Pomegranates by Chanan Mazal

Pomegranates by Chanan Mazal

Saturday, 10 December 2016

The Room With The Blue Slippers

To Wait
to not do something until something else happens

This definition in the Webster’s on-line dictionary made me smile.   The dictionary is usually not so vague, but in this case it fits perfectly.

The truth is, waiting involves entering in the realm of the vague, the unknown and territory beyond our control.

A couple of years ago my husband and I spent several hours in the hospital waiting room.  I named it "the room with the blue slippers."  Sounds romantic doesn't it?
It is the place where patients with blue slippers wait for the physician to take them in for their procedures.  On this particular day they were running about an hour or so behind schedule so we remained in the crammed room with all of the other waiting blue slippers.

After they took my husband in I sat reading and watching repeat news reels on the television screen above as I waited for another couple of hours.  Finally my magic number popped up on the hospital information board so I eagerly headed to the nurses desk.
I was anxious to see Ken so I followed the nurse down a maze of hallways.  At the end of the maze instead of delivering me to my husband I realized they had simply transferred me to yet another waiting room!  

Life is full of waiting.  It can’t be avoided. 

Waiting can be for a joyous occasion or a momentary inconvenience as we line up at the gas pumps when the price of oil drops.  However, in other seasons waiting can be torment where the end appears to be nowhere in sight as life hangs in the balance.

Advent is one of those precious seasons of waiting and anticipation where the outcome is absolutely life changing.

Henri Nouwen, a beloved priest and writer describes advent as...

“the time when we practice the discipline of waiting.

We focus our attention on the hope to come.

We set our hearts on God's not-yet-seen promises rather than our unfulfilling circumstances in the present.

We join the saints who even now are crying “How long?” before God’s throne (Rev 6:10), longing for the world to be put to right. We take the long view, keep our eyes on the big picture, and walk on.”

As I spent that day in the "room with the blue slippers" I realized I still have a long way to go when it comes to the spiritual discipline of waiting.

This spiritual practice has been especially difficult when I am waiting for God to act on behalf of those I love who are hurting, grieving or struggling with illness.  

I also acknowledge that patience and trust have not been my forte when it pertains to waiting for the fulfillment of the desires of the heart.  Rather than resting fully in the hope of Christ -  I gravitate toward the false belief that my life is on hold.

Have you ever felt like you were waiting for the answer to prayer or circumstances to change in order to begin to enjoy life?

If we are not careful waiting can deceive us into thinking we are stuck, that things will never change and there is no way out.  This can lead us quickly down a path void of hope and straight into the pit of resentment.

I think Nouwen would disagree with Webster’s definition.  He advocates that waiting is not a passive season, but rather quite the opposite...
“A waiting person is a patient person. The word “patience” means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere. The moment is empty.  But, patient people dare to stay where they are.  Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there.  Waiting, then, is not passive.  It involves nurturing the moment."

The next time we find ourselves in the midst of a blue slipper season of waiting let's 

Turn toward God

Embrace the moment

Let go of the urge to escape or remain in control  

May we fully surrender to Emmanuel instead of the fear

Dare to stay right where we are and enjoy life while we wait

Advent whispers to you and me...

Hope is on the way

 Jesus is coming.

For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.

 Habakkuk 2:3-4

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Advent Sessions - A Free Gift For You!

The weeks leading up to Christmas are often so jammed packed with finishing last minute deadlines at work, shopping, baking, decorating and holiday parties that we miss "the coming."

The coming of ...


Hope in the here and now.  Hope for the not yet seen promises of God. Hope of Christ's return.

The coming of ...


The true, abiding Prince of Peace.

The coming of ...


An everlasting sheer joy that does not waiver based on our life circumstances.

The coming of ...

Love come down

The love of Christ revealed to us, in us and through us.

The coming of ...

Christ, the Promised One.

Let's not miss Christ in the midst of the Christmas to do lists, events and stress of the season.

Instead, let's carve out some space to be still.

Cease the rushing, the activity and noise.

In the quiet, lean in, listen.

Hear Emmanuel calling you.

He longs for you and me.

Expect, watch and wait as He reveals Himself to you.

Our Saviour is the One who is able to fill the longing in each heart with a hope that doesn't disappoint, a peace that surpasses all understanding, a joy that overflows and a love that never fails.

Unwrap this gift of Advent - Emmanuel, His very Presence.

Last weekend, Matt and Karen Fretz graciously hosted the CD release of our dear friend Terry Posthumus at their beautiful home studio.

Advent Sessions is a fresh warm musical invitation to eagerly anticipate, celebrate and enter into this precious season of the coming of Christ.

In honour of advent we have a special gift for you.  

I always say, why wait for December 25th for presents!

Subscribers to arils and castles will receive a link for a free download for one of Terry's songs from his new release, Advent Sessions.

For your free gift simply scroll to the top of this page to enter your email address to receive your automatic subscription to arils and castles and your free advent download - enjoy!

(*once you enter and submit your email address please do not forget to activate your subscription to arils and castles by checking your email or sometimes your spam mail in order to accept your subscription.  The download will be available until December 24, 2016).  

Tour dates and music - Terry Posthumus

Terry Posthumus, a must see in concert - truly engaging worship experience!

Blake Found, Terry Posthumus &Kenneth Michell
The beautiful and talented Juno nominated Bec Abbott

Kenneth singing and playing music together again with his dear friend Bec!

Christmas at the Studio - thanks Matt for the warm fire!

So proud of you my love!  

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

A Euonymus Alatus Moment

Hi my friends, it has been a while.  I have missed all of you.

Life over the past month had been a blur until an unexpected divine euonymus alatus moment - also known to some as a burning bush experience.

It was mid October and I noticed that the deciduous shrub beneath our bay window was still green.  I sadly resigned to the thought that perhaps it just wasn't going to change colour this year.  

Fast forward now with me to a warm afternoon in mid November...

I walked up the path toward the house and did a double take.  My eyes widened as I noticed the glorious transformation that was before me.

When did this happen?  How could I have walked by this bush over the past few weeks and failed to notice this masterpiece come to life?  

I stood for a small sacred moment mesmerized by this historical holy bush.

Now I admit, I wasn't quite brave enough to take off my shoes in November and stand on this holy front lawn, but I did however stoop down to take in every detail of this wonder.  

I inspected the strong winged stems and watched as each fiery autumn leaf gently swayed in the unusual warm November wind.      

I can't believe I almost missed this crimson transfiguration right in front of me.  

Sometimes we grow so accustomed to our routines, tasks and surroundings that we go about life on autopilot.  We fail to slow down to take notice of God's beauty all around us.

After my moment at the foot of the euonymus alatus shrub I sat down by the bay window that overlooks the burning bush.  I picked up Yankoski's book, The Sacred Year.  As I turned the page I couldn't believe the words that followed...

"...to saunter means to bless the land, or...to move through the land in a way that receives its intrinsic holiness for the blessing that it is.

...Moses sauntered toward the burning bush...he moved slowly, reverently, without hurry or effort as he drew nigh to the Holy One."

Michael Yankoski, The Sacred Year (reflecting on the words of Henry David Thoreau)

Ok Lord...You have my attention!

It was as if God was speaking to me from the midst of my own burning bush.  

I believe there are times in our lives that we need to be shocked awake by unusual and extraordinary means.

How can we receive God's intrinsic holiness and draw near to Him if we are too anxious, too worn, too busy being productive or so consumed with wanting to get somewhere else in our lives that we actually miss Christ on the way?

We forget that Christ is the way.  

Yankoski reminds us that the burning bush is a call to saunter and be attentive to God's Holy Presence.

I close the book as the bush out the front window continues to call me to behold His glory and receive this blessing.  I accept His gracious invitation to lean in, listen and rest in His Holy Presence. 

Fast forward again to a few days later...

Still reeling from the burning bush experience I decided to do some research on this spectacular species (that is if you can call wikipedia research - which apparently I do).  I came across another delightful discovery.

As if this whole burning bush experience had not been quirky enough I learn that the euonymus alatus bears fruit.  Not just any fruit, but none other than...a red aril!

I couldn't help but laugh.  Ruby arils in the midst of the burning bush.  I never cease to be amazed by You!

Instead of rushing throughout this Christmas season that has begun - may I suggest that we slow our pace to a saunter.

Let's walk attentive, awake, expecting to catch a glimpse of His holiness.  You never know what euonymus alatus moment might be just around the corner.  

Thanks for joining me on another crazy part of the mystery of my pilgrimage here at arils and castles.


Wednesday, 26 October 2016

World Changers!

And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. "Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18: 2-5
Are you concerned about the state of our planet, the rise of human trafficking, poverty or hunger?  Well, after attending the WE Day Family event last week I actually believe this generation of young people are going to make the world an extraordinary place.

Living me to we is an inspiring movement, founded by Craig and Marc Kielburger that seeks to empower youth to change the world at home and abroad. 

That night there was a stirring performance by Gord Downie from the Tragically Hip.  Despite his own battle with illness, Gord courageously continues to shed light on a dark part of our own history that most would rather choose to forget.

He shares the story of Chanie Wenjack, a boy in the 1960's who fled his Residential school and sadly never made it home again.  Chanie's story represents the thousands of First Nations children who were taken from their homes and denied their own culture. Star article Gord Downie, Chanie Wenjack Story   It was an incredible moment to see the impact of the life of this young boy from so many years ago transform a stadium full of young people as they leaned in to hear the powerful message of reconciliation.

Then Rick Hansen, Canadian Paralympian and activist came out on stage to speak.  My youngest nephew leaned over, cupped his hand to my ear and whispered this question...

"what is my disability Aunt Nicole?"      

I smiled and attempted to explain that he was right. Sometimes our disabilities are not obvious or exposed for others to see. 

I was touched by his tender, yet perceptive question.

There it was...the power of children to change the world.

This innocent question from my young nephew demonstrated the heart and insight to presume sameness.

In his mind, if Rick Hansen has a disability then I must have one as well.

How different would the world be if we learned to approach others regardless of their disability, race, religion or gender with the assumption that we are all more alike than we think?

I believe it is no mistake that there are countless stories of Jesus demonstrating His love and time spent with children, because He fully intended to use them to lead the way and change our world!

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Double The Wonder

" I would maintain that thanks
 are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude
 is happiness doubled by wonder."
G.K. Chesterton

In my quest to live intentionally awake in Christ I have discovered a key piece to the puzzle.  As I continue to explore these ancient spiritual disciplines in my daily rule of life, I find myself returning to the habit of capturing wonder.  

Writer, G.K. Chesterton affirmed some of my own findings on this subject matter.  When he spoke to the connection between gratitude and wonder, I believe he was on to something.

I remember listening to a sermon a couple of years ago from my friend Mr. Morris - who insists that I call him Bob.  Bob's message struck a cord with me when he spoke about the sin of ingratitude.

When we refuse to acknowledge God and live with a grateful heart we grieve our Father.  To fail to notice His beauty and wonder may be one of the most subtle, overlooked sins of our generation.

Thanksgiving looks differently from that perspective, doesn't it?

Offering thanks is not just a polite sentiment to appease God  - it is an issue of obedience and reflects the true condition of the heart.  It is a moment by moment conscious choice to obey His word.

When we give thanks an incredible exchange takes place.  The thanks we offer up to God ends up being a beautiful gift that returns back to us.

Not only does it delight and honour our Father, but when we give God thanks, He in turn uses it to shape us in His image.

  Gratitude is the catalyst for true
spiritual transformation.

The discipline of thanksgiving enables us to shift the center of our lives off of ourselves (our wants, our fears, our wounds, our problems) and on to God.  Think about it...it is next to impossible to be anxious or angry and full of gratitude in the exact same moment.

It is in this place that we are truly free.  It is in this place of gratitude that we begin to live attentive to the wonder of Christ in and all around us. 

We spend so much time trying to figure out God's will for our lives when He actually makes our calling quite clear and simple.

It is our Father's will for us to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  Thanks should not be dependent on if we "feel" grateful or if things are going our way.  

Thanksgiving is the only response to the audacious love that comes from abiding in the sweet fellowship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


Forgive us for the times we have lived with a deserving attitude rather than with a humble appreciation for the undeserved blessings in our life.  We confess that we are too often consumed with ourselves and fail to acknowledge Your beauty all around us.  Forgive us when we have neglected to return to give you credit and thanks for answered prayers.  Lord, have mercy on us for elevating the gifts and blessings above You, our true Gift.  Help us to choose to live awake in gratitude and wonder.

In the name of Jesus,


May our gratitude for wonders great and small cover the whole earth with thanksgiving. 

Here are some excerpts from my own gratitude journal today...

Thank you Father for...

Your loving kindness, tenderness and patience

Your resurrected life in me

Forgiving the times I have failed to give you thanks

For Kenneth & our 4th wedding anniversary

For The Castle Clan ~ Love, laughter and health! 

For glorious golden fields of corn & my happy boots!

The brilliant colours and fresh scent of Fall

The gift of reading on a warm autumn day

For Your provision and harvest
 (& my very 1st red pepper - at last!)

For delicious, tart, custard-filled, homemade apple schnitz pie and for Belinda who is a pie maker extraordinaire!
  Seriously, don't you just want to grab a fork and dive in!

Let's follow Chesterton's lead and ... 

double our wonder
cultivating a life of gratitude!

Sunday, 2 October 2016

The Earth's Table

"I can't imagine life without a table between us.  The table is the life raft, the center point, the home base of who we are together." 
~Shauna Niequist  - Bread & Wine: A Love Letter To Life Around The Table

I write this post from our dining-room/kitchen table.   

I have always been intrigued by tables.  I love their unique designs and of course the anticipated delectables that you get to sample while sitting at the table.  I delight in carefully selecting the right d├ęcor and menu with special guests in mind.

My favourite part though is to linger around the table after a meal sharing laughter, stories and our lives together with family and friends.

So it was no surprise how excited I was when we discovered a particular place called The Tablelands when we were planning our trip to Newfoundland a couple of summers ago.

The Sunday morning of our family trip we set out to explore the Tablelands, which is one of the popular hiking trails located in Gros Morne National Park.  This trail showcases the stunning beauty and history of the ancient rocks from our Earth’s mantle.  

As I walked along the breezy trail I felt as though I was on hallowed ground.  With each step the mystery of the ancient earth’s secrets unfolded from our Divine Creator and Host.

The Tablelands at first glance appear barren, yet if you look carefully you will discover rare species of plant life hidden along the trail.

God’s presence was all around us.   We were surrounded by the rusty-coloured panoramic views as we walked with the Earth’s terracotta soil under our feet.  One site for Parks Canada referred to the Tablelands as "the Earth's inner soul." 

I thought it was fitting that we would end up on our itinerary in a place ironically named the Tablelands on a Sunday morning. 

Although we were not in a physical church building to partake in communion, as I hiked along I could not help but ponder the significance of the Table of the Lord from a fresh vantage point.

As the guide explained how the Tablelands reveal what is below the surface of the Earth I climbed up some rocks away from the rest of the group.

I bent down and took the coloured soil in my hand.

Holding back tears I gave thanks for this Earth that I now saw for the first time as our collective communion table, where the deeper things of God are made known to us.  

In my church, we celebrate the Table of the Lord, where God's love is revealed to us in Jesus Christ.  But I was thinking too small - too local.  All of creation reveals God! The whole earth is God's Table prepared for us to see his glory.  

The Earth’s table is created and prepared by our most gracious Host, our Father.

We use the terminology Host & Hostess to describe the responsibility of a person to receive and take care of others as their guests.  Yet, the description of our Heavenly Host is one who receives us not just as guests, but as His very own. Now that is hospitality.

He is a Host who extends true belonging to you and to me! 

The Earth is a table prepared with intention by our Father as a place to gather together in community to taste and see His glory.

It is a place to catch a glimpse of his indescribable beauty.

It is a place of undeserved belonging and honour where we are invited to rest in sweet communion with Him.  

I share this story as the first weekend of October happens to be World Communion Sunday.  This is where Christian denominations gather for Eucharist together in unity.  It gives me chills thinking of all the Christians around the globe seated at the Earth's table...God's tablelands.

Let us together give thanks as we celebrate and remember the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ as we partake in this divine meal.   Hear His voice inviting you to come to the table to dine with Him.

“ Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; 
the whole earth is full of His glory”
~ Isaiah 6:3 NIV

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Exercising Joy

Exercise and Joy are not two words I typically put together in the same sentence.  

In fact, since returning from vacation, the only participation in physical activity that I seem to engage in has been from the comfort of my own couch - watching others sweat during American Ninja Warrior.  I know - so sad, but true. 

As I thought a little further about the subject, I realized that perhaps I actually do have an exercise routine.  And it just may be the best kept joy-filled secret health regime ever.

You will not likely hear about this from any trendy health programs, books or blogs.  This is something that any age or ability (non-athletic person like myself) can do and it is seriously a blast...

Wait for it... 

Sing!  More specifically - join a choir!

Yes -- I fully acknowledge that I am biased...but hear me out!
Author and choral member, Stacy Horn, uses the term, "exercising joy" to describe her weekly routine of getting out of the house to sing with her local amateur choir.  She claims "you can't reach heights like this singing alone in the shower."  Stacy shares the story of how her own happiness increased once she joined her local church choir.

Like Stacy, if you are looking to improve your health or desire to increase your joy - may I suggest you warm up your vocal chords and join a choir.

The Fountain of Youth
Those who are said to age well are people who continue to grow, learn and create.  Choral singing provides a creative environment to develop new skills as people learn harmonies, technique and memorization.  So if you want the secret to staying young, I say - skip the expensive wrinkle cream and join a choir!

Boost Your Brain
There is now scientific evidence to prove that singing has a positive impact on the brain.  The hormones that are released through the physical activity of singing actually help to lower anxiety, depression and reduce stress.  Who doesn't want that?

Here are some of the other benefits of singing in a choir that I came across in a Chorus Impact study.

Civic Leadership
According to the study, choral members scored high on participation in civic leadership.  Choir members were more likely than other groups to volunteer or contribute to philanthropic or political causes. They were found to be strong supporters of performing arts in their own local communities.  As I researched further I even found one article that linked choral singing to higher emotional intelligence scores - how cool is that!

The chorus impact study also revealed high scores in being willing to explore areas outside of musical expertise.  This suggests that choral members experience increased confidence, flexibility and adaptability to change and trying new things.  

Fostering Unity
Choral work teaches people to work together as a team. Singing in groups helps to cultivate a listening ear and heart.  To sing as one voice you first have to learn to listen to all the other parts around you.  What a powerful life lesson!

Restore Your Soul
I admit there have been rehearsals where I begrudgingly dragged myself out to choir after a long day at work. However, after I started singing a strange thing happened.   I forgot about myself and my problems.   My disposition changed and my mood lifted.  I became attentive to God instead of consumed with things I couldn't change about the state of my own circumstances. 

I have seen this physical transformation first hand as I watch those I lead during rehearsal.  Some come to choir drained, quiet and with an unspoken weight on their shoulders.  As we begin to sing I notice their energy increase, they sit up a little taller, start to smile and end up leaving practice happier than when they first arrived.

As we learn to empty and surrender ourselves together in worship this enables God to fill the recesses of our hearts with the joy of His fullness. 

I see why Saul called David to play the harp for him when He was suffering in spirit.  Music is a powerful healing force.  Music reaches into the depths of our hearts to restore and allow truth to be heard.  Music quiets the soul placing us in the position to hear and respond to God.

Building Community
There are many people who suffer from depression, loneliness or are simply seeking a place to belong.  We learn to love each other as we grieve, rejoice, intercede, extend hospitality, patience and grace through the fellowship in this unique musical community.  God has certainly used my own church choir family to reveal the gift and beauty of living out the gospel in community - for which I am deeply grateful.  

Created In His Image!
I love the verse from Zephaniah 3:17 that reminds us that God rejoices over us with singing!  If God delights to sing over us and we are created in His image - then I believe we are also designed to sing!  We are wired to minister to Him in song and to also sing over His beloved.  Singing is built into our DNA.

We may not all be skilled and talented musicians.  In fact, the musical ability and performance is not the central priority.  God calls us to praise, to sing and testify to who He is, what He has done and who we are in Him.  We are to edify and encourage one another in song.  In the Bible, it is the choir (not the soloist) that leads the people into victory (2 Chronicles 20:21).  There appears to be strength in numbers.  

Carol Cymbala, author and conductor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, beautifully articulates the ministry of a choir, 

"to lead others into an encounter with Jesus
...and when our lives match the lyrics
 then we are truly singing."

Above all the other benefits ... singing makes God happy.  I believe when we delight God by learning to minister and worship Him together in song, we in turn discover true joy.  It is not a fleeting happiness, but an authentic lasting joy.

So get your comfy yoga pants on, grab your unsalted almonds and green juice and join your local choir to exercise your way to joy! 

My sister sent this to me, it cracked me up and I thought it might help you get started on your musical way...so here you go!  Hope to see you at choir!

Explaining Sheet Music  - Julian Cianciolo