Friday, 26 December 2008

Merry Christmas Letter

Happy Belated Christmas! I am writing today for more than one reason; the first is that I have not found the time or the inspiration for writing a letter before this morning, and the second is that Boxing Day gives me a unique opportunity to share with you some of the reasoning behind the joy I have found this Christmas... joy that came after Christmas was over, after all of the presents had been unwrapped and friends and family had been visited and everyone else was tucked into bed once more, donning new pyjamas. Last night I had a bit of a revelation, my own little Scrooge moment when I too was in bed with a new nightdress. Though it was quite late at the time, I had finally stopped moving, stopped bustling about the way that we do even in rest on Christmas, and I lay quite still for a moment before I began to pray. This is about the point that my stomach churned and I began to realize that I have let yet another Christmas slip through my fingers.

Christmas eve, morning and night were a visual memory but a spiritual blur... while my family was gathered around the tree downstairs, opening gifts from each other, we each made sure to respond with thankfulness and smiles and genuine gratitude from the heart, but when I removed my thoughts from the paper and ribbon before me to the holy gift of God’s son, to the gift wrapped in the womb of a young woman and opened to everyone in history, I turned away quickly, almost impatient for another gift to be opened. It was quite late last night or early this morning that I was caught by my internal foolishness. I was shamed and blessed, convicted and encouraged and challenged by my thoughts, finally Christ centered.

You see, the concept that "it's better to give than to receive" is an idea that, ironically, comes from the lips of Christ himself. I say ironically because, although I am sure that God found pleasure and joy in sending Christ to us, in giving us the ultimate of all Christmas gifts, I think that He got the proverbial short end of the stick. When we, as a race of broken, short-sighted, bustling, hopeless and easily distracted souls first opened His gift, we met the baby with mixed feelings: some of us rejoiced, some of us feared, some of us turned a blind eye or cold shoulder. As the child grew up, or as the gift lost its novelty, we left it alone. For years we completely ignored it, until it started causing us trouble, and just like a small child would with a simple doll that seemed dull or troublesome, we began to abuse the gift – to take it for granted, to push its limits, to hurt and harm on purpose – we broke the precious gift He had given to us. We broke him and could do nothing to repair the damage done; like a shattered porcelain mannequin, we looked upon the broken body of Christ and finally realized the importance of the gift, the value of His Son, and the terrible guilt and shame of ruining something that has been given with such care, sacrifice and love. Facing the broken-hearted face of God, the giver of the gift and the Father of the Son, is a thought more dreadful than any of us can bear.

But the heart of God holds so much more than disappointment and pain. He looked down at us and met our trembling hands and tearful, fearful eyes with love so abounding, mercy so healing, passion so filling, grace so forgiving and care so deep that we had no idea what to do with ourselves. Then, God did something that I cannot understand. He took our hands, cut by the splinters of a broken doll and covered in the blood of His son and He washed us clean of our crime; then He took him from us to His place and fixed him, completely, better than we had ever seen him before, so much more vibrant and so much more alive... and then He gave him back.

Even God re-gifts. God sent Jesus to us once so long ago in a stable in Bethlehem with only a few witnesses. He gave him to us again in another miracle that we did not deserve, in the partial majesty and wonder of His holy character. I cannot wait for the day when He offers Christ to us once more, when He will send him back with all of His amazing and truly awesome glory. We didn't deserve him the first time, but we needed him so much more than we had known. We didn't deserve a second chance at showing our appreciation, loyalty and respect, but He has given it to us as He has given him to us for this life and for this time. We do not deserve eternal life no matter what we have done or what we are doing and no matter our efforts to come, but I know that He has already given us this gift, this priceless and inexpressibly valuable gift, forever.

And so we come to Boxing Day. Traditionally, this is the time when we begin the process of favouriting gifts, of setting aside others, of contemplating exchange or re-gifting. I pray that you will act carefully with the gift of God. I pray that when we are boxing and shelving and shuffling the presents we have only yesterday unwrapped that the gift of Christ, of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, of the promise of his return in full glory and the activity of God in our lives will not be forgotten as quickly as some of our other presents. I pray that you and your family will continue to celebrate although the festivities of the world have passed. I pray that we will continue to express our gratitude with genuine smiles, with the thankfulness of people in great need and with the praise, honour, joy, love, hope and sacrifice due to the giver of such a gift.

And so, I wish you a very merry Christmas not only this day but the next and the next, and may the Christmas season and the true spirit of this holiday extend in your heart long into the coming year.

With faith in the truth of His word, God bless.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Creatures of Detail

I am not a sports fan. Growing up as the eldest of three girls, there were rarely hockey games on the television – my Dad did give my sisters and me a strong base of traditionally male influenced experiences such as the annual father-daughter fishing trip that we took out to a very manly hunt-camp (though it was sometimes hard to tell after a weekend of girl-immersion… those weekends were filled with a wonderful and strange mixture of hairdos and animal guts). My Dad also made sure that his little girls had a general roadmap to a good tool box (making certain that we knew the difference between Robertson and Phillips screwdrivers), that we could drive our boat-like caravan without hitting too many trees (although I think this particular activity was partly to blame for his slowly graying beard), and taught us an appreciation for all things science fiction – but when it came to relaxing in front of the television as a whole family, my father was unjustly outnumbered every time. In fact, hockey as a pastime never crossed my mind until I moved to North Bay.

I am still not very interested in the sport, but I have made friends with a large group of people who are genuinely passionate about the game and so for the past few months I have been trying to learn some of the athletic jargon, or at least a decent grasp of the rules, et cetera. At present I find myself enduring yet another face-off in the company of my friends, all conversation staying far above my head; however, the time I am spending here with my notepad, huddled in the corner, is serving an interesting purpose. I am studying reaction.

Though not everyone is gifted with the skill of close observation in attitude or cue, we are all creatures of detail. When something is important to us, it consumes our attention. How can something so removed from our reality have such a dramatic effect on us? (One of my guy friends has just leaped up from his seat to holler a comment drenched in personal frustration at the referee. I doubt that he can hear him.) It amazes me that something so small can trigger such a reaction in a person. The puck didn’t go in… it’s not the end of the world. It’s not even the end of the game.

As I watch my friends get into mock-fights in representation of their favourite players who have just had a clash on the ice, I am suddenly wondering if I can learn from their strange connection to these far-off unknown allies.

You may not know this about me yet, but I am a budding actor-to-be this and next semester. I am in an acting class, theatre appreciation specifically, and I am learning to apply some of what I see in my life into my work between the curtains and under the lights. On stage, I am reacting to other people, other actors, but I am also acting as though I am living the life of my character. I am going to have to draw upon memories I don’t have and a history that doesn’t exist to make the connections to the audience authentic. If I can pull from memories in my own history that can be made applicable to the situation at hand, if I can find the moments of hockey-like reaction or fishing trip importance in my mind before I take the stage, then those are the details that I need to draw on.

The big picture is awesome and grand but it is only truly great if the details are in focus. That is where the beauty is found – that is where the reality lies – in the details.


The staircases of our school are wonderful and unexpected places of solace for me. I find few things are peaceful as an empty stairwell and though there are few times when these transitory caverns remain quiet and deserted, I treasure the moments that I can find solitude there.

Even when I am alone, however, the stillness of the place does not stay quiet for long… the staircases of this school are my favourite places to be tranquil but they are also my favourite place to sing. The echo of the space and the way that the self-made music reverberates off the walls, the steps and the windows reminds me of a kind of heavenly choir, a host of angelic spirits, joining me in my music.

Echoes are so interesting. They are like a beautiful instant replay, like a voice underwater, like a haunting chill found in any melody…

In the theatre, this echo doesn’t exist. The padded seating and paneled walls make every effort to stop the echo, as though they are to be feared in the art of acting – and I suppose in speech they are a harm or nuisance, distracting or distorting the sounds of spoken word, but with the song, where often the storied are told as much through the melodies as they are through the lyrics, an echo is a wonderful tool of expression.

My favourite part of this personal escape is not the silence or the echo of my own voice – it’s catching others in the act as they bustle and saunter from Point A to Point B. I am always so encouraged by the reverberating whistle of a staff, visitor or fellow student… Apparently the art of semi-private expression extends beyond my blabbering self.

So, the staircase: a place of solitude where I can sort my thoughts when the rest of the world lapses into noise and chaos, a place where I am free to sing and enjoy the echoes and a place to be reminded that, at least on their own, the people of Nipissing and Canadore still have a spirit of personal expression.

Long live the melody…

Saturday, 6 December 2008

The Mind of a Six Year Old

From time to time I find myself in need of a special kind of therapy. When I am discouraged, I try on one of a number of wonderful dresses buried in my closet, when I am lonely I make time to go out with a few friends or call home and talk to my Mom or my sisters and when I am stressed, I become six years old.

When I am overwhelmed by schoolwork, be that assignments or exams, I have found that the best therapy for recovering my sanity is to temporarily act as though none of it matters. I don my favourite pair of head-to-foot patterned pajamas, take my Sesame Street blanket that I have hiding between the duvets on my bed, gather my reserve box of sweet cereal, a large bowl, my favourite spoon and a gallon of milk and I sit in front of the television with legs crossed, watching Saturday morning cartoons. The recovery process usually takes me about two hours and by the end of Bugs Bunny or the Flintstones, my focus and my inspiration have usually returned.

While in the midst of a Road-Runner cartoon I found myself marveling at the creative processes of Wile E Coyote as he designed yet another flawless, genius scheme. Always a masterpiece of blue-prints and instructions, Wile E’s plans had every visual reassurance of success; naturally, the Road-Runner would find some way of foiling his plot, and we all know that this coyote has suffered many a concussion when his tiny pink umbrella failed to hold back the falling bolder or anvil. The next frame was what has always impressed me with Wile E’s character… no matter the previous injury, he would immediately be working up some new and devilish plan to capture and cook our speedy friend.

Where would the fictional world be without Acme Enterprises and where would we be without heroes like Wile E that remind us of the meaning of endurance and perseverance under all kinds of trials and tests? It is lessons like this one that pull me out of academic slump and emotional weariness and back into the world of functioning people and progression of thought. With characters like Wile E that can pick themselves up even after they get knocked off their feet over and over and over, then how can I do anything but smile and pick myself back up in the midst of a crazy and stress filled week? Even when I feel like I’m drowning in work – at least it’s not an anvil.

Monday, 1 December 2008

A Little Encouragement

This letter comes from North Bay and from the desk of a very tired, very stressed and very encouraged young woman. It's the encouragement part of my life that I want to pass along briefly, in case you are finding yourself in one of the other two categories.

Life is beginning to wrap up here, partly in the completion-of-tasks sense, partly in the shiny-paper-everywhere sense. In less than a month we will all be sitting in front of a tree with wrapping paper and ribbon at our feet, and if that mental image isn't quite enough to pull you through the next couple of weeks, here are a couple verses that will hopefully encourage you as you work through the rest of life until Christmas:

"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful." (Hebrews 10:23)

"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen for what is seen in temporary but what is unseen is eternal." (2nd Corinthians 4:18)

"Find rest, oh my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and salvation. I will not be shaken!" (Psalm 62:5-6)

"The end of all things is near. Therefore, be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray." (1st Peter 4:7)

"Do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7)

I hope that the next little while will be a productive and successful time for you, whatever you have on your plate... try to get a little sleep from time to time, proofread your homework, crack open the advent calender, eat some fresh fruit and smile as much as you can!

And so, with a prayer and a smile of my own, I leave you to tests and papers and work. Keep your chin up and God bless.