s words challenge our faith: “Do you believe I am God or not?” There is another way outside of panic attacks and spirals into depression. It begins with believing in His promises. In these beautiful devotions, Carolyn reminds us of God’s promises for us today as well as those for our future so we can anchor our lives in Him. The storms may come, but our God is greater.
This book is a testament to God’s grace as Carolyn faced her own battles to share her encouraging words with us. The journey to similar faith can begin in the next 21 days as you use this journaling devotional to spend time with an all-powerful God who loves you unconditionally.

Are You Up for the Challenge?

In January of each year, many churches encourage their congregations to join a 21-day journey together of prayer and fasting. I recommend following Carolyn’s 21 days of devotions and reflections as a guide during that focused spiritual time.

If you are not participating in an organized program like this, but you want to deepen your faith and understanding of God’s promises, you can do your own 21-day dive into His Word through Carolyn’s devotional.

I will not receive compensation from the sales of her book—except the knowledge that I shared a great resource with you!

As Carolyn would say, “Be blessed!”

And Happy New Year!

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Read the Room

One of my students’ favorite learning activities is called Read the Room. They walk around the classroom looking for words, letters, or numbers. Often, they must engage with the discovery in some way once they’ve found it. This might involve copying the text on their recording sheet, crossing off a match, drawing a picture, or coloring something.

This morning, I did a Read the Room in the main living area of my condo. I invite you to join me on my journey. My engagement this morning was expressing my gratitude to God for each discovery.

Thank You, God, for my family. For those who raised me in a home filled with love—theirs and Yours. Thank You for our three grown sons. We are very proud of the men they have become. I pray that they will get to know you more. Thank You for giving me a loving husband who spoils me daily.

Thank You for friends—those who are dear to me. I pray that they will feel Your love and comfort this Christmas as many lives are thrown into chaos with positive COVID tests and diagnoses even scarier.

I pray for those who may experience loneliness this year. May they draw nearer to You.

Thank You for our food and for meeting all of our basic needs. We lack for nothing. I pray for those who do not have a filled fridge. Show me how I can help.

Thank You for my morning coffee! I do enjoy that wake-me-up.
Thank You for technology. When used correctly, this makes our lives better in so many ways. Help me to be tech-wise.
Thank You for transportation—for a car that works and gets us where we need to go in comfort.
Thank You for jobs that give us financial security.

Thank You for the seasons. They show that You are in control. Help me to appreciate winter a little more!

Thank You for the unique gifts and talents that You give us. Use my writing to encourage others.

So much here. Thank You for the joy, love, and peace You offer us when we believe in You. You are the provider of all things good.

Thank You for grace exemplified in Your salvation, for providing a way for us to have a close relationship with our Creator. Thank You for forgiving our sins and loving us unconditionally.

Thank You for Jesus. May we all keep our focus on Him during this celebratory season.
You are the Reason.

Well… Thanks!

I challenge you to Read the Room in your home. Look for all the things you have to be grateful for and whisper a prayer of thanks.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas! Stay safe and warm.

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Celebration

I hum a merry, seasonal tune while decorating the house. Friends and family will come for dinner tomorrow, and I want things to look festive. I make sure there are candles dispersed throughout. There’s something magical about candlelight, how it brings light and life to the room, in addition to the twinkling lights already strung about.

I’ve been planning and preparing the meal for days. Things that could be made ahead of time are done and tucked away, and I’ll do a grocery run tonight for the fresh items. I don’t know why we eat such a feast each year when it leaves us stuffed and sleepy, everyone looking for a couch to lie on when they get up from the table. But, that’s tradition, and we’ll carry on celebrating as our family always has. The dining table is already set with elegance for the multi-course meal.

A gift inventory is next. There must be something for each of my guests. The wrapping is just right; everything is clearly labelled for ease of distribution. The children especially look forward to the gifts I buy for them every year. I try to get something extravagant that their parents would be unlikely to purchase. Three nieces and two nephews—all taken care of.

That done, I check the closet to see if our festive outfits need steaming or ironing. Wrinkles will never do for such an important day. I might even dust off my special shoes, the ones my husband brought me back from his last business trip.

We get together with family far too little these days, and I can’t wait to see everyone. A celebration like this is the perfect excuse to spend time with our loved ones, and I’ve done my best to prepare for an extraordinary day. I only hope I’m not too tired to enjoy it myself…


With the timing of this post, you likely assume the celebration is Christmas. However, if it had been posted in November, a Mexican reader might think I’m referring to Dia de Los Muertos; an Indian reader might assume it’s Diwali; an American might think of Thanksgiving. In fact, the scenario above could represent many different celebrations recognized by people from backgrounds or ethnicities outside of our own. Customs including songs, decorations, lights, family gatherings, feasts, new clothing, and gift-giving are followed on many days throughout the year around the world. So, what makes Christmas special?

We all know the Christian reason for the season: the birth of the Christ Child. But, as we go through the preparations, do we really think of Him? There’s a lot to be done: many, many hours of planning, shopping, decorating, wrapping, and cooking—and, let’s not forget about cleaning! The busyness of the celebration can make it unrecognizable. Yet, the star of this day is Jesus!

What can we do this year to ensure that we do not overlook The Reason for the celebration? I’ve made a list of ten suggestions to help us focus on Jesus.

  1. Every time you see a candle or coloured light, thank Him for being the Light of the World.
  2. Before putting any Christmas treat near your lips (including chocolate!), say a genuine prayer of thanks for all of His provisions.
  3. As you wrap gifts, ask God to use the spiritual gifts He’s given you to help others during this season. And, thank Him for all of His abundant blessings!
  4. When you see a nativity scene, whisper a prayer, thanking your Maker for sending His Son for you.
  5. Begin every morning with Him. Read the book of Luke, or pick up an Advent devotional. A writer friend of mine, Jennifer Elwood, has published a beautiful one called Counting Up to Christmas: Twenty-Four Gifts from the Gospel of Luke (available on Amazon). A few minutes each morning focussing on God will set your heart to remember Him throughout your busy day.
  6. Serve birthday cake for dessert on Christmas Day. When our boys were young, this tradition involved writing “Happy Birthday, Jesus” on the cake and singing the birthday song before we cut it. It’s important to remind our children that Santa isn’t the central figure in this celebration.
  7. Speaking of the gift-giving, jolly old elf, when you see Santa—in person or in print—thank GOD for all the good gifts He’s given to you. Every good gift comes from HIM (sorry, Santa) (James 1:17).
  8. Turn those Christmas songs into anthems of praise. When you hear a carol, sing it from the heart. O come let us adore Him!
  9. Attend church on Christmas Eve. My grown boys know that attending the night before the big day is non-negotiable. It’s always such a beautiful service and fun to see if this will be the year that someone catches their neighbour’s hair on fire with the candle!
  10. Read the Christmas story aloud at some point during the day’s festivities. I recommend AFTER the gift opening. I remember waiting impatiently for my dad to read from his Bible while I gazed longingly at a pile of presents, trying hard not to resent this tradition!

Jesus, let us never forget that You are there inside that cyclone of busyness, and You bring peace.
Help us to focus this Christmas on You—the ultimate gift to the world. No one is like You, God.
You deserve our attention during this season and every day.
Amen.

It might be cliché to say, but let’s keep Christ in Christmas.

If you’re on Instagram, check out my TUESDAY TICKLE and FRIDAY FUNNY posts [@valdagoudie]. Join my mailing list below to receive these directly by email!

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My Fall

Sometimes busy times call for shortcuts. Forgive me for dusting off and polishing an old post for today…

The warm breeze caressed my face and bare arms as I pedaled. “Smooth” was not a word I’d have used to describe a ride on my old bike. But, hey! My old bike didn’t have shocks like these. Despite feeling like the seat had been adjusted too high for me (noticeable during scary stops at intersections), I was sailing. Smoothly.

I never knew biking could feel so good. My memories of riding a bike involved a sore butt and tingling fingers. It was never a pleasant experience. Oh, but now. Dreams of long bike rides for picnics and sightseeing danced inside my new merlot-colored helmet. This was a whole different cruise port!

I stopped to take a selfie. I posted it on Instagram with the caption: “Maiden voyage home on my new wheels!” My smile was big. I was the queen of the world!

Just outside my condo complex, I had to ride on the sidewalk leading up to the gate. An elderly gentleman piloted his walker ahead of me at more of an air balloon speed. I slowed and rode off the sidewalk onto the grass to go around him. His wife smiled and thanked me for respecting his space.

I went a meter or so ahead of him before reentering the sidewalk, not wanting to cut him off. I didn’t see the gap between the edge of the concrete and the ground, masked as it was with the green grass, until my tire wedged there, parallel to the sidewalk, and refused to go any further. If my seat had been a little lower, I might have caught myself. But this was not the case. We both went down—me and my brand-new bike. The concrete was far from cushiony, and my pride took a huge blow too.

Mr. Walker’s wife was now concerned as I popped up like a jack-in-the-box repeating a curious phrase: “I’m alright. I’m alright.” Curious, because I wasn’t sure if it was true.

I walked my bike the few meters to the gate, testing out my legs. Kids fall off their bikes all the time, right? Once inside the grounds, I got on and rode it into the garage. Everything seemed fine—both of us.

I locked my new bike on the wall in the bike room and looked for damage. I wiped each scuff off with a gentle brush of my fingers. I breathed a sigh of relief—no real damage done. Just a terribly embarrassing moment.

In the elevator, I decided not to tell anyone, unless the road burns and bruises became too noticeable to ignore. I went about my day, watching the bruises darken and feeling a strange pain in my arm when I moved it a certain way or lifted something heavy.

We weren’t finished bike shopping just yet, however. The sales guy at the store had informed Hubby that their other location might have the male version of my bike in stock—just one, of course, so speed was of the essence. The pandemic was great for bike sales in this city. I encouraged him to get the bike since the first shopping expedition had actually been a search for a bike for him. How did I end up coming home with one??

We plucked a few more leaves from the money tree and bought a new bike for Hubby too. What a day!

“Let’s plan a picnic!” I said excitedly. We set out with our backpacks bulging with food, drinks, a picnic blanket, and a deck of cards; all the picnic essentials.

The paths behind our condo go for miles along the Rideau River and are ideal for biking. And it was late enough in the evening for the foot and bike traffic to have thinned. I took the lead and sailed down the trail, happy that my earlier spill was a thing of the past, and my bike seat was now a couple inches lower.

Yes! This was the feeling I had just before my selfie. Just before my fall.

Behind me, however, Hubby recommended changing my gears to be even more comfortable. I was doing a little more coasting than necessary. To be honest, I’d only used about four of my 21 speeds on my old bike because I hadn’t really learned how to use it properly.

I suggested we pull off in the next clearing. I handed my bike to Hubby, asking him to change gears for me and then to show me how he did it. He rode a few meters away, the bike making unnatural grinding sounds as he worked the gears. There was an unhealthy SNAP! which threw everything into silence. Hubby’s face was the first clue that something was terribly wrong. The fact that he dismounted and lifted the back wheel off the ground while pushing the bike back to me was the second.

Not only was the chain dangling, but the whole gear mechanism hung off the bike. On closer inspection, we saw that a metal bolt had actually broken in half!

Shame hit me like a snapping bolt as I realized that he blamed himself for breaking my new bike. I confessed immediately, of course, admitting that I had had an accident earlier that day which likely caused this. Always loving and supportive, he tried to make me feel better by putting the fault elsewhere—the bike wasn’t made well, the parts were cheap, and/or he’d been too aggressive with the attempt to change gears. But deep down, I knew.

We pulled out the blanket and had our picnic in the clearing which, while not our original destination, had a lovely view of the river. I didn’t have much of an appetite, however, and playing a game of cards was no longer on the agenda.

Hubby rode home and drove the SUV back to meet me. He picked us up as the sun bid the day farewell, and we took my broken bike home in the back of the car.

At the bike shop the next morning, the service guy knew that it had been involved in a trauma. My fall had caused the break. He claimed he could fix it, but it took over a week before I got it back. I can’t help but feel like I’d been punished for hiding my crash.

My mom used to quote a verse to us when we were younger: “Be sure your sin will find you out!” (Numbers 32:23) I never knew what the context of that verse was, but what it meant in our house was that we couldn’t hide our wrongdoings for long. I was sure my mother had supernatural qualities that helped her know everything. Hiding was useless. And, since moms are always right, it was true in this case as well—not a sin, but a fall, a slip-up, a failure.

I’m also reminded of a story that I had on a children’s record, told by a lady named Aunt B. The little boy found a baby snake and, despite being told to get rid of it, he kept it in his family’s barn. He fed it and cared for it, in secret, until it was fully grown. Then one day, the snake attacked his little sister, and she nearly died.

When the mother realized he had disobeyed and kept the snake, she quoted James 1:14–16:

“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (ESV).

As Christians, when we fall off our metaphorical bikes, we can’t torture ourselves too badly when gravity (our sinful nature) plays a big role in our crashes. We mess up. We don’t try to fail—we don’t set out to do that—but sometimes we fall. We get up, brush ourselves off, and insist that we’re okay. And on the outside, we might look okay.

Yet, like my bike, that action can weaken some important unseen parts and, if they’re not dealt with properly, a second stressful event could destroy me. Hidden sin can grow and become lethal. And, while my mother may not really have supernatural powers, my heavenly Father does, and He sees that first fall, whether I admit it to Him or not.

We’d also like to think that we can handle things on our own—sweep things under the rug, so we can deal with them independently. No one needs to know I messed up. While it looks like we’ve got it all together, we are not doing ourselves a favor to shut out our Father. He’s not going to be disappointed in us for falling—He’s going to be happy that we asked for His helping hand to pick us up.

Jesus came to save me from myself. I slip. I fall. I fail—well, I feel like a failure. I forget that I don’t have to be perfect to somehow earn acceptance from God. So, instead of hiding my sins and letting them grow into bigger problems, I quickly talk to my Dad. He loves me unconditionally, gently placing a band-aid on my boo-boos and holding me in his lap while I confess my slip-ups. He repairs my “bike” and encourages me to get back on.

Who wouldn’t want a Father like that?

“God is good, a hiding place in tough times. He recognizes and welcomes anyone looking for help, no matter how desperate the trouble.”

Nahum 1:7 (MSG)

“I’ve thrown myself headlong into your arms – I’m celebrating your rescue.”

Psalm 13:5 (MSG)

Do you ever try to hide things from God? Adam and Eve couldn’t do it, and neither can we.

Thank You, Father, for being there for me. You know just what I need, whether it’s comfort or forgiveness. Help me to remember that hiding from You is impossible. I confess my slip-ups and invite Your strength to change my ways. Amen.

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Who is That Behind the Mask?

“Who is that?” I stared at a face, the top covered by a colored paper mask with cut-out holes and the bottom hidden, as usual, by the COVID-protector one.

I was moving photos from the device I use in the classroom to capture all the learning and fun to online folders where their parents can access them. I had to move to the laptop with its bigger screen to recognize my little children whom I mother every day for six hours. It was an odd feeling.

As adults, we tend to wear masks too. We choose to whom we reveal ourselves as we build close relationships with others. To the casual acquaintance, when they ask, “How are you?”, we answer, “Good” or the one I hate most: “Not bad.” But, with a close friend, the answer is more detailed, more honest, and could take a while (and possibly a hot beverage, or a room-temperature one in a stemmed glass).

Our masks are not effective with God, however. He sees right through them immediately. He’s not squinting at a small screen, wondering if it’s us He’s viewing. Our Maker knows us intimately. We can say “I’m good”, but He sees our heart; He reads our minds; He hears our secret inner thoughts. And His heart breaks when we bottle it all inside. His arms are open wide, waiting for us to turn to Him; longing for us to give our pain, our worries, and our guilt to Him. He sent His son to die so we could do all that. How much more could He do to prove His unconditional love for us? What a slap in the face for us to continue pushing Him away and trying to cope on our own…

Lord, I take off my mask and open my whole being to You. Read me like a book and adjust the storyline. Thank You for Your love and Your acceptance of me, faults and selfishness included. I receive Your offer of an intimate relationship as I repent of my sins. Amen.

Are you being real with God, or are you hiding behind a mask? Why don’t you admit how you feel, and ask Him to rescue you? He won’t let you down.

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Me Change? No way!

“Don’t come home with blue or green hair!” my husband called as I left to go to the hair salon. It was an odd warning, since I’d had the same platinum blonde hair for years (except for the COVID-roots, when the salons were closed).

Yet, as I sat in the waiting room and watched my hairdresser finish another client’s hair — the exact same platinum blonde as mine — I got an itch to change things up.

“Let’s do something different!” I suggested. “I’m feeling adventurous.”

When I walked into the condo, sporting my new dark purple hair, my husband’s jaw dropped. “I thought I said…”

“What? It’s not blue or green!”

It was fading to a lovely plum before he began to accept the new look.

The next day, I used a special rinse and turned it a spicy red…


Some people hate change of any kind. They get comfortable in a life of predictability. That life might not be great, but they know what’s coming; what to expect. There are no surprises to catch them off guard.

This isn’t a realistic way to live, however. Change sometimes forgets to ask our permission. It just sneaks in.

The world pandemic of 2020-21 changed everything. It ground the world to a stop as we faced a virus that had the potential to wipe us all out. We had to change the way we interacted with each other, where we could go, and what we could do. For a time, that meant shutting down and staying home. Our social lives happened through screens. And even at the “end” of the pandemic, I expect we will be left forever changed.

Other changes we embrace on our own. We change our hairstyles; our diets; our jobs; our addresses; or we might even change our mates (it happens). When we purposely make changes to our lives, they are usually prompted by unhappiness or some discontent with how things presently are. You might deny this, stating, “I just wanted a change”, but wanting is a desire, and desire usually comes from feeling a lack of something; wanting more; wanting better.

When Jesus walked this earth as a man, many who met Him were changed forever. Lepers, who were forced to live in isolation from their families, were suddenly healed of their disease and able to reunite with their loved ones. Men and women who couldn’t walk were suddenly jumping for joy. The blind could see; the deaf could hear; the demon-possessed were free. All of these people were changed from their personal encounters with the Messiah. They desired something more; they accepted His loving touch.

But not everyone walked away from Jesus changed. The religious leaders tested Him and watched Him closely, their suspicious minds inventing ways to trick Him into admitting He wasn’t who He said He was. Meeting Jesus didn’t change them, because pride controlled them. The rich young ruler who felt drawn to Jesus, recognizing that there was something about Him and His way of life that He desired, walked away unchanged, because greed ruled his heart.

Some people hear the gospel of Christ, and they dismiss it as something that they don’t need or desire. They don’t allow it to change them.

Those who acknowledge that they have need of a Savior, who repent of their sin and invite Him to be Lord of their life, invite change. A truly repentant heart will not remain the same. Jesus told the adulterous woman that He forgave her sins. But He didn’t just let her walk away to go back to that life. He told her, “Go and sin no more.” The New International Version says, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

God expects change when we receive His forgiveness. We can’t carry on the way we were when we enter into a partnership with the Almighty God, when His Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts.

John the Baptist scolded his audience of believers, saying, “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God” (Matthew 3:8). The crowd asked him what they should do. He told them to give to the poor and share with the hungry. He told the tax collectors to stop taking more than their share — to be honest. He told the soldiers to stop extorting money and making false accusations. His message was one of change; of thinking less about themselves and more about treating others well.

Saying “I’m sorry” to a spouse, a child, a friend, or to God is just a waste of words unless a change accompanies them. Repentance is an action word — a change of mind and direction. As we grow spiritually, others will see that change in us. We become more and more like Jesus and less like the self-centered world. We love God first and others next. Our mindset is changed.

As we receive God’s transformation, He changes the direction of our life path from heading to death and hell to a guided journey to eternal life and heaven’s promises. That’s one rerouting that we should all desire.

Lord, don’t allow me to get comfortable in my sin. I confess to You that I need Your direction and Your wisdom, so I can change to be a child of God who reflects my Father’s image; one who lives a life that glorifies Your family name. Forgive me for making self-centered choices and leaving You out of many decisions. I invite You to take control, and be the Director of my life performance. Amen.

If you’ve asked Jesus into your heart, but your life hasn’t changed, ask yourself why. Do you desire to be more like Jesus? We do that by spending time with Him. We read God’s Word and talk to Him in prayer. We make Him part of every moment of our lives. We actually let Him lead us and direct our steps.

Make time for Jesus. Don’t shut Him out with the excuse that you’re too busy. God wants to be your priority. Accept His loving offer of relationship, and embrace change.

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How Old Do You Feel?

It’s my birthday tomorrow. You don’t have to send me presents – it costs a lot to mail them. E-gift cards will do!

With each passing birthday, especially since tipping over the half-century mark, I wonder at what point does a person wake up and say, “I’m old!”? When we were kids, 30 seemed old to us. And, 50 was our grandparents, and they were ALWAYS ancient. As I pass each of those markers, I don’t see myself as old. YET. When will I adopt that viewpoint?

An article in The New York Times written by Emily Laber-Warren, called You’re Only as Old as You Feel, tackles the idea of ‘subjective’ age. She shares that, according to Dr. Yannick Stephan, an assistant professor of health and aging psychology at the University of Montpellier in France, 80 percent of people over 40 feel younger than their biological age. Their ‘subjective’ age of how they feel (most of the time) is 5 to 15 years younger. Not surprisingly, scientists are finding that these people are typically healthier and more psychologically resilient than those who feel older.

Why is this even an issue? Why do we say things like “Age is just a number” or “You’re only as old as you feel”? Why do we value youth so much? Gerontologists such as Dr. Tracey Gendron at Virginia Commonwealth University remind us that as we age, we tend to become generally happier and more satisfied. Would we really want to be still trying to figure out our career path, still searching for the right mate, still changing diapers and raising energetic children? Don’t we cringe when we hear of women over 50 getting pregnant? Why do we view this second half of life as less desirable than the first half?

In Laber-Warren’s article, she quotes David Weiss, a life span psychologist at the University of Leipzig, as saying, “If old age weren’t negatively valued, you wouldn’t have the need to say that you feel younger.” In his studies, he discovered that in cultures where elders are respected for their wisdom and experience, people don’t even understand the question ‘How old do you feel?’

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with being an elder. When we moved into our condo as a couple just turning 50, the average age in our building was 72. I joked that this was an excellent strategy to continue feeling young – surround yourself with people older than yourself! We have developed many friendships with people over the age of 80 since we’ve lived here. We play pickleball with a bunch of them! They have so many great stories to share of life experiences and adventures. They can give advice on the best places to shop for certain items, the best places to eat out, and the best flights to take when flying south for the winter. (The building does get a lot emptier in the colder months.)

When I read Titus 2:4-5 in my Bible, I wonder, is that me? Am I an older woman? Nah, I can’t be, right? But, I guess if there are any younger women in our lives who we can mentor or encourage, that makes us “older”. That makes me an ELDER! I’m tempted to say, “Ouch”, but what I should say is, “Wow! Look at the blessings I’ve enjoyed up to this point. I have wisdom gained from experiences too; I have stories to share. I’ve been studying the Bible for years and listening to good teachers, filling my mind with God’s goodness. What’s wrong with being elderly?”

When I wake up tomorrow, I’ll be older. Maybe, I won’t be OLD (?), but I’ll be older than many other people. I don’t need to live in denial of my biological age, insisting that I feel younger. I’m grateful for 52 years of life, and look forward to however many more God chooses to give me. I’m ready to embrace the responsibility of a Titus-woman:

These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God.

TITUS 2:4-5

Lord, help me to avoid falling into the trap of our culture’s obsession with youth. Give me peace about my age, and open my eyes to see all that You have given me to enjoy the stage of life that I am in. Thank You for Your continued love, mercy and grace. Every year with You as my Father is a gift. Never let me lose sight of that. Amen.

Do you proudly announce your biological age or does the number make you wince? Most of the people in my building share their age with a smile. In the words of Mel Bernstein: Every day above ground is a good day.

Thank God today for a heart that still beats and breath in your lungs. You may be struggling through difficult circumstances, but as long as you still have life, you still have hope that God will answer your prayers and work things out for your good.


Emily Laber-Warren’s article can be found at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/17/well/mind/age-subjective-feeling-old.html

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“Where do we come from?”

“Where do we come from?” the five-year-old asks when I call on her.

I think I know what she’s asking, but I need further clarification. “Do you mean how are we born?” I ask.

“No, where did the world come from?”

She was asking one of the biggest and most debated questions: Where did life begin?

We were making a list, as we often do in the first week of Kindergarten; a list of things we want to learn about. This huge question is written in thick red marker on my chart paper, waiting for exploration.

I know what I want to say; what I believe to be true. But my role as an educator is to present all of the theories, rather than indoctrinating them with my own.

But, wait – another little boy has his hand up. “Did you know that we came from monkeys?” he asks, his eyes wide and innocent. Someone has already begun his education on the topic.

“That’s a theory,” I tell my class, using a word not many of them might have heard before. “A theory is something scientists tell us to explain something when it’s difficult to prove what really happened. Like with the extinction of the dinosaurs – no one was there to film it or write it all down. Scientists can only make educated guesses to explain what might have happened.”

I go back to my “Things We Want to Learn About” list and add “Unicorns” under “Pigs”. We can’t all be philosophers, asking the deep questions. Those bigger conversations will be left for another day.

It’s frustrating to be an educator in a public school system when children ask such questions. I will tell them about a book that was written over 2000 years ago which gives a clear explanation of creation. God created the heavens and the earth, and God created people. I wish I could stop there. Period. The end. Amen.

But, not everyone believes that, do they? The curiosity inside humans has lead us to question God’s Word and come up with our own theories about many topics – this being one of the largest.

It’s sad to think that children don’t know that God was our Creator. That means they also don’t know that Jesus loves them and wants to be there for them as they grow up. These innocent children are beginning a life without God.

In my Kindergarten class, I have hope. When we did our virtual intake meetings with each family, we asked parents if there were topics their child was really passionate about. One parent said, “God. He’s really into learning about God right now.” There may be a witness in the form of a peer who can sway his classmates to believe in God as our Creator, even if his teacher cannot push her own beliefs in the same way. I pray that, when our class conversation happens, God will use this little child as His spokesperson. Everyone should hear about God.

Lord, help us to find ways to spread the message of Your love and Your supremacy to others. When You ask us to love our neighbors, telling them about You is one of the ways You expect us to do that. Give us courage to speak up in a world filled with doubts and alternative theories. Use us to build Your Kingdom. Amen.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
for through him God created everything
in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else,
and he holds all creation together.

(Colossians 1:15-17)

Do you have opportunities to share God’s story? How can you impact someone’s life this week by introducing them to our Creator?

Ask God to lead you as we spread His message of love to a broken world.

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Are You a Doer?

Does stress ever give you a better product in the end? I used to say I worked better under pressure. Was that ever true?

Yesterday morning I painted in the hot sun, using a paint that had hardener in it, so the time I had to get it right was lessened. I snap-crackled-and-popped at anyone who spoke to me during this process, hoping they’d realize it wasn’t personal.

Before I started painting, we had sanded. And sanded. And sanded some more.

“The pursuit of perfection is a fool’s game,” I said to Hubby. “Valda 3:24.” Then I pursued perfection with the painting… (Insert eye roll here.)

Just because we can quote God’s Word (or other words of wisdom such as Valda 3:24 – and, yes, I might have only changed one word in that quote…), doesn’t mean we follow the instructions. Knowing isn’t doing.

As we read our Bible, let’s pray that we can actually turn the learning into actions. Otherwise, we treat God’s Word like any other book — a good read having no real impact on our lives. We put it back on the shelf and wonder if there will be a movie…

I don’t point this out to create guilt, but to remind us to be DOERS of the Word and not HEARERS only (James 1:22). I need that reminder every now and then, don’t you?

Do you sometimes pause in what you’re doing and realize your words or actions don’t align with God’s instructions to us as believers? How does that make you feel?

The Holy Spirit convicts us so that we will ask for God’s forgiveness. He knows when your apology is genuine and will wipe the slate clean. He loves you that much.

Pray with me:

Father, forgive me for giving into my sinful nature yet again. I know Your instructions, but I often fail to follow them. Help me to write Your words on my heart so I will not sin against You. Continue to nudge me, Holy Spirit, and remind me to hold more tightly to Your hand as I walk with You. My obedience is a sign of my love for You. And I do love You, Lord. Amen.

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Check Engine

I apologize to my Instagram followers for repeating my vacation story here, but I’m on vacation!

Last year our vehicle gave us a lot of grief and spent many weeks in the garage. If you’re a regular reader, you may recall a traumatic experience on the highway when our entire dash went black and the engine died.

Shook up, with little trust left in the car we loved, we went shopping. We test-drove many beautiful vehicles, all sporting the latest features and wafting that new-car smell. But, despite their gadgets and shininess, we couldn’t find one that we liked as much as the one that broke our hearts. As we continued to drive it about the city with no additional hiccups, however, little by little, it regained our trust.

Our confidence grew enough to plan a road trip; and, not just the 1500-kilometre straight path, but a meandering route with side excursions in each of the four provinces we drove through. The joy our vehicle had first given us five years ago had returned. The ride was comfortable, and the 6-cylinder engine responded immediately to a bit of foot-pressure.

On the ten-minute ride back to the hotel from visiting a friend last night, on Day 7 of our trip, we were dismayed to see the Check Engine light glowing on the display. A garage visit was not on our itinerary, but has been added. The light indicates that something is wrong, and we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the warning.

Life throws us those curves. We are riding along, comfortable and feeling content, when something happens that attempts to derail us. Sometimes the problems that pop up in our lives are like that Check Engine light. God is warning us that there is something wrong in our souls and we need to stop and check it out. Sometimes it’s a gentle reminder that we still need Him. God desires relationship and, like any loved one, He likes us to spend time with Him and show Him that we love Him back.

This morning, I woke up grateful that our vehicle did not break down on the highway last night; that we made it safely to our hotel without further incident. I took the opportunity to thank my Father for watching over us and loving us. Even while on vacation, I will reserve time for Him. I will not ignore the Check Engine light of my soul.

Father, forgive us for getting comfortable and enjoying life too much to involve You in our plans. Help us to stay close to You, even while on vacation. Thank You for Your protection and favor. Amen.

Do you ever notice that when things seem to be going really well, your prayer life gets a little more shallow? When you have needs, you are constantly asking for God’s help.

Is He looking for your attention today? Spend some time with Him. He likes to hang out with you.


Update

In case you were wondering, we were back on the road after a 40-minute garage visit. A slow leak of pressure in the EVAP system caused the warning light to come on. If you know anything about cars, that might make sense to you.

The good news is, they assured us we SHOULD be able to make it back to Ottawa…


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Running the Race


Ten years ago, a scrawny 17-year-old struggled in his last year at Milliken Mills High School in Markham, Ontario. In addition to being in with the wrong crowd and dabbling in drugs, his low grades didn’t promise a bright future. While he was athletic and loved sports, enjoyment of his favorite had been stolen when his school cancelled its basketball program that fall. His final year of high school, if he was even able to graduate, was shaping up to be a disaster.

A couple of his friends were involved in a regional track and field meet, and with nothing better to do, he joined them. With no running experience or training, he came in second in the championship race. That’s when someone noticed this wayward teen and saw potential in him. Tony Sharpe, a former Olympian turned coach, saw Andre De Grasse run that day and knew he had discovered a winner. He invited the lad to join his track club, and a decade later, Andre De Grasse had earned the title of “Canada’s Fastest Man” and a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics on August 4, 2021, recognizing him as one of the fastest in the world.

Following his gold-medal run, Andre said, “I’ve been waiting for this moment; I’ve been training hard for this moment.” He told another reporter, “I knew I had it in me.”

I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

(Philippians 3:12-14 NLT)

Unlike De Grasse’s competition, when Paul talked about pressing toward the goal for the prize in Philippians 3:14, he wasn’t referring to crossing the finishing line and getting a medal. The prize for Paul was the call itself: being able to run the race as God’s partner, doing the work of His kingdom. As believers, we are in this race too. What a privilege we have, like Paul, to be God’s feet in this world!

This is not the only New Testament book where Paul talks about our race. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-26, he says:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So, I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.

(ESV)

When Paul talks about self-control here, he is talking about training. Roman athletes had to train for at least ten months before they were allowed into the games. Paul tells us to run as athletes who really want to win. This involves effort: effort in training before the race and effort during the race.

During the pandemic, Andre De Grasse wasn’t eating chips and binge-watching Netflix. He told a CBC reporter that while his children napped, he trained. In addition to jogging around the block – “to the mailbox and back”, he said he was “basically just doing a lot of core: push ups, sit ups, pull ups – those types of things.” I love that he used the words “basically” and “just”, as if the rest of the world was daily doing those things too. That’s why he’s the one displaying the gold medal in his house and you and I are not!

When Andre ran, he set his eyes on the highest goal. He admitted to being “a little bit disappointed” in only earning the bronze medal in the 100-metre run in Tokyo. He knew he was capable of WINNING the race, not just coming in third place.

Paul tells us to do the same. Run to win! The difference is that our prize is an eternal one. An “imperishable” heavenly reward that will never pass away.

So, how do we train for THIS race? What sacrifice and commitment does God require of us? Jesus summed it up in two commands:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

(Matthew 22:36-40 ESV)

As we train in the area of LOVE—love for God and love for others – we prepare for God’s race. When we set our eyes on the highest goal and compete to win, it’s not only family and friends who stand on the sidelines. People who don’t know Jesus watch our race too and see the effort we put into it. They take note of our godly living. They hear our speech that reflects our Father. They see God’s joy when circumstances don’t seem to warrant it. As we run the race, we build His kingdom. That’s why Paul felt that the call to race was the prize. What an honor to be chosen to run!

Father, thank you for the privilege of running in Your race. Help us to train properly as we spend time with You, praying and studying Your Word. Use us to win the lost so they will join us in the race. We look forward to our eternal reward, but for now, we pray for Your strength and endurance to set our eyes on the prize of the call to run. Make us worthy. Amen.

[Sources: Articles by Paula Nichols and Jonathan Yue on http://www.olympic.ca/2021; Erin James-Abra on http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca; an interview transcript on http://www.cbc.ca; and David Guzik’s Enduring Word Commentary.]

Do you continue to train for God’s race? Each one of us has something that prevents us from being perfectly prepared. What is your stumbling block? Give it to Jesus.

Here’s the hardest part:

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Earning My Pastry

A New Format

If you follow me on Instagram (@valdagoudie), you may be familiar with my regular format there – I like to share a joke and then follow it up with a short blog-type post, always ending with a spiritual encouragement, exhortation or invitation. I am really enjoying this writing, and have even compiled a 21-day devotional following the same format. I’ll share news on that, as things progress toward publication.
Starting today, I’m going to share similar material here as well. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I love writing it!


I’m a bigger fan of salty foods than sweet, but there’s something wonderful about a fresh, fluffy pastry, isn’t there?

My friend and I started our Saturday morning with a walk. We often exercise together in this way, since we enjoy each other’s company, and we are able to keep the same pace (a very important factor in choosing a walking buddy!).

Today was special, however; we had a destination in mind – a beautiful stone church, converted into a restaurant and bakery, serving the most delicious pastries which could only be fittingly described as “heavenly”. The thirty-minute jaunt (one-way) was well worth the palette-gift.

My treat was a croissant, but it swirled like a cinnamon roll and was topped with a delightful drizzle of blueberry jam. It had just the right amount of crispiness on the outside and the perfect interior freshness when I pulled it apart. It disappeared far too quickly, leaving me with nothing but crumbs on the table and my memory of its exquisite flavor.

When I shared our discovery of this new business with a lady at the pool, she asked if I had brought any pastries home with me.

“No,” I said. “I have to earn each one of those!”

We often justify treats that way, don’t we? If I walk aggressively for an hour, I earn a delicious pastry. If I don’t do the walk, I don’t deserve it. I do keep treats in moderation when I follow that rule!

Do you know what is a great treat and I don’t have to earn it? God’s love! He gives it freely to anyone who believes in Him. Jesus even compares His love to the fulfillment we get from pastry:

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again.”

JOHN 6:35

What is it that we really hunger for as humans? Love, acceptance, relationship… God’s bread. That’s pastry worth craving!

Thank You, Father for offering Your love to us in the sacrifice of Your Son. Thank You for making Your gift free and not expecting me to earn it. I accept Your bread: Your unconditional love, Your acceptance of me into Your family, the relationship You offer to have with me. Amen.

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Will You Be My Friend?

“Will you be my friend?” An innocent invitation to join me in play; to share with me; to get to know me. If you become my friend, “I” will turn into WE and “me” into US. We will become a team.

I have heard these five powerful little words at the playground, at the beach, and in my Kindergarten classroom. While young children usually seem to do this quite naturally, as adults we are more apt to think of the possibility of rejection as a reason not to bother asking. Using the words, “Will you be my friend?” involves courage, as I show a vulnerable part of me that desires companionship, while offering a choice to the other person to accept my invitation or to turn me down.

I watch as she builds the most delightful sand castle and I really want to join her; to help; to ask why she put the drawbridge where she did; to suggest we build a moat together. While I could push past the nervous thudding in my chest, the fear of being turned down keeps me over here, watching from a distance and wishing I was braver.

The image seems quite silly as we picture two adults on the beach with one sidling over to whisper shyly, “Will you be my friend?” Yet, it’s hard to take this question out of the realm of childhood; hard to picture an adult using these words in an adult setting. Is it maturity that comes from experience and age that keeps us from giving this yes/no question? There’s a 50% chance I will be disappointed, if I ask this way. So, instead, when we meet someone new, a potential friend who seems to have some things in common with us, what do we do?

We often open up the lines of communication first. “Are you on Instagram?” we might ask. “Can I connect with you on Facebook?” Asking for a phone number to text or call might even seem too bold, too fast. Maybe this is easier for those still in the dating scene, but for those of us who have been married for decades, such interactions are rare.

I have to admit, I’m not usually the one to initiate a friendship moment. I allow the other person to show their interest first, as we naturally build a relationship through talking and laughing together. Coward. Yes.

I confessed in my Friday Funny Instagram post yesterday [@valdagoudie] that I broke up with a friend last year (not so funny). We had been building that friendship for two years, and, in my desire to have a close friend, I ignored a lot of red flags along the way. I embraced the good and ignored the parts that were dishonest and selfish. As with a romantic relationship, when I found the balance of positives and negatives becoming more slanted to the negative, I had to consider that the friendship had turned toxic. Spending time with her turned my mood sour and sucked the spirit out of me. We weren’t laughing together anymore. And, laughter is something I value in a friendship. When we stop laughing, this is a sign that we’re no longer enjoying each other’s company.

In my post yesterday, I asked the question, what do you believe is the most important quality in a close friendship? My newest friend, who has grown dear to my heart in a very short time, responded, “I love my friends who help bring out the best in me and allow me to bring out the best in them.” Do you see why she’s my friend?

The three things I value most can be summed up in honesty, balance, and trust. When I’m done explaining, I think you’ll agree that my friend and I are looking for the same thing.

If your friend only tells you want they think you want to hear, that’s not friendship. That’s a dishonest acquaintance. A true friend knows how to package a difficult conversation. How that sounds also depends on how long the friendship has lasted. You might be able to tell one friend that her hair looks like a birch broom in fits (which likely only a fellow Newfie will understand), while for the other, you may say, “I liked it better the other way, but I’m sure you’ll make it work as you get used to styling it.” Both messages say the same thing: you got ripped off at the hairdresser’s!

A real friend will go below the surface appearance of complimenting your hair or clothes, to complimenting your strengths and God-given qualities. That friend will “upbuild” you and help your self-esteem and confidence grow. They will bring out the best in you.

And, before your head swells up too large, you do the same for them. That’s where balance comes in.

However, not every conversation you have with a friend will be balanced. Sometimes one of you will be going through something that requires comfort and encouragement, and more time spent on that topic. But, overall, a friendship should involve a balance of listening and talking, giving comfort and getting it, praising and receiving, confessing and forgiving, exhorting and accepting encouragement. When the other person monopolizes every minute of your time together, venting their own frustrations and never asking about you, only one person is getting anything out of that relationship. Frankly, there are people who are paid to do that one-sided listening. That type of friendship will fail.

When you are hurting, a friend is someone who will be there for you and you can be certain they will be loyal to you and with the things you share. You can be honest with a friend and tell them many personal things, but you have to know you can trust them before you lay out your fragile heart. There’s nothing worse than a friend who picks sides and breaks your confidence, spilling your friend-secrets out to the other party, sharing your words that were meant to be just between the two of you, and causing a lot of damage in the process. I’ve been there. It hurts.


One of the best examples of friendship in the Bible was actually between two men: Jonathan and David. They knew from the first minute they met that they would be friends. It was friendship at first sight!

After David had finished talking with Saul, he met Jonathan, the king’s son. There was an immediate bond between them, for Jonathan loved David. From that day on Saul kept David with him and wouldn’t let him return home. And Jonathan made a solemn pact with David, because he loved him as he loved himself.

1 SAMUEL 18:1-3 NLT

The two men made a covenant that bound them together as friends who would support each other. Jonathan saw David’s great faith and his courage in defeating Goliath. And David saw godly characteristics in him, as well, and they were able to strengthen and encourage each other throughout their friendship. Jonathan showed loyalty, even when it meant putting his friend’s safety above his father’s wishes. There was honesty, balance, and trust between these two buddies.

I have had many good friendships throughout my life, but a friend’s belief in Jesus adds a new layer to the relationship. My new Christian friend and I have the same goals to use our talents and gifts for God and to grow to be more like Jesus. I feel so blessed to have found that friend. I can’t think of a better way to grow and thrive, than to do it together.

Thank You, Father for helping me find a friend who will upbuild me as I build her up. I pray for each of Your children who are still searching for that type of friendship. Bring them together, Lord, that they may strengthen and encourage each other.

If you have already found that special friend, take a moment and thank God for such a gift. If you are longing for this type of friendship, ask God to lead you to the right person. He’s the best Matchmaker ever!


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A Full Love Tank

It’s Saturday. The day arrives at the end of every week, full of promise and precious hours which aren’t already booked up with work from my day job. But this Saturday is different. Today, it’s not just the 24 hours which make up this day that loom in front of me, waiting to see how I will fill them – housework, errands, a walk, a book – it’s so much more. Today, the whole summer is spread before me, an open calendar of many days, each one like a Saturday, sewn together like the squares in a patchwork quilt. There is a lightness in my chest that wasn’t there last Saturday. It feels like freedom.

After the pandemic school year we just navigated, it’s very likely that teachers are not the only people who woke up feeling this way today. Parents have been juggling working from home (those lucky enough to be able to do that) and their children’s online school for months, and looking in from the other end of that camera, I have seen their challenges. I can image the city rise off the ground just a little this morning with the collective sigh.

On the floor of my kitchen, next to the box of plants I finally brought home from my vacant classroom, is a pile of gifts given to me by my students and their parents. Beautiful store-bought cards and precious handmade ones with crayon drawings communicate words of gratefulness and appreciation. My love tank is full.

Some people have mixed feelings about giving teachers end-of-year gifts, believing that they merely did their jobs; jobs they were well paid for. But, when one of your love languages is receiving words of affirmation, those gifts and cards fill this teacher’s bucket to the brim. And this year, with its additional challenges, they mean even more.

We don’t all have the same love languages, though, do we? Some people don’t desire those words of affirmation in the same way, and they don’t need the gifts; those teachers tell the families to donate a book to the classroom instead, or ask that they not send gifts at all. I feel especially bad for those teachers whose strongest love language is touch. This was a year that receiving hugs from our young students was not recommended.

As we go about following Christ’s command to love and serve others, it’s important to acknowledge Gary Chapman’s love languages. We don’t all receive love the same way. In addition to words of affirmation, receiving gifts, and physical touch, there are people who especially appreciate acts of service or quality time. While these love languages were first introduced to build stronger intimate relationships, they can be generalized as we spread God’s love to the people around us.

One way to respond, as we acknowledge our differing love languages, is to build relationships with people – learn about them and what makes them feel loved, and then show God’s love to them on an individual basis. Another way, when the recipient is someone we don’t know as well, is to randomly try the different approaches and monitor the responses. This can be a challenge because people who don’t have the love language of physical touch don’t always feel comfortable giving love that way to others. It’s out of our comfort zone to offer a hug or just touch someone’s arm or shoulder to let them know we care.

As I sit here with my feet up, feeling loved and appreciated, (my belly full because my husband just made a delicious breakfast for me – an appreciated act of service), I believe God wants us to help others feel this way too.

Father, thank You for all Your blessings. Thank You for the rain that waters the grass, trees and flowers today. Thank You for the love that You showed by sending Your Son to sacrifice His life for us. Help me to spread Your love to others. Show me the best way to do this for each individual that You want me to love. Help me to overcome my discomfort when it’s an approach I don’t naturally take. Help me to fill love tanks today. Amen.

Whose love tank can you fill this weekend?


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Knock-Offs

Are you a lover of barefooting? For those of us who are blessed to own a pair of shoes (or thirty pairs — okay, more than thirty pairs), it might seem odd to some that we love having our toesies exposed and our heels naked more than anything. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the person walking on the hot driveway in bare feet or meandering through a public park shoeless. It’s when I’m at home, where I am most comfortable and familiar with all the foot hazards, that I want to expose my naked feet and let them breathe.

I didn’t inherit this desire to barefoot at home. My parents both appreciate a decent pair of slippers (which makes it easy for me to shop for them on special occasions!). But, for me, slippers have only ever been an option if my feet were cold. And we own a thermostat for that little problem.

When we moved into our empty-nesters’ condo, I discovered that a huge sacrifice had to be made in order to live comfortably in my new home. The floor, made of engineered wood, laid on a pad of concrete, didn’t provide any ‘give’, and I began to feel an unwelcome roommate slowly moving her things in – hip pain. Attributing my discomfort to the hard floors, I went in search of something that would cushion my feet but still allow them many of the benefits of barefooting.

I found such a thing in a certain name-brand open-toed sandal. It was the best of both worlds, and, when I slipped them on for the first time, I felt like I was walking on a cloud – quite fitting for living on the twenty-first floor of our high rise.

I wore them constantly for a year – my new version of barefooting – before I felt maybe their structure’s integrity might have been compromised by their overuse. After all, even when I got up for my three-a.m. pee, I slipped my feet into my little friends!

So, I went on a mission to acquire a new pair. I just wanted a brand-new version of the exact pair of cozy sandals I currently owned. This wouldn’t be like the first shopping experience. I already knew exactly what I wanted.

Shopping during a pandemic, in a city where shoe stores are only operating through curbside pick-up or mail delivery, if at all, had me looking up my sweet babies online at a familiar deliver-the-next-day-please webstore. As a repeat customer (as in, I should own stock in the company), I recognized that when you search for a specific item, the search results will include other suggestions similar to the specific product I’m looking for. Even though I type in the exact brand and model name, other items will appear on my screen as options for purchase. But I wasn’t interested in buying something SIMILAR; I wanted the REAL THING – the ‘tried and true’.

I found what appeared to be the exact pair and was slightly disappointed that it was only available in the same color as the ones I currently owned. Changing the color wouldn’t sacrifice comfort and would seem more like getting something new. I was delighted to see, however, that the price was fifteen dollars less than the regular cost of my shoes everywhere else, but I wasn’t overly surprised, since the prices on this site are often a little better than in other stores.

I ordered them in one click, since my credit card information has been conveniently stored in their cybervault of payment options. All I had to do was wait. Unfortunately, this item had a longer than normal expected delivery time, and it looked like I might be waiting a few weeks. But it would be worth it, and my old shoes hadn’t fallen apart or anything. I’d be okay for the wait time.

When I received the box at my door, earlier than I expected, I was excited to tuck my toesies into the new pair. I wasn’t surprised to see that they were identical in appearance. That’s what I ordered – a duplicate. I laid the four shoes on the floor together and took a photo with my phone. I had to tell a friend that my new lovelies were finally here!

After sending my text, I finally slipped my feet in and took a few steps. Wait a minute! They didn’t feel right. On closer inspection, the texture of the foot pad was different; grainier and more plasticky than rubbery. They also seemed looser, even though I’d ordered the same size.

I modeled them for my husband, commenting on these changes. Why would the company do anything different in the construction of a perfect shoe?

He noticed it before I did, because he didn’t have the same emotional bond with my shoes – a feeling that blinded me to deception. The name brand stamped into the new shoes (in exactly the same spot as the originals) was not the same. I had been duped!

I checked the box they came in, with disbelief replacing my excitement. This foreign brand name was plastered all over the shoebox, loud and proud, and I had not even seen it.

These imposters would never do! I had received a knock-off of the original, with inferior quality and substandard comfort. They would be returned immediately, and, unfortunately, at my own expense.

When I checked my order online, still in disbelief that I had been deceived in this way, I discovered that the name brand had been advertised, but appeared only once in the entire description and was written in a tiny font. The ad was purposely created to draw in customers shopping for the real thing and maybe, just maybe, they’d settle for the knock-off, saving a few dollars in the process, and avoiding the hassle and expense of returning them.

Not this barefooter.

So many people settle for the knock-off life. They are happy with the cheap version. It appears from the outside that they are content; that their life is good.

The original, name-brand version is the life that God intended for His creation: one that involves a close relationship with Him, our Creator. He offers this to us all, with no deception in his ad. But people often regard this wonderful product as not being worth the hassle and the expense involved of trading in their knock-off. This comes from the notion that the life of a true believer is restrictive – that they will have to give up their freedom.

Living in relationship with God, however, cannot compare with the knock-off. These people have been deceived into thinking they got a good deal. Walking in those knock-offs, the pain may not show up right away, but it will come. Their feet (and hips) aren’t getting the proper support and cushion from the hard floor. Eventually, they will suffer for their choice.

Freedom is one of those concepts that can be looked at in different ways. During our pandemic, there are people who refuse to wear masks or follow safety protocols because they feel the government is trying to take away their freedom. This is an extreme view and puts many lives in danger, in addition to their own.

The majority of people want the freedom to live their lives following their emotions – they want to do what feels good in the moment. Sometimes that attitude doesn’t consider the consequences in the long term, and sometimes these are weighed and considered worth it. They value the freedom to say what they want and do what they want, within the boundaries of acting legally, and, for the most part, responsibly, as a citizen of a civil society.

Freedom to a believer means something different. We live with Christ in our hearts. We pass our worries over to Him – we have somewhere to go when life gets hard; Someone who is able and ready to help. We know that in the long run, our name-brand shoes will give us the support our body needs – they are well worth the expense and hassle.

And, let’s not forget, that I’m walking to Heaven in these shoes. God has promised eternal life in Heaven to those who walk with Him. I have a moral compass in His Word, the Bible, that helps me see how God intended me to live, and I don’t feel restricted in any way.

If you think the world’s idea of freedom brings happiness, you have been deceived by a knock-off. We were created in His image. That means God knows what is best for us, and we will never be truly happy until our lives are tuned into His will. He loves us and cares for us. The shoes He offers are top-of-the-line. You should slip your toesies in and give them a try!

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Also, if you’re an Instagram user, and like to laugh, I post a TUESDAY TICKLE and a FRIDAY FUNNY each week with a joke and a few words of Christian encouragement.

Find me: @valdagoudie

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Becoming More Childlike

As my Kindergarten students looked for signs of spring one day, we were delighted to see a beautiful moth flying just outside the fence.

Shouts of “Butterfly! Butterfly!” had everyone running to see for themselves.

They had no idea it was not a butterfly, but in fact a moth. To my students, it made no difference. They didn’t have preconceived notions about these insects. Adults, however, think of butterflies as beautiful, flower-pollinators and moths as annoyances around their porch lights or clothing-destroyers in their closets. Their experience and frame of reference differs from that of children.

The innocence of most young children is refreshing, isn’t it? Their smiles are genuine, and their tears are spontaneous and pain-releasing.

In Matthew 18:3, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.” What do you think He meant by that?

There is a story in Luke 19 of a man who acted like a child in his pursuit of Jesus. Allow me to retell it here.

The famous teacher’s name echoed throughout the city as the news spread around town: Jesus was on his way to Jericho. Not only was this man known for his miraculous healings and exorcisms, but word was that he hung out with people like me. I had to see this guy.

I clearly wasn’t the only one feeling this way. The town square buzzed with activity as men, women and children all came out of their homes to see for themselves what all the talk was about.

Crowds were never pleasant for me. I could feel the hatred in people’s eyes as they looked down on me. Some even spat at me, which made me quite spry over the years, as I had to move quickly to avoid this outward sign of their revulsion. Children pointed and stared, laughing at my stature. It wasn’t often they saw a full-grown man standing at eye-level with them.

The adult’s loathing I had earned, I suppose. Everyone despised tax collectors, and I was the chief. While my parents had named me “pure one”, I was anything but pure. I was known for tax farming as well as the rest. But wealth was all I had. Always the shortest kid, teased mercilessly, I watched all the other boys grow to the same height as their fathers, while I remained shorter than my mother. There was just a little vengeance in my overcharging. They owed me for the misery they caused.

The children weren’t paying me any attention that day, however. They were too excited. People said this Jesus welcomed children into his arms too. Other Jewish teachers and leaders looked down on children much the same as they looked down on me.

Who was this man?

I’d watched a boy scramble up the trunk of a tree and shimmy onto a branch for a better view of the path the teacher was likely to take. Genius! Looking more closely at the trees, I realized he wasn’t the only one who had thought of this.

Could I? Even standing on my toes didn’t help me see over the shoulders of those in front of me. I remember thinking I’d look ridiculous, clambering up there like a child, but I might be able to see, and I was well beyond caring what people thought of me.

I spied another large branch on the sycamore where the boy sat, and I ascended, priding myself in matching the young man’s limber climb. I winked at him when he looked over at me. Yes, this would do quite nicely. My view of the city gate was unobstructed from my perch. I would see Jesus for myself!

My heart pounded, but it wasn’t from the climb. All of a sudden, I realized I didn’t just want to SEE Jesus; I wanted to MEET him. I knew in my heart that he could change my life forever.


And Zacchaeus did meet Him. Jesus not only saw him and called him by name, He rewarded his childlike faith and uncaring attitude about what others thought of him and invited Himself to Zacchaeus’ house. This tax collector would never be the same again.

We might not be climbing trees like children, but Jesus will still reward us for pursuing Him like children. Trusting, forgiving, loving, honest, repentant; full of dreams and fervor for life; full of joy and childlike faith — those are the people who will enter heaven. Oh, to be like a little child!

Which of these challenges you? Ask God to help you in that area.

Thank You, Father, for making me new when I invited You into my heart. I became Your child – Your daughter – as I started over in my new life. Give me childlike faith and enable me to glorify You with courage and unapologetic fervor. Help me to love, trust, and forgive like a child. Thank You for loving me.


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Also, if you’re an Instagram user, and like to laugh, I post a TUESDAY TICKLE and a FRIDAY FUNNY each week with a joke and a few words of Christian encouragement. Find me: @valdagoudie
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Have You Had your Shot?

I took a deep breath, as instructed, and let it out slowly. Before I had puffed out the last of the air, the sharp-tipped needle had punctured my arm, gone in, released its antibodies, and retreated.

It was over. The first concrete step toward my protection against the coronavirus had been taken. After a fifteen-minute rest, I walked out of there a healthier version of myself to face a future that was less likely to involve a COVID-19 infection. 

I was one step closer to hugging my grown sons; returning to work in person; eating in a restaurant; watching a movie in a theatre; going to church in person; working out in a gym; and hanging out with friends, playing games and singing karaoke-style. There was so much to gain from accepting this vaccine. It came with the promise of a better life.

Yet, minutes later, I sat socially-distanced with a new friend, thirty years my senior, who admitted she was not so ready to be vaccinated. Fear of the unknown prevented her from jumping at this opportunity, despite her risk of infection being higher because of her age. She wondered what side effects might we be unaware of. She admitted to comfort in her solitude (although she did seem to enjoy my company).

Personally, I’d rather live with an extra limb or a neon green nose than die from an illness I could have prevented. 

This cautious rejection of a life-saving measure shouldn’t surprise us, however. Humanity has had a vaccine against the sin virus for thousands of years. Yet, so many people refuse to take it. 

Is it fear? Fear of being different? Fear of standing out from the crowd; being called a fanatic? People are comfortable living in their restricted life of sin. They don’t acknowledge that God’s companionship is desirable. They are content to do life alone.

I took that first sin-shot many years ago, as a little girl actually, but, for some reason, I waited to take the booster — the important follow-up measure to ensure the greatest protection. I was comfortable with a partial immunity. But is there any such thing as being partially protected from a virus? Is there still not a significant danger of losing against a viral attack? I could still die because of my neglect to become fully vaccinated.

Jesus is the antidote to sin. When I invited Him into my heart, I received the first dose of soul-protection. The booster shot is my willingness to let God take full control of my life — to submit everything to Him. This actually requires daily check-ups with my Vaccine-Giver. I need regular boosters to ensure my heart is healthy and free from the sin-virus.

Thank you, Jesus, for your vaccine against the effects of sin. I repent of all my wrongdoings — for my life of selfishness. I submit my will to You. Lead me into freedom and eternal life with You.

Have you had your shot? You don’t need to book an appointment or even leave your home. The Great Doctor does house calls and guarantees, with regular boosters, you will not die in your sin. He eradicates the sin virus and brings us life. You don’t need to go through this journey alone. Let God take control.

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A Sleeping Savior

While we sat in our car as we traveled, the vehicle’s engine slept; the forward motion accredited to the marine vessel it rested on. But, unlike other weekly sea voyages home from the mainland, the motion was less ‘forward’ this time than up and down and side to side. The forward progress was more difficult to measure with the estimated time of arrival in the ship’s log likely reading “Undetermined” or possibly “Never”. The journey might yet be aborted due to sinking. I clenched my jaw hard enough to make my ears pop as I imagined the captain shaking his fountain pen and scribbling with one hand while clinging to the steering wheel with the other.

When my mother turned to speak to me from the front seat, her eyes grew wide and her planned words faded off her tongue. “Valda, are you okay? You’re actually turning green!” She looked at my father in the driver’s seat beside her. “We need to get out of the car!”

We’d never left the car during our ninety-minute ferry ride, unless one of us had to use the washroom facilities. There was seating, of course, inside the ship and a deck up top where we could suck in the briny air, if our heads didn’t blow off in the gale-force winds. Most travelers, though, unless they were on foot, preferred to stay in their cars for the duration of the trip.

But not today. As I looked around the deck, I realized that most of the cars had been abandoned; their passengers having sought shelter inside the rocking vessel.

“Rocking” is too mild an adjective. Rocking suggests comfort and sleep-luring. “Heaving” might be more appropriate in this case. As the boat rolled into the bottom of each monstrous swell, the opposite side of its car deck, along with my family of five cowering there, rose up into the air so that we eyeballed the wave over the railing of the ship’s dipping side. Yes, heaving is the more appropriate description.

Boxes, crates and bags of groceries, which typically remained undisturbed during the journey, crashed from the cargo area and slid across the deck, which I noted was slippery with ocean water. Our path to relative safety was now a slick, treacherous tight rope over a world in continuous motion.

My father received Mom’s suggestion from the same vantage point as myself. “I think it’s safer to stay where we are,” he said.

The interior of our car slipped into an eerie silence. My family was never silent. We riveted our eyes on the show outside: a fight between nature and human invention. We each prayed for the human win.

Another wave crashed over the rail and washed the deck. I now understood why the crew took the extra time to chain our car to the deck after we boarded today. I tightened my fists as I watched the foam mix with broken eggs; my palms burning with the indents of my nails, which, incidentally, needed clipping.

I don’t remember how long the journey took. I don’t remember driving onto the pier to the motionless safety of our island home. I was ten years old, and this occurred many moons ago. What I do remember, however, is the fear. I hadn’t been sure we were going to make it to the other side. Not one person on that ferry had control over the raging storm. We’d hoped that the captain and his crew had experience navigating through such conditions, but they’d been as helpless as me to calm the waves.

I revisited this memory this week when I read a similar story in the book of Mark. I apologize to my Instagram followers if some of the content below sounds familiar.

Jesus’ disciples found themselves in a boat on a stormy sea one day; likely a much smaller vessel than the one I’d been on. They weren’t going far. But the storm that roared in caused the same intense fear in the boat’s passengers. The waves tossed them around, and they were terrified that they were going to die.

But there was one huge difference in our experiences: they had Someone in the boat with them who was capable of calming the storm. When they frantically looked around for His help, however, they discovered their possible Savior sleeping like a baby, His head resting on a pillow! How could a man ever have so much peace that He could sleep while His life was in mortal danger?

Not only was the raging sea, the pitching boat, the screaming passengers, and the booming thunder an unfavorable environment for a good sleep, but Jesus should have had a lot on His mind that day preventing such rest. Religious and political leaders plotted to kill Him; His family thought He was crazy; the crowds of people just wanted His healing powers; the guys He chose as disciples were a doubting, questioning lot; and, being the Son of God, He knew His destiny – He knew He would soon be crucified! And, yet, He slept. I can imagine how wide the disciples’ eyes must have grown with shock to find him that way when it seemed they were facing certain death by drowning.

The disciples had seen Him do many miracles. Calming a storm wouldn’t be much different for the Messiah. But because Jesus wasn’t alert and responding, they had little faith. They had trouble believing in the power of a sleeping Savior.

What about you? How strong is your faith when Jesus is quiet; when it seems like He’s sleeping? You pray and pray, and nothing happens.

God wants us to trust Him at all times, even when the seas of life toss us around, and we feel like we are at their mercy. He wants us to understand that He’s got things under control.

Even when we can’t see Him working.

Even in a pandemic.

Father, may my faith in You not be based on my human understanding. I know you are in control of all my raging seas. Speak the word and calm my fears. I trust in You.


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No Regrets

Every time my husband opens the fridge door, a scent wafts through the air across my nose, reminding me that it was my intention to clean the refrigerator this week. As my Spring Break draws to a close, I don’t want the regret of not accomplishing this task. Oh, and let’s not forget the room I skipped while dusting the other day. Open windows plus street sweepers equals WORK! It’s the room that has the most shelves and effective dust-catchers – maybe that’s why I left it out of my efforts?!

We often make a list of things we wish to do when we have a block of time given to us, such as my one-week break from teaching. Sometimes the list is mental; sometimes it becomes more permanent in ink or as a note in our phones. If the time passes, and we return to work without our to-dos being done, we often feel regret. We question why we “wasted” our time.

Health professionals will tell us that resting and relaxing are not a waste of time, but a necessary component of staying healthy. But after 14 months of relaxing, maybe it’s time to consider doing something productive!

We can look at this latest tightening of lockdown restrictions in Ontario as a huge interruption to our lives, or we can see it as an opportunity. When the pandemic started over a year ago, you may have made a list of things you’d like to start or finish; projects you had in mind. Creatives have been working overtime: books have been written; songs have been recorded; videos made; blogs and podcasts started.

In his Enduring Word commentary, David Guzik writes:

“Each of us has a place in the service of God’s eternal plan. Knowing this and working towards it is a great guard against losing heart in the midst of tribulation.”

Paul wrote the letters of Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon while in prison, all important books included in our Bible. We can view this pandemic as a tribulation – which it certainly is – or we can view it as time given to us to get some stuff done!

I’m sure you can make a list of chores very quickly, if you haven’t already. But when the Bible talks about service, it is usually talking about showing our love to other people. How can you serve others in the coming weeks of lockdown? Is there a friend who could use an encouraging message? Someone who lives alone who’d love to connect via video chat? A neighbor in quarantine who would appreciate a grocery delivery? Is there a book burning on your mind waiting to be written that would encourage its readers?

Now is the time! The end is in sight. Vaccines are being administered daily and our turn is coming. Don’t come out of this pandemic with regrets.

Lord, help us achieve balance in our lives. Help us to recognize that there’s a time for everything. Guide us in using some of those minutes to love and serve others.


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The Messiah Has Risen!

Matthew 28

I clung to Mary Magdalene, as we both shook with fear. The earth was trembling beneath our feet again, made scarier by the early hour. Neither of us had slept much in the past two nights, our hearts broken with Jesus’ death, so we agreed to visit the tomb together even as the sun was just peeking over the hillside.

The last time the earth shook like this, not only did it signal Jesus’ final breath, but with it came miraculous events – the temple curtain had ripped in half and many of our dead had risen from their graves! Even as we mourned our Teacher’s passing, we rejoiced to see dear friends who had followed him, whom we had mourned, now walking and talking as if they’d never died. It still baffled us why God would value their lives more than that of his own son.

As the tremors ended, the entrance area, where Roman guards stood next to the large stone, lit up with a brilliant light. We shielded our eyes with our hands at the sudden radiance. Mary gave a little cry beside me as we saw that the light gleamed out of a man-like figure standing in front of us. He was dressed in white from head to toe, and it was his face that glowed like a flash of lightning.

My jaw dropped, as we stood paralyzed with fear, and watched him roll away the huge stone as if it were nothing. He then nimbly hopped up to sit on it. It was I who gasped this time as I watched the guards fall to the ground, one by one. Had they died? Would we be next? I gripped Mary’s arm so hard, I knew she’d have bruises there if we survived this. I could feel her trembling, but I couldn’t look away from the mystical creature that sat before us.

When he spoke, his voice flowed into my soul and I instantly felt lighter; the pain of loss that I’d carried for two days lifted and I listened with anticipation, already expecting good news. This was about Jesus. In my heart I had known this couldn’t be the end.

“Don’t be afraid.”

Despite the shaking earth, the possibly-dead guards, and the appearance of this supernatural man sitting before us, my spirit obeyed, and I was no longer afraid. Peace flowed into my being, and I leaned in to hear his next words even though his voice was loud and strong.

“I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.”

We both nodded, our voices unable to make sound.

The angel, for that is what he must be, gestured to the open doorway to the tomb with his arm. “He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen.”

Mary and I looked at each other then, our hearts pounding in our chests, not from fear but excitement. Jesus was alive?

The angel jumped down from his perch on the rock. “Come, see where his body was lying.”

We forced our feet into action and ran to the entrance. Empty – it was empty! There was no smell of death, no body wrapped in cloth. But we had watched Joseph lay him there! Where was he? How could this be?

Too scared to ask the glowing creature standing behind us, his grin from ear to shining ear, I looked at my companion. “Where is he?” I hissed.

Mary shrugged and turned toward the stranger, taking me with her.

He spoke again, with authority. “Now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.”

As the the edges of his body seemed to shimmer and become transparent, he said, “Remember what I have told you.” And then he was gone.

Mary’s fingernails were now boring into my arm as she tried to order words into a sentence, but they came tumbling out in a heap. Words like: Jesus. Gone. Empty. The tomb. Questions including: What? How? Where?

“We have to tell the others!” I cried. “They will never believe it, but we have to tell them – Jesus is alive!”

We joined hands and danced, leaping in the air with energy we shouldn’t have had after two sleepless nights.

“Come on!” Mary laughed, “We have to tell everyone!”

Then her face grew serious, as she looked to the rock where God’s messenger had sat, also noticing the guards rising slowly, fear and anger written on their faces.

“Trouble is not finished here. We mustn’t delay sharing this amazing news!”

We hurried off to the shouts of the guards, demanding we return with an explanation. Our hearts pounded as we pushed our legs to run as fast as we could.

When we had put some distance between us and the tomb, we stopped to catch our breath. The guards had not pursued us.

Bent over as I was, the first glimpse of him I saw was his feet. They still bore the wounds from the nails that had secured him to the cross. My increased heartbeat was no longer due to exertion. I stood up so suddenly, I swayed.

“Jesus?”

Mary’s head snapped up.

“Don’t be afraid!” he said, his warm familiar smile in place.

We both fell at his feet and worshiped him. The Messiah was alive and he was there! There in front of us!

After a few minutes of fellowship, Jesus repeated the angel’s message to us, “Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”

“We will, Lord!” we both said at once, then looked at each other and laughed. But when we looked around, Jesus was gone.

We ran laughing and crying with joy toward town. God chose us! We saw Jesus first, and he chose us to be his messengers! Praise be to God; Jesus is risen!


As we read the accounts of Jesus’s death and resurrection in the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we read different details in each one. This retelling is specifically based on the story told in Matthew 28. Were there more women present? Was Mary Magdalene actually alone? If we get hung up on these questions, we miss the main point of the story:

Jesus is risen!

God’s plan of salvation was complete. Jesus died as a punishment for our sins and then He rose again to give us life. When we ask Him to become the Lord of our lives, repenting of all our wrongdoings and selfish behavior, we become children of God – part of His family.

The Easter story is the pinnacle of our faith. We now have meaning and purpose in our lives. We have a personal relationship with a God who loves us and cares about everything we care about. We have hope for our future – eternal life with Him!

I thank You, Father, that Jesus’ resurrection brings us life. Move into my heart and resurrect it with a new awakening of Your love! Thank You for being the Way, the Truth, and the Life! Praise be to God; Jesus is risen!

If you haven’t given your heart to Jesus, what better time than on Easter! He’s ready to welcome you into the family.

Happy Easter, friends!


Val’s Stage Update

Two posts in one weekend! It is a special weekend indeed. For those of you who follow my blog, I’d like to let you know that I’ve made the decision to make Val’s Stage a bi-weekly blog, instead of weekly. The manuscript I have been working on for the last couple of years is in its final stage of editing and needs more of my attention! So, I’ll be here with a new post in two weeks!

If you haven’t taken advantage of my free audio prayer/meditation series, you will find the information on my Home page.

Have a great week!

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The Messiah is Dead

(Matthew 27)

I had no tears left. The Messiah hung on a cross, broken and bleeding; hardly different in appearance from the two criminals hanging on either side of him. Except Jesus wore that horrific crown made from thorns, a reminder of the treatment he received before they nailed him there. They mocked him, spit on him, whipped him; and that was only what I witnessed with my own eyes. Father God only knows what they did behind closed doors. Angry shouts, jeering voices, and despairing cries filled the air.

But at noon, night fell, as if someone had snatched the sun out of the sky. At a time of day when it was normally shining its brightest, giving off the most heat, the sun had disappeared completely, leaving us in a blackness that felt thick and heavy. An eerie silence overtook the crowd, and Mary Magdalene and I linked hands as we moved closer to each other. As the exclaims and cries of surprise at the unexplainable darkness faded, we stood quietly facing the gruesome scene, our eyes adjusting to the inky gloom.

Standing with us were those who mocked him and wanted to see the end; those who loved him and wished to support him during his wrongful death; and those who were curious, who had heard of this Jesus of Nazareth, but had not come to know him like Mary and I. Our tears silently washed our faces in the darkness. We knew who he was. We loved him.

My feet and legs ached from standing for hours, but I would not sit down. Jesus deserved my respect and adoration right to the end. His love had changed my life and the lives of so many who stood with me. I only had to look into the eyes of the woman grasping my hand to see a soul that had been rescued from the brink of Hell, saved from the torture of demons inhabiting her body. How could they do this to a man who did nothing but love others and heal their minds and bodies? Fresh tears filled my eyes once more as I reflected on his goodness and gentleness, not only towards me and my friends, but to everybody that he met. The poor, the sick, the broken; he touched them all. And now we stood, shoulder to shoulder, a vigil like no other; the darkness an appropriate backdrop.

A ripple of murmuring stirred me from my reverie. Jesus had lifted his head. His voice echoed across the valley, cutting through the inky air.

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

My heart broke at that moment. How he must have felt, hanging there as the life drained out of him, compounded now with his own Father’s refusal to intervene. God could have stopped this. If everything Jesus had told us was true, saving his son from this horrible death would be easy. He is a God of miracles, all-powerful. Why did he turn his back on Jesus now?

Voices called out from the crowd as they too questioned what was happening. Some misunderstood his words completely and wondered why he was calling out to the prophet Elijah. The mockers took up their cry again, jeering at him that even his own father had left him to die. And those of us who loved him mourned with groans and cries of agony, reflecting his pain.

Someone offered him a drink of wine from a sponge at the end of a reed. After a quick sip, he raised his head again, quieting the crowd with another shout.

There was a huge rumbling and loud cracking sounds as though rocks were splitting apart, and the earth beneath our feet began to shake, screams filling the air as the onlookers tried to keep their balance, fear overtaking them. As we tried to make sense of what was happening, shouts from those standing closer to the crosses confirmed that Jesus was dead.

Soon, small groups of people broke off from the crowd and began making their way back to their homes or businesses. But one of the temple boys parted them as he raced towards the group of priests still standing off to one side, shouting, “The curtain! The curtain! It ripped all by itself! It ripped right down the middle, from top to bottom!”

The crowd was still spreading this news about the temple’s heavy veil, when another young lad appeared with an incredible story of dead bodies rising from their graves and returning to the city. Fear and wonder rippled in waves through the congregation.

“This man truly was the Son of God!”

I craned my neck and squinted into the darkness to see who had shouted this. To my surprise, it was one of the Roman officers. It was a declaration that came much too late. Jesus was dead.

Mary and I stayed and watched everything as one of the soldiers stabbed Jesus in the side to be sure he was gone, and a group of them removed his body from the cross. After a man named Joseph got permission to bury him, we watched him wrap Jesus’ body and place it in a cave; a new tomb he likely had for his family. We didn’t leave until a group of men rolled a huge stone in front of the opening. We wondered at the reason for this; possibly to keep animals from going in to desecrate the remains?

Tomorrow was the Sabbath. It would be another day of mourning. The world had just lost a great man. The Messiah had come and now the Messiah was dead. We went home with heavy hearts.

The day after Good Friday, before Easter Sunday, is often called Waiting Saturday. As I retell the story of Jesus’ death from my imagined perspective of Mary, mother of James and Joseph, I recognize that Jesus’ followers hadn’t understood any of the references he had made to his resurrection. In their minds, he was dead, and all hope was lost. They may have begun to question if he was actually the Messiah. This was not the ending they were expecting. Their mourning would not have just been for a man they loved. They mourned for humanity; for the loss of one who was supposed to save the world. He now lay lifeless in a tomb.

The darkness may have fallen on the day Jesus died, but the following day would have seemed even darker for his followers. Their leader was dead.


But this is not the end of the story, my friends. Let’s pick up here tomorrow!

Thank You, Jesus, for going through with Your Father’s plan; for suffering a terrible death as a human so that I would not have to pay for my own sins this way. Your love is overwhelming. Father, Your sacrifice showed immeasurable grace and mercy for Your creation. Thank You for offering us this way out, this doorway to forgiveness, and a stairway to Heaven. We wait today, not with sadness, but with expectation, because we know how this story ends. May God be praised.


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No Greater Love

Clover barked and barked, voicing her worry and distress. Her owner, Haley who had just been walking beside her on their morning stroll, lay on the ground unresponsive, her body shaking with spasms. Something was very wrong.

After a few seconds, recognizing her calls were not reviving Haley, Clover looked to the street for help. A car drove by without noticing the woman lying on the snowbank, without hearing Clover’s pleas, without stopping. She wouldn’t let that happen again.

She pulled hard on her leash, tugging until it released from her owner’s hand. What she was about to do would be dangerous, but getting help for Haley was her sole mission. The lady on the ground had rescued Clover by giving her a loving home, now it was Clover’s turn to rescue her.

She walked into the middle of the road and squared off like a cowboy in a gunfight in one of the old westerns she watched with Haley. A truck turned onto the street and barreled toward her. She stood firm and barked a SOS at the driver. She wagged her tail with hope as the man slowed his vehicle and rolled to a stop in front of her.

The driver jumped out and ran to the nearest house, ringing the bell and pounding on the door. When no one answered, he went to Haley and turned her over and fixed her body in a more comfortable pose, staying with her.

Meanwhile, Clover searched for more Good Samaritans who could help. She barked another distress signal to a woman walking down the sidewalk.

The lady hurried over and called for medical assistance on her phone.

Clover returned to her master’s side and waited for the big vehicle with flashing lights to arrive. She had done her best. It was what Haley deserved.


Many of you know that this story is not fictional. This incident happened here in Ottawa this week, with the dog Clover being lauded as a hero in local news. It’s a heartwarming story of dedication and love.

Last Saturday my husband and I drove to a nearby town with our youngest son to pick up a puppy of his own. We fell in love with Charlie instantly. A beautiful Cavalier King Charles, his black and brown fur gleamed and his eyes reflected trust.

A bond of love grew so quickly between my son and Charlie that when I dropped by to visit a couple days later, Charlie greeted me with growls and barks. He stood in front of my son’s legs and glared at me, ready to protect his new owner if necessary. While Glam-Ma’s feelings were a little hurt that he didn’t remember me, it was touching to see his devotion to my son.

Man’s best friend.

When you marry, you create a union with your best friend as well. In an unforgettable book written many years ago by Danielle Steele called No Greater Love, a wife shows her love for her husband in the most sacrificial way. In this fictional recount of the Titanic story, a mother watches her six children climb into one of the few lifeboats as she makes the choice to stay with her husband who is not allowed to board. Women and children only were invited. She held on to the man she had claimed to love till death parted them, knowing that they would actually die together. This was the ultimate symbol of her devotion and love for him.

With so many good reads out there, I don’t often take the time to reread a book, but this one draws me back in, time and time again. This woman grew each of those babies inside her body for nine months. They were part of her. They were her blood. Yet, she chose to stand with her man, leaving her sixteen-year-old daughter to care for her five siblings. As I read about the struggles of those children surviving without their parents, I can’t help but feel that this is not a story about a great love, but a story of abandonment. How could a mother do that? It’s one of those books that brings out an emotional response from the reader, despite knowing it is a work of fiction.

As daughters of God, we recognize that the greatest love of all was not shown by a devoted animal or a dedicated spouse, but by the Father Himself. God showed the most sacrificial love for mankind when He send His son Jesus to die on a cross to redeem us from our sin. Just like I would never knowingly watch my children float away into an unknown future as orphans, I would never willingly give up one of their lives to save anyone else. Does that mean that God loved His son less than I love mine? No, it shows that His love truly is the greatest. He loves us that much.

If you feel an emptiness in your life, like something is missing, God’s love can fill that void. He invites you to accept His offer of devotion and protection. Of love.

He promises to never abandon us.

There truly is no greater love.

Thank you, Father, for loving the world; for loving me. Thank You for my free gift of salvation which was far from free for You to provide. Help me to never forget the sacrifice You made as you watched Your son die. Thank You, Jesus, for going through the pain and suffering of death on a cross to take away my sins. I will forever adore and praise You.

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Rainbows and Promises

We woke to feel the earth trembling and to hear the sound of hundreds of pounding animal feet and raised animal voices.

The flesh rose on my arms as we stood in the door of the tent and saw the procession of animals walking two-by-two, as if led by an invisible hand toward the ark.

Noah squeezed my shoulder. “He says it’s time,” he whispered in my ear.

I had no idea how he heard anything over the ruckus outside, but again I had to trust him.

“We have seven days to get everyone inside.”

I turned and kissed his cheek. “We’d better get started then,” I said. If I ever doubted my husband’s message about the ark and God’s plan, this incredible sight in front of me wiped those thoughts from my mind.

For the next week we led animals into their rooms in the ark. Creatures that would eat me without a thought in the wild, walked docilely inside like house pets. And even though the door remained open at night, none of them left the boat.

Noah hardly slept that week as he continued to preach to those who’d gathered to watch the miraculous parade. But the people were just enjoying the show. They would never give up their free lifestyles to live like our family did.

“If you think I’d ever go inside that boat with that stench, even for a minute, Noah, you’re crazy!”

“Feeling any sky-water yet, Noah? What time is it supposed to start?”

Mocking comments echoed off the side of the ark. These were some of the kinder things said.

On Day 7, our family went into the boat as well. Noah gave a final plea on the ramp leading to the door. I squeezed his fingers as we walked inside hand-in-hand to the laughs and jeers.

The crowd went silent, however, when God Himself shut the door. They weren’t expecting that bit of magic in their show.

It was days later before we heard the sound of rain on the roof above us. “Forty days and forty nights,” Noah whispered. My husband was six hundred years old. A little over a month on a cruise ship didn’t sound so awful.

But when the animals were quieter a few evenings later, I swear I heard cries from outside the ark. Noah said it was impossible with the thickness of the lumber and the noise in the boat, but a few impossible things had already happened, hadn’t they. I covered my ears to block out the heart-wrenching sound.

Neither Noah or myself slept at all that first week as we thought about all the people we knew and didn’t know who were drowning outside of our ark. All of the innocent children who were dying because their parents wouldn’t repent; I cried for them until I had no more tears. Noah just held me, occasionally wiping his own cheeks.

“You tried to warn them,” I whispered. “They just wouldn’t listen.”

We set a routine inside the boat with everyone taking turns with the responsibilities. The animals had to be fed and their stalls cleaned out. We had to prepare food for ourselves as well. It was hard to ration since we didn’t know exactly how long we’d be in the ark, but our store of supplies never seemed to replete. There may have been some more miracles at work in the pantry.

One of our boys tracked the days with a mark for each on a wall. The forty days of rain passed quickly as we kept busy. But after the rain stopped hitting the roof, the marks continued filling the wall with no further communication from God. The days were long and monotonous. I longed to feel sunshine on my face.

According to the wall, we lived in the ark for five months before we felt a sudden jolt and lost the sensation of floating.

“Praise God. We’ve landed on something; likely a mountain peak,” Noah explained. “The waters must be receding.”

“At this rate, we’ll be here till we’re old and grey like you, Father,” Ham quipped.

Japheth pinched his arm hard enough for Ham to wince. “You want to get off the boat, Ham? We can make that happen,” his brother said. The close quarters were taking a toll on their humor.

“Patience, boys. Patience,” was all Noah said, as he turned to me with a smile. “It’s almost over.”

But Ham was right and Noah was wrong. It wasn’t almost over. We were in that boat much longer – for a year and ten days, in fact, and I did feel myself growing older and greyer.

Noah took the covering off the ark so we could at least see outside and feel the fresh air. He sent out several birds to scope the land. But even after the second dove did not return because it likely found a place to nest, we waited two more months.

Then finally the two words left Noah’s lips that we’d all been waiting for: “It’s time.”

We’d walked into the boat holding hands, so I held out mine to exit the same way. It felt glorious to feel the dry ground beneath our feet.

From our mountaintop, the view was spectacular with lush green forests and waterfalls. Noah dramatically hugged a rock as he thanked God for His mercies.

As the animals filed out of the ship in a similar calm manner as they’d entered, Noah insisted on building an altar there at the top of the mountain. Some of those clean animals and birds that we had brought were sacrificed to our Maker and Savior.

When he’d finished his ceremony, Noah got that gleam in his eye. I knew God had spoken to him again. Before he shared the message, though, Noah pointed to the sky. A magnificent colored arc with stripes of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple stretched across the horizon. A strange sense of calm filled my chest as I gazed at its beauty.

“God put that there for us. It’s a sign of his covenant with me and with all the future people on the earth.”

“Covenant? What do you mean?” I couldn’t tear my eyes away, even as I wanted to call the boys to come and see it.

Noah squeezed my shoulder. “God has promised that he will never destroy the world like this again. The colored bow will be a reminder of that covenant every time humans see it.”

I smiled. Yes, it made sense that God would make something so beautiful. And I liked the sound of that promise too. It gave me hope for this new start.

“If it’s up to our children to populate the earth, maybe the next generation will be more in tune with God. Hopefully He’ll never feel the need to destroy mankind again because people will be good, rather than evil.”

My husband didn’t answer, but I knew that standing next to me was one very good man who would live out his days serving God, and I would be right by his side for as long as we both lived.


Then God said, “I am giving you a sign of my covenant with you and with all living creatures, for all generations to come. I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth. When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures. Never again will the floodwaters destroy all life.”

genesis 9:12-15

This week in my Kindergarten class we explored rainbows as part of a spring week that included St. Patrick’s Day and its myths about an elusive pot of gold at the end of such an arc. Did you know that a rainbow is actually a full circle? We see it as an arc because of the horizon in our sight. We only see a part of the whole glorious phenomena. While this discovery kills the dream of ever finding that pot of gold, there is treasure to be found in rainbows.

A rainbow is a physical sign of God’s promise that He’ll never destroy the earth and its people again with a flood. But when we see that beautiful bow, we can remember so much more.

God’s Word, the Bible, is a story of love. From cover to cover, it tells how God created the earth and its inhabitants and how He loves them. It is filled with promises He has made to His people – to us. Here are just a few: a promise of salvation; a promise of His presence in our lives; a promise of His help; and a promise that He is committed to us – He will never abandon us.

We can’t see the full rainbow, but God does. Just like we can never see the full picture of the challenging events in our lives. But God sees those too.

Are you going through a challenging time right now? He knows how the situation will be resolved; how the experience will impact your life; and he knows the emotions you feel as you navigate through it. He invites you to trust Him. Put your faith in Him like Noah and his wife. Trust Him when it doesn’t make sense to anyone else.

We can turn our back on God and get angry with Him when we don’t understand why certain things happen. But God will never turn His back on us. He waits patiently for us to turn around and run into His arms.

Let your Father take care of things.

In His time.

He sees the full circle.

Lord, when I see a rainbow, help me to remember Your promises. In the lens of the earth as a whole, I feel so insignificant, but Your Word says that You see me; that You care about me. Thank You for salvation. Thank You for being my comfort and shield. You’ve got this.

I hope you enjoyed the fictionalized account of Noah and the ark, as told by his wife. I have taken liberties with the story to make it a relatable and interesting read, so forgive my divergences from the original script. In the manuscript I am working on called “You’re the Star: Step into the Spotlight, Daughter of God”, I retell the stories this way of nine women in the Bible who exemplify traits that God wants us to live out as well. For Noah’s wife, it was patience. From the first day that her husband announced what seemed like a fantastical instruction from God to build a boat where there was no water, to finally getting off the ark, she showed a lot of patience as she stood by his side. Stay tuned for more tidbits from my book as I continue my journey toward publishing it.

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Masked and Tired

I clipped a fuchsia silk flower in my hair and pulled the elastic of the plastic sombrero under my chin, both accessories reminding me of past vacations in tropical destinations. My bright yellow sunglasses sat ready on my desk. It was Beach Day in our Kindergarten room: a completely spontaneous idea suggested at the end of the day on Thursday; a Spirit Day to revive our waning spirits. My teaching partner and I had decorated the room with paper lanterns, seashells, palm trees, as well as a photo booth in the corner, sporting a huge painted cardboard sun and waves. The children would be high on excitement and bursting with energy when they arrived in their shorts and tank tops or frilly sundresses. We were setting ourselves up for loud and boisterous (typically undesired adjectives for school days).

Just before the first child arrived, I layered on the COVID-gear. I stretched the elastic of the mask over my ears and under my fun turquoise shell earrings, careful to avoid tangling with the elastic of my little hat. I added my voice enhancer headset, adjusting the microphone in front of my mask and attaching the cord to the speaker in the pocket of my apron. I pressed the wire of the mask for a tighter fit over the bridge of my nose so my sunglasses wouldn’t fog up. Maybe I could avoid wearing the safety glasses today? The correct answer here is no – sunglasses, no matter how big, do not have side pieces that provide the necessary protection against potential droplets going into my eyes. I’d have to swap the fun glasses for my safe ones every time I interacted closely with a child. Sigh. Thanks, COVID.

We’re trying to make the best of it. We infuse fun wherever we can, while plodding through the month of March with its time change and regular spring fever affecting the children in ways that challenge our patience. Beach Day should have been the last day of school before March Break. In years past, teachers left the school shortly after the final bell with airplane tickets in hand or heading to the public library to pick out some fun reads for the relaxing week ahead. The Canadian winter is long, and with the added challenges of online learning for a large part of this one, teachers are tired. But, hey, we recognize we don’t have the same risk as healthcare workers and our hours are much shorter. It could be worse. Sigh.

Throughout the day, I pull on the nose piece of my mask. Not touching my face is impossible while wearing this unnatural covering. The constant pressure on my nostrils drives me crazy and the requirement to wear it the entire time we are on the property, indoors and out, propels me out for a walk each day after my supervision duty. The relief to take off that obstruction for a face-break is indescribable. Yet, as I walk in the neighborhood, I feel judgement from those passing me on the sidewalk wearing their masks the whole time they go out to do errands. Their excursion doesn’t likely take over six hours. Sigh.

We wear masks all the time, though, even when there’s not a world pandemic. We often wear a mask of strength and responsibility: portraying to the world that we have it all together; that we can handle anything thrown our way; that we don’t need anyone’s help; and sometimes that even includes God’s help. I’m taking off my mask today for a minute to admit I’m exhausted.

Type A people like myself are busy all the time. We don’t know how to relax. Relaxing is a waste of time. I could be doing something, getting something accomplished. I just ate my breakfast sandwich standing up because there were things I could do while chewing…

This week, my evenings have been completely unproductive, which causes me grief for not meeting my goals. My husband, who works from home and is alone all day, had an irritable, tired condo-mate when I returned each night.

When I let my mask slip, people don’t understand why I’m no longer fun to be around. My mask does a fabulous job of hiding how I feel.

I’ll admit, I have it easy. I have no little children running around (at home!), demanding my attention. I have no pressing housework that absolutely has to be done this weekend. I have a husband who regularly makes my bed and washes my dishes. I have a lot to be thankful for. I feel guilty for feeling tired, and that in itself is exhausting.

What do you do when you feel this way? Some would suggest to take a nice bath, read a book, have a glass of wine, put your feet up, book a massage. Those things sound lovely, but what I really need is refreshment that only my Maker can give me. I need His strength. I need His peace to flow into my buzzing mind and create a calm, quiet space where I can rest in Him.

If you too feel tired: tired of the pandemic; tired of isolating from those you love; physically tired of pushing yourself too hard, I’d like to share the verses I’m pulling out of my Bible today as a rope ladder to climb out of this funk. Climb with me.

Father, You didn’t create me to live my life alone and in my own strength. It was Your intention that I would partner with You in my daily walk. I ask for Your peace to fill me and show me how to rest. I ask for Your strength to do the things I have to do and the wisdom to discern what things can be put aside for a while. Refresh my spirit. Let my Jesus-glow shine once again as Your love pours into me. Amen.


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Palm Trees vs. Icicles

We stood on the edge of the curb, ready to dart in front of rapidly-moving cars, unsure if they would slow down when they saw us. Hordes of small white cars matching Herbie the Love Bug weaved in and out of the four lanes, cutting off other drivers and blaring their horns at each other. With no crosswalk or pedestrian light to help, this was the street Hubby and I had to cross to get from the small café where we ate breakfast each morning to the beautiful hotel on the beach where we were staying.

A tropical storm had swept through Acapulco the night before, leaving palm tree branches and debris scattered about the streets and brick walkways. The cars ran over it all without pausing.

I shielded my eyes with my hand as I watched for a break in traffic. The May sun attempted to defeat the cloudy gray sky, promising a better day for tourists like ourselves; although I wasn’t looking forward to our glass-bottom boat excursion on the remaining white-crested waves.

We had been in Mexico for a week already and, discovering our young palates were not accustomed to the general spice and avocado-packed menus, we appreciated the simpler foods that this small café offered on the other side of the busy street. Our morning routine involved scampering across the four lanes to sit at the red-and-white-checkered table with a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice and a bowl of Corn Flakes with a sliced banana on the side. We appreciated the taste of home, although back in Newfoundland (where they had to be flown or ferried into our island home), the orange juice and bananas never tasted as fresh and scrumptious as these. It was worth the little game of Frogger we played with the traffic each morning.

Yet even after a week of this dangerous endeavor, my heart pounded with fear. The cars zipped past with very little break in the pattern of the flow; rush-hour madness seeming to be the norm.

My new hubby yelled the signal, his one-word shout resembling the starter’s pistol at a race. And his trusting new bride ran across one lane, then two before I suffered a blow to the chest hard enough to stop my motion forward. A huge palm branch, broken from the overnight storm, had fallen from one of the trees lining the street, the wind whipping it directly at me. I screamed even as the breath was knocked from my body by the unexpected force.

Hubby frantically cheered me on from the other side, recognizing that a dangerous journey had just been upgraded to life-threatening.

I knocked the large aggressor to the ground and forced my legs to move even faster to make up for the time delay. The blaring horns were effective motivators to increase my speed.

As my second foot cleared the street, I felt the air current behind me change with the first passing car. That was a close one.

Hubby held me tightly until my heart resumed its normal pace and my Corn Flakes dislodged from my throat. A windy ride in a glass-bottom boat didn’t seem so scary anymore.

I think we may have eaten omelettes from the hotel restaurant the next morning…

Despite this vicious attack, I do not harbor any resentment toward palm trees. In fact, facing down the cold month of March ahead, I’ve had an image of a beautiful palm as my phone’s lock screen for the past two weeks. To me, palm trees represent tropical destinations, the warm sun, and relaxing vacations (when you’re not running for your life). Our Canadian climate doesn’t support the growth of these majestic plants, so even the most unkempt palm outside of the tourist areas looks beautiful in my eyes.

What do palm trees have to do with icicles? Absolutely nothing. But I’d like to propose a trade. I would like to trade these frozen stalactites hanging from the roofs of houses, creating their own dangers to those walking below on a milder day, symbolizing never-ending winters with bone-chilling winds and mountains of snow. I would like to trade them all for a palm tree.

In the years leading up to 2020, one only had to book a flight, give your visa number to a resort, and pack your bags and, presto, this magical trade happened with very little effort required. We would leave our down-filled coats in the vehicle that transported us to the airport (usually driven by one of our sons) and fly away from the ice and snow to hug palm trees and exfoliate our bare feet with golden sand. Those were the days.

Now palm trees reside in my imagination alongside unicorns and dragons. I believe in their existence, but I’m not sure I’ll ever see one in person again.

We don’t like change much, do we? Disruptions or impediments like the offensive palm tree branch hinder our forward movement and stop us from reaching our goals. COVID-19 has stolen our freedom, wreaking havoc in all areas of our lives; the ability to travel being one of the least serious losses. One day we’ll lie on a hammock stretched between two palm trees (TWO!) and remember the pandemic of 2020 and 2021 and thank God for vaccines and restoration of normalcy. Yet, when humanity goes through a disruptive event such as this, does it ever go back to the way it was before? We face the future changed.

This interruption in our lives will not be knocked away like my tree branch as we continue on our life’s path. It will alter our journey; change the way we see things, the way we do things from now on. Will we ever shake hands, hug, or kiss cheeks to greet someone? Will we ever let strangers get within our six-foot-personal-space moat?

Definitions of change include “to become different; to undergo transformation, transition, or substitution” (Merriam-Webster). Nowhere in the description of this word is there a negative connotation. Change is not necessarily a bad thing.

As I’ve spent more time with God this year, getting up earlier in the mornings to read my Bible and talk to Him, I’ve changed. I acknowledge my place in God’s family as His daughter and recognize that I want my life to represent Him well. That means glorifying Him in my words and actions. It means asking Him to be with me during my day, helping me with that goal. I want to be more like Jesus – that’s a transformation that holds no negativity.

For some of us who haven’t been impacted drastically by the pandemic through such things as the sudden death of loved ones, loss of our jobs, mental health issues due to fear and/or stress, addictions, domestic violence, or other sombre challenges, we can view this COVID nightmare as a wake-up call to draw closer to God and to trust Him more.

Be assured, Daughter of God, that while we change, and our circumstances change, our heavenly Father does not. It is written in Malachi 3:6, “I the Lord do not change…” and it says in Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” The same God who loved us enough to sacrifice His own son to save us loves us enough to support us through temporal earthly changes. He has been with us through this pandemic and will continue to hold our hand as we come out of it: different; transformed; changed.

And if you have navigated through some of these things listed above during the past year, God wants to rescue you too. He wants to live in your heart and give you courage and strength to face your hardships. Just invite Him to join your journey.

Whether the challenges of life resemble falling icicles or palm tree branches, God promises to protect us and lead us through the obstacle course of life. All we have to do is trust Him and follow His instructions.

Lord, I give my life to You. Show me how to navigate the changes that the pandemic has created in our world. I trust You to take control.

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Loving my Neighbors

But their dog — their little crackie that never stopped barking. Never. Stopped. If my neighbor’s dog was in the backyard, he was yipping and yapping. I’d unwittingly walk toward my barbecue with a plate of steaks balanced precariously in my arms with the cutlery, steak spice, oil, my e-reader for entertainment, my cell phone for timing the meat, and I’d nearly lose the whole load on the bricks when he attacked verbally from the other side of the fence.

As a teacher, I like to spend my summer in the sun, which, when I lived in my last home, involved many hours lounging in my backyard by the pool. But that dog made it difficult to enjoy. Running over it accidentally while backing out of my driveway had been a recurring dream (I mean nightmare?) of mine.

Did my attitude towards their dog impact my relationship with our neighbors? Absolutely.

I didn’t go out of my way to be mean. I didn’t throw drowned mice from my pool over the fence or leave rat poison around the edges of our property. But I never had a real conversation with them either. The longest sustained conversation sounded like this:
“Could you please trim the vines instead of pulling them out of the ground?” (Vines were inexplicably disappearing from my side of the fence like a cartoon rabbit was pulling them underground.)

The disembodied voice came through the fence slats: “Oh, I’m trimming them.”

“Please do. I’d rather they weren’t destroyed.” My words were spoken in a genial tone, and I was mannerly. I said ‘please’ twice.

But she lied. The pile of dead vines at the curb on garbage collection day bore witness to her untruths. So, add destruction of vines to the noise pollution. Did I mention how the mister would park his big truck in a way that took up the whole curb and prevented our boys from parking their car in front of our house? How he didn’t seem to know when his tires were parked on our grass instead of the pavement-side of the curb?

I admit we didn’t invite them to cool off in our pool on hot summer days like we did the neighbors on the other side. Nor did we go to their house for Karaoke Night or to play Skip-Bo. But we loved them with the love of the Lord. Sure, we did.

Did they know we were Christians? They may have seen us driving off on Sunday mornings with our church clothes and Bibles in hand (the Bible app on my phone is visible, right?), but no, we didn’t show them the love of God. And yet our Bible, the Script for our life performance, states the importance of neighborly love over and over again. Galatians ‭5:14 says, ‬“‭For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”‬” We’ve got some work to do. Being neighborly and showing love to those around us is not based on their performances – how they treat us. It’s part of our performance as believers. It is a command, not a suggestion.‬‬‬‬

Anyone can be kind and treat their neighbors with respect. The believer’s additional challenge is found in ‭‭Luke‬ ‭6:35-36 where Jesus says: ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Loving our enemies and doing good to them are not natural responses to being mistreated or hurt by someone; or even to responding to bad neighbors. That requires God’s help.

When the expert in religious law asked Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” in the tenth chapter of Luke, He did not define neighbor as the person who lives next door. He told the story of the Good Samaritan to illustrate that our neighbors are anyone who needs our help or our love. In her book Unexpected, Christine Caine challenges believers to open their eyes and really see people the way Jesus sees them. Hurting people are all around us, but often we don’t see them as our neighbors; as the people who God wants us to love through our words and actions.

Lord, open my eyes and allow me to see them. Help me serve my neighbors in your love.

What can you do for a neighbor today? Could you shovel a driveway? Donate to a food bank? Offer to go shopping for someone who is immune-compromised? Do a Zoom meeting with someone who lives alone? Each of us can brighten someone’s day, even if it’s just a kind word and a masked smile.


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Saying Yes to Love

I knew it would happen. I just didn’t know when — Joseph’s nervous proposal of marriage.

He actually looked unsure of my answer as he held both my hands in his and waited for my response. I thought I was more transparent than that. I’d been dreaming of this day for years. In fact, my playmates and I had role-played the scene a few times; the difference being my friend who played Joseph acted much more confident and macho, and usually fell into a heap of giggles before I said yes.

When I looked into his dark, serious eyes, I realized no amount of practice could prepare me for such an emotional moment. I lifted his fingers to my lips and kissed them gently. “Yes, Joseph. Yes!”

His breath came out in a whoosh, and I laughed, glad I hadn’t made him wait longer. I’m sure Father had toyed with his emotions when the boy had asked for my hand. My father had a strange sense of humor, but he loved Joseph, as everyone did. Honorable and godly; there was no doubt he would be a wonderful husband.

The preparations had already begun for our wedding. Messengers had been sent out to invite guests. My mother had a small army of women setting up accommodations for the out-of-town friends and relatives. Father was taking inventory of his animals, hoping the whole affair wouldn’t drive him into bankruptcy.

The smell of smoke brought me out of my reverie. The flame in the small lantern on the table in front of me had snuffed out as it ran out of oil. I was supposed to be praying.

“I’m sorry, Father,” I whispered. “My excitement is causing my mind to wander. Thank you for Joseph. Thank you for all the blessings you’ve bestowed upon your servant. I deserve nothing, but you give me everything.”

I held my palms up. “You will always be my first love. My heart belongs to You.”

When I opened my eyes, the lantern was burning brightly in front of me. I hadn’t heard anyone come in to refill it. I looked toward the door. No one. But a movement to the right caught my eye.

My heart pounded furiously as I identified the apparition standing there as a ghost or an angel of some sort. He had an ethereal beauty, and I knew the glow around him was not caused by the small lamp.

His smile was big and oddly comforting. “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” he said in a warm voice.

Was I dreaming? My thoughts had been scattered before, but now I feared I had completely lost my mind. Favored? Why would I be favored? I squeezed my eyes shut and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. Protect me, Father, I pleaded silently.

I felt a touch on my arm like a warm, wet cloth that caused a calmness to spread over my whole body. I felt weightless, but steady. I could feel the fear seeping out of me even as I heard the being’s next words.

“Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God!”

I opened my eyes and looked into his. They were deep and intense but quieted the rest of my anxious thoughts.

“Me? Favor? Why?” I seemed incapable of forming full sentences.

The smile stretched across his face, crinkling his beautiful eyes. “Mary.”

Hearing my name on his tongue that way made me feel special. I leaned in to hear his words.

“You have been chosen. Your faithfulness to God has been acknowledged. Your name will be remembered for the rest of time as being the mother of God.”

I opened my mouth to respond. Was I going to argue? Could I vocalize my belief that he could have the wrong girl? I was no one important; just an average Nazarene looking forward to her wedding to a wonderful man. But no words came. It was as if I had suddenly become mute.

The angel went on with words that shook my whole being with awe and wonder; words that would be imprinted in my head forever. “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

Son of the Most High? The Son of God? I will give birth to the Son of God?

I managed to whisper my doubt, feeling my face grow hot as I told him, “I’ve never been with a man. Joseph and I have not… I mean, how could I conceive and have a child without… that?”

He touched my head. “Is your God not capable, child?”

I swallowed hard. Of course He was. I’d heard of all the miraculous things God had done for our people. He was the God of the Universe. The earth belonged to Him.

“How?” I choked out.

His warm smile proceeded his response. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. You will not experience the touch of an earthly man. That way the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.”

My heart raced inside my chest again. The Holy Spirit would impregnate me with God’s holy baby? This was too much for a young girl to comprehend or believe.

He spoke as if he could read my mind. “Our God is a God of miracles, Mary. Did you know that your cousin Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age? People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. The word of God will never fail. Nothing, you see, is impossible with God.”

Elizabeth pregnant? I knew how much she wanted that; how much shame she felt over being barren. Was this real? Could all this be true?

Peace fluttered into in my soul like ashes settling down after a windstorm, and I knew. I knew the man who stood before me was a messenger from the Almighty God. I knew his words were true and everything he said would come to pass. I knew, even as I knelt there, my womb now held life where there was no life before.

I nodded at the angelic man in front of me. My voice was so quiet it was barely audible. “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

The twinkle in his eye was not unlike a wink. And then he was gone.

I was alone. I had to tell my fiancée that I was pregnant. That I bore God’s Son in my womb. A new kind of fear knocked on my heart. Oh, Joseph.

I pressed my forehead to the floor. This time as I prayed to my son’s Father, my mind did not wander. I prayed for wisdom and courage to talk to my betrothed.

You might think this an odd story to choose for Valentine’s Day weekend. Yet, when I consider loves stories, this one takes the lead. Forgive my boldness to fictionalize God’s Word, but this is how I imagine it might have played out. Of course, I have romanticized it because I’m a romantic at heart. It was actually customary for the parents of the bride and groom to arrange a marriage, sometimes without even consulting the young couple. There was a good chance that Mary had not yet grown to love her betrothed, but merely had an allegiance to him as the man her parents had chosen for her to marry.

My romantic version aside, the love that Mary displayed that day was love toward her heavenly Father.

Mary’s love was selfless. She said yes to God when it didn’t make sense for her to say yes. Who would believe her; that a virgin could become pregnant without ever knowing a man? If Joseph left her, she would be ruined. But Mary loved God enough to trust that He would work out the details. She loved Him enough to let Him interrupt her plans to marry a carpenter and live happily ever after in an ordinary life. She said yes to Him, calling herself “the Lord’s servant”, (Luke 1:38) and allowing Him to take control.

In my imagination, her yes to Joseph’s marriage proposal had been easy. It might have been premeditated; the subject of her dreams. Mary may have been a romantic too. Or the acceptance of Joseph as her husband was the result of a yes to her parents, whom she loved, with no romantic involvement on her part at all. Either way, the beginning of their fairy tale marriage was the simple part. The contract had been signed, and they were betrothed. Their future as husband and wife had been secured.

Well, so they thought. But God had other plans for Mary and Joseph; plans that were unconventional, that had the potential to shame both families and cause scandal in the community.

Her yes to God jeopardized everything. But real love includes trust. Mary trusted that her God, the Father of the child within her, would work things out.

In the next scene of the story, conflict entered as Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy. He thought he was marrying a virgin. This was not what he had signed up for. In a mindset completely opposite to today’s way of thinking, his first idea was to divorce her quietly to prevent her public disgrace. Another angel visit was required to ensure that this marriage proceeded as planned. God was in control.

Daughter of God, your story is one of love too. You and I are called to exemplify love on our stage. That’s not always a mushy, feel-good kind of love; the romanticized version. Love can be challenging. But we are reminded in 1 Corinthians 13:7 that “love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” God’s love flows through us into our families, our neighbors, our coworkers, and those we pass on the street.

On this Valentine’s Day weekend, look past the chocolates, flowers and mushy cards to see the prime example of love:

God, our Father, sent His Son… yeah, that’s love.


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Learning to Pivot

The roar of the crowd had taken on a feverish pitch. She could see her mom’s lips moving, the veins in her throat enlarged and vibrating, but the sound was drowned out in the vocal mayhem.

Her heart hammered against her chest, with the exertion, yes, but more now with fear. They were going to lose this game. She could deal with loss. Goodness knows, at sixteen, she’d already lost so much. Her dad, her home, her heart…

She wiped the sweat-tear mixture from her face with the back of her hand. She would not allow thoughts of her father to throw off her focus; although anger had often improved her play in the past. But, as her therapist kept preaching, that loss was not her fault.

However, this loss, on the university gym floor, against their greatest rival, would be her fault. Her mistake late in the game had prized the other team with points her own side couldn’t afford to give away. The glares and foul language fired at her were nothing compared to the reception she’d get on Monday when they returned to school. High schoolers could be brutal.

A rapid bounce-pass suddenly knocked all thoughts from her mind. The seconds were ticking by mercilessly, and the ball was now in her hands.

Determination elbowed fear off the court. She dribbled a few paces, keeping her guard up, her eyes never losing sight of the target. She stopped short and caught her teammate’s eye. She thrust her arms out to pass, but at the last second before releasing the ball, she pivoted and threw the ball toward the basket instead. Her attacker, who had moved to block the pass, was blindsided by the sudden switch in direction and intention and dropped a bomb of curses onto the wooden floor which were quickly swallowed up by the roar of the crowd who were on their feet now; all eyes fixated on the ball as it sped toward its mark.

Her arm was still outstretched, her fingers pointing at the thing she desired most as the ball hit the backboard and swooped into the net. Before she’d allow herself to celebrate, she looked at the clock: three seconds left in the game.

A rush of relief and victorious pride flowed into her chest as her teammates rushed toward her. A glance at the stands revealed her mother jumping up and down, her fist pumping the air, quickly changing her gesture to two thumbs up as their eyes met.

Redemption and victory achieved in one quick pivot.

To pivot is to make a turn, to change directions and do things in a new way. We’ve all learned to pivot this year, haven’t we?

As a teacher, I left school mid-March last year, walking out of the building with a sigh of expectation for a week off, recognizing that this March Break would not involve flying off to a tropical destination to chase the sun’s warmer rays. What I didn’t know at that moment, as we got in our cars and drove away from the building, was that we wouldn’t be returning to teach our students for the rest of the year.

Pivot. How does one teach Kindergarten through a computer? A Master degree in Education and almost thirty years of teaching experience had not prepared me for this.

Summer arrived. New restrictions were imposed. Spending time at the pool became a competition, as we stayed up until midnight to book a spot for an hour. Pivot. Gathering with friends was limited to outdoors only…

Masks became compulsory inside buildings. Pivot. We rushed to buy face coverings and felt the need to voice the words “I’m smiling”, since no one could actually see the evidence.

The world ground to a halt, and businesses closed. People lost their jobs. Pivot. Families were imprisoned in their homes, whether they enjoyed each other’s company or not.

As we headed back to school in the Fall, we faced delayed starts, and a barrage of restrictions and personal protective equipment. Our Kindergarten room was stripped of its rugs, its toys, and its warmth. We stood in sterile, empty rooms and imagined welcoming four and five-year-olds into such a space. Pivot.

As we settled in to a unique school experience, we were constantly reminded not to get too comfortable. Our morning messages from the principal repeated the phrase “Be prepared to pivot” as the number of COVID cases began the upward turn again. We made it to Christmas. Pivot.

Our second State of Emergency lockdown, which began on Boxing Day, came with a Stay-at-Home order with threats of police intervention and fines for noncompliance. As Editor of our community newspaper, I suggested to our Board of Directors that complying, and protecting over 130 volunteer carriers, would mean doing an online-only edition for February. Pivot.

Teaching Kindergarten from my kitchen while my husband chaired virtual meetings on the other side of the wall; we entered a world where the internet is a mandatory commodity – the only thing that connects us with the rest of humanity. We are living in a Stephen King novel. Our own imaginations couldn’t have pictured us here.

A week before the State of Emergency was expected to be lifted, children and teachers headed back to school in-person again; with even more restrictions and preventative measures in place. Pivot.

COVID-19 stole Halloween, ruined Christmas, and now threatens Valentine’s Day as a Board-wide announcement is made to ban card-giving in schools. It has taken our freedom, stripped our lives of entertainment outside of our own houses, and now it aims to stop us from expressing our love as well. Pivot.


My dear reader, I know that my life does not represent the majority; watching the sunrises from my 21st floor and having my path plowed of snow for me to drive to work from one parking garage to another. This pandemic has affected many of you in heart-wrenching ways. The one thing that we’ve all had to do, though, is pivot.

For some, that meant a pivot into overeating or increased alcohol or drug use. For others, it meant a pivot into depression. Still others turned to God. And that’s a pivot worth the cost.

No matter how harshly this pandemic has treated you, God has not abandoned us. He wants you to know that He’s there, with His arms stretched open wide to hold you in a time when hugs with everyone else is off limits. He knows what you need. All He asks for in return is your allegiance to Him. He wants you to love Him back – to have a relationship with Him. He says:

“Come to Me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.”

Matthew 11:28 (God’s Word Translation)

I can’t promise that God will change your circumstances in any big way, but what I can promise is that He will give you strength and comfort. He can erase your anxiety and fear of the future. You give it all to Him, and then step back and TRUST that He’s in control. Pivot. When you invite God in, you go from a life of facing things alone to being part of a team. And when you pick a team, whether it’s a sports team or a work team or a life team, having the Creator of the Universe on your side, makes your team undefeatable. Victory is guaranteed.


Daughters of God who navigate these challenging times, grip your Father’s hand more tightly than ever before. Strengthen that relationship through time spent with Him. The way we respond to those pivotal moments is how we shine our lights for Him. Unbelievers are watching to see how we react. Our lives are reflections of what it’s like to be on the winning team!

If you don’t have smiling eyes over that mask, let’s continue telling people “I’m smiling” because we need smiles; we need positive vibes and encouragement. As we walk with our Savior at our side, we have the power to impact others and to help them pivot toward their Maker.

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Running Late

I press my foot down and accelerate to 121 km/hr, the speed where I am unlikely to get stopped by a patrol car, but I can get around most other drivers with ease. Clearly, they have nowhere important to be right now.

I glance at the clock for the fifth time since pulling out of my parking space. It’s not possible to arrive on time, without some kind of magic or miracle happening. The drive takes at least fifteen minutes and I have five. Why do I do this to myself? I resist the temptation to step on the gas pedal more aggressively.

I reduce the temperature inside the vehicle. Maybe I should stop wearing my winter coat in the car and just put it on when I get to my destination. Tightness moves across my abdomen. There’s no point getting worked up. It’s already too late for that, I tell myself. I’m late. Again.

The appointment ahead of mine has likely taken longer than expected. When are dental offices ever on time? Yet, I don’t recall waiting for more than a couple of minutes in the past; not long enough to check the emails in one of my three inboxes.

A friend’s words echo in my mind, causing a pain at my temple. I jab my finger there, as if the action will push it out; both the thought and the ache. “Why do people think their time is more important than mine? It’s so disrespectful.”

Guilt erases the excuses. A Christian should not be keeping someone waiting. Why am I not putting others first as God’s Word instructs? I clench my jaw, then immediately soften it. The dentist will comment if he sees evidence of grinding.

The phone call on my way out the door was important: a hospital appointment for a follow-up test to schedule. Reception for phone calls is best at the window, farthest from the exit. The elevator would have been a complete dead zone.

I sigh. The three-minute call did not make me ten minutes late.

Am I an inconsiderate person deep down? Am I selfish? Rude? Disrespectful? ‘The proof is in the pudding,’ my mom used to say.

My self-admonition has made my foot heavy, and my eyes widen at the number on my speedometer. I should really get in the habit of using cruise control. I scan the area for marked cars and take deep breaths to calm my racing heart. I don’t have money to throw away on speeding tickets.

The numbers on the clock display change from 59 to zeros. It’s official. My appointment was at four o’clock. I am still seven minutes away and will need time to park and walk to the door. Why do I do this? I smack the steering wheel, resisting the urge to scream.

Is my optimism to blame? My belief that there will be no delays; traffic will be moving 20 km/hr over the speed limit, as it should; the weather will remain clear; road construction crews will be on their break; deer will stay in the woods where they belong; my car, which has been in the garage for extended visits three times this year, will cooperate and continue running smoothly. If the universe would just support me in my time management, I’d be okay.

It’s not like I mind waiting. I have at least three books in various apps on my phone that I could read. It’s actually enjoyable to have a few spare minutes for a hobby I love and don’t often make time for. I make a sound in the back of my throat, expressing the disgust I feel towards myself.

There’s a parking space not far from the door. I bolt toward my destination like an Olympic runner, arriving out of breath and sweaty. The hygienist is waiting at the front desk. She doesn’t share my problem with being on time.

My lips spill out empty apologies, which she bats away with a swipe of her hand.

“No worries,” she says. “You’re my last appointment of the day.”

No! Don’t give me forgiveness I don’t deserve, I want to scream at her. Don’t let me off the hook that easily. It’s people like her who create people like me. I resent her cheerfulness and wish she would show irritation or anger.

I delay the exam a few minutes more as I treat her as my therapist rather than my hygienist, sharing my frustration and offering solutions to my own deficiency.

“I’m never late for work,” I admit from my reclined position. “It’s because I aim to be there 30-45 minutes before my official start time.” I raise my guilt-ridden eyes to meet hers. “That’s the key, isn’t it? I need to aim to arrive at appointments ahead of time not exactly on time.”

Her energy uplifts me throughout the appointment, and I leave with a smile of clean white teeth to walk outside into a snowstorm. Wasn’t I lucky this didn’t start on my drive here? I roll my eyes. I need to change.

I stand on Val’s Stage today and plead guilty. The charge is tardiness.

A multi-tasker by nature, I fill every waking minute with activity and have to force myself to do relaxing things. Even watching TV has been relegated to background entertainment while preparing dinner or doing work on my laptop. I take showers because a soothing bath takes longer. I get up early and go to bed late. There’s that word again – late. I feel guilt there too since my hubby likes to go to bed at a ‘decent’ time, and I can’t seem to conform. It’s been 29 years; we’re not likely to align perfectly in the next 29.

The point is, I’m too busy to be on time. But that’s my own balancing issues for which I must take responsibility instead of encroaching on others with my inadequacies.

As a Daughter of God, being late is a sin. Verses admonishing me to put others first and myself last, love my neighbor, treat others the way I’d like to be treated spin around in my head. It is my heart’s desire and my Father’s wish that I respect and consider others and their time.

Do you ever struggle with being on time? Join me as I repent and ask our Father’s forgiveness. I apologize to any reader who I have ever kept waiting. Moving forward, I intend to put every appointment into my phone with lead time. If I need to be there at nine, I will record it as 8:40. If that’s what it takes to change my behavior, that is what I’ll do.

Forgive me, Lord for showing disrespect to others with my tardiness. Forgive me for representing You poorly; for putting myself ahead of my love for my neighbors. You tell us in Your Word that all we have to do is ask, and You will give us what we need. I need help in changing my behavior. I trust in You that You will give me strength and determination to arrive on time for all future activities, whether they are professional or social. Thank you for being a Father who is merciful and forgives my sin. Help me to shine for You.

February is the month when we celebrate love. I think people would much rather feel our love than hear about it though. Showing respect and consideration for others and their time is a start. Having patience with people when we have to wait on them also demonstrates caring. Lending a hand; reaching out to a friend; wearing a mask when we go out; staying home unless the outing is essential: all ways we show our love.

It doesn’t look like we’ll be dining out with our loved one this year. Valentine’s Day might look like an Uber Eats order and a pour from a box of wine. But I don’t need to tell you that love is not found in fancy restaurants, rose bouquets or expensive gifts. It’s expressed in our day-to-day interactions. I’m going to work on my punctuality.

What are you going to work on?

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Wake Up, Sleeping Beauty!

She woke with lingering impressions of curses, evil intentions, a small-but-powerful puncture, and a deathly silence that seemed to last forever. What a nightmare!

Opening her eyes for what seemed to have been the first time in a hundred years, her blurred vision swiftly focussed on a handsome face too close to hers to be honorable.

His welcoming smile revealed charming dimples and gleaming teeth which could star in a toothpaste commercial. “You’re awake.”

The suddenness with which she attempted to draw back from this man who, despite his attractiveness, was a stranger, caused her head to spin, and she fell back on the satin pillow with an undignified plop.

“Take your time, my dear.” His voice was gentle and smooth, more reassuring than condescending. “You’ve been asleep for a very long time.”

Aurora couldn’t recall ever sleeping more than ten hours in one night, but she had to admit she felt more groggy than usual. Admit to herself, at least. She still didn’t trust this man who continued to invade her personal space.

He extended his hand. “Let me help you sit up.”

Not wanting to appear rude, she grasped his warm fingers and allowed him to do just that. Once she was upright, she pulled her arm back immediately, tucking her hand under the blanket at her waist.

Her face burned as she looked away from him and tuned into her surroundings. She was relieved to see her mother hurrying to her bedside.

“You’re finally awake! We’re all awake!” she cried as she delivered an aggressive hug that was very uncharacteristic of her mother’s usual queenly poise.

Before the older lady stood upright, Aurora hissed in her ear, “Who is that?”

“Why that’s Prince Phillip, dear. Don’t you remember him? He’s to be your husband. And now he’s your saviour. He broke the curse with his kiss of true love!”

The cloud of sleep was heavy, but the more she peeked his way, the more familiar he seemed. True love? Kiss? It was a lot to absorb before her morning coffee.

Within days, Aurora’s memory was restored, and she was caught up in the preparations for her wedding. Prince Phillip truly was charming and attentive, and he did seem to love her as her mother claimed.

On the eve of her wedding, Aurora went for a walk in the village. She needed to get away from the chaos of the castle preparations, even if only for a few minutes.

On Main Street, she was drawn into a dressmaker’s shop by the gorgeous ball gown displayed in the front window. It was the perfect shade of pink, and it sparkled in the sun, which was now low in the sky.

The dressmaker was delighted to entertain her, the prestige of having a princess in the store assuredly good for her business. She showed Aurora all the bolts of fabric that would match her coloring, offering to make other dresses just as fabulous as the one in the window. She even brought her into the back room and showed her the equipment she used: a sewing machine, a heat press, and a spinning wheel.

Aurora’s heart quickened at the sight of the wheel. This was the very instrument that had activated the curse and put her to sleep for a hundred years. Despite the feeling of danger, she was mysteriously drawn to it. She didn’t even realize she had reached her hand out toward it until she felt the familiar prick on her finger.

She grabbed at the dressmaker’s sleeve as she lost the strength to stand, and drifted into a sea of blackness.

An overwhelming sense of déjà vu plagued her as she opened her eyes to Prince Phillip’s lips pulling back slowly from hers. This time, however, his dimples were not decorating his face, but a frown creased his forehead.

“Aurora! What were you thinking?”

She didn’t like his tone, and showed her distaste with a pout. “It’s really not a big deal, Phillip. True love’s kiss has fixed everything again. The curse is broken.”

Her prince dragged his fingers through his gorgeous mane and sighed. At least he had the grace to withhold his words.

It was her mother who swooped in cawing like a raven, reminding her of all the time and money that had been spent getting ready for her wedding, which was that very afternoon.

She didn’t know what all the fuss was about. She had only slept a few hours this time, not a hundred more years.

“Please, Mother, can we not ruin my special day with negative talk?”

And it was never spoken of again. Princess Aurora married Prince Phillip, and they began their lives together.

Two years later, she had her first child; a daughter. Aurora refused to throw a party, knowing how her own birth celebration had ended.

Her daughter grew quickly, outgrowing each new dress in what seemed like days, so Aurora decided to bring a seamstress to live at the castle full time.

The woman set up in a small room on the upper floor. Aurora spent a lot of time there, picking out fabrics and patterns for her daughter’s wardrobe.

Two days before Phillip’s coronation, Aurora visited the seamstress to check on the progress of the matching dresses she had ordered. The seamstress was distracted as she presented the dresses, in various stages of completion.

The princess, believing her to be stressed about the deadline, touched her arm. “Don’t worry, it looks like you will have them both done in plenty of time.”

The seamstress confessed that she was bubbling with excitement over a new spinning wheel that she’d just had delivered. She insisted on showing it to Aurora, despite some mild reservation on Aurora’s part.

As the princess’s eyes closed, seconds after the sting of the needle, she saw the seamstress collapse on the floor in slumber as well.

This time when she opened her eyes, her husband’s face wore neither smile or frown. His eyes reflected sadness.

Pain gripped Aurora’s stomach. It was her foolhardiness that caused his unhappiness.

Her eyes were drawn to his head by a sun sparkle bouncing off a large jewel-encrusted crown. Her prince was now king!

Her eyes filled with tears and she nearly choked on disappointment.

“I missed it,” she whispered. “I missed your coronation.”

Phillip nodded. “People travelled for days to be here for this, Aurora. The castle staff have been preparing for weeks. I sent most of the guard out to search for you, but we couldn’t delay the ceremony.”

“I’m sorry.” The words weren’t big enough to convey her regret.

She looked into his watery eyes. “You still loved me enough for your kiss to break the spell.”

He touched her cheek. “I’ll always love you, Aurora. But your actions are not those of a queen. You are a representation of our family; of my reign. Our subjects will believe you to be foolish.”

Aurora swallowed the lump in her throat, her cheeks burning with shame. “I have been a fool, Phillip. I’ve let my own selfishness hurt you and your name.”

She bowed her head. “Forgive me, Your Grace. It was never my intention to cause you pain or embarrassment. I love you and I promise to behave more like a King’s wife from now on.”

Her husband wrapped his arms around her. “There’s my queen,” he said. “Let’s go join the celebration. The cook has prepared all your favourites.”

Admittedly, this is not the ending you may have heard or read about Sleeping Beauty. Yet, it’s often OUR story.

Many of us gave our hearts to Jesus when we were very young and grew up in the church, God’s earthly castle. We take his mercy for granted, foolishly testing his patience as we continue following our own selfish desires and falling into the same sins again and again. We know He loves us and will forgive us. We received the Get-out-of-Hell-free ticket when we joined His family so many years ago.

We have a false sense of security, Daughters of God.

We are asleep. In our spiritual slumber, we might read our Bibles, but our minds wander as we read; the tasks waiting for us distract our study. We learn nothing and walk away unchanged.

We often forget to acknowledge Him all day and then fall asleep on our prayers at night.

We make decisions without asking for His guidance and we make choices that are selfish and foolish.

We are no different than this reckless princess. We are daughters of the King of the Universe. We soil His great name with our actions. People look at us, knowing we claim to be His child, but they don’t see royalty. We are common and undeserving of our crown.

It’s true that Jesus offers salvation; true love’s kiss. He’s broken the spell of the evil one’s curse. But we need to stop chasing spinning wheels and expecting Him to rescue us when we reap the consequences of our sin.

In Mark 13:36, Jesus warns us that we walk a dangerous path:

“Don’t let him find you sleeping when he arrives without warning.”

He is coming back some day to collect His sons and daughters; those who believe in Him. If we are sleeping, we will miss the coronation. The big event will not wait for us.

It is time to wake up and shine.

I want to glorify my Father’s name. Don’t you?

That means avoiding the places where I might find spinning wheels.

It means not just reading His Word like a fairy tale, but studying it to learn more about my Father and how He would like for me to live.

It means talking to Him as Someone I love and respect. I will ask for His advice before making decisions. I will invite Him to go with me everywhere I go.

I will hold His hand and never let go.

Say this prayer with me, Daughters of God:

Forgive me, Father. I have been a fool. I’ve let my own selfishness hurt You and Your name. It was never my intention to cause You pain or embarrassment. I love You and promise to behave more like a King’s daughter from now on.
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Do You Need Strength?

He never knew what hit him. In seconds his life was snuffed out. Gone; his spirit drained away with his blood.

There had been no warning. No sign of danger.

That means I performed well. A successful hunter practices stealth and speed. It comes naturally to me, for I was born to kill.

The thrill of the hunt is irresistible. The adrenaline courses through my veins just before I attack, and again in that moment when I trade another’s life for the rush; the excitement that can’t be attained through any other endeavour.

My partner waits at home with the little one, unaware that I’ve struck again. That another life has been taken. I may bring a piece of my prize back to show him – maybe the head. It’s nice to have proof of my skill; bragging rights can only come with evidence.

I rip into flesh with my hooked beak and savor the salty treat. I think salmon might be one of my favorites.

Yes, my beak. You didn’t think I was a human did you? It’s humans who murdered enough of my kind, in addition to destroying our habitats, to put us on the endangered list a few years back. I’m happy to report that’s no longer the case.

I spread my wings as I catch an updraft. With a two-metre span, a couple flaps gains me enough momentum to transport the remains of my catch to the top of a nearby tree. More than one hungry eye witnessed my success. I clutch the large slippery fish tightly, although my spicules impaled it sufficiently for flight.

As I land on the spindly branch, a feather from my wing catches on a dry twig. I watch it drift to the ground below. Some child will likely think it quite a treasure. If he waits a day or two, he’ll actually find two, since my body will need to shed a feather from my other wing so I can maintain balance in flight.

I lift off from the tree and sail upwards, showcasing my aeronautical superiority. I don’t stop my ascent until I’m 10,000 feet above the earth. I like to survey my kingdom from up here. The speed I can muster as I dive from this height catches my prey off guard; completely unaware of my lethal presence.

Majestic is how people describe me when they watch me fly this way. I’ve been in flight training for almost 26 years and likely have a couple more left before my spirit leaves this world. I’ve also earned that name as one who sits at the top of the food chain; who instills fear and respect, both in the air and on the ground.

I am known throughout the world and acclaimed for many incomparable features. To the ancient Romans, my image stood for power and strength; to the Persians, my kind symbolized wisdom; to Amerindians, my ability to soar to great heights made me a messenger of the gods. Do you know I am mentioned in the oldest Book on Earth 42 times? My strength and grandeur have been recorded and lauded by my Creator in God’s Holy Word.

I like that it acknowledges my super eye in Job 39:29. It says “From there [the cliffs] it hunts its prey, keeping watch with piercing eyes.” Do you know why my gaze is piercing? My eyes have two centres of focus, enabling me to see forward and to the side at the same time. Therefore, my eyesight is far superior to humans – I can see four to seven times farther than you. It’s one of the main reasons I am an outstanding hunter. If only you could see a sunset or sunrise through my eyes! I have superior colour vision: while you see just three basic colours, I see five.

In the book of Ezekiel, the prophet has a vision of incredible celestial beings, known as cherubim, with wings and four faces. One of those faces was mine. I earned that spot as the king of all birds. I think the Creator put forth His best when He created my kind, although humans get the credit as His greatest masterpiece.

I do not boast of my splendidness on Val’s Stage for my own glory. I’m here to remind you that my Creator, and yours, has offered you strength comparable to mine. His offer can be found in Isaiah 40:31:

All He asks you to do to receive this strength is to WAIT on Him. That means spending time alone with God; talking to Him; being quiet; allowing Him to enhance your humanness with His spiritual strength and power akin to my physical prowess.

Daughter of God, you can face life’s challenges with your own strength, or you can accept His offer of superior might. All you have to do is ASK.

Ask and wait on Him for the delivery.

Can you use some divine strength today?

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The Comfort and Discomfort of Light

It’s January 9, and I have no desire to put away my Christmas decorations or to take down my tree. However, my tree seems to have different ideas. The strands of lights on this 5-year-old, pre-lit beauty have been blowing one by one (beginning on Christmas Eve!) like a child blowing out birthday candles. I honestly think there’s only one working set left – the set I bought on the day I pieced it together in early December. It looks ridiculous.

Yet, every morning when I get up, and every afternoon as soon as the sun moves around the side of the building, I turn on my Christmas lights. From the side view, where I like to sit with my laptop, it doesn’t look so bad. It’s still festive and beautiful and fills me with joy. I love my tree, despite its failure to shine in the way it was intended. There are so many other features that add to its radiance – the sparkle, the color, the precious ornaments – I can forgive this rebellion to a point.

However, my tree needs to know that I will not allow it to stay this way forever. It clearly needs my assistance. Before I put it up next year, I will buy new lights, and I will restore it to its former glory. It will be fully whole again, lighting up the room with its tiny white orbs, causing the ornaments to sparkle, and masking some of the holes between the branches. I’m not sure I’ll love my tree more, but I will be happy when it properly displays my handiwork and actually looks like a pre-lit tree.

There’s just something about light, isn’t there? We gaze at the moon in its phases, especially when it’s full and round; the harvest moon being especially beautiful with its increased size and warm color. We look up on a clear night, distinguishing stars and satellites from landing planes and drawing out constellations. We stand in the cold to watch fireworks light up the sky on special occasions. And I just can’t get enough of the glorious sunrises I see through my condo floor-to-ceiling windows here on the twenty-first floor.

Yet, light can also be unkind. Think about the time you looked in a mirror where there was bright lighting. Did you like what you saw? Every unplucked eyebrow hair and clogged pore cry out to be noticed. No one should ever have to see their flaws that way. We definitely don’t want others to see them.

One morning this week after a few days of cloudy skies, the sun made a dazzling appearance, and I welcomed its bright warmth as it beamed through my windows. That is until I noticed what it did to my countertops! I thought my kitchen was clean. Under the brilliant spotlight of the sun’s glare (notice how it’s now a glare!), all of a sudden, the truth was revealed. There were small crumbs, dust – so much dust, and small hairs (ew!) all over my countertop! And it’s wiped down every evening after dinner when the dishes are done!

Yes, light can be mean. Yet, it’s not the light’s fault, now is it? The dirt was there all along. It just required a bright enough spotlight to reveal it. I then have two choices: I can run and get a cloth and clean up that mess; or I can ignore it and wait until the sun finds a more compassionate spot in the sky to shine in. Once its brilliance has passed on, no one will see that grime.

Daughters of God, both my tree and my countertop are great analogies for our lives; specifically, for our walk with Jesus.

The top of my tree had lights in that red part before Christmas Eve! Missing: one handsome son in Winnipeg.

Sometimes, like my tree, we allow things into our lives that make the lights go out. Our love for God doesn’t shine as brightly anymore. Since our Father is loving and full of grace, He still sees our inner beauty. He still loves us. But He desires that we perform as He intended, shining for the world to see our Jesus-glow, causing others to want what we have – a personal relationship with Him.

As an inanimate object, my tree can’t ask for my help. I will impose my power as its human owner, and I will take control. It’s getting new lights whether it wants them or not. But, while God wants us to shine for Him, He won’t impose on us in the same way. He has given us our own will. He wants us to ask Him for help. If we repent and ask for His forgiveness, He will restore us to the beautiful masterpiece we were created to be. We can shine in wholeness once again. IF we ask.

Our hearts, like my countertop, have hidden dirt in them. When we come close to God, all those crumbs and dust particles are revealed in His brilliance. 1 John 1:5 says “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” When we stand next to Him, it’s hard to present that photoshopped, filtered image we’d rather display.

Well, Val, I’m a good person. What dirt would that bright light uncover? How do you respond when you get angry? How do you react to fear? Is there hidden unforgiveness toward someone who did you wrong? Oh, there’s dark spots on all our hearts, sisters. The only perfect One to ever walk this earth was Jesus. Let’s not claim equal status with Him.

What would God’s brilliance reveal in your life? Don’t let guilt move in to sit beside it. Repent. Pray with me.

Dear Father, You see the dark places inside of me that no one else can see. You are the only One who can clean up my life and get rid of the dirt which blemishes Your creation. Forgive me for the things I’ve done that make my lights go out. I want to shine for You. Cleanse my heart and make me whole again. Make me worthy to stand in your spotlight and radiate your light. I love you. Amen.

David prayed a similar prayer in Psalm 139:23. I like the way The Passion Translation (TPT) words it:

God, I invite your searching gaze into my heart. Examine me through and through. Find out everything that may be hidden within me. Put me to the test and sift through all my anxious cares.

Sometimes light brings me shame (revealing my crumbs!), but sometimes it brings me peace (the lights on my tree in the darkness of early morning). I leave you with a verse that brought me comfort this week:

Are you ready to shine, Daughters of God?

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Out of Balance

Val jumps out of bed on January 1 with zeal and determination. Her New Year’s Resolution to lose weight is shiny and new, just like the year. It’s a fresh start. Time to make positive changes.

“I can do this,” she says as she waits for the coffee machine to dispense her morning cup of wake-me-up.

She eyes the sweetener which has always given her cup that perfect balance of bitter and sweet. Today, it looks back at her with an evil grin. If she’s going to lose weight, she needs to cut all the sugar.

She wrinkles her nose at the first sip. Ugh. It’s bitter. “I’ll get used to it.” She suffers through this unpleasant liquid start to her day, while patting herself on the back for her resolve.

In the washroom, she slips out of her nightdress to swap the satiny sheath for more appropriate pandemic daytime pajamas. She makes herself look in the mirror before dressing. She hates what she sees. She sucks in her stomach and pulls the skin back from her waist to demonstrate the desirable outcome of her 2021 Resolution. She clenches her jaw. Enough is enough. It’s time to do something about this sagging, flabby mess.

She accidentally looks up. Her reflection glares at her, silently reminding her that her eyelashes are thinning, and eyelash extension businesses are not deemed essential. Says who? She’s going to look ridiculous as each beautiful lash falls out one by one.

Her skin is dry, but shiny. How is that possible?

Her dark roots peek out from the blond to mock her. Apparently, hair salons are not essential either.

The delicious scent of bacon drifts under the washroom door. Val finishes dressing and follows the smell to the kitchen where her husband is making breakfast.

“I’m making bagel sandwiches. Do you want one?” He cracks an egg into the pan and adds the cheese slice to the open bagel face in the toaster oven.

Her stomach growls.

“No, I’d better not,” she says, turning away from the temptation. She grabs an apple and heads to the bedroom to start her morning devotions.

She opens her Bible app on her iPad. The chosen reading plan blurs in front of her eyes. She reread that paragraph three times now, and she still didn’t know what it was about. The bacon smell had a hypnotic effect that wasn’t easily shaken off.

She lit a candle which soon filled the room with a pleasant cranberry scent. Funny how her favorite smells were food-inspired.

Her Christmas holidays were almost over. She had a list as long as her arm of things she wanted to get done. Maybe if she stayed up for the next 72 hours, she’d get everything accomplished. She put aside her iPad. She’d have to do this later.

The hours flew by. Val crossed things off her list as she got them done, knowing this should make her feel better; but she seemed to add more things than she crossed off. She still hadn’t made time to exercise and wasn’t sure where she could fit it in. She’d have to sacrifice a few items. She studied her list to choose which things left undone would bother her least.

Her stomach growled angrily. The salad she had for lunch had long since been digested. But she would hold out until dinnertime. She must.

A beam of sunshine lit up the room, and she peeked over the rim of her reading glasses to acknowledge it. As she did, she caught sight of her day’s trail of to-dos. The sewing machine sat on the table where she had started mending the duvet cover. Piles of laundry blocked the exit to her house where she had started sorting colors. Her iPad and journal still lay on the chair, reminding her that she hadn’t finished her morning reading. The jug of cleaner and a rag sat next to the bathroom door waiting for attention.

“It’s a beautiful day,” her husband says, wrapping his arms around her from behind. “Want to go for a drive?”

Val pushes him away snapping, “Who has time for a drive? It must be nice to have nothing to do.”

She tries not to notice his quiet retreat to the foyer. She tries not to feel bad as he slips out to the car alone.

She sighs as she surveys her unfinished tasks. Maybe some music would help. She turns the volume up to drown out her thoughts. What had she been doing? Oh yes, figuring out what tasks to leave until another day so she could squeeze in a workout. Pen in hand, she turned the paper over and started a grocery list. They were out of fresh fruit. What’s a diet without fresh fruit?

She finished sorting the laundry and popped the darks into the washer. A glance at the clock signaled it was already time to start dinner prep. A healthy meal would take longer to prepare. She looked longingly at her wine glass. A lovely glass of red always made cooking a more enjoyable experience. No. Empty calories was not the path to weight loss.

As she chopped up veggies, her phone screen lit up with a message from her mom. It had been a week or more since she touched base with her parents. She’d have to add that to her list.

Dinner was a beautiful success; the perfect balance of meat and vegetables in appropriate portions. Her husband even praised her efforts as he wolfed it down. She was nearly too tired to enjoy it, recognizing that she still had so much to do before bed.

While her kitchen elf cleaned up, she sat with her laptop to finish the email from her boss that she had started reading on her phone while brushing her teeth after lunch. The opening screen showed the files she still needed to edit for the community newspaper. The deadline for submission to the printer was in two days. Being Editor was a big job for a volunteer role, but it was interesting and she felt good about contributing to the community.

Words flashed in the Facebook tab. One of her sons had sent a message to their family group chat. Before she clicked to open the tab, her phone dinged on the couch beside her. The children’s pastor at her church had just sent the curriculum for Sunday’s Zoom call with the small group Val taught bi-weekly.

Val put down the laptop and filled a wine glass with water and cranberry juice in the hopes of tricking her body into thinking she was relaxing with a nice glass of red wine after dinner. Then she tackled all the tabs. Well, she got to two of them, and the dryer’s melody signaled that her laundry was done. She needed to unload the machine before everything wrinkled. Goodness knows she didn’t have time for ironing.

At midnight, Val closed her laptop and headed to bed. Her husband had tucked in hours ago. She detoured around a pile of whites that didn’t get washed tonight and turned the lights off in the dining room, but not before noticing the sewing machine still sitting on the table, guarding her duvet cover.

Ugh. Her husband must have grabbed a quilt from the linen closet since the duvet wasn’t fixed.

As she brushed her teeth, she lamented that she had not made time for exercise after all. A side view of her body in the mirror mocked her lack of resolve. But at least she had eaten well today. Everything that had gone into her body had been healthy. Tomorrow she would do better.

In her exhaustion, she fell into a deep sleep in the middle of her prayer, “Lord, give me strength to keep my resolution to –”


No, it’s not that bad. Truly. (But don’t ask Hubby to verify that.)

In fact, writing this little scenario caused my body stress. My word for 2020 was TIME. So, I’ve made some changes during this past year regarding the use of my time. I’ve stepped out of my Sunday School role, and I’ve put in my resignation as Editor of the local newspaper. I’m working on using my time wisely, which includes spending quality moments with others and resting too. I’ve been getting 7 hours of sleep most nights!

S-E-V-E-N! I used to function with 5.

Now it’s a new year. I need a New Resolution for 2021, right?

Nope. I don’t do Resolutions. When people make resolutions, it often comes from a place of discontent and guilt that they are not the person they think they should be. It sometimes reflects self-hatred even. They start the year with gusto – this will be the year that I lose that weight! (Likely the most common NYR.) Then, every treat or unhealthy choice comes with guilt. Every day they don’t make time for exercise makes them feel worse. After a few days of what they deem failure, they give up. They slip back into their old ways, chalking up another failed attempt as one more reason to dislike themselves.

And, seriously, a Resolution about weight loss wouldn’t fix all the issues in Val’s life that she needs to work on!

My word for 2021 is BALANCE. It is still related to TIME, since I’m still working on that, but it is so much more. I strive for balance in every area of my life. That includes healthy eating, exercise, rest, and relationship-building. It includes glorifying God and representing Him well as His daughter. It includes loving life and loving myself as His creation. This is not a Resolution which will cause me guilt or make me feel like a failure when I can’t meet my own expectations. It’s about achieving balance in all things. If I lose weight in that pursuit, that will be a happy bonus!

I’m claiming a chapter in the Bible as mine for 2021: Proverbs 4. I’m sure you’ll read insights here on Val’s Stage as I break it down. For now, I leave you with the verse that stood out right away:

I might only be walking at the first gleam of dawn in my path to righteousness, but I’ve captured some really amazing photos of sunrises over the past few months, and that gleam always grows into a burst of brilliant sunshine.

Are you ready to shine with me, Daughter of God?

How do you feel about resolutions? If you made one, I encourage you to pursue it in a healthy way. Balance your goals with the quest to enjoy your life as well.

Balance.

If you also have the habit of claiming a word for each new year, I’d love to hear your word for 2021. Drop me a line in the Comments below!

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A Stepdad’s Nightmare

His heart pounded wildly in his chest as he searched the sea of faces for his son. Every tear staining his wife’s cheeks and each frantic call of his name from her lips pierced his soul. Had he been wrong to trust the boy to travel with the family without direct supervision?

No. For twelve years this child had been perfect. He was respectful, responsible and hardworking. His manners were impeccable and his kindness unmatched. Trusting him was easy. But now all these characteristics only made his father worry more. There were those who wanted to hurt him from the moment he was born, and the prophecies which hung over their heads daily, causing deep frown lines in his wife’s forehead, foretold of a violent death.

“Protect him, Father God,” he whispered to the heavens as he pushed his way through the crowd. Everyone was anxious to get home from their journey; to rest after the festivities of the Feast. He received more than a few glares and muttered oaths as he desperately knocked into luggage, elbowed soft flesh, and stepped on toes.

“Help me find my son!”

Some took the time to ask their own children if they had seen him. Others ignored his pleas, just wanting to end this trip quickly without interruption.

Sweat poured over his face nearly blinding him. He adjusted the band around his head, wishing now he had worn a more significant covering for the trip.

Mothers pulled their children closer and fathers looked at him with pity, and possibly judgement, as his voice rose to a higher pitch and squeaked like a pubescent boy on his son’s name.

“Jesus! Jesus! Are you here?”

Cousins and uncles helped with the search, causing the idle chatter in the group to turn to quiet murmuring in a wave of fear that flowed down the dirt road through the travellers. Mary’s child was missing.

More voices took up the call. “Jesus! Jesus! Where are you?”

Eyes turned away or looked down as he passed. With the news of his lost son came a loss of respect as a father. If Jesus had deliberately left the group, it was Joseph’s fault. Real men did not raise boys who were irresponsible or inconsiderate to their parents.

But Joseph knew that Jesus was none of those things. This was why his heart pounded with fear. Surely the boy was in trouble.

He caught up to Mary and grabbed her hand, stilling her in her tracks. When she turned her face into his chest, he wrapped his arms around his wife, her small body shaking his with her sobs.

“We’ll find him,” he told her, hoping his words were the truth.

He wiped her tears with the back of his hand.

“Let’s go. We’ll hurry back to Jerusalem. He must still be there.”

Mary pulled back from his embrace. “Jerusalem?! We’ve been travelling for three days! He was with his cousins when we left. How could he still be in Jerusalem?”

Joseph shook his head. He had no answer for her. But it was clear that their son was not here.

They made the trip back in half the time, arriving in Jerusalem tired and dusty, having eaten all their provisions and drained the last drop of their water. The city was relatively quiet with its visitors gone. Joseph held Mary’s hand tightly as they walked the streets, peering down alleys and asking residents if they had seen a twelve-year-old boy wandering around.

“There’s a lad in the temple.” The old man’s voice was gruff and muffled by his thick grey beard. “He’s been there for a couple days. Word has it that he’s giving the priests an earful. If he’s your son, you’d better get him out of there. You know how much those old guys like to be challenged about their views.”

Mary’s eyes met her husband’s then, and she nodded. Jesus was in the temple.

Joseph wordlessly thanked the old man before they raced toward the center of town. His fear was transforming to something hard around the edges. Did the boy stay here on purpose then? Had he callously caused his mother’s heartache?

As they burst into the temple, Joseph was vaguely aware of how inappropriate they must look, wearing the dirt and sweat of travel on their skin and clothing. But his mission was to find his son, and he knew the quest had ended when he saw the crowd of old men gathered around a smaller figure near the front of the room. Jesus was talking to the men like a peer, listening and asking questions, responding with eloquence; as if he were the elder imparting wisdom to them. He gestured with his hands while he spoke, his voice calm and confident, unaware of the panic he had caused.

Joseph felt a wave of anger move down his arms, curling his fingers into fists, opposing the relief flooding his chest. The shock of finding him here this way had stilled his feet. He knew that he should feel a sense of pride that his son could hold such an audience, but a new rush of heat moved over his face as he saw Jesus glance their way and continue with his teaching as if they weren’t there.

Mary had no qualms about disturbing the scene as she swooped into the center of the group and threw her arms around her son’s neck. While he returned her embrace with obvious affection, Joseph could see that the interruption was not welcome.

“Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere!”

Jesus’ eyes met his father’s briefly and then settled on the woman who gave him birth. They were filled with love, but his words, though spoken gently, cut Joseph’s heart more than they would hers.

“But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Mary’s puzzled look spoke his initial reaction, but inside his chest Joseph’s heart anguished. The verbal reminder of his status in this family caused his jaw to clench as he fought back the tears. For years he was able to pretend that he was the boy’s real father. It was his beard the chubby hand had pulled with a toddler’s giggle; his face at whom the boy looked when he said “Dad”; his calloused fingers the young lad grasped when they walked together; his side at which the growing boy learned his carpentry trade.

As they retraced their steps to Nazareth, Joseph felt a sting of jealousy, followed swiftly by guilt. He knew this day would come; the day when Jesus would acknowledge his heavenly Father over his earthly one. He just wasn’t ready for it yet.

Mary touched his hand, and her warm look told him she knew. As his wife, she felt his heartbreak; she would help absorb the pain. They had taken on this mission together as a team. Their role as parents to the Messiah was not one they had entered into lightly.

Hands pushed them apart as their son squeezed between them. Joseph gladly covered the lad’s warm fingers with his as Jesus joined them into a family chain, something he hadn’t done for years. Joseph clutched those fingers more tightly as Jesus whispered a word of apology for causing them worry; sending up a prayer of repentance to the boy’s real Father for needing that apology. He asked for courage to complete his vocation as God’s servant for as many years as his Father saw fit to allow him to do it.

When he again looked into his son’s face, the lad’s mature, loving gaze caused a warmth to flow over him, erasing the other negative feelings.

The new awareness was peace.


Mary seems to play a leading role in the story of Christmas and later in accounts of His life and death as the mother of Jesus. However, I find myself wondering today about Joseph’s part in this story.

Joseph had no physical connection to creating the child. He was a stepfather of sorts. I’m sure he treated Jesus as if He were his own, but he would have always felt that degree of separation; that the boy would one day desire to know His real Father more than His earthly one. It had to have hurt.

It was Joseph’s acceptance of this parental role which fulfilled the prophecies that the Messiah would be born into David’s line. It wasn’t Mary’s ancestry that put Jesus in the correct genealogy; it was Joseph’s. He may not have been a part of the conception or carried the baby in his body, but his role in God’s plan was huge.

Sometimes we question our own role in God’s service. We can look at pastors and worship leaders and think that we don’t have the potential to make a difference in the world. But the underlying message of Val’s Stage is that we do.

When we love God with all of our hearts, our lives will reflect his love to others. They will desire what we have. We don’t need a Bible college degree or a physical stage in an auditorium to spread the message of Jesus. Our life performance does that. Our job is to love God and to love others.

“No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.”

1 JOHN 4:12

The Christmas story is about love: God’s love, Mary’s love, and Joseph’s love too. We are the continuation in that chain of love.

How can we show more love to others in this season and throughout the year?

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-5
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Away

A long, long time ago, in a land far, far away, supernatural angel-creatures appeared to people, giant new stars appeared in the night sky, and magical things happened. It’s quite a story.

A teenager gets pregnant. No big miracle there. Except she claims she’s never had sex. Okay, honey, we know you’re embarrassed about this little slip-up before your marriage ceremonies have gone ahead, but virgins don’t have babies. And, well, her Aunt Elizabeth, frankly, must have been miscounting birthdays, because 60-year-old women don’t have babies either. Clearly, this family can’t be trusted with their versions of events.

Yet, their story has lived on through the centuries. A story that seems more fantasy than reality. We have pinned our whole faith system on this story.

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed…

Away. Far away. This story seems to be so far removed from the reality of our lives, of our generation. Not only did it take place thousands of years ago, it happened on the other side of the world to strangers with whom we have trouble relating. And I don’t mean that in a cultural sense, although that’s certainly a factor.

Those of us in North America living in 2020 cannot relate to the young couple; the girl in her last month of pregnancy with no birth plan, having to travel 90 miles by donkey to be part of a census that would take five minutes using computer technology in our world. They didn’t even have the foresight to have booked a hotel room in advance of their journey. This results in frantic knocking on doors as Joseph tries to find a bed for his young pregnant wife who has to be scared out of her mind. The first pangs of labor were likely ripping into her before she made it to her birthing room.

Instead of a sterile room with a collection of nurses, resident doctors, and interns, she’s directed to lie down on the ground surrounded by animal sounds and the stench of their excrements. Each big breath she took as she birthed her son was far worse than spending a few minutes in an outhouse while camping. We can only hope that Joseph was able to at least wrangle up a bowl of water from the landowner so she could wash herself and her baby before a bunch of strangers showed up, claiming to have followed a mystical star, after speaking to a host of angels.

Away.

We couldn’t be further removed from this story. While current-day teens sometimes get pregnant, this always follows sexual activity. And the majority of people wait until they are nearly thirty before marrying and planning to have children. The births of these babies are planned to the hour, and Mommies are given drugs so they don’t have to feel the pain of labor. It’s no wonder we have trouble relating to these long-ago Bethlehem events!

We continue reading the story of this child. He grows up and becomes a missionary. He spends his adult-life wandering from village to village with a crowd of people following him wherever he goes. He talks about God, his true Father, and invites everyone to join his Kingdom. He heals people and forgives them for wrongdoings.

His mother watches in awe. She knew her baby was special, conceived and born in the way that he was, but to see her man-child perform must have taken her breath away. Talk about proud-Mama-moments.

As she witnesses the angry stirrings of the religious leaders, though, she realizes that her son’s life is in danger. And he doesn’t even seem to care. He continues with his preaching and telling his stories, even when he knows he’s goading them and making things worse. She must have lived with a permanent ache in her chest as she wondered how this would all end. It likely hurt a little that he was so independent, not needing her nearly as much as her other children. All she could do was watch and pray for him. But the fear in her heart only grew with each passing day. This was not going to end well.

A mother knows.

She was likely around my age (fiftyish) as she watched her firstborn son suffer and then die in the cruelest of deaths. No mother should have to lose their child, but this was the most heart-wrenching mother-pain in history. Can you even imagine the mourning? The agony of losing her baby this way? Watching the life drain out of him slowly, one torturous minute at a time.

And then the story takes another fantastical turn. Her son is suddenly alive again. The news is almost too good to believe. This emotional rollercoaster is exhausting. Her son was dead and now he lives again. How can this be? Yet, nothing about this story is normal. Many of the strange things he had said in his teachings were now making sense.

While her heart was flying again with joy and happiness, she must have felt a separation. She had still lost him. Like a mother who lives separately from her child’s dad, she had to accept that he was now spending more time with his Father and less time with her. The worst was behind her; the excruciating pain of loss. But she was losing him again. He would go live with his Father permanently, and she would not see him again, not even on weekends or holidays. And while in his teachings he promised to come again, she knew in her heart that this promise wasn’t for her. When he ascended into Heaven, her son would be only a presence in her heart.

As the days passed; after all these events were over and he was gone, Mary must have realized that her son lived on in many hearts. Her friends, her neighbors, strangers who had interacted with him; they all lived with hope and still worshipped and prayed to him, professing to love him. His followers continued to preach about him and encouraged others to believe in his saving grace.

I love thee, Lord Jesus. Look down from the sky.

Away.

The Savior of the world; the promised one is now in Heaven. Far away. Unreachable by human means. As we studied space in my Kindergarten class this fall, the vastness and wonder of our solar system and the recognition of other solar systems was mind-boggling. Yet, Jesus and his Father reign over all of that. But from away. Again, this part of the story can feel removed from our sphere of existence.

Be near me, Lord Jesus. I ask thee to stay. Close by me forever and love me, I pray.

How do we bridge this gap? How do we feel near to Jesus, to God, when they are so far removed from us? So far away?

That bridge is built with faith, hope and love.

We accept this story with faith, believing that Jesus is God’s Son. That God sent his son so that we would be forgiven for all the wrong things we’ve ever done, and we can have a personal relationship with him. That huge God who governs the universe cares about me. That requires faith; to believe in something I can’t see; something so ‘away’.

But in the implementation of the faith comes hope. I have hope in the day-to-day; that Jesus lives in my heart and loves me; that he guides my life and takes care of me. I have hope in the future; that when my life ends here on Earth, he will take me to another home, a Heavenly one.

And love? It’s the theme of this whole story. God sent his son in love. Mary loved her son. We love her son. He loves us.

Christmas is about love. We give in love. We receive in love. We spend time with those we love (even if it’s only virtually).

Let’s not lose sight of this part of the story during the Christmas season. Let love make this incredible story more real to you.

Bridge the gap and enter the story with faith, hope and love.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

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He’s Watching

His hair is white, like fresh snow on your front lawn. He sports a full white mustache and matching beard. I have to admit some of my “old man crushes” have had this combo (Sean Connery, Kenny Rogers – before plastic surgery). He has deep laugh lines around his eyes because laughing is his favourite thing to do, besides eating cookies. His shirt size hints at his love for sugar, but he doesn’t obsess about his weight. It’s a wonder he’s not much bigger, considering that sitting is his favourite pose.

He turned 1,750 years old this year, or so rumor has it. And yet COVID-19 can’t touch him, because, if his age alone didn’t give it away, he’s magical.

Born to human parents in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey around 280 A.D., this boy grew into quite the gentleman. He was known for his kind heart, helpful hands, and generosity. He became a monk and traveled the countryside, helping the poor and sick. St. Nicholas became known as the protector of children and sailors. While his humanity ended on December 6, 343 A.D., his spirit lived on in a magical character known in this part of the world as Santa Claus.

Lucky for the children who sit on his knee, Santa has kept the appearance he had just before he died; a jolly old elf. (Seriously, though, he did look a tad old for 63, don’t you think?)

At this time of year, children all over the globe write letters to some version of this Saint, believing he will make their wishes come true on Christmas Day.

BUT…

You’d better watch out! You’d better not pout. He sees you when you’re sleeping and he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, and if you’ve been naughty, you’re getting nuttin’ for Christmas – well, maybe a chunk of coal in your stocking.

Who hasn’t threatened their children (or students) with this consequence as December rolled around? As if we’d withhold presents from our kids…

Santa is the man. Children are encouraged to write “thank you” in their letters for their previous gift deliveries before they make their new wishes for the current year.


While parts of this tradition are fun and merry, how many children have been disappointed by Santa? He didn’t bring a gift that was too expensive for their parents to attain. He didn’t take them out of an abusive home. He didn’t heal their moms or bring their dads back home.

Why, Santa? Is your magic not strong enough to fulfill every wish? Why are some promises kept and others broken? Do you not love all the children of the world with the same compassion?

Maybe it’s because we have people dress up in red suits and hats to represent Santa that children have such faith in him. He’s tangible, physically present – kind of. Children see him at the mall, on the float in the Christmas parade, or at the very least, on TV. He’s pictured in books, and he stars in movies. His face is everywhere at this time of year. And I bet every child in North America has a name for him.

It saddens me that when I mentioned the birth of Jesus as the Christian reason for celebration at Christmas, one of my Kindergarten students asked, “Who is Jesus?”

The Son of God. That’s who Jesus is. He was born as a human baby to grow up and experience life as a human, to model a perfect life, and, yes, He too was known for His kind heart, helpful hands, and generosity. Not only did He help the sick; He healed them. But when He died, unlike St. Nicholas, He physically came back to life three days later. He walked the earth in person and was seen and touched by many after they watched Him die. He is much more than a Saint – He is the Father of Saints. And His spirit lives on too.

Rather than sitting on a representative’s knee, we bend our knees and posture ourselves to talk to Jesus and His Father, God. He delivers presents too, but not just at Christmas.

Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.

James 1:17 (NLT)

Santa has no power. His magic is confined to the imaginations of children, storytellers, and Hollywood scriptwriters.

God knows the names of all the children in the world and He loves them all the same. He loves them so much, in fact, that He sent His Son as the best gift ever. Through believing in Jesus, God promises to take care of us; to hold our hands during rough times; to be there, not only at Christmas, but every single day of the year. He promises an eternal home in Heaven!

Santa can’t make any of those promises. Yet, we invite him into our homes and tell white lies to keep the magic and excitement alive for our children. As we all know, his magic only works for true believers.

I’d like to remind you today that God also sees you when you’re sleeping, and He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, and if you’ve been naughty, the consequences are far worse than a lump of coal in your stocking. In the same book as the Christmas story, Luke pens the words of Jesus as He talked to hypocrites (those who say one thing but do another):

“But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear.”

LUKE 12:5



Harsh words. God really doesn’t like pretenders.

But read on. His very next words are more comforting for those who are true believers:

“What is the price of five sparrows – two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.”

LUKE 12:6, 7

God values us. He loves us unconditionally.

I stand on Val’s Stage today as a daughter of God who is grateful to have Someone much worthier of my praise this Christmas than Santa. I worship the true Star of this celebration.


Information about St. Nicholas came from the following site: https://www.history.com/topics/christmas/santa-claus

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The Best Gift

Our parents could only keep us in our rooms for so long. My brother, my sister and I were not delaying Christmas for one second longer. We burst into the small living room where we had left a beautiful tree glittering with colored lights and flashing tinsel just hours before; the floor below the bottom branches bare of presents.

We stood in the doorway with our mouths open and our eyes popping. In the colorful glow of the Christmas lights, we saw the pile of gift-wrapped packages nearly touching the ceiling!

Yet, there was to be no ripping into these surprises until AFTER the story.

It was a tradition in our house that we read the Christmas story from Luke chapter 2 before we opened any presents. Jesus was the most important gift of Christmas, so we gave the first few minutes of our morning to His story. Why we couldn’t do it after we’d opened our presents, I’ll never know. It wouldn’t have seemed nearly as never-ending as when we listened while staring at a mountain of goodies that required attention.

Even before my father became a preacher, we knew about Baby Jesus and the significance of His birth; our real reason for celebrating Christmas. Of course, we agreed that this was the greatest gift of all, bringing joy to the world, heaven and nature sing, and all that, but we were kids! I was 9, my brother was 5 and my sister had just turned 2.

Our hands were shaking with excitement as my father read about Mary and Joseph and their journey to Bethlehem. But, I admit it wasn’t the story that had our energy peaked; it was the gifts! So many gifts.

My father took pity on us and kept his follow-up prayer short.

We finally got the go-ahead to dive in. Paper flew in all directions as we attacked the patterned paper.

A pair of knitted mittens!

A pair of knitted socks!

A knitted scarf!

A crocheted blanket for my bed.

It’s not that I wasn’t grateful, but each soft, squishy package that was tossed my way killed a bit of my excitement. I’d certainly be warm this winter, but I’d have nothing to play with unless I turned my wool vamps into sock puppets!

New preachers often got placed in communities where there was a church building, but nobody who regularly visited the holy house. We were therefore labeled in the larger church association as a “pioneer church”; one where the salary was meagre, and there was no appreciative congregation to bless us with presents or even well wishes at Christmas. As such, we were recipients of homemade delights made by women’s groups in larger churches. The chances of getting something under that tree that wasn’t knitted, crocheted, sewn, embroidered, or cross-stitched were slim.

Just as my enthusiasm waned, however, my mom tossed me a package that felt different. It had some soft parts, but some hard parts too. This one had potential. I held it tightly for a few seconds, treasuring the anticipation.

I carefully opened the paper where it was taped, savouring the moment. The resulting hole exposed a chubby leg. My heart did a little somersault. I was done with careful and slow. I ripped the rest of the paper off to reveal a doll with a soft body and plastic head and limbs. The hair was made of wool, but the store-bought-hair kind, not the knitted kind. The mouth had the cutest set of lips painted around a small hole in the middle. I grabbed her hand to find, as I suspected, her fingers were curled into a fist with the thumb sticking out; a thumb which fitted perfectly into the hole in the mouth.

Adorable! I was in love. It was the best gift ever. I don’t know where that doll came from; whether a lady dropped all her stitches or spilled her coffee on the fabric she was sewing, but I was extremely grateful to her for this special surprise.

Well, I’m sure over the years I received bigger gifts and better gifts, but this one was definitely a memorable one.

As we begin this season, and I shop online for our loved ones, I find myself rifling through Christmas memories, wondering what I’d label my best gift ever.

Spiritual gifts and Baby Jesus aside, my favourite gift was not a Christmas gift. It was a wedding gift.

My hubby’s parents gave us a honeymoon in Mexico. These two kids who were barely twenty got on a plane in Deer Lake, Newfoundland and left our island home for the sticky heat of Mexico. We spent two weeks in a high-rise hotel on the beach in Acapulco, when Acapulco was still a desirable tourist spot.

The travel bug bit us both. Hard. We got a taste of what a real vacation could be like with the hot sun, the sand, the excursions on horseback, glass-bottom boats, and tour buses. This was a gift that would keep on giving, for it planted within us the desire to travel.

And travel we did, especially after our boys were grown. We especially enjoyed cruising, visiting four or five destinations in one week.

Then 2020 arrived. The world came to a standstill, and no one traveled. This did not take away from that gift given to us 29 years ago. The desire is still there. And we will travel again. Some day.

I circle back to that gift which was the subject of my father’s Christmas morning reading. Like my doll, it was a gift like no other. A baby; God’s Son sent as a human to heal the world. To be its Savior.

And, like our desire to travel, when that gift was stolen away when Jesus received a death sentence, the world still felt a desire for Him. His birth had been prophesied hundreds of years before; a King would be born; Messiah; Savior of mankind. He had to die to rise from the dead. He had to die to be the resurrected King.

Yeah, He wins. Jesus was my best gift ever. I can’t imagine my life without Him.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord

Romans 6:23 (NLT)

Don’t let anyone tell you that Christmas is not about the gifts! But this one won’t break the bank – in fact, it’s free!

I recently read that the Greek word for “salvation” is the same word used for “healing”. Our souls are healed as we accept Him into our lives. Our emotional health is restored.

Thank you for the gift of salvation, Father. Thank you for healing me. Thank you for the promise of eternal life with You.

Try taking time at the start of your day to spent a few minutes alone with God. During that precious silence, we hand over all our emotional baggage, so it doesn’t have to leak out onto our loved ones during the day. God will speak love over us as we spend time with Him. That’s when our souls find rest and freedom.

As His daughter, this quality time together feels like home.

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Time for Love

That’s the word God gave me for 2020. I’ve never asked for a word before, and this one suited me so well with my busy life. I’m that type of person who takes a gift of time and fills it with responsibility. For example, I move from a four-bedroom house to a two-bedroom condo; trade my one-and-a-half-hour commute to work for a 12-minute one; and go from a family of five to being an empty nester – so, I volunteer to be the Editor of a community newspaper! I’ll have time, I promised Hubby (citing all the reasons just listed).

Over the course of the year, while teaching full time and filling the responsibilities as a Content Editor of a newspaper which prints over 7000 copies, I have attempted to realign my priorities and now use my ‘spare’ time more wisely. I wake up early and start my day with quiet devotion, I watch less TV and read less books which are fruitless, I try to spend more “quality” time with my husband, and I started this blog.

During the last couple of months, however, I have felt a distinct nudge to put more effort into my writing; less journalistic in nature, and more inspirational and encouraging; and for that I need TIME. I have enjoyed the editing, the opportunity to write articles, and the relationships I have made through my time with the paper. I have also learned a lot about journalism, and the role has pushed me out of my comfort zone in many ways. However, it is time for me to let go of some of the things that fill my time. I let my Board of Directors know that I was stepping down.

Anticipating the extra time I’ll gain when the position is filled, I have put renewed energy into fine-tuning a Christian Living manuscript that I have been working on for the past two years, have joined an online writers’ community, and have been participating in writing workshops and reading books about writing.

Stop time

Have you ever found yourself praying, “God, can you just stop time for 6 minutes so I can be on time for church this one morning?” That was me last Sunday. I get up two and a half hours before the service begins and my commute is 9 minutes. Nine. Yet, the number of times I have been in that seat before the service started… well, I can count them on one hand. Clearly, I need to readjust how I use that pre-church time.

The funny this is I do get to work on time each day. Hmmm.

Add time vs Prioritize time

Sometimes our prayer is not to stop time but to add some. If only I had a couple more hours in the day, I could… fill in the blank here. Most of us have things we could write in that blank.

In his book, The Relentless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer points out that the solution to an over-busy life is not more time. It’s to slow down and simplify our lives around what really matters.

Time for others

And there’s the key, isn’t it? Identifying what really matters. As a daughter of God, what really matters is living a life of love. He wants me to use my time in a loving way.

Who and what do I love? I love God. I love my husband. I love my children. I love my parents, my siblings, my extended family, even my in-laws. I love my friends. People are what matters.

What motivates a lot of our time-consuming activities (those minutes outside of our jobs which help put food on the table and prevents the bank from taking our houses)? The love of money (greed), the love of accomplishment (pride), the love of entertainment (e.g. Netflix-bingeing), the love of pleasure… All those time-eaters steal my precious minutes where I could be showing love to the people on my list.

That nudge to write I mentioned above is not motivated by a desire to see my name on the cover of a best-selling book on a shelf at Indigo (although that would be pretty sweet!). That nudge is from God, my Father. I have a message in my heart that He wants me to share. Out of love. Love for people. Love that comes from Him.

Time for myself

Filling my time with busyness that is not motivated by love is just self-destructive. God wants his daughters to add another name to that list of people we love: ourselves. He tells us in Mark 12:31 to love our neighbour as ourselves. That means He wants us to love ourselves too. Rushing around and constantly being busy, putting off the things we know would be more beneficial in the long run (calling my mom, reading my Bible, volunteering at the food bank, preparing that book for publishing), is taking a toll on our health.

Sleep: A waste of time

I often find myself counting how many hours I feel is the minimum amount I need for sleeping to determine my bedtime. Listening to my body and going to bed when I’m tired is not a consideration. There’s just too much to do. Sleeping seems like a waste of time.

I read this week that before the invention of the lightbulb, most people slept 11 hours per day! They went to bed at sunset and got up at sunrise. Did the thought ever cross their minds that they were wasting at least five hours of their day when they could get other things done? We have scraped back those hours at a cost. Our bodies are tired.

If we truly loved ourselves as daughters of God, we would eat healthy, exercise, get plenty of rest, pamper ourselves occasionally, and prioritize the relationships that feed our soul.

Christmas time

The clock ticks quietly beside me as a reminder that time marches on. My condo is filled with boxes of Christmas decorations waiting for unpacking. But they can wait. I wanted to share my heart with my readers. Love for God and love for others – they are my priority right now.

As the busy Christmas season begins, let’s try extra hard to realign our priorities and spend time with those we love. Even if that means interacting with our loved ones through a computer screen. Virtual connections are still a gift of our attention and an expression of our love.

We don’t need more of it. We just need to use it better.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.

Colossians 4:5 (English Standard Version)

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A Christmas Guest

I am delighted to welcome my first guest to Val’s Stage, the author of a beautiful, must-have Christmas advent devotional which I will begin reading again on December 1: