“Would you be able to keep Oreo for about 5 days?” my friend asked. Many years had passed since we’d been responsible for a pet but this cute little hypo-allergenic dog knew us and shouldn’t be a problem so we agreed to take care of her.
As we were temporarily living in a campground and not a home with a fenced backyard, I had to ensure she was on a leash every time we stepped outside.
I soon learned that she sometimes wanted to go places that she shouldn’t. Some, like the neighbour’s campsite weren’t appropriate. Others, like in front of an oncoming vehicle were not safe.
At those time I would shorten her leash. This made her unhappy and she would balk and strain against me to go her own way. I chose her well-being over her immediate happiness.
I also discovered there was little patience when I stopped to clean up after her. She wanted to be off again right away.
It occurred to me that God sometimes has to keep me on a short leash. I complain and want to go farther than I’m being allowed. I forget that what I want isn’t always what is best for me. When I make a mess of things, I just want to move away and put it behind me. God, however, makes me wait until the clean-up has been taken care of.
Most of the time I’m free to roam where I choose. It is only when my behaviour becomes a problem that I feel the tug of my conscience. This is my Master, reminding me of His care and protection. When I look at it that way, I can appreciate the occasional need for a short leash.
Emily is passionate about Highland Dancing. She works hard and was starting to “place” in competitions. One of the dances was more of a challenge than the others.
In the Sword Dance, two swords are placed on the floor in a cross pattern. The complicated dance steps move between and around each quadrant. Avoiding contact with the swords adds another layer of difficulty. Demerit points are issued if one is touched.
At one competition Emily took her place behind the swords. The piper started playing. In the first eight beats of music she prepared for the dance by positioning herself and placing hands on hips. In the next eight beats she made eye contact with the adjudicator and gave a slight bow. Eight more beats and with arms high above her head, the dance started.
As Emily executed the intricate steps, the lace on her right shoe started to loosen. Soon the shoe was completely untied. Instead of being distracted, she kept her focus – even when the shoe worked its way completely off of her foot. Her steps remained quick and accurate. The dance ended, Emily bowed again to the adjudicator and smiled as she picked up her shoe. She had completed the dance without touching a sword. Even better, she “placed” in the sword dance that day.
Emily’s focus and determination taught me an important lesson. Unexpected challenges may come my way but I don’t need to let them stop me. If I focus on my goal rather than the distraction, I, too, can end up a winner.
Last year at this time, when social distancing was an unknown concept, I embarked on an adventure with my granddaughter. It was the first time either of us had gone white water rafting and both of us enjoyed it. In fact, our plan was to choose a trip with larger rapids this year.
Under current conditions, that is not likely to happen. Instead, I will relive the memories from last year and reflect on how what I learned is still serving me today.
My immediate thought is how fear almost robbed me of an exhilarating experience. My mind built up a resistance to the unknown that almost paralyzed me. To counteract the fear, my granddaughter Faith, literally took my hand and, with gentle reassurance, led me to the raft. I couldn’t have done it on my own.
On the river, our guide taught us about teamwork. If he shouted, “Left”, we put our paddles in on the left side of the raft. We would paddle hard on that side until he shouted, “Right” and we’d paddle on the other side. After we navigated through rapids, we would be told to lift our paddles and rest.
Each period of hard work was followed by a brief rest. The rest was to give us the strength to face the next set of rapids.
I learned two lessons in this. The first is I don’t need to get through turbulent times on my own. There are always others who will come alongside and help me paddle until I reach smooth waters. Teamwork makes us stronger.
The second lesson was to take advantage of opportunities to rest, when they come along. This doesn’t mean drifting aimlessly off course, but rebuilding endurance to face the next set of trials. There will inevitably be another rough patch at some point and I want to be prepared to face it.
The guide on our raft was also a reminder of the importance of having someone trustworthy to give direction. I choose to put my trust in Jesus. He has guided me through rough waters in the past and is always available when I call on Him. Sometimes the direction comes from a distance and other times I feel him take my hand and assure me everything will be alright. There is no one I’d rather have beside me in the adventure of this life.
A few days ago, my husband and I looked around our empty house for the last time, left a note and the keys on the counter, closed the door and drove away. Our home of fifteen years was about to become the home of another family.
One chapter of our lives had concluded. The story written in that chapter began when we arrived in Alberta, happy to be closer to our children and two grandchildren. In the following pages our joy increased as we welcomed new members, including five more grandchildren to the family. The rooms were often graced with the sweet sound of laughter as we gathered for meals and sleepovers with grandchildren.
The years passed in what seemed like the blink of an eye. The lives of our children and grandchildren have become busier as ours have slowed down. My husband and I are now retired and the upkeep required with a house is not as appealing as it once was.
Still, the decision to close this chapter was not an easy one. There comes a time, however, when in order to move forward, we need to let go of things that are holding us in the past. That time had come.
I am grateful for the chapter we’ve just closed. Its pages contained opportunities, activities and experiences indelibly imprinted in my memory.
The story is far from over and as we turn the page to start the next chapter, I’m excited to see how it continues.
“Look at the giant bench,” I said. “I wonder if I can climb up and sit on it.” My husband would have helped me if I’d asked but I wanted to see if I could do it on my own. At first it didn’t seem possible and I almost gave up. Brian gave me some encouraging words, I tried again and succeeded.
My legs were swinging in the air as I sat there, feeling impossibly small. A few minutes later, after the photo op, my feet were back on solid ground. We walked on, leaving the big white bench behind us.
It wasn’t until I was going through pictures a couple of weeks later that the bench came back to mind. My first reaction was to laugh at the amusing picture. Then, I wondered if the image was a fitting analogy of my life.
Have you ever been overwhelmed by your circumstances? I certainly have. At times like this my problems seem large and often insurmountable. My pride tells me I must deal with them on my own. It would be embarrassing to let anyone else know what is going on. As a result, I am left feeling small and inadequate.
Every bump in the road feels like a mountain to be scaled. How long will I struggle alone before walking away frustrated and defeated? Self-doubt floods my mind and I feel small and worthless.
There is an alternative. I can ask for help. In the past this was viewed as weakness but now I know it takes strength to reach out let someone know of my struggle.
Sometimes, like when I wanted to climb on the big bench, a bit of encouragement is all that is needed. Other times I’m offered a new way to approach my situation or a helping hand to get me through.
Instead of feeling small, let’s help each other rise to greater heights.
I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot, together we can do great things. – Mother Teresa
It has become my tradition to share this poem with you as one year ends and we embark upon another. Every year I read it and appreciate what it has to say. My mother gave it to me many years ago and unfortunately, I don’t know who the author is.
My prayer is that each of you will be blessed this way in 2020.
NEW YEAR PRAYER
May God make your year a happy one,
Not by shielding you from sorrow and pain,
But by strengthening you to bear it, if it comes.
Not by making your path easy,
But by making you sturdy enough to travel any path.
Not by taking hardships from you,
But by taking all cowardice and fear from your heart.
Not by granting you unbroken sunshine,
But by keeping your face bright, even in the shadows.
Not by making your life always pleasant,
But by showing you where man and his cause need you most,
And by making you anxious to be there, and to help.