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Saturday, 30 May 2015

Five Lessons from the Life of Ben Carson, M.D.

Famed American neurosurgeon Ben Carson documented example after example of God's providential guidance in his life in his autobiography Gifted Hands, published by Zondervan in 1996. Almost twenty years later and now retired from medicine, this Christian leader announced in early May that he is seeking the Republican nomination for President, for the election to be held in 2016. Since I'm not an American citizen, I do not have a vested interested in what happens in that race. However, I do believe that every nation needs leaders with integrity.

1.  Television watching is overrated.
   When he was about ten years old, Ben Carson's mother made a new rule at home.  She saw how much time her boys were spending in front of the television and declared that they would choose three shows per week to watch.  At the same time, she instituted weekly visits to the library.  She asked them to each read two books per week and write a report about what they learned from it.  This was all in addition to homework!
   Near the end of his book Gifted Hands, Carson notes that a Baltimore middle school had a Ben Carson Club, where each member made the same resolution about limiting television viewing and reading at least two books per week.  In his speaking engagements, Dr. Carson would encourage young people to read books because it is an active form of learning.

2.  Build on your God-given talents
   One of Ben Carson's natural talents was hand-eye coordination.  So often we may be inclined to think this talent leads to great success in sports, but Carson recognized it could also be key in being a skilled surgeon.  He was able to visualize things in three dimensions, knowing what the effects on different parts of the brain would be from every action he took in surgery.  A natural talent needs to be developed and can help give direction for young people as they consider the career for which they would be best suited.
3.  No learning is ever wasted
   One of Ben Carson's favourite television programs was called College Bowl.  It involved teams competing from different colleges to answer trivia-type questions.  At home he and his brother played along, trying to answer questions before the teams on the screen.  Because he aspired to be on such a team one day, he beefed up his knowledge of classical music and art work.
   Even though College Bowl went off the air the year Carson entered college, he realized later that no knowledge is ever wasted.  Because he had come to appreciate classical music, it became a point of connection between himself and his future wife, Candy.  His ability to converse knowledgeably about classical music with his interviewer surprisingly played a role in his acceptance into a coveted neurosurgery internship at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1976.

4. When God calls you, he will make a way for you
   A few times Ben Carson fumbled on his way to becoming a surgeon.  One example, during his first semester at Yale, he learned that his system of studying material was not good enough for college. He was used to cramming just before an exam and being able to master the material.  However, on the night before his chemistry exam--which he had to ace in order to fulfill his dream of becoming a doctor--he was in despair.  He knew he could not learn all the material and be successful on his own. He cried out to God, expressing his sorrow and regret at failing God and himself.  Falling asleep at midnight, he had an unusual dream in which he was shown how to solve all the problems he would have on the exam the next day. Carson never experienced anything like this before or since.  He learned his lesson about being faithful to what was required of him, but felt a strong assurance through this and other times he faced hurdles that God had a plan for him, and He would bring it to fruition.

5.  Do not feed your ego
   Ben Carson as a doctor had in mind what was best for his patients.  When some of his developments (such as using a hemispherectomy (removal of half the brain) to cure uncontrollable seizures in young children and leading a team in separating Siamese twins who were joined at the back of the head so that both children survived) were successful, he was thrust into the media spotlight.  He was willing to answer questions in a press conference, but when asked to come on a talk show with the girl who benefited from his first seizure-curing surgery, he declined.  He knew how easily such recognition can make a person think of himself more highly than he ought to.  He also did not want to become a celebrity doctor.  His goal was to used his gifted hands for the benefit of as many people as possible.
   In his announcement of running for the presidential nomination, he stated that he is not a politician and does not want to be one.  He explained, "Politicians do what is politically expedient, and I want to do what's right." [see short clip from New York Times, May 4th 2015]

Monday, 25 May 2015

Words Left to me in Eighth Grade

   In eighth grade I wrote a book report that went on beyond two pages.  I was so excited about the content that I shared many details.  Even though I no longer remember which book the report was about, I do remember the teacher's comment.  He said, "Harriette has to learn the meaning of the word concise."
   This is blog post #300 since February 2012 when I began with providenceplace.  In general, my posts are not long-winded.  I would rather divide a piece into parts than burden my readers with something that goes on and on.  Could it be that I'm still trying to show Mr. L. that I've learned the lesson he wanted me to learn?
   To be honest, many teachers and critics have made me the writer I am today.  I think of one of the many Mr. V's who taught me.  This English teacher read two of my essays out loud as a model to the class in my senior year of high school.  While I was flattered, I was also very embarrassed. Therefore, when the third essay came along I somewhat purposely fumbled in my flow of words.  Later on, in university I was determined to study political science, but my English professor Dr. L. highlighted my gift for writing and literary analysis.  Thus, I became an English major.
   I am indebted to my many teachers whenever I put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard.  Thanks for pushing me to the next level!

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Guest Post by Kathy: Loving Your Cross-Cultural Neighbour with Your Whole Self

   One of my first friends in Kitchener/Waterloo was Kathy, a woman who is so intentional about reaching out to people who are culturally different than herself.  She and her husband are church planters who settled in a high-density area of the city that is home to immigrants from every continent.  In this post, she explains how following Jesus’ directive to “love your neighbour” takes on special qualities when that neighbour is of a different culture.  It has also helped me to exercise the true tolerance that thinker and writer Chawkat Moucarry defines as follows:  “True tolerance is to accept the other, not by ignoring the distance between us, but by measuring that distance accurately and by recognizing that whoever want to cross over has the right and the freedom to do so.  Only love can create the necessary conditions for the truth to emerge.”

   Loving our neighbours is a whole body experience.  It is more than warm feelings or attitudes.  It involves crossing the bridge between us on every level.  We honour God when we honour our neighbour.


  • Different cultures dress differently.  When we see how another person is dressed, we can choose to appreciate the style as having a form of beauty and also functionality for the country of origin.
  • The colour of skin can be seen with the eyes, but true love sees the person.  We are all made in God's image.  Just as a prism disperses light and shows all its colours in a spectrum, so the human race makes visible the complexity of God through skin, culture, language and gender.
  •  Scarves are worn by women of some cultures.  Understand that modesty and honour are communicated in this way and is not necessarily imposed upon them.
  • When we observe cultural practices, it is OK to ask about them.  Some appropriate questions that build bridges could include “Do you eat with a spoon and fork/fork and knife/fingers?”  “Do you have children?” “At home, how do you sit for a meal?” “What is the name for your outfit?"


  • When we listen to others with an accent or with names that are difficult for us to pronounce, it is OK to say, “I’m sorry, can you repeat that” as many times as you need to.
  • Permission to laugh at ourselves as we try to understand and say things that are foreign to each other.
  • Give yourself permission to not understand everything, especially when they are not able to say much.
  • Taking the time to truly listen means so much.  When you hear the person’s story, it can teach us who they really are and what’s really happening globally.  Their homeland is not just the setting of a fictional novel or an item on the news.


  • Smile and laugh.  These are universal languages that don’t need translation
  • By our willingness to try to pronounce their names properly, we give dignity to another.  We try instead of settling for a shortened nickname that is easier for us.
  • Take time to speak with them.  Ask them how they are doing, how their family is, how school or work is going. Share the same with them.  Even with basic English, we are able to ask the simplest questions.  We just have to be willing to take the time.  They appreciate the practice.
  • Be prepared for new tastes.  If you try their cooking or baking, it gives them honour.  We can learn to smile, chew and smile no matter what we are really thinking inside.  Find a creative way to say “no thanks” if they offer more of something that does not suit you.
  • Beware that in some cultures, “No” does not really mean no.  For example, if you offer someone a cup of tea and she says, “No,” this may be her cultural way of being polite until you ask a second or third time.  Finally, she intends to say, “Yes,” but we may not ask enough times because we don’t know the unwritten code.
  • Kissing on the cheeks is a type of greeting in some cultures.  In some cultures it is acceptable or unacceptable depending on the genders of those being greeted.  If you are not sure, ask.


  • Be prepared for new smells.  If you visit in their home, a different smell may cling to your clothes when you go home.
  •  Some things will require time to get used to.  God did create our noses to become desensitized over time.


  •  Go! Go to them.  Take the initiative.
  • Go to their homes if they welcome you in.  Eat and celebrate occasions with them
  • Invite them to events or places that are important to you, for example, family birthdays, shopping, Christmas pageants, a walk to the park.
  • Take one step forward from where you are: that is the measure of progress.


  • The gift of receiving.  So often we think we have to give, but all of the earlier types of love really are gifts.  Accept when they want to honour you with a gift or with hospitality.
  • If you give a tangible gift, it may dictate to them a cultural responsibility to give a gift back to you, even when they cannot afford to.  That being said, a small hostess gift (flowers, a plant, candy or a fruit basket) can be appropriate.
  • Host the neighbour in your home, but be prepared for a no show.  Some cultures it is shameful to refuse your invitation in person but other cultural barriers may stand in their way of actually stepping through your door.  Don’t be offended.  Ask ahead of time if there are things they cannot eat (special diets), so that you can accommodate.  Be yourself.


  • So many doors are opened through children.  Show an interest in their babies or children; let your children play together.


  • Pray for your cross cultural neighbour.  There are resources available such as Operation World that can help you understand the spiritual realities and needs in many countries/cultures around the world.  http://waymakers.org/pray/30-days/ has prayer guides that allow Christians to pray specifically and knowledgeably for Muslims during their holy month of Ramadan (June 18-July 17 this year).

Wednesday, 20 May 2015


   I set a priority for myself to seek greater balance in my life when this year, 2015, began.  However, I have to say I have made only little progress in this pursuit. Most of it has come the hard way.
   Lack of balance, quite literally poor posture and lack of attention to the load my back and shoulders were regularly carrying, resulted in a neck strain.  Since our bodies are so interconnected, one of my arms started going numb, tingly and painful at regular intervals during the day.  This discomfort demanded that I address the imbalance.  Instead of carrying heavy bags which pull my shoulders forward, I now use a back pack or a cart to transport school books. With the help of a physiotherapist and her practical exercises, that area of imbalance is pretty much resolved.
Free range stock photo
   A second area of imbalance came from the bad habit of eating my lunch on the run whenever I was teaching.  When it doesn't fit into my schedule, I forget to eat lunch until after 3:00.   I could ignore my body's signals to eat, and I often forget to drink also.  That lack of care for my body's needs led me to develop a kidney stone in April.  I had heard reports about how painful a kidney stone can be; a few times I did cry because of the pain. Thankfully I only missed one day of work and managed with ibuprofen for pain until it passed seven days later.  Now I carry a water bottle and force myself to drink from it throughout the day.  I am trying to sit in the staff lounge with my snacks and lunch to restore balance, but it does not happen every day.
   I cannot blame anyone else for working me too hard; it is my driven personality that focuses on being "productive."  I did not learn this from my parents.  Growing up on a farm, lunch and breaks were always taken together as a family with Dad there too.  Conversation and fellowship were just as important as the Gouda cheese, sliced ham and home-made bread.  However, already then, part of me felt that an hour-long lunch was extravagant and that taking a nap would prevent all the work from being completed.  (I did not realize then how a nap gave my parents the stamina to keep going with the demands of a busy farm and busy kids.)
   I cannot blame my job for this lack of balance either.  It precedes my employment as a teacher.  In 2008 when I was a stay-at-home mom and occasional supply teacher, I entered a writing contest for my local newspaper.  As one of over a dozen chosen for a Community Editorial Board, I was required to write an opinion piece each quarter about an issue that had a local connection.  Due to my intensity and concern about having my writing be placed out there for the scrutiny of thousands of people, I developed a case of shingles around the time of my first deadline.  My husband sometimes reminds me of this incident when I am working too hard.
   My greatest ally in the desire to live a more balanced life has to be my husband.  He provides subtle accountability just by his gentle presence at home.  Because we try to have a time of devotions and prayer every night before bed, I don't stay up later than is good for me.  When I'm worried about something and can't sleep, he's never upset when I wake him up and ask for help.  He reminds me that I can't add more tasks to my life without subtracting something.  He encourages me to take breaks from computer work.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Not a Waste: the Short Life of Arthur Gullidge

Freerange stock photo
   When we hear about massive loss of life, we are often affected.  However, it can quickly become just a statistic for us.  A character in a 1932 essay by pacific Kurt Tucholsky says, "The war? I cannot find it to be so bad! The death of one man: this is a catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands of deaths: that is a statistic!"  Tucholsky himself was a pacifist, but he put these words in the mouth of a French diplomat to show the irony of human response to mass deaths. (This quotation is often attributed to Russian dictator Joseph Stalin, but he was probably just repeating or rephrasing the above.) [1] 
   The South Pacific portion of World War II is less known to me as a Canadian with European ties, but I recently learned how a Japanese ship called the Montevideo Maru was torpedoed by an American submarine in July, 1942 killing 1,053 prisoners of war being transported.  This is surely a sad statistic; those being held in the cargo hold of this ship were allies of the Americans, yet they perished at their hands.  However, every one of those who died in that ship had a story.  I'd like to share just one of them with you.
   Arthur Gullidge was an Australian man with a gift for music.  At a young age he joined the Salvation Army in the city of Brunswick and became part of the music ministry that this Christian denomination is known for: its brass band.  Not only did he play music, but he also conducted and composed band music.  His first work was published when he was just seventeen years of age.  He won awards and published music under his own name and a pen name of Greendale.  When the war broke out Gullidge struggled with the feeling that he ought to contribute in some way that befit his Christian faith.  He became the leader of the 2/22nd military band, which formed when 26 Salvation Army band members enlisted together with intents to serve as stretcher bearers when the need would arise.
   Gullidge and the others were deployed to a military post called Rabaul on the tip of one of New Guinea's islands.  After Pearl Harbour was attacked in 1941 and the Japanese advanced forcefully, it was only a matter of time before Rabaul would be taken.  The soldiers who had been sent there were told to stay.  After they were captured, these soldiers and civilians were taken by the Japanese ship in order to become slave labourers in Korea, Japan or one of its territories.  The sinking of the Montevideo Maru was not reported to the people of Australia until after the war had ended.  The outpouring of grief was immense, especially for the Salvation Army presence there.
   One of Gullidge's best known band pieces called "Divine Communion" was played at a concert I recently attended in Guelph, Ontario.  The conductor Al Hicks had not planned to come up and introduce the piece, but in doing so he told the audience the story of its composer.  Without his lead-in, I would never have written this post. When the words to the band music were projected on the screens, these ones were all the more poignant:
All there is of me, Lord
All there is of me, Lord 
Time and talents, day by day,
All I bring to Thee;
All there is of me, Lord
All there is of me, Lord
On thine altar here I lay
All there is of me.
   It is clear from these lyrics that Gullidge's life was built upon submission to God's will.  This testimony speaks to us today and show that even though he died young it was not in vain.

  [1] Eoin O'Carroll explains this in the Christian Science Monitor article entitled "Political Misquotes: the 10 most famous things never actually said" dated June 3, 2011.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Survival Psalms

   Survival stories have always fascinated me.  While it is possible to attribute the survival or an individual or a group to the "indomitable human spirit," there is often more to such stories than meets the eye.  When Jesus said, "Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God," we may not grasp the truth of such a statement given our well-stocked pantries and fridges.  I'd like to share the stories of two modern, ordinary folk who experienced the hand of God in their remarkable survivals and the link to the psalms of David.
Rita Chretien
   I learned of Rita's story through the news program called Context.  The episode "Lost" used to be on the internet, but has since been removed.  In the early spring of 2011, Rita and her husband were traveling from the west coast of Canada to a trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada, when their van became stuck in a deep muddy bog that came in the middle of a route their GPS suggested to them.  All attempts to drive out of the mud failed, and the remote place in the Nevada wilderness had no cell phone reception. Because Rita had trouble walking due to a weak ankle, her husband Albert determined to leave her and get help. He never returned.
   Meanwhile, Rita stayed with her van.  There was a small supply of trail mix (a mixture of nuts, raisins and sunflower seeds) in her van along with  a tin of candies.  For the first week she ate a tablespoon per day of trail mix and one candy.  When her water bottles ran out, she walked every other day to refill them at a stream, where she found sandy water that was palatable once the sand settled to the bottom.  After one week passed, all she consumed was one candy and one fish oil capsule per day and water.  It took 49 days before some hunters on ATV's passed by her van and rescued her.
   How is this story even possible?  In the Rule of 3, author Eric Walters points out that a person can survive three minutes without air, three days without water and three weeks without food. Obviously, something more was going on with Rita Chretien's life.  She had a source of nourishment that went beyond food.  Rita readily admits that it was the LORD who was with her during this time of isolation.  She read the Bible and she prayed.  She asked God moment by moment, "What should I do?" and felt led to the stream of water.  At times she imagined a meal that she would love to eat. She would ask the LORD to bless it and asked him to give her the nutrition that would have come if she had actually eaten it.  Day after day she did not give into despair.  She had a confidence that things would be OK as long as her relationship with God was foremost.
   One passage she highlighted as having special meaning for her was from Psalm 86:2-7
Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
    save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,
    for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
    for I put my trust in you.
You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
    abounding in love to all who call to you.
Hear my prayer, Lord;
    listen to my cry for mercy.
When I am in distress, I call to you,
    because you answer me.
   It was not until the day of her rescue that she began to realize the toll that her ordeal was taking on her bodily strength.  Coming back from her short daily exercise walk, she began to be short of breath and weakness overcame her.  She barely made it to her van and thought to herself that she might die. She lay down to rest in the van until a few hours later when she heard the engines of the ATV's coming nearby.  These hunters were not looking for her, and they had deviated from the route they had originally planned to take through the area in search of elk antlers.  They took her to civilization, and she spent time in hospital recovering.
   The remains of her husband's body were found in August of 2012, but Rita is assured that he is now fully enjoying communion with his LORD of which she had experienced just a foretaste during her time in the wilderness.

Harrison Odjegba Okene
   In May of 2013, Harrison was working as a cook aboard a tugboat, the Jascon 4 in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Nigeria.  Suddenly a wave caused the boat to capsize and sink to the bottom of the ocean; however, Harrison found himself in a small air pocket submerged in salt water up to his waist.  Meanwhile, the other crew members had been locked inside their cabins due to protocols and drowned.
   He had just one can of Coke to drink for the next 70 hours.  In this dark and quiet place, Harrison cried out to God through the Psalms that his wife had sent him via text message.  He focused on Psalm 54, a prayer of deliverance, which follows from verse 1-2 and 4:

Save me, O God, by your name;
    vindicate me by your might.
Hear my prayer, O God;
    listen to the words of my mouth...

Surely God is my help;
    the Lord is the one who sustains me.

Against hope, a salvage crew from the Dutch company DCN came along to recover bodies and whatever materials they could from the wreck.  However they found a hand waving and a living man whose air pocket had been almost depleted of oxygen.  After his rescue, Harrison testified of God's care during his ordeal.  A news article about his rescue can be found here.

For another survival story on this blog, check out:
Endurance is not enough

Friday, 1 May 2015

Food Salvage Tips

   We all want to save money on groceries.  We compare prices and then stock up when things are on sale.  But how much food is thrown out at your house?  By minimizing food waste, you are also saving money.
   This week in my fridge, a bag of milk [1] turned sour before I even opened it, but I did not throw it out.  I also over-baked a batch of brownies without burning them, but I did not throw them out either. Here are the things I do to salvage a variety of foods that others might throw out:

  • Sour milk can be used in baked goods that ask for buttermilk.  I made a batch of buttermilk pancakes that my children were eager to eat for breakfast or take to school.  The remainder of the sour milk I put in labelled containers in the freezer for another day.
  • Over-baked brownies or other baked goods that are not burnt but dried out can be revived by placing 1-2 slices of fresh bread (heels work well) with them and then wrapping it all in a plastic bag for half a day.  The bread will give its moisture to the baked goods. [2]
  • Yogurt past the date will still be fine to eat even two weeks beyond "best before."  If there is liquid on top, simply stir before serving.
  • Dried out bread (heels included) can be fed to the birds, but you can also dry them out completely in a slow oven to make bread crumbs.  Or cut dried out bread into cubes to make your own croutons or a topping for oven-baked casseroles. Another option is to place the bread in the microwave for a short time with a slice of cheese until it melts.  Eat immediately.  Dried bread is perfect for French toast because fresh bread tends to get too soggy.
  • Wilted celery and the top leaves can be added to soups.  If you want to consume the celery raw, immerse in ice water for about an hour, and it will become firm again.
  • Small amounts of leftover cooked chicken can be cut finely.  Add mayonnaise and relish to taste for a delicious sandwich topping.
  • Bruised apples or pears can be peeled and sliced to remove the bruises.  Then boil in a small amount of water until soft.  Drain and add sugar and cinnamon for home-made chunky applesauce.  If you prefer it smooth, put it in the blender.
  • Bananas with brown marks on the skin might still be fine inside.  If they are not, mash and make into banana muffins.  About three mashed bananas make about one cup; they can be frozen for future use.
  • Leftovers can be taken in lunches the next day.  They can often be incorporated in the next day's dinner.  For example, leftover cooked vegetables can be pureed and added to the next day's spaghetti sauce. 
  • Egg whites leftover from a recipe that calls for only egg yolks can be beaten until stiff and then added to cake or waffle batter.  The end product will be lighter and higher.
  • Egg yolks leftover from a recipe that calls for only egg whites can be stored in the fridge with a little water to cover.  They can be added to a batch of scrambled eggs, fried rice, breads, cakes, cookies, or sauces. [3]

[1] If you live outside of Ontario, Canada, just imagine a one litre or one quart bottle or carton of milk.
[2] My mom's tip.
[3] The tips for extra eggs come from page 163 of the More with Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre, 1977.