Thanksgiving Weekend is upon us. Our incredible weather means that I am still wearing sandals on October 7th. The forecast for the weekend means that family gatherings will likely include hikes, sitting on the dock one last time, walks around the block and other outdoor activity before we all hunker down for winter.
Thanksgiving is typified by many things – turkey dinner, family gathering, final yard work, putting away the lawn furniture and, particularly in our area, driving around to check the coloured leaves. It is also a time to do an accounting of what we give thanks for. I am wondering what is on your list this year? I have been thinking of my ‘gratitude attitude’ as this Thanksgiving Weekend approaches and I realize that what I am most thankful for directly reflects what is going on in my life these days. As you may know, I continue to connect by social media with our Syrian family still stuck in Iraq. My beloved is facing some major challenges as age overtakes him and this means lots of trips to appointments of various kinds. I am looking ahead to 2017 as my job restructures and I work less hours. Sunday afternoon I will gather with my extended family on the farm where I was raised and where my niece still lives with her family but the 407 has taken the lower acres of the farm and highway construction has changed the countryside all around them. It seems there is change at every front but still I find myself filled with gratitude for all that brings robust joy to my life. Here is what is on my list. How be you make a list too?
I am thankful for…
technology that takes me to friends and loved ones around the world
a medical system that takes seriously the aged and their particular challenges
a car and the ability to drive it
a pay cheque and the promise of a pension
money to pay for help that is needed
a heritage and a place to call home
family and a network of friends
work colleagues who value community with all its ups and downs
the sunflowers sitting on my desk, brought in by a parishioner
that my baseball team is winning and they provide hours of entertainment
a cup of coffee carried to me by a friend
a grocery store to shop in and resources to buy what I need
a lawn to cut and a garden to weed
a faith to sustain me and a God to thank
In my previous work I spent a fair bit of time planning and attending retreats for various committees and groups. Once my beloved said to me, “Retreat, retreat, retreat, when are you going to advance?” I thought that was a pretty funny line (and held a kernel of truth in it!). Nonetheless, there is great value in retreating and I am still on a bit of high from this year’s BUC Women’s Retreat.
This was our 9th annual retreat. It is a fall tradition that started the second year I was here at BUC. It has grown from our humble beginnings of an overnight and now is a full weekend with lots of excellent programming. We had 35 women retreating this year, many returning but some there for the first time. We have found accommodation that works well for us and we have realized the wonderful talent from within our midst to offer leadership and activities.
Our theme was “Deepening the Connection …with self, others and God”. Our planning team worked very hard to craft a retreat that was varied and interesting. We had speakers, activities and some quiet time for reflection. It is always fun to read the evaluations – the first thing I do when I get home – and see what people thought of the weekend. We had many positive comments and some good suggestions for next year. It helped that we had such terrific weather and we could spend time outdoors as well as in the spacious and comfortable meeting room. Oh, and the food was great!
I have been thinking about our topic since returning. What does it mean to deepen the connection with God? For me it will be moving into a place of trust and letting go. As I move forward to a reduced work load and lessening my responsibilities at the church I know that I will need to ‘reformat’ how I see myself as a disciple. My life has been so tied up in my work as minister that I will my shifting my perspective and self-understanding in the months ahead. I am going to need to go deep into my spiritual well. I am grateful the retreat started that journey for me.
25 million dollars. That’s right 25 million dollars. According to Anneka Smit, professor at Windsor University and member of the steering committee of Canada4Refugees that is the amount of money sitting in trust, by groups like ours from across Canada who have raised money, in good faith, to welcome and support a family from Syria. We were matched with our family in January of 2016. Prior to matching we had to raise sufficient funds. Consequently, we have about $40,000 sitting in the bank waiting for the Khaled’s to come. Meanwhile, they sit in their apartment, Syrian refugees in Iraq, desperate to get here but the bureaucratic bottlenecks are making it impossible for them to even think of when that might happen.
Professor Smit, who was interviewed on The Current yesterday morning, observed that the government has done a massive job to date by bringing in the refugees that have already arrived. This was supported by the enthusiasm and generosity of Canadians but what started with buoyant optimism and charity is turning into a wasted opportunity of human power and good will. Our own small family is a perfect example. We have lists of people who wish to help. We have, as said previously, money in the bank. We had furniture organized, drivers lined up to ferry them about, people wishing to help teach them English. And now we all wait. It wouldn’t be so bad if we had not been encouraged to think it might happen soon. When we were matched we thought they might be here within a few months, maybe even two or three, but the months have dragged by and still they wait and we wait. They have used up their savings. It is impossible for them to get employment. But the hardest thing, as it is for anyone at anytime, is not knowing. Will it be this year? Will it take several years? We all know that living with indecision is extremely difficult. It is no different for refugees waiting for sanctuary.
However, there is one delightful element for me in all this waiting. I have been able to forge a friendship with the family. We skype and email regularly and we have developed a comfort level so that teasing and kibitzing happen easily and when sadness overwhelms them, tears flow too. I have been able to skype with them from various places in Muskoka – even once while out fishing on Lake Muskoka. So they have been given a view to the landscape and the lifestyle. I have introduced them to a number of people so when they arrive there will be familiar faces to greet them.
All that has to happen now is for the processing and paperwork to happen so we can thaw that frozen money.
We have a Book Club at the church. It has been running for quite a few years now and has grown from a few readers to a potential group of about 30. This morning there were 19 of us gathered to discuss the book of the month which was “The Illegal” by Lawrence Hill. As always it was a spirited and deep discussion about a book that brought out a range of reactions, ideas and opinions. The conversation ranged through a variety of topics and at the end we agreed it had been two hours that made us think deeply about a vital topic.
Over the years I have come to realize the incredible power of small groups. Gathering in a safe place with trusted companions offers the opportunity to enlarge our thinking, face our doubts, embrace our beliefs, and boost our spirits. There are many ways we practice our spirituality. Some feel nurtured on the hiking trail, in the canoe, on the golf course. Many find the way to draw close to God is in a holy place, a sanctuary, a chapel, a synagogue, a mosque. Some feel strengthened in reading inspirational writing, the Bible, a devotional, a reflection. And some of us also get fed in conversation with others who embrace our opinions and thoughts and also challenge them.
A small group of gathered people always reminds me of the words attributed to Jesus, “When two or three are gathered in my name I am there in the midst of them.” The presence of the holy felt real to me this morning as we struggled over ideas of enmeshed systems, strengthening relationships, good and evil. At times it was tough to find the words, at other times it was good to laugh and agree life is filled with challenge and goodness.
Do you ever stop and think – “Wait, how long ago was that?” and then find yourself astonished that it was years ago? That has happened to me more often than I care to admit. Time moves too fast.
Last week I was privileged to spend about 28 hours with four dear friends. I have known these women since we were infants – seriously, it has been that long. We know each other’s families. We know each other’s struggles. We know each other’s joys. Together we have welcomed spouses, kids and now grandkids, but we seldom share our time with them. We are a “Girl’s Only” kind of club and we get together twice a year to unwind and catch-up. Sometimes we drink wine and sometimes we just whine! I look forward to those days for the six months that pass between gatherings.
As I drove home I got to pondering how I can appreciate the moment before it is gone and if I ever truly realize how wonderful the moment is until I look back? My mind drifted to other special people and other special times. I found myself grieving the passing of the moment. I realized that I had looked forward to the time together with such anticipation that for the last two hours we had together I found myself feeling sad and regretful that the time was coming to an end.
Since then I have been considering why I have such a propensity to live either in the past or in the future. So often I spend time regretting or overthinking what happened or fretting and worrying about the future that the very moment I am living is overlooked. I wonder if this might have been what Jesus was getting at when he said, “Consider the lilies of the field – they neither toil nor spin.” I think Jesus was not talking about investments or savings or clothes or food but about being grateful for the moment – savouring the moment – living in the moment. But I know that is easier said than done.
I am a list-maker, a task-tender, a event-focused person. So, I have made a list for today, things I have to do today, and on the top of my list is, “Savour each moment”. Do you have any tips as to how I might do this?
Long summer evenings, with soft moist air, spirited chirping of cicadas, and the ppfftt of water sprinklers brings out the neighbours. Last night I went to the concert in the park where the musicians from our local churches were providing a hymn sing. I sat on my blanket and chatted away with a woman from the church catching up on bits and pieces of news from her. Then, as I returned home from the concert, my neighbour from across the street was just returning from his evening stroll with his dog. The dog immediately slumped onto the prickly dry grass, his tongue lolling out as he panted from the heat. I guess he knew enough to settle in for the visit for we neighbours are known to chat for a while. Yes, this kind of weather allows neighbours to chat about the weather, the dryness of the lawns, the dampness of the humidity, politics, movies, books we are reading, gardening tips, and on and on. Summer evenings in Canada open up community allowing folks to communicate and visit and update and connect.
I smiled as I walked to the door of my house feeling the warmth that comes from human connectivity. There was nothing profound in our visiting but it was comforting to know that the human element of chatting had opened up heart and soul and I left feeling better for it.
I have been thinking a lot about networks and connection over the last few weeks. Community has always been part of my life. I grew up in a rural community and we knew our neighbours and cared for one another. I can remember my dad, a dairy farmer, walking through the fields after his cows were milked to help the neighbour milk as his wife was ill with cancer. I can remember my mother spending hours on the phone listening to a neighbour who needed someone to talk to about her husband’s illness. There was nothing my mother could offer other than a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear but some days that was enough.
I am blessed with friends and family who connect, who listen, who support and who are always available for counsel or to commiserate with. It is so important in the human experience.
This weekend I urge you to connect with someone. Even if you don’t feel you need it, chances are the other person might.
Oh my goodness – this weekend we turn the calendar to August. Two things astound me about that fact. One, we turn the calendar to August. Two, I have only written two blogs so far in July. Could it be that I am just enjoying the relaxed pace that seems to come to some of us in the summer time? The early mornings to water the garden, the long evenings to watch baseball, the fact that no one in churchland wants to have a committee meeting in July all lead to a slow down in my productivity. Hence only, well counting this one, three blogs in the month.
But here it is Friday. Thank God It is Friday! On top of that it is a holiday weekend. Now, of course ministers don’t really get a holiday weekend. Not only do we work on Sunday but, given that my regular day off is Monday, I kind of get cheated out of that extra day unless I can find a way to catch it at another time.
I have been thinking a lot about leisure and the need to take time. In fact, this Sunday’s sermon is on that very topic. Time. Having time. Taking time. Spending time. Wasting time. Losing time. Making time. What does time mean to you? Is time a gift to be celebrated or a commodity to be measured? Has you feeling toward time altered as you have changed? As you have aged? Is time a friend or an enemy?
I read recently, “there is something sacred about the very nature of time. After all, the very first thing God created was not matter but time – the evening and the morning of the first day.”
So how are you going to spend your time this weekend, this LONG weekend? I hope you can take a few moments to be grateful that you indeed have a few moments to think about the wonder of time.
I am holidays for a couple of weeks and so have been able to relax and watch a few ball games. Actually I think I have watched a game almost every day of my holidays so far. Now that the All Star break is on I will get a break too! I don’t bother with it even though there are five of our Blue Jays playing in it. One of the things I enjoy in the watching is the camaraderie among the players. The team members are all very supportive of their team mates and it is also clear that as the players stand on bases they often enjoy chatting with their opposition. I sometimes wonder what they are talking about. I especially wonder what they say whenever there is a huddle on the pitchers mound and they talk with their mouth covered by hand or glove!
One of the things I have noticed that is a practice for the team is that whenever a player has made a run and returns to the dugout everyone is ready to offer a high five. Even when the run is not particularly remarkable the player gets a high five. The accomplishment is recognized and appreciated by the whole team making me believe that affirmation is an important part of baseball.
This has made me thing about the importance of affirmation generally and how we can affirm one another. Wouldn’t it be great if every time we did something, even something we are supposed to be doing, as baseball players are supposed to earn runs when they are playing a game, that we were given a high five? We do that with children. When little ones are trying to take their first step we are full of affirmation and encouragement. When children are trying to speak we often reward them with smiles, nods, handclapping and other forms of affirmation. We kids do anything that is a first, or even just do what they are supposed to do we give them encouragement and affirmation. At what point do we lose that habit? Adults need affirmation too.
Here is my challenge to you, dear reader, spend some time this week giving affirmation. You enjoy a great dinner? High five the cook. You read an email someone took the time to write you – tell them how much you appreciate that they took the time. Sure, you might get some funny reactions but affirmation is something we all need aeven when we are just doing what we are supposed to do.
Over the last few weeks the world has been in our homes as the news brings us reports of the dreadful shooting in Orlando, the surprising vote for Brexit, but the global situation that always causes me to stop and listen is any report from Iraq. The Syrian refugee family that we have been matched with are now stuck in Iraq. They left Syrian and moved there seeking refuge. They heard that Canada was welcoming 25,000 refugees and they put in their application and we were matched with them. They, and we, expected that they would be arriving in the large number of refugees who came in the early part of the year as the government worked to meet its goal. However they did not make that cut. Now they wait. And so do we.
Hassan has excellent English and so we are able to communicate regularly by email and to talk on Skype. The waiting for the processing of the application is unbearable. Not for me although it is extremely frustrating and worrying at this end. But for them, they are feeling increasingly isolated and alone and let down by the Canadian promise of safety.
Despite this Hassan has been able to maintain his sense of humour. Our conversation the other day began with me asking about his safety. He told me some of their challenges. He said they do not feel safe leaving their apartment. He said their electrical power unpredictable and is off for hours most days. He said, “What can I say. We are in a country at war. It is horrible.” We lightened the subject and, in true Canadian fashion, I asked about the weather! He told me the temperature has been in the 40s. Then he laughed and said, “Yes, I say to Pirvan, those Canadians complain that it is hot when it is only 28 degrees. When we talked about our dinner plans I said I was planning to barbecue. He said, “We might do that. We will just hold our food out the window!”
The interaction with this brilliant young man is broadening my horizons. They are just concluding Ramadan, a time of fasting and prayer, and tomorrow they get to celebrate Eid. I worry constantly for their safety and pray daily for their peace of mind and continued hopefulness despite this unending wait to get called for an interview.
I have shared with you that my life is transitioning as I look at part-time work and taking on more responsibilities at home. I was reflecting with my Spiritual Director the other day on what this has meant for my spiritual calling. I am still not sure, but I do know that reward and gratification come to me in different ways now.
I think we all want the best from life. The reality of what is ‘best’ varies from person to person. Sometimes ‘my best self’ focuses on accomplishment, sometimes on relationship and sometimes it is a blending of those. For some people interpreting “the best” means what they own and where they live but, in fact, that is the “good life” not necessarily living our best self. Living our best self often involves change and transition and brings us to places that we might not choose but where God’s unfolding grace is found. Those places are internal landscapes not the house we live in or the things we possess.
How do you source out the call to fulfill who you were meant to be? Where does the nudge or pull of the Spirit come from for you? I know for myself I often realize in looking back that where I have ended up is where I have been going all along I just couldn’t see it while I was on the journey. I also know that often others can see the path that I am bumbling along more clearly than I can. That is why it is helpful to have a Spiritual companion, a kindred spirit or a very good friend who can help us sift through the fog and give us some clarity. Finding moments of grace and openings to be our best self is truly a gift. For me it is a gift from God.