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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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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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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.


The last image is from my Stop and Refuel audio prayer/meditation series. It includes a 5-minute prayer set to music asking God to help us be still and rest in Him. If you haven’t accessed it yet, I encourage you to leave your email and receive the link to all seven of the prayer/meditations.

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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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Please join my monthly mailing list to receive this 7-day prayer/meditation audio series, Stop and Refuel.

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Featured

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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When you love someone, you spend time with them and get to know them. You build a relationship built on honesty and trust. I have prepared an audio series of prayers/meditations to help you grow in your love for God. Take 5 each morning this week to stop and refuel with the One you love, your heavenly Father.

Please join my monthly mailing list to receive this 7-day prayer/meditation audio series, Stop and Refuel.

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Featured

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.

Featured

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?

Featured

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:

With the holiday season approaching, I thought I’d ask you a question:

How are you doing? I mean, really, how are you doing?

Honestly, I’m struggling emotionally. I’m tired of staying away from large gatherings and, with Christmas on its way, I’m having difficulty processing that.

If Santa braves the pandemic, he’ll be sending candy canes through a 6-foot shoot.

Many of the traditions we hold dear involve gathering in large groups with children shrieking in delight and racing from one room to another, giving the adults time to engage in meaningful conversation. We won’t have our packed-in, traditional family gathering of 30+ people. “Aunt Dori’s Cookies,” the star of our Christmas dinner table, will be enjoyed differently this year.

What I really want to do is curl up in my True Father’s lap—the safest place in the world, pour out my woes, and sip on a peppermint mocha topped with a fluffy dollop of whipped cream.

Thankfully, that is still possible! Our True Father, God himself, wants to delight in us this Christmas—no 6-foot separation necessary. That is certainly something to have hope in.

My new book Counting Up To Christmas: 24 Gifts from the Gospel of Luke is ready to help you cultivate hope and peace by opening a gift of Scripture from the book of Luke each day, from December 1st – 24th.

Available at Amazon

Our True Father is the gift opened upon reading Luke 3. The tone of family hems in this chapter with descriptions of relatives in ruling positions in Israel in the beginning and the genealogy of Jesus at the conclusion. However, we view that day’s gift by peeling through the layers of family in the middle.

The center of Luke 3 sets the stage for Jesus’ baptism. Scripture clarifies John’s purpose for his task: repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Luke 3:3) We also witness John’s pronouncement of humility—someone more powerful is coming whose sandal straps he is not worthy to untie. (Luke 3:16)

When Jesus arrives on the bank of the Jordan River, the two cousins seem to disagree regarding John’s credentials to baptize Jesus. (I think we can all relate to family miscommunications, right?) If we look in Matthew 3, we are privy to their dialogue. Jesus’ clarification of John’s role becomes as clear as the water he is about to be baptized in.

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.”

Matthew 3:13-15, ESV

Jesus’ response was flawless. His inauguration into public ministry wasn’t about repentance. “To fulfill all righteousness” (Luke 3:15, ESV) through baptism demonstrated approval from God—and His status as Emmanuel—God With Us. John understood the righteousness of Jesus and stepped forth in obedience.

Then, God, our True Father, breathed a gift in words over the flowing water of the Jordan River in the presence of His Son and the Holy Spirit descending like a dove. Perhaps you need to hear these words today, written especially for you?

“You are my daughter, and you bring me great joy.”

I long to hear words like these, particularly this year when my usual way enjoying holiday gatherings will be quite different. Our amazing Father God wants to drop these words in our hearts like a lilting dove descending from the heavens. Will we open up enough to receive them?

As we prepare for Christmas, let’s remember that time spent with our True Father fills us with contentment and enables us to process feelings of disappointment with grace. If we center our identity around this truth, we will have everything we need to celebrate the birth of Jesus filled with hope and peace no matter the circumstances.

If you are interested in this study, the book is available at Amazon.ca (and Amazon.com). Additionally, if you would like to participate in community, we will do this together in the Facebook group “Counting Up To Christmas: 24 Gifts from the Gospel of Luke” and on Instagram @peacocksojourning. Freebies are available, including an accompanying Recipe Book, at http://www.jenniferelwood.com.

To help add some cheer to the season, I’m sharing “Aunt Dori’s Cookies” recipe with you. Recently, while watching a baking competition I heard someone describe their progress with the words “it smells like a blessing.” For me, that perfectly describes these delicious cookies.

Here’s to a different, but deeply meaningful Christmas—may you find creative ways to enjoy your family and friends this year while snuggled in the embrace of your True Father.

Ingredients
For the cookies:
1 cup softened butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 tsp baking powder
4 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt

For the frosting:
1/3 cup softened butter
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp salt
4 cups powdered sugar
Milk to splash in if it gets too thick

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350
  2. Cream the butter, sugar, sour cream, and vanilla.
  3. Add in the dry ingredients, save the flour for last and add one cup at a time.
  4. Refrigerate for half an hour. Then roll to your desired thickness. Cut out your shapes and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  5. Set a timer for 12 minutes, but start watching them at 9 minutes. The secret is to pull them out the second any color appears on the edges. If you overdo it, the magical texture disappears.
  6. While the cookies cool, make the frosting. Mix the ingredients together and start with 2 cups of powdered sugar. Add more until you reach the desired consistency. If it gets too thick, have milk ready to splash in. Also, you will want to make sure the balance between the vanilla and almond extracts reaches perfection. If 1/4 tsp of almond is not enough, add one drop at a time until it tastes perfect. (Be careful, too much will ruin the flavor!) Color as desired and frost your cookies. You will want to let them sit and dry out a little if you plan to stack them between layers of wax paper. I hope you experience these treats “like a blessing!”

Jennifer Elwood resides in Yakima, Washington. She is a lover of Jesus, wife of Tom, mom of three, and bonus mom and grandma of many. She enjoys rich coffee, European chocolate, and the color orange. Going to Israel for the first time in 2015 sparked her desire to write and she has not stopped since. Counting Up to Christmas: Twenty-Four Gifts from the Gospel of Luke is her first book.

Stay up to date with her, download freebies, and receive the recipe book that accompanies Counting Up To Christmas, at http://www.jenniferelwood.com.

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And He Shed his Skin Again

I woke up last Friday morning anticipating a regular Fun Friday with my Kindergarten class and the 4 o’clock sigh of release to start the weekend. My two days off were earmarked for writing report cards, with the hopes of Sunday functioning a little more like a Day of Rest.

I read my morning devotionals and listened to an uplifting podcast while getting ready for work.

That’s when my phone buzzed with the first text.

In the hour before I welcomed 22 little children aged 3-5 into my classroom, I received 15 heated texts dripping with sarcasm, insults, and disrespect. I prayed for wisdom before responding. The relationship required constant work, and it was important to use only the words that reflected God’s love and patient endurance. It wasn’t easy to deny an emotional reaction and to avoid replying in a similar state of agitation.

I prayed for her and her family as I biked to school. A person with the tendency to overreact, responding out of paranoia and misunderstanding, with no regard for how her words attack and belittle, must have a lot of turmoil in her heart. I prayed for her peace. I prayed for mine. It was an unsettling way to begin my day, but God honored my prayer.

Defeated, the serpent slithered off the bike path.

But in the tall grass, he shed his skin.

Off to a shaky start, Fun Friday with my little ones helped ease the negativity and achieve equilibrium, setting the morning’s nastiness behind me. I was grateful to my teaching partner and my students for a great day at school, despite the threads of negativity which showed up throughout the day like the fins of circling sharks in Facebook messages in our family chat. (Maybe my cell phone is the problem… it seems to be a common bearer of bad news here).

Our car was displaying unhappy messages, despite its overnight stay in its original home (a basic tire change and oil/filter). Hubby returned to the garage where they promptly replaced the battery with a shiny new one. Two hundred dollars poorer, he drove back home.

That evening after dinner, we picked up a prescription for our son who lives across town. Before getting on the highway, the dash was lit up with red symbols and warning messages again. The same words appeared on the screen, suggesting there was a battery issue. The radio stopped working to save battery life.

“I don’t think we should go on the highway like this,” I said. But a few seconds later, the warnings disappeared and everything appeared normal. We pulled onto the highway.

Minutes later, the warnings were back and the radio died one more time. Once again, Hubby began switching lanes to abandon the mission, but the alerts vanished before we reached the exit. Other than the radio periodically malfunctioning, the car seemed to be operating fine.

We delivered the package to our son, but didn’t stop to visit.

“I’ve lost the power steering,” Hubby said seconds into our return trip. I gritted my teeth.

All of a sudden, the engine light came on; then the hand brake symbol. I clenched my fists.

The entire dash of the car went black. We had no speedometer, no readings of any kind, and the signal lights weren’t working. I pushed the button repeatedly for the emergency flashers.

Nothing.

My heart raced.

Cars swished past us, going the common speed of 120 km/hr and we had no way of showing that we were in distress.

“I’m losing speed,” Hubby said while I pointed to an upcoming exit, willing us to make it. Our speed had dropped to 80 then 70, and we crippled down the exit ramp to stop just outside the busy intersection.

Luckily, the emergency flashers worked this time when I pushed the button, but the engine refused to start. This hunk of lifeless metal was less than 5 years old; its odometer reading only 60,000 km. How was this possible?

Seconds after we came to a stop, a police vehicle pulled up beside us. Quickly reading the situation, he parked behind us with his lights flashing and proceeded to direct traffic around us. He called a tow truck and delivered a measure of peace that everything would be okay.

It felt like a long time as we waited for the truck; long enough to reflect on how differently this could have ended.

As we thanked God for His protection from harm and the angel who’d arrived in uniform to help us, the serpent rode quietly to the garage on the flatbed.

But he slithered into the engine and shed his skin once again.

We communicated with the garage on Saturday morning, and Hubby left to get the promised loaner car. That solved, I prepared my tea and settled into my recliner with my laptop. Report card time, as planned.

I double clicked on the Google Doc file to continue where I had left off the day before when my partner and I finished making notes on the last couple of children. I noticed right away that our final notes weren’t in the file. I scrolled up to discover that those from the day before weren’t there either. What about the ten completed comments that I had worked on Wednesday night? Gone. My heart sank. Hours of work gone.

The serpent smiled as my panic drove out logic, and while I looked at the different saved versions listed, my brain didn’t connect that one of them might contain the missing words. As I waited for a second computer to boot up (as if a Windows system might magically fix the problem since my Mac was failing), I prayed for help. By the time my “dinosaur”, as I call it, booted up, God answered my prayer and allowed me to think a little more clearly. If there was an autosave on Friday afternoon which saved as a separate version, that file should have all my words.

And it did. I thanked my Father for getting me through with limited distress.

Like a batter after the umpire’s cry of “Strike three!”, the serpent sighed and slithered off to find someone else to torment.

Why did three potentially-traumatic events happen to me in rapid-fire during a 24-hour period?

I had made some decisions. Decisions that put me on a clearer path to following God’s plan for my life. Decisions that would create the time I need to devote to His purpose.

Our enemy, Satan, wasn’t too happy with my decisions. And in he slithered.

To his detriment, I recognized his attempts at derailing me, and stopped him in his tracks.

The Bible says if we humble ourselves before God, we can resist the devil, and he will flee from us. (James 4:7). I prayed to God each time the serpent approached, and three times he realized he was no match for the Almighty God.

The devil is real, my friends. But Jesus conquered him when he died and rose again. That old snake can’t hurt me. He can hiss all he wants. He can shed his skin and come after me in a new disguise. But I will not let him shake my faith. God takes care of His children when we call on Him. 2 Corinthians 2:10-11 tells us that with Christ’s authority, Satan won’t outsmart us, because we are familiar with his evil schemes.

Fellow Christian writers in my online community sent the following verses to encourage me. Quote them when you feel Satan slithering into your space.

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken.

Psalm 55:22 NIV

Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love.

1 Cor 16:13-14 NLT

Do not be afraid of them; the LORD your God himself will fight for you.

Deuteronomy 3:22 NIV

Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.

Ephesians 6:11 NLT

You might say, Valda, seriously these are not trials. No one died, you weren’t diagnosed with a terrifying disease, you didn’t lose your job, your husband didn’t walk out on you.

True.

But if YOU find yourself in a difficult situation, whether it’s minor or major, God cares about you. Give it to Him, claim these verses, and allow Him to take charge. Satan is just a fallen angel cast out of Heaven. He has no real power when God is in the room.


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It’s Report Card Time

Technically, we call it Progress Report time. If you don’t work in the Education field, it’s still a report card. We just like to have our own little language… (insert eyeroll here).

The Progress Report is the teacher’s initial observations of your child’s progress so far, after two and half months of learning. Sometimes this one can be the most difficult to write because it is early in the school year, and we are still getting to know our students. And then there’s the added challenge of writing negative things in a positive way…

What the teacher wants to write:

Brian is showing talent in the area of stealing, cheating and lying. His leadership of the little gang-type posse of five-year-olds is impressive. He shows potential to become a masterful criminal and mob boss in a few years. Brian can be quite convincing with far-fetched tales; he might be headed into politics someday, if the life of overt crime doesn’t pan out!

What the teacher actually writes:

Brian understands that his words and actions can affect others. He gives compliments to his classmates and celebrates learning with them, and accepts positive messages as well. He demonstrated that well when we talked about filling each other’s buckets and clearly focussed on that for a while. He has strong convictions and will stand up for a friend or for something he believes in. He recognizes that he can use language to express his thoughts and opinions, but listens to differing points of view, understanding that we do not all think the same way. Brian is still learning to take responsibility for his actions, and to accept consequences when they are necessary. He shows leadership skills as he organizes games outside (e.g., soccer or tag) and leads activities such as making forts, caves, tunnels, or booby traps. He often leads the play indoors as well during imaginative play at the block area, where Brian’s creativity and ingenuity is most regularly demonstrated. He is learning to accept the ideas and opinions of others, sometimes integrating them into his play and allowing the direction of the play to change. Over the summer, if possible, having play dates with children his age will give him more opportunities to grow socially as well. (Taken from an actual report card with the name changed)

If you need help reading between the lines of your own child’s report card, ask a teacher. We are trained to put an upbeat spin on all the undesirable behaviour.

He is learning to use his words to express his feelings” means “Your child hits, kicks, pushes and pulls hair.”

She is learning to take turns and allow others to win sometimes when playing a game” means “Your child has a tantrum every time she doesn’t win a game.”

It’s an art. One they don’t even teach you in Teacher’s College.


My Progress Report

I wonder if the Great Teacher is penning a report to record how well I’m doing in this School of Life?

Am I learning to get along with others? Do I have perseverance to stick with difficult tasks? Am I a quick learner who applies newly acquired knowledge to my work? Do I show respect to my Teacher with my words and actions? Do I follow expectations?

I stand on Val’s Stage today, not as a teacher, but as a student: a student of Christ. What do I need to do to get that top grade that I will be proud to share with my loved ones?

She is still learning to use her words to stick up for herself and to ask for strength from her Father” means “She runs from conflict.”

She demonstrates a growing perseverance in her prayer life” means “She falls asleep on her prayers every night.”

She is learning to take responsibility for incomplete or overdue assignments” means “She makes excuses for why she isn’t following God’s plan such as “I don’t have enough time right now.””

Studying the Christian Handbook

My textbook is the Word of God – the Bible. It tells me what I have to do to get a good grade. I can let it collect dust on a shelf, or I can study it and learn about God and His love.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”

2 Timothy 3:16-17

Motivation

How well we do in school depends on our motivation and initiative. I have to want to learn. I have to apply myself to the learning

Yes, God loves me unconditionally, whether I’m a Bible scholar or not, but He gave us His Word as a guide. I think He’d like us to use it. He provided it because He loves us. He wants us to know Him better and to walk in His ways.

His ways are what is best for me – He knows this because He created me.

Thank you, Lord, for Your Word. Help me to make time to study it and to apply its truths to my life. Help me to strive to be more like You, not for a high score, but to show my love for You.

Life-long Learning

If you feel like you wouldn’t get a very positive Progress Report right now, you likely have time to turn that around. The Gospel of John is a great place to start reading. John tells us how much God loved us and His plan that preceded our creation.

Any search engine will find free access to the Bible online in many, many translations. My favourite is the New Living Translation (or NLT for short). The YouVersion app is also free to download to your smartphone. It gives you numerous versions and even the option of having the text read aloud to you.

One F on a report card doesn’t mean we should quit school.

It means we have more to learn.

Teach me your ways, O LORD, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you.

Psalm 86:11
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I Slipped

Our Kindergarten room buzzed with loud voices and banging toys. I was the lone adult supervising our students; my teaching partner on a quick trip to the washroom. The children played happily; most of them gathered in little groups on the floor, shouting at each other through their masks. Two girls splashed in the water bin, stirring eyeballs and skeleton bones, cackling as they tricked others into ‘drinking’ their potion and then revealing that it was poisoned. Yes, Halloween was near, and spirits were elevated.

I tapped away on my keyboard. This email couldn’t wait, and my students didn’t need my undivided attention. A listening ear and a periodic scan of the room were all that was necessary with this group.

As I reread my words before hitting Send, I heard a disturbance in the corner where several children sat with an overturned bin of building blocks. While I didn’t catch the exact words, the message was unmistakable from the high-pitched caliber of the little voice. Someone was not playing nice.

I swooped in, not wanting the conflict to escalate, but also reining my instinct to intervene. Maybe there was a self-regulatory opportunity here; maybe a problem-solving moment.

With my full attention now, the little girl pointed her index finger and clarified the crisis: “James is being mean.”

James rolled his car that he’d built back and forth, back and forth, avoiding eye contact with both his accuser and the law enforcer.

I stepped closer to avoid disturbing other play or drawing in busybodies. Despite my presence, the accusation was repeated in a louder whine, “James is being mean.”

At this moment, James quietly studied his car; halo intact; no obvious meanness to be found.

“James, are you being kind and friendly with your classmates?” I kept my voice gentle, inviting him to give his side of the story, even though the boy was often on that end of the pointed finger.

“Well…” James finally spoke, still not looking at either of us. “I slipped.”

Both the challenge of deciphering his speech through a mask and the uniqueness of his response propelled me to ask for a repetition of this short statement.

He said it again, matter-of-factly in a monotone voice, “I slipped.”

I held back my giggle, preserving it for the retelling to my teaching partner.

“Well, James, we all slip sometimes. Try to play kindly with your friends, okay?”

James nodded; his playmate, happy with the swift resolution, had already returned her attention to her own blocks. The four-year-old’s admission of guilt, and wordless agreement to change his behavior, had restored equilibrium to the play area.

Banana Peel Slips or Mudslides

We can all learn from childlike simplicity, can’t we? We all slip in our relationships with others and in our relationship with God. Yet, as guilty as our actions make us feel, the solution can be as easy as confessing and promising to change our behavior.

It’s human to slip. It’s our nature. Romans 3:23 says that everyone has sinned [slipped]; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. But every slip doesn’t have to be a major event. I’ve had students in the past whose faces turned up in angry scowls as they denied any wrongdoing at a similar accusation as the one above. Voices would grow in volume and intensity, requiring a much deeper investigation into the details of the situation.

Our response to our own sin impacts how big the problem becomes. We can blow things out of proportion too, but it really is as simple as my little James made it. We confess to our Maker that we slipped. We can go one step further and ask for His strength and resolve to resist making the same mistakes again and again, and then move on with determination, leaving the past slips in the past. It doesn’t matter if it is a banana peel slip or a mudslide, God is more than capable of wiping the slate clean.

“But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”

1 John 1:9

A Slippery Sorry

When others are involved, we also need to apologize. Upon reflection, I should have asked James to apologize to the young girl whose feelings had been hurt. Sometimes it’s hard to move on without a genuine “I’m sorry.”

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

James 5:16

In our communication with God, He sees our heart, and He knows if our confession comes from a place of repentance, because both are needed. When we confess our slips and tell Him we’re sorry, God picks us up, dusts us off, and sets us back on the right track on our quest to become more like Jesus.

So, if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.

John 8:36

Stabilizing After a Slip

Have you slipped recently? Do you need to have a conversation with a friend, your spouse, your child, a colleague? Do you need to confess your slip and ask for forgiveness? Banana peel or mudslide; the size of the slip is not important. Your Heavenly Father is loving and forgiving. He wants to restore you; repair your relationship with both your loved ones and with Him. All you have to do is ask.

There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.

Luke 24:47b

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.

1 John 4:16

God wants to live in you! The power of His grace is yours, if you accept it. Does that mean you’ll never slip? No. Even the wisest man alive, King Solomon, slipped. He worshipped idols for a while after God gave him this amazing gift (and having 700 wives has got to be a sin!). His father, David, God’s chosen king, slipped and committed adultery and even murder! The Bible is full of fallible humans who messed up and looked to God for His mercy. One of King David’s prayers of repentance can be found in Psalm 51:

Have mercy on me, O God,

because of your unfailing love.

Because of your great compassion,

blot out the stain of my sin

wash me clean from my guilt.

Psalm 51: 1-2

When you slip, and you will (because you are human too), you can pray a prayer like David’s, and you can have confidence in His promise to hear your genuine confession, to forgive you, and stabilize you, setting you back on the path to righteousness. Isn’t it great to be His child?

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!

1 John 3:1a
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My Rose-Coloured Glasses vs Toxic Positivity

My favourite sunglasses have a rosy tint that make the sky look bluer and the grass look greener. I’ve tried the gray lenses because they matched my chosen frames better, but the world looked dull and dismal, and my optimistic nature just couldn’t stand them for long. Bring out the rose-coloured glasses!

I stand on Val’s Stage this beautiful fall day as a friend trying to grapple with the idea of “toxic positivity”. After a colleague sent an email to our staff conference on this topic a couple of weeks ago, I knew this would be my next blog post, but I’ve honestly needed some time to process it.

TOXIC and POSITIVITY: two words that just don’t seem like they go together!

Who doesn’t like to be around upbeat, positive people who always have a smile for you? Apparently, not everyone shares that opinion…

Looking to Friends for Advice

I’ve always been a good listener; an optimistic, positive listener. When I look back over many of my friendships, I see a pattern of being there for people when they needed someone to listen. I rode in many boats on stormy waters with friends who went through cancer, broken marriages and mental illnesses. There was a period of closeness as we weathered the storm, and then we climbed out of the boat and went our separate ways – still friends, but the intensity of our relationship petered out as our lives took us in different directions.

A couple of years ago, I met a lady and we became friends. We had many things in common, which gave us lots to talk about, and we met regularly. The terms of our friendship didn’t rely on a huge life event – we started our relationship on a level playing field. I had high hopes for a different kind of friendship – maybe even a “best friend”, a term I didn’t use much growing up as a pastor’s kid and moving from community to community every few years. Less than two years later, however, I walked away from the relationship and cited “toxic negativity” as the reason to do this.

While it started off in a balanced way, it quickly turned into a realm where I dreaded spending time with her. The conversation was always self-centered, negative towards others, and judgmental; with her sometimes getting upset over things I didn’t say (e.g. I should have praised her for something she had just spent a large amount of time praising herself for). I came home feeling like all the life (and positive energy) had been sucked out of me.

Why do I look back at my other friendships as being more positive when we navigated issues that were more inherently negative? The difference was that my other friends made steps toward moving on from their circumstances. They leaned on my optimism, my spirituality, and encouraging shoulder and faced forward. They were able to find the courage to make changes in their lives to help them through horrible circumstances. They didn’t sit in a corner wailing, “Poor me! Poor me!”

Looking to Music for Advice

If you’ve turned on your radio lately, you may have heard the following Demi Lavato/Marshmellow September 2020 release, Ok Not to Be Ok.


…When you’re down and you feel ashamed
It’s okay not to be okay

The song was released in partnership with the Hope for the Day suicide prevention movement. While the words in the song’s lyrics suggest that feeling down and validating your negative emotions is okay, and encourages the listener not to give up, it doesn’t provide an alternative solution to not feeling okay.

Looking to Psychology for Advice

In his article in Psychology Today entitled, Toxic Positivity: Don’t Always Look on the Bright Side (the title threw me for a minute, as a person who always looks on the bright side), Dr. Konstantin Lukin, clinical psychologist, defines toxic positivity this way:

The concept that keeping positive, and keeping positive only, is the right way to live your life. It means only focussing on positive things and rejecting anything that may trigger negative emotions.

This seems to be the opposite of the message that the Gratitude movement has been promoting the last few years – looking to all the things you can be thankful for to raise your spirits. In other words, focussing on positive things.

In the last line of his article, Lukin says, “… paying attention and processing your emotions as they come and go may help you better understand yourself, and those around you.” Okay, I’ll admit that you can’t just run from everything negative in your life or refuse to acknowledge that some things bring you down. But I don’t think the doctor is prescribing a session of wallowing either.

Looking to God for Advice

I finally figured out why this whole concept was so confusing for me as I processed this statement of Dr. Lukin’s:

“Evolutionarily, we as humans cannot program ourselves to only feel happy.”

Ahh, there it is. We cannot program ourselves. Nope. The concept of toxic positivity is a secular one; a concept that defines life outside of a faith-based belief system; life without Christ.

The thing that disappointed me most about that one toxic friendship was that we both claimed to share the same belief system. But when I define myself as a child of God, I can be positive all the time, because I trust Him to help me through the tough times.

I still have to pray for the power of His grace to deal with negative circumstances. I still face challenges. I could follow the song lyrics above and tell myself it’s okay to feel miserable. I could bring down everyone around me with my dark mood and Eeyore-pessimism, or I can lean on the one who created me to help me through. If I choose Faith and Trust as my doctor’s prescription (not dissing doctors – they are often an extension of God’s hands), I can remain positive in my circumstances. I trust that my heavenly Father will not let me down.

Toxic positivity? In my world, this is an oxymoron.

As believers, let’s allow the light of God to shine through us in our sphere of influence. Let’s show others what a life in Christ can be:

Positive.

I’m putting on my rose-coloured glasses now to go walk in the beauty of Autumn… Have you got yours?

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4: 6-7

The joy of the Lord is my strength.

Nehemiah 8:10
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The Ink on my Stage

Right up there with enjoying a glass of wine, dancing or listening to secular music, tattoos were on the naughty list for a long time in the Christian circle. I feature my ‘ink’ on Val’s Stage this week after a certain celebrity posted a video of himself diving into his pool for one last autumn dip, and folks on social media went ballistic as they realized that his body is a canvas for a lot of tattoo ink. The price you pay for being popular is that everyone is up in your business.

I’ve seen some crazy tattoos. A young girl working in a mall store had a huge arm and shoulder tattoo of Strawberry Shortcake and her castle, and I honestly tried picturing her in a wedding dress with that image inked there. My inner voice asked, “Did you think this through?” While visiting a tattoo establishment for one of my own inked artworks, I also saw a young man walk out with an amazing image of Jason Alexander covering his entire calf. You might be a fan of George on the Seinfeld series, but really? You know that’s permanent, right? You’ve seen them too – tattoos that make you question the owner’s sanity. And then I remind myself that judging others isn’t very Christian of me.

There seems to be a definitive line in the sand dividing those who believe in the purity of their skin in their ink-freeness and those who like displaying symbols of their values in a more permanently-needled way. The truth is that it’s rare to see someone with only one tattoo – it can actually become very addictive. Falling into the latter category, I have four.

My first was a heart on my shoulder symbolizing Love. Who doesn’t need some Love in their lives? Why not have a reminder that I found Love, in addition to the diamond on my finger (which I had to remove last month because the amount of hand sanitizer I have to use as a teacher was destroying my finger under the ring)?

Next was Family. I got an anklet with charms displaying the initial letters of each of my boys: R, D and B. Proud Mama here of each of them. Now that they all live on their own, I appreciate having this symbol of still being a Mom.

God was my next inspiration, while third is not where I’d place him on my priority list. A small cross on my wrist; not only does it brand me as His, it reminds myself to act as His child.

Finally, I wanted a representation of my Roots. On my calf, I proudly wear a Made in Newfoundland image, even though we’ve lived “away” for almost 20 years.

Each of my tattoos was planned and thought through before booking the appointment. These values are permanent, so, in my mind, the ink’s permanency is acceptable. On this Thanksgiving weekend, each one is also a reminder of things I am most grateful for.

Yet, the action of inking these values on my skin does not give others a guarantee that I truly value Love, Family, God or Roots unless I show these values in tangible ways in how I live. (I wonder how someone shows their true devotion to Strawberry Shortcake…)
Actions speak louder than tattoos. My faithfulness, respect, and thoughtful gestures speak louder of my Love to my husband than the heart on my shoulder. My support, guidance, and helping hand to my sons speak louder of my Family value than the inked anklet charms. I’m not sure what actions reflect the value of Roots except maybe hanging photos of the island on my wall, adding salt beef and doughboys to my pea soup, and at times speaking with a distinct accent. My reflection of God’s image – showing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – speaks louder of my love for God than a small cross on my wrist.

When you consider getting some ink needled into your skin, I believe it should be preceded by a period of reflection on your values. When people look at your choices of tattoos, also recognizing that they are not cheap, they get a sense of who you are. Some will argue that tattoos are personal – they are not for others. The image that you present; the way you dress, how you style your hair, the tattoos on your body, can be one of two things: a mirror of your soul or a mask. They’re only personal if you never leave your house.

The heart tattoo on my shoulder can mirror the Love I feel for others or it can be a mask – showing my desire to make others believe I have Love in my life when maybe I don’t. One motivation is very honest, while the other is a reflection of living a lie.

All that to say, I have permanently inked my body with things that I now have to be accountable for. My life on Val’s Stage should reflect those things that I am advertising. On my own, that’s a big responsibility. But I’m not on my own. God’s grace gives me power. I lean into Him and ask for His help.

Help me especially live up to wearing your cross, Lord – the symbol of Your love.

Let my actions speak of my heritage – I am a child of God.

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TRUST: Teaching in 2020

Little Sarah approaches the gate to the Kindergarten yard gripping her father’s strong fingers tightly. Her bright smile is hidden under two masks: one is green with pink flowers; the other is apprehension. School has changed a lot, and her teacher’s warm smile is hidden behind masks of her own. Sarah hears the caring in my voice and sees it in my eyes, but it takes more trust and emotional effort to accept it.

Image by 41330 from Pixabay

After a few tears and Dad’s gentle encouragement, she reluctantly pulls her hand out of his and reaches for mine. This is her first expression of trust today, and I will not crush it by reminding her that we are meant to stay at least a meter a part. I’ll wash my hands later. I hold her little fingers and give them a squeeze.

“We are going to have a fun day!” I promise, and she looks into my eyes for reassurance. I see the shift happen; the second that Sarah offers me the gift of her trust. She is mine now – mine for the next six hours.

Sarah has an advantage over some of our little pumpkins – she is in her second year of Kindergarten with me. She has seen my whole face, experienced my smile, and knows she can trust me.

Trust is one of the most beautiful things about teaching Kindergarten. In our inquiry-based program, we learn about a wide range of topics, allowing the students to lead with their natural curiosity about the world. So, every year is different; not only with new faces, but with new interests. I love the spontaneity of it, the freedom to cover the curriculum in a unique way every year. Their little faces light up with new discoveries, and they trust that I’m telling the truth when I share crazy facts. Yes, the polar bear’s skin is black under all that white fur. Yes, birds only have one elimination spot, so what they drop is a pee/poop-calcified combo. And yes, the footprints on the moon will be there for 100 million years. I could tell them that Santa broke his leg and his brother old Saint Chris was taking over his run this year, and they would accept it as fact. Their trust gives me power and responsibility.

I had a student, when I taught Grade 3 a number of years ago, who was not as trusting. He held a lot of knowledge in his young head and questioned everything. When I shared cool facts like those above, he raised his hand for permission to add to the discussion. His response always began with the same two words: “Well, actually…” And then he went on to explain how one could argue with the truth of some part of my statement. I hoped that this habit of his did not have a negative impact on how my other students trusted my word.

After two full weeks of our strange 2020 school year, during which twenty of my students and my teaching partner have all missed a number of days and have suffered through invasive COVID tests, I find myself on Val’s Stage thinking about trust.

We were officially informed yesterday morning that a student in our school tested positive for COVID-19. Considering how the common cold has spread like wildfire in our class, despite all the precautions we’re taking, the risk of the virus traveling two floors down in our four-story building seems quite high. Going to work each day requires trust. I trust public health experts who tell me that wearing my mask and visor and maintaining distance makes me low-risk. I trust that all the hand washing, sanitizing, disinfecting, separating with plexiglass dividers, controlling the number of students who access an area at once, will help lessen my chance of contracting it. I trust, as I acknowledge my 51st birthday, that as a healthy woman who hasn’t yet been labeled “vulnerable”, I will be okay if I do get it.

But putting my trust in OPH (Ottawa Public Health) gives me limited confidence – they are human and not all-knowing; fallible. There were delays in getting the test result, delays in informing the school, and miscommunication with families.

Thankfully, I have another layer of trust to keep me centered. I trust in an all-knowing, all-powerful God who loves me. Psalm 118:8 says, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people.

That doesn’t mean I’m immune from getting the virus. That doesn’t mean I won’t die if it attacks my body. What it does mean is that He is in control. He has my life mapped out. If I put my full trust in him, I don’t need to worry or stress. He will take care of me.

I claim the promises in God’s Word:

“Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you.”

Psalm 37:5

“The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”

Exodus 14:14

Don’t call me a frontline hero. I’m just one of the Hero’s kids.

“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”

Isaiah 40: 31

I trust You, Father.

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Dear Student,

Dear Student,

Thank you for your smiling eyes, brimming with excitement as you climbed the stairs into school this week. Thank you for hand-delivering the beautiful flower cut from your garden.

Thank you for controlling your sadness to leave your family and your anxious feelings about following your masked and visored teachers; for practicing self-regulation at such a young age. When you had tears, there were only a few, and you dried them quickly. I watched a different teacher carry a crying, heaving, gagging child into the school. Her face protection proved its need, separating the four inches of space between their mouths, with one of them coughing tears. Both were likely feeling fear at that moment.

Thank you, my little child, for accepting each pump of hand sanitizer and happily going to the sink to lather and wash every time without complaining. The request came often.

Thank you for quickly catching on to strange routines that involved more sitting on chairs than Kindergarten normally requires; more listening and following fast-paced directions. “Orange Team, line up to the washroom. Green Team, get your lunch bags from the shelf. Blue Team, go into the cubbies to get your jackets.” Thank you for learning your color, and preventing me from having to repeat my visor-mask-shouted instructions too often. My throat has been relatively quiet for six months. The strain is shocking.

A thumbs up greeting

Thank you for resisting your child-desire to hug your friends and teachers, using our touchless Greeting of the Day instead: Day 1 – thumbs up; Day 2 – bow or curtsy. We’ll make it fun, won’t we?

Thank you for understanding (?) that we can play together from a distance; for sitting your bottom on a coral reef fishy decal so you are three feet away from your floormates. Thank you for learning to communicate through your plexiglass window when sitting at your table.

Thank you for practicing at home to become independent with your jacket zipper, your lunch containers, and your washroom business. There will be times when you need help, and that’s okay. We’ll be there for you. But each day we get through with a score of zero for bathroom accidents will be a victory for our team!

Thank you for walking in the halls with robot arms separating us in line, following the direction of the green arrows, and staying on our side of the red line. You are learning the driver’s rules of the road very early. What a safe driver you’ll be over a decade from now!

Thank you for wearing a mask to school when masks are not mandatory for your age, and for wearing it for as long as you are able. You are a superhero, and now you look like one too!

Thank you for remembering to cough into the crook of your arm when parts of your snack or water attack your throat. Your quick response is a superhero power.

Thank you, my one little friend, for missing your very first day of Senior Kindergarten because your sister had a runny nose. You sacrificed to keep us all protected. We will make your first day super special.

Thank you, my other little friend, for enduring a COVID test this weekend and waiting for the result before returning to school. You are being careful, and that means you’re ‘full of care’ for your friends.

Thank you for loving to learn new things and for asking questions. Despite all the changes to keep us safe, this will never change: no one can cover your curiosity with a mask or hide your joy of discovery. You come with wonderful ideas, and we will endeavor to expand on them and show you how you can find your own answers for the rest of your life!

But for now, thank you for being a very special member of our class. You make it all worthwhile.

Your JK/SK Teacher,

Mrs. Val

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When Your Body Contradicts Your Mind

We met with 21 families virtually this week to share how our Kindergarten class will operate this year in a pandemic. My partner and I did each interview while wearing a mask. We asked to see each child’s mask, compared the patterns and colours, and invited them to play a game.

“See if you can guess how we’re feeling by only looking at our eyes.”

Mrs. Holly covers her face and reveals big round eyes and the child guesses. “Surprised?” “Excited?” Yes! This is our new reality when you can’t see our mouths.

Mrs. Val’s turn. I cover my face and when I pull my hands away, my forehead is drawn with lines, my eyebrows pulled down. “Mad?” “Grumpy?” Yes! They are good at this game.

Some of them agree to also take a turn, with the majority of them reflecting “Happy” with their squinting eyes. They are excited to see us, to be coming back to school.

I explain that when school begins, we won’t be able to wear our fun, colourful masks – we have to wear plain, medical masks AND… “You’re not going to believe it… Wait for it…”

Holly and I both pull our heavy visors over our heads and exclaim, “Did you know that you were coming to SPACE SCHOOL this year?! Say hello to Astronaut Holly and Astronaut Val!” Some of them look a little uncertain, but smile or laugh as we carry on with the image.

In the five seconds we wore that visor, our masked faces and upbeat words hid our growing apprehension. The visor was heavy. Our voices echoed back into our own ears. The thick plastic fogged up with our filtered breath. We are going to have to wear these ALL DAY?

Between interviews, we put on the visors and walked around the room. The thick shield played with our depth perception and had the potential to cause vertigo. We are going to have to wear these ALL DAY?

We go home with a new layer of heaviness on our chests not even related to the last whispered confession of a mom who admitted that her son is not quite potty-trained for ‘Number One’ OR ‘Number Two’. Ugh.

While it was so wonderful to interact with our little students (15 of whom we taught last year), to see their smiling faces, and to build that relationship with their families, we carried stress home in our pockets.

Ann Voskamp in her book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, says, “Stress isn’t only a joy stealer. The way we respond to it can be sin.”

Does that mean that my canker sores that I haven’t seen for over six months are sins? Does that mean that my colleague’s cracked tooth is sin? It seems even when our minds are telling us that we are not stressed, our bodies revolt and let us know how we really feel.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”

John 14:1

Ann suggests that trust and prayer are the solutions to stress; the action we can take instead of worrying. And I do. I hand over my canker-sore-worry to God and ask Him to take it.

And then I notice the jaw clenching, another area of my body that likes to show stress. I ask my Father, my life Director, to take my jaw-stress too.

Then there’s the pounding headache that accompanies me home as I leave school, where the students haven’t even started attending yet. Should I worry now that I have a symptom of COVID too, or do I check off another symptom of stress after a day of mask/visor trepidation and the ‘one step forward and two steps back’ of preparing our room and our program to accept four and five-year-olds (some who won’t even be four until December)?

Father, please take my worries.

Do I not trust God? Is that why my body is breaking down? All of a sudden, I understand Paul’s admonition in 1 Thessalonians 5:17:

Never stop praying.

(NLT)

I think it’s very human for us to forget that healthy habit until the worry starts to eat us alive. Then we look for a cure, rather than taking the preventative vitamins. Some people spend a fortune on supplements, vitamins, and herbal concoctions when we have the free dose of Trust readily available every day of the year. Our Director – that loving God – has to shake us up every now and then to remind us to take our Trust vitamin. Never stop praying.

If I look up that verse, it’s sandwiched between two other directives, equally forgettable in a life with no worry: always be joyful (v. 16) and be thankful in all circumstances (v. 18). Ironically, these two supplements are more easily swallowed when things are going well, when our bodies are feeling healthy and stress-free. They’re more difficult to take when I face uncertainty and fear as I plan to receive 22 beautiful, excited children into my classroom for six hours a day; sharing the same rectangular space, touching the same surfaces, and breathing the same air. “Is your child bringing a mask to school?” The responses were understandably discomforting. Masks aren’t mandatory for children in Kindergarten.

Be joyful and thankful. Where do I find the joy? The courage to be thankful?

Joy is a Fruit of the Spirit. We all have the capacity to experience it; to reflect. And it’s tied to thanksgiving. When I take my mind off the uncertainties and focus on the things I am grateful for, joy is hidden there.

Thank you for excited children. Thank you for supportive, trusting parents. Thank you for a well-paying job when many others have lost theirs because of the pandemic. Thank you for fresh air as I rip off my mask and gulp it in. Thank you for a car to drive home in. Thank you for a fridge full of food and the things I need to turn it into a good meal. Thank you for a loving husband to share it with. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Where has the heaviness gone? Oh, it’s there – hovering close by – waiting for me to finish my thanksgiving; waiting for me to let my guard down. But, as in the game of Hot Potato (which we won’t be able to play in Kindergarten this year), I toss it back to my Father who has offered to take care of it.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4: 6-7

Never stop praying. Always be joyful and be thankful in all circumstances. I just need to keep taking my vitamins with a healthy dose of Trust.

We got this.


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My Huge Stage

In Kindergarten, before the first day of school, the educator team meets with the parents of new students for an intake meeting. We talk about our expectations and welcome them to school. Parents are encouraged to ask questions and share important information that would help us get to know their child.

At one such interview a couple of years ago, a parent asked many questions, but her final one was, “Can I take a picture of your nails?” Odd, but I did have each nail painted in two colors of shellac with black markings to look like crayons. They were cute. My back-to-school nails. I agreed, of course, not even wondering who she would show the photo to. Maybe her husband, her girlfriends, her nail artist.

The next morning, my educator partner sent me a screenshot of a tweet that featured my nails. “Just met my kid’s Kindergarten teacher for the first time. She wins at nails.” And there they were in five different Crayola colors. Tweeted to 15.5K of her followers. I had no idea that she was the host of a CBC radio morning show in our nation’s capital. And, just like that, my fingers were famous.

When we sent her child home with a banged-up face the day before Photo Day (he fell on his own face), all of Ottawa heard about that too. Thank goodness, she still hadn’t said my name. But it made me a little nervous that if I slipped up, or she even perceived that I slipped up, she had a large radio, Twitter, Instagram… audience that might hear about it.

That might be an extreme example, but we can easily end up in social media without even knowing it’s happening. If you haven’t already told Facebook you’d like to approve any photo you’re tagged in before it’s posted on your Timeline, do it. A photo does not always reflect what you’d like it to. It can speak a thousand words, sure, but they’re not necessarily the thousand you’d like to send to your friends, your mom, and your third-grade Sunday School teacher.

It wasn’t that many years ago that the Internet was a concept; an idea; but the regular human didn’t know how they could use it; FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsapp… all words that no one had assigned to things yet. In fact, I used my first real computer in my last year of high school. I programmed a race car to drive across the screen. (I’m sure my Adam-and-Eve-code was just the beginning of the Gran Turismo games so popular today – I’m still waiting for my share of the royalties…)

This computer/technology age in which we now live has made the world shrink. Children have the opportunity to get to know and spend time with their grandparents, even when they live across the country from each other. We can stay connected with extended family all over the world without paying a long-distance phone bill. You can find the love of your life without ever leaving your chair, and even see what he looks like too (assuming he’s honest enough to post a current photo of himself rather than someone he wishes he looked like)! Those now working from home, in our pandemic world, hold face-to-face meetings without ever leaving their houses. It is mind-boggling what advanced technology has done to our world.

While it’s made the planet smaller, in the sense that we can reach out and contact people around the world with ease, it’s made our audience bigger in our life-performance. A friend of a friend of a cousin knows about details of my life, whether I want them to or not. That’s a bit of pressure on the stage. The venue just changed from the school auditorium to the stage of the Rungrado May Stadium in North Korea, the largest football stadium in the world. Gulp. Talk about stage fright.

Before you freak out at this thought, remember the underlying point of Val’s Stage is the idea of living for the audience of One, and not worrying about all those other dudes and dudettes in the stands. But it doesn’t hurt to remember they are there. As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous— not even one.” (‭‭Romans‬ ‭3:10)‬‬.‭ ‬This gives me an out when I mess up. Kind of. But God is the only one likely to give me grace and mercy. The others in the audience are more likely to judge me and talk about me behind my back. Just saying.

In the Fall, when strangers meet me and admire my crayon nails, they often identify me as a school teacher without me first revealing this fact. Who else would walk around 24 hours a day with such childishly decorative fingernails? As I reflect on Val’s Stage today, I wonder what things about me tell strangers that I am a child of God? What clues do people see? My audience of One sees my heart and knows my desires, but all those other people in the auditorium: what do they see? The tattoo of the cross on my wrist is not enough. I pray that my life: my attitudes, my kindness, my love for others reflect God’s glory. Not specifically for those strangers I meet, but to make my Father proud.

But give reverent honor in your hearts to the Anointed One and treat him as the holy Master of your lives. And if anyone asks about the hope living within you, always be ready to explain your faith with gentleness and respect. Maintain a clean conscience, so that those who slander you for living a pure life in Christ will have to lie about you and will be ashamed because of their slander. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if it is in God’s plan, than for doing evil.”

1 Peter 3:15-17 TPT

The Light of the World is Jesus. He is the Truth. He is the answer to everything. Our “confident hope.” When we allow Him to rule our hearts, His light will shine through us – that Jesus-glow will advertise to the world that we are His, like wearing a neon sign around our necks. Do you remember the Sunday School song?


Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m going to let it shine. Let it shine, shine, shine. Let it shine!

Let’s hold our candles high.


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An Angel Lived Here

Rewind the old film reel to time-travel back at least forty years…

My brother and I bounced around, untethered, on the back seat of the family station wagon as we pulled into the driveway of my grandparents’ gravel driveway in a small town in central Newfoundland. The main door was open in expectation and, with the crunch of the tires, her face appeared behind the glass of the storm door.

I swear she had springs in her wool slippers as she waved excitedly to her guests, bouncing with joy to see us. She took her apron off and laid it on the washer in the porch just before we got pulled in, one by one, for a kiss and a bear hug.

Then she was off, bustling about – bustling was her only mode of movement – getting a snack or a drink or finishing dinner prep. She talked nonstop; laughing, only letting Pop get a word in when she got him to affirm one of her stories.

My brother Jon and I wandered into the rest of the 3-bedroom bungalow to explore. A Bible lay open on the dining room table, like someone had been interrupted while reading it and planned to go back soon to continue. Behind the table was a cabinet of board games; evidence of the ten children who grew up in this tiny house. One of those uncles grunted hello from the couch before turning back to the only TV; the black and white images much more interesting than a couple of kids. We busied ourselves with a game or pen and paper until we heard her go to the door to call the others in for supper.

“Da-VID! Dex-TER!” with the second syllable of each name going up to an unearthly pitch. Then she seated us all in the eat-in kitchen and bowed her head to “ask the blessing.”

She chatted through the meal, telling us stories we’d heard a hundred times like it was the first time she’d told them; her wide eyes flashing with humour and life. It always amazed me how she could eat and still keep up the steady flow of words. But there were fresh berries for dessert – bakeapples (or cloudberries, as some may know them). This was my nan’s marijuana – the drug that slowed her down and opened her senses to an extreme awareness.

She closed her eyes after a mouthful, a big smile of appreciation and delight spreading across her face as she let the berries sit on her tongue. “Plain delicious!” she praised. “If there are berries in Heaven, they are bakeapples!”

Even with the sprinkle of sugar over the top, I didn’t share her enjoyment. While I liked the sweet-but-tart flavour, the little seeds got caught in my teeth and bothered me for the rest of the day, with my tongue tiring from trying to root them out. (I’ve never eaten a bowl of bakeapples or a piece of bakeapple cheesecake since without thinking of her and her enjoyment of that treat.)

And then it was back to bustling, as the table was cleared away and the dishes hand-washed with a cup-towel tossed my way to help with drying.

When the last dish was put away, my mom placed one of the kitchen chairs in the middle of the room and the lady of the house took her seat. It was time to tame that wild hair; time to “put a TONI in.” She talked her way through it as Mom twisted her grey hair around the tiny plastic tubes, using the tail of the comb to part her thin hair into neat rows of pink curlers. Everyone disappeared from the kitchen when the chemicals went on. That stuff smelled almost as bad as boiling the feathers off turrs. Almost. (Frankly, there’s no smell that can compete with that).

She glanced quickly at the finished product of tight curls in the bathroom mirror, thanking Mom profusely for the service. Then she bustled into the dining room to sit at the big pump organ. I ran to stand by her side. Making music out of that monstrosity was nothing short of a miracle. The first notes droned over the sound of the air hissing from the foot pedals with a sound just slightly better than the music (?) of bagpipes.

“Faith of our fathers!” she belted out with passion. Then on to, “We are heirs of the Father, joint heirs with the Son…” She wouldn’t make it through the auditions of The Voice, but she won the most points for fervour. Never was her faith more pronounced than when she sat on that wooden bench.

Then it was back to the kitchen setting us up with a stalk of rhubarb from her garden and a small bowl of sugar for dipping. As we dug in, she plopped her round bottom in her rocking chair next to the wood stove and picked up her knitting. Someone would have a new thick pair of wool socks this winter.

What I felt in that moment, as I watched her knit and talk and laugh, was a warmth separate from the wood stove’s heat. It was a feeling of home where love and generosity prevailed. And I knew that everyone who walked through her front door (well, side door – no one ever used the front door) sensed this feeling; were treated with this hospitality and kindness.

The film stops suddenly as the tape’s end flaps away from the reel. That feeling. That smile. That big, big heart. That is what I remember. That is what I will always remember about my grandmother.

I stand on Val’s Stage today as a granddaughter who just lost someone very dear. We didn’t see each other often because we never lived close by. But she holds a place in my heart and always will.

In her 95th year of living, COVID-19 didn’t take her, but COVID-19 will prevent me from saying goodbye in person or reminiscing with family. I will watch her funeral on a screen.

You could say that everyone says kind words about the dead, but sometimes an individual is extraordinary, as my nan was. She was an angel here.

Now, she’s an angel there.

I will see you again, Nan. Until then, I will hold those memories close and feel the warmth of your love when I replay the film in my mind.

When they arrive at the gates of death, God welcomes those who love him.

Psalm 116:15 MSG

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control.

Philippians 3:20-21 NLT

For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.

Corinthians 5:1

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Achieving Balance: A Self-Image Confession

I stand on Val’s Stage today and admit I’ve struggled with self-image issues. With the money I’ve spent over the years on hair extensions, gel nails, eyelash extensions and makeup, Hubby and I could go on a very nice cruise (not that cruising is very desirable right now; so, no loss).

Did you know the Christian’s Handbook gives us guidelines for fashion? 1 Peter ‭3:3 instructs us, ‬“‭Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes.” Pause here while I catch my breath. Don’t be concerned? I was not raised to be unconcerned about how I look. ‬

Before I hit the teen years, my mother was bleaching my hair blond with peroxide because my natural color was dirty-looking (guess that’s why it’s called dirty-blond). No one had seen my natural hair color for five minutes since (until the coronavirus locked us in our houses and shut down the hair salons). I’ve struggled with self-image issues all my life, and I recently pegged that hair-dye moment as the beginning of a lifetime of beauty treatments that served to give me self-worth. I’m not blaming you, Mom, I’ve got a whole superficial society surrounding me where being real and raw isn’t considered attractive.

Up until this year, I also never left the house as an adult without a full face of makeup, even when I was recovering from pink eye. My friends laughed at me when I sat at the table to put on ‘my face’ in the mornings during cottage weekends. Our chances of seeing another human outside of the women in the cottage were slim. Yet, I didn’t feel complete or confident without making myself look as good as possible on the outside. More recently, I’ve pushed myself to go outside a few times to play tennis or go for a walk before my makeup routine was done, but I still try to stay somewhat hidden behind my sunglasses.

The last time I FaceTimed with my hair-bleaching mom, she had already prepared for bed, so she wouldn’t turn the iPad for me to see her. It was more of a WallTime as I stared at the Benjamin Moore Yellow Lotus wall over her shoulder while we talked. Pride in physical appearance is apparently a hereditary trait. Thank goodness I didn’t have any daughters to pass it down to. (We won’t talk about my youngest son who is on a modelling agency’s payroll.)

Now, I discover Peter is telling us – well, okay – me that I really shouldn’t care so much.
But he didn’t stop there. Verse 4 says, “You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.” Huh. If I spent even half the time doing devotions or praying as I have decorating my outside appearance, you’d have to wear shades to be near my halo. Cosmopolitan doesn’t give us tips on how to attain that beauty.

Hair dye, makeup, clothing, and other add-ons aside, then, there’s my weight. Hubby claims he can’t lose weight without a scale to track his progress, so against my better judgement, I bought one. When I stepped on, it told me I was supposed to be socially distancing, and only one person should be standing on it at a time! (I’m kidding, kind of). But it did say, based on my measurements and my weight, that I am overweight – not obese, but overweight. Is one O-word worse than the other? It’s still big and round and needs some trimming, and I seriously didn’t need a name for it.

Ouch!

We all recognize that the 19 in COVID-19 refers to the number of pounds we are likely to gain during the pandemic, but it’s still shocking to discover how much of my clothes no longer fit me. And if it was only 19 extra pounds that I was carrying around, it wouldn’t be as alarming. I power walk, I bike, I lift weights, play tennis, and do ab exercises. I’m not completely sedentary. Do I have to do all of those things every day to stay in shape? I never make dessert and rarely ever eat chips or junk in the evenings. I try to balance the meat on our plates with vegetables and add cheese with moderation. I don’t drink pop or eat white bread. Is there something to this “middle-aged spread” I’ve heard about?

I admit, I love to eat out occasionally, and when I do, I enjoy French fries (sometimes even poutine!) and less healthy choices. I enjoy Irish cream in my morning coffee (with frothed milk) and wine and cheese in the afternoon. How do I balance my love of food, wine, and eating out with taking care of my body, feeling good about myself and being healthy? How do I balance my desire to look my best on the outside with my desire for inner beauty?

What I do know, as I stand under the bright lights of my stage (which reveal my facial hair and deepening pores), is that I have to love myself in order to love others. I can’t get hung up on trying to lose weight and making myself more beautiful if it means that I’m unhappy and too obsessed to see that God loves me just the way I am. He thinks I’m beautiful. He made me, after all. Who am I to be unhappy with this body he put me in? He wants me to step away from the mirror and spend more time looking for people around me who I can help; who I can show God’s love to.

It is said that when a woman is pregnant, she has a glow about her. While, at 50, I certainly don’t want that glow, Jocelyn Hamsher describes a Christian woman’s appearance as having a “Jesus-beauty glow — her face will reflect her joy, her virtuous lifestyle, and her love for others.” Maybe I’ve been striving for the wrong thing all these years. It’s time to start focusing more on the Jesus-beauty glow; on the inner beauty – “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.

You are beautiful. For you are fearfully and wonderfully made…

Psalm 139:14

Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”

1 Timothy 4:8

Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.

1 Timothy 4:12

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Face the Right Direction and Take One Step at a Time

I stand on Val’s stage today as a mom walking down memory lane; specifically, those homework sessions at the kitchen table with a crying child.

“Mom, there’s too much! Two whole pages! I’ll be here all night.” He throws his head dramatically onto his folded arms and cries. Real tears. Real anxiety. That heavy Math textbook was not a friend; his or mine.

The teacher’s strategy for this recurring homework distress was to tell him he only had to complete every second problem. This would still demonstrate whether he had mastered the concept. True. But telling him he only had to do half the questions didn’t shrink the page. It was still the same overwhelming grid of numbers. He couldn’t even start it. The whole was too big to see each individual question.

Covering the bottom of the page with sticky notes did not fool his brain either. He was in the junior grades by this time, and not easy to trick. It took a lot of training and many more tears before he finally began to see that he just needed to tackle the job one problem at a time. Kicking up a fuss wasn’t going to get him out of doing the work. He had to do it, so he might as well face the right direction and take one step at a time.

It’s hard not to circle back to my own reality of the fall school start-up in less than three weeks. Concerned parents reach out to me for help with a decision about going back to school, joining through remote learning, or keeping their child home to do their own program (homeschooling), and I have to admit to them that I don’t know much more than they do about what this will all look like. When you look at the whole, it can be overwhelming and scary. It might make you want to pull your turtle head into your shell and refuse to come out. But no matter how long I stay in there and how many tears I shed, I still have to do what I have to do. I have to take my own advice to my son: face the right direction and take one step at a time.

Am I going to hate wearing a mask and a shield all day? Yes, but I’ll get used to it, just like all those other essential workers have been doing nonstop for months. Are my hands going to dry out and get sore from all the sanitizer? Yes, but I’ll find some really good moisturizer to help with that, and my fancy gel nails will distract from the ugliness. Will I have to change my program drastically into something unrecognizable? Yes, but my students will still acquire important life skills and will come to love learning. Will I find it hard to distance from four- and five-year olds who need a loving touch? Yes, but I’ll learn to use my words and my voice more effectively to soothe and comfort. Will I fear the chance of getting the corona virus from one of my students? Yes, but I’ll do the best I can to prevent that from happening and face it head-on, only if it does. Will it be the most challenging year ever as a teacher, student or parent? Yes, but if we all work together, we can face the right direction and take one step at a time.

There are many stories in the Bible of people who didn’t know what the future held but blindly followed God’s leading.

Noah – He built a giant boat where there was no water, while his neighbors laughed at him.
Abraham and Sarah – They packed up everything and left their home with no clear idea of where they were going. It was one step at a time in their journey toward “The Promised Land.”
Moses – He was told to lead the people, but he had no idea where his destination was or how long it would take them. If he had known he was facing 40 years in the wilderness with people who blamed him for every little thing that went wrong, he might have refused that leadership mission.
Paul – On the day that he was converted, Paul asked, “What shall I do, Lord?” And the answer came back, “Arise and go on into Damascus; and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.” He went without knowing what to expect.

Blind faith worked out in each of these cases. (See more faith stories in Hebrews 11).

Usually, in normal times, we base our plans on what we know. We weigh the pros and the cons; we try to make an informed decision. But what we know, in the case of COVID, is just so little. It’s going to require some blind faith to move forward. Despite my brave words, this week I’ve stumbled. It’s hard being this close to Day One with my students while still not knowing the details.

Do you know who does know everything? God. He sees how we can best navigate through the pandemic. He knows when and how it will end. I have to stop and pass my worries back to Him to carry. That backpack is too heavy for me. I’m going to let him lead the way into this mess, while bolstering me up with His comforting love.

I’m going to suit up with my protective gear, face the right direction, and take one step at a time.


“We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”

Proverbs 16:9

“Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.”

Psalm 23:4
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Back to School: The Heart of a Teacher

I stand on Val‘s Stage today as a Kindergarten teacher; a teacher who is told that she has to go back to school– five days a week – with her whole class – during a pandemic. People ask me how I feel. Well, here is how I feel…


In June, after three months of at-home learning, my students were asked to send us a short video in which they told us what they loved most about Kindergarten. We received a variety of answers, including memories of field trips and special events; but almost all of them stated that ‘playing with their friends’ was what they enjoyed most.

One of our little ones, who has been diagnosed with a socially-challenging developmental disorder, sent the most touching video. Tears filled his eyes and his voice as he said, “I miss Mrs Val.” Mrs Val fought back her own tears as he continued with, “I miss Ms. Holly.” (Our Early Childhood Educator) “And I miss my friends.” This was more than a statement of what he loved about Kindergarten; this was an honest expression of his feelings in that moment, after three months apart. This separation has not been easy on children, especially our friends with special needs.

For four- and five-year-old children, play is their work. In those two years of Kindergarten, they learn how to get along with others, how to self-regulate, and how to be a contributing member of a community. They use language to express their wants, needs, and feelings. They learn to listen to others and respect differing ideas. They learn to ask questions and explore their innate curiosity. And each of those learnings is done while they play with their classmates.

It’s time for children to get back to ‘work’. They can’t effectively work from home like many of their parents do. They need each other.

When people ask me how I feel about going back to school, I tell them that I will face what I need to face and do what I’m told to do. I chose a profession that involves spending my days with little children, and if I didn’t believe that my job was essential to their social-emotional development, I wouldn’t do it.

I look past the tears, dirty noses, and washroom accidents to their smiling eyes. Sometimes it takes a while for them to gain that social confidence; to move through the stages of play from solitary play, to playing side by side with others, to interacting, to actually cooperatively playing together. Somewhere in that play spectrum, they see the value in friendship, and their eyes light up when they enter their friends’ space.

While this pandemic created a situation for families to reconnect and has forced them into spending more time together (which, for most families, was a positive thing), it’s time for children to reconnect with their friends.

Most of my students will have been at home for half a year when we start school in September. That’s a long time for a child who’s only been on the earth for four or five years. They will enter school after six months of being told they can’t share, they can’t play with friends, and they must stay a huge distance apart from others. They have had a fear of interaction instilled into them. Outside of the safety precautions we will need to implement, rebuilding our social learning environment is going to be a challenge.

Many parents, and teachers too, are expressing fear about this year’s startup. Fear breeds anxiety, and who needs that?

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”

Peter 5: 7

I look forward to seeing those smiling eyes, even if the rest of their faces were hidden behind masks (which right now is not a requirement). Children need to get back to work, so I need to get back there too. As a teacher, I will lead by example as we navigate through a whole new way of doing things. I will show flexibility and embrace change as a necessary element of my job. We will learn together as we play together, and our eyes will reflect our enjoyment as we rediscover how much we need each other.

We’re going to be okay. And if we’re not, we’ll deal with things as they come. That may seem reckless, but it’s a risk we need to take. Our children need each other now. Their future as world citizens, who live and work together effectively, depends on it.

I look past the fear and the necessary restrictive measures, and I look forward to seeing their smiling eyes.

Welcome back to school, my friends!

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4: 6-7

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On Fire!

Hot summer days can get boring in a trailer park. My best friend Sean and I had filed away our Grade 2 diplomas in our School Days albums (well, our mothers did that) and faced down two months of freedom. Throwing ball, playing tag, exploring the forest, picking crab-apples, riding our bikes; it was all fun for the first four weeks, but now it was all getting a little old.

Sean saw it first. Well, we all saw it – the huge pile of broken-down boxes stuffed away behind the neighbour’s shed. Someone bought new appliances. Our parents complained about the eyesore (yes, trailer park people do care about their property appearances!). But Sean saw that heap of cardboard through a creative mind. He saw it as building material.

We dug into the pile like those cardboard pieces were free nuggets at a gold mine (or Mickey D’s). We had walls! We had a roof! We had a fort! We cut out windows; drew pictures on the walls with crayons; and furnished it with cushions from my mother’s couch. We ate our lunch in there, brought in board games, marbles and Pick Up Sticks.

So. Much. Fun.

We enjoyed our cardboard playhouse for one week before we were told in no uncertain terms that the fort had to go. Garbage Day (a.k.a. Fort Destruction Day) was just around the corner. What do adults have against fun? Where we saw a castle, they saw a pile of trash.

We spent the entire day in our hot, stuffy fort, knowing it would be our last. We may have used some creative adjectives to describe our parents and their unfairness. We may have even written a few of them on the walls.

Just before dinner, we reluctantly returned the cushions and the toys to their rightful homes and sat on the grass to say goodbye to our creation. I fought the inevitable tears, realizing that anger wasn’t going to change the reality that our fort was going to be curbside in a matter of hours, ready for the morning trash pick-up.

I glanced at Sean, expecting to see a similar sadness reflected on his face, but my friend had a gleam in his eyes rather than tears.

“What?”

He grinned, which seemed the strangest expression to make at such a mournful time.

“What?” I repeated.

He glanced at my trailer and the one next door before responding. “They think it’s garbage, right?”

I squinted at him, not knowing where he was going with this. “Yeaaah?”

“Let’s get rid of it ourselves, then.”

I rolled my eyes. “I think they’re expecting us to take it apart and bring it to the road, Sean. My Dad said we have to clean up our own mess.”

He looked around again, causing my heart to speed up a little. He was making me nervous.

I threw my hands up. “What?!”

He shushed me and whispered his idea in my ear, even though there was no one within listening range. “Let’s burn it.”

My eyes bulged. “What?”

“Let’s set it on fire!”

I was suddenly looking around too. “You’re nuts!” I hissed. “How are we going to set it on fire?”

PAUSE STORY HEREHow? I asked how? That was my concern? Let me remind you, I was only seven. CONTINUE.

Sean ran home and returned with a box of matches from his kitchen drawer. We weren’t finished having fun with our fort after all.

He showed me how to drag the tip of the match across the side of the box to create the flame. It made me jump every time, and I was too scared to try it myself.

“I might burn my fingers,” I said, as he lit another and held it to the bottom of the fort. Walls 1 and 2 were already burning slowly.

“You won’t,” he said with a pyromaniac’s confidence, even as I waved off the opportunity.

There wasn’t much wind in that corner of the yard where the fort stood, wedged between the side of our shed and the neighbour’s trailer. Therefore, the fire creeped upwards at a snail’s pace; nothing to worry about. It was small and contained, but was creating a lot of smoke.

Sean waved a window-square of cardboard at the fort to try and get rid of the smoke. We didn’t know anything about fanning a fire.

Yet.

But it was a learn-by-doing experience, as we watched the flames grow bigger. Heat was mingling with the smoke which stung our eyes and made us cough.

Sean wasn’t smiling anymore, and my own heart was pounding frantically. We both took a step back as if we were tied together for a three-legged race.

Suddenly, the neighbour whose trailer bordered the back of ours blasted out of her side door with a bucket of water, screaming, “Fire! Fire!” She doused the fort with the water, pushing both Sean and I out of the way. So much yelling.

“Get your mom!” she screamed as she ran back to her trailer for a refill.

My mom? I couldn’t tell my mom. She’d kill me. She was feeding my baby brother, and there was no way I was troubling her with this.

Sean was pulling on my arm. Away from the fort. Away from the yard. But I was frozen, wondering what I should do.

“Let’s get out of here!”

I stared at my friend. We couldn’t just leave, could we?

He yanked on my arm again, and suddenly we were running down the road like arsonists, criminals, escaped prisoners; laughing and hooting that we had gotten away with it.

Seven. We were seven.

The fire was put out. The shed was saved. The neighbour’s trailer didn’t burn. Yet, I wasn’t allowed to play with Sean for a long, long time. Parents can be so unfair.


Not my proudest moment on Val’s Stage, but we’ve all had those, I’m sure.

While I do love a scented candle, a nice bonfire, or fireplace flame, I’m not a pyromaniac. Yet, fire is intriguing, isn’t it? This intense energy holds the power to take down a building in minutes or rage through a forest, destroying everything in its path.

Humans didn’t create fire, though. They didn’t even discover fire. That powerful, intense energy was here long before the Earth was populated with humans.

The God of Fire

Look up fire god on the Internet. Wikipedia lists 102 fire gods originating in areas all over the world. Oddly, the God of the Bible doesn’t make that list, even though He was involved in an exciting fire contest between gods which is recorded in that ancient book. The story (found in 1 Kings 18) goes that a bunch of prophets wanted to prove whose god was the greatest by asking them to rain down fire on their altar. So, 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah cried out, danced, prayed, and cut themselves with their swords, requesting their gods to light their altar sacrifices. They spent the whole day carrying on like this while the flies buzzed around their rotting meat.

Elijah, the prophet of God, finally took his turn. He raised the stakes. Elijah soaked his sacrifice and wood with 12 large jars of water, creating a moat all around the altar. He prayed the following simple prayer:

“O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”

1 Kings 18:36-37

Do you know what happened? The fire of God fell from Heaven and not only burned the offering; it burned the wood, the stones, the dust and all of the water. That’s an intense energy of power!

This same God appears as fire a few times too. He spoke to Moses out of a burning bush, led the people of Israel through the wilderness as a pillar of fire at night, and His Spirit appeared in flames of fire on the New Testament believers. Now, that’s a God of Fire!

I’m on Fire!

Think of the ways we use the phrase, “I’m on fire!” I say it when I’m doing really well at something. I just slammed the tennis ball outside of my opponent’s reach – “I’m on fire!” I had a great idea that proved successful at work – “I’m on fire!” I prepared three outstanding meals in a row – “I’m really on fire!” I’m usually proud of myself when I say it. I’ve accomplished something great; I feel full of energy and power.

Did you notice how many ‘I’s that involved? It’s all about me.

What would change if I added two words to that phrase: for God? “I’m on fire for God!” What would that mean?

That would mean exhibiting more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It would mean offering forgiveness. Who do those things benefit? Myself? No. Being on fire for God is taking the focus off myself and looking for ways to serve others.

That’s worth investing in with some intense energy.

I want to be on fire for God. Don’t you?

“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

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Hiding My Fall

The warm breeze caressed my face and bare arms as I pedaled. Smooth was not a word I’d have used to describe this 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, (away from the stops at intersections) I was sailing. Smoothly.

I never knew biking could feel so good. My memories of riding 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-coloured 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 king 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.

I picked up some wraps, a veggie and hummus tray, and a bag of kettle chips. We set out with our backpacks bulging with the 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, an expert on bikes, having done a full inspection less than 24 hours before on my bike, knew that it had been involved in a trauma. My fall had caused the breakdown. He claimed he could fix it, but it’s been a full week since we left it with him. I can’t help but feel like I’m being 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 the 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.”

English Standard Version

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 favour 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. In my new favourite book, Grace for the Good Girl, Emily P. Freeman says, “We believe our mistakes discredit, our failures disqualify, and our lack proves our worthlessness.”

No! In her chapter on forgiveness, she says:

“With Christ, we can release the right to be perfect and never mess up. We can release the right to pay for our own failure. And we can release those around us from having to pay for their failures as well.”

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 The Message

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

Psalm 13:5 The Message
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The Game of Life

It’s Friday night. Work is done for the week and it’s time to take a break. If you’re like me, you might enjoy getting out a board game or a deck of cards and making it a Game Night!

Chance

Do you remember Hasbro’s The Game of Life board game? Each player gets their own little car. You stick a peg in the driver’s spot, spin the wheel, and major life events happen to you. You might go to college and earn a degree; you might get a great job and make tons of money; you might get married and have children; or you might not do any of those things. Everything depends on the spin of the wheel – it is a game of chance.

This reminds me of Doris Day’s song, Que Sera Sera – whatever will be will be. That sounds like a risky way to view life! I’ll just roll with the punches, take things as they come, let Nature take its course, take my chances.

Admittedly, it’s much easier to concede defeat in a game of chance. When you lose in a board game or card game in which your advancements or points are solely tied to the roll of a die or the spin of a wheel, you are relieved of blame for a loss. There is no shame in losing when Lady Luck is in charge. This is the type of game many of my Kindergarten children would prefer to play. “It was just a game of chance; right, Mrs. Val?” Right. The loss has no reflection on your intelligence or skills.

Strategy

Some games such as Mattel’s card game Skip-Bo require some strategy, in addition to the luck of the draw. Picking up the right cards is necessary for a win, but things go better when you are educated on how to play the game, and you use some tactics such as holding onto cards until it’s most advantageous, using your wild cards wisely, blocking other players from succeeding, and strategically placing cards in your discard piles to aid in your future goals. Luck plays a role, but a loss carries with it some responsibility – maybe I could have played better.

When compared with life itself, this type of game is a little more realistic. You use strategy to make things happen, but there’s still elements that are beyond your control: what part of the world you were born in, with its social systems including access to health care and education; your family’s socio-economic class; the stability and support of your family unit; and, yes, race and gender too.

Skill

You may or may not be familiar with the hands-on game Crokinole. Ontario-made in the 1800s, this wooden game board hides forgotten in a dusty corner of many homes and cottages. Crokinole has rules similar to curling with players flicking small wooden buttons with their fingers on a round board with pegs and a hole in the centre. The goal is to knock off your opponent’s buttons, while keeping yours in the highest scoring areas of the board. Your chance of winning is much more reliant on skill attained through practice. There are definite handicaps such as my friend’s developing arthritis or my long gel nails (I don’t compare those as similar issues, other than making it difficult to play with accuracy!). Crokinole is a game in which a player can easily get frustrated and tire of losing to a more skilled opponent. For this reason, I no longer play with Hubby unless we’re playing “teams” with another couple! (I still play tennis with him because we are equally amateurish at that!)

Some people are born with skills and talents which make them better suited to succeed in certain areas. Someone with exercise-induced asthma is not likely to be a professional athlete. Someone with short, stubby fingers might not be suited to be a master pianist.

Some skills can be learned, however, and a bit of hard work can create success. High school graduates register for college courses and walk out a couple years later ready to start careers in fields they knew very little about when they started. Almost anyone can be taught how to sing. You can learn to dance apparently – I don’t think I can, but that’s just me. Even what looks like a handicap can sometimes be overcome, such as a small hockey player using speed and agility to make up for size.

After the education, however, practice is needed before the skills are mastered. Before you really play the game well.

House Rules

Every game comes with Rules of Play. Each player must learn the rules, and adhere to them, in order to play the game as the creator meant it to be played. When playing a game at a friend’s place, however, sometimes you need to be aware of certain House Rules. Despite the fact that there is a set of finite instructions written in the accompanying documentation, some people agree on modifications to rules. As long as everyone accepts the changes, all is well. However, if the House Rules aren’t stated up front, disputes can occur.

In Kindergarten, we talk a lot about rules and why there is a need for them. Most rules in society are there to keep us safe and to maintain order. We may not always agree with them, but in most cases, the rules are made with our best interests in mind.

Life – The Real Deal

On my stage as a Christian, I don’t believe that my life is a game of chance. If I attribute everything positive to luck, and blame everything negative on bad luck, I take no responsibility for my own actions. I’m just a small ‘Cruiser’ on a Battleship game board. If I’m lucky, my opponent won’t use any strategy and my ship won’t get hit by a missile.

No, in my mind, when good things happen to me, I am blessed, I am thankful, I am given a wonderful gift. I know where to turn my grateful heart:

“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

Do I point my finger at the devil for my hardships? That’s a bit trickier. There’s no doubt that Satan wants to see me lose this game; that he’d love for me to give up. He’s likely responsible for some of the bad stuff that happens to me. But nobody ever promised life would be all sunshine and roses, even when you believe in a loving God. Sometimes my Father allows me to go through difficult things so I learn to depend on Him more. Sometimes I make bad choices and suffer the consequences. Sometimes, I don’t understand things at all – why bad things happen to good people (why hundreds of thousands of people die in a global pandemic, for example). But I believe that the Director of my life sees the big picture. I don’t. Whether I understand or not, luck has nothing to do with it.

Like the games which require strategy and practice, I learn the rules in life, and I work hard to follow them. I need to spend time reading the Christian’s rule book – a fairly thick manual called the Bible. The more familiar I become with it, and the more I practice loving God and loving other people, the more confident I can be that I’m playing the game well.

While I don’t have to work to earn God’s love, He blesses those who do their best. I don’t expect large houses and fancy cars to magically appear if I spend my whole life lying around reading romance novels and eating candy, no matter how appealing that may sound.

“Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.”

Romans 12:11

“You will enjoy the fruit of your labor. How joyful and prosperous you will be!”

Psalm 128:2

Labor. Work. God rewards people who work hard. However, one of the more important criteria on His pay scale is love. If I work night and day with the desire to be rich and powerful, but mistreat others to get ahead or ignore those who love me, He may not bless me in the way I’d hoped. As His child, I want to make my heavenly Dad proud and continue the reputation that goes with our family name, and that includes my work ethic. If that means teaching in the classroom in the fall with its COVID-uncertainties, or online, or a combination of both, I will do the best that I can, with God’s help. Working from home, as many of us have been forced to do, comes with a different type of commitment. With no one there to supervise, it’s much easier to goof off with that romance novel when I should be working. Ah, but I do have an all-seeing Supervisor, don’t I?

“Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed.”

Proverbs 16:3

When I put my trust in my Father and I believe that He knows what’s best for me, I won’t modify His guidelines to create my own House Rules. He loves me and wants me to live the best life possible. And in the end, I will be a winner.

“But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Corinthians 15:57

Victory! Yes! And what’s the prize for winning this game? Just eternal life and a home in Heaven.

I’ll accept that.


Is your life a game of chance, strategy or skill? Whose rulebook do you play by?

Featured

Fact or Fiction?

Another heatwave. Welcome to July in Ottawa. Last year, we had our own inground pool to get us through the hot days. This year we have a shared condo pool with limitations and covidian rules. Some days we don’t get to set foot inside the iron fence at all. It’s our own fault for downsizing and moving into resort-style living B.P. (Before Pandemic).

One day this week, Hubby and I looked forward to our one-hour turn poolside. Our only booked slot in a three-day stretch, we were timing things down to the second so we could enjoy every one of those sixty minutes. We’d eat lunch before we go, have our bags packed early, and allow plenty of time for the elevator.

I dialed the number to the guardhouse to book our time for the next available day, not wanting to have another string of no-pool days. Expecting the normal automated answer with menu options, I was surprised to hear ring after ring with no response. After three such attempts, I decided the answering machine was not at home. More drastic measures needed to be taken to secure our spots poolside. Someone else was likely booking the last slots as I sat there with the phone to my ear.

The security guard met me in his gatehouse door at the entrance to our condo parking lot, masked and ready to pencil in our names.

“This is a rough way to book time at the pool,” I half-joked.

He checked his book. “The next available time is Friday.”

I groaned. Another day of heat wave with no pool.

As he recorded my information for Friday, I chatted away, suspecting the man might be lonely in his little isolation booth. I commented on the rumors I’d heard that management was considering changing some of the rules to give us a better opportunity to maximize occupancy on the pool deck; allowing drop-ins if people didn’t show up for their booked time.

He shook his head. “I don’t know. They’re really strict about the rules.” He pointed toward the pool area with his pen. “In fact, they’ve shut down the pool for the entire day because people weren’t following the rules.”

My heart sank as I digested this bit of news. “Today?”

He nodded. “Yep. They shut it down for the rest of the day.”

Disappointment turned to anger. “What rules were they breaking?” I couldn’t think of anything a group of nine adults could possibly do to warrant closing the pool and punishing everyone for their sin. Were we in elementary school? Should we call everyone to the gym to be lectured by the principal?

The guard leaned in to impart his knowledge, his mask making him fearless of my proximity. “Apparently, people stayed longer than they were supposed to, so too many people ended up being in the pool area at once.”

My voice went up an octave. “And they closed the pool?”

“Yep. They take the rules seriously.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “Wow.” What else could I say? I thanked him for his help with my entertainment schedule and headed back, my anger growing with each step.

Seriously? We’re missing out on our enjoyment because someone else was selfish and showed disregard for others…

A small group had gathered near the entrance of one of the condo buildings. I recognized the superintendent as one of the assembled.

“Is this an organized rebellion?” I asked, pushing a smile past my frustration. “Did they really close the pool because someone broke the rules?”

I saw confusion in their squinty-eyed stares. They must not have heard. I relayed my story to them, repeating the guard’s explanation.

Before I finished, one of the ladies was shaking her head, not with indignation as I expected, but in denial. “No, that’s not why the pool is closed,” she refuted confidently. “It’s closed because the phone lines are down. They’re not allowed to operate the outdoor pool without a direct line to emergency services.”

She addressed the super standing next to her. “You need to tell the guard. He’s spreading untruths and making people upset.”

He obediently removed his walkie-talkie from his belt and informed the guard of the situation. And it was over, just like that. There was no argument against a city rule imposed for our safety.

I had to lay down my anger and leave it on the cement curb – not an easy task when my body had assimilated the emotion so well. I’m not even sure I thanked them for clarifying things and imparting the truth.

As I walked back to my own building, my disbelief in the situation had jumped from the injustice of the condo management company (and the life guard on duty) to the discomfiture of having believed the story I was told by someone I felt had authority. As preposterous as it seemed, I accepted his version of events because I trusted that he should know the truth.

This blind acceptance of “truth” applies to so many things. As we navigate through the global pandemic, we put our trust in those who inform us – the medical experts, scientists, journalists, and politicians. They should be “in the know.” We often listen to their knowledge and accept it as facts, with no further evidence to support their words.

Our tendency to assign credence to Science, and those who study it, can cause our belief system to be shaped by their explanations and theories; even as it pertains to our very existence – the origin of life and the acceptance or rejection of an all-powerful God as creator.

In Romans 1:19-20, the author Paul is amazed that anyone viewing His creations could deny the sovereignty of God:

They know the truth about God because He has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see His invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature. So, they have no excuse for not knowing God.

Yet, a Google search of creation will bring up articles such as Charles Q. Choi’s “7 Theories on the Origin of Life” (2016, livescience.com). According to Choi, explanations of how life began on Earth range from lightning sparks, clay crystals arranging themselves, deep-sea hydrothermal vents, glacier preservation, molecules spontaneously rising out of the Earth, to space rocks falling on our planet carrying Martian microbes. Even then, all of these magical beginnings do not explain how the Earth ended up with the variety of living things that exist in plants, animals and humans. Many people believe Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution stepped in to form human life from the correct humble accident listed above and accept this as more plausible than a supernatural creator of all living things.

We highly regard scientists with their intellect and knowledge from research, and often accept their theories as truth. Is it more ridiculous, though, to believe that a supernatural being created all life than believing that random molecules organized themselves into life, whether under a glacier or in the sky?

I choose to believe the Bible.

So, God created human beings in His own image. In the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.

Genesis 1:27

The beauty and balance of creation: the planets, stars, moon and sun; the land and the water; trees, grass and other plants; animals, fish and birds; they all speak to the glory of their Creator.

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display His craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make Him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
and their words to all the world.

Psalm 19:1-4

After each day of creation, God acknowledged that what He did was good. It is not a stretch for me to believe that God then created humans. And when He surveyed all of His creation, with these most special beings at the end – His crowning accomplishment, He “looked over all He had made, and saw that is was very good!” (Genesis 1:31)

We were created to have intelligence to be able to choose who to believe. When I look closely at a beautiful cardinal, smell the sweet perfume of a wild rose, or feel my heart race in my chest, I can’t help but thank God for purposely making all these things. And making them very good.

Who do you listen to? What do you believe?

Featured

Discretion is Advised

The room smells of freshly-popped buttery popcorn as we put our feet up and settle into our spots on the couch. It’s the top of the hour on a Saturday night and we hope to find a movie to watch. Before a title appears on the screen, however, a warning banner pops up: Viewer discretion is advised. The words included with the cautionary signage describe the types of offenses we are likely to see or hear: coarse language or humor, violence, nudity… these descriptors varying depending on the movie. Some would call this ‘adult content’ or ‘mature content’.

With the warning comes a decision. Do we accept the terms and decide to watch this movie or do we change the channel and search for something more appropriate? There are no young children present, so the choice has different factors than it might for others. How did our plans for a relaxing evening at home just become a moral dilemma?

What is discretion anyway? Merriam-Webster says it’s “the ability to make responsible decisions” (‘responsible’ being a loaded word here). It’s “an individual choice or judgement.” But the movie warning doesn’t tell us how much coarse language there is. Maybe there’s an oath dropped once or twice during an especially trying time. How much violence is there? Does someone get punched in the face or does someone lose their head? What does nudity refer to? Do we see someone from the back or front? I don’t feel qualified to make a judgement with so little to go on.

The dictionary also includes the word ‘circumspection’ in its definition. I look up a definition of the definition to find this means being “careful to consider all circumstances and possible consequences.” What are the consequences of watching a movie with coarse language, violence and nudity? I might be offended. Once the words or images appear on the screen, I can’t unhear or unsee them. But that’s my choice. I was warned. I used my discretion to make the decision to watch it anyway. I have no grounds to complain about the offensiveness of the content.

There are many areas of our lives where discretion plays a role. We make decisions daily based on personal judgements. We cancel our picnic as we notice the dark clouds rolling in. We wear our masks to the grocery store even though it’s not mandatory. We stop to check the air in our tires because the ride seems a bit bumpy. Sometimes these choices seem obvious based on the situation. But other times, discretion is about choosing our words carefully. Do we use our words responsibly, considering the possible consequences?

A few years ago, my husband and I explored St. Thomas through a guided bus tour. The local guide was very informative, chatting as we traveled about his country’s history, culture, and way of life. His experience in the role came through in the smoothness of his speech and the timing of his anecdotes; to be able to point out the window at the exact moment to view something without having to interrupt a story. He was able to communicate well in many of the languages represented by the tourists, including English, French and Spanish.

The atmosphere in the air-conditioned coach bus was light, as it should be when on vacation, as we enjoyed the scenery and listened to his stories and knowledge of the area. We snapped blurry pictures through the tinted windows like everyone else.

The guide appeared friendly; smiling at people, joking with some, and welcoming questions. As he talked about their education system, he had my full attention. It’s always interesting to me as a teacher to learn about how schools operate in other countries.

“How many kids would typically be in a classroom?” I asked, thinking of my 30 students back home.

He looked at me with no smile and replied, “Kids? We call our little ones ‘children’, not ‘kids’. Kids are baby goats.”

He went on to answer my question about how many children might be in a class, but I’m not sure I heard the response. The information he gave is certainly not what I remember about that tour. My face burned with embarrassment as the bus went silent as a result of his tone. The Canadian teacher had been reprimanded for her inappropriateness and put in her place.

This was not a language issue or a cultural issue. The guide knew what I meant. I’m sure I was not the first tourist to ever call children kids. Was I the only one chosen to be taught a lesson?

Just behind his head attached to the bus wall was a sign reminding us to tip our guide well because his livelihood depended on our generosity. Yet, it seemed that he momentarily forgot discretion. He did not weigh the possible consequences of his reprimand – the likelihood of this mortified school teacher giving him a generous tip to thank him for pointing out her faux-pas; the possibility of souring her mood and ruining the experience for her and her party; the probability of this tourist writing a poor review of the excursion (although I did wait until today to review it on Val’s Stage where it won’t negatively impact the man’s business).

Teachers use discretion all the time, especially when writing legal documentation such as report cards. We refrain from stating “Johnny will make a masterful criminal with his propensity to steal, cheat, and lie,” cleverly spinning this observation into positive language such as “Johnny is an artful, creative storyteller who is resourceful and is able to effectively acquire materials to meet his needs.” Sometimes even hinting at positive growth in these areas in a more direct manner can propel parents to demand their child’s report card to be rewritten. Been there. Done that (as the one to do the rewriting…).

Whenever someone is able to use the phrase, “The truth hurts,” it probably means that discretion was not used by the speaker. (Unless the intention was to hurt.)

The book of Proverbs includes a lot of wise instruction including several directives about using discretion.

Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.

Proverbs 2:11

In many passages in the Bible where the word discretion is used, the words ‘understanding’ and ‘wisdom’ appear as well. People who don’t use discretion are often described as foolish, rash or immodest. Proverbs 11:22 says that “a beautiful woman who lacks discretion is like a gold ring in a pig’s snout.” That gold ring loses its value when it’s worn by a pig, just like a woman loses the value of her beauty if she makes poor moral choices.

When we look at current events in our world today, we have to consider how using discretion might affect the happenings. Just as police officers can decide whether to give a speeding ticket or a warning, they can decide whether or not to use their weapons (or extreme force) when pursuing suspects. World leaders use discretion (or not) as they open their economy. Should bars and strip clubs be allowed to open when the curve of the pandemic has not yet plateaued in their cities? Discretion used in hiring practices, pay scales, and compensation packages would consider the fair treatment of women and minority groups. Discretion used in words and actions might prevent accusations of racism and discrimination.

However, discretion requires pure motivations. Making a ‘responsible’ decision is arbitrary. On Val’s Stage, I’d like to think that as believers our hearts are aligned with God’s desire for humanity – that we love our neighbors and unselfishly put their interests before our own. It is from that perspective where discretion is most effective to make positive change – where the choices made will be ‘responsible’ and life-giving. I do wonder what that tour guide’s motivation was to call me on my flippant use of the word ‘kid’. I don’t feel like it came from a heart of love and goodwill.

A lot of tension and negativity in the world could be avoided if we just adopted a new warning in our social communications:

SPEAKER DISCRETION IS ADVISED

With their words, the godless destroy their friends, but knowledge will rescue the righteous.

Proverbs 11:9

Featured

The WEIGHT of the WAIT

I stood in line at a clothing store inside the mall, juggling my winter coat, my purse, my bag from previous shopping, and an armload of sweaters. ‘Twas the season and there were sales. As with any Christmas shopping expedition, there were lines, and there was waiting.

As I neared the counter, I caught the eye of one of the salespeople and said, “Is it possible to lay these down somewhere? It’s not the WAIT that’s the problem, it’s the WEIGHT!”

Today, I see a closer connection between the two waits/weights.

As a Kindergarten teacher, every September I watch children learn the rules of social behavior. Share, let others talk, use manners, and wait. Wait your turn in a game. Wait for the last one to line up. Wait for the teacher to answer your question. Wait to get your snack opened. Wait for a late school bus. Wait.

Waiting can be hard, and people have varying degrees of patience for it. I do okay. I don’t mind waiting in line, especially if I have a book on my phone that I can read!

As we continue to live through the pandemic, we experience a lot of waiting. Now we wait outside before we can even enter the store! We’re not used to waiting weeks for packages when Amazon Prime used to promise one-day shipping. We wait for things to reopen. We wait to be able to go on with our lives. We wait.

And, again, I’m okay with that. I understand that we need to be cautious. We don’t want to open things too quickly and have a surge of new coronavirus patients because of our impatience. However, I do find there’s a weight to the wait. It’s getting heavier.

When the black tarp was on our condo pool, I had lots of patience. I could wait. When the cover came off and chemicals were added, the result was a shimmering, inviting oasis. The wait/weight got heavier.

One morning I looked out and there were chairs set up around the edges of the pool! Maybe it would open soon. It didn’t. An email confirmed its continued closure. The weight made me sweat as I looked down during heatwave after heatwave to a refreshing break from the heat, which might as well have had a sign reading, “Look, but don’t touch.”

Our barbeques are off limits too. I do like my indoor G-F grill, but seriously, the flavor is not even close! I’ve been patient. I will accept any invitations to drive across town to let you socially-distance-barbeque my beef!

Today, as hubby and I went for a little walk of the condo grounds, we noticed the yellow caution tape had been taken off the gazebo surrounding the barbeques. The superintendent was walking away, as I called out excitedly, “Are they open? Are the barbeques open?”

There was a little skip in his step too as he replied, “Tomorrow!”

Tomorrow? But the tape is off NOW! TODAY! The weight of the wait nearly flattened me.

These are silly examples, of course, but my point is that waiting is sometimes harder, depending on the circumstances. We have friends who are waiting for their son to fully recover from a motorcycle accident. An email from them recently suggested that their son is suffering from the weight of the wait now, more than the physical struggle.

Some people wait to see if they will have employment when the economy fully opens. Others wait to visit loved ones to whom they still have no access. Some wait to hold a grandbaby or a niece or nephew. We all wait for a vaccine. We wait.

The weight of waiting is what causes anxiety and worry. It can cause us to turn to substance abuse or other forms of self-harm. It can lead to depression or suicidal thoughts.

But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31

The song based on this verse continues with the line, “Teach me, Lord. Teach me, Lord, to wait.”

The New International Version says those who “hope in the Lord…” while other versions such as the New Living Translation say those who “trust in the Lord…” If you hope and trust in the Lord, the wait will be bearable. We hope and trust that God will take care of things. He’s in control.

We may not understand the wait, and we may buckle under the weight, but He is the Director. He sees the whole picture.

He’s got this.

Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.

Psalm 22:20

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.

Psalm 56:3

And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.

Psalm 9:10
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Bird Reflections

I went for an early morning spring walk. The air was crisp and the puddles had caught over with a thin layer of ice overnight. Traffic was much lighter on the river-side path, with the earliness of the hour, and social-distancing the new normal.

Little birds flitted here and there, not seeming to care that I was power-walking nearby. A woodpecker hammered away on a trunk, sight unseen. A bright red cardinal made an appearance and disappeared completely before I was able to take out my phone to take a picture. It got me thinking about birds…

The small birds who blend into the winter-dead trees have a sweet song and are very beautiful, but in a less glamorous way. If you can be still and creep up to them; they don’t mind getting their picture taken. While the flashy, well-dressed cardinal is not so photo-available and leaves you feeling empty-handed.

Not seen on my walk was the white-grey seagull who gets a bad rap as it divebombs us on the beach or in the Sobeys’ parking lot, looking for any scraps it can find. Its song is not nearly as appealing.

Then there’s the sleek, black crow with its sharp beak and its clever eyes, who cries with its death cry, “Caw! Caw!” as it picks apart roadkill.

Don’t get me started on the pair of pigeons who visit my balcony every morning. You’ve heard of cow-tipping? I am on my way to pigeon-pushing. I open my patio door and yell at them, and it actually requires a step or two onto my balcony to get those birds to listen and leave. I don’t want to push them, but I will. If I have to.

While I have taken a very nice close-up of a Newfoundland seagull, and those pigeons will stand there all day smiling for the camera, these last few species do not often feature in bird artwork, being less attractive to the eye.

Yet, the ones we esteem the highest, such as the cardinal and the blue jay, are elusive and camera-shy.

Our world pandemic has given us time to philosophize, so here I go…

Let’s flip into the human world, applying bird principles. There are the flashy people among us; those beautiful, talented ones who appear on television screens and magazine covers. Unlike the birds, they do like to be photographed and featured in social media. (Ironically, in this social-distancing-world, however, some of them are looking a little plainer without their make-up artists and hair stylists.) In our day-to-day sphere of existence, we don’t see many of those cardinals.

Then there’s the monochromatic gulls and crows who feed off of other people’s losses. They dive in to take advantage when things are tough. They will prey on the weak and steal the life from those who struggle. They are the people who will hack into your computer, loot your cottage, or steal your identity.

The pigeons just stand there cooing. They talk and talk about what’s going on. They communicate their fears and the gossip they’ve heard, and honestly, we’d just like them to go away.

Those little birds who camouflage into the background, don’t stand out in any big way, but they exhibit their beauty through their uplifting words and their service to others. They smile at the people they meet on the walking path and offer to help their neighbours who are afraid to leave their homes during this terrible time.

It is the common, brown-speckled birds, the thrushes and sparrows, who stand out right now. They love their neighbours, and they flitter about helping where they can. Their encouraging words are musical. They are beautiful. Thank you, thrushes. Thank you, sparrows. You make our world a better place.


The Bible mentions at least 11 different birds by name. They are almost always portrayed as smart, resourceful and valuable to God. In Psalm 50:11 God says that He knows every bird on the mountains. We may not see them, but He is aware of every single one. Matthew 10:29 says that He knows when every tiny sparrow falls to the ground. And not only does He know each bird, he takes care of them:

Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds!

Luke 12:24

As we watch the birds, we notice colour and special features that make each species unique. We may even prefer the look of one over the other. But thankfully, God doesn’t categorize His creation that way – that’s a human way of thinking.

One of the most quoted Bible verses, John 3:16, begins with the words “For God so loved the world…” He doesn’t see colour or race in His creation.

He sees people.

And He loves them all.

Featured

Just a Number

I wrote an article for our community paper last month called “Finding the Good.” It represents my optimistic outlook on life, pointing out the positives that we can find in this global pandemic. It’s a light piece with some humor, which I look back on today with gritted teeth. I will include it at the end of this post, if you’re interested in reading it.

Optimism : an inclination to believe in the most favorable outcome. Related words: brightness, cheerfulness … hope… idealism.

Merriam-Webster Thesaurus

Aren’t those beautiful words to frame your life? Who doesn’t want to live under sunny skies all the time; in a world of cheerful hope and a belief in everything turning out okay? I’m an optimist by nature, but even more so as a child of God. Yet, today on Val’s Stage, I’m feeling a little shameful.

I can write an uplifting article about finding the good and display my optimism on my stage quite easily. The setting for my stage is a condo in the sky with an amazing view. It includes a happily married couple who have raised three boys and are watching them build their own nests and find their way in life. No one in my family has been harshly impacted by COVID-19. Haven’t we all at some point said, “I wish I could work from home?” We’re not hurting here.

This week I’ve been thinking about numbers. You’ll see how this relates to my shame in a minute.

I went for a blood test at the hospital one day not too long ago, and after passing in my paperwork, I was asked to take a number.

“I have an appointment,” I told the receptionist.

“Take a number and have a seat,” she repeated.

I had indeed filled in an online form for a specific time to get my blood test done. I was there at the appointed time. The website told me to inform the clinic that I had an appointment. So, why was I now holding a number that deviated from the one being served by nearly twenty?

I sat there in irritation, listening to each number get called in the correct order and watching newcomers take their number and join me in the waiting area. I had made an appointment. How did I become just another number? I’m supposed to be special, I thought, although not in those words. My name should be called, not a number.

When I approached the counter to inquire about this terrible injustice, the response was “Oh, we don’t take appointments here.” She barely looked at me. Her actions said, “Go back and take your seat, Number 49.”

Number 49 puzzled over why there would be a specific form on the clinic’s website to give me hope for a shorter wait: to make me think I had the Fast-Track Pass for the ride at Disney.

It’s not fun being identified by a number. There’s nothing personal about it. Someone else was number 49 just the day before, and a new person would be 49 the day after I wore the title. Where’s the humanity in that?

Numbers have become a huge part of our lives during this pandemic. “What are the numbers like today?” we ask. The numbers tell us about new COVID-19 cases and deaths, locally and worldwide.

We do our part to help flatten the curve and keep our eyes on the numbers. There were only 405 confirmed new cases in Canada yesterday; only 34 deaths. This is great, we think. The numbers are giving us hope; giving us optimism that this is going to be over soon; that we can go back to our normal lives and move on from this.

But just like when I held that piece of paper that identified me as number 49, there were people identified with numbers 1 through 34 yesterday. But at their medical appointments, someone spoke the words, “Time of death…”

34 families mourned a loved one yesterday and are planning a funeral today. Each one of those numbers was a human being killed by the coronavirus. Almost 8000 people in our country have had their lives snuffed out, leaving behind mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, and children.

Not so long ago, 22 victims of the shootings in Nova Scotia were mourned by the nation. Their pictures were in the news for days; their stories told for us to hear; their loved ones given the opportunity to talk about the one whose life had been so unjustly taken.

Each of those 34 families yesterday felt that same pain. Have we stopped mourning? Have we reduced their loss to numbers? Those 34 were individuals. They were people.

Optimism has its place, but realism anchors us in this world. It prevents us from losing sight of other people’s plights; their realities. I take a knee on Val’s Stage today and pray for 8000 Canadian families who have lost a loved one; 413,000 families worldwide.

These are not just numbers. These are people who can’t “find the good” in this pandemic.

These are people who are no longer with us.

Please forgive our apathy.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.

Romans 12:15

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Finding the Good

By Valda Goudie, VISTAS

We see the ghost town parking lots of small businesses; we don masks and gloves to pick up groceries; and strangers avoid meeting our eye as we pass them on walks – like eye contact would somehow put them at risk. We might be tempted to think, “What could possibly be good about this pandemic?” I’ve always believed that finding the good in terrible situations is a healthier way to navigate through them. So, this is me – finding the good, in no particular order of significance.

Sleep. Working from home has given us more time to rest! We have eliminated the commute time, and prep time has been drastically reduced as well. Who needs a perfect hairdo and makeup job to work from home? Our bodies may have been accustomed to less sleep, but I’m sure they appreciate the time to catch up on those zzzzs.

Connectivity of technology. We may not be getting out much, but technology has opened up other ways to see and talk to each other. It’s incredible to host a virtual dinner with our sons and their grandparents in different provinces, all eating at the same time (while in different time zones) and interacting together. We honestly hadn’t thought of that possibility before now. No one has to worry about drinking and driving when parties or book clubs are hosted virtually!


Environmental effects. The air quality all over the world has improved as people park their cars and stay at home! The Earth thanks us.


Family time. In our busy society with most families having two parents working outside of the home, while it may not seem like it at times, this lockdown is a gift to families. Even when they are working from home, the opportunities are there to eat lunch together, to take a break and do an activity or go outside. Just having their parents physically present is such a gift of well-being and security for young children.


Education. Homeschooling may have given parents a new sense of appreciation for teachers! It is likely that it has also enlightened some parents to their child’s strengths and weaknesses. They are able to see for themselves what their teachers have been telling them about their child as a student. Their children are getting one-on-one support in areas of need which the school can’t always give them.


Appreciation for health care workers and other essential services. We are more aware of and grateful to those who put themselves at risk daily during this time. Physical messages are posted all over our community saying thank you!


Awareness of some of the flaws in the system. Discovering some of the gaps in our system, especially in caring for our older population, will hopefully mean positive change in the future. I think as a nation, we are appalled and apologetic for not paying more attention to our vulnerable populations.


Stopping to smell the roses. Literally. People are getting outside more. They are enjoying nature, taking pictures of birds, noticing the new leaves on trees, smelling the flowers.


Relaxing Bodies. Our hair is healthier than ever if, like me, you haven’t plugged in a hot iron in months and you avoided going to the drug store to buy your own hair dye. And just consider all the happy boobs. Yes, boobs are dancing delightedly all over Ottawa singing, “We’re free! We’re free!” I hear your Amen, sisters, while echoes of “Where? Where?” bounce off rooftops. We may have a Burn-your-Bra movement happening before we all go back to work.


Online church services – I love going to church in my bathrobe and slippers! Churches are reaching more people with a Good News message this way.


Neighbourly love and concern. Cooking meals for those in need, making donations or helping out at food banks; doing grocery runs for those who can’t go out for themselves; ordering in more often to support local businesses; look at all the ways we are supporting each other! Will we be a closer-knit community when this is over?


Unity as a nation. Way to go, Canada! Some would say our leaders are doing what they can in a situation they can’t predict. They are attempting to keep us safe, while supporting us financially in many cases. While our prime minister may go down in history as the one who reminded us to protect others while talking ‘moistly,’ other leaders of great nations will be immortalized for much bigger issues.

Closing Remarks
Our dear readers who have faced the coronavirus head-on with your own health, or that of love ones; some of you even possibly mourning a death during this time, on behalf of VISTAS, I would like to say we are sorry you’ve faced this hardship. My light tone above is not meant to belittle the suffering this world pandemic has caused.
We are very proud of how our community has united to follow our leaders’ directives to stay at home and protect ourselves and others when we do have to go out. You will read stories in this issue of heroes who have made a positive difference in the lives of others, in lightening the load and providing help to neighbours. We are so proud of you…

Featured

Back-to-School Dread

I press a button on my suit to release a slow stream of oxygen into my helmet, savoring the freshness of it.

Sam is crying again. His visor has fogged up, and a steady stream of tears and snot run down his face and disappear past the glass and into the depths of his helmet and neck brace.

I resist the urge to sigh and steam up my own space, negating the effects of my oxygen-shot. Sam has been crying all morning. He misses his mom. I get it. He’d been home with her for almost a year before we were finally able to open the schools.

I guess my break is over then. The teacher covering me is either oblivious to his misery or she’s ignoring it. I think wistfully about the days when I would leave the room on my break – isn’t that what “break” means? Now it’s not worth the energy to trek down the hall in this heavy suit. Who really wants to sit at the staff charging station and stare at my colleagues through a fully enclosed helmet, ensuring that my audio channel is tuned into the adults-only stream only to listen to complaints of my own that I don’t require someone else to voice?

Instead, twice a day I sit where my desk used to be and plug into the classroom charging station. At least I can turn off the audio input completely and take a break from the noise.

Sam’s breathing is coming in gasps. I raise my hand to signal Mrs. Rose, hoping to alert her to his situation, but she is in the other corner of the room dealing with a sharing issue.

I pull the cord and hastily tuck it into the waist panel of my suit, not bothering to wind it up neatly as we were shown.

I turn on my audio and microphone before releasing the extender arm – sending my go-go-gadget-hand toward the crying boy. I pat his shoulder with three impersonal taps, understanding why they give him no comfort. It’s no replacement for a hug.

“It’s okay, Sam. You’ll see Mommy soon. Why don’t we go to the building corner and make a tower? I bet you can’t make one as tall as yourself!”

Sam looks me in the eye as another huge tear splashes on his cheek. He shakes his head, but pauses his sobbing.

“L-l-eg-go?” His eyes plead as he stutters the request.

“I’m sorry, Buddy. You know we had to put the Lego away. The pieces are too small for us to handle with our gloves.”

A fresh shower occurs inside Sam’s helmet. I feel like I’m watching him drown inside a washing machine, unable to save him.

I use the extender arm to push his oxygen button. He could use a good dose of air in there about now.

My next series of shoulder pats is interrupted with the automatic lowering of our face monitors while the instruction to stand for the playing of O Canada is piped into our helmets.

The children in the puppet area struggle to get to their feet in the bulky suits. As the anthem plays, we watch scenes of our country flash across our screens – beautiful lighthouses, oceans, mountains, forests; places we can only visit virtually since travel outside of our city was banned. I’m reminded daily at this time of how upset people were back in the beginning when they couldn’t cross the border into Quebec to visit their cottages. Little did we know…

As the last notes of “We stand on guard for thee” linger in my ears, I notice my colleague staring at Sam with a look of horror on her face.

I turn to find the inside of his visor covered in vomit. His crying has made him sick.

“Oh, no!” I say the words aloud instinctively, forgetting how good our audio systems are. All ten little faces look at me, hearing the fear in the tone of my voice.

Mrs. Rose is halfway across the room, heading for the communication panel next to the door. The Containment Team is to be notified immediately of illness.

I gasp and send my extender arm to block her path. “He’s not sick!” I hiss, wishing we were both on the staff channel.

I look at the pale faces staring at Sam or at me. Bella and Jennifer are crying now too. They undoubtedly remember what happened last week when the Containment Team took Cole away. It will be another ten days before they see their classmate again; before his family sees him again.

If one of our isolation chambers is not available, Sam will be taken to the nearest Clinic to isolate there for the two-week period.

“Sarah, please!”

But Mrs. Rose skirts around my attempt to bar her way and reaches the panel, pressing the big red button before she looks at me. Her eyes are sad, but her mouth is drawn in a line.

“No exceptions. That’s the rule, Val. If a child is sick, they have to go immediately.” She takes a deep breath before continuing. “It’s for everyone’s safety. You know this.”

My eyes blur with tears. “What I know is…” but my words fade into my helmet, knowing they have no purpose. The button has been pushed. They will come.

Sam’s eyes are huge and round. A stronger emotion has taken over the sadness.

There’s nothing I can do. Missing his mom got Sam into this situation, and now he’ll have to wait 14 days before he sees her again.

Jennifer and Bella’s wails need my attention now. With only one extender arm, I randomly swing it to Jennifer, giving her the three shoulder-taps.

“It’s okay, Girls. It will be okay,” I say, not knowing if my words are true.

Bella steps toward Jennifer, her arms outstretched, reaching for her best friend. Before I can stop her, the distance alarm shrills inside her suit loudly enough to penetrate my helmet. She jumps back like she’d been shocked, her cries increasing in volume.

I look to Mrs. Rose for help, but she taps her watch and points to the door. Apparently, my break is over.

As she opens the classroom door to exit, the two men from the Containment Team enter. Their suits are even bulkier than ours, and they look ready for a walk on the moon.

They locate Sam right away, each grabbing an arm.

“Stop!” I cry in desperation. “He’s not ill! He made himself sick from crying!”

Dan raises his eyebrow as he meets my eye. “You know the rules, Val. He’s got to go.”

Sam is screaming now; his little voice piercing in our ears.

His other captor pushes the override volume button on the outside of the six-year old’s suit. The piercing sound stops instantly while Sam’s face continues making the noise.

I watch helplessly as they half drag, half carry my little student down the hall.

A class of Grade 2 students march toward the Team, one behind the other, six feet apart; their heavy boots echoing down the corridor in front of them. The conveyor system will be installed next week to alleviate such noisy disruptions.

The men have turned the corner with Sam. I allow myself a huge sigh. The fog on my visor blinds me to my other students for a few seconds. It gives me time to consider how to explain this to them. Yet, I realize there’s not enough time in the world to do such a thing…

To explain how a tiny virus can cause such upheaval in our world.


We have no idea what a future stage is going to look like, especially while living in today’s pandemic-reality. What actions will I need to make? What words will I have to say? What costume will I be expected to wear? If I fear the future, I ruin my today – I let it steal my joy and peace.

Allowing dread and fear of the unknown to take over can cause our minds to create scenarios such as this back-to-school nightmare (which actually haunted me all day after writing it). I don’t know what my classroom will look like in the fall, or even if we’ll be back at all. Will there be a second wave of COVID-19? A third? Who knows?

Dreading this unpredictable situation will not prevent it from coming, but my mind can make it much worse than it will actually be. It’s kind of silly to torment myself with all the bad things that the future might or might not hold.

I choose to face life with courage and say:

I will not fear, because greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world.

1 John 4:4

A positive attitude in a negative (or even potentially-negative) situation shows our audience that we are different – that having God in our lives brings us peace and joy. After all, not only do we have a future home in Heaven, we have a Father who loves us unconditionally NOW – who’s ready to hold our hand and lead us through any difficulties we have to face.

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

2 Timothy 1:7

Faith and trust in my Father will help me face whatever the future might bring – when it actually gets here.

I choose to enjoy today.

This is the day that the Lord hath made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24
Featured

When Everything You’ve Got is Just Not Enough

I stared at the questions on the paper in front of me. I had 20 minutes to write my answers. The provided pen, however, stayed on the table. I was ready for this – guns loaded. A skim-read over the computer-typed words confirmed that I would answer each question in some way, even if it was indirectly. The presentation I had prepared was impressive and more than sufficient.

This wasn’t just about me. This was about maintaining a relationship; being given the opportunity to continue in a partnership that bordered on perfection.

I had almost lost Tammy two years before. When our number of Kindergarten classes was reduced because of low registration, I was given a different assignment for the following year, but my Early Childhood Educator (ECE) lost her job at our school.

She had applied to a school where they were just starting the full-day Kindergarten program, so they had no ECEs yet, and they were hiring seven. Her odds of getting the job were really good. So, I placed my bets and threw my winning hand on the table.

The original version of the 30-minute presentation on my iPad included photos of our program and highlighted the strength of our team – together. I was not promoting myself for that interview – I was promoting our team.

Tammy and I were as different as fish and birds. She wore baseball caps and high-top sneakers, played on a soccer team, and was young enough to be my daughter (if I had started childbearing as a teenager). I brought my students to the gym in high heels, carrying a travel-cup of coffee in my hand, and team sports was not in my vocabulary. The point is: we were very different.

It was our differences, however, that made us a great team. We had that perfect work marriage where one complemented the other. She picked up in the areas where I was weak (Arts, Phys Ed, Child Development); and I focussed more on the academic, weaving the curriculum into our program, having the knowledge and experience of a career with a wide variety of roles. We fit together like 2 pieces of a puzzle. After two years of teaching together, it felt like we shared a brain. We literally finished each other sentences and parroted, “I was thinking the same thing!”

The interviewing principal didn’t have a chance. All the keywords and phrases were in there. The educational jargon mixed beautifully with the photos of children in a successful learning environment. It wasn’t a hard sell. She knew she was getting something special by keeping our team together.

Two years later, however, with the news that our school of over 800 would be severed in half, Tammy’s position was on the chopping block again. It was an unwelcome deja-vu as she put her name in to work at the new school where they needed to hire all new ECEs. I rolled the dice again and applied for the job.

I had updated the slideshow and included in the accompanying three-prong folder unsolicited letters from parents who had expressed their appreciation for our team to the Superintendent, a glowing performance appraisal from my current principal, documentation which showed that videos we’d made as a team were being used in teacher/ECE training, and the written accolades from one that we made with our students which was shown in a conference by our Superintendent in Brazil.

I wasn’t nervous. There was no way an intelligent employer would turn down a ready-made dream team.

She laughed; she nodded her head; she smiled encouragingly. I felt good. I felt confident as I left the conference room.

On the night that the job offers were occurring, Tammy and I sat together and waited. When the phone rang, we held our breath in anticipation, only to discover the caller was a telemarketer. The hours dragged by, until we knew in our hearts that the call wasn’t coming. We cried in each other’s arms. It was over.

We’re still friends, but that was our final year working together.

Why? Why did that principal not see the benefits of a package deal? Why was everything I had, just not good enough?


A job interview can be a terrifying stage. While the principal I spoke about nodded and smiled, the other interviewer in the room wrote down every word I said. Even after I assured her that the words to my script were included in the folder I gave each of them, she kept her head down and wrote for the entire interview, never making eye contact or encouraging me in any way. Whoever came up with this ‘behavioural interview’ idea should be tarred and feathered.

When you get off the stage where you had an audience of two, everyone around you asks how it went; as they formulate their own predictions. When the word comes out that you were unsuccessful, not only are you disappointed with the outcome, you are then embarrassed too. You clearly didn’t give an effective performance.

But, wait! Who was I performing for again? Was it for the people who might judge me, who weren’t even there? Was it for the principal who hired a teacher she knew from her previous school instead of me? Was it for Tammy? For myself?

The Christian attitude in this mess is that I’m a child of God. I did my best with His help. Then I let Him take it from there. If He didn’t work things out for me to have that job, He had something else in mind for me. If I give Him the role of Director in my life, I shouldn’t get overly upset over not receiving a job offer.

Instead, I trust in his promise:

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Romans 8:28

However, that “working together” part may not be instantaneous. My next two years without Tammy were difficult, and I really missed our partnership. She too faced challenges with her new teacher team.

Since that night when we cried together, so many things have changed. I work in a new school in another area of town; we moved into a condo and became empty-nesters with our family of five becoming two; I’ve taken up a volunteer role as a newspaper editor and I’ve put more priority on my writing. Tammy is now a mother of three beautiful girls – the last two, identical twins born during the pandemic, and her pre-maternity job was in the federal government, not education.

Did God work things out for our good? I believe He did. And He continues to fulfill His plans in our lives – the long-range ones – for as long as we allow Him to be the Director of our show!

Featured

A Small Boy with a Big Message

“We are all human beings. We are normal. We have hands. We have feet. We can walk; we can talk; we have needs just like everyone else. Don’t be afraid of us – we are all the same.”

Nkosi Johnson

A little boy stood on a stage and powerfully gave this message in his young South African accent. Nkosi Johnson was a keynote speaker at the International Aids conference in 2000 when he was just 11 years old, but his campaigning for the rights of children with HIV began years before that. Born HIV positive, when he was refused admittance to his local school in South Africa, Nkosi was not only sad, he was angry. His message to the world can still be used in so many applications of discrimination.

It’s heartbreaking to think that any little boy should have to say the words, “Care for us and accept us.” When Nkosi died at the age of 12, he had done more for human rights than many of us will do in long, healthy lives.

Long ago, there was another little boy who had a big message too. In 58 A.D., a man’s life was at stake; his uncle’s, in fact. Unlike Nkosi’s message, however, it was imperative that this little boy keep his message a secret. I thought I’d share his story today on Val’s Stage. While the young boy’s name is never identified, I’m going to give him one for the sake of the retelling: Benjamin, his tribe’s name.


Benjamin peeked around the corner of a market stall. The council building was just a stone’s throw away. His Uncle Paul was in trouble again. His words made people angry, but he still boldly preached his sermons to anyone who would listen. He now stood in front of the High Council with many of those angry men shouting their accusations. Benjamin wished he could go inside and watch the proceedings, but as their loud voices echoed all around the market, he knew it was no place for a young boy. He couldn’t make out most of the words, but they were yelling to overtop each other – likely a mix of Sadducees and Pharisees. They were always fighting over something.

He heard the word “resurrection.” Yes, that was the latest argument. He had overheard Paul telling his parents that his belief in the resurrection of the dead was stirring up trouble. Benjamin couldn’t understand why it was so hard for people to accept the fact that Jesus had died, and then he rose again – alive! But adults always have more problem accepting things they can’t explain. Their unbelief just makes Paul shout his message louder. He doesn’t care what they might do to him. Benjamin hopes he will be as brave as his uncle someday.

The yelling spiked to an even higher volume, causing his young heart to pound wildly. He has seen men end a heated argument by drawing their swords. Uncle Paul might be in real danger in there. Should he run home and get his parents? But what could they do? This was the High Council. As he looked around the market to see if anyone else felt his fear, a movement at the door of the council building caught his eye.

Two soldiers each held one of Uncle Paul’s arms as they walked away from the building. His uncle walked with his back as straight as theirs. He did not look afraid. He actually looked pleased with himself, like he had won a battle. He didn’t struggle with the armed men as they left the shouts of the High Council behind them.

Benjamin followed them, while remaining hidden, to see where they were taking his uncle. He shielded his eyes against the bright morning sun with his hand. The Commander’s fortress loomed at the end of the steep path the three men traveled on. Would they chain his uncle and treat him like a common prisoner or was he being brought there for his own protection?

The boy heaved a sigh, even as his stomach growled noisily. The story he had for his parents would save him from the anger he was sure to face for missing breakfast. His mom would be upset about her brother’s capture, but she’d want to know.


The next morning, Benjamin was lured into the busy marketplace again. The colourful displays, singing, bartering voices, and scents of spices and fresh bread drew him like a moth to a bright light. The square was a hub of excitement for a young boy, and he often met his friends there before his daily chores began.

Benjamin noted a group of men huddled in a corner near the east end of the market. They had no wares to sell, but their voices were raised and animated. More men joined, stepping in close together. The volume dropped, but their faces twisted in anger, and their whispers sounded like hissing snakes.

The boy had no problem finding hiding places in the busy market as he stealthily crept closer to the meeting place. He might be terrible with a slingshot, but he was the Hide and Seek champion in his friend group.

“I will not eat a crumb or drink one drop of liquid until that man is dead!” The man spit on the ground near his feet to emphasize his vow.

A man near him threw his fist in the air. “Let’s all take an oath that none of us will eat or drink until Paul dies!”

A quiet cheer of agreement went up in the group, while Benjamin covered his mouth with his hand to smother his gasp. They were talking about Uncle Paul! They wanted to kill him!

The angry mob had grown. He counted heads and had to stop at 39 because he couldn’t remember what number came next.

The sound of his rapid heartbeat drowned out the noise of the market. He leaned in closer so he wouldn’t miss a word.

The leader raised his hand for silence. “We will go to the commander and tell him that we want to examine Paul’s case more fully. On their way to the council building, we will ambush them and kill that blasphemer before he does any more damage with his crazy talk!”

Benjamin’s chest was heaving as his breath came in short bursts. What should he do? He looked back toward home. He could run and tell his parents; but what if the plan was carried out before they were able to get there? The commander’s fortress was in the opposite direction, but he knew his way there from following the soldiers just the day before. He was torn. His mom would be worried if he didn’t come home soon, but his uncle needed him.

“What would a soldier do, Benjamin?” he asked himself. He picked up his sword (the stick he had been brandishing moments ago), and stuck it into his belt. A man’s life was at stake, and he was the only one who could go to his rescue!


His uncle stared at him in confusion. “Take a breath, boy! I can’t understand a word you’re saying.”

He’d run like the wind, picturing himself riding atop his proud stallion. But now his words were flying out of his mouth in breathy gasps.

He saw the look of determination in Paul’s eyes when, after the third attempt, the message finally got through.

His uncle called out to a Roman officer, “You must take my nephew to see the Commander right away! He has something important to tell him.”

The officer looked at Benjamin, raised an eyebrow and looked back at Paul. The other man nodded. “You need to go now!”

Benjamin straightened his back like the soldier beside him and pushed his sword deeper into his belt to match his partner’s. While his heart raced with excitement, and fear too, he nodded at each soldier they passed on the way to the commander’s quarters. If only his friends could see him now.

The Commander put down his papers when he heard the officer’s message from Paul. He walked over to Benjamin and held out his hand.

He thinks I’m just a small boy, he thought as he took the man’s hand. He stood even taller, matching his steps to the Commander’s.

The Commander led him to a quieter space and turned to face him, dropping his hand. “I hear you have some big news for me. What do you wish to say?”

He made fists at his side to still his shaking fingers. It didn’t take three tellings for the Commander to receive his message. He spoke with confidence this time, rather than panic, sticking to the facts like a real soldier would.

Benjamin liked it that the man looked in his eye and nodded as told his story. His chest filled with pride at the respect he was given by this important man.

As his last words left his lips, the Commander bent his knees to come down to his eye level. He spoke quietly but with authority. “Do not speak to this about anyone, okay?”

Benjamin’s neck hurt from his fast, hard head-shakes. “No, Sir.”

The Commander patted his shoulder as he straightened to his full height. “Thank you, young man. This was a very important message indeed. Your bravery is commendable.”

As the officer led him away, Benjamin looked back and smiled at the Commander who gave him a small wave before calling more soldiers to his side. The boy felt his face redden when he realized how childish he must have looked with the two gaps where his new teeth had not yet grown in.

Still, he had been brave – the Commander said it, and one day he would go on missions like this all the time with a real sword at his side. He looked up at the soldier next to him, and grinned. He was responsible to keep a huge secret, and that made him pretty important right now. And when his uncle was safe, he would be able to tell his friends that he’d been a real super hero!


As with any secret mission, the young boy’s audience was small, but his time on the stage was of vital importance. He successfully thwarted a plot which saved his uncle’s life. Years later, his stage grew much bigger as Luke documented his story in the Book of Acts. He didn’t realize that his courage would be recorded for millions of people to read about. (Acts 23: 1-22)

Just a small boy with a big message.

Featured

A Gift of Time

Our stage is small these days, as we follow our leaders’ advice to “Stay at Home.” Our audience is limited mostly to family members and social media connections. Some people are feeling the weight of having too much time on their hands as they remain isolated.

Teaching from home has been a new challenge, but it does take less time than my regular work day/night in “the real world.” I’m including the article below on Val’s Stage today to remind us of ways we can use this gift of time many of us have been given. It was first published at the beginning of April in the community paper, VISTAS, in my regular column; Editorial Musings. Almost two months later, it’s still very relevant.


While self-diagnosing an ailment recently, I asked “Dr. Google” for solutions and stumbled on a page from mayoclinic.org that stressed how critical self-care is to the management of my physical problem. Self-care. The article included well-meaning advice such as reduce stress, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, pace yourself, and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

I don’t need a website with the word “clinic” in it to tell me these things. Anyone who has made it past Kindergarten, has been educated on how to live healthy. So, why do I struggle so much with “self-caring?” It’s simple: my regular lifestyle just doesn’t make room for it.

The one positive thing that COVID-19 has given a lot of us is TIME. We have time to make some positive changes in our lives that can benefit our overall health. And, maybe, once we’ve implemented them into our routine, we’ll find a way to keep them there when the world goes back to “normal.”

Reduce stress. We can sit all day and worry about catching and/or spreading the virus; how we will fare financially; how our children are going to catch up on their education; how we will ever bounce back as a city, as a country. But no matter how much we worry, the resulting stress will not fix even one of those things.

We now have the time to relax and try to de-stress. This might take the form of yoga, deep-breathing or meditation. There are a lot of videos on YouTube to choose from, including Bible-based meditations, which can help us clear our heads for a few minutes, allowing our minds to focus on things we are thankful for instead of negative things. Many people find prayer helpful as we give our worries to a higher power who we trust will take care of those issues. Choose an activity that you find relaxing, like reading a book, taking a long bath, knitting a scarf, or whittling something out of wood, and enjoy it – guilt-free

Get enough sleep. I stay up too late and get up early, giving my body a mere five hours of sleep each weeknight. While we don’t all need the same amount of sleep, there is a healthy amount and a functional amount. You’ll know the difference when you find yourself nodding off at a traffic light driving home from work. We can lavish good sleep habits on our bodies while we’re off, falling into a pattern of going to bed and getting up at a similar time each day and limiting daytime napping (a luxury we’re not likely to have in our regular workplaces).

Exercise regularly. Walking, jogging or biking are all activities that we can still enjoy, while social distancing, as our weather becomes more summer-like. I also have a yoga mat set up in a spare room with a small set of hand weights. YouTube has multitudes of exercise videos (or even dance videos) to follow and get you moving. There are stretching videos as well that you can find that target areas where you feel pain or discomfort. I’ve been taking advantage daily of one for hip bursitis.

Pace yourself. Keep your activity on an even level. Spread out your housework over the week. Do the same for your Netflix watching. Try to build in time for yourself while keeping young children occupied, and, if you have a significant other, balance the day-to-day duties with intimate moments.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle. It’s tempting to go to the fridge or pantry cupboard when you’re bored. A bag of chips here, a bottle of wine there, here a chocolate bar, there a cookie, everywhere junk food… E-I-E-I-O. If you don’t want to have to buy a whole new wardrobe for your return to work, (or feel like Old MacDonald’s cow), ease up on the “comfort food.” Moderation. Make healthy meals and treat your body well.

Do something that you find enjoyable and fulfilling every day.

Because now you have time.


For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8