29 December 2008

New Year’s resolutions

I hereby resolve to keep at least 4 of the following 40 resolutions:

1. Appreciate life in all its fullness.
2. Bake bread and make fresh soup.
3. Be alone more. Seek solitude.
4. Be at peace with God, myself and others. Live a life of harmony and integrity as far as possible.
5. Be free with my own time. “In N. America we have the clock; in Africa we have the time.” Aim to be punctual for appointments, church, school and work. Respect others’ time.
6. Be frugal; live simply. Keep spending to a minimum.
7. Be joyful. Inner joy is a fruit of God’s Spirit; it does not depend on my circumstances.
8. Be more intentional about time with friends. Be present. Enjoy the company of diverse people.
9. Be spontaneous. Listen to my soul when unexpected “interruptions” occur. Say yes sometimes (and remember that no is a full sentence).
10. Be thankful for God’s new mercies every morning. Share good news. (Tell God. Tell others.)
11. Cook more (but not too much more). Appreciate the meals others prepare for me.
12. Create more: artwork, books, cards ... letters, poetry.
13. Discipline myself more—for the sake of freedom and growth, not legalism.
14. Do an hour (or more) each day of what’s necessary—but not necessarily nice.
15. Drink more—definitely more water (and tea), perhaps even more whisk(e)y and wine! :)
16. Encourage someone. Call a friend. Meet for coffee. Write a cheery note. Share flow’rs.
17. Give away two items for every one purchased.
18. If possible, buy nothing new other than food or bare necessities (preferably on sale).
19. Learn to worship God as a Person. See God’s character in Jesus, and in His Spirit. Embrace the mystery of the Trinity. Communicate with abba Father as modelled by Jesus.
20. Listen to music and poetry.
21. Live sacrificially. Be generous with gifts of time and money.
22. Notice beauty everywhere.
23. Order a small space in our home each day. (Order Chinese food once in a while.)
24. Pay attention—and try not to sound like a teacher all the time. :)
25. Plan a quiet day each week, a retreat day each month, a week away each year.
26. Play more. Laugh more. Draw cartoons. Finger paint. Make a mess. Maintain a sense of humour—and a sense of the ridiculous. Take myself less seriously.
27. Play piano with wild abandon. Plan an annual dessert recital with my next-door neighbour.
28. Pray without ceasing. Be in conversation with God throughout the day (and in the waking hours of the night). Remember His eternal presence. Take Truth more seriously.
29. Read more. Share good books.
30. Recycle. Be aware of my carbon footprint.
31. See the Big Picture. Try not to get lost in the details (and vice versa).
32. Share simple treats. Practise kindness.
33. Show love. Be a grace-giver.
34. S-l-o-w down—and bath more. Light candles, relax, let go of the day’s burdens. Breathe deeply. (“Inspiration. Expiration.”)
35. Study. Teach. Grow. Be diligent as a teacher; pursue excellence.
36. Walk in the snow/rain/sunshine. Deliberately. Merrily.
37. Walk through the neighbourhood for fun, not to get somewhere. Greet locals with a smile.

38. Wander through the woods; smell the earthy scent of nature.
39. Whistle, hum and sing more (in private and to my spouse, who really does like the sound of my voice).
40. Write more.

'Twas the week after Christmas ...

... and since my very long Christmas Eve poem has been shared with too many Readers already, I’ll stick to prose for this letter. Many of you are familiar with my NLSC ramblings each week. The reason I’ve been writing this particular “column” for several years (and have now begun this blog) is simply to share our journey in a new land, at least according to my blog profile:

“NLSC is a Canadian immigrant’s journal. We’ve been living in Alberta for ten years now, and this rugged landscape has become our home. These oft’ quotidian blog entries describe our journey through the days ... our random thoughts, our lofty dreams, our faltering steps, our bright hopes. Please join us for a brief sojourn or an entire season.”

I plan on sending a handwritten version of this entry to several Readers in the coming days, primarily with the purpose of sharing some post-Christmas cheer (as much with myself as with others). No doubt it happens to the international community of consumers too and not only to N. Americans, but many shoppers seem to lose their sanity as December 25 approaches; this year the pressure to spend money—buy more—and get it all done by Christmas Day—started to annoy me more than usual. So I jumped into action. And did absolutely nothing.

Not a cookie did I bake, not a card did I send, not a gift did I buy (other than second-hand books for the children of our Christmas Day hosts, and “time” vouchers for the adults, e.g. a meal to be redeemed any time during the New Year). And suddenly I realised the pressure was off!

Lest you begin calling me Scrooge, let me hasten to add that I particularly enjoy writing in Christmas cards, and I even endure baking once a year (undomestic goddess that I am). And I appreciate finding just the right gift for just the right person—who doesn’t? But this year Christmas came and went with no fanfare at the Phillipses.

Each year end I love writing in and mailing out letters and/or cards not because of the date, but because of the overall celebration of the sacred season, and the chance it affords to reach out (beyond our comfort zones, for some) and tell those who share our emotional, intellectual and spiritual space how we feel about them. More on that in the New Year. First, a few resolutions ...

26 December 2008

In memory of Gabrien Rempel: Dec 24, 2007 to Jan 25, 2008

(Written late on December 24)

Merry Christmas, one and all!

Robin and I returned home just before 6 p.m. after spending a few hours in Calgary at the Subaru dealership (our blue Forester has been out of service for several days; the problem has now been solved); we then drove home to attend a local Christmas Eve service (simply beautiful message by my academic dean, Steve Booth, and a magnificent rendition of one of my very favourite Christmas songs: "Mary, did you know?" sung by my gifted colleague, Kathy Seidler); then the Brandts dropped me off at our darling Rempel neighbours' home where R and I spent the remainder of the evening.

A full and memorable Christmas Eve indeed!

We laughed and cried as we remembered little Gabrien David's premature birth a year ago; I spent the night with his sister and brother when his mommy went into labour last December, and he was born a few hours later weighing just over 1 kg. I vividly remember his daddy returning home in the wee hours of the morning to tell me a son had been born to them; his due date was only in March. We prayed and cried on the steps, both acknowledging the possibility that their sweet little boy might not live long. But we hoped and we loved, and he lived. For a whole month.

What a blessing his short life was to all who knew him, however briefly. So on what would have been baby Gabrien's first birthday today, our hearts recall moments of joy and of sorrow, good memories and bittersweet ones.

After finally tearing ourselves away from our second "home" in the neighbourhood half an hour before midnight, R and I walked around the corner in the snow and received a phone message from a lefthanded kindred who'd―wait 'til you hear this!―baked us (from scratch) a fresh apple pie! I am impressed. {Thank you, PJ, beyond words, both for the thought and the late-night delivery.}

So as I type these pre-sleep paragraphs, surely goodness and mercy are following me all the minutes of this New Day! May goodness and mercy follow you all the days of this New Year. Please send news our way as time permits. We love staying in touch.


P.S. We'll be spending Christmas Day with our extended Little/Mung Canadian family (this year in Airdrie). Thank you to all who sent mail (cyber and snail), and left messages on our answering machine this week. We haven't been home much of late for various reasons, some of which I'll happily write about Next Year. Our office will be closed between now and then. Watch this space. Soon I'll post a newsy NLSC entry in lieu of a pre-Christmas letter (hope you were able to digest last week's poem). And now, to all a good night!

22 December 2008

'Twas the night before Christmas

(Written December 22)

Please accept my small offering of Christmas cheer from Glenbrook Bay―with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore (or Henry Livingston?)―and give thanks that I’m inspired to do this only annually; there really is more where this came from, alas:

’Twas the night before Christmas & all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, ’cept EM & her mouse
Not a stocking was hung, awaiting more stuff
Since both R and EM had possessions enough

The hippos were nestled, all snug in their beds
While visions of river grass danced in their heads
R in his skippies, all curled up in bed
Was clamouring for Milo & cookies instead

When off in the office arose such a clatter
’Tis surprising R’s teeth did not start to chatter
At once he came running, finding paper in flight
And E, trying her best to be still in the night

Peacefully the Alberta moon shone on the ground
And not a sole print in the snow could be found
When what did R’s wondering eyes behold
But a Christmas poem finally finished in bold!

More words than a dictionary’s blinked forth from the screen
(R was just thankful most of ’em were clean)
Highlights were abundant―a mere three were revealed
(Stay tuned for New Year’s news, nothing further concealed)

(i) Chantal & Wal’s wedding―the highlight of the year
And the chance to spend time with so many held dear
(ii) R’s 40th birthday, SKYDIVING, in BC with good friends
After teaching & taxes―life’s usual trends

(iii) Off to Memphis in July―what were we thinking, eh?
To spend time with our new kid before she flew away ...
Our “adopted” daughter, in her musical way
Brings more joy to our lives than we’re able to say

So far this letter’s been about others, you see,
But let us not forget to acknowledge the three:
Three kings (more or less) from afar bearing gifts,
To worship a new King―at the thought my heart lifts!

And more than three shepherds, appeared to by an angel,
Announced the birth of the Babe in a manger
This new Peace-Prince, our Lord & Messiah, behold,
’Tis His story that on each Christmas Eve should be told

To leave Jesus out of Christmas would be absurd
(For this you’ll just have to take my word)
He is the reason we celebrate life in its glory
And the Author of every epic-sized story

He gave us His Word, He completed His quest,
He offers salvation with one main request:
That we believe in His name as Saviour of man
And follow Him with hearts open to His plan

He reminds mankind at each new Christmas season
That His love is divine & given for a reason:
“Here I am, at the door,” I imagine His voice,
“Open up, come to Me, enter in ... & rejoice!”

So on this silent night I encourage you all:
Take the time to respond to your Creator’s call ...
And now, friends and family, may your New Year be bright;
Merry Christmas, God bless you, and to all a good night!

Original Greccio

In my last post I said I'd do a bit of research; there's much info on St. Francis and on the Greccio Christmas tradition. This virtual venue's worth a visit:


Here's an excerpt from the site:

"So it was that on December 24, 1223, in the very epicenter of Italy, a group of barefoot monks led a merrily singing throng of local residents up the slopes of Mount Lacerone to Greccio, a simple monastery that was little more than a few interconnecting caves. In one of these, a layer of straw had been spread on the stone and beaten earth floor and a primitive crib had been placed in a corner. Around it were a donkey, an ox and a dozen peasants Francis had 'borrowed' from the feudal lord. All night long, a procession of villagers braved cold and snow to see the unique tableau, their torches illuminating the night. The grotto was far too tiny to accommodate everyone, so they shivered outside in the woods.

The ritual has been celebrated ever since, in Greccio and around the world. The grotto has remained virtually unchanged, with the exception of a nativity scene fresco painted on the wall by a follower of Giotto about a hundred years after Francis died in 1226. If you are planning to spend the Christmas season in Rome, you might consider driving the 60 or so miles to Greccio to witness the world's first Christmas Eve procession. It's a simple ceremony, really, but it's so vivid and moving that you will immediately understand why the shy, unworldly monk who created it was a 13th-century superstar who could mobilize entire villages at the drop of a hat."

16 December 2008

Greccio Christmas at Mount St. Francis

Tonight I joined many locals and a few intrepid travellers in celebrating a Greccio Christmas at Mount St. Francis Retreat Centre just outside Cochrane. (I'll do some research on the origins of this event for my next entry, since I cannot remember everything Brother Kevin shared.) For now, suffice it to say I was powerfully moved by the simplicity of this live Nativity, the singing of several favourite carols, and the joy of jubilant children playing in the snow while their sane parents visited indoors.

Rob and Amber Low represented Holy Joe and Mary, and little Brayden was a perfectly happy Baby Jesus (despite being outdoors in temps well below freezing). Two neighbouring donkeys and a horse represented themselves, and hot chocolate and homemade cookies were served by a friendly lady in a cheery Santa hat.

It was wonderful to see some old friends and a couple of King's Fold folk (KF is another retreat centre about 40 kms outside Cochrane, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains; I go there as often as I can, but since Mt. St. Francis is only 5 kms from home, I spend time here about once a month now. The food and fellowship is satisfying for body and soul; the peace is palpable and the setting divine. Come and see! http://www.mountstfrancis.ca/).

Our friendly local Cochrane Eagle columnist and his wife were present, too. {Thanks for the ride up the hill, PJ, and the ride back down, WH.} I truly am blessed by cosy Cochrane's gift of a caring community, where not even the minus twenties keep us homebound for too long.

More on the weekend: I merely wanted to wish everyone a simple and sacred Christmas season.

11 December 2008

John Milton’s 400th birthday

John Milton’s 400th Birthday December 9, 2008 By: John Piper

Today is the 400th anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest English poets, John Milton (December 9, 1608–November 8, 1674). His greatest work, the epic poem Paradise Lost, was dictated between 1658 and 1664. He had become totally blind by 1654. It begins with this prayer (to the Holy Spirit?), and covers the sweep of history from Adam to Christ:

Of Man’s First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav’nly Muse ...

But in spite of the magnificent scope of the epic, my favorite of all Milton’s writings is the sonnet, On His Blindness. I love it all the more the older I get. You will see why.

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Pause and give thanks to God for his gifts to the world like John Milton and his verse. Sometimes the blind see far better than the ever-busy seers.

06 December 2008

Mosaic of a Master

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on His shoulders.
And He will be called Wonderful Counsellor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace
(Isaiah 9:6 NIV).

More has been said, sung and written about Him than about anyone else throughout history. For twenty centuries, authors have failed to find the real person in their fiction; news documentaries and magazine writers have created Him in their image. The Book in which His story appears is read by more people, quoted by more authors and translated into more languages than any other book. His words are set to music; artists are inspired to sketch scenes from His life; endless words of wisdom are gleaned from His teachings.

Who is this prophet, priest and king—Jesus, the anointed Messiah, the Christ? As a baby, He had wise men following a star to fall at His feet in worship. As a boy, He astounded theologians with His knowledge and wisdom. As a man, He calmed a storm with a mere word, multiplied food for thousands, and turned water into wine. When He taught, people said, “We’ve never heard anyone speak like this before.”

Today we are invited to search the Scriptures, for they speak of Him. Although many wish to divest the Bible of its miracles, its Author is a miracle worker. As a healer, He is supernaturally able to control nature, cure disease, banish evil and bind up the broken-hearted. He healed a leper, a paralytic, a woman with a fever, a nobleman’s son with a critical illness, a man with a withered hand and a woman with severe bleeding. He raised the widow’s son, Jairus’s daughter, and Lazarus from the dead. His desire to redeem is coupled with His power to restore.

All the words beginning with “omni” used to describe the nature of God also apply to Jesus. God is omniscient, all-knowing. “Now we can see that You know all things,” affirms John. God is also omnipresent. “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” God is omnipotent, all-powerful. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” God is eternal. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Finally, God is unchangeable. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” If we consider the Bible inspired by His own Spirit, we shall find the fulfilment of hundreds of prophecies.

The Old Testament paints a portrait of God by using such titles and descriptions as alpha and omega, saviour, king, judge, light, rock, redeemer, shepherd, creator, the One who gives life, forgives sin and speaks with divine authority: the Lord. In the New Testament each of these titles applies to Jesus. “When you look at the sketch of God from the Old Testament, you will see a likeness of Me” (Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ).

And then there were the claims He made about Himself. John, the beloved apostle, records His Master’s words: “Before Abraham was born, I AM.” We hear a faint echo in the psalmist’s words, “Before the mountains were born or You brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.”

In the Old Testament, YAHWEH tells Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” God delivered His people from the bondage of Egypt; He is their ever-present help in times of trouble. Almost 7,000 times in the Bible when God is identified, He represents Himself as a rescuer: eternal, present, and willing to save His people.

So by the time the Son of God entered the arena, the Jews knew who God was. When Jesus said, “All that you know about God is true about Me,” they were outraged. For the blasphemy of equating Himself with the eternal God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, “they picked up stones to stone him.”

And the parallels continue between the life-giving shepherd God and the Messiah: “I am the bread of life,” Jesus says. “I am the light of the world.” “I am the door of the sheep.” “I am the good shepherd.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “I am the true vine.” “These things are written,” John tells us, “that you may believe that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” It is essential that we consider the claims He made; eternity is at stake. What He says leaves His hearers in no doubt: I AM—I am God. His claim to be God is either the illusion of a madman, the deception of a clever liar, or the truth; no other options exist. So who is this man—liar, lunatic or lord?

In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis says, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher…. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

In the words of Ravi Zacharias, “Jesus didn’t come into this world to make bad people good; He came to make dead people live.” He is the source of life: “For the LORD is your life.” When asked who Jesus was, Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The choice we make about Jesus Christ is the only choice that matters for eternal life. Today the Master asks each of us, “But who do you say that I am?”

Why I write

Today I am thankful for friends who have offered ongoing encouragement during my often sporadic journey with words. Currently I am writing prolifically, having received some sort of new lease on life – or release – in the past little while, but at times my pen is motionless for months. I try and send at least one thank you letter per week, and the following words were penned to my island girl friend (currently on vacation) whose presence across the Pacific Ocean inspired me to write:

Even though you may read these words weeks from now, I want to gather my wandering thoughts into a safe place: a place where they are corralled and captured and where they are more or less permanent, despite the vagaries of cyber-mail. Telling a trusted (and trustworthy) friend something important may also help clarify these thoughts.

So here we are then: I am a writer. Not, “I want to be a writer when I grow up” (although I do), but I am. A writer. Today. Writers write. I write.

I have the following (sometimes dubious) talents with which to work, and on occasion I may even use a few God-given gifts:

I love words. (No doubt this has come to your attention in the past ten years.) I am fascinated by the way sounds are strung together to craft word-pearl sentences. Or even jewelled fragments.

I appreciate the ability to pay attention. Almost every day I hear the sweet sounds of nature, of animals, of people and of music. I want to describe what I hear, what I see, what I feel. I want others to see the world through my eyes (is that narcissistic?) and to experience the earth’s (super)natural beauty deep in the core of their souls.

I want readers to know the joy, the radiance, the delight in living that I know (and as I write these words, I am well aware that not all created beings know the Creator’s intrinsic joie de vivre). Life is achingly beautiful, even when it appears not to be. I want to attempt to bring back a little of that lost joy, innocence, wonder. (This is the primary reason I write stories for children of all ages.) Life is a gift; I want readers to unwrap it.

My aim is that my words may point upwards; that my readers may lift their thoughts – their sighs, their questions, their longings, their pain, their praise – heavenward. I long to write words that lead others to wholeness, shalom. To contentment in Christ. To inner peace. Truth. Love.

And I believe in the free will to use the gift of creativity (given to each of God’s image-bearers) to glorify the Creator. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 1, 1648). My fervent desire is to point others to His fingerprints in the world around us.

How to do all this, my friend? Only God knows. May He help us all.

Wrapped in a quilt of words

Tonight at our seminary Christmas supper, a student and I were talking about something he shared yesterday in our last English class of the semester. He pictured a quilt wrapped around me, woven together from words.

Today I thought about that image and realised that I didn't necessarily see it wrapped only around me, but around others: folk who needed words of encouragement to cheer them, words of comfort to warm them, words of truth to bring healing, and words of hope to lift their spirits.

I appreciated RE's vision of his teacher wrapped in words, and I hope to drape my cosy quilt around blog Readers (and my regular NLSC crowd) in the posts to follow. Greetings to y'all, and to all a good night.