Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Do Not Be Afraid

The angels making visits in the year before that first Christmas had important messages to give.
They told of John the Baptist’s coming,
of the birth of Jesus;
they assured a man who feared for his own reputation and the integrity of the woman he had committed to marry,
and they announced to a group of tired, lowly shepherds the arrival of a baby king who was to save the world, and could be found in the town nearby.

The angels knew they were messengers of God. They knew that what they had to share was real and true, but they also knew something of the people they had come to visit. Whether it was their own appearance, the shock of the sudden presence of a stranger speaking, perhaps the messages themselves, or even the pieces of the journey that each recipient found themselves traveling; the angels’ messages were the same: Do not be afraid.

“Do not be afraid, Zacharias. Your prayers have been heard.”
“Do not be afraid, Mary. God loves you dearly.”
"Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife!”
"Do not be afraid!” the angel said to the shepherds. “Listen, I bring you glorious news of great joy which is for all the people.”

To each the message was really the same: God is bigger than you, and He’s asking you to join Him in celebrating, in carrying out a part of His story, in walking in faith. Don’t be afraid – He knows what the journey ahead looks like.

A new year is ahead and we have an opportunity; a chance to step forward acknowledging as the old English hymn writer did that “this is [our] Father’s world” and “God is the ruler yet.”

We step ahead knowing that the year past held many reasons to celebrate and praise God for His faithfulness and enduring love in our own lives and in the lives of our families.

We also step ahead knowing that the year past held details of brokenness that we don’t always like to talk about.

In all of this, both the joys and the challenges, the truths of God and His unfailing promises have been constant. Deeper than just in His promises, God has been sovereign and He is faithful.

So as we move into the year ahead, may we be reminded not to be afraid.
May we be reminded that God is bigger than us, and He asks us to join Him in celebrating, in carrying out parts of His story, doing so by walking in faith.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 20, 2009


I was humbled yesterday
by a middle aged
regular lady
who took a moment
to make a point.

I was in line at the check-in counter at the airport.
Ahead of me was a soldier in his traveling uniform.
He adjusted his hat more than once.
I even watched him as he put on his dog-tags.

Out of nowhere, a woman came from behind us,
interrupting the conversation he was having with his girlfriend.
She simply stopped,
put out her hand,
and said, "I just wanted to say thank-you."
He shook her hand,
and she turned and walked away.

It was so simple,
yet so clear.


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Attitude Check

Seems funny to write about an attitude check when I think for the most part, my attitude has been very "in check" these days.

God is good.
And the visual dance moves I displayed at a worship practice a couple of weeks back may be proof of that.
I don't generally exhibit dance moves.
However, they seem to be becoming part of my reality and the fun that goes with reminding myself that joy is real and joy is good has removed the shame from demonstrating my lack of skill in the rhythm department. (I'd like to offer kudos to my high school youth friends for this recent revelation.)

However, about the attitude check...
A huge piece of my life as of late has been one of those pieces where a forced response of "good" seemed to be the answer when anyone asked how it was going.
And it was good,
only I was letting the not-so-good be the reigning voice in my head.
I've been frustrated and so coming up with the very diplomatic, politically correct responses that sometimes go hand in hand with trying to be "proper" and pretending to be real at the same time seemed the only good response.

I had a chance to sit and reflect for an afternoon this week.
A treat for anyone,
but I took it as a gift.
I had a number of hours to step back and find the good in what has only been "good".
And I found a lot.
Many reasons to see the gifts,
to acknowledge the hearts,
and to see what really lies beneath the surface.

It seemed more than complete irony, then,
when I opened my evening devotional only to discover that the focus of the day's reading was on attitude.

The writer talked about how difficult situations have the opportunity to harden us or soften us.
We can respond to "heat" as clay,
and let it harden us and make us brittle,
or we can choose to be wax,
inviting the heat to mold and shape us.

It was then that I realized how necessary my afternoon had been.
How God was reinforcing in me the need to trust Him with the tough stuff;
to know that He wants to mold and shape us
and that He wants us to find Him in each piece of our lives.

Because He's there.
And when it seems like He isn't,
it's because I'm choosing not to look for Him.
Or letting myself be convinced that I can figure it out on my own and so I don't really need to invite Him to step toward me and identify His presence.
Sometimes it means just re-evaluating the way I'm praying.
Perhaps not asking for what I think is needed,
but simply allowing Him to mold me and make me what He wants me to be.

Because when I'm open to it,
and really trusting,
and really seeing each part of my life
as His and not really mine at all,
my perspective changes
and brings the joy
that lets me laugh
and really, truly answer that indeed,
it's very good.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Singing Has Only Begun

My Grandma loved life and loved to laugh.
From the simple –
Saskatoon berries and fresh raspberry jam –
To the more involved –
like purposely pouring tea from her plastic cup onto her plastic saucer to create a vacuum and have a the saucer rise to her mouth as she sipped. We would giggle waiting for the saucer to fall, each eating the 3 or 4 Smarties we had to eat with our tea.

As I spent time with my cousins this week preparing for my Grandma's funeral,
we came up with lots of little details –
lots of ways that she made the most of each opportunity.

Grandma loved having her grandkids over.
There were sleepovers in the basement of the old house
in the room with the old record player and the pink stitched quilts.
We could always count on Mountain Dew in the fridge
and a roll of orange or red RANG candies for the drive home.
If we were lucky, we would have Fruitella candies, too.
Grandma loved to spoil us with sour cream and onion rings and cheezies and we were reminded of what a treat it was to her when we were given the exact serving size. Grandma would have us over to bake shortbread cookies sliced from a roll and to make ollie-ballen over the stove.
Ice cream at Grandma’s came from the 2L boxes –
in slices on a plate as opposed to scoops in a bowl.
Currants were served rolled in sugar,
and meatballs were counted as each ladle-ful was poured out.
It was always a competition.

No matter how we handled ourselves in her home,
Grandma was never upset with us.
We could spill or break a rule,
and somehow we always felt that she was gentle and like we had done nothing wrong.

Grandma was sneaky and had what we might call the Scheper family’s ability to enjoy finding the loopholes in life in a seemingly innocent way, laughing about it as she went; from cheating at board games, using Dutch words in Scrabble, to making a profit on the brown eggs we sold to her from our own chicken coop as she sold them to her friends at Summit Village for a higher price.

Grandma was affectionate for someone from her generation.
We always knew without a doubt that we were loved.
We sat on her lap and received many strong hugs.
Even when she could no longer find English words to tell us how she was feeling,
she would squeeze our cheeks and give us “kusses” on both cheeks,
grinning from ear to ear.

Grandma loved adventure –
from the trip across the ocean long before our time,
to determining that she should go down the slide at the children’s park,
breaking her ankle on the way down.
Until she was at least 80,
she was taking the stairs and kicking her leg over her shoulder
to show us how flexible she was.
As much as we put our arms out for safety and held our breath,
she was relentless and proved our fears wrong each and every time.

Grandma’s childhood memories came to us in chuckles as she would tell of how they each smoked a cigarette for dessert after supper. When we visited as teens and adults, she would sit on the porch with those who smoked, smile, and inhale deeply, saying, “Blow it in my face!”

As we said our final goodbyes to Grandma this week,
we acknowledged that we have in many ways been saying good-bye for the last number of years.
It has been difficult watching her slip away,
but we have also had opportunities to see her laughter and joy in the simple things come out more clearly.
Grandma said good-bye very well. She would wave in the hallway as we left her apartment in Summit Village until we were around the corner. When we walked to our cars, she moved to the balcony and continued to wave as we drove out of the parking lot.

As one of us said this week, “Each time I think of her before and from here on, I will have many reasons to laugh.”
"Man-a-life," she might say, and we’d echo her voice and say she was more than a "honderd percent."

A few r-rolling tra-la-las are a good addition to an already incredible choir.
91 years is a long time,
and Grandma has only started singing.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

So honest...

At the end of every school year, I ask the kids to give advice for the upcoming grade 5 class. Most of the advice is pretty straight-forward: do your homework, don't interrupt the teacher, cheer for the Oilers (that's straight-forward, isn't it?), and so on.

Some years I get humbling thoughts or encouraging remarks.

One in particular stood out today:

"Miss Van tells a lot of jokes. Laugh even when they aren't funny."

I had to chuckle. I thought it was going to say something to the effect of "so that keeps things interesting." However, apparently in order to survive grade 5, it is important to humour me and make me feel good about myself.

At least they're honest.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

About that Audible Gasp...

I send my regrets for never blogging about the audible gasp.
It's still a good story.
And one that I may choose to write about at a later date,
but for now, it will hold itself in my own memory,
to challenge me on my daily journey.

I went for a drive today.
Something I haven't done in a really long time.
Something that used to be the greatest part of summer,
the most recharging part of a holiday,
the place where I let myself shamelessly cry while reconnecting - with myself, with God, with a world bigger than my own.

Today was different.
Good all the same, but different.

Today I shed my tears before I got into my car.
So many reasons and such a big picture,
but ultimately for the loss of a friend, mentor, and gracious leader within our community; and for the family he leaves behind.
Throughout his battle with cancer
and in his funeral today,
his testimony of faith in a God whose love is rich and deep,
who is faithful,
and who holds each of us in the context of a much bigger picture
was evident and clear.
It was mentioned today that he understood grace deeply,
and lived that understanding.

The CD that was playing in my car had a few songs that made me reflective, made me sing aloud, reminded me of the peace and strength that believing in that context of grace provides, and challenged me to look ahead.

One song in particular, I played over and over.
It's a personal favourite.
And today, it answered its own prayer.

God of Grace and God of Laughter

God of grace and God of laughter,
singing worlds from nought to be
sun and stars and all thereafter
joined in cosmic harmony:
give us songs of joy and wonder,
music making hearts rejoice;
let our praises swell like thunder,
echoing our Maker's voice.

When our lives are torn by sadness,
heal our wounds with tuneful balm;
when all seems discordant madness,
help us find a measured calm.
Steady us with music's anchor
when the storms of life increase;
in the midst of hurt and rancor,
make us instruments of peace.

Turn our sighing into singing,
music born of hope restored;
set our souls and voices ringing,
tune our hearts in true accord:
till we form a mighty chorus
joining angel choirs above,
with all those who went before us,
in eternal hymns of love.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

At the Corner of Sixth and Graham

I've been struck a few times recently-
not by lightning...although apparently the odds are good-
but by those nuggets that just "get" me.

For now, just one.
But look for "The Audible Gasp" coming soon to a blogspot near you.

The man on the corner downtown.
He just needed someone to notice him.
And although I noticed, and offered him some food,
it wasn't him so much that stood out in my mind.
He brought me back to Seattle.
That was last July.
I met a young guy there -
maybe 23ish.
Not much younger than I.
He reminded me of someone dear who not long ago was in his shoes.
He was trying to camouflage himself with the newspaper boxes in front of the McDonalds.
I noticed him when I walked inside,
but noticing him wasn't enough.
I felt sick to my stomach the whole time I stood in line.
Shouldn't someone do something?
How can all of these people walk inside and order food and not doing anything?
It bothers me still how quickly I threw the "someone" and "all of these people" out, but failed to make it "I".
Will the people in the restaurant be upset if I talk to him? Maybe that would encourage him to loiter outside their doors more often?
"Really Van? Are you seriously concerned about that?"
I carried my tray to my table and joined my mom and grandma.
But I just couldn't stomach what I had on my tray.
I raised my question to them, "Do you think he's hungry?"
"Yes," one of them told me. "He was asking for money."
I got up from my chair and asked if he'd like something to eat.
The look in his eyes, and his soft, somewhat shame-filled voice told me that he would.

I wish I knew his name.
I wish he knew that I think of him often and lift him in prayer.

I won't forget the way he tucked that McDonald's bag under his jacket and walked away almost silently.

I hope I have faith and courage enough to not walk by and call "someone" to the opportunities I am given a little more often.