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Monday, 27 February 2012

Why Fasting


   I have grown up a tradition of Christianity that did not emphasize or teach much about the discipline of fasting.  I remember learning as a child that Friday is nicknamed “Fish Day” because of a long-time practice in some circles of not eating meat on that day.  Also during childhood, I was surprised and puzzled when an aunt told me that her family ate only two meals instead of three on Sundays. 
   A few months ago while reading a book by Indian born Pastor K. P. Yohannan, I was struck by the repeated mention of fasting as a natural activity by Gospel for Asia missionaries.  These are not Western Christians going to heathen nations; they are Asian Christians going to hardest to reach places within Asia.  These missionaries do not eat well by our standards any day, and yet they fast regularly in order to pray and devote themselves to God’s ministry. 
   I wanted to take up the challenge.  I discovered that it was one thing to not eat, but quite another to be devoted to prayer during that same period, to have a focus and a purpose.  I discovered that fasting from food wasn’t enough; to be properly focused I needed to turn off the computer, leave the telephone, and put away self-directed thinking.  It is a struggle.
   I wonder if times of fasting are especially needed to keep us as Christians from being consumed by the “Eat-Drink-Shop” society around us.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Making Ends Meet


At times when I wonder how we will make ends meet, I call to mind an incident from 2005 when my husband was attending Bible College and working part-time at a retail store.  I was a stay-at-home mom.  We always had enough money for our regular expenses, but a trip to the dentist changed that.
   The dentist announced that I had six cavities to be repaired to the tune of $895; we had no dental insurance.   I felt very discouraged and low.  Here I was doing everything I knew how to keep our expenses as low as possible, and now I was the one who apparently had not brushed and flossed enough!
   That night my husband and I lay the problem before the Lord, praying that if he wanted my teeth fixed he would have to send the money from heaven.  We went to bed and slept without worry.
   The very next day when I went to the mailbox, there was a cheque for us in the amount of $1000, from someone who had no idea of the need.  After giving 10% back to God, this was exactly enough to fix my teeth.
    I know how dependent I am upon God; I live in providence place.

Monday, 13 February 2012

What kids are reading today


Dystopian novels like 1984 and Brave New World are the kinds of books you do not expect children to read.  They present an impending bleak world where governments control all aspects of their citizens’ lives.
   Since the late 1990’s there has been an explosion of dystopian novels marketed to young adults and children as young as 9 or 10.  Some examples include The Giver, Hunger Games and others by Suzanne Collins, the City of Ember series, the Among the Hidden series and The Eleventh Plague.  Here we have the same bleak futuristic worlds but with simpler language.  Some stories present corrupt governments, while others portray anarchy.  In each of them life is about survival with limited resources, often featuring a collapse of the technologies (electricity, cars, medical knowledge) we take for granted in North America.   Are such books really a benefit to children? 
   This style of book has some positive elements.  The lead characters are often resilient and resourceful in the face of oppression.  The confidence of children can be built up as they read about such courage.  As well, in the Among the Hidden series where population control is government policy, students can learn that such practices have been used in other countries and see for themselves why they are immoral. 
   Having said this, it is crucial for educators and parents to read the books their children are reading.  Discussion and reassurance may be necessary; some children may not be ready for a certain book until they are older.  As in most things, balance is needed.  A child’s reading diet needs elements of delight, surprise, humour, escape and security as well as these serious issues.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Cultivating Integrity


My paternal grandfather was a market gardener for many years in the Netherlands up until the time he and his wife and eight children immigrated to Canada.  He harvested abundantly from a garden about an acre and a half in size, with a small greenhouse for cultivating grapes and growing early seedlings.  People used to remark that there was a special blessing upon that garden.
   Then came the German occupation in 1940.  My grandfather was not held back from his business, but the market for vegetables changed drastically.  All top quality produce would be sent directly to Germany, while second quality vegetables remained in the Netherlands.  Somehow my grandfather hatched a subtle plan to help his fellow citizens.
   With the exception of cucumbers, my grandfather ensured that all his crates of vegetables would be labeled “second quality.”  Cucumbers, he reasoned, were not highly nutritious, so sending cucumbers to Germany would bring little benefit to them. 
   The way he made sure his other lots of vegetables would be considered inferior was by filling each crate nearly to the brim with the best his garden produced and then placing an obviously misshapen head of cauliflower, an off-colour tomato, or a bunch of freakish carrots at the very top.  Those grading the crates could quickly classify his goods as second quality, which destined them for families within Holland.  And as the war dragged on, food for Dutch families became increasingly scarce.
   But Opa bore a cost.  His fellow gardeners poked fun at him, and his reputation for quality slipped.  At the produce auction his crates also brought a lower price.
   His example inspires me to remember that caring for your neighbour trumps prestige or profits, no matter what your vocation is.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Turtle on a Fence-Post

   I first read this phrase in the devotional by Charles R. Swindoll, entitled The Finishing Touch.  He, in turn, was quoting a Presbyterian pastor by the name of Dr. Robert Lamont.  In his youth, Dr. Lamont had seen the strange sight of a turtle being suspended on a fence-post.  No doubt, this was the work of a prankster and not that of the turtle itself.  He applied this idea to himself as well: “Where I am right now is not the result of my efforts; only God can be credited for lifting me to this place for His glory.”
   Whenever I tell someone that I am a Kindergarten teacher, which I have been since the fall of 2008, I am reminded that I too am a turtle on a fence-post.  This would have been the last grade level that I would have chosen for myself. 
   Yet on the Friday before the Labour Day weekend, I received a phone call from the principal of a local school asking me to consider taking a 40% position in Junior Kindergarten, starting in a few days.  Honestly, I did not understand why he would call and offer this position to me.  I had no experience in teaching students this young, and I styled myself as an upper elementary teacher.  He asked me to think and pray about it and return his call with an answer in a few hours.
   I have always had a strong sense of vocation, being called to do particular things at particular times in my life.  During my prayer time, this is what came to my mind once again.  This phone call was none other than a call to surrender my plans to God’s plans.  I trusted that He would equip me since I did not consider myself at all prepared for this great adventure with four year olds.
   But even more than being in the position of teaching Kindergarten, I feel like a turtle when I think about my humble beginnings as a simple farm girl.  God has enabled me to study at some of the best schools in Canada, teach in small and large Christian schools in Ontario, write columns in secular newspapers, become married to a wonderful man, become a mother to three gifted children, and so much more.
   I am a turtle on a fence-post.