When I am I and You are You…?

A ¬†renowned rabbi who lived in Poland in the 1800s, had many famous sayings. This is one of them: ‚ÄúIf I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you. But if I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you!‚ÄĚ

Did you catch that? It sounds like a riddle, but it‚Äôs actually a very simple concept. When someone lives their life according to what others might think of them, then they don‚Äôt really live an authentic expression of who they really are. Moses…(taught) the Israelites ‚Äď and us ‚Äď that we must live our lives according to what God will think of us, as opposed to what other people may think of us. There will be times when doing the right thing won‚Äôt be popular and doing the popular thing won‚Äôt be right. We need to do ‚Äúwhat is good and right in the eyes of the LORD.‚ÄĚ

We live in a society where people care immensely about what others think of them. Whether we realize it or not, the things we say, the clothing we wear, and the places we shop are greatly influenced by others. Yet, ,,, this (can rob)…a person of his or her individuality. While it‚Äôs normal and natural to want to fit in, there is also a time and place for standing out. It‚Äôs far more important to ‚Äúfit in‚ÄĚ with God and be cast aside by the people around us than to fit in with everyone around us and be cast away by God.

Take a look at your life and ask yourself what God might think of it. What does God think of how I dress, how I spend my time and money? Forget about impressing our friends for a while, and figure out how we might impress our God!

Excerpt and adapted from¬†Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s Holy Land Moments¬†July 31-13

Faith is…

The Bible says faith is real. It’s tangible. You can take hold of faith. It is substance. The substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not yet seen. (Hebrews 11:1) Faith wasn’t born yesterday. Faith is eternal. It covers a lot of ground. As I got thinking about faith, I decided to start a faith list. Please feel free to add to it or to start your own list! ¬†ūüôā

Faith is…

Following God
Strength renewed
A priceless heirloom
Joy and peace
Answered prayers
Waiting prayers

A mountain mover
Walking in the light
Giving thanks
Green pastures
Living your dreams
Ready to serve
Abundant life
Supernatural guidance
Letting go
A fresh start
Beyond all you can imagine
God’s promises received
Always forgiving
Burdens made light
Full of hope
Green pastures
No more losses
All in the details
New Creation
Wilderness blooms
A road less travelled
Free of doom and gloom
Worry free
Living Water
God’s power at work
Sunshine after rain
Following God

© 2012 S. Michaels
From Notebook: Following God

Things My Dad Taught Me

I’ve been thinking about my Dad. His name was Alexander. “Alexander the Great,” he used to joke. Dad was humble, open, brash¬†and honest.¬†Dad would have been the last person to say anything he did was ‘great’, he just did what he did and enjoyed having fun along the way. He had a great laugh. He¬†loved people. His honesty sometimes¬†got him in trouble but he told things as they were, upfront.

For example, Dad hated wranglings going on in God’s house. He¬†believed church wasn’t a Sunday club or a place to put certain people on pedestals, or other people down. He believed it was a reverent place,¬†where people¬†were to¬†honour and respect the messenger (pastor) and to¬†be prepared to hear God speak.

Dad also believed life wasn’t a ‘free ride’. He gave it his all. I was reminded of him when I watched an old¬†classic 1977 film, ‘Why Shoot the Teacher?’ a raw, humourous, sometimes painful yet¬†heartwarming¬†story about¬†the challenges faced by a young teacher from Eastern Canada, while working at a rural Saskatchewan school house on the prairies in the early 1950s. I heard echoes in the film of my father’s¬†own personal journey as a young man…the meagre wages,¬†community challenges, the¬†rugged one-room classrooms that were poorly heated in winter and hot as Hades in summer.¬†The dreams he aspired to and the sometimes¬†dismal, lonely hours he must have faced.

In my Dad’s day,¬†he appreciated the ‘honour’ of gaining education and¬†finding a rewarding¬†job. Work was his¬†lifeline to a better life, and it was about service.¬†His work¬†didn’t come with pay and benefits, but he could keep a roof over his head and feed his family. And I didn’t know the half of it, for example,¬†how for a mere $1,400/year he had to wait at times to get his pay cheque, when it would be withheld for no reason but stubbornness by a school board¬†head who somehow didn’t quite deem my Dad a worker worthy of¬†his hire, although Dad had more than put in his time and had a wife and kids counting on him to provide. Dad would go to the man’s place of business and wait for his $100/month¬†cheque.¬†The board representative complained and gossiped to others how he didn’t like my Dad standing there waiting for his pay.¬†My dad was all about fairness and justice and stood his ground. I only learned of the miserly withholding of his pay cheques years later, long¬†after he was gone. Dad never shared his work troubles with anyone but my mom. We kids grew up feeling well provided for and happy.

Dad taught us kids early on in life how to value and appreciate life’s opportunities, great and small, and never to take anything for granted. There was no ‘entitlement’ thinking in our household. And perhaps it was¬†my father’s¬†early teaching days and his experiences in life’s school of hard knocks that ended up helping to set a standard for our home, because Dad’s word always meant business. We didn’t¬†necessarily like it when he ‘put down the law’, but as my parents both used to say, “One day, you just might thank us…” They were right. I did. It took awhile. I was something of an upstart, but, I am grateful for the truths and things my father taught me.

I¬†thank God for the heritage¬†and solid values¬†my parents worked so hard to instill in our lives.¬†This past summer (2011) while attending a hometown and school reunion where my Dad had taught when I was a kid,¬† I was amazed by the litany of¬† ‘thank yous’¬†many of his former students shared with my mother.¬†They spoke about the truths my Dad had taught that had helped them in their lives,¬†they still applauded how he’d stood up and got them a year book he thought they ought to have,¬†and a sports team, and he also taught them to¬†fight for¬†improvements.¬†My dad¬† instilled¬†the importance of investing in a higher education, in an honest way — no cheating for marks or just to get ahead in life.

Yes,¬†Dad was always big on honesty as a best policy. Some might say he was even honest ‘to a fault’.¬†He¬†instilled¬†ethical¬†boundaries including a¬†belief that rewards should be based on merit…and hard work…not on ‘entitlement’. That could be a ‘hard sell’ today.

We could use a few more guys like my Dad today. Lots of people talk about making the world a better place. My Dad didn’t talk. He just got out there and did it.

Watching Clouds

Do people still watch clouds?¬†I do. Not so much anymore, but as a kid I used to¬†cloud-watch¬†and dream for hours,¬†laughing as I spotted different shapes. Nowadays, I’m more into pondering words…and¬†images, and looking and listening for imprints of¬†God speaking through others,¬†such as He does through the powerful¬†inspirations¬†of the late Henri J. M. Nouwen. Nouwen authored over 40 books on spirituality and faith. When you read Nouwen…try not to hurry. Take your time…cloud-watch… And if you’d like to learn more¬†about Nouwen’s writings,¬†visit The Henri Nouwen Society.

Dare to love and to be a real friend. The love you give and receive is a reality that will lead you closer and closer to God as well as those whom God has given you to love. 

In this crazy world, there’s an enormous distinction between good times and bad, between sorrow and joy. But in the eyes of God, they’re never separated. Where there is pain, there is healing. Where there is mourning, there is dancing. Where there is poverty, there is the kingdom.

We must pray not first of all because it feels good or helps, but because God loves us and wants our attention.  РHenri J. M. Nouwen

101 Hometown Joys

I attended a hometown reunion a few days ago. Little did I know I would be gathering up countless memories and counting them as joys, one by one.

And what¬†a joy it was to¬†first¬†arrive and look around and suddenly find myself amazed to recognize old and familiar faces…and to¬†have¬†old friends¬†come up to say ‘hi’…friends I hadn’t seen since I was a¬†small girl of eight or nine.¬†¬†It was as if¬†time had stood still.¬†There I was back in a place where warm camaraderie had remained alive and well, ¬†and where old friends had truly stayed the same.

The gym of the old school hummed with¬†noisy conversation as¬†the ‘homecoming’¬†got underway,¬†and I was happily reminded that although time passes and many things change some things simply never change…like¬†the tie that binds people together in lasting friendship.

My hometown was built by pioneers who¬†established life¬†through toil and enduring faith.¬†As¬†my dad used to say, “That old town was the friendliest place on earth…” He had reminded us many times for years after we left that he’d never found a place quite like it anywhere since. But I had never fully¬†understood what my father¬†meant by his sentiments until I attended the town’s 101st¬†reunion. It was the 101st because¬†the planned-for 100th anniversary had been forced into cancellation due to¬†the¬†onslaught of¬†flooding¬†last spring which was some of the worst to hit the area¬†in over a century. Unperturbed and determined,¬†the¬†old hometown¬†faced another test of time and came through in 2012 with flying colours.

The reunion was¬†blessed with¬†sunny weather and a bright¬†happy mix of community events including big ‘homestyle’ meals, oldtime music,¬†flea markets, outdoor barbeques,¬†a main stage with Gospel and country music entertainment, kid’s games,¬†an art show, competitive ‘olympics’, and a delightful old-style parade down Main Street, complete with a miniature pony, Clydesdales, and a wave from a stagecoach from the town’s oldest citizen, a 96 year old lady whose husband made many contributions to the community’s welfare during his lifetime.

The Main Street¬†which was so wide when I raced down it as a girl¬†now felt small and¬†sports¬†only one¬†or two original buildings, including a remarkable¬†museum filled with roomfuls of artifacts, photos, and memorabilia of days gone by. Everywhere you go in my hometown memories seem to speak louder than words. And as hundreds of people¬†gathered there it¬†became clear to me that there was nothing to recount but¬†good times…instead of¬†bad.

Many¬†people spoke with¬†my mom and mentioned¬†how good it was¬†to see her and¬†to¬†let her know¬†too how much they still¬†appreciate all the hard work¬†and enthusiasm my father contributed to the community¬†years ago when he was the high school principal. As I read my father’s¬†commemorative message in a year book dating way back to 1966,¬†I was moved by words¬†he had written as a young man which underscored¬†the caring¬†legacy¬†he was destined to leave behind, a legacy that was all about placing value in people, relationships, learning, and community service.

A strange humble happiness overflowed inside of me throughout the reunion.¬†I realized that joy¬†has remained a mainstay in my old¬†hometown. And it’s¬†not because¬†the town is¬†big or any kind of famous place…not by a long shot. But’s it’s all about the¬†‘down home’¬†caring,¬†kindness¬†and cooperative spirit…something money and fame can’t buy — It’s about abiding hometown ties. Ties that bind. Ties that have kept people together throughout the years, and which continue to keep¬†relationships and positive memories held close to the heart.

It’s amazing how God’s love is the foundation of it all. ¬†You see, the little town where I spent my first few years of life was built on a firm foundation of Christian faith, hope and love. This was emphasized most clearly on Sunday morning¬†when a few hundred people attended an interfaith church service in the community hall.¬†Everyone gathered to mostly sing and praise and give thanks to¬†God for His keeping throughout the years.

In the little hamlet where I was born…in an unknown and quaint¬†place, I¬†rediscovered that happiness is all about taking hold of ties that bind…and holding on forever.

© 2012 S. Michaels