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Monday, 30 December 2013

Theme for 2014: Hope/Esperanza

   A blog that I follow, called The Peaceful Mom, included a post last week about how one word really defined the year 2013 for her.  She later added a second post where she shared the word “align” as a guiding theme for 2014, to indicate that certain areas of her life need to be restored to their proper balance.  This discussion led me to consider if there might be a word or phrase that I can foresee being important for me in 2014.  The one I'd like to share is hope.  I include the Spanish equivalent for good reason, as I will explain later.

   Hope is a word that carries over from the advent season, where each candle lit represents a quality that is important in the Christmas story.  Without hope it is hard to get out of bed each morning.  Without hope a gray sky can dictate our moods.  Without hope life is a form of drudgery.  But where does this hope come from?  Ultimately it comes from knowing that God is in control and that he made a way for us to know him through his Son Jesus Christ. 
When I attended a chapel service at a local prison on the first Sunday of advent the chaplain gave each inmate and guest a symbol of hope.  When she first introduced this symbol I did not grasp its significance.  The symbol she chose was an eraser.  An eraser gets rid of the mistakes we’ve made.  How does this relate to hope? When we are stuck in the guilt and regret of the shortcomings and offenses that we have committed our sense of hope is stolen.  But with forgiveness, the erasing of our sins, hope is restored.  Our outlook can look forwards instead of backwards.
   With hope I anticipate the relief that will come to family members when ownership of a property is transferred in the coming year. 
The front gate to the school
   Lord willing, in January I will spend ten days helping at Colegio Cristiano La Esperanza, a school for needy children in the outskirts of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  This Hope Collegiate is a place where youngsters can overcome the poverty they have been born into.  It is a place where they encounter the Lord of all hopefulness in a unique way that I will be privileged to share in.  Since it is my first cross-cultural service trip, I anticipate that the experience is going to change me.  I fully hope that as I work in this remote location I will learn things that will stay with me and mark me for the coming year.  

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”  Letter to the Hebrews 6:19a

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Share your story

   This past year I introduced the idea of guest posts to the providenceplace blog.  In 2014 I would like to include more stories written by others who recognize God's providence in their lives or those of their loved ones.
   If you have a story you'd like to share, please send it to me at the following email address: harriette.edit@gmail.com.  Please indicate how you wish to be named in the guest post.  If you have a suitable photo to go with your story, please include it also.

Share your story on providenceplace!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Sounds of Christmas

A gift from one of my students
One of the essentials of Christmas for me is its music.  Many early memories are bound up with that, such as performing “The Friendly Beasts” with my third grade class,  hearing “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” from a Bing Crosby LP at my childhood home and the background music of Dutch children singing carols on the cassette player in the humble dwelling of my Opa and Oma.
   Two songs are especially meaningful to me because they were sung at Christmas church services by amateur vocalists, everyday people who had a musical talent they were willing to share.  The first was sung by a youth leader and carpenter who later took up urban ministry in Amsterdam.  He introduced me to the words of the Scott Wesley Brown piece called “This Little Child.”  I was struck by its ability to draw together the child in the manger with the life he lived and expectation of his return to our broken world.
            “Who would have thought this little child
            Was who the prophets said
            Who will return to judge the word, the living and the dead.
Oh, can’t you see that long ago, so very far away, this little child was born a King
            that day?” [1]
   The second singer was a retired dairy farmer with a booming tenor voice.  I’ll never forget his rendition of “O Holy Night.”  After a long period of being unable to speak or sing due to a stroke, this man is now with the Lord, no doubt praising him once more.
“Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.”[2]

Would you leave a comment sharing a Christmas song that has a special meaning for you?

[1] “This Little Child” by Scott Wesley Brown © 1981
[2] “O Holy Night” was originally a French poem by Placide Cappeau and set to music by Adolphe Charles Adams in 1847.  American John Sullivan Dwight is responsible for the English translation commonly used today.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Reflections on "12 Days for Good"

   From December 9 until today I have taken part in a local campaign called “12 Days for Good” in partnership with the charity House of Friendship.  Of course, the “12 Days” alludes to the popular seasonal song in which a “true love” gives unusual gifts, but it also parallels the number of days that volunteers are engaged in preparing Christmas hampers for the needy in the community.
   I have some mixed reactions to my involvement in this campaign.
  • I was inspired to spend a day volunteering when I otherwise might not have put it into my schedule.
  • Knowing that over 280 others were committed to making a positive difference in their community was also encouraging, along with the daily profiles of “do-gooders” I didn’t know before.
  • I found myself counting my good deeds in the same way a miser counts up his money.  This is the opposite of not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing (Matthew 6:3).
  • The campaign encouraged participants to share what they were doing on social media.  Again, this smacks of seeking our own glory.  “Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2).


   I wonder if we’re at a point in our culture where the word “good” needs to be defined.  Originally pointing at moral excellence, “good” today has become mediocre.  The kinds of things that some people consider “good deeds” make me give my head a shake.  I read last month of a woman with a website about the good deeds she does.  She, among other things, lifts her skirt to flash men in wheelchairs.  Can we call this “good”?  If our motivation is to be noticed or to receive kick-backs of any kind, is our act truly unselfish?  Actually, this is not a new question.  The writers of a 16th century tool for teaching truths to young people also asked, “What do we do that is good?”  The answer is:
“Only that which arises out of true faith,
   conforms to God’s law, and is done for his glory;
and not that which is based on what we think is right
   or on established human tradition.”[1]
   Another healthy perspective about good deeds comes from the classic devotional book entitled “My Utmost for His Highest.” The author states: “The right thing to do with godly habits is to immerse them in the life of the Lord until they become such a spontaneous expression of our lives that we are no longer aware of them.”[2]  Helping others and seeking opportunities to serve as a way of life 365 days a year comes from surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ, not from checklists or whims.

[1] Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 91, first published in 1563; this English translation approved in 1975.
[2] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost forHis Highest, entry from May 12, edited by James Reimann, 1992

Monday, 16 December 2013

Walk-in Cooler Stories

When this knob is pushed from the inside, the door opens.
Last Friday I spent the first part of my day volunteering at a food hamper program where my husband is employed full-time.  The first job I was assigned was sorting donations of yogurt by their “best before” dates.  The idea is to hand out yogurt that is getting close to this date and save the freshest yogurt for later.  Since these dairy products are perishable, my work space was a walk-in cooler.  Wearing my coat, hat and gloves, I went through numerous plastic totes to organize every brand, flavour and container size of yogurt imaginable.
   Being inside the walk-in cooler with the door latched did not bother me at all because there was an inside-release knob that I could press to exit whenever I needed a break.  It reminded me of a time my father had a similar experience, except without the inside-release knob.
   It was a late December afternoon at our mink farm.  Our walk-in cooler was used to refrigerate the meaty feed which was given to our animals, but in December the thermostat was set to freezing to store pelts that needed processing at a later date.  This particular Sunday my dad went out to check something inside the cooler/freezer when a gust of wind slammed the door shut.  Fortunately there was a light switch inside, but to his dismay the (removable) inside-release knob was hanging somewhere OUTSIDE of the cooler.  My dad was stuck inside with no way to get out.
   He gathered his wits and immediately turned the thermostat up from the freezing mark.  He assured himself that after the family had finished watching the hour-long program “The Wonderful World of Disney,” they would come looking for him. 

   Warm inside our house my sister, mother and I were oblivious to what was going on.  I was the one sent out to look for Dad, no doubt complaining about all the gear I needed to put on.  As I approached various outbuildings I must have called out his name, until I heard a muffled voice from inside the well-insulated cooler.  When I opened the heavy door, he was so glad to see me.  He was hoarse from yelling but otherwise unharmed.  From that day forward, the inside-release knob was kept where it belonged.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Readings for a Holy Holiday, Week Three

December 15: The Good Shepherd

What kind of person would use this tool to do his or her work?  A shepherd.  What do shepherds take care of?  Do you think sheep are easy to take care of?  It may surprise you that they are not!  They are easily scared, and they need food and water nearby all the time.  Sheep also like to explore and find any hole in the fence to escape.  Then they might also get lost.

   A shepherd with many sheep needs to watch them carefully so that they will not wander away and so that no wolves or other wild animals will attack them.  He risks his life to chase away any animal that would hurt his sheep.  He needs to lead the sheep to clean water and green grass.  He comes to know each sheep by name.
   Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11).  He never took care of actual sheep, but He is talking about taking care of us.  He knows each of us by name too.  He gave his life to save us from our enemies of sin and Satan.

Dear Jesus,
You are my shepherd, I have everything that I need.  You lead me.  Protect me in times of danger.  I am as helpless as a sheep without you.

Other Readings for this week include:

December 16 The Door

December 17 The Redeemer

December 18 Lamb of God

December 19 Lion of Judah

December 20 The Amen

December 21 Immanuel

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Guest Post by Janessa: Kindergarten Connection

This is the true story my daughter penned for a school assignment. Enjoy.

In 1949, schools in Holland would put candles on the desks to decorate for Christmas.  Although this was a fire hazard, it was still a common practice for all ages.
My Oma, Jannie, was in kindergarten and it was Christmas time.  Even in kindergarten, there were candles on top of each desk.  She had leaned back into the candle on the desk behind her.  Jannie’s hair caught on fire and it was frightening for everyone present.  Luckily, they got the fire out in time and her hair was only slightly singed.  My Opa, Rinus, was in the same kindergarten class and felt bad for the girl whose hair caught on fire.
When Rinus was 12 years old, he immigrated to Canada with his parents, four sisters and three brothers.  Some family members occasionally returned to Holland for visits.
About 20 years later, Rinus’ sister, Ann, was spending a year in Holland.  Ann and Rinus were close in age and close in their relationship as well.  While Ann was in Holland, she met up with Jannie.  They spent much of their free time together.  The more Ann got to know Jannie, the more she thought her brother, Rinus, should meet her.  
Ann came back to Canada and when Rinus was going to visit Holland a few months later, she purchased a present for Jannie and asked Rinus to deliver it.  Ann was hoping that the two of them would get along well.

Rinus went to Holland and then he realized that he should deliver the present as his sister had asked.  So he went to visit Jannie and she invited him in for tea, joining her friends and relatives who were also at the house.  As their gathering came to a close, Rinus asked Jannie if she wanted to go sightseeing with him the next Saturday.  She accepted and they got together on the Saturday.  Rinus noticed her kindness and realized how she was much different than other girls who he considered to be “arrogant”.  After their sightseeing date was over, Rinus proposed to Jannie since he was leaving to visit another province of Holland.  That gave her some time to think about it while he was away for a bit.  When Rinus came back from the other province, Jannie accepted his proposal;  they got married in Canada on December 19, 1969.

It wasn’t until after they were married that Rinus realized Jannie was the girl whose hair caught on fire in kindergarten.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Harrison's Story

This story affected me a great deal when I first heard it.  Two of my uncles have worked on the dangerous seas, in various roles from deckhand, captain, engineer, logistics and consulting.  I am grateful that their lives were preserved during their career days.

  The survival story of Harrison Odjegba Okene has taken some time to be noticed.  His miraculous rescue took place in May of 2013, but when the video taken by a camera attached to the head of the rescue diver was released publicly this month it became unstoppable.
   The Nigerian cook and eleven others were on board a tugboat, the Jascon 4, off the coast of Nigeria.  A wave caused the boat to capsize while Harrison was in the bathroom.  He opened a series of doors until he found a cabin where there was an air pocket.  He was submerged from the waist down in frigid salt water and remained this way for 60 hours with only coca-cola to drink and nothing to eat.
   We have a series of miracles here: 
  • he did not succumb to hypothermia
  • he remained conscious
  • there was enough oxygen for him to continue breathing
  • no predatory fish broke through the walls of the cabin
  • a diver from DCN (a Dutch salvage company) was able to locate him in time.
   Harrison himself acknowledges that it was God who sustained him during this Jonah-like experience:  “The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me…But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God” (Jonah 2: 5-6).  He reportedly recited psalms during his ordeal, crying out to God for deliverance with the words of Psalm 54.
   All of Harrison’s crew-mates lost their lives, and he mourns for them.  Nevertheless, he has a testimony to give and a life of gratitude to live while he has breath.
   If you would like to read the detailed news report, click on the underlined words.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Readings for a Holy Holiday, Week Two

Here are another seven days worth of readings.  Each one is a link that you can click on to open up the reading and its accompanying photograph.

December 8:  Root of Jesse

December 9:  True Vine

December 10: Balm of Gilead

December 11: Bread of Life

December 12:  The Word

December 13:  Strong Rock

December 14:  Cornerstone

Feedback is always welcome!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Three Quotations Worth Pondering

1)  From a hymn:

Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,
      All his boasted pomp and show;
      Solid joys and lasting treasures
      None but Zion’s children know.
~ “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” by John Newton (1779)

   This reflects how I feel about some of the spectacles the world puts on.  The Academy Awards, the Olympics, The Super Bowl and so on contain so much hype and such little substance when you get right down to it.
   John Newton’s words were set to the tune of Haydn’s “Austrian Hymn” in 1889.  This was the same tune as the German national anthem.  I was told that when post-war immigrants from the Netherlands came to Canada they had a difficult time singing this hymn because of the association with the nation that had invaded their land.  However, those who looked closely at its message were able to overcome this negative link.

2)      From an epic novel:

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”
~Haldir, an elf in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring (1966)

   One thing I am enjoying so much about re-reading this 1,000-page tale (after twenty years) is the number of wise and good characters.  Some novels have only one hero, who singlehandedly overcomes obstacles and odds.  More true-to-life is the hero who has a support system of people with names and even allies he may not know about.  It’s true in our own lives.  The people in the background of the story of our lives are more important than we know through such things as their prayers and their faithfulness to God. 

3)      From a statesman:

“Sin lives solely by plagiarizing the ideas of God”
~Abraham Kuyper in a speech entitled “Uniformity” (1869)

   It is good to be reminded that creativity rests with God.  All that sin can do is degrade or corrupt that which was created “good.”