Pomegranates by Chanan Mazal

Pomegranates by Chanan Mazal

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Live like your on vacation!

Many of you have been asking to see some photos from our recent travels to Ireland and Amsterdam...so here are a few captured moments!

Ever notice when you travel that the soul seems to wake up?

Cliffs of Moher
"The voice of the Lord is over the waters " Psalm 29:3

As I traipsed through Ireland and Amsterdam I noticed my mind and heart slowly come back to life.  My adventurous side kicked in feeling sheer joy with each new experience.  I began to see things with greater clarity and vision.  

Escaping from the everyday routines of life not only restores my soul, but I also noticed something else about "vacation Nicole."  When I am on holiday I actively seek to encounter God.

I walk slower and breathe deeper as my soul fills with gratitude with each new wonder.  I listen and watch with anticipation for God.  I eagerly take in everything all around me in hope of catching a glimpse of Him.  I don't want to miss a thing.

"The voice of the Lord is full of majesty"  Psalm 29
Pastoral walk taking in the mystery of Christ en route to Wicklow Mountains
"The voice of the Lord ...strips the forest bare...in His temple all say Glory." Psalm 29

What would happen if I woke up each day expecting to encounter God?

What if I didn't wait for time off work before I allowed Him to restore my soul?

We may not always be able to afford or get away for a holiday, but what if we lived each day with a vacation mindset instead of on autopilot?

Ken kissing the blarney stone!

What if we were to wake up eager to learn or try something new?

What if we remained flexible to accept the un-expected, un-planned twists and turns that come our way?

What would happen if we stepped out of our comfort zone or

My niece Emmy embracing Dutch fashion

took the time to get to know others to hear their unique stories?

What if we were to slow down and listen for His voice?

What if for a moment we stop the tasks and the performing to simply be with Christ?

Soak in His majesty, creativity and beauty in the ordinary... 

 and the extraordinary all around us. 

My nephew Caleb sitting near the top -  taking in the grandeur of the Giant's Causeway!

Wicklow Mountains
Kylemore Abbey - truly magical

Blarney Castle - with a blog name like arils and castles I would be remiss to not highlight at least one Irish castle!
The vibrant colours of Amsterdam
Powerscourt Estate, Enniskerry, Ireland
Glendalough Abbey
Enjoying Amsterdam via canal

What if we didn't wait for vacation, yet instead made the choice to live life each day attentive and alive in Christ?

My little nephew Xander capturing the sights and memories!

 Let's start today - awake our souls to taste and see His goodness all around us.

Why wait for vacation!
Sharing Poffertjes (yummy Dutch pancake treats) with Ken in the park!

Caleb, Emmy, Ken, Janis and Xan

May you be restored, hear His voice, see His wonders in the ordinary and extraordinary as you walk with Him today.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Freedom Beyond Walls

"God does not have problems. Only plans."
Corrie Ten Boom

It is good to be back home - I have missed all of you over the past few weeks.

While on holidays in Amsterdam and Haarlem we had the honour of visiting the Ann Frank Museum and the home of Corrie Ten Boom.

Both of these extraordinary people have left a profound impact on the world from their inspiring stories of courage, sacrifice and love in the midst of war.

Entrance to the hiding place in Corrie's closet

The false wall was built in Corrie's bedroom to protect the Jewish people from the Nazi authorities
Hearing their stories reminded me of another person who may not be as familiar to some of you.

In his autobiography entitled A Boy's War we get a small glimpse into the life and faith of a boy named David.

David's parents were Australian missionaries who went to China with the China Inland Mission, which was founded by James Hudson Taylor.

It was quite common during that time for MK's (Missionary Kids) to be sent to boarding school for their education.

At the young age of six, David left his parents to attend school.

When he arrived at the Chefoo school in 1939 his life would change.

World War Two unfolded, Japan invaded and occupied China.  David and the other Chefoo school children were taken to Weihsien concentration camp in Shantung Province, North China.

David and his sister Joyce would not see their parents again until six years later.

God Has A Plan

David's story is a powerful reminder that even in the darkest places we are never alone.

Even though David was held captive that did not stop God's plan for his life.  God began to shape David's spiritual journey from within the walls of the prison camp.

A man by the name of Eric Liddell was sent to the same concentration camp as young David.  Many of you may remember that name from the award winning film Chariots of Fire. This Olympic Champion quickly became a hero of faith to David.  

Eric Liddell Biography

"Uncle Eric" became a father figure to the boys and a glimmer of excitement in the midst of the devastation of war.

Just like David, God has a plan for our lives.  He places unexpected people along our path to bring us comfort, hope and help in our time of need.

The Gift of Wonder and Play

Similar to the account of Ann Frank, David experienced the war through the eyes of a child.  David was still an adventurous boy who loved to play.

This struck me as such a powerful lesson in life.

Have you ever noticed that it is almost impossible to play and also be anxious or afraid all at the same time?

When I am in pain or frightened I look for the quickest escape route.  I exhaust myself with worry and grasp to regain some sense of control over my circumstances.  I falsely believe that if I smile or enjoy myself that it is somehow wrong or irreverent.   

I wonder what would happen if instead I surrendered with a child like trust and dared to play just like young David?

Gratitude Sets Us Free

On the last day of our trip we sat in the living room of the Ten Boom family hearing the stories of Corrie giving thanks for the fleas and vermin in the concentration camp.

Corrie Ten Boom
God had a plan to use their horrific sleeping conditions for His purposes. The fleas kept their captors away and Corrie was able to keep her Bible hidden in order to continue to share God's word with the other women in the camp.

David was also able to recognize the gifts of God despite the hardships of captivity, separation, malnutrition and death. He was grateful for Eric Liddell and for his teachers in the camp who took care of him.

David Michell 
David was also extremely thankful for the seven American GI's who parachuted into the internment camp to rescue them.

Photo:  Signed parachute of the seven American GI's who resecued David and others in the Weihsien Concentration Camp

There is tremendous power in living with gratitude.
It is a thankful heart that helps the soul to heal. Gratitude releases us from the cords of fear and bitterness.  Thanksgiving is the armor to fight injustice and wounds that shake our faith. 

Extend God's Outrageous Grace

I have not known the devastation of war like the stories of Ann, Corrie or David.  Yet there have been times in my life where I have lived in a different type of captivity and torment.

I am quick to panic or be discouraged when circumstances seem hopeless and out of my control.  I am guilty of rehearsing painful wounds.  I even struggle at times to forgive over insignificant matters that have held me in bondage.  

David had every excuse to live life fearful and bitter with walls of protection around him.  He did not know if he would see his family ever again.  He did not know where his next meal would come from.  He did not know if he would live as he watched others who did not make it out of the concentration camp alive.

David was able to live in freedom because he devoted his life to trusting the One who is faithful in all circumstances.

The most incredible part of David's story was not just how he handled the years of captivity, but what he chose in his years of freedom.

David dedicated his life as a missionary (he served with Overseas Missionary Fellowship which was the former China Inland Mission).  

What is remarkable about this decision was the place that David chose to serve. 

David lived reconciliation and forgiveness in an extraordinary way. He chose to go to Japan to minister and care for the souls of those who had held him and his sister captive.  Now that is truly powerful!

Many of us struggle to forgive.   Many of us choose to forgive, but never forget.  The truth is that most of us protect ourselves from those who hurt us rather than devote our lives to serving them.

Not David!

David received the grace God gave to him and in return freely extended it to those in Japan. 

It has been an honour to introduce you to one of my own heroes of faith - David Michell, my Father In Law.

Sadly, I never had the opportunity to meet Dad in person.  However, I am convinced I do know him through my husband's humility, strength, generousity and grace.   

It is my hope that through sharing Dad's story we will all be inspired to live with gratitude and in freedom by extending God's outrageous grace everywhere we go.

No matter what circumstances you currently find yourself in, take courage and remember the words of Corrie ...

"God does not have problems.  Only plans."
Thank you Dad Michell for being a light in my life!

May your light always shine on!

August 17, 2015 was the 70th anniversary of the liberation.

Here are some photos of my husband (Kenneth) and Mum (Joan Michell) being interviewed in our home for the documentary - Weifang Forgotten Concentration Camp by Producer Elaine Yau of Innowave Limited.

Thank you to Elaine and her incredible team for ensuring these stories are heard and never forgotten!

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Marmalade and Moccasins

There is a couple from our church who I absolutely adore.  I call them Mr and Mrs C.  They are actually the parents of my brother in law. 

There was a story that Mrs. C shared many years ago that stuck with me.  It was about her labour of love.  

This labour of love entailed making homemade marmalade for her husband.

Making this delectable fruit preserve is not a quick process.  I researched a number of recipes on line and I now realize why she called it a labour of love.  I saw one recipe that gave a time of 25 hours and forty five minutes to complete this process.  Seriously...you really have to love your husband to make this spreadable delight.

What made this gesture so sweet was when she confessed that making marmalade was not something she particularly enjoyed, yet this did not seem to stop her. 

To this day I am still unsure if it was the taste of the marmalade itself that she did not like or if it was the chore of making it.

Perhaps it was both.

This act of kindness was her way of demonstrating love toward her husband.

The other day I felt like I had a marmalade moment of my own - except it had nothing to do with any condiments.

Ken came home the other evening and told me to close my eyes.

When I opened my eyes there before me stood my old pair of beloved moccasins made "almost" brand new.

Many well meaning loved ones in my life had attempted interventions of sorts to try to convince me that it was time to lay these moccasins to rest.  The threads had come undone around the toes so that the front of my shoes would flap wide open with every step.

I knew they were right, but I could not seem to part with these shoes.  Not only is it difficult for me to find a comfortable pair of walking shoes, but these moccasins had travelled everywhere with me.

These shoes had been to Colombia, Italy, Newfoundland and throughout the States.  There was something nostalgic about the memories associated with these well worn shoes.

Now I realize Ken did not exactly labour and hand stitch my old moccasins back together, but he did thoughtfully take the time to surprise me by having them repaired.

When I put them back on my feet the story of Mr and Mrs C and the marmalade came flooding back.

It is often the smallest acts of kindness that can have the most profound impact on others.

Is there someone you know who could use an act of kindness this week?  It might be your spouse, a friend, a colleague, parent or neighbour.

Why not demonstrate the love of Christ and make someone's day with a marmalade & moccasin moment!


Thank you for resurrecting my moccasins back to life!

I know I have not learned how to make you marmalade from scratch like Mrs. C, but hopefully you enjoyed the homemade preserve that was purchased with love!

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Wonders Great and Small

It has been six months now since I began my rule of life.  

Despite great intentions to live intentionally awake in Christ (pardon the pun) - I confess that I am a slow learner!

I remind myself that it is not about perfection or judging my own spiritual progress.  Nor is it about living in self condemnation over my apparent lack of progress...it is about the relationship.

The spiritual practise of being attentive to the beauty and wonder of Christ has been a vital part of deepening this bond of love.

It is true this discipline helps to foster a heart of gratitude for the beauty and wonder of God's gifts.  However, I have also discovered that it is about understanding the Father's heart toward us.

God longs and desires to make Himself known to us.  He is constantly drawing us to Himself out of His great love for us.

So what better way to capture the wonder of God's love than by celebrating Canada's birthday visiting one of the most spectacular and famous wonders of the world?

Ken and I spent the holiday with my sister, niece and nephews at the Falls and the Butterfly Conservatory in Niagara. It was certainly a day full of wonders - both great and small.

Glimpses of weekend wonders of love...

When I walked into the conservatory I was mesmerized by the beauty and flutter of each unique winged creature. God's word came alive.  They spread their stunning wings wide open revealing the glorious handiwork of the Father...

"under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. 
Psalm 91:4

The fragility of the butterflies reminded me of the birds of the air; 

"they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" 
 Matthew 6:26

God is a skillful architect.  He hand designs each intricate detail and pattern that is brushed on every tiny wing.  He is the one who thought to form and shape us. He knows and deeply cares about the smallest details of our lives.

 "I am fearfully and wonderfully made, your works are wonderful.  I know that full well."  
Psalm 139:14

Photo - taken by Janis Jones - thanks sister - love this shot!

If you want to bring out your inner child may I suggest you wander around a butterfly conservatory for a little while. Like little children we would smile, giggle and take selfies when the butterflies would land on us.

Photo taken by:  Janis Jones

Wonder is a gift that is meant to be shared.

Wonder is also infectious.

I watched the sheer joy and excitement through the eyes of my nephews each time they spotted one of the magnificent blue butterflies.  Xander would shout "look Aunt Nicole - there's another blue one!" 

This one particular blue species stopped to bathe in the warmth of the sun reminding me that God delights to cover us in His light.  He longs for us to rest in Him.  Thanks be to God for long weekends!

I was struck with both awe and fear as I stood at the ledge of the Falls listening to the roar of the cascading ice blue water.  The raging waters testified to the powerful hand of God. The overflow and plunging depths reminded me of the abundant generosity of our Father.  His resources never end. He is our hope and source for streams of living water.

I never grow tired of seeing the mystery of a colourful arch suspended in the sky.  The misty array of colour speaks to the wonder of the promises of God.  He is faithful to keep His promises.  He will never forget, disappoint or fail us. Our Father is fully trustworthy.

Photo - taken by Janis Jones - my sis!

As evening approached a glorious display of fireworks lit up the sky.  As the enamoured crowd cheered at the brilliant light show above I couldn't help but wonder what it will be like when every knee bows and exalts Jesus, the true light of the world.

I am reminded that we too have been given the very light of Christ to illuminate the darkness.  We are given the honour and privilege of spreading the glory of our Father of lights for all the world to see.

Photo taken by:  Emily Jones - my niece who happens to be a firework enthusiast!

May your weekend be filled with wonder both great and small as the Father of Lights reveals His love for you.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Sing A New Song

Sing to the LORD a new song. And His praise in the congregation of His godly ones.
Psalm 149:1

My husband and I minister together in music on Sunday mornings.  On occasion when we introduce a new song we may hear "feedback" that some members of the congregation are finding the song difficult to learn.  This tends to happen when it is a piece with some syncopation involved. 

As leaders it is important to remember that not everyone shares the same passion or skill set that we have - so be gracious.  It is also critical to remain open so that we can better serve the needs of those we lead.

As I mulled over their comments I began to wonder ...

why are we (including myself) so uncomfortable in the world of learning?

After all we are called to sing a new song - not something we already know.

In fact, in a quick search I found approximately nine references that specifically refer to singing a new song.

It made complete sense that it would take a few weeks to sing the new song with the same confidence and gusto as our familiar favourites.

What I have come to realize is that learning requires vulnerability.

Vulnerability can be especially challenging in a public context.

Even in church we can feel embarrassed when we make mistakes.  When our imperfections are exposed it threatens our pride.  When our ego is wounded we are tempted to hide or defend ourselves by criticizing or blaming others.

Over the years I have missed so many opportunities and experiences because I failed to confront the lie that convinced me that I was not smart or talented enough to even try.

Unfortunately, when we do not excel in one area we rarely focus on all the other strengths and gifts we do have!

I have to thank my dear friend Marcia.  She has taught me to embrace new opportunities even if I do not have a clue what I am doing.

She has encouraged me to dive in, take joy in the discovery and be willing to laugh when I fail. 

That is the real issue, isn't it?

Can we trust God to catch us if we fail?

Is our security in Christ or in our own talents and confidence?

By exposing ourselves to something new this places us in a posture of humility.  

We forget that we are situated in this classroom called Earth in order to learn, not just to prove what we already know.

By putting ourselves in the midst of the unfamiliar we learn the importance of surrender.

We have become a society that celebrates self-reliance. The gospel, however, promotes something radically different. God wants us to learn to lean completely on Him.  

As disciples we must also remain curious.  This is an essential character trait if we want to continue to grow in Christ.

Thoughts For Reflection...

When was the last time you tried something new?

How do you respond when you make a mistake?  What happens when you do not understand something in a group setting?  

Are you easily frustrated and lash out?  Do you come up with an excuse?  Do you give up?  Are you afraid of what others think of you? 

Do you laugh and try again?

Do you tend to stick to things that you know you can excel at?

When was the last time you participated in an activity because you enjoyed it rather than because you were good at it?

Do you allow others to make mistakes so they can grow?

Think back to the last time you stepped outside of your comfort zone to try something new - what did it spark inside of you?

Did it energize you?  Inspire creativity?
Let's take the posture of a disciple and learn something new this week.

It doesn't have to take a lot of time or cost money.   It doesn't have to be something radical...like belly dancing (yes I have actually tried this!).

Ideas To Get Started...

Try a new hobby
-Start small with a new fitness activity or receipe

Join a new community group or class
-Check out your local community centre or Neighbour/ Community Meet Up - my husband recently used this site to find a soccer group in our local community.  On this site neighbours connect (meet up) to learn and share in various interests such as careers, hiking, urban gardening, photography...etc.  With everything exercise caution - I recommend to always meet in a public place for safety!

Sit in a different place at church or at your next team meeting  
-By adjusting our routines we place ourselves in a position to view things from a fresh perspective.

Strike up a conversation with someone you do not know very well. Spend some time with someone who has diverse interests from you.

Research new innovations in your field of work or other areas of interest. 
-There are a lot of free articles, e-books, www.ted.com/talks on line.

Practise a new spiritual discipline
Rule of Life www.leadershiptransformations.org/documents/selah/thompson_soul_feast.pdf

Study a new topic or book of the Bible

Add some creativity to your devotional time
Worship Blog - Dan WiltWord transformed - Cardiphonia.org - prayers, song and art for the beauty of the church

 or...why not simply learn a new song!

I would love to hear what new course, skill, or interest that God places on your heart this week.  Please feel free to share your experience or any resources with others in the comments down below.

It is no surprise that God calls us to sing a new song - after all who would honestly want to listen to the same old song every Sunday?

Be courageous - even if someone is listening -  go ahead and belt out that new song!

My new pick of the week...
"Send Out Your Light" ~ Sarah McCracken.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Flunking Hospitality 101

“ It is not important that we recognize God in the stranger; God is there whether we notice or not!  We can just assume the fact and do the next thing – accept the stranger!"
~Benedict’s Way of Love :  Father Daniel Homan & Lonni Collins Pratt

My Rule of Life throughout the last few years has centered around exploring the communal life of hospitality.

Having our friends from Colombia stay with us has certainly been a gift to continue growing in this spiritual discipline.

I came across a post from a couple of years ago recounting some of my more humbling experiences along the way.

For those who can relate to the challenges of hospitality...this post is for you.

Flunking Hospitality 101

Have you ever desired to be truly good at something and then found yourself receiving a failing grade?

Well that is me in the area of hospitality.  
On the outside I look like an A + 

I welcome people into our home = A+

I take them to see the sights  = A+

I prepare special meals for our guests = B+
I give myself a B+ as I am not the best cook in the world, but I try!

I even have the ultimate guest basket with every delightful thing imaginable that our guests may need throughout their stay
  = A++   

I have also studied countless books on the subject - so w
here could I have gone so wrong?

This is the beautiful thing about house-guests

 - no matter how lovely they are and no matter how much you wanted them to stay with you in the first place - they have the capacity to expose the true condition of the heart.

*Note of warning to all those who want to explore the spiritual discipline of hospitality ...

you must be willing to confront the perfectionist inside of you.

Order, cleanliness and control go out the window.

As I embarked on this path, selfish attitudes I never knew existed quickly began to rear its ugly head.

The need to control my own environment, time and belongings became painfully evident.

Please… someone admit this has also happened to you so I don’t feel so bad!  

One evening I watched one of our guests accidentally spill some sauce on the wood table and rug down below.

I knew they could see the sauce, yet I could not comprehend why they would not want to wipe it up. 
Could they not see the pretty little napkins that I had thoughtfully placed on the coffee table right in front of them? 

Despite my slight irritation over the "sauce incident" I refused to let this discourage me from my pursuit to become this serene Benedictine Presbyterian hostess.

So I calmly repeated Benedict's way like some sort of holy mantra...

"Assume that God is in the stranger Nicole!"

"Assume that God is in the stranger!"

Truth be told, I still couldn't help but think to myself... could God really be this messy?

A few days later I went upstairs to provide fresh sheets and noticed that something in the room had been broken.  Although I tried to play it cool I could feel the anxiety rising up again inside of me.

What bothered me even more was when I shared these concerns with my husband.  As I looked to Ken for some consolation on these important matters he had the audacity to simply smile and shrug his shoulders.

Extremely helpful!

Much to my chagrin I knew he was right ~  you can’t control what is already done, so let it go!

Side bar ....

Let me just openly acknowledge that the phrase "let it go" is still a foreign concept to me.  That could be a whole blog series.  The Disney Frozen soundtrack, Let It Go will likely never be my personal theme song.

Back to the story ...

Our guests had made plans to be out for dinner so Ken and I were looking forward to Chinese leftovers while binge watching a new favourite on Netflix.  We sat down together and guess who decided to come home early for dinner?

Instead of being grateful to have more time together I was selfishly disappointed that our plans were now altered for the evening.

If only I could learn to fully surrender my time and plans into God's hands.
The irony is that when this beloved family returned home I missed them so much!  

The Benedictine way warns us that true hospitality

  "will entail a cost and risk of availability and vulnerability."

That is what makes Christ the ultimate host.

For our sake He became vulnerable.

He paid the ultimate cost with His life in order to graciously welcome us as His own.

Despite being the King of Kings He makes Himself available and completely accessible.

In Christ we also find true belonging.

Have you ever been somewhere where it became evident that you were not really wanted or welcome?

Have you ever been intentionally excluded from a place you thought you belonged?

Have you ever felt like you had to earn your way in order to be accepted and loved?

With Christ we are never treated as an outsider or an inconvenient interruption.

His kindness is not dependent on our behaviour nor does He demand something back from us in return.  

Christ delights to welcome and embrace us as His very own.

He graciously meets each one of us where we are at.

He offers unconditional acceptance, patience and love in our weakness.

When we welcome people into our lives it becomes next to impossible to keep up appearances for very long.  Our own quirks, struggles and imperfections become exposed for others to see. 

It is in this authentic vulnerable exchange that we learn how to give and receive the love of Christ in our brokenness.
The security found in Christ through His hospitality is the sweet spot that enables true transformation to happen in our lives.

We can be completely naked before Him.  There is no need for pretence or fear of condemnation.

Vulnerability becomes yet another precious gift from our Father above to experience the various forms of His grace.

Hospitality enables us to see Christ and ourselves for who we truly are.

So forget the Martha Stewart guest baskets and clean sheets and instead let's open wide our hearts for who God places along our path this week.

“ Hospitality enables you to joyfully make room for another inside your open heart."
~Benedict’s Way of Love :  Father Daniel Homan & Lonni Collins Pratt