Saturday, July 26, 2014

What is the Secret to a Happy Marriage?

On our second date at a friend's wedding in August 1988.

When we told someone that we were celebrating our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, they looked at us in awe and asked, "To each other?"

Don't let anyone fool you: wedding planning is easy but marriage is hard work!

It's no secret that the divorce rate keeps rising and it's no secret that the divorce rate of those within the church is also rising.

At one of our seven wedding showers June 1989.

Once I thought that if I committed myself to God and submitted to God's will then I would find Mr. Right. 

When God brought Mr. Right into my life, I thought, indeed I was taught, that if we committed ourselves to God and submitted to each other, then we would fulfill our vows of 'for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health, till death do us part'.

But life is not about ifs and thens

July 28, 1989 

So on this occasion of our twenty-fifth, why are so many of our peers and friends, separated, divorced and or remarried? They did the same thing, said the same words before God at their marriage ceremony. 

There is no secret to a happy marriage. If I had the answer, I would gladly give it away to our hurting world.

Maybe, just maybe, instead of a secret, there is a mindset that we all need to adopt.  

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, 
but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 
who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality 
with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, 
by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient 
to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:3-8

God calls us to have the servant mind of Christ. Some of us have this mind while others of us need to work harder!

Our spiritual life is a practice and we do all that we can to stay in connection with God and then give God room to work in us. And the beautiful secret here is, that even if we don't keep in connection with God, God pursues us, wanting to be in relationship with us. We need to be mindful of the still, quiet voice wooing us.

However, there are no guarantees that our marriages will last and if we find ourselves on the rocky shore of a failed marriage, the other principle we need to remember is that God has not failed or forgotten us:

...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you 
will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

Whether our lot in life is a cheating or a faithful spouse; a debt that consumes us or worldly wealth;  mismatched personalities or family harmony, God reaches out to us and will make us a blessing. God is never finished with us no matter where we find ourselves or what sin entangles us:

...for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. 
In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret 
of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13

Why did two Presbyterians worship here? It was near the resort and on a cliff, overlooking the ocean. We like ambience.

Two weeks ago, while worshiping at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Ochos Rios, Jamaica, the priest asked anyone celebrating an anniversary to come forward. We obeyed. He then asked us to turn and face each other and hold hands while he prayed the most eloquent prayer of blessing over us. We were moved to tears.

25 years together. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

This weekend, as we celebrate with our friends and family at church with a luncheon then later at home with a BBQ and pool party, we thank God for His goodness to us. It is a humbling experience to have made it to 25! Our praise and thanks seem so small but we give it nevertheless because God's mercies to us are new every morning. 

Maybe, God will let us reach fifty years plus like both our parents and the sixty plus years for both our grandparents.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Little Graces

I'm writing for the Presbyterian Record today. Click on this title, Little Graces to be directed to their site.

After a night like that, a night when a man left a woman, how could that woman worship God?
She couldn't.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Platform Party

We tried to blend in and mask our arrival. After all, the parking lot was full as there were nearly 400 people coming in and and going out.

But it was not to be so!

We arrived via taxi to a few stares. Our driver pulled into the parking lot and stopped to the side of the building. As we disembarked from the car, only a few people looked our way. 

We thought the coast was clear.

We headed over to the side entrance. A steady stream of people, walking toward their cars, came our way but thus far, it was business as usual. 

However, something must have given us away. I'm not certain what it was but I did manage to notice that I had on less colourful clothes than the other women.  About 1/4 wore hats as well and my blonde curls were uncovered.

It must have been the difference in clothes. Yah, that's it because I'm sure we were able to blend in even though we were the only  pasty, white folk there.

But once we were found out, that was the end of our incognito visit to Ebenezer Presbyterian Church, Accra.

A friendly woman about my age, greeted us warmly. She introduced us to her friend who introduced us to her friend and so on and so on till we were introduced to Rev. Andrews Odonkor, pastor of the church. We said we'd sit near the side door as our driver was  contracted to take us back to our hotel in about 1 hour and we didn't want to be seen leaving the 3 hour service early.

Rev. Odonkor said that would be fine but would we wait with him in the Vestry? Yes, of course we replied suspiciously. In the Vestry there were chairs and a fan! We were introduced to the Catechist, the Senior Presbyter and the Assistant Minister. Then Rev. Odonkor told us that as his guests, we were to process with him as the choir entered the sanctuary!

Oh my!

Then we were to walk on the platform with him!

Oh dear!

Then we were to take our seats on the platform behind the pulpit and Dan would bring greetings!

So much for our incognito visit!

We enjoyed a traditional, Africanized Presbyterian church service. Rev. Odonkor told us that he tried to blend the two to keep all members of his large congregation happy. (He overseas a district of 8000.) The first service was in English and we'd missed that. Our service was in one of the hundreds of Ghanian dialects, Ga.

As the service was underway, we noticed that the singing of traditional hymns accompanied by the organ, sounded like our music back home.

God loves a cheerful (dancing) giver

When the band took their places and the drums, keyboard and electric guitar came out, the congregation began to move. 

Really move! 

They danced to the beat of the music and then started to move out into the aisle and come forward. They proceeded to dance around the church, presenting their tithes in the drum at the front--grandmas and grandpas, men and women (some waving their kerchiefs in the air), children and babes in snugglies.

It was quite a sight! I turned and saw Dan dancing like most 50 year old white men! My feet were moving and my hips were swaying too and everyone was smiling at us. 

I hope that was a good sign!


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Come Away With Me, My Love

The sun had just risen on our first morning on the West African coast. Birds were singing their wake-up songs to one another and colourful lizards were basking in the morning sun. In Ghana, the temperature rarely dips below 25C. Today, with the humidex, it is a cool 40C.

"Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place 
and get some rest." ~ Mark 6:31

Sampling a plater for two of frankfurters in Frankfurt along with butter pretzels. (Notice my nicely straightened hair. After one hour of humidity in Accra, it was not to be so!)
He said something like this to me in the wee hours of the morning after flying from Toronto to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Accra.

We headed off to the beach to walk off the effects of sitting far too long in those egregious airplane seats. How I long not-so-quietly at times, for first class seats.

Our time in Accra will be busy, meeting leaders from universities, NGOs and ministry of health-types. This was our chance to re-energize "because so many people would be coming and going and we would not even get a chance to eat." (If you know me and/or read this blog, you know eating is something we love to do but we may not get a chance to rest.)

We were met by hawkers selling necklaces, carvings and wooden bowls. Not a moment of privacy but we had a lot of fun meeting new people, being asked if we know so and so, a friend from Winnipeg, because obviously all Canadians know each other! 

We prayed for wisdom.

(The hair--just did this all on its own!)
At lunch, we met with Dr. Kwesi Yankah, president of Central University College, Ghana and his wife Victoria. They were eager to hear about the work of Save the Mothers although they had done some thorough investigation on their own. 

They know all too well the personal experience of a mommy's life in danger in childbirth. We talked about logistics, technical details and maternal health in Ghana--not just good intentions but a sustaining motivation for we "see the crowds and have compassion on them" ~Mark 6:34

They got it because of their personal story. 

We get it because we know the statistics. Once he heard about the numbers, he was sold!

Hopeful and prayerful from Accra, Ghana. Like Solomon we say:

"Your servants are here among the people you have chosen, 
a great people too numerous to count or number 
(800 mothers die each day in childbirth). 
So give your servants a discerning heart to 
govern/lead/motivate your people."~1 Kings 3:8,9

(The scripture verses used in today's blog post were the apt daily Lectionary readings for today, our first full day in Accra. We use the app Laudate. And I have adapted the verses to fit my thoughts. All double entendres are entirely mine!)


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Just One HOPE-filled Word

I want a word for the year 2014. A word of instruction, possibly a word to define my year so I read Debbie Macomber's book about choosing such a word earlier this fall but I wondered, would it work for me? Could I choose a word that would set the tone for 2014? Would God help me choose a word?

Then in my typical fashion, I forgot all about taking the time to pick a word until one day I realized that the word HOPE was resonating with me. It kept popping up in my reading, studying and conversation.

hope: a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen; a feeling of trust; a confident expectation of the good things to come; an essential and fundamental element of Christian life; "For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently." Romans 8:24, 25

I wondered, was this my word?

For instance, the word hope struck me as I tried to sum up the prophet Daniel's faithfulness for a lecture I was giving. We had been studying the book of Daniel during the fall using the Engage series. Unlike the title of the book suggests, the book isn't all about the man Daniel. It is about God and God's faithfulness to Daniel and the people of God.

However, it wasn't the word Faithfulness that struck me but the word Hope--the hope Daniel's parents, indeed all parents have, that whether we have our children in our care and sphere of influence for 2 or 22 years, we hope that they will stay faithful to God despite the circumstances or trials they face. Daniel's parents had approximately 16 years to instil godly principles and truths in their young son. 

"Discipline (or instruct) your children, for in that there is hope" ~ Proverbs 19:18

So I stopped constantly worrying about how to raise my children and was filled with hope. 

On another occasion, overcome by worry for a situation I couldn't control, I cried out to God in prayer and felt a strong sense of peace. You know, that peace that passes all understanding?  It replaced my fear. And once again, it wasn't the word Peace that struck me but the word Hope--hope that God's sovereignty over the situation would heal peoples' hearts and bring about a restoration.

“Yet if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him,
if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent,
then, free of fault, you will lift up your face; you will stand firm and without fear.
You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by.
Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning.
You will be secure, because there is hope;" 
~ Job 11:13-18

So I stopped fearing the situation and started to hope.

But I'm a slow learner and still I wasn't sure if my word for this year would be hope until I heard it again, and again, and again.

That cinched it!

During November, I spent some time with Virginia Plan, director of the Triple P Nursery and Primary School in Mukono, Uganda. My daughter and I had visited the school in the fall of 2012 and now it was our turn to host Virginia in Canada. We had great weather of a Canadian kind.  A snowstorm hit our part of Ontario and Virginia not only could see snow falling from the sky but she was able to snap photos of snow hills in parking lots to show her students back in Mukono. We had fun doing some Christmas shopping at the mall (we made time for 2 malls) between Virginia's speaking engagements for Save the Mothers.

As we travelled around southern Ontario, Virginia and I would point out the similarities and the differences between Uganda and Canada.

At first the differences were easy to see--the weather; the road network or lack thereof; traffic jams. Then as Virginia thought about it, she gave voice to her hope for the future of Uganda. There it was again, that word Hope. 

Virginia has hope that maternal health in Uganda will one day be similar to our system in Canada. (You may want to see a play her students produced at Delivery Day for Michelle). She hopes that her country will have infrastructure like the road network we travelled on to get to various speaking engagements. And she hopes that children in Uganda will have a great school system like the one she saw when she spoke to my daughter's Challenge and Change class. 

"but those who hope (or wait in expectancy) in the Lord will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint." ~ Isaiah 40:31

We have hope but hope on its own is never enough. We must place our hope in the hands of our loving God.
"Do any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain? 
Do the skies themselves send down showers?
No, it is you, Lord our God. Therefore our hope is in you, 
for you are the one who does all this." ~ Jeremiah 14:22 

I'm not sure what 2014 will bring but I am hopeful that I will learn from this word Hope. God promises that,

"No one who hopes  in Him will ever be put to shame." ~ Psalm 25:3

Whether you need to put your hope in God to lead your family or your country or to keep fears at bay, I will leave you with the word Hope--hope for a bright, prosperous 2014 and a song taken from Psalm 25:5, "Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all the day long."

Happy New Year!


Friday, November 8, 2013

Two Worlds Colliding

This year, I've had the opportunity to see how the other half, actually the other 2/3rds of the world lives. I've had a front row seat to see what women face in childbirth in Uganda. 

An operating room in Uganda

Seven months later, my husband, eldest daughter and I attended the Woman Deliver conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Malaysia was the perfect host country for such a conference as their people are gracious; their country is fascinating and for us cold Canadians, their climate is hot, hot, hot and humid!

With the hosts of Women Deliver in K. L. 

I saw all the displays at the conference; saw photos of young girls and women who had suffered great abuse; read stories of what women face and heard some first hand stories from workers about new projects and successful strategies to save the lives of women in countries such as Nepal. Bangladesh, Kazakhstan and Nigeria.

My girl and I with a new friend from Bangladesh Public Health

However nothing prepared me for the still, small Kenyan voice I heard next.

The tree of messages

My daughter and I took a break and walked from our conference room (about the size of a football field) to an adjoining room. In the connecting hallway stood a magnificent sight.  An artificial tree, made from wood timbers, paper and cellphones dominated the hallway. The area was darkened making the coloured spotlights hit the leaves so that they glowed pink, orange, green and red. As we marvelled at its construction, someone approached us and asked if we new how to work it. "Work it?" I asked. "What's to work?"

"Each leaf," she said, "is attached to a cell phone. Each cell phone has a recorded message from a woman or girl in the developing world, along with a written transcript of her message. We asked the girls to record their hopes and dreams for themselves and their country so that attendees at the conference could hear them speak in their own words."

So I reached up and grabbed the nearest cell phone.

I heard the most beautiful voice. Her accent is Kenyan. She is twelve. I listened with care to make out her words. I couldn't decipher her accent well enough to understand her message so I took the leaf in my hand to read her message while I played the recording a second time.

My twenty-one year old daughter has the most beautiful smile. She flashed me a heart-melting smile as I listened. Then I saw her face change expression to concern. She was reflecting my facial expression back to me as I listened attentively to the message.

I called my girl over so we could share the phone.  We listened and read together. Our mouths gaped in shock as we listened to the message over and over again. We began to tear up. What else could we do? The message was made all the more poignant in this Kenyan girl's own voice. 

She said that she wanted to be a police officer when she grew up. She thought she could help her village and serve them in this career. Then she stated what led her to this decision. She said that the police officers in her village needed someone like her to teach them how to interact with children. Many police officers had raped children in her village and she thought a police officer should protect not harm children. She vowed to do better, to be better.

We were stunned and walked on in silence. Are you ever the same person after hearing such a story as this? 

“Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling 
what it is like to live inside somebody else's skin. 
It's the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy 
for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too. ” 
--Frederick Buechner

On the other side of the world, a Kenyan girl unnerved my sense of self. Not only did she challenge me to do and be better but she made me see that this is not enough. Like her, once I see what needs to be done, I must change our world and work to redeem it.


(Travelling and writing for Save the Mothers. Join us Saturday, November 23rd at 6pm as we support the health and dignity of mothers and children around the world. Our auction brings us together to raise funds for the Save the Mothers program. Check us out at

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Seductive Call of Street Food

There's nothing like the taste of street food!

Dan ordering dishes for our supper from a family owned stall on Batu Feringgi Beach, Penang.
The kind of food that beckons to you from a darkened doorway. Sometimes she calls you gently, other times with more insistence and the smell takes hold of you and you lose all control as she says, "You must try this!" 
The hot sauce brought tears to my eyes!
Putting aside all that your momma taught you about cleanliness and the risk of hepatitis, you overcome fear through smell. Looking back at your photos, you wonder how you ever thought it was wise to partake when clearly, there was no framed, public health inspection certificate hanging in the doorway Ha, ha! There was no doorway baby, you were eating outside, beside the high street, sitting under a tin roof watching the cats slink around the perimeter while the glowing eyes of the rats stared you down as you swayed home several hours and some new friends later, washed down, you hope, by enough alcohol to kill the germs.
Deep fried prawns, noodles, red hot chili peppers, spring onions, lime and fish sauce.
We don't have these smells in North America unless you're talking RibFest! Otherwise, street food here, reeks of deep fried oil and the sicky-sweet smell of the midway's high octane sugar rush--think deep fried ____ (insert food group) with candy floss and chocolate bacon.

On the plate starting in his hand: galangal, lemon grass, lime leaves, shallots, candle nuts, red chili, fresh tumeric & garlic
Street food in South East Asia is a sweet assault to the senses. Red, hot chili peppers, the likes of which you've never had, balanced by kefir limes and sweet coconut milk OR the deep, dark scent of chai tea spices, picked fresh from the garden that morning, mingle with sweetened condensed milk that cause your tongue to spasm. I'm salivating now as I write and remember.

Georgetown by day.

Feringgi Beach by night.
During the day, the streets are relatively quiet until after 10am. After which they are filled with housewives, running to and fro collecting and purchasing household items as the elderly sit in small 'cafes' (a few plastic tables and chairs by the side of the road sometimes covered by a tarp) drinking tea, eating delicate Chinese or Indian pastries and talking about the good ol' days.

At night, sidewalks on one side of the road fill with vendors selling authentic 'knockoff' designer goods (guaranteed not to break, at least until you get home) while stalls or hawkers open to serve dinner at the food court (not to be confused with the food courts at malls). 

It's too late for those of us from North America to be thinking about dinner but here, it's after the heat of the sun has abated. Families have domestic staff from Indonesia or Nepal to clean and cook while they work outside the home. After a light snack made by your housekeeper, it's off to find dinner in the dark at the street market. 

And find dinner we did!
Our waiter knew the crew on the fishing boat that caught the sea bass.
The first night we arrived too late to go looking for food off the reservation. We dined in the hotel restaurant, a throw-back to the Colonial days where Ceasar salad and fillet mignon were highlighted by the staff as the foods we North Americans should like. They hadn't met many Canadians and they were sure we would appreciate eating food from home. They didn't know us!

We begged for something different but were still wary to hit the full heat this spice island of Penang, Malaysia had to offer. We chose some rum punch followed by local caught sea bass encrusted in Himalayan sea salt, basmati rice and yes, they were so eager for us to try the Ceasar salad, we said, "yes" to that too. We declined the Baked Alaska (really?) and had some Chinese glutonous rice covered bean paste--one of our favourites from travels in China.

Too much choice and this is one small section only!
The next morning we weren't sure what to eat. Our hotel offered a full Western breakfast of eggs any style, toast, bacon, cereals and protein smoothies. They also had a sushi bar, cold cut corner, Wok cooktop and rice selection with congee and pickles, French pastries and a seafood bar. We could chose from watermelon, lichees, oranges, dragon fruit, Chinese pears and other tropical fruits. We were offered Chinese tea, Indian tea, Chai tea, coffee, mango lassies and fresh squeezed juices such as watermelon, honeydew melon and guava juice.

So much food, so little time!
Satays, peanut sauce, cucumbers to cut the heat and onions.

Cold coconut juice in the shell, served up cold.
We spent most of the four days of vacation, outdoors exploring, relaxing and soaking up the culture. Satays with the best peanut sauce ever by the pool each afternoon and cold coconut juice to quench the plus 40C degree heat plus humidity. 

Even the lizards needed a dip in the pool to cool off!

We hit the street market one more time
Fried oysters at the outdoor market.
before we were directed to what we were told was a good restaurant.

Spicy lamb curry.
Unfortunately, the locals thought we would appreciate Italian food. We found the restaurant by way of a very expensive rickshaw ride--yes, we got taken! When we realized the restaurant was full of Australians and not locals, we tentatively asked the waitress if she had the kind of food she would serve at home. She asked us, "Do you like Indian food, Chinese or Malay?"

We answered, "Yes!" 

A dish from each region! Our own buffet.
On our second last day, we found a unique combination of authentic Malay/Indian/Chinese food in an outdoor setting.

Owned by a man from Hong Kong, the staff represented every country in the developing world--Indonesia, Nepal, Tibet, Kashmir and other areas of India, China, Thailand and Vietnam. We were asked for photos with all the wait staff as we were the first Canadians they had ever met. 

We sampled more seafood, marvelled at all the orchids and plants

and enjoyed what we believe was the best cappuccino we have ever had! We returned the next evening!

Like many others, we were easily seduced by the call of street food! On a day spent touring Georgetown, we met a former British solider who served in the Cameron Highlands during the 1950s Independence conflict. He returns each year with his wife to relive his glory days. He eats, he told us, from one end of the country to the other. His story reminds me of Kipling's Mandalay:

'An' I'm learnin' 'ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
"If you've 'eard the East a-callin', you won't never 'red naught else."
No! You won't 'eed nothin' else 
But them spicy garlic smells, 
An' the sunshine an' the palm-tree an' the tinkly Temple-bells; 
On the road to mandalay...."