Thursday, December 24, 2009

The World Of The Skin Horse


The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others.  He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces.  He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys  arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else.  For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came into tidy the room.  “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.  “It’s  a thing that happens to you.  When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt:” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.  “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up.” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse.  “You become.  It takes a long time.  That’s why it doesn’t happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges or people who have to be carefully kept.  Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”


                                                                             The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

To my friends and family who still believe in nursery magic…Christmas Blessing.







Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The World of Peter Rabbit

Once again, I have entered into the insanity of buying too many Christmas presents.  When the children were young,  it was an exciting moment as the UPS man  arrived at our door, a few days before Christmas with several boxes of toys, carefully chosen from catalogues.  They would be stuffed away in closets until the children had gone to bed where upon I would unpack and examine and touch every toy with such delight and then carefully rewrap them in the theme paper of that year.  Some were beautiful and perfect and some were enjoyed briefly but never fully appreciated.  Some remain tucked away in boxes…. waiting.

This year for Christmas, I had decided I would give  my granddaughter-  a  Peter Rabbit tea set, similar to the set my daughters played with when they were young -only Wedgewood no longer makes such a set.  So I hunted on ebay and was thrilled when I found not only one set but a huge assortment of serving dishes to go with the tea set.  It could not have been more perfect… so I made my bid and with a cup of tea and kitty on my lap, I sat and waited.  Someone countered  and so did I.  All was fine until the last sixty seconds when a bid appeared and with kitty and a cup of tea in hand, I scrambled to  send out one final last bid  but it never reached there in time.  I felt violated.  Someone stole my Peter Rabbit tea set  that Kennedy and I were going to play with.  So I settled for an plastic farm set with singing chickens.

Perhaps today, the modern educated mother looks for toys for her children that will stimulate and educate them.  I always chose toys for my children that I hoped  would become a part of their world and they would enter into the toy’s world, in a magical way that only children can do.  And in doing so, they felt what it was like… to belong.

It was my delight and surprise  when as an adult, I discovered that there remains a magical but very real place where we can go to and belong… that lifts us out of our sometimes disappointing times. It may take a long time to get there but once there, one cannot imagine life any other way.

What is your only comfort in life and in death?

That I am not my own but belong

body and soul…

in life and in death…

to my faithful saviour Jesus Christ.

                                                 Heidelberg Catechism

Saturday, December 19, 2009

There Is A New Visitor In The Woods

Transitions come slowly…day by day…month by month…year by year.  The seasons merge as do the years, one into another.

The woods are quiet now and throughout  the woods, vacant nests sit lonely on barren branches.  The newly arrived winter visitors  take up residence in some of these abandoned nests.

Several weeks ago at dusk, I was pleased to meet a new visitor to the woods,  as he swooped down silently  through the trees.  The Great Horned Owl arrives in our woods shortly after the migrating hawks leave  and takes up residence in the empty nest  of the Red Tail Hawk.  Little refurbishment is done other than an accidently placed feather or two, and it is touch and go as to whether the dilapidated house will survive the winter winds.  It certainly will not be  acceptable to the returning Red Tail come April, without major spring renovations. 

Promises and times of preparation come early in life but fade with the coming years.  One finds that which we loved in our youth,  is forgotten.  What we believed to be the only way…we are not so sure about anymore.  We wish our lost passions could stir us up again.  What surprises come along, are most welcome; they are like treasures and we savour them.  Our beliefs become simpler but deeper…filling.

A young, greatly gifted  and passionate Joni Mitchell sings:

Rows and flows of angel hair

And ice cream castles in the air

And feathered canyons everywhere.

I’ve looked at clouds that way.

But now they only block the sun

And they rain and they snow on everyone.

So many things I would have done

But clouds got in my way.

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now

From up and down, still somehow

It’s cloud illusions I recall

I really don’t know clouds at all…



Thirty years later she sings the same song after so much living, with ups and downs,

give and take, win and lose…with so much deepness that only comes with time. 


Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Nightingale Sings

At the end of November, seeing trucks of silver, black, blue, and red  sitting empty and waiting along the country lanes, I am reminded that  this is the final week of deer season for the hunters in our area.  It is during this week, my husband always warns me to stay out of the woods in the mornings and evenings and I usually heed this warning.  Hank, my dog, is also quite aware that something goes on in the woods during this week as  each day he would look to the woods, sniffing the air.  But on this final day with a frosty chill in the air,  he knew he could not be content just to smell...he bounded like a deer across the field, over the stream and through the woods. Despite the fact it was early morning and I was in my pink housecoat and shoes, I followed,  yelling at the top of my lungs-“That’ll do Hank!!!”  As I headed down to the stream, I caught a glimpse of him turning left in the direction of the road.  I circled the woods in my pink housecoat, knowing full well, there were several hunters sitting in their tree stands shaking their heads at me.  Stopping to listen, I could hear no sound of a bounding dog.  I was strangely calm (unlike me) as I thought- I have done everything I could do for that dog and still come up short. Yes… he is my constant companion and often travels with me.  We are good friends but  I have yet to capture his heart.  He hears a different voice from within sometimes that stops us from doing great things. I finally gave up and went home with soggy feet.

  Peter Kreeft in his book, Heaven, the Heart’s Deepest Longing, writes of the voice of the little Nightingale that calls  from deep within us.  We must listen well to hear that still small voice as there are other voices too.  Our bounding from place to place will keep us from hearing.  We  appear to be happy, busy, our days filled with important things to do.  Who has time to listen?  The little Nightingale is most unwelcome.  It is why we are never truly happy with ourselves, and what others have to offer us but we pretend to be. I think the voice is lost in the expectations of our youth and as we journey on, and as our paths wander through lonely times, we begin to hear that voice again. I have heard it for many years.  It is not our conscience. It is not our kinder self. It is not beauty. It is not wisdom. It is not in the drama.  It is what takes us beyond those.

    “I have always...had a kind of longing for death.”
    “Ah, Psyche.” I said, “have I made you  so little happy  as that?”
     “No, no, no.” she said.  “ you don’t understand. Not that kind of longing. It was when I was happiest that I longed most.  It was on happy days when we were up there on the hills, the three of us, with the wind and the sunshine...And because it was so beautiful, it set me  longing, always longing...Everything seemed to be saying, Psyche come!  But I couldn’t (not yet) come and I didn’t know where I was to come to.  It almost hurt me. I felt like a bird in  a cage when the other birds of its kind are flying.
 C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces.

I have not heard the European Nightingale but I have heard the Hermit Thrush, often called the American Nightingale.  Dressed in colours of drab browns and rust, he inhabits the lonely forests of North America.  He is considered the sweetest singer of the thrush family. Although most of the time he remains silent,  he begins and finishes each day with a haunting melody that sounds simple to us but is complex enough that we fail to hear  each note than is sung.  Our ears are not able to discern its full song as he calls out. Yet the complexity of his song allows him to call his mate so that he is recognized and welcomed.


Hank finally did come home and I, like a silly old gal,  once again shed a few tears of gratitude and welcome. 

Saturday, November 21, 2009

His Scent Will Be All Over You

Recently we climbed into our truck and drove four hours to Toronto to pick up three new Jacob lambs, who had travelled 10 hours to meet us.  A quick cup of coffee, a short conversation and then we were on the road again.  Arriving at the barn,  everyone crowded around to have a  look...a sniff at these strangers.  Curiosity satisfied, most went back to munching hay.  The two girls, Rhonda and Inga were most unsocial, stomping their dainty feet to warn everyone to keep away.  Sunny our new handsome little ram looked timid and shy as he was settled into the luxury suite by himself. In time, he will grow to  command the respect of the other males in the barn.  Like most breeders, I will cautiously introduce him to the rest of the male sheep as young rams have been known to be injured or killed when meeting new  sheep.

So one evening, I will place Sunny in a small stall with several other males along with some hay, leaving them to spend an intensely uncomfortable night.  In the darkness, they will heave, rub and push on each other until their smell gets in each other’s nostrils  and come morning if they continue to fight, I will separate them and they will meet again another night.  Our new ram must go through such a night if he is to find his place in  the flock and to avoid being seriously hurt. And each time Sunny is separated from his fellow rams, he will return  in the same way.

Many years ago,  under a starry sky, Jacob without the distractions of his family and possessions,  lives through an intensely uncomfortable night with the arrival of a stranger. Throughout the night, they struggle.  It is with the coming of dawn that Jacob finally relents and receives but not before he becomes permanently lame-showing the inward scars of  his life. It took twenty years to bring Jacob to this place on the edge and eve of his entrance into the promised land.  You see- relinquishing did not come easy to Jacob, the Jacob who cheated, deceived and lied. He was a man who at a crucial and appointed moment in time reconciled with his past mistakes.  So Jacob goes his way- changed but he will live to struggle again another day.  He might be tempted to remember this night as the night he became a cripple but he will also know it as the night that he had seen the face of God.

Like Jacob, we too cannot force God to bless us.  It is God who searches for us.  We furrow our brows and fight and fuss but in the end, know that God will have His way with us and as we go in the morning, His scent will be all over us.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Anne and the Chestnut Tree

In this  segment, Anne Frank’s father returns to the Annex at the conclusion of the war.  He reads Anne’s diary for the first time. The rest of the movie can be viewed on you tube, Anne Frank: The Whole Story.

Throughout her time spent living in the Annex, Anne finds hope and peace from studying the   sky, the birds and the chestnut tree standing in the garden.  At the end of her life…so close to liberation,  knowing that her sister Margo has gone and thinking that the rest of her family has gone, the forces of evil become too much for her as her hope gives  way and she dies.  If only…..

February 23, 1944

The two of us looked out at the blue sky, the bare chestnut tree glistening with dew, the seagulls and other birds glinting with silver as they swooped through the air, and we were so moved and entranced that we couldn’t speak.

April 18 1944

April is glorious, not too hot and not too cold, with occasional light showers.  Our chestnut tree is in leaf, and here and there you can already see a few small blossoms.

May13, 1944

Our chestnut tree is in full blossom.  It is covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year.

How could I have suspected that it meant so much to Anne to see a patch of blue sky, to observe the gulls during their flight and how important the chestnut tree was to her, as I recall that she never took an interest in nature.  But she longed for it during that time when she felt like a caged bird.  She only found consolation in thinking about nature.  But she had kept such feeling completely to herself.  Otto Frank


Like Anne, we must know what to hang onto …what to hope for if we are to survive.  May we never forget what we are capable of,  nor what we can endure through suffering.


Friday, October 2, 2009


  In the darkness,  I hear Golda, my cat, as she pushes the bedroom door open just enough  to slip in.  Softly she  finds her way to the bed and her purring is soon filling my ears.  Hank who lies at the foot of the bed, quietly growls.  He thinks that it is his bed.  I think about how Golda has changed over the past year.  She once was such a saucy girl, taunting and teasing the boys but this past spring she was very ill with infected bites on her neck and face.  We suspect an issue with one of the other cats.  She no longer exits the house every morning as she once did-with confidence and enthusiasm. She cautiously looks from side to side and thinks long before she places a foot outside the door.  I too have had health issues, wife issues, mother issues and I no longer begin my days with confidence.  I also stop and think.

Settled once again, we lie here listening to the sounds of the night...the sounds of our hearts that speak to us..sounds that we hear but cannot see.  A screech owl sends forth his mournful wail.  There are two of them as they answer back and forth.  It conjures up all sorts of images.  This creature  has been regarded over history as an emblem of wisdom at times and other times-an evil omen. It has flown with witches and carried dying souls to the beyond.  It has brought death to some and to others- a renewal of life; an amazing creature who can live sometimes seventy long years.  At dusk with confidence,  it leaves its cavity in a tree and begins to glide over the meadow and treetops. It welcomes the darkness.  It is so suited to it with its eyes that need only a pale moon and a few stars to find its way and ears that can hear the tiniest rustle of grass and an ever so tiny whimper of a mouse as it passes over.  Its softly contoured feathers, fringed at the edge, allow it to glide silently so that there is no warning of its coming, only the silence.  No sound in his ear will distract him.   

I think back to the hot summer evenings of my youth when  with bare feet we would chase each other in and out of shadows until bedtime.  Before we surrendered to our mothers, we would have one last run to the edge of the woods where the darkness had settled deep and foreboding.   Arriving there, grasping at the dark, we would turn and run home-exhilarated.  We felt brave. 
As our games were simple, so too were our days. We understood the magic of each day;  morning by morning receiving our portions with little pride or arrogance. We simply waited and trusted in God’s goodness each day.  For a while we simply believed.

But now that  we are grown, there are issues and we can’t seem to find our way or grasp at the dark with  brave hearts.  Our failures and mistakes lie heavy upon us, covering everything we do.  How simple it would be if we could once again, let God be God in our lives.  His vision far surpasses ours as He sees into our hearts and what He would have us be. He  speaks to the world in nature, in grace, in history and experience, in the story of Jesus, in the tempest. But in hearing Him in that still small voice,  all else around you dissolves and  in that moment, it is just you and  Him.  Everything that follows will be viewed in the light of that moment.  There are times in our lives when it is not enough to know of Him, to understand the rhetoric, to respect the wealth of biblical knowledge but we need to feel the warmth and comfort of His closeness.  So we must bend and bend and incline our ears and submit our hearts as we look to the unseen.

“Everyone that thirsts come...incline your ear and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.”

                                                                                                  Isaiah 55


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Just an Ordinary Miracle Today

Life is difficult, often not what we expected but as Elizabeth Elliot said,” just keep on keeping on.”

Moments of Inspiration

Pepper, my dog, has been traumatized as he listened to the rain falling throughout the night. It seemed to go on and on and it promises to stay with us over the next few days.  The garbage men wore their raincoats today as they came along the country roads to each driveway.  The rain has stopped the tractors from going to the fields today. The rain has interrupted the colours.  We are all waiting. It has forced us to stop and consider what  each day brings… moments to experience God…fresh insights.  “I will incline mine ear.”  I will incline my heart.  Touch  each moment as they pass deeply into you, changing you.

She shall lean her ear

In many a secret place,

Where rivulets dance their wayward round

And beauty born of murmuring sound

Shall pass into her face.


Let us not be indifferent to the  things we see and hear around us. Who knows what wisdom is to be learned in these quiet moments of inspiration as we incline our ears. These moments remind me how deeply I care.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Meadow



Unlike walking through the woods, making one’s way through a meadow,  requires discernment.  I walk with  head down and carefully placed steps as entire villages pass by my feet- unnoticed.  The meadow is place where paths meet and diverge for insects, birds, animals and people.  It is a place that explodes with colour, sound, movement.  And over all, the Red Tail Hawk guided by a sense of need, keeps up his unrelenting surveillance as he soars back forth, his cry swelling and fading until it becomes tiring…almost disturbing listening to him. 

                                                                                                                IMG_1434 On late summer mornings, when the dew in the meadow is gone, I walk out to  gather flowers for dyeing wool. I am on my best behaviour as I share the Black-Eyed Susan patches with the bees,   working side by side. I take only the mature flower heads, leaving some for my friends.               


The lone insect that  pauses in  the busyness of his day,  to sit motionless on a flower petal or blade of grass,  is an intriguing sight. So uncharacteristic and unexplained- he waits. IMG_1455 Last week while visiting the flower patches, I saw my first and perhaps only pink Katydid, sitting motionless on a blade of grass as if caught in mid step-a picture of frozen motion.

I did not grasp how unique a moment it was, for the pink Katydid is a rare find- one in a 100,000 to 500,000 depending on the source you read.  “It is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” comments Jim McCormac, Ohio Division of Wildlife, as this truly rare creature lacks the protective colouring that protects her from predation.  She is a mystery.  One might spend inestimable hours in the field studying these insects and never come across one.  And there she was…timid, vulnerable,  unique and  gentle…and I almost missed her.

Why is it that some of the most special moments in our lives almost go unnoticed?  If we are to  see these special moments, we must turn from all else-  our introspective view of life.  These moments give us a new vantage point as we become so much more aware of what is happening around us…outside of us.

It is in the meadow, we find a new place in life.  Alone, we are not creatures of strength, joy, power. We discover there is more to life.  We take time to sit…time to wait.  This is our place of total dependence on God. 

“Waiting on God is the highest salvation.” (Andrew Murray) 




I have wished to be a stronger, braver, wife, mother, friend and servant of Christ but I have lived a gentle and timid life.  But in this brief intimate encounter with my pink Katydid, the facts remain in my mind.  She was rare, unique and unsuited for her world yet come evening until she dies with the coming of frost, her ancient song will fill the night as she plays on her wings.

Let you   hear what God has for you to hear.  Let you  see what God has for you to see… and I pray that God’s words will fill your mouth.


“Waiting on God must be as continuous and unbroken as breathing.” Andrew Murray



Saturday, July 25, 2009

Every Season

 Yesterday, I wandered across the creek into the small stand of woods behind our home, a remnant of the woods that once covered all of this part of the country.   The late spring rains has  kept me from  visiting  here   this spring.  But  carefully stepping my way through the creek, I was skipping up the bank once more, caring only to avoid the patches of poison ivy growing along the bank and into the woods.


Last spring I came often to these woods, searching for treasures.  In summer, I brought my chair and visited every day with God… sometimes getting on my knees in this  sanctuary of hickory nut trees.  I made promises on the hot humid days.  I kept returning throughout the autumn because coming here and meeting with my God were no longer  just pleasant intervals in my days but a necessity.  We shared our thoughts and each day I left full and looked forward to my next visit. With winter,  there were only occasional visits as it was often difficult trudging through the snow.  I finally brought my chair home.  The busyness of the woods was replaced with quietness but He was still there waiting for me as often as I could go.

I will go again today and hopefully tomorrow and settle into the fullness of the woods…the fullness of the season …the fullness of Him who waits for me.

Can this be redemption…returning to the fullness of God?


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Prone To Leave The God I Love

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2Costa Rica 304

On a certain given day, hastily spoken words, a reproachful look, a meeting with indifference ; our confidence begins to ebb away. We forget who we are.  We forget so much…

Think back to when we first met Jesus;  it was a time of great anticipation.  We felt uncertainty, excitement and mystery. We didn’t always know what we were doing or how to walk as  committed Christians.  As I once heard Mahesh Chavada say, “ we were bungling along in the anointing,” trying to get it right in this new relationship.

When I first became a Christian, I was what people referred to as “a sweet sinner,”  which took me to many alter calls in many services.  I went through much effort to assure myself that I was indeed a true and genuine Christian, worthy and faithful.  I kept waiting for that assurance that I knew that I knew that I knew. What I was painfully aware of, was that I was unfaithful and weak in character.  My cry might have been : “Let Thy goodness like a fetter bind my wandering  heart to Thee…for I knew I was prone to leave the God I loved.  Here is my heart. Take it, seal it…seal it for Thy courts above.” I  don’t know if there ever was one particular time when  I learned to set my doubts aside and trust in the faithfulness of God. But in time I did  learn the great secret of my life…that I can never be far away from Him, the lover of my life.

Growing up, we were most definitely a sweater family.  My English and Scottish aunties  supplied us throughout our growing years with sweaters  to match our kilts which we wore to school and church.  My sister and I were the sweater girls. As we grew older, my mother would sometimes give us cashmere sweaters brought back from  recent trips to Scotland.  We were raised to recognize a genuine  cashmere sweater of admirable quality.

This past winter my daughter and I stopped after church at Starbucks for a coffee.  I was wearing a new cashmere sweater given to me by my mother  only a few weeks earlier. No one at church knew or even cared that it was cashmere except my mom and I.  As we walked through the door of Starbucks, we read their new sign advertising their  hot chocolate.  It said: ‘STARBUCK HOT CHOCOLATE…AS SPECIAL AS YOUR CASHMERE SWEATER.”  I don’t think so!

Cashmere goats are often raised on land where there is a lot deprivation.  Combed cashmere sells for $1.40 per ounce and a cashmere goat can produce up to 6 ounces in a single year, but in a land where food is scare, the goat may only produce half of that.  And of course the shepherd only sees a percentage of that.  “Traditionally his life is dependent on his stock and they are of incredible high worth to him.  It is hard to imagine the value he places on them.  They lie at the centre of his livelihood, his culture and his self respect.”

Like my cashmere sweaters, I am a genuine believer, called by God, forgiven by His blood and sealed from above.  And I know that the one true place in all creation for me is in the presence of God.  Let me not wander…

When you believe in Christ, God identifies you as His own by giving you the  seal of His Holy Spirit whom He promised long ago.  The Spirit is God’s guarantee of His promises and that he has purchased you to be his own . You are genuine…authentic. Your life rests in Him… 

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It Might Look Like We Are Playing…

I am trying to let spring slip away.  It has been a season of hopeful busyness as we hurried to get everything  done before we retreat from the hot summer sun. We have  prepared the soil, planted and now we wait.

We see subtle changes in the  patterns around us. The Oriole who  returned in spring-  boldly showing off his bright orange plumage, quietly slips away into the thick and shady underbrush. Cracks in the clay which are always there, grow wider and longer, causing the sheep to stumble as they drag their feet out to the pasture. The fields lie quiet as the last lonely tractor heads back to the barn and we watch and wait for the corn, beans and wheat to grow…wait for the rain. We measure the colour changes in the wheat field- knowing that when all is a golden brown, summer will be half gone. 

It will soon be time to bring out our favourite stories and poems to reread; wash fleeces,- placing them out to dry in the sun;  mark patches of wild plants that will make good dye baths for our wool; enjoy the tastes of summer as we experiment with new recipes.   Pleasures  are many but there is also a restlessness of summer that sends one’s thoughts deeper.

  Our minds do not remain idyll  but we become seekers…seekers who find ourselves going on pilgrimages to holy relics, picnics down strange and unfamiliar roads or coming out of our homes to sit under a starry sky as we ponder about life.  But let not your restlessness cause you too much unhappiness.  Summer is a time of wonder and fullness. We may look like we are playing but it is all meaningful.

It seems like only yesterday when homeschooling lessons were done for the day, my daughter and I would drag our spinning wheels out to the pasture and sit and spin before an audience of curious sheep.  My husband on returning home from work would say, “what’s with the spinning wheels?” He didn’t get it!  Imagine…he thought we were playing.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Into the Shadows

With the coming of spring this year, I  set my heart on the simple presence of God in my life and to fall in love again.


If we want God in our lives, we must look for and abide in the things of God.  Paul says that believers are to set their minds on what is pure, lovely, excellent and praiseworthy and God will be with you. (Phil. 4:8-9)


The more we experience God, the    more our thoughts will turn to Him and our actions will honour Him.  So “go to where you can practice the presence of God.”  For me, it is in the quiet of my soul,  the faint repetitive sounds that we almost miss, the unexpected but orchestrated…often deep within my own garden. Sometimes, I have run there…sometimes I have walked there reluctantly. For you- it may be different.



Go to the deepest part of your soul  where you will be at peace, away from all diversions.


  Go often to your garden…into the shadows and respond to its mystery.


Follow your yearnings.  Hope to see that which isn’t obvious. The nature of God is to reveal Himself, even in the smallest …


Empty yourselves…adore Him…praise


…and He will come to you.

Sometimes His presence is over whelming and it is difficult to abide in it. 

charlottes ottawa trip 399

Many years ago when my girls were young, I was sitting in their room while they were having their evening bath.  As I waited, thinking of  God, I saw in my mind an image of a butterfly emerging out of a pupa.  As I watched, this new creature paused for some time on top of its once home as if thinking… daring to imagine what it was about to do. Then slowly…it began to fly. A most amazing transformation took place in my mind as I became the butterfly.  I could feel myself rise and fall with the wind as it blew gently on my face.  After a  brief time, I gently pulled myself away from this vision, needing the familiarity of being alone once again, sitting in my daughters’ room.  Comforted by the familiar, I attempted to return to the vision but it was gone. A brief moment…yet long enough to know and believe.  “God wants a soul that is searching for Him to be comforted anywhere” and He will come to you.

As Jesus lived every moment in the presence of God and every thought, word and action of Jesus came from the Father…return to the deepest part of your soul and  learn to simply live in His presence…that which is real and true. His presence will become more real than life itself.

In the second movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony, we no longer hear the strains of the old world that begin the 13th Symphony but something new and simple in contrast,  and we find ourselves entering into this new world.

In going…turn once more and that which you have looked upon before… many times, will  now be incredibly beautiful by the simple act of faith.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Learning to live as part of the group

Was this a collective decision ...or which one started it? What could they be thinking?
I have just separated the 'Six Patricks' from the rest of the sheep this morning and they have gone into a separate pen. Changes are rarely welcomed in the sheep pen. They will have to relearn how to live as six again. They are not happy as six. It was more fun with 22.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Six Patricks

As I step into the barn at feeding time, the sheep come running and leading the flock are six noticeably larger sheep.  These are the “knee knockers,” purchased last summer, that I used to teach my dog to herd  sheep.  When you are introducing a new dog to sheep, it is best to use sheep that are already “dog broke” and are familiar with the “round pen” or as some sheep refer to it, “the torture chamber.”

As the dog hopefully begins to instinctively move towards the sheep  into a balanced position with the  sheep and the handler, the wise and experienced sheep hang out at the handler’s knees, following her around. (Hence the name knee knockers.) They also move together as a cohesive unit, almost inseparable, so much so, my daughter christened them, the six Patricks- all for one and one for all.”

 That is sort of how it works unless the dog decides to charge at the sheep, getting a mouthful of wool, scattering the sheep in all direction, sending some over the fence.

My knee knockers are part Romanov, Shetland, and Barbados.  The Romanov and Barbados combine to make a substantially heavier, taller and more aggressive sheep in comparison to my smaller and shy Shetlands and Jacobs.  No surprise that the six Patricks lead the charge into the barn at feeding time.  I had intended to keep them separate from my flock as their bad manners at feeding time, often rob the smaller sheep of their rations of hay and grain but during the winter they ended up hopping the fence and joining in with the others.

Each day before I can get the flakes of hay distributed around the barn, the six Patricks, in a frenzy, skip along beside me as they try to eat from the flakes of hay in my arms, sometimes  pushing the flakes  out of my arms, spilling  the sweeter and more delicate parts of the hay on the barn floor and  over their fleece coats.  Tossing a flake down, the excitement rises and I stumble to keep from getting my feet stepped on as the mob dashes to this flake.  As I turn to toss another flake, the frenzy moves to the new flake until we have repeated this process a number of times, dancing around the barn.  Some of the sheep will quietly stand and eat in their places while others will continue to move from pile to pile to pile until they finally settle on one pile before it disappears.  It has been my observation that the little ones that continue to hop from pile to pile  and can not commit themselves to one pile, often miss their breakfast.

These small piles of hay might well be likened to the parts of our lives, past and present, that define us, at times consuming us.  They represent our families, friends, careers, our spiritual selves, and misplaced passions. They are  our struggles.  The success and failure of one part of our lives, spills over to the next as these piles of hay do.  There can be many piles as we are stretched and separated not knowing who we are at times.  Becoming obsessed and consumed by the many piles can get our toes stepped on.  We need to take a step back, lift our gaze and stop dwelling on our struggles. So very much of what we worry about through our lives, doesn’t really matter. 

Instead, know that the only true and consuming passion in our lives should be to live for Jesus Christ.  That is first and foundational to everything else. So set your thoughts on God because  what we think about,  defines us. (Prov. 23:7)

I am not suggesting that our lives lack passion as it is the passion that colours our lives, moves us on at times when we seem to get stuck or just mechanically  move through our days.  We welcome these compelling emotions.  The very plan of God was played out in the Passion of Christ but the source of this passion began with the Father’s love and led Him along this narrow road.

Turning back once again, we may see that which consumed us is gone.

Later in the day, I will see one or two of my sheep turn  back to the barn to sift through the remains of their breakfast, hoping to find a few missed pieces of tasty hay left….but all is gone. 

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”  Deuteronomy 6:5

…and walk that narrow road.




Jacobs Gate Farm

Saturday, May 23, 2009

David Foster and Friends - Save the Last Dance - Michael Buble

Oh....what can I say? It's another Saturday and I've got so many weeds to pull, manure to shovel. With coffee in hand, I'm heading outside. Just needed a little spring in my step. Okay, I confess.....I am a you- tube addict. I just may sing to my sheep.
Enjoy the fast disappearing days of spring.

Friday, May 22, 2009

“Knowing This”….Rom. 6:3

In the spring of the year, the

time when kings go forth to

battle.”  Samuel 11:1

Josephus tells us that at one time, when the first blades of grass emerged in the spring,  men prepared for war.   Adad levied and led forth his army against the Hebrews; Antiochus prepared to invade Judea; and Vespasioan marched to Antipatris, all with the coming of spring and the new grass.

The Kings and armies of the East do not march but when there is grass, and when they can encamp, which is April.     Chardin

These were the rules.  From the first blade of grass, things were set in motion.

So it is on our little farm in the spring.  Sheep rise against sheep in a game of testing and posturing for leadership of the barn.  Back  and forth, they enter and cross unseen boundaries.  Horns clash, heads slam with dull thuds as echoes from the past. Yet before the first stomping of the foot; before the first lifting of the head; before the first focus of the eyes, there is a knowing inside all- who will win….it rises from within.

I remember the spring of 1973.  I was graduating from school and preparing to leave for Newfoundland for my first job-a new adventure. We had all sat in front of our televisions that late spring watching “Watergate” unfold, eyes wide open, disbelieving. The Vietnam war continued and we wondered what it was all about. It was the beginning of a hot summer. 

I also remember that everyone was talking about an amazing horse from Virginia who had gone forth and won the Kentucky Derby, next the Preakness Stakes, both in  record time and everyone was waiting for his appearance at the Belmont Stakes, longing for him to emerge as the first triple crown winner in 25 years, longing for greatness.  We were not to be disappointed.  It was just a horse and one race but for 1 1/2 miles, we witnessed the same greatness that kings of old sought each spring.  It was a display of such utter knowing …that this horse knew he was in the race of his  life. It was his time to run.      

Secretariat’s Triple Crown Part 2 The Belmont Stakes                                 

As Christians, how do we measure  greatness?  Perhaps, it is when we know that we know that we know who we are and where we come from.  It is God’s revelation to us. We do nothing to receive it.  It is not an intellectual knowledge at all.  We may not understand it but we know it in our hearts and see it in our spirits…and our hearts speak to us.

People around us and circumstances  test us but we learn ‘being small’ is our greatest asset.  We learn not to be anxious about the markers of time in our lives, as our lives will go on after today…this year… next year…into eternity.  We learn, amid confusion , we can see clearer.  We learn the vastness of one moment in time. We learn to breathe deeper.  We learn to praise God for what we are and what we have. We have become new creatures.  The old has passed away. We are those who abide in Christ.

Yet we struggle as we forget we are in Christ. Watchman Nee speaks of this struggle as the bewilderment of trying to get into a room in which you already are.  “Think of the absurdity of asking to be put in!” Know that you have been made new. Know that you have unlimited potential. Know that you are His.

“Knowing this,” says Paul, “that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away so that we should no longer be in bondage to sin.”  Rom. 6:3

Knowing this…our greatness will rise from within. 


Secretariat –Running From Within (at Claiborne Farm, Virginia)…enjoy!


The Immortal Secretariat (right click your mouse for hyperlink)….enjoy

I promise…this is the last of my horse movies for a while.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Seeking Momentum

Coming through Kentucky on our journey home recently, we stopped at the Kentucky Horse Park, something I’ve wanted to do for many years.  We visited the Hall of Champions and met several racing champions. Upon asking one of the handlers if she had a favourite; she replied no. She loved them all but none of them  as much as she  had loved John Henry who was a resident of the Horse Park until his death in October 2007 at the age of 32.   “ John Henry,” she said, “ has touched all of us who worked with him.  He was a very intelligent horse. There was just something different in his eyes when you looked at him.  He knew he was different.  He knew he was a champion.”

John Henry  was a Kentucky horse of dubious breeding lines.  His sire was “Old Bob Bowers,” a moderate racing horse who was known more for his bad disposition than his racing ability and sold for $900 as a stallion.  His dam, “Once Double,” was also a moderate runner and had problems carrying her foals to term.  As a foal, John Henry was remembered as  small, ugly and foul tempered. He had a conformation defect called “calf Kneed” which is a serious fault as it places such stress on the back legs that most horses cannot withstand training let alone racing.  Nobody expected anything from him and he was sold at the mixed sale at Keeneland which usually draws the bottom of the barrel for $1,100. During the sale, John had a temper tantrum cutting his head.  He was cleaned up as much as possible but went in the ring looking like a drowned rat with blood running down his face.  As he grew, his knees worsened along with his disposition as he would tear buckets and tubs off the walls of his stall, stomping on them, and pitching them out the stall door at people walked by. This habit earned him his name, “John Henry” after the steel driving man of the folk song.  John’s first owner never did break John to saddle and in less than a year, John was back at the Keeneland mixed sales as a 2 year old selling for $2,200.  John’s new owner managed to break John to saddle but it wasn’t easy.  Again John was sold but he kicked his stall walls so hard, the walls had to be kept in place using 55 gallon drums of molasses.

Despite his off track antics, his on track professionalism and a few early track wins led a few people to scratch their heads and wonder if within John might be the makings of a champion . But John never made it easy for them and after being sold eight times, he finally found a friend and wise trainer in Ron McAnally who had a reputation of  working with horses  that nobody else wanted.  For the next four years, John established his reputation as a winner with many wins in important races on both dirt and turf.  When most horses his age were retiring, John was coming into his own stride.  He finished his racing career in 1984 at age 9 with 4 straight stake race wins.  Injury forced him into retirement.  In eight years of racing, he won 30 stakes,  earned $6,497,947 in earnings,  won seven Eclipse awards and Horse of the Year twice, the last coming at the unprecedented age of nine.  At the time of his retirement, he was the highest money earning thoroughbred of all time.

“John Henry was a truly gifted thoroughbred who kept horse racing alive during a difficult decade. John Henry’s true legacy was written in the people’s heart far more indelibly than his superlative racing career could ever reflect,” said John Nicholson, executive director of the Kentucky Horse Park.  “John Henry was a testament to the fact that a horse’s value is far greater than the sum of his pedigree, conformation, sales price and race record.

 Winston Churchill said that the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man, but I would add that horses like John Henry prove that the inside of a horse is even better for the inside of Man.”

 John possessed the courage to overcome obstacles; courage that all people strive to find.  John found his stride in the bare fact that he would not give up.  If you ran head to head with John, he would beat you every time as he was such a fierce competitor.  The only way to beat him was to come from behind so he couldn’t see you and get to him at the wire. John was so determined to get to the winner’s circle in 1983 when he just lost by a neck at the Arlington Million, he dragged his groom to the  Winner’s Circle.  It took quite a few people to drag him kicking and biting away.

Behind the legend of John Henry that continued to grow in his retirement…what really made him a champion were a few people who believed in him and patiently worked with him.  Had it not been for these people in his life, he probably would have been euthanized at a much earlier age  and been known as a horse who “also ran.”  It always comes down to that …whether a parent-child, teacher-student, trainer-horse….mutual respect.

It was that way between Ron McAnally, under whose training, John flourished and John –John as he affectionately called him.  It was McAnally who saw how special John was and patiently worked with him. When John was celebrating his 28th birthday at the Horse Park, Sam Rubin, his owner, remarked “The only one he’d really recognize is McAnally.  McAnally would holler “John-John” and he would jump up.  If I called him, he wouldn’t move, unless I had an apple in my hand.”  McAnally continued to visit him,  always bringing apples, carrots and sugar.  He would holler John’s name coming through the stable as John would nicker back.

John was a horse that you might never want to turn your back on, especially if you did something to him that he didn’t like.  Despite his ornery side, he also kept his youthful playfulness throughout his senior years.  Occasionally, when walking with his trainer, John Henry would put his left leg out in front of him and try to trip him. He did that with those he loved. Somewhere He learned to play the broken leg game.  He would stand infront of his stall and nicker until you came over.  He waited for you to ask him if he had a broken leg.  He nodded his head, nickered, raised his front leg off the ground and held it up as he waited for a treat to be placed in his feed trough.  

John Henry was not the best race horse…not the fastest or the busiest.  He wasn’t the greatest weight carrier and certainly not the handsomest or the the most personable but he  had a big heart and did not know how to quit.  Many  of us have  dreams  but we let them slip away. We let the mundane things of life, people, circumstances slow us down.  We grow weary, losing our momentum. We forget we are still in the race as we slow to a leisurely pace.  We forget we have been gifted with special talents to use.  We forget that we do not travel alone. 

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Coming Home

First, there were the taxes, then shearing the sheep…and finally I have just returned from bringing my daughter home from school in Oklahoma.   While inching our way through  nine states, through sun, rain, forests, over hills, in our little four cylinder, the thought or essence of home was never far from my mind.  As a child, I  remember my mother had a way of saying, when far from home, “I’m dying to get home for a cup of tea,” with such conviction that I knew the value she placed on her home and a good cup of tea in her life.  What stirred my spirits as I hurried on towards home  this past week, was  nothing so simple and honest as a cup of tea but my thoughts were  of reorganizing my life,…new projects, new priorities, a new simplicity, a new peace, a new beginning…in a way that one must leave in order to rediscover.

I also thought of the changes in my life this past winter and how I had lost my dear friend and neighbour, Bill.  Despite being 84 years of age, Bill was always ready to work alongside me, mending fences, gates, sinking posts, planting our garden  and as we worked, he sang or told tales, tales that after a life time needed to be told.  How deeply I will miss his songs, his stories, his strength this spring.  Bill was blessed with an inner driving force that kept him moving forward, always ready to embrace each new day, the best and the worst of it, leaving yesterday to the past.  And such was the vitality within him that to work along side him was to move ahead with him. I who tend to languish in the moment have always needed to borrow from other people’s momentum.

He considered himself a rich man indeed.  He once remarked to me during his illness,” I have a good family, good neighbours and a good home…I would like to have lived longer but what are you going to do?”  What could one say but nod, feeling the depth of his regret.  Family, friends, home and a great respect for life and all beings were at the heart of his stories.

It comes as no surprise to me that he loved horses.  He loved to tell me how in England after the war, leaving  his home in Ukraine, he worked for a farmer, named Mr. Westman, repairing his farm equipment.  Mr. Westman had a horse on the farm that was getting old and he decided to sell it.  All the arrangements were made and the horse was to leave for his new home shortly after Bill left work for the day. His new home was to be about fifty miles away.  The next morning as Bill arrived at the gate to his amazement, there was the old horse standing waiting patiently at the gate .  Up the driveway, the two walked through  fog and mist as he had through the night. “Hey Mr. Westman, I thought you got rid of this horse.”  Mr. Westman starred in disbelief at this horse who had never been more than five miles from the farm in his life.  Tears filled his eyes and he resolved that the horse would stay on the farm for the rest of his life.

I think back to my first blog post this past autumn where I spoke of the essence of home and how one’s life journey is all about returning home.  Jacob understood that well, under his starry sky.  My friend, Bill, understood that also.

                                                                                                                                                  Bill Szmyrko

Some song  and sentimentality….

…a few more thoughts to  follow.