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Wednesday, 24 June 2015

A "Real" House

   A few years ago a colleague of mine said something that has stayed in my mind for a long time. She said that she was moving to a smaller nearby town because there she could buy a "real" house for less money than if she remained in the city.  What she meant by this was that it would be a detached, stand-alone house, not a townhouse or a semi-detached one.  More than likely, a "real" house would also include a garage, large yard and two living rooms.
   According to all those criteria, I do not live in a "real" house.  But for me, a house is much more than its desirability in the real estate market of Southwestern Ontario, Canada.
   I have my own set of criteria about what makes a house "real."  Note that, according to the following points, a real house can be a rental or an apartment.

  • A "real" house has people in it who are genuine and down to earth.  Such a house is not a showpiece on its street.  It is lived in, with not every shoe or book in its proper place.  Its kitchen may not be large, but it is a place where people cook real food.  It has a table where people eat together or play face-to-face games together.  It may not have a playroom or rec room, but it has shared spaces open to children of all ages.  It has enough storage space for the family's belongings so that no rented storage is needed.  
  • A "real" house makes room for guests.  It has an extra bunk on a bunk bed for a friend to sleep over.  It has an extendable table.  It has a spare bedroom that can accommodate a family member who is just passing through or an acquaintance who becomes a boarder.  When guests are welcomed, the house is fulfilling its purpose of giving shelter to those who need it and warmth in the spirit of Jesus Christ.  Flowing from a real house are interesting memories of time spent with people who are different than we are.
  • A "real" house is one where its occupants are content.  When it was chosen to rent or buy, thought went into its location with respect to school, church and other amenities.  It is not constantly being remodeled to achieve greater re-sale value.  It is well-maintained and comfortable, but those who live there are not continually planning their next move.  Its occupants know that in many other places in the world, houses are much more modest in size and decor.
   Even with no garage, a small yard, a single living room dominated by a piano, I'm grateful for my "real" house.  I'm looking forward to sharing this house with M, a young woman fleeing Iraq via Syria.  When she arrives on July 6th, it is my prayer that as a family we can not only provide her with shelter but a place of comfort in a large and strange country.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Reflection on Psalm 92

   There are things that get worse over time.  Some examples that come to mind are as follows:

  • cars full of rust or continually breaking down
  • meat and other food products that spoil when kept too long
  • pencils that get shorter and shorter until they can no longer be used
  • clothing that becomes threadbare
  • last year's newest technology
   In contrast, some things improve over time.  We might include such things on a list:
  • wine or other fermented drinks
  • coins that gain value the older they are
  • apple trees, which can grow more fruit as the branches extend 
  • a person's skills with practice, including handwriting, musical ability, driving
   Into which grouping would we place human beings?  On the one hand, as people get past a certain age, they are likely to experience more health problems.  Aging is often associated with pain and infirmities.  But on the other hand, as people grow older, they are likely to become more knowledgeable and skilled in all kinds of things that benefit society as a whole.  Life experience is valued in most jobs and professions.  
 
Free range stock photo
When Psalm 92 speaks about "the righteous," they are compared to palm trees and cedars of Lebanon.  The metaphor continues with the statement: "They will still bear fruit in old age, they will say fresh and green" (Psalm 92:14).  Despite the trials of growing old, the Bible affirms that productivity rather than worthlessness characterizes those whose hope is in God.  Unlike the ideals of retirement promoted by financial planners that include cruises, self-indulgence and leisure, the biblical picture of old age has to do with fruitfulness and purpose.
   I know many seniors who are living out this latter lifestyle.  They sew, knit or crochet items for the disadvantaged.  They volunteer at food banks and schools.  They take the time to visit those who are too ill or weak to go out.  They are prayer warriors.  They lead teams of volunteers to repair homes damaged in floods and hurricanes. They help resettle refugees.  They provide care and love to their grandchildren. They make bookmarks and send notes of encouragement to others.  They share their wealth without keeping track.  They serve in the role of elders in their churches.  I could go on.
   They have so much to offer.  When I grow up, I want to be like them.  

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Sensitive Matters

   Where I live, the Ministry of Education has mandated a new curriculum for health education, specifically dealing with human sexuality for elementary students up to eighth grade.  This week I witnessed many parents upset about the content of this curriculum as they made delegations at an open meeting of the public school board.  Some examples of issues raised were that the new curriculum gives young children too much information at too young an age, that it fails to connect sexual behavior to marriage and commitment, that it fails to mention sex trafficking, rape and pornography as risks for older children and that it glosses over the dangers of sexually transmitted infections.
   After six people, including one psychiatrist and one registered nurse, shared their concerns, the trustees discussed what could be done. The parents were requesting information sessions be provided to all interested parents so that they would know what was being taught and so that they would be aware of their rights to withdraw their child from the classes if they found them objectionable on religious grounds.  In the end, the trustees voted to invite the Minister of Education to the region to provide such an information session since the board itself cannot set or change policy.
   Information sharing is something that happens at my school whenever sensitive topics will be taught to a class.  This year for the first time, I taught a unit for Grade 5 students at my school entitled "Growing and Changing." Prior to the start of this unit (and similar health classes that deal with sexuality offered in Grade 3 and 6), teachers send home a letter to the parents outlining the topics that would be dealt with and providing contact information if they had any questions or concerns.  It was an option for a child to be exempt from the unit if a parent felt their child was not ready for any or all of these topics.
   Even though I teach at a private school where most of the parental values are held in common, it is important for me as a teacher to be transparent about what will be taught in this sensitive area.  There is a level of trust for the teacher to explain the changes of puberty in a way that is age-appropriate and that affirms marriage and family life.  All teaching also included the notion that God designed us male and female, and that our sexuality is a gift from God.  A question box was provided for students to ask things anonymously on paper that they may have felt uncomfortable voicing in a larger group. Discretion was used as to how best to answer these questions, but in my case all of them were normal and appropriate. If there were questions that went beyond the scope of education and the role of the teacher, students could have been told to bring those questions to their parents or to their family doctor.
   The primary educator of a child is his or her parents.  As a teacher, I recognize this reality every day.  That is why I consider myself so blessed to teach at a school where the values of the home and church are affirmed.  When we come to sensitive matters, teachers need to communicate with parents so that trust is maintained.
 

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Because of a Pork Chop

Freerange stock photo
   Sometimes one small action or event leads to a chain of further events.  This is illustrated in the anonymous proverbial poem "For the want of a nail."

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

   The type of shoe spoken of here is a horse shoe, so the setting is a battle in the middle ages where a missing nail in a horse shoe ended up spelling disaster.  I shared this poem with my Grade 4 writing class this week as an illustration of a pattern poem.  Reflecting on the idea of a chain reaction beginning with one simple event, I recalled how a series of events began with a pork chop.
   Twelve years ago this summer, my husband was an adult leader at a boys camp out.  The boys aged about 7 to 13 years of age were part of a church-run club that annually took part in an overnight camping trip.  One particular boy, who I'll call Buddy, was going through some struggles as a result of his parents getting a divorce.  At supper time, the leaders and some of the boys had prepared pork chops and potatoes, but Buddy was later than everyone else to get to the table.  When the pork chops were being divided onto the boys' plates, only one small one was left for Buddy. Feeling that he had been cheated out of his rightful share of meat, Buddy not only became angry, he decided to leave.  It turns out that Buddy lived within walking distance [but more than an hour's walk] of the area they were camping in.
   Because Buddy decided to break away from the group, my husband as a leader went after him on foot.  He informed the other leaders where he was going and tried to catch up with the boy, hoping to convince him to finish up the weekend with his friends.  When he caught up with Buddy, the boy did not feel much like talking, but certain things spilled out including that his "life sucks." Eventually, Buddy was close enough to home that he convinced my husband that he did not need to be accompanied anymore.
   Now some distance from the camp, my husband noticed it was getting dark.  He assumed that one of the other leaders would come pick him up in a truck, but it took quite a while.  Since he did not have the opportunity very often, my husband sat down in a patch of grass alongside the country road and watched the sun set.
   As he did so, he felt the close presence of God, not just in the sunset but in the whole situation.  He was all alone with God in nature, and various things spoke to him about making a change of direction in his life.  What had pushed Buddy to anger and distress was a broken family, so my husband began thinking about the kinds of things that could help prevent such break ups.
   Although he enjoyed his work in the family business, he felt God calling him to do something different that might have a greater impact on families in general.
   When he got home from the camping trip, this experience led to a conversation with me.  As he expressed what had happened and the sense of calling, we explored various options together.  We had three preschool children, and everything pointed to leaving the community my husband had spend virtually his whole life in.  A few doors closed and others opened.  Eleven years ago we moved two hours west so my husband could go back to school to get some training in the field of relating to people.
   Although his current day job deals with a variety of people, he did not become a counselor.  He finds it very fulfilling to help others through the food bank where he is employed.  Some years ago, we found another couple passionate about giving tools to couples that will help them weather the storms of life together rather than parting company.  We have jointly facilitated marriage preparation classes and the marriage course through Alpha Ministries.
   I acknowledge that we live in the city where we do and that we help lead marriage preparation classes at our church "because of a pork chop."

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Favor

"And I will make the Egyptians favorably disposed towards this people..."  Exodus 3: 21

   Already at the burning bush, God tells Moses this outcome of their deliverance from Egyptian bondage.  The phrase "favorably disposed towards" is a phrase that is repeated a couple more times in Exodus 11 and 12, referring to the attitude of the Egyptians, who give them all kinds of treasures as they leave in the night.  The Israelites asked their neighbors for things, and they were not refused. The explanation for their gifts is quickly followed by a reference that the Egyptian people and court officials had a high view of Moses and respected him even when Pharaoh insisted on double dealing and hardening his heart.
   This phrase about being "favorably disposed towards" someone resonates with me because so much in our relationships and communications with others depends on our general disposition towards one another.  If someone is naturally disposed to mistrust others or to see any change as a threat, it will have a significant effect on how one may relate to him or her.  An outlook of suspicion tends to poison even well-meant gestures or kind words.
   I'm increasingly convinced that in addition to praying for vision, good ideas and wisdom, leaders ought also to ask the LORD to make others "favorably disposed towards" them and the wise and godly ideas they are presenting.  Unless there is a level of favor and respect to properly listen to what needs to be presented, explained or taught, little progress can be made. Whether it is a building program that requires donors to come forward or a change in focus for an organization, favor is much needed among the stakeholders.  When we recognize that such favor needs to precede our flashy presentation, we will humbly go to the only One who can cultivate such a quality in people's hearts.
   We can learn from another Bible character in this regard. Nehemiah prayed to God for the king's favor when he was about to request a leave of absence so that he might rebuild Jerusalem's walls.  It is recorded that the Persian King Artaxerxes, who would not naturally be inclined to help a subjugated people, did give favor to Nehemiah's petition.  He granted him letters of support and building materials as well.
   When God prepares people's hearts, we will often be surprised at the generous outpouring of support.