Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Verse for the New Year

Last year I was challenged to ask God for a scripture verse for the year. I thought it was a great idea – a guiding verse can really make a difference at times when things get a little grey and blurry in your life, or when discouragement threatens to keep you from doing what God wants. I prayed about it right then but quickly forgot all about it. A reminder brought it to mind again and again I thought, yes, good idea, must do that. I tossed up a short prayer, something like, “Lord, a verse would be nice.” And promptly forgot about it again. That went on for about two weeks. As time went on each time I thought about it I felt guilty. Still haven’t done that, I chided myself, and went on my way doing all the busy things that are occupying my life.

Then one morning I sat at my computer ready to write my column and opened my Bible to find the scraps of paper on which I scribble ideas and thoughts during the sermon and throughout the week. Last Sunday’s bulletin caught my eye. I scanned its pages and stopped on a four by four inch square on the back page – it’s a picture of a lake in winter, the steam rising from grey water. I was raised on Lake Huron, so it made me a little nostalgic. Then I read the words superimposed over the scene.

“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His Name; Bring an offering and come into His courts.” Psalm 96:8-9

It was one of those moments when you feel like you’ve been tossed a lifeline. “It’s perfect,” I thought to myself and clipped it out of the bulletin. Then I smiled as I realized how gracious and good God is. He heard those little prayers tossed up quickly and without much thought. I didn’t have to go searching for a scripture for the year, I didn’t have to struggle over it, and I didn’t have to feel guilty. All I had to do was receive what He had for me, ready and waiting.

How often do we do this to ourselves? We burden ourselves unnecessarily with the weight of guilt, of “should have’s” when God is quietly working and putting things all in place, getting it ready to be revealed at the perfect time.

2010 is about to leap into our lives, ready or not, but we don’t have to worry. God is in control. Let’s all be encouraged and filled with the joy of knowing Him.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

A Perfect Day,A Perfect Tree...What More Could I Need?

The day was perfect. The ice fog had lifted and the temperature had risen to a mere 25 degrees below zero. The hike to the back of our property in search of the perfect Christmas tree looked like it would be an outing we would enjoy. As a special bonus we took our two Siberian Huskies with us.

It took a while to reach the trees, but we enjoyed the relatively mild air. The dogs romped in the deep snow. I was feeling the tingle of what they call the “Christmas spirit,” as we continued into the bush. Then we saw the tree, and it was perfect: not too big, not too small and fairly well proportioned. We cut it down and strapped it to the toboggan. As we headed back, we even hummed a well-known Christmas song, something about the peace and joy of the season.

We were almost home when that mood was instantly changed. For some unknown reason our dogs chose that moment to engage in one of their all-out, let’s see who’s top dog, go for the throat, fights. They were full-grown Huskies, both about the same age, weight and strength. When they went at each other, it looked like one of them would end up dead. We tried everything we could think of to make them stop, but they were oblivious to us. All we could do was stand and watch as they tore at one another.

By the time it was over, one dog had a gash from the base of one ear to the end of his jaw, the other was limping badly and both were covered in blood. So much for our idyllic, peaceful Christmas excursion. When we got home we had to doctor the dogs, so the tree was left outside. Decorating would have to wait.

By the time we thought about the tree again, the temperature had plummeted to -60. When we dragged it inside, it was so frozen most of its needles fell off. Tinsel doesn’t look quite the same on bare branches. Charlie Brown could have used it for his Christmas show. About that time I found out the present I’d ordered for my husband would not arrive before the 25th, and the one grocery store in town had run out of turkeys. Some Christmas this was turning out to be - a bare tree, no presents, no turkey. It was enough to make even one who loves Christmas shout, “Bah Humbug!”

Well, things did improve somewhat. I found another gift to give my husband, and a friend, an early shopper, invited us to share the turkey dinner. The tree was still a Charlie Brown special, but it grew on me as time went on. By the 25th, I almost had the Christmas spirit again, but I couldn’t help feel something was missing.

It took me a few more years to figure out what that something was. The year I declared my faith in the One for whom the day is set aside, none of the trappings of Christmas mattered. The need to have the perfect decorations, the gifts, the food, even that illusive “spirit,” faded. A deeper need had been met. That year I discovered the Christ. I understood why He came.

“Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven, to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)

That “rising sun” is Jesus, the one called Immanuel, God with us. He came for me, and for you. Nothing else matters.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Finding the Words

Several years ago I heard Eli Wiesel speak at a writers’ conference. He told the story about the catalyst that made him write his prize-winning book, Night. After WW2, he had gone to Paris to try and find surviving members of his family. He got a job as a journalist and on one occasion had to interview Francois Mauriac, the famous writer.

Mauriac spoke about Jesus and Wiesel finally could stand it no longer. He exploded and told him to stop “talking about your Jesus.” He said that not far from where they were sitting atrocious things had happened to his people. “And we have no words,” he said. “We have no words.”

Mauriac was deeply moved and responded – “You must find the words. You must write this story.” Wiesel began to write.

He was fortunate. Some did not find the words and the result was depression, mental illness, even suicide.

My father was one of those who had no words. He talked very little about the war. I learned more about his military service from my mother than from him. But once, late one night when we were having a rare father-daughter talk about faith and religion, he told me how God met him in an old church in Germany.

He spent the first years of the war in Canada, working as a clerk in the RCAF,because he “made the mistake of telling them I could type.” We have a picture of him in uniform, brandishing a rifle, smiling proudly, the Halifax harbour behind him. Then he was moved to England where he again worked at a desk. We have another picture of him on a golf course in Ireland. Then the war was over, and somehow – he always thought it was a mistake of paper-work - my father was sent to continental Europe with the occupation forces. He found himself moving with the liberation army through France and Germany. One day he found himself at the gates of Bergen-Belsen. It was at that point, after the allies had won and the Second World War was over, that my father's war began.

He would never say what it was specifically that caused it to happen. Perhaps he looked too long into the face of one man, a man his own age, whose eyes were glazed with hunger and shadowed with pain, a man who looked a hundred years old, 'though he was only twenty. Perhaps my father looked into another face, one without any sign of emotion, of anguish or compassion, a face which, though living, was dead. Perhaps he could not stop staring at the piles of dead bodies, the bones and skulls, or perhaps he was required to record the numbers, the unfathomable numbers. Perhaps he could not bear the smiles, the smiles of survivors who welcomed their deliverers in silence. He would never say what it was, but something that day, in that place, made my father's mind stop. It stopped and could not go beyond the horror, the fear, the guilt.

I don't know how long he was in the psychiatric hospital. I know he was afraid to leave it, afraid even to go for a walk beyond the doors of the building. Until one morning when one of his nurses brought him his clothes and told him to get dressed. She walked him down the hallway, outside and to the front gate. She unlocked it, pushed him gently beyond it and closed it behind him.
My father told me he didn’t know how long he stood there, afraid to move, afraid that someone would walk by, afraid most of all, that he would hear the German language spoken. Then he said he was filled with a desire to find a church. He started walking and soon stood in the centre of a huge cathedral. He sat in one of the pews and stared at the stained glass windows all around him. Then he fell to his knees and wept. When he looked up the light was streaming through the windows above the altar. He said it was like watching a movie – the life of Christ flowed by in brilliant colour. When it was over, the fear was gone. He never returned to the hospital.

When he returned home he was not the man my mother had known six years earlier. He could not sleep and loud sounds made him shake. He had not conquered his fears but buried them in a shallow grave. Many times they were resurrected and continued to plague him. I know in some ways he remained an unreachable stranger, even to those who had been closest to him. I know my father never found the words.

And I know Francois Mauriac was right. We must find the words to express those things that are ugly and even evil. We must find them and write them down and then allow them to go out into the world. We must find the words, words that help us remember, words that help us to heal. Lest we forget.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

“The Hammered Shape of Truth”

“The apartment is small.” My mother-in-law sighed and glanced around her. “So I’ll have to get rid of a lot.”

She was glad to be moving into a senior’s residence, but it meant parting with things she had treasured for a long time. She glanced at a large round metal tray on the wall of the dinning room.

“Would you like that tray?” she asked. Your Dad bought it in a Persian market in Mozambique.”

My husband nodded. “Sure Mom. It will look great in that niche in our living room.”

She got up right away, took it down and handed it to us. It’s made of hammered brass. You can see the tool marks where the artisan placed whatever he had used to make the design. As I touched the chiselled surface I could almost hear the ring of the metal as the hammer struck.

I thought about that tray as my favourite pastor preached about the Book of Ruth recently. The sermon resonated with a number of people in the congregation. One sentence stood out for me - “The hammered shape of truth in your life is meant to lead you to harvest, not defeat.”
He said it was significant that Ruth and Naomi arrived back in Bethlehem at harvest time. Their lives were about to change, again, and this time it was for the better. After all they had been through they were ready, now, to receive the harvest. There was a plan, a purpose in all they had suffered.

I thought of people we’ve known who have been through difficult things in their lives. Women whose husbands walked away; others who wished they would. Families torn apart by foolishness and others devastated by disease; some who have been victims of violence, others, victims of their own wrong choices.

Then I thought of those we’ve known who have triumphed in spite of it all – those who are enjoying a time of harvest. It seems they were able to recognize that the hard times were for a purpose. They recognized that no matter what they were experiencing, God loved them deeply and unconditionally. They held on to Him for dear life.

That was the “hammered shape of truth” in their lives. The result was a life shining with the beauty of gleaming brass, a life filled with purpose, a life ready for harvest.

There is no greater example of this than Jesus himself. Through all that He suffered He held on to his understanding of what it was His Father was doing. He knew His father loved him and loved those whom He would reach. And He knew there would be a time of harvest. So, “for the joy set before Him, he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

Like Jesus, those who suffer yet hold on to God will “see the light of life and be satisfied.” (Isaiah 53:11). They will receive the harvest.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Wayfarer's Chapel

The Wayfarer's Chapel sits serenely on a cliff face in California, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Its architect, Lloyd Wright (son of Frank Lloyd Wright), named it well. It is entirely made of local stone, Redwood and glass, its geometric shape beckoning from its height those who race by on the highway and stream boldly into the bay below.

It is a small chapel but its effect is powerful. The California sun streams through its massive glass panels, yet the green trees and other vegetation surrounding it keep the heat from rising to an uncomfortable level. There seems to be no barrier between what is inside and what is out.

The altar is also small, tucked up against the front under massive Redwood beams and a circular window that frames the branch of a reaching Pine. The altar is made of stone, its front engraved with the words Our Father Who Art in Heaven. The steps that lead up to it continue the prayer… Hallowed be Thy Name … Thy Kingdom Come… Thy will be done. Those words, emblazoned in that place, seem to invite the universe as well as God to make it so. They invited me, drew me, sanctioned me to that calling.

Standing in the middle of that small place on a clear winter's day, there seemed to be no barrier between me and the earth and sky and God Himself. I felt exposed, yet did not shrink away, seen, yet lifted my head and heart toward the One watching. All in the stillness, all within the strength of soaring wood, within the delicate and fragile enclosure of glass and grace.

In his book, Chasing Francis, Ian M. Cron wrote - "You go on a pilgrimage because you know there's something missing inside your soul and the only way you can find it is to go to sacred places, places where God made himself known to others. In sacred places, something gets done to you that you've been unable to do for yourself" (p.42)

I didn't know I was on a pilgrimage that day. The pilgrimage found me, perhaps, when I entered that sacred place and became aware, again that there was "something missing inside." Just looking at the photographs I took that day stir that longing in me still, to be united fully, to see face to face, to be known. To have something done to me that I cannot do for myself.

I remembered, in that place, which seemed to have no barrier between me and God, that it was He who had accomplished just such an astonishing feat. It was He who reached through the barriers I had erected against Him, and invited me, drew me with irresistible grace and sanctified me according to His purposes. It was there I recognized once again, that something had been done to me that I could not do for myself. Salvation.

"... But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God" (1Corinthians 6:11).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Divine Appointment by Marcia Lee Laycock

“Do you know anything about these flowers?”

The young woman’s eyes were hopeful but I had to disappoint her and explain that I did not work in the hospital gift shop. I was just there to stock the book rack. I pointed to two ladies at a nearby counter. “Maybe they can help,” I said.
She nodded, stared at the flower display and sighed. “I’m not really sure what I want.”

I took note of her dress then – a baseball cap pulled over messy hair; a thin pair of pyjama bottoms topped by a hospital issue housecoat wrapped around a frail frame; pull-on terrycloth slippers, two sizes too big.

“My friend is dying,” she said, then turned back to me. “I am too.”

I put my clipboard down and waited. Her story unfolded in simple language, the words slipping from her mouth almost as though rehearsed. She reached into a pocket and pulled out a picture of her seven year old daughter. I could see the resemblance. She smiled when I mentioned it and went on to say there was a surgery that she was hoping for – highly experimental, there was only one doctor who could do it and he just happened to live in a nearby city. But then her voice fell and I had to lean close to hear. Her friend had had the surgery. She was still dying.

The conversation turned to the word hope then. She had hope they would agree to do the surgery, hope that, unlike her friend, she would recover, hope that she would live to watch her daughter grow up.

She said a pastor came to visit sometimes and “we say our small prayers together. They seem small, just words, but maybe not, eh?” Again that hopeful look in her eyes.

I was praying small prayers right then. She’s so young, Lord. Please. Please.

Then she was gone and I resumed stocking the rack. I do it once a month and in that hospital, the rack is usually almost empty by the time I return. As I filled the pockets with books I was acutely aware of their contents. They hold pages about the love and mercy of Jesus, pages filled with stories of courage and faith, pages of humour to lift a sad heart and inspiration to encourage a weary soul. Pages of hope.

I knew I was sent there that day to do much more than “just stock the book racks,” but my job suddenly seemed important. My other job, as a writer, suddenly seemed essential, “That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works.” (Ps. 26:7, KJV).

Friday, July 17, 2009

Thin Spots

The day was glorious, full of sunshine and light, full of fellowship and a strong sense of belonging. It was all the more significant to me because I was not in my home church. I was in a beautiful little church in a tiny village in Nova Scotia Canada. And I felt right at home.

We sang a few songs, led by the pastor and a worship band, then one of the leaders stood to talk about all the upcoming events at the church. He did so with a flourish that made us laugh often. Then he grew a bit more serious and said he knew of an old Scottish legend about "thin spots." They are described as places where we sense we are close to heaven. He sincerely hoped we would all feel that we'd been in a "thin spot" by the end of the service.

I realized at that moment that we were already in that place, whether or not we were all feeling it. No doubt there were people there who were not - people who were feeling dry spiritually, people who were angry with one another, people who were angry with God. No doubt there were people there whose pain blocked any sense of heaven whatsoever.

But that does not change the reality. Jesus promised - "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matthew 18:20). When God's people gather to praise Him, we not only draw close to heaven, God comes to us - He is in our midst! What an amazing thought.
Even more amazing is the reality that He is always with us - not just when we're in a church building, not just when we're singing songs of praise. He is with us when we're dry and angry and so overcome by pain that we can't see or hear or feel anything else. He is right there beside us, waiting for us to turn to Him, waiting for us to acknowledge Him, waiting for us to cry out to Him. And He will never walk away. We are His people. He is our God.

Everywhere is a "thin spot." Glory be to God.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Letting Lucy Lead by Marcia Lee Laycock

I’ve just returned from four days on the road, traveling to various communities and speaking to Christian women’s groups. Three of those engagements were in a large city that I’m not terribly familiar with. So I took the time before leaving to check on the internet for the locations of each event. Using an internet application I was even able to find out exactly how long it would take me to get from A to B. I printed out the directions and maps and felt well prepared. Just to be safe I also took our trusty GPS along.

For those who might not know, GPS stands for Global Positioning Satellite. It truly is an amazing little gadget. You type in the city and address and a screen lights up with a map and your position is monitored as you drive. Then a friendly voice tells you where to go and when to turn right or left. As I turned it on before leaving for a venue that was in the very heart of the city, I thought there would be no way I could get lost or confused. Famous last words!

You see the map and directions I had copied from the internet did not match with what my GPS was telling me. To make things worse I was heading into the downtown core at the height of the morning rush hour. The traffic was bumper to bumper. The radio had told me there was a city-wide teachers’ convention on that morning so the traffic was expected to be even worse than usual. Great, I thought, and my information is contradictory.

As the lilting GPS voice (I call her Lucy) directed me to turn right, I glanced at the written directions I had printed out. Turning right didn’t make sense. I turned left and ended up where I didn’t want to be. Then I remembered my husband telling me about the training given pilots in the military. They are taught how to fly blind – literally. The cockpit is covered so they can’t see a thing and have to rely entirely on their instruments to take off, fly and then land the aircraft. The number one rule is, believe what the instruments say. Don’t rely on your own understanding.

So I turned left and found myself heading into what looked like a residential area. That made me nervous. But Lucy said turn left, so I did. Then left again, and suddenly I was at an intersection. Left one more time, and Lucy triumphantly announced I was “arriving at destination, on right.” I looked up and sure enough, there was the hotel where the meeting was being held. Letting Lucy lead me had proven the best course. There was no need to worry.

Sometimes it doesn’t seem to make sense to follow what God wants us to do. Logic can dictate a different course of action and we often worry. But God’s ways are higher than ours. Like Lucy, He is able to see from a clear vantage point. He knows the beginning and the end and the winding route in between. He knows exactly the best route for each one of us.

Proverbs 3:5&6 says it best – “Trust in the lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”
God will always get us to where we need to be. No need to worry. Much need to trust.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A Sermon Just for Me by Marcia Lee Laycock

Last Sunday, as I settled in my chair I prayed a quick prayer.

“Talk to me, Lord.”

My husband tends to be a spontaneous person and I’ve gotten used to him doing unexpected things. Sometimes. But last Sunday he surprised me by announcing that I was going to give my testimony that morning, in 3 minutes or less.

He hadn’t warned me about this, probably because he didn’t know he was going to do it until that very moment. As I walked up to the front I was thinking, "Good thing I’m good at public speaking. The testimony part is a breeze, but in 3 minutes?" No doubt he gave me a time limit because he knows my tendency to go on and on. He did have a sermon to preach that morning. So I did what he asked and all went well. As I expected it would.

Then my husband got up to preach. The sermon was on Mark 12:41-44 – a short passage of scripture that seemed straightforward as he read it out loud. The widow gave all she had. She was extremely generous. She put the religious leaders to shame. But my husband, bless him, took a different tack when he said, this little bit of scripture is really about pride and humility.


I felt God tapping me on the shoulder. I was feeling quite self-satisfied, having just given my testimony clearly, with just the right emphasis. In fact I was thinking, "I really am good at this."
The more my favourite preacher spoke the more I felt like crawling under my chair. I knew that what had just happened was no coincidence.

God was talking to me but I wasn’t particularly happy to hear it.

Then my favourite preacher started talking about generosity. Okay, that’s better. I sat up a bit. Then he said, “the core of generosity is humility.” Oh. And he gave Haddon Robinson’s definition – “humility is confidence properly placed.”

Oh dear.

When Proverbs 29:23 appeared in big bold letters on the screen I had to grin just a little. “Pride brings you low.”

Right. I really should remember that.

I was encouraged, when my husband acknowledged that he, and everyone else in the room, all struggle with pride. It’s a big part of the human condition. The trick is to catch ourselves at it, repent of it, and put ourselves back in the place where we all need to be, at the feet of Jesus. Confidence properly placed.

Right. I definitely have to remember that.

P.S. - If you'd like to hear my favourite preacher's sermon, go here and click on The Widow's Mite at bottom right.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Because He First Loved by Marcia Lee Laycock

There was once a young woman who looked for love. She didn’t know that’s what she was doing, but she did it with ferocious need. She left her home in search of it, attached herself to many people thinking they would give it to her. She moved from place to place, thinking some day she would find it; she took on various jobs and followed a few careers. She delved into all kinds of creative endeavours. But she was never satisfied. Love was elusive. She began to believe it didn’t really exist.

Then someone challenged her to look in the one place she had avoided. She was convinced she would not find it there, believed she had already looked but been barred from it. Deep in her soul she knew that place was where love lived, but she believed she was not worthy of finding it, so she avoided going to that source.

But eventually she came to the end of her desperate running. Every other source had proven empty and false. There was nowhere else to go, so she turned her face to that source and gave in. “Okay,” she said, “show me that it’s real. Prove to me that love exists for me.”

Then she admitted she had done a lot of things wrong in her lifetime of searching and she asked forgiveness. She didn’t know that was the key that unlocked the barrier.

Nothing happened right away. The clouds didn’t part, lightening didn’t flash, but some time later a miracle occurred. She birthed a child. What grew in her as she cared for that child was a love she could never have dreamed of. It swelled inside her and overflowed. She recognized the miracle and was thankful. She recognized that someone did indeed love her. He loved her enough to intervene in her life and cause a miracle. She was loved and nothing else mattered. She had found the true Source.

She had learned what the word love truly means. It doesn’t mean receiving at all. It means giving.

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him. … We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:16-19).

Friday, April 10, 2009

What Easter Means to Me

No more loneliness. The One who stepped out of that tomb is holding my hand.
No more striving to perform and please. I don’t have to earn His love, it’s freely given.
No more guilt. “For there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”
No more self-loathing. I am known to my innermost depths yet loved as a child of God.
No more hate. He gave His life for me, forgave me and made it possible for me to forgive.
No more stress about loved ones. They are all in His care.
No more fear. I know when I face God some day the Spirit of His Son will be shining out from within me.
No more confusion about death. I know some day I’ll rise just like He did.
The glory of Easter shines over us all, over all the pain and strife and ugliness of this world. Some day He will return and wipe it all away. Come, Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

a long day

It's been a long time since I posted here. I wish I could say I'll be more regular but I'm afraid I can't commit to that. Sporadic will have to do.

Today was long. -35 when I woke up this morning, and my husband had a two hour drive to meet another pastor for lunch. He said it was worth it when he got home, about 4:00 pm. The man was in need of a little encouragement. My husband is good at that. He has an infectious optomism.

I spent the day online - checking emails, reading a submission over, chatting with my daughter on facebook. A good day, but no writing done. Again. Don't know when the dam is going to burst but I hope it's soon. I did manage to get a few pages written on the sequel last week. Maybe next week will be better. Maybe tomorrow ....