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Friday, 28 June 2013

Heritage Pear Trees

While on an Art Studio tour in early May, I saw a stunning painting of what may be the oldest fruit tree in Canada, a pear tree located in a farmer’s field in Windsor, Ontario.  If you’d like to see a print of it, you will find it on the artist’s website http://jancressman-weiss.weebly.com/paintings--prints.html , the second tree painting on the top left side.
   Jan Cressman-Weiss was able to tell us a little more about this tree.  It has been dubbed a “Jesuit Pear” or “Mission Pear” brought to the new world from France by either Jesuits or other French colonists.  This particular specimen is protected and closely monitored by Agriculture Canada.  Ms. Cressman-Weiss needed special permission to get near enough in order to paint it. 
   According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, “Pears made their way to North America with early colonists. For example, 'Jesuit' pear trees were planted by early French settlers near what is now Detroit, Michigan. Extremely rare today, these trees marked the boundaries of the French Canadian communities near Windsor and Chatham, Ontario, and American French communities in Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. Historical references describe these trees as being as tall as 80 feet and with circumferences as wide as 10 feet.”
   Some people add a monument when they plant a tree, but if any of these remaining mission pears have a sign nearby it was not original.  Whoever planted them seems to have been guided by this Jesuit motto:

“A great deal of good can be done in the world if one is not too careful who gets the credit.”

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Keeping Cool with Less A/C

For the first 33 years of my life I lived in houses that had no air conditioning, but I did not consider it a form of suffering.  Today I do have central air conditioning in my home, but I use it only a handful of times each summer despite heat waves.  A number of simple strategies can help most people stay comfortable with less A/C:
  • Trap cooler air by opening windows at night or early in the morning.  When it starts to warm up outside, shut the windows. 
  • Close blinds or curtains on the sunny side of the house to keep the heat out.
  • To fall asleep on a hot night, take a shower right before bed and set your fan on a timer so that it does not run all night.
  • Listen to the long-range weather forecast.  Anticipate both the hot and cooler days so that you can plan ahead.  Cooler days are perfect for cooking or baking extra quantities of food for the hot days.
  • If you have a finished basement, eat and sleep down there on the hottest days.  This is more of an adventure than a hardship!
   Changing your cooking routine on hot days will stop you from adding extra heat to the house. 
  • Avoid using your oven or stove top on the main floor of the house
  • Use smaller appliances such as a toaster oven, crock-pot or electric frying pan.  They can be plugged in outdoors or in the basement!
  • Collect recipes for main dish salads, cold soups and more-than-just-meat on the barbecue.
  • Cook early in the morning or later at night and then reheat in the microwave at dinnertime.
   If you do use an air conditioner, do not set it at “room temperature.”  Since A/C removes humidity from the air 70 degrees feels like you’re in an icebox.  Turn up the thermostat even 7 degrees and it will still be comfortable (but more affordable).

What are some ways that you keep cool on the hottest days?

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Non Fiction for Summer

I am aware that many people use their summer vacation to read fiction, but may I humbly suggest five non-fiction titles you may wish to check out. 

Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster
This book was first published in 1978 and updated twice. It is an outstanding introduction to the "classical disciplines" (practices that help believers grow in their walk with God). While it encourages the reader to explore these disciplines, it gives examples without making them into regulations. Another thing I appreciated was how the author draws on a variety of expressions of Christianity through the ages to show the universality of this path to spiritual growth.

Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxes, 2008
This biography is outstanding not only because of the "amazing" person it profiles but also because of the clever writing style of the author. Metaxas, who also wrote a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, has the ability to transport the reader to the period during which William Wilberforce lived. I was astounded to discover that despite all of the "big name" people with whom Wilberforce rubbed shoulders, he remained humble and willing to associate with the poor and oppressed. It had not been clear to me before reading this book just how practically irreligious England was at this time, caring little about those in need within its borders and certainly not about slaves or subjects of the Empire. Through Wilberforce's leadership and perseverance this culture was shown the depths of its depravity; and by turning to the “amazing grace” that springs from God in Jesus Christ, it was literally transformed.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, 2010
This book has given me insight into a host of different issues. I was caught up in the human story of Henrietta Lacks and her children growing up without her and the struggles they experienced when discovering decades after her death that her HeLa cells are being used around the world. New light was shed on past and present practices in medical research and ethical implications. This books is also a triumph in the sense of showing that a reporter can tell the story of this disenfranchised family with both honesty and tenderness.

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, 2011
This book was just what I needed to re-calibrate my life and my perspective on things. Gratitude to God as a way of living is something I have practiced, but this author took me to the next level. I became aware of my tendency to rush through and not capture the moments of my life. I also have a fresh longing for that faith-feeding practice of The Eucharist, Communion or the Lord's Supper.

Manga Messengers illustrated by Ryō Azumi

This Japanese comic book style is used to present part of the Bible’s Old Testament stories has outstanding visual quality and readability. Sometimes the sequence of the prophetic books makes it difficult to fit them into the bigger story of the kings who ruled and the exile, but this version gave me some definite "Aha" moments!

Monday, 17 June 2013

Anatomy of a Decision

We all make little decisions each day about how we will live in God’s world and respond to the blessings and challenges we receive.  Recently I decided to join a group of people planning to go on a 10-day service trip to the Dominican Republic in early 2014.  I consider this a fairly big decision since I have not taken an airplane trip in nearly 16 years and have never been to a country considered “poor” or “developing.”
   How is it that I came to this point?  Usually there are a number of factors that lead us to a particular choice.  For me, these were all part of taking this step:
  • In past years, when similar teams had gone to Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize, I supported them with prayers and was always so inspired when they returned and shared the things they had done.
  • Edu Deo Ministries, the organization we are going with, partners with Christian schools in developing countries in an empowering and honourable way.  We do not come as experts but as servants to help with construction.  We adapt ourselves to local customs and living conditions.  There is opportunity for authentic interaction with students, teachers and their families.
  • In March I felt led to reduce my teaching load for the coming school year.  Because I will be working fewer days per week, it is easier to take the necessary time off.  When I approached my principal about taking this trip, he was encouraging.
  • My children and husband supported the idea and will be able to manage without me for the time I am away.
  • When I attended the initial information meeting, those present made me feel welcome.  Many of them had been on at least one such trip before, and the fact that they would go again spoke to the positive experiences they had.
  • It is going to be an opportunity to grow in my faith, even for the matter of trusting God to provide the necessary funds.  Since I took the step of committing myself, some of this has already begun!

Friday, 14 June 2013

Best Quotes from my Husband

I appreciate my husband's wisdom on a daily basis.  Here are what I consider his best quotes.

“It doesn’t matter where you go, it’s who you’re with.”
This philosophy guided our dating and planning for a honeymoon.  We still did many interesting things, such as visit the Art Gallery of Ontario, took hikes, ate out, went to live theatre, and so on.  But even if the event did not live up to expectations, we were still together and built memories.  Our honeymoon to the Grand Canyon had its share of hiccups, including a mix-up with hotel reservations and a ruined roll of 35 mm film, but we were there together.  That made all the difference.

“If you lose something, start cleaning up.”
Sometimes we turn the house upside down looking for one item.  A wiser approach, I have learned, is to begin tidying things up.  When you find your lost item in the process, you can also be pleased that there is now less clutter in the home.

“A household can never have enough spatulas.”
This may sound odd, I know.  The spatula he is talking about is a rubber spatula, which is fantastic for cleaning out food containers ranging from a margarine tub to a jam jar.  Using a spatula prevents wasting food.  A young woman who is boarding at our house for the summer quickly noticed how intentional my husband is about thoroughly cleaning out pans of food.  We have three rubber spatulas, but that is sometimes not enough when they were used at breakfast or during cooking.

“Whatever you have agreed to do, do it well”
It can be easy to say you’ll do something, but if you don’t follow through it is useless.  My husband regularly holds me accountable to do the things before me “well.”  Adding new duties and activities can spread us too thin, making us unable to give our best efforts to everything.

“90% of behaviour problems in children are due to lack of sleep”
Because my husband instinctively knew this, set bed times were part of the family routine for our children.  Kids staying up until they fell asleep on the couch was not part of our lives, nor was taking them shopping at night. We knew our children were getting enough rest if they woke up on their own, waking up happy. Even now when our children act unreasonable, earlier to bed is often a better remedy than arguing or grounding.  For more about this topic, see my post The Gift of Sleep . 

“If it’s the right thing to do, the money will be there.”
When decisions were being made about enrolling our children in Christian school or donating more than usual to a need we became aware of, this was one of our guidelines.  When we made this right thing a priority, God always provided more than enough to meet the need.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Guest Post by Darlene: What God Can Do with Obedience

This story was shared at the church I attend on Sunday, June 9th by Darlene.  She gave me permission to shorten it a little and share it here.

This is the amazing story that happened as a result of my volunteering to help out at VBS in a small church, which we were attending about 15 years ago.  I have always enjoyed teaching children and doing crafts. Plus having young children at the time going to VBS would give my young children something different to do in the summer.  Oh and did I mention it was free.
   We were encouraged as church members to invite our neighbours and, of course, I did.  I mean who wouldn’t want some free time from their kids.  I even had a great deal going with one neighbour.  I would take her two boys to VBS in the morning and she would take my two boys in the afternoon.  I still think I had the better deal!  I also apparently took a little girl from across the street along.  I say apparently because I truly have no memory of taking her. 
   So VBS week came and went and life continued and we eventually moved to a new town and a new church.  And I never saw the little girl or her mother again.
   At the next church I was really involved in VBS – having a great time each spring and summer planning it.  It was a busy but so satisfying time to see all of the hard work and creativeness pay off with a successful week.
   Then we moved back to our previous town and church.  Now, times had changed and this church did other outreach programs. Although I missed the craziness of racing out the door during summer vacation to go to church to sing, to tell stories, to have snack, and do other fun things with the kids I found other activities to do and I worked during the day at times.
   One of the places I worked was in a group home from Christian Horizons.  I enjoyed talking with the other staff about their churches and faith and what program they did. 
   On one of the last days I worked there a new staff walked in the door.  Now this was about 10 years after I had taken a little neighbour girl to VBS.  This new staff looked at me and said, “I know you!” 
   Okay, I thought, I have no idea who you are…
   This lady – who by the way I still have no idea what her name is – told me that we used to live across the street from each other – ahhh – way back when the kids were small… now I remembered – sort of….This lady continued, “You know, you made a Christian out of me…”   I will never forget those words. WOW! Seriously! How did that happen? I wondered
  She continued, “You remember taking my daughter to VBS?”
   Well she remembered and this little girl bugged her mom about going to church after VBS was done. Her mom let her go with her grandmother. But that wasn’t good enough, so this lady told me. The daughter wanted Mommy to come. So she said, “I went along a few times …. then the other children came along and eventually my husband came along. And eventually we all became Christians and now here I am!”  As simple as that.
   And all because, way back when,  I took her daughter to VBS.   Now don’t get me wrong--I know that God had many, many other people involved in their lives.  I believe that God is the one who does the planning for VBS – we just carry out his plan to the best of our abilities. I believe that God is the one who nudges us to invite a child or befriend a neighbour.  I believe that God is the one who gives us words to speak and the opportunities to do His work.
   That encounter at work was the only time I saw my former neighbour lady because shortly after that we moved here. 
   I still don’t remember this woman’s name.  I don’t remember taking her daughter to VBS but I do remember being totally blessed that God choose to let this conversation happen.  It reminds me that we may never know how God will use us or a ministry, such as VBS, to touch or to change a life.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

When We Feel Helpless

A young man who has attended the same church as me is wrapping up a half-year mission trip with YWAM (Youth with a Mission) in East Africa.  On May 10th, he posted some information on his blog about an isolated village in South Sudan where he and members of his team spent a few days.  They traveled 18 kilometres along a narrow path through a jungle, carrying all their supplies, including food and construction materials.  When they arrived in Isore (pronounced I-sorry) they found a terrible situation.  This village has no proper sanitation, no clean drinking water, no medical clinic, no market and no church.  The children have “school” only when the teacher shows up.  The teams’ purpose there was to add on to a partially constructed building that was to serve as a school/church and to construct a system for collecting rain water.  The majority of the village’s men are continually drunk and an air of depression hangs over the community.
   When I read about Isore, I felt a burden to pray for a permanent outreach to these people so obviously needy—an outreach that would address their material needs as well as their spiritual needs.
   Then yesterday, I discovered how this prayer, multiplied by others, had been answered.  Here are the words from this front line worker:

“I prayed and so did our team that someone would come to this area long-term.  The idea seemed unrealistic and even impossible as the place itself is almost completely segregated from the known world and to the few who do know about Isore, it isn’t very desirable.  And still who would be able and willing to fill the need of such a place?  I few weeks later when we were in Arua, Uganda one of the men we had worked with in South Sudan told us that miraculously a man had come to Isore and had begun to pastor the church there.  This man had apparently grown up in Isore but left for education, and years later God called him to go back and pastor the church.  A week or so later we found out that the church had already grown to 70 members with pictures to prove it-people giving their lives to Christ and worshipping in a church with no walls, no benches, no pulpit, nor anything of the like.  Absolutely incredible.  Within weeks our prayer had been answered and God’s kingdom expanding even to such an unreached community.”

   We can feel so helpless, but that’s when we go to the Father.  His compassion is infinitely greater than ours, and his providence can do the “impossible.”

If you'd like to read the whole story for yourself, go to YWAM blog

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

My Quarrel with "I Want That"

Materialism has a crass slogan, which is currently being used by an electronics store: “I want that.”  Ever since I heard it a few months ago, I have been reflecting on what these three words are really saying and why they bother me so much.
   “I want that,” reminds me of a young child demanding what he wants when he wants it.  “I want” is greedy and does not care about others.  If what “I want” belongs to someone else, it leads to envy and discontent. 
   Where “I need” shows a level of humility and dependence, “I want” is demanding and rude.  I am reminded of words from the book of James that show what an unbridled desire for material things can lead to : 
“You want something but don’t get it.  You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want.  You quarrel and fight.  You do not have, because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

~James 4:2-3

Be careful not to embrace such a mindset.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Letter to the Editor

I wrote this letter and it was printed in the Waterloo Region Record on June 1st, 2013.

Develop generosity and giving hearts

Don't give to charity? Now's the time — May 28

While I applaud the efforts of MP Peter Braid and the government of Canada to encourage younger people to donate to charitable causes, I believe this is a small part of the equation.
Giving begins with a heart that recognizes needs outside oneself and a willingness to step up and help with that need. For myself, that kind of giving attitude was instilled at home by my generous parents and nurtured by the schools and church community I attended.
It is something my husband and I are attempting to pass onto our children by modelling it and showing them how they can contribute to the needs of others in a host of different ways.
On their own they are making choices to consider others: giving money, nine inches (23 centimetres) of hair (for children with cancer), and their time as volunteers when they have a professional development day. The schools my children attend also regularly engage the students in caring for others in tangible ways, whether raising money through a bake sale or participating in food drives.
Without homes, schools and faith communities also stepping up in developing generosity among younger people, tax credits are unlikely to spawn "lifelong donors."

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Surgery for a Stranger

   Some people may look forward to the benefits that a surgery might bring them, but I think most of them do not look forward to the surgery itself.  Anxiety about the unknown, the pain and the often-difficult recovery period accompany most operations.  Who would go through this without any direct benefit to themselves?
   One of my work colleagues underwent surgery for the benefit of a stranger over five years ago, and in this she demonstrated great love.  She decided to donate one of her kidneys without knowing who the recipient would be.  Because such a gesture is so uncommon, she had to be interviewed by several professionals to make sure she knew what she was doing and to make sure she was not being pressured in any way. 
   As a teacher, she was hoping that this surgery could take place during the summer months when she was not teaching.  She did not want it to be a public spectacle—she was following what God was leading her to do.  Nevertheless, when a recipient of the same blood type who had been waiting longest was chosen the date for the transplant was set for October.
   It was only afterwards that she found out who had received her kidney, a married man with three children the youngest of whom was just nine weeks old.  She realized that the transplant could not take place during the summer because that would have coincided with the new baby’s birth!  It makes her feel humble that God used her to help someone in this way.

   Every stranger is also a human being, made in God’s image.  While we are not all led to give such a big part of ourselves for a stranger, we can use this inspiring story to make baby steps in showing kindness to those we do not (yet) know!