Life's Remains

Three remain — faith, hope, and love.

I’m Not Counting My Blessings

shutterstock_75839950I am not counting blessings this Thanksgiving.

I usually do. Most Octobers I sit down and list the good things in my life (count your blessings, name them one by one). It is a good exercise (and a mediocre song), but it’s not working for me like it used to. As the years go by my list of struggles is just a long as my list of blessings and, to be quite honest, feels more real. Focusing on blessings seemed a bit too forced, so I took a new route to gratitude’s door this year.

I began by listing the darkness in my life—counting my challenges, pains and frustrations.

Sounds fun, right?

I’ll spare you the details, but here is a summary of what is on my list.

I have a bunch of unresolved questions and unsatisfied longings. I have doubts about things I have always assumed to be true and sometimes that is scary. I have regrets and darkness and unfulfilled dreams that leave me feeling confused and worthless. I am surrounded by the wounds and fears of those that I love. Conflict, discouragement and brokenness seem to reside right under the surface of every person I know. Human willpower and human goodwill seem very short on both power and goodness. Natural tragedy, disease and death all seem to be increasing at an alarming pace.

Stepping back, I have mixed reactions when I look at that list. In my best moments, I believe that the darkness within and around me is a God-given reminder that I was made for more than this world. At other times I find the whole thing debilitating, I am overwhelmed, and I just want to curl into a fetal position with my electric blanket on high. I usually waffle somewhere between hope and despair.

Today I have discovered a third response: gratitude.

Today I stand smack-dab in the middle of it all with as much honesty as I can muster and I give thanks. I choose to live within the tension of the beauty and pain and thank God for the whole lot of it. I become aware that the richness of life is not only found in those things that I experience as being “good.” I see that the glass is both half-full and half-empty and I am thankful for the glass.

Maybe the greatest miracle of gratitude is not to be thankful for the good in this world, but to get real about the bad and be thankful that you can still be thankful? My “non-blessing” list admits a deeper reality and also makes possible a deeper gratitude. A gratitude that I am thankful to experience today.

Happy Thanksgiving whatever path to gratitude you choose to take!

wheat_bannerGive thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.


Vanier on the Nature of love

Winner of the 2015 Templeton Prize Jean Vanier smiles during a press conference in London, March 11, 2015. Pic:Paul Hackett

Winner of the 2015 Templeton Prize Jean Vanier smiles during a press conference in London, March 11, 2015.

This summer I’ve been savoring Jean Vanier‘s book, “Life’s Greatest Questions.”  It is an easy and profound read made potent by Vanier’s life story. Jean Vanier is founder of two international community-based organizations, L’ Arche and Faith & Light, that exist for people with mental disabilities.  Hundreds of these communities exist throughout the world and they have been called “living laboratories of human transformation.” For many decades he has championed the cause of the poor and the weak in our world. He is one Canada’s most celebrated philosophers and humanitarians.

I spend a lot of time reading the best writers I can find. The one thing better than a great book by a great writer is to find a great book by a great person who can write. When I read the words of someone who has demonstrated years of meaningful living their words go beyond what they mean on paper – they become words of life.  Such was the case when I read John Stott’s final book, “The Radical Disciple” and is again as I read this book by Vanier (born 1928).  It’s as if he has not only come up with words to articulate his thoughts, but because of how he has lived each word carries with it a certain heaviness. His words carry the weight of decades of living/loss/learning.  The reader gets to experience the sum of a life well lived – what a gift!

Here is a portion of the passage I read this morning in the chapter entitled, “What is the Nature of Love?”

“Let us begin by saying that nature of love is that meeting between mother and child. This doesn’t seem very spiritual but rather quite physical: a meeting through touch, through the body, through the smile, through the laughter. The child discovers that he or she is loved. And because she is loved, she is someone. Love will always entail the eyes and the physical touch in some way. It is about the glance between the teacher and the pupil who has been disruptive in class. The way the loving teacher looks at the child is not to say, “You are no good.” It is to look at him in a friendly way and say, “You can do better. You are a beautiful person. Your behavior merits a consequence  so that you can understand that it is disruptive to the others and impedes your own education. But fundamentally you are beautiful person.”

Love implies always speaking to the person behind the behavior, behind the capacity and knowledge. Behind the angers, behind the fear, behind the anguish, there is you! Love is not just a way of looking, it is also a way of listening, of being present, of understanding, of helping the other to change and to grow. This means that love implies humility. To love the child who is acting so aggravatingly, or to love the grandparent that always is forgetting my name, demands some effort. To love someone who is not looking and is not paying attention, or to knock on the door of someone we do not really want to see, is a challenge . Love is not about helping people to be the way that we want them to be or the way we think that they should be. It is unconditional. Love implies that we have the desire to help people to be fully themselves.”

Janette Mack Speirs 1943-2016

Some reflections I was able to share at Janette’s Celebration of Life.Janette-Speirs-1456499464


Today it is not only family and friends that celebrate Janette. Today the God that she believed in celebrates her as well. For indeed, He has celebrated her in a way far deeper, and for far longer than any of us.  Come along, shift your inner eye, and together let’s consider how God viewed Janette. …

For one thing, God celebrated Janette before she was born.

What the Psalmist understood about himself we understand about Janette. To adapt Psalm 139:13-16 God created her inmost being; He knit her together in her mother’s womb. She was fearfully and wonderfully made;  her frame was not hidden from God when she was made in the secret place. When she  was woven together in the depths of the earth, God’s eyes saw her unformed body. All the days ordained for her were written in God’s book before one of them came to be.

Janette didn’t just happened. She came into this world, having been put together by God to make a difference in the lives of others and to make a difference for God. God stitched her DNA together intentionally and with great joy. It’s amazing to think thru the different ingredients God used to put Janette together in her mother’s womb!

God must have been thinking, “This one needs to be a Scot! AYEE! I’ll give her the brogue and the vivaciousness – this world needs it – that’ll keep her eyes sparkling and laughter alive. And she’ll need a large dose of “Practical” too. Practical enough to serve, to help, to meet needs, and care for countless others.  I’ve got to make her fiercely loyal, loyal enough to stick with and love one man for 51 years, through good times and hard. And AYEE, even loyal enough to be a Calgary Stampeders fan! I need to pour in enough compassion, to make her a caring mother and Grandmother. – to spread kindness on this earth with baking and loving and laughing. I’ll throw in a tiny amount patience, (that will have grow)  and I’ll give her just enough stubbornness to keep others from walking over her. Oh, and of course I’ll leave a touch of my Spirit, that she might know she came from me and one day she’s to come back to me.”

And God smiled at what He had created and saw that she was good!  AYEE! SMASHING! Before she even breathed her first breath she was in the heart of God and God said – “Get ready world, here comes Janette, one of my special gifts to you!”

For we are all a gift from God to the rest of the world and life the process of opening that gift and using that gift to enrich the lives of others. Janette opened her gift and gave herself to all of us.

 While she walked on this earth God was celebrating her…

… imagine her,  a young, pony-tailed girl in the Scottish countryside; playing and laughing and God himself  laughing along. (Zephaniah 3:17) God himself takes great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” God celebrated the fresh beauty and innocence of what He made.

He was there with her…

…think of that day when in the most real center of her heart, she came back to her Creator. – the day that she welcomed Grace in. I never knew the exact time that she first believed in Jesus (but I surely saw the results of it) and I trust that at that moment God rejoiced  declared “This Janette, is my beloved daughter, in her I am well pleased.”

God was celebrating her in the mundane and the memorable of life. He celebrated on her wedding day, on the day she gave birth to John and Richard and Sam and yes, even  in 1971, when she and Bill watched her beloved Calgary Stampeders win the Grey Cup and Bill leaped into the air and put his hands through the ceiling tiles! God has there too (mourning that the Riders lost again) but celebrating with Janette’s celebration.

He was there…

… when she hurt. When relationships that she counted on became difficult and broken. When she disappointed herself and others. When life was hard. When her children hurt and it caused her pain. When loved ones passed away. In her loneliest moments and darkest nights. When her dreams did not get realized. When the anger and the tears came.

He was there with her in it all…

…when she sinned – blew it – failed – made mistakes. When she thought and did all of the things that we sinners do. All the things that we try not to think about or mention at a Celebration of life. In her most ungod-like moments – when she farthest from the being the person God had created – when she did what she did not want to do…. In that exact moment. God looked at her and made the greatest statement ever made about Janette Mack Speirs,  “I will give my son to die for you that you might be forgiven – to be resurrected that you might never die! This is what you are worth to me!”

…when she loved others.  When her laughter and accent and stories brought hope to many. When she baked Muffins and had Bill deliver them to her Pastor’s family every Saturday morning for SEVEN years. (my children never knew Janette’s name, only that she was married to the Muffin Man.) When she noticed single parents in need and sent them meals. When her example helped bring her husband to faith in Christ. When the best in her shone forth God was pleased and celebrated what He had made! Aye! Well done my child!

…when that weekend came for her to move from this world to next. When she finally walked to the end of this earth’s road – He was there too. Her True Father – arms extended – awaiting her arrival – He ran to her – the Prodigal Father on the move – He embraced her and kissed her – wrapped her in robes of righteousness and said – “Welcome home my Child!” And He celebrated with Her.

…and she is home… not Calgary… not Scotland – but her true home – the one that she was made for. The place where all her longings for love, wholeness, and peace are finally and completely filled. Where her soul and spirit can finally rest. No more longing for perfection, no more relationship worries and challenges, finally…. Home.

What then shall we say?

That long before Janette was born, before her Mother and Father and teachers and friends and husband and children got involved – she was God’s Beloved – and she is God’s beloved today. He knitted her together in mother’s womb and was always there. To tell her story is describe how she went from God’s intimate embrace to God’s intimate embrace. He loved her with an Everlasting Love – loving her in her best and her worst moments. Her name is written on the palm of His hand. Every hair on her head and every thought in her head was known to Him. She was always safe in the palm of His hand.

Today God celebrates Janette as one over whom He can say, “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate her from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So we celebrate Janette today and we do so with God Himself who has celebrated her all along, “This is my daughter! AYE! My beloved child in whom I am well pleased!”

Choose Hope (glimpses that keep us going)

It was a wonder-full moment.

Our family of six sat around the kitchen table playing a board game. I can’t recall the context, but part way through the game someone spoke just the right words, at just the right moment, and we burst into laughter. All of us at once just started cracking up and the room seemed to explode with joy! My mind freeze-framed the image – glee on the face of my 10-year-old daughter; head-back laughter bursting from a sullen teenager; delight erupting in a shriek from the 8 year-old; my wife of 23 years giggling like a care-free child; a 12-year-old’s mouth in a large “O,” eyes sparkling with brightness. It was a perfect outburst of love and joy somehow made deeper and richer because we were all in it together. It was awesome, and impossible to fully describe.

And then it was gone.

Like all of life’s best moments, it could not be maintained or captured – only experienced. You had to be there. I wish it was different. Oh man, if only I could have bottled-up that moment and kept it in a jar in my office to experience again! Imagine opening the lid and out would flow all of the emotion, sound, and sights of that slice of delight – what a gift that would be!

Instead, I have a fading memory that brings a sad smile. A smile for how wonderful it was and a sadness that the experience is gone. Like some bitter-sweet twist, the best moments of our lives seem to slide away just when we try to get a grip on them. Fleeting moments of joy, contentment and purpose are gifts that bless our days but just when we reach out to hold them they seem to dissolve. Like trying to hold water in your fingers or grab a hand-full of steam, our best moments are elusive. In fact, even trying to capture them seems to somehow strip the fullness from them. These days we seize in photos and video much of our lives, and yet no technology will ever be able to hold the experience of happiness on file. It is as if the forces of time have collaborated to ensure that best gifts in our life can only be found in the present. It can be kind of depressing.

And yet, on this first day of Advent I am choosing to put that memory to work choose-hope-anything-possible-christoper-reeve-quotes-sayings-picturesand allow it to grow my hope.  After all, we are hope-based creatures. Inside the deepest part of us there is a longing to know that some good and better future is waiting up ahead. Our hope-instinct desires to take the seeds of our best moments and almost immediately begin to image the possibilities that could occur if only they were given a chance to fully bloom.

What if our family could feel that kind of joy together forever?

What if we were always that united and present and free?

Could our most precious slices of living be both a gift in the present and a glimpse of the future?

I choose to hope so.

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