THE HEARING AID

Every year at the beginning of Advent, I put up the outside Christmas lights. That is an occupation that involves ladders, staple guns, frustration and some irritation. This year, I realized that there had to be some changes because of the deteriorating state of my knees. I simply wouldn’t be able to put up as many lights—my knees would shut down after a certain number of ladder steps. So, we worked out a compromise solution that provided a good balance between my physical limits and our desire to decorate the house. The compromise was fewer lights than we wanted and a bit more knee strain than I wanted.

After the job was done, I was slowly putting the ladders and tools away—slowly because the limited job was still causing my knees to protest. I happened to touch my ear to adjust one of my hearing aids when I realized it wasn’t there. I quickly checked the other ear—maybe I hadn’t put them in that morning. That aid was in place and working so it was official—I had managed to lost one of my hearing aids.

I was pretty sure that I knew sort of where I lost it. Part of the house has lots of small trees and tall shrubs that required me to maneuver the ladder and myself around and my best guess was that a branch snagged the hearing aid and sent it flying. As I searched through the leaves and grass and all the rest, I was conscious of lots of feelings.

I was angry at myself for losing such an expensive piece of equipment—I should have been a lot more careful. I was frustrated with myself for putting the aids in that morning—I didn’t need good hearing to staple wires to the house. I was upset with the landscaping committee that put in the shrubs and trees—why couldn’t they have just paved the place with a suitable contrasting colour that would let the lost hearing aid be visible? I was angry at the hearing aid manufacturers—why didn’t they make them with beepers and flashing lights so they could be easily spotted in leaf litter.

And then, after spending some time searching the grass and leaves and realizing that the chances of finding the lost hearing aid were essentially zero, I had a sinking feeling of loss, bordering on depression—I was realizing that not only was I now half-deaf but also remedying the problem would require a lot of money.

I searched some more, even while realizing it was worthless. And then I remembered something. I was having a conversation with a friend from one of the churches a few months ago and he told me that he had lost both his hearing aids but wasn’t upset about it—not because he is independently wealthy but because he discovered that his household insurance covered the hearing aids. When I remembered that, I relaxed a bit. I did search some more but with a different attitude. I wanted to find the hearing aid—but the reality of the loss was easier to deal with.

I made a call to the insurance company and was excited and pleased with their response. Aside from the process and time, this loss will soon be taken care of. In a few days, I will have my replacement aid and will be hearing better again.

From my perspective, the emotional journey was the most significant part of the process and still is. I am still upset with myself for losing my hearing aid. I understand that it was an accident and that these things happen—but I still feel a bit stupid and incompetent. I think I need to forgive myself—and I probably will, after I punish myself enough. I know that it isn’t they right attitude and shows an unwillingness to practise what I preach but I tend to be harder on myself than I am on others—I was much more pastoral with my friend when he lost his hearing aids than I was when I lost mine.

I am still in process, I guess—still in process when it comes to learning to forgive myself. Fortunately, God is much more forgiving and graceful than I am and he has already put the hearing aid thing behind him. I will get there eventually.

May the peace of God be with you.

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A SQUIRREL IN A TREE

I woke up this morning to a light snowfall. The ground is covered and the trees are wearing white veils. The old oak tree beside the house still has more than half its leaves (oaks are notoriously slow losing their leaves in the fall), which are now covered with snow. Most of the acorns have fallen off, littering the neighbour’s lawn and our driveway. Leaving or entering the driveway is always accompanied by the pop-pop-pop of the tires crushing the acorns.

Needless to say, looking out at the gently falling snow is much more inviting than stating at a blank laptop screen. One such glance provided a bonus. Sitting on a branch was a big squirrel having his breakfast. The oak tree obviously hasn’t shed all its acorns yet because he found some. I doubt is he collected the food from the ground and then ran up the tree—our collection of houses has no free-ranging dogs and the one cat that wanders the neighbourhood is so well fed that it presents no real danger to a squirrel. Mostly, they sit and eat where they find their food, although they sometimes stop to stare at me if I happen to move to the window for a closer look.

This squirrel is quite content. The remaining leaves provide some shelter from the falling snow. The thick tree trunk protects his from the gentle breeze. The tree provides an seemingly endless supply of food. There may even be a hidden hole or two in the tree that provides him and his family with shelter. What more could a squirrel want: high protein food, shelter, minimal threat from predators—it sounds like a made in heaven setting.

And actually, it is. I doubt if the squirrel realizes or cares but he is enjoying the grace of God but he is. The acorns, the oak tree, the gently falling snow, the whole neighbourhood depends on the eternal grace of God. He brought it into being, he sustains it and he is also redeeming it. If we would spend a lot more time just looking at the world around us, rather than trying to figure out how to use it to make more money for us, we would all be better off, I think.

To be honest, I am not really interested in the tedious creation/evolution debate that some inside and outside the faith think is so important. However it came to be, we have this world because of the grace of God. He caused it to be and set it up so that that oak trees can grow and produce acorns to feed squirrels (and people when properly prepared); so that humans can use the oak wood for sturdy and beautiful stuff; so that the snow which some hate can protect the dirt-based life during the cold and provide moisture for next year’s growth. Everything is connected and interlinked and comes from the hand of a loving and graceful God.

If we spent more time looking for the evidence of the grace of God in creation, we would all be better off. That squirrel peacefully eating his breakfast in the oak tree really doesn’t care if it took 14 billion years or 6000 years to produce the tree that provides his breakfast—he is just enjoying breakfast. The squirrel probably doesn’t do much theological reflection on the grace of God but in the end, his breakfast and his breakfast nook are still powerful signs of the grace of God.

We could probably learn a lot from the squirrel. Some things are pretty obvious, like enjoy breakfast on a snowy day. Other things are a bit deeper but probably even more important, things like remembering that we are not God and are as dependant on the grace of God as that squirrel. We might have a broader understanding of oak trees and natural history and theology than the squirrel but we are still not God. We can plant acorns, we can grow oak trees, we can produce acorn flour, we can make oak boards—but we didn’t bring the oak tree into being and we didn’t design its place in the overall scheme of things. And more importantly, we probably won’t understand the full picture until we are fully reunited with God in eternity.

Until then, enjoy the snow, have a good breakfast and hold firmly to the eternal grace of God.

May the peace of God be with you.

THE CHURCH SUPPER

While on vacation recently, we took a trip to another part of our province to see the fall colours. We have the same colours in our area but the grass is always greener somewhere else and so we thought the fall colours might be brighter there. Since we couldn’t look at trees and leaves all the time, we looked for other stuff to do while we were away. One of the things that we ended up doing was going to a church supper. I know—that seems a bit strange to travel miles and miles to attend a function pretty much like the ones we have regularly in our own churches.

But we do like church suppers and one of the real advantages of this one was that we had nothing at all to do with the supper. I didn’t have to say grace, we didn’t have to help cook and set up, we weren’t serving, we didn’t have to wash dishes. All we did was pay our money, take our meal and eat it—that was a really interesting and enjoyable experience.

The experience was more interesting because of a couple we ran into waiting for the supper to start. They too had come to see the fall colours—but they had come from much further. They live in Australia and don’t actually have fall colours where they come from so this was an interesting and exciting trip for them. Everyone was enjoying the fall colours. Even though it was rainy, drippy and cold, everyone agreed that the colours were great. The supper was great as well.

Back in the car the next day, my wife and I had a bit of a discussion about the colours. Given that I am colour blind, our discussion of the various colours we were seeing was marked by some confusion and uncertainty. I was telling her I was really enjoying the yellows that I was seeing—they seemed to me to be the brightest and most showy of the colours. She happened to like the oranges—which I really couldn’t see. Beyond the brilliant yellows, all the other colours were the usual mass of undistinguishable something or others that I couldn’t really name. And even the yellows that I liked probably weren’t really yellow—or at least that is what she suggested.

So why, you might ask, does a colour blind person make a trip to see colours that he can’t actually see? Well, it was a vacation week, I was spending time with my wife and the “yellows” were pretty. Some might suggest that I was missing most of the experience—and on some levels, I was. But I was born colour blind and so I have never actually experienced what some say I am missing—it is hard to miss what I never actually had.

Unless I am driving in an area with lots of traffic lights, I don’t actually pay all that much attention to colour. I like the colours I see and enjoy colour photography much more than black and white. But I will never see colours like “normal” people. On the other hand, “normal” people will never see things like I see them either. When I talk about colour with other people, we are often talking different languages—I can’t understand words like “purple” and “fuchsia” or even “orange”—and when I say “yellow”, I may or may not be using a concept they can understand from my perspective.

But in the end, what difference does it make? Our new Australian friends were enjoying the colours that they had never experienced before. My wife was enjoying the oranges in the leaves and lots of other colours that are just meaningless words to me. I was enjoying the drive, the company and the yellows. The church supper was great. Do I feel cheated that I didn’t get to see the full colour spectrum? Not really—I saw what I saw and I liked what I saw and since I really don’t know what I am missing, I am happy with what I saw and experienced. I know others see more but I expect that they don’t experience any more in terms of enjoyment—I can’t change what I can’t see but I can determine how I to react to what I do see.

May the peace of God be with you

ACORNS AND OAK TREES

My working chair is situated in the living room in a perfect spot. I can see the whole living room and the corridor that leads to the bedrooms and kitchen so I can keep track of what everyone else in the house is doing. That is important because the dog often parks himself there when it is time to go outside. The chair also gives me a great view outside allowing me to see trees, part of the road and some of our neighbours’ houses. That is important because my creative process involved a lot of staring out the window, waiting for the various neurons in my brain to fire and make connections so that the sermon or Bible study or blog post can take shape.

But the staring out the window can also be an end in itself. I really like trees and without moving from my work chair, I can see several impressive trees: a old oak, a mature maple, a couple of adolescent maples and a struggling oak sapling growing in absolutely the wrong place. Both this small oak and one of the adolescent maples are growing within inches of the house foundation and should probably be removed before they cause damage to the house and the walkways. I probably won’t remove them because I don’t own the house and an not responsible for that stuff, which is great since cutting trees is hard for me.

My bigger concern in the huge oak that fills about a third of the window view. This ancient tree must be 50 feet high and its foliage circle is likely that big around. One of the major branches hangs over the driveway and is growing longer and therefore closer to the day when I need to decide to trim it to protect the paint on my car when I drive under it. Right now, the branches are filled with nearly mature acorns which will start dropping any time in the next few weeks, to the delight of the squirrels and deer, both of whom will use them to fatten up for the long cold winter that we might have this year.

But in spite of its size and fruitfulness, all is not well with this tree. From where I sit, a significant portion of the branches are bare, dead sticks. They haven’t somehow managed to lose their leaves early—they haven’t had leaves for several years now. In spite of the heavy leaf cover and bumper crop of acorns, this particular tree is dying.

I am not a tree health expert and so I can’t say for sure but my guess, based on the size of the tree, is that it is dying of old age. It will keep going for many more years but each year, fewer and fewer branches will produce leaves and more and more of them will stand starkly bare against the sky. In a few years, the dead branches will start breaking off as a result of rot encountering too much wind or snow. The broken branch stubs will provide access to insects and other attackers which will speed the dying process. Its days are numbered—its death isn’t going to be immediate but it is inevitable. I probably won’t live here long enough to see its ultimate demise because trees like this live a long time and die a long death and I will likely move away in retirement long before its end.

So, the tree is dying. But in the process, it is still doing its tree thing. It produces leaves, produces oxygen, filters the air, grows acorns to feel local wildlife and perpetuate the species (this tree is most likely the parent of the poorly place baby oak in front of the house). It provides me with a soothing and even inspiring target for my “don’t know what to write starting into space”—being vaguely aware of the tree during the staring seems to be more productive than staring at the end of the living room or the dog.

The oak is dying—but it is still living, still doing its tree thing as best it can. There may be barren, soon to fall branches but there are also leaves, acorns and branches that are still growing. It will live until it dies, doing the best it can until it can’t do any more—and even then, a dead oak tree provides lots of great stuff for lots of great purposes. I am not sure that there is a better summary of a good life and death than that.

May the peace of God be with you.

TREES

Years ago, I was travelling in rural Saskatchewan, speaking at various churches about our upcoming work in East Africa. I was roaming the province, following a schedule put together by someone somewhere. Each day brought visits to several places and a variety of forms of transportation to get from one place to another. Sometimes, I was on a bus; sometimes, I was being driven by a church volunteer; occasionally, I was in a taxi. I was sometimes in several different homes and church buildings in the course of a day: wake up in one place, have lunch at another, have supper in yet another, and spend the night on one more.

It was an interesting trip and one where I discovered something interesting about myself. As I was driven over the vast open spaces of Saskatchewan, I was enjoying seeing a whole new geography: rolling plains that stretched for miles was something that I had only read about and seen on TV and movies but now, I was on them travelling uncounted miles over them. After a few days, I realized that there was something on the plains that always caught my eye and captured my attention.

I was generally travelling in farm country and most farm houses had a square of trees protecting the house from wind and hot sun. These little squares of trees always took my attention. The huge tractors in the fields were interesting; the square mile cultivated grain fields were awesome; the endless vistas provided by the geography were inspiring—but the squares of trees where what I kept looking for and focusing on. And one trip took us through an area with an actual forest—that produced a level of peace and comfort that actually surprised me.

I discovered that I need trees. I need to be able to see them and hear them. The bigger they are, the better. The thicker the growth, the more inspiring. One of the only negative aspects of living in East Africa was the relative lack of real trees in our area. We lived in a dry area and the trees tended to be scrubby throne trees scattered over large plains—there were very few big, fully developed, actual trees, although we were fortunate to have some in front of the house.

When I first walked among the towering giant trees on Canada’s west coast, it felt like a touch of heaven—trees that hurt my neck to look up at them, trees so big around that they could be hollowed out and used as a home, trees that when they died and fell provided a new beginning for lots of life forms.

Trees provide me with something that grounds me. Large, mature trees towering over me provide a sense of peace and stability. And that is true no matter what is affecting the trees. A tall oak tree on a calm sunny day is restful and inspiring. That same tree being whipped about by strong winds is still inspiring and oddly calming. In the winter, the bare branches trace interesting and intricate shapes against the leaden sky that are still inspiring and peaceful.

I imagine that part of the attraction of trees is that I grew up with trees all around. I played in and on trees. I cut and processed trees for firewood. I built and build useful stuff from trees. But if I never burned another stick of wood or used another board for a project, I would still need trees just because their presence calms and relaxes me.

As I studied science in school and university, I discovered a great deal about the ecological niche trees occupy. I discovered how tree varieties succeed each other, with each generation preparing for the next. I discovered their value as carbon sinks. Trees provide significant amounts of oxygen and filter out tons of junk.

With all that I learned, I don’t believe that God created trees just so that I could have something to make my life calmer and more peaceful but I am deeply grateful that he did create them. Something about trees touches me at a deep level of my being and provides something that I can’t get elsewhere. The wonders of creation are never ending.

May the peace of God be with you.