Christmas Pageant

“I’m an angel, Daddy!”

“So you are” Daddy shot back. “A perfect angel. And your mother, she dressed you up, so she’s an angel, too!”

“And I’m a shepherd,” proclaimed Bennie.

“Yes, you are, and this year, you have no lines to memorize – just actions,” said Daddy.

Wynnie began rehearsing her angel lines for the Christmas pageant. ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill to all men’. At the pageant, she would be joined by two more angels where they would say all their lines together, in unison.

Every year, the children and their parents gathered in the church auditorium to tell the Christmas story, a time when the old story becomes new and fresh again, for everybody. And everybody has a part in the Christmas pageant. This year, Winnie’s new little sister would play the part of Baby Jesus. Wynnie hoped she didn’t cry, but if she did, her Mommy would have to come and pick her up so she would stop crying.

“Did Baby Jesus cry?” Wynnie asked Daddy.

‘I’m sure he did. He had feelings, too, just like you and me”

Inside the church, the windows were decorated with  fir boughs, silver bows and candles.. The tall green spruce tree, decorated with white lights and silver tinsel stood off to the side. Under the tree were wrapped gifts, one for each child with a few extra just in case. Wynnie already understood that when we give gifts at Christmas, we are remembering the greatest gift that could ever be given, the gift of Jesus, given in love by God himself, to the whole world.

Each year, the Christmas pageant seems to have a surprise moment. Something unplanned happens. This year, Daddy made arrangements with Farmer Wayne to bring a mother sheep who he called Dolly and her lamb, Little Dolly to the church. Dolly would be led through the auditorium by Farmer Wayne and he said her lamb would be sure to follow, like in the poem, ‘Mary had a little lamb’. Then the mother sheep and her lamb would go on stage and be part of the pageant. Daddy thought about the risk. What could possibly go wrong?

The pageant, following the story of the birth of Jesus found in Luke Chapter Two, was moving along perfectly – Mary and Joseph arriving at the inn and being turned away by the inn keeper shaking his head, ‘No’,  then everyone enthusiastically singing ‘No Room in the Inn.’

Then the scene shifting to the three shepherds on the Judean hills at night, with Farmer Wayne dressed up and holding onto Dolly, with Little Dolly close by. When Wynnie and the angels appear under bright lights and proclaim to the shepherds together, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men’, the shepherds fall back, in amazement. Then the lights go out and the angels disappear. At that moment,  Farmer Wayne loses his grip on Dolly and she disappears, with her lamb, Little Dolly – into the darkness.

In the next scene, when the stage lights come back on, Mary is sitting on a wooden bench, Joseph standing beside her and Baby Jesus, wrapped in a pale blue blanket, is lying on a raised bed of first-cut green hay.

Crossing the stage in partial darkness, on their way to Bethlehem manger to see the baby, the narrator announces that “the shepherds ponder what they had seen and heard and what they will see when they get there”. Farmer Wayne is distracted, thinking about Dolly and her lamb, Little Dolly. Where are they?

The aroma of first-cut green hay is irresistible. Dolly arrives at the manger first, and with her lamb in tow, immediately starts eating – eating the bed of hay, on which Baby Jesus is sleeping. The audience is captivated and delighted by this unplanned turn of events. As the shepherds make their way across the stage, surround the cradle and kneel in worship, the audience stand and sing ‘Away in a Manger.’ Dolly and Little Dolly keep munching, and Jasmine sleeps on.

Wrapped gifts and plates of home-made goodies were given and received. While Dolly and Little Dolly provided a lighter moment, the celebration of the birth of Jesus and a wonderful Christmas pageant were enjoyed by all. Jasmine slept like a baby right through.

That night, Daddy asked, “Do you want to sleep like a baby tonight? I do. Jasmine is already asleep.”

“First, let’s pray and give thanks for Baby Jesus, God’s precious gift of Himself to all who will receive him.”

“Good night, Wynnie, Love you!

Good night, Bennie, Love you, too!”

“Good night, Daddy. Love you, too!” chimed two happy, sleepy voices.

 

 

 

 

Waiting for Christmas

“When can we have Christmas, Daddy?” Wynnie asked. “Can we have it tomorrow? I want to see what’s under the tree for me.”

“Well, we could. But most families wait for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Some families have to celebrate early in order to be all together.  You know that Christmas only comes once a year. Like your birthday, it only comes once a year. Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’ birthday. We celebrate Christmas when we give gifts to each other. And we decorate the Christmas tree and maybe the whole house – with lights, snowflakes, and tinsel. Then we wrap the gifts and put them under the tree, And then we wait for Christmas.” Daddy paused.

Wynnie was already tucked into bed.  ‘More,” she asked, “more story.” Daddy paused because he was thinking back, a long way back, when he was a little boy, waiting for Christmas.

“Can you wait for Christmas, Wynnie?” Daddy asked.

“Sort of,” she whispered.

“Sort of?  You mean its kind of hard to wait, right? he offered.

“Yes,” Wynnie confided.

“Can I tell you my story? Once when I was a little boy,  I couldn’t wait for Christmas. I begged my mother to let me have my gift early. Back then, we only got one gift. Eventually, my mother gave in, and three days before Christmas, I got my gift. I tore off the wrapping and in my hands, I held a miniature red Massey-Harris tractor. I loved my tractor and started to play farmer right away.

Three days later, Christmas arrived. My whole family gathered around the Christmas tree and everyone was given a gift – except me. I cried. My mother explained that I had already been given my gift, but it didn’t seem to matter. I felt left out of all the excitement and fun. After that, I determined to wait for Christmas. I would never spoil another Christmas again.”

“I can wait, Daddy,” Wynnie offered. “I  won’t spoil Christmas.

“Wise choice,” responded Daddy. “The important things in life are worth waiting for.”

“Good night, darling.”

“Good night, Daddy”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost and Found

“What makes it fly, Daddy?” Bennie asked.

“You mean what keeps it up? Well, actually, air keeps it up.”

Daddy pointed to the shape of the wings, and explained “When air passes over the wings, it creates an airfoil, which causes the wings to rise. He raised his hand to demonstrate, palm up. When the propeller turns, air passes over the wings very quickly. When that happens, the airplane rises. It flies. Kind of amazing, isn’t it Benny?”

Daddy and Bennie had been busy every spare minute, building a model airplane from a kit –  following the plans and using balsa wood, glue, tissue paper, paint and decals. Daddy explained “When the tiny .042 cc engine and fuel tank are mounted, and the radio control system is installed, our little plane will be able to fly – higher and higher. And it will always come back, because we have the controls, right?”

Daddy was as excited as Bennie to be part of the project. For Daddy, building a airplane was doing something his father did as a boy, many years before. But there was one big difference – Papa’s airplane was a free flight airplane and had no radio control.

That evening, after dinner, Wynnie and Bennie gathered  on the sofa to hear Daddy tell the story about Papa’s airplane, the one he built when he was a boy.

“Tell us the story, Daddy.” Wynnie and Bennie chimed in unison.

“Okay,” said Daddy. “Here’s the story. When Papa’s family visited their cousins in Michigan, Papa came home with a gift, a tiny airplane engine. Then he saved up enough money  to buy a model airplane kit, just like ours. Papa spent all his spare time building his airplane. He didn’t hurry because he enjoyed it so much, He didn’t want it to end.  Have you ever done something that you enjoyed so much, you didn’t want it to end?  It’s called ‘enjoying the journey’ and sometimes it’s as much fun as getting there, right?”

“Well, back to our story. The day finally came to fly the airplane. After school, Papa took the airplane, fuel and starting battery over to the park for a test flight. When everything was ready, he spun the propeller. The engine started on the first spin and the propeller roared to life. Then Papa disconnected the battery, stood up, pointed the airplane upwards at a slight angle, gave a gentle push and let it go. The airplane took off, level at first, then climbed higher and higher, in ever wider circles. Papa stood in silence watching, waiting. The timer was supposed to cut the fuel after a minute or so, then engine would stop, the plane would circle back to earth and gently land. But, no, the timer failed, the engine kept running and the plane kept climbing – higher and higher. As the brisk west winds took hold, the little plane was carried away – further and further. Papa’s little plane became a dot in the sky and finally it was gone from view.

Papa ran home to tell his daddy what happened. He said they should get in the car and drive in the direction where Papa last saw his airplane. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack. They drove up and down the side roads. Nothing. The little plane was lost.

Papa decided to call the newspaper and tell his story. Maybe whoever found the airplane would read the story and return it. The story was printed, and no one called.

Months passed. One day, Papa was passing the second-hand store downtown. He looked in the store window and could hardly believe his eyes – his lost airplane was in the window, for sale. Papa went inside explained to the storekeeper how he was flying his airplane after school, and how it flew higher and higher, and how the wind had carried it away. And now, there it was in the store window, and could he have it back?”

“Yes, you can have it,” the storekeeper explained, “the price is $5. If you want it, I would be happy to sell it to you.”

“Disappointed, Papa left the store determined to save up so he could buy back his airplane.

Did you know that God made each of us ? We are His. We belong to Him. But the human race chose to wander away from God.  We got lost. The Bible calls this separation sin. God wants us back into His family, but the price of sin is very high.  In fact, only the life and death of Jesus is sufficient to pay the price of sin. So when Jesus dies on the cross, He paid the price to buy us back. This is called redemption. When we trust Jesus to redeem us, we are restored to the family of God. We are truly in His care, once again. Isn’t that wonderful?

Let’s pray and thank Jesus for paying the price, for redeeming us, and for restoring us to the family of God.

Time for bed, you two.

Good night, Wynnie.

Goodnight, Bennie.”

“Good night, Daddy,” chimed two tiny voices. “We love you.”

Memory verse: I Peter 1:18 “For you were redeemed, not with silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Jesus” (Paraphrase

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wynnie’s Winter Picnic

“I love a winter picnic,” said Daddy.

“Why Daddy?” Wynnie asked.

“No bugs. They have all gone to sleep. And lots of nice birds. There’s one now!”

Chickadee, dee, dee. “Hear that, Wynnie. That’s a chickadee. It sings it’s own name.

Do you see it, there in the birch tree?”

“Can we feed it now, Daddy?” Wynnie asked.

“Let’s wait ’til we have lunch. Maybe it will come right to the picnic table.”

The first snow of the season had fallen overnight, just a few inches. As the late morning sun broke through the clouds, the sky turned blue and the sun, warmer.  The silent woods extended an invitation. Come and see what’s here. Rabbit, squirrel and deer tracks in the snow. Tinier tracks of a vole or deer mouse. Winter birds like cardinals, blue jays and chickadees, each with their own special call, size and colour.

The picnic lunch, planned ahead, was packed in a backpack that Daddy carried. Inside were hot dog buns, wieners, ketchup, mustard and relish, plates, cutlery, some napkins and two containers of fruit juice, one apple and one grape.

“This is just like home, Daddy,” said Wynnie. “Mommy gives me hot dogs, too.”

“Just one difference here, Wynnie. We have to build a fire first, so we can roast our wieners and toast our buns. Do you want to help me make a camp fire?”

“First, we need some dry wood. You start by looking for some dry, dead twigs. There’s a birch limb over there with dry twigs. I’ll make a spot in the snow here where we can start the fire.”

Daddy scraped the snow back with his boots to make a bare patch for the fire. With the dry twigs that Wynnie gathered, he made a small pyramid ready to be lit. Daddy struck the match, and the cold snuffed it out right away. He tried again and the same thing, the match went out.

“It’s always harder to start a fire in the winter,” he said to Wynnie.

Adding some paper brought from home, Daddy tried again. This time, the paper caught fire, then the twigs caught fire. Daddy added bigger twigs and then some small branches. Soon the fire was big enough to start roasting and toasting. By this time, the camp fire was throwing a nice heat as well.

“Can I put these on the fire?” asked Wynnie. There was Wynnie standing with an armful of wet wood. Daddy appreciated her help, but he knew that wet wood wouldn’t help to keep the fire going. In fact, wet wood could put the fire out. Daddy gently explained that wet wood wouldn’t be a good idea

“Let me try,” asked Wynnie, please?”  “Well, you watch what happens,” Daddy replied. So Daddy took a piece of wet wood and put it on the fire. As the steam rose and the fire sputtered, Daddy said, “See, Wynnie? The fire nearly went out. So that’s not a good idea. Wynne slowly dropped her armful of wet wood, and said, “I’m hungry. Can we eat now?”

The winter picnic was soon ready to be served on the picnic table as the heat from the outdoor fire reached two happy people. Then Daddy spread the sunflower seeds on the other end of the table. It was like all the chickadees in the neighborhood heard the announcement ‘Dinner is ready’ and flew in to enjoy their winter picnic.

That night, as Wynnie was being tucked into bed, Daddy wanted to talk about the winter picnic. They talked about the chickadees that came to the table. Wynnie asked if they could go again. Daddy said he liked building the fire.

“Yes, we can go again.” After a pause, Daddy said “Do you remember, Wynnie, when we put wet wood on the fire? What happened?”

“I saw lots of steam and the fire, it sputtered, but it didn’t go out” she offered.

‘That’s right.” said Daddy, “but the fire nearly went out.  And when you or I get cross or upset, it’s like putting wet wood on a warm fire. It doesn’t help. It spoils the fire. Love is like a fire. Love is warm, happy, and caring.  In fact, we all need love to be truly happy. So we never put wet wood on a warm fire.”

“Good night, darling.”

“Good night, Daddy.”

 

 

 

 

Chasing butterflies

When I was a little boy, I followed my big brother everywhere. Because he was older than me, and had his own friends, I just tagged along. Sometimes, I couldn’t keep up. Sometimes, nobody knew I was even trying to keep up. Sometimes, I got left behind. Whatever they did, I tried to do.

We lived at the edge of town, and we found our own special places to play. We gave our own special places special names like Huckleberry Marsh, the Hollow, Blue Lake and Cober Creek. These special places changed with every season. In late winter, Huckleberry Marsh filled with water and froze over so you could skate just about anywhere. Later, after the ice melted and the spring rains came, you could float a boat or build a raft. In summer, it dried up and the willows sprouted up, so tall you could get lost in Huckleberry Marsh. In late summer, you could pick blueberries and come home with blue tongue, blue lips and blue fingers. Everybody could tell at a glance where you had been. When the snows of winter came, rabbit and fox tracks could be found all over Huckleberry Marsh. At Christmas time, we would search for the perfect spruce tree to take home and decorate.

One summer day, Joe, my older brother and his friends hiked to Huckleberry Marsh to catch butterflies. He was making a collection of native butterflies with names like the tiger swallowtail. giant swallowtail, monarch, viceroy, admiral, mourning cloak and moths with names like luna, sphinx and cecropia. I loved to learn about nature so I was determined to keep up.

To get into the Huckleberry Marsh, you have to climb a fence made of four strands of barbed wire. Each strand sagged with every step which meant the next step was even higher. To manage this, you tried to climb close to a fence post. It helped a little, but the wire still sagged.

My story

Carefully hanging on to the third strand close to the fence post, I put my left foot on the first strand. Slowly, I raise my right leg and step on the the second strand. Then I raise my left leg to step on the second strand as well. The barbed wire wobbles erratically as I stand up, careful not to catch my shirt on the barbs in front of me. Two more wires to climb. Now I raise my left leg to step on the third stand and quickly my right leg and step on the third stand as well. At this point, holding the top of the fence point, I don’t stand upright.  Instead, I plan to step over the top wire, onto the third wire with my left foot, then bring the right leg over and jump to the ground, In this moment of contemplation, the third stand gives way. I start to fall, stright down. Events like this happen in milliseconds. Ouch! I fall back on the grass. Instinctively, I get up and look for the hurt. A long gash on my leg. Ouch. This hurts.

My butterfly chase comes to an abrupt end. Somehow, I make my way home and to the doctor. I get a needle for tetanus and six stitches to repair the wound.

 As for the butterfly, a majestic, mysterious creature that comes in many colours, shapes and sizes, and worthy of pursuing, to catch not with a net, but with a camera. But do be careful of fences.

My bicycle – it’s gone!

Rituals were embraced by following the lead of older brothers and sisters. So each Spring, every bicycle needed a cleaning, maybe a fresh coat of paint, and a mechanical overhaul – tighten and oil the chain and put air in the tires for sure.  Maybe the bicycle had just been passed down from an older brother or sister or someone in the neighborhood. The ritual included taking the bicycle all apart, getting rid of the old grease, oil and grime around the sprockets, and maybe getting it ready for a new paint job. Tires were patched and spokes were replaced. You see, old bicycles were treasured, never trashed.

Our ‘go to’ bicycle shop was owned and operated by Alfie Ryan, an Irish wordsmith and story-teller. When weather permitted, Alfie could be found sitting on a stool, in the shop doorway replacing a spoke or patching a tire. Inside the shop, somewhat dark and cluttered, was an assortment of bikes in various stages of repair, a work bench covered with specialty tools and small parts, and shelves of more small parts. Only Alfie seemed to know where things were.

A diminutive, gregarious fellow with a full mustache. Alfie had a loyal clientele, and using his Irish ‘way with words’, added colour to the community, whether you rode a bike or not. Passing by the shop one day, my mother remarked, “Beautiful morning, isn’t it, Alfie”. She and Alfie had been in the same class in grade school. “It is, indeed, my dear, since you passed by” – a pickup line my mother never forgot.

For a twelve-year-old, Alfie had stories of adventure and courage, each told with gripping emotion. Like the time he was at sea, and the ship and crew were enduring a terrible storm. Alfie was below deck, and fearing the ship would break apart,  attached a double cable from port to starboard. Then using a steel bar between the two strands,  proceeded to turn the bar. As the cable twisted and tightened, it shortened, bringing the sides of the ship together and keeping them secure. Meanwhile, on the bridge, the captain was praising Alfie’s ingenuity. ‘That Alfie Ryan, smart fellow he is”, said the captain. “Alfie saved the ship, the crew and the cargo” Even in the half-light, Alfie glowed with pride as he quoted the captain.

If sea-going stories weren’t relatable to his audience, then how about the wild west where in the dead of winter, Alfie was leading a cattle drive on horseback, moving hundreds of cattle, in a driving snowstorm, out of the foothills and back to the ranch. “Cold, bitter cold,” he said in pained gasps. “Men dropping like flies.” He cupped his hands, blowing to warm them up. “I pressed on. You couldn’t see your hand in front of you. Terrible blizzard. Cold, bitter cold.” Tears welled up in his eyes. “We believe you, Alfie. Don’t cry.” “Out of the foothills I rode,” he whispered, “the cattle, we never lost one.” We stood entranced in the drama.

My story

I only want a few spokes, Alfie tells another story. Maybe more than one.  It’s hard to tell where one stops and the next starts. Alfie is the hero, every time. I understand that. I find what I need, pay and head out.

Next stop – McHardy’s Hardware. Buy a can of silver enamel for my new bicycle, and a small paint brush. Of course, McHardy’s has everything a boy needs for adventure – rope, fine wire, copper BB’s, hunting knife with a leather sheath, hatchet, and maybe a knapsack. These are acquired over time, never in one visit.

I make my way home. My bicycle is in pieces on the basement floor. The frame has been stripped, except for the peddles and is hanging by two cords from the open floor joists above.  I pry open the paint can, stir with a nearby stick, dip the brush gently into the can, and without dripping, begin to paint. The dark blue, chosen by the former owner and the colour of my bike until now, is slowly giving way to a bright silver. I see immediately that, after drying,  it will need a second coat. Maybe tomorrow.

After I do both coats and the paint is dry, I reinstall the seat and handle bars, Then I lower the frame and stand it upside down. I install the front wheel first, then the rear wheel with chain and brake arm. The slack in the chain has to be just right. And the brake arm can’t be tightened until the chain is set. Both wheels have to be centred and held securely as the wheel nuts are being tightened. I try again and then again until I get it right. I test the brakes. Then I attach the kickstand. Everything works. Up the stairs and outside for a test run.

The next day is a school day. I ride to school and park my bike in the ‘Big Field’ as the playground was called. After school, I head up the stairs to the Big Field to get my bike and ride home. Among several hundred bikes, I can’t see mine. I remember about where I parked it, but no, it’s not there. I panic a little.  Where is it? I go back down the stairs and into the school. “Miss Hicks, my bicycle is gone!” “Are you sure?” she asks. “Go back and have another look” I pause, ‘OK.” I leave the school again, up the stairs and onto the Big Field. By now, the number of bikes has dwindled to a dozen or so. There is no blue bike. As panic is about to set in again, I suddenly remember. I painted my bike. I’m looking for the wrong bike.  Standing there, upright, kickstand still holding was my new bicycle, not dark blue, but bright silver. The lost is found. I sheepishly climb on and ride for home. Turn the kaleidoscope and you will see things differently.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Diagnosis: You have ALS

“You have ALS.” The pronouncement from the neurologist comes down like a life sentence from a high court judge. “Do you know what that is?” I’m caught off-guard. I stammer, in my already deteriorated speech pattern, “Lou Gehrig’s Disease?” The term is fresh in my memory because the renowned scientist and thinker, Stephen Hawking had just died, after living with ALS for many years. The thought was incongruous. I was just having trouble pronouncing my words, that’s it. No other issues. My expression must have been quizzical. “Bulbar onset,” she continues. I would look that up later. I wait a moment, I counter,”How sure are you?” “Eighty-five percent. There is no definitive test,” she states matter-of-factly. “And there is no cure. It’s always fatal.” Ouch! I had been through a litany of tests and consultations over a four-month period – ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging, electromyography, consultations with a speech pathologist and a otolaryngologist as well as my family physician who was quarter-backing the process. I’m in a state of shock. This diagnosis is totally unexpected. She hands me an in-house book with spiral binding and full colour cover, entitled ‘Living with ALS. Your life will never be the same’. As if to somehow mitigate the certainty of her conclusion, I offer “I’m still working. I could retire, but I enjoy what I do. I do tax and accounting. We are right in the middle of our busy season.” The neurologist smiles, “Well, it’s time to retire. Go home and wrap it up.” I am processing the conversation, the words, the shock of it all. I have hardly ever been sick a day in my life, never been a patient, no history of any illness, never smoked or imbibed. Is this for real? The neurologist interjects, “By the way, in your book, there is a sheet of calling cards. These are the people on your team, and you will be seeing each of them every time you come.” I breathe deeply. That is an immediate comfort. I am going to have a team. Apparently, I matter. I go from seeing my family physician once a year for a routine medical to having a whole team, who’ll see me every six to eight weeks. I stand to leave, when she turns “Would you be interested in being part of a study? It could be expensive, a thousand dollars a day. We don’t have all the details yet.” “Yes,” I answer without hesitation. I have no idea what it is or how it works. I’m an early adopter by nature and it’s worked out so far. “My secretary will set a follow-up appointment.” “Thank you,” I struggle to enunciate. For some reason, I feel slightly optimistic. More to follow.