Peace…

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. Luke‬ ‭1:38‬ ‭NIV‬‬

As we celebrated the Advent Sunday of Peace at Graceview yesterday, we took Mary’s words, “I am the Lord’s servant,” as our motto for this week.

It was a busy Sunday at the end of a busy weekend. Many of our choir members performed in the Let There Be Music Choir concert on Friday night (I was blessed to simply be an audience member there!) . On Sunday evening, Graceview hosted an Ecumenical service with Bloordale United, Fellowship Christian Reformed, and St. Philip’s Lutheran.

Both events were absolutely wonderful and spirit-filled. But both took a lot of planning, effort and prayer to come about. There may have been one or two people who were a little stressed out in all of this (I may have been one of them! 😉 ) .

As I prepared Sunday’s sermon, I marveled at Mary’s ability to take on so much – her child would be born to die, born to leave her in the most painful of ways, born to bear the sins of his people; he would be hunted by Herod, hated by many, misunderstood and dismissed by his own – with such humble strength. I find peace in her gentle, graceful acceptance of all God is asking of her.

And so I encouraged the congregation (and myself!) to say these words in the moments when we feel that too much is being asked of us this Season: I am the Lord’s servant.

It is a word of strength, of encouragement. When we serve God, we are mighty, for God is with us! When we serve God, even if things seem to go wrong, we can trust that God had it all in hand. When we serve God, we are assured that what we are doing matters and will make the world a better place.

So during this week of Advent Peace, may you be God’s servant, may you be a peace-maker, may you make the world a better place.

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Good for my soul…

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians‬ ‭4:8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but somewhere along the way my mother encouraged me to do things that were good for my soul. Whatever those things might be (these days it’s a good sweat, some time hanging with my dog, and time with either family or chosen family that top my list), she told me, doing them would pay me dividends in my faith, my health and my ministry.

My Mom is seldom wrong and she couldn’t have been more right in this case.

So at this hectic, stressful time of year, I look for things that are good for my soul.

Tonight, I attended the Let There Be Music Choir’s Christmas concert. And it was so very good for my soul. To see this group of elder singers perform both spiritual and ‘secular’ holiday songs, to sit with members of my congregation, to life my voice along with all the others during the congregational songs, was just GOOD FOR MY SOUL.

I am convinced that this is what the scriptures mean when they say – whatever is true, noble, right, pure, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy, think on such things. When we focus on the good, we our encouraged and some of the world-weary, disillusioned, embittered cracks in our souls begin to heal.

This is actually what worship is all about. In worship, we focus on Jesus who is true, noble, right, pure, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. And Jesus begins again (every week!) his work of healing our souls.

This Advent, may you lift your voice in song (whether you can sing or not!), may you be surrounded by those you love, may you do what is good for your soul, and may you recognize the One who is working to heal your soul.

Like a child…

“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” ‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭11:6‬ ‭NIV‬‬

One of my favourite songs is the old Jars of Clay hit, Like a Child (you can listen to it here). It’s all about having faith like a child.

Because there is something wonderful about children. It’s in the way they see the world. It’s in the ease of their faith. It’s in the lovely way that they make friends with someone new in an instant.

And in this video, it’s in the way that they tell the story of Jesus’ birth. I love it. I’ve watched it over and over, giggling and enjoying this version as much as I enjoy the readings that tell the story (much more seriously and with fewer colloquialisms) on Christmas Eve.

I think it is no mistake that when God chose to come to earth, he did it as a child. I hope, fervently, that when I get to Heaven, I’ll be able to spend some time with Mary listening to her stories of Jesus’ childhood. I bet he was an exceptional kid (but then, aren’t all kids exceptional? I know that the ones I’m closest to have absolutely captured my heart, and I have no problem proclaiming them as the three greatest kids in the world!).

This Advent, may you have faith like a child. May you look at the world with innocence and wonder. May you make friends easily. May your faith come easily. And may you fall just a little more in love with that baby born in Bethlehem.

Light…

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Isaiah‬ ‭9:2‬ ‭NIV‬‬

This is one of my favorite verses in the Isaiah prophecy, foretelling Jesus’ birth.

Light is so powerful. Especially when the days are dark. In Toronto, November was an extraordinarily gloomy month. The days were grey and dull. There wasn’t a tonne of rain, but the clouds hung low and were ever present. There were some clear skies, but they mostly happened at night, after the sun had set.

And it seemed like everyone felt in in their bones. There seemed to be fewer smiles, less energy among the people of the city. For myself, I know I walked less, struggled to get my exercise. I mostly wanted to nap. Dark, damp days affect me that way.

We were not made to live in darkness. We were made for the light.

And so, when today dawned bright and fair, the sun shining from the morning until it set in the late afternoon, it felt like reprieve. It felt like blessing. It felt like hope.

It is no mistake that Jesus is called the light of the world. It is no mistake that Isaiah wrote these words about the Messiah, long before Jesus was born.

Jesus is our blessing. He is our hope. He is the light that shines upon our world.

(I hope, if the sun shone brightly where you live, you joined me in a quiet, whispered, “The Lord has done this for me.” And may you enjoy these photos I took while breathing in the last light of this beautiful day!)

Beginning…

 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said.  Luke 1:25a NIV

These are Elizabeth’s words as she realizes she is pregnant, just as the Angel Gabriel promised her husband, Zechariah, that she would be.

It was impossible. They were both well along in years, their days of hoping for a child had passed.

And yet, with God all things are possible. With God, hope doesn’t remain hope, it becomes reality. And when her long-dead hope becomes reality, Elizabeth proclaims that the Lord has done this for her.

It’s so simple. And yet so profound – to stop and take the time to say ‘thank you’ for the hopes that God has brought into reality.

So at Graceview this week, we are carrying this phrase with us: “The Lord has done this for me.” Our challenge is to stop each day and find the things for which we can say ‘thank you’ to God. Simple goodnesses that God has brought into our lives.

Will you join us in this practice?

Let’s begin Advent with the recognition that God is the one who turns hope into reality. And let’s be grateful to Him.

Sermon Slides Dec 2 2018.011

 

Paris, part one.

“Just as lotions and fragrance give sensual delight, a sweet friendship refreshes the soul.” Proverbs‬ ‭27:9‬ ‭MSG‬‬

So in the rush of being in Paris for only two days, I didn’t find the time to blog. And then there was the long trek home (7.5 hr flight from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris to Newark, New Jersey; 2 hours to kill; 1.5 hrs flight from New Jersey to Pearson International in Toronto). And then an overnight at my condo and a drive out to Belleville (reunited with Koski! Yay!!!) and then I’ll to the farmhouse. Our friends from Oshawa arrived a few hours after me, and last night was the first dinner of their visit here.

In all of this there have certainly been free moments in which I could have written about my time in Paris. What there hasn’t been is enough emotional and intellectual energy to put together my blog about Paris.

But now it is just a little after 5am and I have been woken up by the gift that keeps giving after international travel – jet lag. So, in the quiet of this Sunday morning, I write.

Erin Brewster, my friend and roomie during the Wales tour, and I began our trek at Heathrow airport. The tour bus dropped everyone off there and along with a couple of other Wales tour participants, we headed for the Underground station. With the help of a kind attendant, we found what line we needed in order to get to Kong’s Cross/St. Pancras where we would catch the Chunnel to Gare du Nord (a hub station in the Paris Metro system). Lucy and Joan had to be on the same line, but we’re hopping off a few stops before us. It was nice to have a final bit of time to hang out with them.

We made it to our station without incident, and as we tried to get our bearings and find the Chunnel, two lovely English gentlemen ask if they could help us. They escorted us to the ticket area for the Chunnel and helped carry our (ridiculously heavy) suitcases up a couple of flights of stairs. Turns out one of them had lived in the Beaches area of Toronto for a while and was considering buying a house outside the GTA. It’s a small world sometimes.

I remember how helpful the Londoners were the last time I was there. All one needed to do was look a little overwhelmed and someone would stop and ask how they could help. Random citizens, usually. I was struck by average, people taking the time during their busy lives to help out others. It was the same way this time, even though I was only in London long enough to transfer to another city.

Our Chunnel ride was uneventful. I couldn’t keep my eyes open, and it was good to have some time to rest.

When we arrived in Paris, we had to navigate the metro system, find our keys at a little cafe that also housed some lock-boxes, and then find our way to the Airbnb address. It all went smoothly until we couldn’t figure out how to work the front door. But even that was fairly easily overcome (though we laughed about it every single time we came or went for the next two days).

After getting ourselves settled and running to the grocery around the corner for a couple of things, we slept. It had been a crazy, wonderful, exhausting day.

The next morning we took our time getting ready and headed out around 10:30am to walk to the Eiffel Tower and then to the Hard Rock Cafe. Erin loves Hard Rock and does her best to visit locations wherever she travels. I was happy to go along.

Our Airbnb was only about a 15 minute walk from the Eiffel Tower, and we were glad to get to see it up close. Lots of pictures and exclaiming done there. Then we continued our walk to the Hard Rock. It was about an hour from our Airbnb and we took our time, walking along the Seine and taking photos of the bridges and other sights.

We were glad to arrive at the Hard Rock and sit down for some lunch. Fajitas were GREAT after a long walk. We shopped and got some great tees and a fridge magnet for my collection in the shop there.

Then we left and headed towards the Louvre. Without any plans, we wandered around The Tuileries Garden, enjoying the sculptures.

And then the oddest thing. It began with what seemed like a commercial plane escorted by two fighter jets. It was loud, and low, and surprising. I said to Erin, “that’s someone REALLY important to have that kind of escort.” And she agreed. But then more planes with more fighter jets came. After about the fourth or fifth one, I started filming some of them. We began to be uneasy. Erin asked if we could head back to the Airbnb. I agreed and we set off. It seems silly, now, but in those moments we were truly unnerved.

On our own in a foreign land, without a guide or group, we didn’t know what to think or who to ask about what was happening. On the hour-long walk back to our place, we saw military boats on the Seine, heard an abnormal amount of police and ambulance sirens, and then a whole bunch of helicopters flew over in the same direction as the planes and jets had gone. I posted about it on Facebook when we were back at our place and discovered that it was most likely practice maneuvers for Bastille Day (July 14th).

We spent a couple of hours at our Airbnb – Erin napped while I updated Instagram and Facebook – and then we decided to book a nighttime cruise of the Seine. We hit the grocery store for croissants, bread, cheese and wine and enjoyed a feast on our balcony before heading out for our cruise.

It was a rush getting to the cruise (too much lingering over wine and cheese – but when in Paris, do as the Parisiennes, right?). But we made it an enjoyed the sights from the water as the sun set.

Afterward, we stopped at souvenir shops and got a few bits and bobs.

By the time we were back at our Airbnb we’d walked 31,000 steps. What a crazy, phenomenal, beautiful first day in Paris!

I am absolutely delighted to have shared this time with Erin – to discover real friendship where before there had been more of a friendly acquaintance-ship. Traveling together (when it goes well, as it most certainly did throughout this entire trip), has a way of forming a unique and strong bond. What a blessing!

Two in one…

“I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.” Ecclesiastes‬ ‭3:10-13‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The last two days have been busy. They have included a ride on a steam train, a tour of a castle, an amazing dinner on the waterfront in northern Wales, our second concert, a couple of breathtaking drives through the Welsh mountains, the adventure is navigating two subway systems (London and Paris)that make the TTC look like child’s play, a hunt through the city (which was celebrating a World Cup semi-final win, by the way) to find the key to the Airbnb that we are staying at, and a crazy moment of utter exhaustion and stress in which we couldn’t figure out how to work the front door at said Airbnb (it looked like there was no handle and pushing didn’t work! …turns out the “handle” was the entire doorframe on the one side. 😖🙄😁)

So there hasn’t been time or energy to blog. This is going to be a two-in-one post in order to catch up.

Where do I begin? The steam engine ride was glorious. So many beautiful vistas and great chats and laughter with the rest of the group. Also, we sang part of our train song (“Royal Hudson”) for Andrew, our steward. He told us we should be a choir. Hahahahaaha!

The Castle at Caernarfon (pronounced Ken-AR-din) was beautiful and impressive. Our tour guide was a fount of knowledge with a wonderful dry sense of humour and though we didn’t have time for her to take us through the entire castle, we were glad of what we did get to see and learn.

Dinner at Dylan’s on the waterfront was lovely, though we were all nervous about the concert and ready to get on to our venue.

The concert itself was shared with two other choirs and was mind blowing. One of the two is getting ready to compete in the famous choir competitions they have in Wales. We felt they were ready! Both choirs has about 60 members or more and sang in Welsh. They were also very kind a out our performance. We ended the night singing a Welsh hymn together. That was an adventure to pronounce!!

We got up early the next morning and loaded the bus before breakfast. After eating we got on the bus for the long drive back to London. Most of our group was flying home, but my friend Erin and I were continuing on to Paris. We navigated the London Underground to King’s Cross/St. Pancras. Then some lovely Londoners who had spent time in Toronto helped us over to the Eurostar (Chunnel).

We had an hour to kill before boarding, so it was prossecco and a lovely sourdough loaf in the champagne bar right on the Eurostar track level. Our Chunnel ride was uneventful (just like one would hope!).

Once we arrived at Gare du Nord we discovered the joy of navigating a foreign city in a foreign language when you are exhausted and have ridiculously heavy suitcases! The fact that the Parisians were celebrating France’s victory in the FIFA semi-finals only added to the confusion. There was more than one bout of semi-hysterical laughter.

Our Airbnb host couldn’t meet us so we had a bit of a trek through the city to find the key. But we got it without incident. And then we could t figure out how to work the front door. Sometimes God peals the curtain back and lets you glimpse how truly primitive humans can be. But we were able to call our host and while I’m sure that he now thinks Canadians are daft, he helped us get it sorted. We were even able to make a run to the local grocery for snacks once we’d unloaded our bags. We have free wifi and a mini fridge and a bathroom. All is well.

We can see the Eiffel Tower from our balcony.

Paris awaits.

We must explore!

“He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the mightiest mountains. The sea belongs to him, for he made it. His hands formed the dry land, too.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭95:4-5‬ ‭NLT

Another unexpected gift of a day!

We travelled to Portmeirion, and spent a good 4 or 5 hours exploring there. The thing I loved about Portmeirion is that the man who designed and built this beautiful village – Sir Clough Williams-Ellis – built it to prove that one could develop land without destroying the natural habitat.

The whole place is built into and around and incorporating the hills and cliffs and forest that are naturally occurring there.

Arriving, we felt like we’d been magically transported to the Mediterranean. We were surrounded by beautiful architecture, and these amazing sand flats at low tide.

After our time in Portmeirion, we travelled to Bleddgelert where we were are staying in a hotel called The Royal Goat, a 17th century building converted to a hotel. Bleddgelert is known as “the faithful hound and his story is told on the plaque pictured (far) below.

It was an astounding evening including the best meal we have had so far (and there have been many amazing meals!), and a walk out to the faithful hound’s grave, in the dying light of a magical evening.

I have been reminded again that God’s fingerprints are found everywhere in creation – that there is nowhere I am as close to Him as amongst the green and growing things, and standing small and insignificant amongst the majestic mountains.

Rainbow days…

“You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭23:5‬ ‭NLT‬‬

One of my favourite Preachers, John Ortberg, writes about the idea of rainbow days: days when the goodness of God seems to overflow and multiply in your life. He days they are rare, beautiful, a little magical and a sign of God’s goodness – just like rainbows.

Today has been a rainbow day. We began with free time in Cardiff – which I spent shopping for a few things to take home with me.

Then we boarded the bus to drive to St. Fagan’s. All I really knew about St. Fagan’s was that it was a sort of natural museum. Kind of like Black Creek Pioneer Village to Ontarians – a place to see how people used to live.

We were all exhausted from the wonderful concert and the party last night. So my friends and I discussed going to see one or two of the buildings and then finding somewhere just to sit and relax in the shade. Maybe catch a nap. Add to the exhaustion the fact that my stomach was giving me some trouble, and I wasn’t feeling overly ambitious about this self guided tour.

But then we began to explore. And we saw some great thatched roof buildings from the Iron Age. We decided to explore a little more and found ourselves walking along a forest path, beautifully shaded and dappled with sunlight. We were talking and laughing and taking pictures. Step by step, we found ourselves refreshed.

After seeing a stone pig stye and a 16th century farmhouse, we decided to walk to the castle. It was about 10 minutes walk, and we were tired again…until we got to the grounds surrounding the castle. We were enamored. It felt like every step you took – it just became more beautiful and more impressive. We were running short on time, and never made it to the castle itself. But oh, what beautiful grounds, what amazing vistas, what a joyful time we had exploring.

We literally had to run back to the bus and we were the last to make it there. In fact, as a joke, our driver began driving away. We panicked and yelled and ran towards the bus and the group had a good laugh at us. (All in good fun – we were laughing at ourselves, too!)

Next we were off to Penderyn Distillery where we had a tour and learned about the Welsh Whiskey. After our tour we sang for the tour guides, and they were blown away by our song.

We started the drive to Llandrindod Wells (I don’t have the faintest idea how to pronounce that! I had to look it up to figure out how to even spell it.). We drove through beautiful Welsh countryside and there was a lot of laughter and chatter as we exclaimed over everything we saw.

We ended the day with a beautiful dinner and then and evening stroll through the town. All day long my friends and I have been looking at each other and shaking our heads and saying: this day has been epic, this day has been amazing!!

This has been a rainbow day.