Just a Construction Worker

I was just finishing up my shift at the welcome desk at my church when a middle-aged man approached the counter.

“Umm…I signed up for the Friday night equipping classes, but I think I picked the wrong mountain.” He looked completely out of his element and my look of confusion probably wasn’t helping when he referred to ‘the wrong mountain’.  “Yeah, I uh…  I picked the ministry class, but it’s probably the wrong one; I’m just a construction worker.”  15419643125845717655510835102191.jpg

Then the bell went off.  The mountain  he was referring to was part of the Seven Mountains Ministry training sessions our church was offering .  ”  Okay, I gotcha.  By the way, do you minister to your co-workers in your role as a construction worker?” I asked with a smile.

His look was painful.  “I try.  I mean, I used to be a drug addict and then Jesus saved me.  I want to share that with people, but–”

“Then you totally belong on the ministry mountain,” I interrupted.  “Your ministry is anywhere you are that you are sharing the Good News,” I assured him.  “Some pastors would say that people who evangelize in the workplace have a greater ministry than a preacher who stands in front of the congregation every Sunday. Plus, you have a very compelling testimony.”thekingdom

 

His posture straightened with renewed confidence, but he still had questions.  “Okay, cool.  It’s just that I don’t know enough. I mean, I feel like I don’t know how to do it; I don’t know what to say.”

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Jeremy.”

We shook hands.  “Jeremy, can I tell you something?”

“Sure.”

“When I was wanting to share my faith with my family, I spent a lot of time talking; trying to explain it through words.  It did not go well.  Then one day, I spontaneously hopped in my car, drove two and a half hours to my parents and proceeded to clean out and then plant their flower beds.  It took me over four hours to do it, and I still had to drive the two and a half hours back to the city.”

Jeremy had that look that said he was wondering where I was going with this.

“During that time, Jeremy, when my back felt like it was breaking and my nails were full of dirt, I heard the Lord speak to me.  He said, ‘This is how you teach them about Me.  Not through words, but by being Me–loving them, serving them.’ “

Jeremy was all smiles by this time.

“See?” I bubbled over enthusiastically.  “You don’t need to worry about having the words, you just have to have the heart to love your co-workers.  When you need the words, God will give them to you.”

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to radical obedience lately, so when I heard that gentle whisper in my spirit that said, pray for him, the time between hearing the command and following through could have been measured with an angel hair.

“Jeremy,” I asked.  “Can I pray for you?”

“Uh… sure?”

Before he had time to react, I had reached across the counter and took him by the hands.  I took no notice of my supervisor at the desk with me, nor the other people milling about the front foyer, as I prayed for my new friend.  When I said, amen,  I looked up to see tears streaming down Jeremy’s face.

“Thank you,” he said, wiping the tears with the back of his hand, “That was a surprise.”

“Yeah, God surprised me with that one too,” I laughed.

My prayer for Jeremy and my prayer for you, the reader, is the same:

That you would know that you are qualified by your heavenly Father, and you cannot  be disqualified by your past nor future mistakes.  That you would be assured that God can take your mess and turn it into your message.  That when you don’t know the ‘right words to say’, the Holy Spirit would fill you with words that would blow even your own mind as you hear them leave your mouth– and that would create in you a deeper hunger to know and seek understanding of His word. I pray that you would have an intimate encounter with the Lord where He reveals just how much He intercedes for you, cheers for you , protects you, and just how very much He loves you.  

 

Yes and amen.

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The Objector

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You could have put a potato peeler in his hand for the duration of the war, but you could never have convinced him to pick up a gun.

While not as well-known as Desmond Doss, the American medic whose heroic efforts were memorialized in the movie, Hacksaw Ridge, Laurence Morton, too, was a conscientious objector who served in the Great War.

“There’s no glory in war,” he would tell me during the many visits I shared with him, sitting in his window sill in the nursing home where he lived, listening to his stories.  “The medals are worth nothing.  The war was worth nothing.”

This particular conversation took place during the planning stages of a pilgrimage back to the place where it all began-Vimy Ridge.

Morty (as his friends referred to him) had been invited by Veterans Affairs Canada, to return to France to observe the eightieth anniversary of the Armistice, where he would also receive the Legion of Honour Award, France’s highest decoration for his contribution in the Great War.

While he was excited at the prospect of seeing France during a time of peace, there were some obvious concerns, too, both physical as well as emotional.

“I’m too old to travel,” he argued.

“That’s kind of an eligibility requirement for this trip, Morty.  You have to be old.”

He gave me “the look” that said I was pushing my luck with this centenarian. I gnawed on my bottom lip to keep from laughing.  I knew he would go and he knew he would as well; it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Without prying too much, I asked how he would feel about visiting his brother’s grave.  While Laurence had been vocal in his refusal to take another man’s life, his brother Louis, ironically, had been a sniper. He had been killed by the enemy three weeks prior to the signing of the Armistice Agreement.

Nodding, he whispered, “I need to see him one last time. Yes, it’s the right thing to do.”

Laurence Morton had been born in 1896 in Rat Portage, in northern Ontario.  When war broke out, he said he “prayed with heart and hand” that he could serve his country. In 1917 he headed for France.

“We thought it would be the time of our lives,” he had told me wistfully many times.

Unlike Doss, it didn’t appear that Morty took too much flack for being a conscientious objector.  In fact, he was revered among his comrades.

“I remember one night in the bunk house,” he recounted.   “I was just kneeling beside my bed, praying the way I always did.  It got real quiet all of a sudden.  I looked up from my bunk, and I saw all these fellas just staring at me.”

While definitely different than his fellow soldiers, his integrity and compassion appeared to make him stand a head taller than the rest.  They knew that he was the one to come to for support, advice, and just about anything, when in need. Apparently this included cash, when their army pay was denied.  This would happen when the soldiers would go into a brothel for a night’s entertainment and leave with a case of syphilis.

“I always got my money back.  I was good at keeping things quiet and I didn’t judge them boys.”

Refusing to fire a gun did not preclude Morty from hauling its ammunition for the 16th Canadian Infantry Battalion.

Referring to gun cotton, he laughed, “I hauled that blooming stuff all over the country.  We never thought of it exploding.  If it ever blew up, they wouldn’t have had to dig a grave for me!”

 

So, that particular Remembrance Day, I played hooky from work.  Determined to catch a glimpse of my friend, I set up on my sofa, tissues in hand, to watch the event coverage from France.  I was not disappointed.  The camera scanned the veterans, and, as if just for me alone, the camera zoomed right in on Morty, looking older than his 101 years, if that were even possible.  He suddenly appeared fragile, something I had rarely seen in this man.

I learned later that Morty had become somewhat of a celebrity in this, his second trip to France. Being relentlessly sought out by reporters to tell his story, he learned to dodge probing questions and to answer the mundane ones with his quick wit.

When asked by Sunday Star reporter, Laura Bobak, what his secret to long life was, he responded, “I like to breathe, as it satisfies the necessity for living.”

Morty satisfied the necessity for living for another three years after returning home from France, but he just wasn’t the same. Wounds believed to be long-healed had resurfaced with his visit to Louis’ grave.  I couldn’t begin to surmise what thoughts were going through his mind in his last years, but I’m sure there is no glory in war was one of them.

 

 

Mighty Hero!

Have you ever found yourself in a place where you’ve felt utterly unqualified for the task before you?  A job or challenge that seems just too daunting and takes you out of your comfort zone?  Maybe you have a boss that continuously adds to the, “…and duties as assigned” section of your job description.  It can leave you feeling frustrated, vulnerable and afraid.  It can be tempting to give into fear and instead of stepping out and trying, you retreat and do nothing.

I’m in a bit of a season of seeing the mountain as insurmountable, myself as an ant compared to the giants I’m facing, and I’m definitely not in my comfort zone–anything but.

I think it was because of a devotional that I’d read, but I found myself pouring over the story of Gideon in the Old Testament.  I’m typically not an OT kinda girl; I find the words of the prophets and judges hurt my brain, but this time around I had an “ah ha” moment.

Back story:  Israel was worshipping Baal–this didn’t exactly put them in God’s good books. In anger, He turned them over to the Midianites who were bullies.  Everything that the Israelites had, the Midianites took. The Israelites would grow a crop and the Midianites would come along and harvest the spoils long before those who had toiled the land could reap the rewards.  Israel was starving to death but because the people were out-numbered and afraid, they simply hid and waited for death.

One day, Gideon is busy secretly threshing wheat at the bottom of a wine press (to keep it hidden from the enemy) when he hears, “Hey! Mighty hero! The Lord’s got your back!”  Not realizing that he’s actually speaking to Angel of the Lord, he whines, ‘Well, if that’s the case, why is all this happening to us?  What about all the miracles we heard about in Egypt–why is he handing us over to the Midianites now?’  The Angel went further to tell him to  ‘Go with the strength you have…..I am sending you!”   Still, Gideon continues, ‘Our clan is the weakest in the entire tribe of Manasseh; and I am the least in my entire family!’  (my paraphrasing of Judges 6:12-15)

The story doesn’t stop here.  Gideon discovers that he’d actually been talking to the Angel of the Lord and thinks he’s done for, but he’s actually commissioned with a pretty daunting task–taking on the Midianites.  Before the battle is fought, God has to deal with more of Gideon’s insecurities and quite frankly, his audacity.  The Angel of the Lord commands him to take down the Asherah pole that his father, Joash has erected.  He does it at night because he’s afraid to be seen doing it in daylight.  All goes well; his father tells the disgruntled tribe that if they have a problem, they can take it up with Baal.  After dodging death at the hands of his clansmen, Gideon was clothed in power by Spirit of the Lord.   Despite this, Gideon still wants God to prove that He is Who He says He is and will do what He says He will–not once–but TWICE.  God patiently indulges him and confirms his assured victory for the umpteenth time with the ol’ fleece on the threshing floor test.  God then makes Gideon pare down his large army of thousands, to a mere three hundred men.  When the night of the battle finally occurs, God says to Gideon, ‘Go for it.  I’ve given you the victory, now go claim it.  But if you’re afraid, take your servant with you, sneak  into the camp and listen to what they’re saying.  You’ll know for sure that you’ve got this when you hear what they’re saying.’  Turns out Gideon is afraid and goes into the camp with his servant and as was foretold, he hears the very words assuring him of his impending victory.  Then he moves.  He is obedient to everything the Lord has told him to do and victory comes swiftly and sweetly as promised.  (Paraphrasing from Judges 6,7)

So what does this story reveal about you and I?

We can read about Gideon’s poor self-image, his fear, and even his boldness to test God over and over, all the while shaking our heads, but are we really any different?  When we know we’ve heard from God but He’s asking us to do something that we don’t want to do, are we not like Gideon, asking for confirmation–a sign that we’ve really heard correctly?  When He centres you out for a mission, are you the one discrediting your own talents, abilities, telling Him He’s got the wrong guy/gal?  Or do you decide that it wasn’t Him at all, it was just a crazy thought that drifted in your consciousness so you dismiss it?

What strikes me about this whole encounter is that before Gideon even knew that he was mightyherogetting his marching orders, God was already speaking identity over him.  He didn’t say, “Hey, Gideon!” he said, “Mighty hero!”  He didn’t say, “I will give you strength,” he said, “Go with the strength you have.”  Even though Gideon argued with the Angel, crying, “I am the least in my entire family!”  God still saw his potential.  He had no doubts because He knew who He’d created Gideon to be. Despite being from a tribe that had deserted the teachings of Moses and was worshipping a false god, Gideon was still God’s first choice to showcase His glory.

God calls,  ‘Hey! Creative Artist!!’ and you say,

Who, me?  I didn’t even go to art school; I’m like the worst artist ever!”

The Father responds, ‘Create with the talent and gifting in you, sweetheart.’

Are you looking at all the mistakes you’ve made, your status, or lack, and deciding that they disqualify you for a blessing?  You’re not that powerful, sunshine.  The Israelites seriously disqualified themselves, but still God wanted to bless them.  Look at how many times Gideon showed fear.  God didn’t turn away in disgust.  He actually knew that he would be afraid, and he worked that into the victory.  He knows when we’re afraid too, and He doesn’t turn away; he works it into our stories too. ‘The only caveat is that He wants the glory.  He will often take away your army, your resources, and comforts so all you have to rely upon is Him, as He did with our mighty hero.  Just as He knew who He created Gideon to be, He knows who He created you to be.  He will work all things for good for His glory.  He did it before and He’ll do it again.

Yes and amen.

A Wink From Heaven

I consider myself  to be somewhat of a minimalist. I’ve learned that stuff doesn’t make me happy–at least not for very long.  Perhaps this mindset was born out of necessity.  Growing up one of seven children,  I rarely asked for things.  We were taught that even if you didn’t have the best, you could at least look your best.  Clean clothes, tidy appearance, even in hand-me-downs– we learned to pull it off.  I may not have had everything I wanted, but I had what I needed. I carried this mindset into adulthood, determining that as long as it looks clean and tidy,  my home was something I could take pride in.

In the middle of Thanksgiving weekend, I was working on the clean and tidy bit. Sitting on a footstool eye to eye with the kitchen cupboards in my little apartment, I willed myself to get a move on. I find the best way to get through the onerous task of housework, is to combine it with one on one talk-time with God.scrubbing  I sighed as I considered the worn cabinet doors that hung crookedly on ageing hinges. As I scrubbed away at them, I told God that in the big scheme of things, I guessed it really wasn’t a big deal.  What really mattered was what was behind the cupboard doors– food –proof of His provision.   I thanked Him for what I did have, and for the contentment He provided in the seasons of not having.

With my tunes cranked I found my groove, going from one room to the next, singing along with the music with intermittent snippets of conversation with God. Within a couple of hour or so, I was finished and reasonably satisfied. My cupboards were still looking a little bedraggled, but they were clean and I was able to check off something else on my ‘to do’ list, giving me more time to enjoy the long weekend.

On the following Tuesday I was at work when my cell phone rang.  I didn’t recognize the number, and since personal calls were a no-no, I quickly hit decline.  Later when no one was around, I listened to my voice mail message. It was my landlady.  I anticipated some type of irritation; what else could a call from ones landlord be about?

To my surprise, I heard the following:

“Monica, you are  such a good woman and I want to do something for you. I’d like to send the carpenter to re-surface your cupboards; hang new doors. Bathroom vanity too.  You deserve something nice.  Would tomorrow be ok?  Let me know; God bless!”

I just sat there smiling stupidly at my phone.  I wasn’t thinking about how my landlady wanted to do something for me, but how God did.  He was just using her to pull it off. Remembering my nonchalant conversation on the footstool a few days prior, I just shook my head in amazement. I hadn’t even been asking for anything, and here He was, blessing my socks off!

winkI have an acquaintance that would call this a wink from heaven; basically God’s way of letting us know that He’s heard our prayers.  This makes me wonder how many times do we talk or pray to God, wondering–perhaps even doubting– that He’s even listening?  To be honest, my “conversation” was actually more of a monologue; I don’t even recall pausing to tune in to what God wanted to say.  God is always willing to talk to us; His communication style is uniquely designed to match ours– if we take the time to listen .  We seem to forget  (at least I do), that the One Who knitted us in our mother’s womb is always with us.  Psalm 139 assures us that He has thoroughly examined us and knows our hearts (verse 1) and that He knows what we’re going to say, even before we say it. (verse 4).

I think what blessed me the most, was that I wasn’t even asking for anything; I was merely expressing gratitude for what I did have.  This lead me to another nugget of wisdom. Sometimes we compare our earthly father’s ability and desire to provide to that of our heavenly Father’s.  Perhaps our earthly parents couldn’t give us everything we needed or wanted, and sometimes, they just chose not to.  Through that lens, we tend to see God the same way; His giving and withholding of gifts and provision are done arbitrarily.

Long ago I was asked why I never asked God for (material) things.  I thought it would make me look greedy and very un-Christian-like.  After all, we’re cautioned to ‘Seek His  Presence, not His presents.’   Since that day I’ve learned that He actually wants us to ask for what we need and even what we want.  That doesn’t make God a genie in a bottle or Santa Claus;  we don’t always get what we ask for, or when we ask for it.  Sometimes we get a ‘ no’,  and often times it’s a ‘no, not yet.’  But Father truly does know best.  He examines our motives and considers the outcome of having that particular thing/job/relationship at that particular time.  I believe that when we don’t get what we pray for, it’s not just an arbitrary ‘nope’.  God is much better at knowing what will bless us and what will be our downfall.  As Bill Johnson (Senior Pastor of Bethel Church–Redding Ca.) says,

“God only says ‘no’ when saying ‘yes’ would violate your purpose.”

 

 

There are things for which I am still contending and waiting and it’s still  a process of trusting that Father really does know best.  The reality is locked up in my brain; it just has to make it the eighteen inches to my heart.  But as I cook in my kitchen looking at my bright and cheerful new kitchen cabinets, the truth of His unfailing faithfulness is steadily making the journey southward.

Yes and amen.

 

 

 

 

The Stories of Our Lives

The following story is a piece that I wrote over twenty years ago,  published in the  Canadian magazine, Long Term Care . As I re-read it, it occurred to me that after all the time that has passed,  neither my opinion, nor my passion for caring for seniors has changed.  As I too have gotten older and as they say, “a little long in the tooth”,  I have been building on my own arsenal of stories; some good, not-so-good,  some hilarious and some downright heart-breaking.  Revisiting this piece has reinforced the importance of story-telling, of getting to know what really makes a person tick and allowing ones past to shape, or at the very least, influence their future. It has catapulted me into a new–or rather an old vision for how I see caring for an ageing population.

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I think,” Laurence begins, “That the trick to keeping your reader interested is to begin with something that catches the attention immediately.”

Laurence is talking about the book he wants to write–his autobiography.  He has lived one hundred and two-year and believes his life has been interesting enough that someone might like to read about it.  I sit perched on his window sill, listening to his stories; sometimes the same ones over and over again.  His stories never fail to intrigue me; I think he has a best-seller, and I tell him so.  We discuss the particulars of the book; what to include, what to omit, what might be of interest, and which demographic to target as potential readers.  I am not Laurence’s editor,  but rather his friend and therapy assistant in the long-term care facility where he lives.

Perhaps if my boss should happen by, I might be reprimanded for “just sitting there” and “not being productive.”  It’s funny how you can feel guilty for spending time with a resident that doesn’t involve some purpose readily apparent to an onlooker.  In these days of classification for provincial funding, it seems that everything you do has to translate into a dollar value; it has to be a recognized aspect of the resident’s care plan –something to be marked “completed” on their chart.

Not much wonder that there is no time for story-telling.  If it meant that I didn’t have the time to stop and listen to the remembrances of my residents, I really don’t know if I would want to continue doing this job.  I love a good story and for me, the best ones don’t end when you close the book, but rather when you release the hand or give the hug.

I have been transported to times and places that only my imagination would have allowed me, save for my resident’s memories. Gladys took me to the backyard of her newlywed home where she frantically buried the rice pudding that didn’t quite turn out.  She didn’t want her husband to find out that she wasn’t the cook his mother was.  I was enthralled as Katie triumphed over her wicked step-mother.  She met her Prince Charming and went on to become “Aunt Katie”, a radio personality to hundreds of faithful child listeners.  I wept with Laurence as he returned to Vimy Ridge , eighty years after the Great War to say a final farewell to his slain brother.  And finally, I witnessed the courage of Kay, who kept death at arm’s length so she could experience the joy of becoming a first-time grandmother. 

These are more that amazing stories.  They are the teaching tools that these people use to show me what really matters to them.  When I listen, I am healing wounds–perhaps not the kind that require bandages, but the kind that need to be left open to air.

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We manage behaviours when we validate a person’s past.  We promote independence when we acknowledge a person’s previous accomplishments and skills, helping them to set goals reflective of their desire to restore dignity. Through mindful and intentional listening we learn what our charges really want and need–and in doing so, perhaps learn what really matters .  I know my life will never be the same having travelled through the memories of these insightful teachers.  

I am busy living out my own life stories.  One day I may know Laurence’s happiness when someone comes to perch on my window sill and listens to my stories–maybe even more than once.

 

So here I am some twenty years later.  Dancing to Despacito with Violeta, a fiery four- foot- eight doll from Uruguay because her husband of sixty-nine years can’t/won’t get up and dance with her anymore. James is showing up for my exercise class despite his painful joints because he’s determined to break out of the nursing home to live independently.  And while Earl’s favourite line is “I don’t like it!”  repeated no less than three times with every mouthful of food I try to give him, we’ve still discovered that we were born in the same city, he had a dog named Pat, and he loves chocolate ice cream.

 

Yes and amen.

 

Finishing Well

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On my second to last day on the job, I came upon Ms. Ruby* who was anxiously trying to get out of her wheelchair.  In the twelve years I had worked in this place, I can honestly say I had never had a conversation with her.   She was going to be 104 on her next birthday and I assumed her secret to longevity was simply staying away from people-she was not a talker and with her no-nonsense look, she an ability to send people from her room faster than a bullet leaving a gun.

“What is it Ms. Ruby; what do you need?” I asked.

“My bed.  I’m tired.”

I gently placed her tiny frame on her bed and helped her to lay down yet she remained anxious, again trying to get up.

“I need to read a chapter.  Get me my book, I gotta read a chapter.”

I reached for the only book on her table, her Bible.  Milky white cataracts had replaced Ms. Ruby’s once sharp eyes, and I knew she couldn’t read it herself. Surprisingly she accepted my offer to read to her and settled back onto the bed.  Holding her hand in mine until she relaxed, I marvelled that her dark skin was soft like that of a newborn.  Strange that after twelve years, I was just now seeing the “softer” side to this centenarian, I thought.

“How about a Psalm, Ms. Ruby; Psalm twenty-seven?”

“Ah, yes,” she smiled at the ceiling.

I began to read and was instant moved as Ms. Ruby began reciting the psalm along with me practically word for word.  When we got to the forth verse I was in tears.   I struggled to continue, but with a strong voice she continued from memory.

MsRuby“One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life , to behold the beauty of the Lord and to enquire in his temple.   Oh yes, Lawd!”   A wide grin spread across her face as her unseeing eyes gazed towards the heavens.

I was finally able to rejoin the recitation and I couldn’t help but think that God had planned this grand finale Himself.  One of my favorite psalms, steeped in promises of God’s goodness and faithfulness,  recited by a woman who like the author, was someone after God’s own heart and who would no doubt finish well as the author had.