But before we started getting sick and things got work busy for me, we gathered for our family picture. It's been good having everyone home these days. Don't know when we'll get this chance again.
So here's to growing and expanding families who grow up and still are learning how to be family for one another.
A fine bunch.
I did take Monday off though, for those of you who might think I took no day of this week. Honestly I was hoping for a bit more, and I might get a day or two yet somewhere, but this is the busy season with reports and meetings and appointments and postoffice errands to run for the office, that it seems enough to waken me in the night.
So I best turn my head back to the work at hand.
I do hope for you that you have great expanses of paid time off to spend however you wish and that your Christmas has been and continues to be a good one. Don't move on too quickly, it can be quite enjoyable in the moment. I speak from experience.
It indeed is only two more sleeps till Christmas day. Finally.
It feels like it's been a bit of a so-so stretch. Lauralea's been struggling with illness, I've been very busy with work and meetings and my sleep has been odd lately.
The kids are all coming home this year, and some will be travelling well into Christmas day so we'll wait for them to arrive. I'm looking forward to that part of Christmas. But it still can be tough to say the honest things that should be said, even with your own kids.
Hopefully this heaviness lifts a bit and we can try to enjoy the time we have together. It's been a tough patch this late autumn, emotionally and relationally as we try to care for people who live in different places than we do. We've had to make tough choices about who we are and what we stand for. We've had to go into deep emotional places to speak the truth into people's lives and have them respond in negative ways. We've had to stand for what we feel is truth, and have loved ones push against that.
I suppose it just been a time of tension or conflict which creates a general feeling of being off balance. That happens in life, I know that. Our season seems to be happening now.
But in good news, I think our gifts are all purchased. I know we've had a few odd looks over the past years about gifts we've purchased, mostly for the kids, but this year I think we've done better at it. It gets tough when they get older and you want to get them the world but A. You can't afford the world and B. They don't really want the world anyway. I can't think of any of the gifts we got them that they will look at us with stunned looks... well hang on there. There might be one...
Anywhoo our Walmart Turkey is in the freezer and I treated us to a very expensive Riesling to enjoy the bird with. The weekend services are nearly done and Lauralea and I have agreed not to get each other gifts because we went to England this autumn so those things are off my mind.
Nothing left but to awaken early tomorrow and make some strong tea and tune in the internet radio to BBC Radio Four and listen to the crisp, Christmassy sounds of the Festival Of Nine Lessons and Carols. One of Lauralea and my christmas traditions. I remember listening to that over the shortwave back before the Internet came along.
And so as you rush headlong into Christmas I hope time slows down for you and you are able to enjoy what you have. May the joy of Mary upon seeing her new born son be in your hearts. May God fill you with his Spirit and speak to your innermost being, guiding you in the way you should go. And may the love of Christ surround you and shine forth from you; both now and forevermore.
Night from the Field.
And in another respect, the single moments tick by at a slow pace. Life is slower. Less gets done because it takes more to get it done. But life is fuller. You are doing more, it just doesn't look like it from the outside. That's one of those field-isms that I'm working hard to make peace with. It just is.
We enjoy the quiet, the field people are great, and life, when we can just relax, is good. It is good and I could see us choosing to live in a context just like this, for a while anyway, in our own space and time. We like it here.
But I find myself loving so tentatively, so hesitantly. Somewhere inside maybe I don't want to love it here too much because I know that one day down the road, we will have to move away from here. I don't know these things for sure, but the truth is that I am here for the work, living in somebody else's home and you just know that chances are that one day, five or ten or twenty years down the road you're gonna have to pack up and move. And so some part of the mind says to love lightly because then it will hurt less when it's time to go. The rational part steps in at that point and tries to grab the emotion by the scruff of the neck and drags it along as we go on our way, choosing to love people in spite of how we feel.
I was such a simple man so many years ago this very day when the church saw gifts and calling in me that they wanted to recognize and call forth and so the way they knew how to do that was to Ordain me to the ministry. And I more formally set aside my choices and a few dreams to obey the One who made me and shaped me and called me forward. Laying down stuff like choices where to live and what kind of work I would do. Finding greater value in following after and obeying the One in whom I found fulfillment, the One in whom I found eternity and the One who alone spoke the words of life.
I remember the internal struggle back at the beginning. The desire to do something worthwhile with my life, something that might count for something in the end. Even if it didn't look like anything and even if there weren't titles or recognition at the end of it all, if I could just know that my life had meant something in terms of someone changing their opinion of ministry or God or even just their neighbour, that would be enough. If I could be a part of redirecting people from moving away from God, to at least moving towards Him, then that would be a life lived well. That's what I thought, and that's what I still think my life is to be about.
But still this struggle to obey. It does get easier in some very real respects, but as I age the more I realize the cost of it. When I was young I told myself that obedience in this ministry-ward direction was probably only temporary and that I could give my best, my strongest, my most zealous years to ministry while I was young. As I age I see more clearly the cost and the value to me of giving up my agenda for this work that I do
Maybe all I'm trying to say is that even after all these years in ministry, I'm still surprised at how hard it can be sometimes to lay down my will. Yeah, that's it. Sometimes I don't want to do what God wants me to do and like a child I want to do what I want to do. I can be quite selfish sometimes.
So God calls me to a Field to love the Field People, and I'm scared because it could hurt and I don't want it to hurt. Funny how even after years and years of ministry the basic struggles are still the same.
The comforting thing is that now I can admit that to myself.
Only one more week till C-Day. You better get your shopping done quickly.
Night. From the Field.
There is of course much culture, food, and music that goes along with being a mennonite, and for me, this guy brings it all back in a comforting, laughing way.
Not surprisingly, patients who escaped depression with the help of anti-depressants, and then stopped taking the drugs, relapsed about 70 percent of the time. The chemical boost was temporary. However, during the 18 month follow-up period, only 28 percent of patients in mindfulness therapy slipped back into the mental illness.
What we often forget is that therapy alters the chemical brain, just like a pill. It’s easy to dismiss words as airy nothings and talk therapy as mere talk. Sitting on a couch can seem like such an antiquated form of treatment. But the right kind of talk can fix our broken mind, helping us escape from the recursive loop of stress and negative emotion that’s making us depressed. Changing our thoughts is never easy and, in severe cases, might seem virtually impossible. We live busy lives and therapy requires hours of work and constant practice; our cortex can be so damn stubborn. But the data is clear: If we are seeking a long-lasting cure for depression, then it’s typically our most effective treatment.
because of the bad weather hitting us now and expected to remain with us for the day, and because it takes a long time to communicate the information, the youth leadership team decided to pull the plug on todays activity where we were to meet at Walmart at 4:30 to purchase winter supplies for Neighbours Outreach Wetaskiwin.
Tell your friends and family and help get the news out there.
We will attempt to reschedule this activity at a later time.
So last night I tried hard to sleep.
And I tried harder.
The harder I tried, the further away the sleep moved till it was beyond my reach.
So the last time I remember seeing the clock, it was after three am.
About 5:30 am my alarm went off to start the day. I recall that it took three tries to turn off the alarm.
I was out the door at 6 am, for our 6:30 prayer time.
Then I was off to a pastors meeting, in a town about 45 minutes away.
Then I was back to Wetaskiwin for a lunch meeting with our Deacons.
Then I was getting supplies for our Moms Of PreSchoolers which is on Thursday.
Then I got home and returned some calls, and fell asleep for 15 minutes.
Then we fought traffic and a bad icy rain and snow storm to get to Edmonton, to pick up Hillary at the bus station.
Then we came home. It was 10:30 pm.
And I showered and crawled into bed and here I am. Tired beyond tired.
Lots of good was lived out today. Lots of great moments. Lots of tired, punchy, bad jokes.
And now, lots of sleep.
Night from the field.
Each year the whole congregation, all ages makes and models, are invited to review my work and the results of my work here in the field. The data is gathered by a team of individuals who process it and remove the names of the writers from their words. Then they meet with me to review any themes or general streams of thought evident in the submissions.
I've always believed that God is well able to work through and speak through the average individual church attender just as much and more even then the guy or gal at the front of the room. So these opportunities are also chances to hear Gods voice. If its time to shift direction in the ministry or if it's time for me to move on, I should be able to hear those kinds of things as God speaks through his people.
But last night it was also to hear how God has been at work in me as the congregation observes who I am and what I am becoming. It's very humbling to hear words of blessing, and to remember prayers I prayed many times in my youthful pastor days, and to see them being answered years later.
"A good preacher" they say, "Who has built good trust and speaks so that everyone can understand. His humour is well appreciated and he makes the spiritual things real. He's welcoming and accessible and uses the bible a lot which is what we need."
Another theme that arose was his Prayer life or inner life of the spirit.
"Prayer. He's led us in praying boldly for healing. His inner life is reflected in his work in spiritual direction and counselling. He is a great spiritual advisor and he's honest with us and with himself and his own struggles. He is trustworthy and honest and he really cares about us. He works well with people of all ages and he's a good communicator."
Then a final theme arises. His relationships.
"He seems to be accessible to all age groups and hasn't just cared for one or two groups of people. No one group dominated his time but he has been equal and fair with all. His consistency and honesty in his relationships is valued. He seems to be the same whether in church leading worship or while drinking coffee or writing on his blog."
The growth areas are observed to be that I still try to do too much, and that they seem to be ready for more of me. They desire more depth in personal relationships and are always open to more and more visits. These concerns or desires are always present, most every year. But they are good desires and indicate health. There is much work to be done here, much room to grow and serve and love people more.
Some of these observations I hear and see as direct answers to very pointed prayers to God about my service here. And some of them make me smile because I remember when I was 24 and would walk for hours and pray asking God to make me this person who I seem to be becoming.
I confess this year has been a hard one in terms of work. It has been lonely and isolated and it kind of feels like you are just the local man of God. Though many are friendly you are good friends with none and when the phone rings or the email comes in, it's about someone with an illness or a need or a concern or a question, rather than a friend calling a friend.
I'm not saying that to whine about how nobody loves me because that isn't true. It's just a statement of fact. Though some will eventually become better friends than others, the field people here don't need another friend, they need a pastor. That comes with the territory, a part of the gig. But it's a lonely part. And being the spouse of the pastor, well don't even get me started on how weird that can be.
A while ago I was trying to help out a number of overwhelmed families who were not looking forward to this Christmas and it's official, church related events. It was more about expectation and demands on them as families and in my effort to help make their lives and their christmas more enjoyable, and also to create church activities designed to reach into the community where we live, I offered them an alternative if they wished. Well, some others were caught by the surprise of this offer, and have communicated their surprise.
It's kind of a classic example of how when trying to serve the best needs of the community, you can end up with others offended by those very same efforts. What seems a grace to some, ends up being a chore to others. The real test of a healthy community is what you do with that tension, because there are always going to be those tensions. Be it the temperature of the sanctuary on Sunday morning, or the songs we sing, or where we give our money, or the colour of the new carpet, and on and on it can go. On our good days as pastors we get to see the people grow in life and faith and learn to live well among personal tensions. On our worse days we get bogged down there in amongst the tensions, with the people.
But still we are with the people. We are with the ones we please and with the ones we piss off. That, really, is our work and our place of work. It's in that space where normal procedure and sensibilities can be suspended because it's the place of brokenness or loss or pain. It's in those gritty moments that the greatest help can be offered because the smallest grace can create the biggest hope in a life, and trust can be there, even though its a hard place to be. As pastors you go into those dark places with people to be present with them, to pray for them, and if they are willing, to guide them back to the surface where life awaits them.
At least that's what being a pastor is to me.
While on some days I wonder what God was thinking when he invited me to this way of life, and on some days I'm lonely and whine and complain, and on some days I feel tired and I don't want to go with people where they are, most every day I am, in some deep part of me, grateful that He invited me to serve him in this way.
I described them as people who required belief in Jesus + being circumcised, at least in Paul's day. Today instead of circumcision, they may add evangelism as in "How many people have you led to Christ this year?" Or they may add contribution as in "How much are you giving to the church?" They may add heritage as in "Were you raised in the church?" Or doctrine as in "When you were baptized, was the water running or still, deep or shallow, hot or cold?"
They are tired people because they never know if what they do is enough for God. So they keep on going, doing, being, so that somehow they can please the God they love.
Anyway, it can be a challenging bit of preaching that bit, and even a greater challenge to hear it in a helpful way.
While I had one or two adults thoughtfully mention it, the bigger response was from a number of kids, and teens who got it. They heard me clearly and really affirmed what I've been trying to do here.
That's why I love the teens. Yeah sometimes there is a bit of stuff to get around and sometimes they may not be used to responding as adults, but they're learning. They are who they are and mostly I can respect that, and them. They can smell a bad fart a mile away, and by fart I mean someone who is being inconsistent with them. I like that they prefer honesty generally, and that they know integrity.
Adults are not always the same. They have histories and plans and they have their own secrets that they often try to hide. But because they have their own secrets, or maybe just because they are better trained, they don't blurt out "What's that smell?" when the room is full of it.
But the kids do, and I like that.
Gives me a good deal of hope for the future, and if we let them into the church today, then it gives hope for now.
You can't have a shower.
You can't turn up the heat.
You can't vacuum the carpets.
You can't go "Online"
You can't listen to music.
You can't make popcorn.
But it seems that,
You can run the gas fireplace.
You can sit in front of the fire.
You can drink something warming.
You can read out loud while herself sits in the rocking chair knitting.
And apparently you can blog from your mobile.
Time to delve deeply into an ancient practice that some would say changes their heart more than it changes Gods.
After a very busy week and meetings and many miles travelled, I feel like I have space and time here in the Field today to spend time praying.
Yes prayer is a regular part of every day, but there are times when the space opens up before you and you enter into it and you just spend time with the creator of the universe. Conversing or quiet, you spend time in each others presence and it's good.
You might pray some hundred year old prayers written by someone miles and years away from you, but their words are as alive and meaningful to where you are today than anything you can come up with, so you make them your own, for now.
Or you might just be present in silence. No words spoken out loud, no words being formed in your mind, just the intimacy of a shared moment and quiet. Occasionally there may arise from your soul or your lips words of praise or petition but since you are in the same place as the lover of your soul, you need not yell. A whisper is enough and you are heard.
In the quiet there is also room for you to just listen and to be present to The Voice. The voice of God. Oh yes he speaks and he has a voice and sometimes he yells, but more often than not his voice is gentle, quieter than the surrounding noises. That's why silence of the heart is so important to cultivate, at least if you want to hear God.
So this afternoon I have room and time to be still.
How about you?
At Santas place with a hundred thousand other people., originally uploaded by RandallFriesen.
After years of hearing Micah's speech go from being clear as a bell to being less and less intelligible, his dentist felt it was time to move him up to the next step. So today happened.
This ortho place was quite a show. A marble three bowl teeth brushing station, xboxes, TVs, and the testing equipment was amazing. Full face X-rays, and a whole head MRI machine where we could view his skull, brain, spine, sinuses, even his pipes going down his throat, all of it on a screen. And get this, the radiologist they use lives and has his office in Las Vegas. They just email the files, he views them, and emails out his report. I confess I was running a tally of the costs as each new tool was used.
The end result for Micah was as bad as we expected. Maybe a little worse. Jaw mis-aligned, bad overbite, locking jaw, and so on. Sigh.
He will need braces and "elective" surgery, then braces again to pull his jaw forward. Let's just say it won't be easy. Then following that he will have to relearn many things with his new face, including speech therapy.
And we will need God to be God again for us and for him. For Micah in the process, and for us in paying the bill. There is no insurance where this will take us. Not even for the surgery.
I teasingly offered Micah $5000 tonight if he would just forgo the process and live with it. Wisely he asked for double that. I'm thinking it over. I'd still come out thousands ahead.
I'm not really worried about it yet. It's just a number, and the way God has taken care of us in the past gives me confidence in the future.
It's a big deal for Micah, and for us as a family. Today was just another step on that journey.
I'm curious to see where it all leads.