Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Romans / Thoughtfully Abridged

Romans 1:1-32 I, Paul, write to the believers in Rome by the authority of my role as an apostle, on the topic of Jesus Christ: the resurrected and divinely affirmed Messiah. The faithfulness of your community is widely known, and while I pray that I will soon be able to come and see you in person, know that I am constantly praying for you and your ministry. Like you, I am not ashamed of the gospel which makes clear the difference between a righteous and unrighteous life. While humanity suppresses Truth and clings to all manner of sin, this same gospel also reveals God’s saving power and holy nature.

Romans 2:1-29

Be careful to leave the business of condemnation to the LORD; do not mistake your relative obedience for moral perfection. God alone is qualified to judge the hearts of men. Instead, check your motives and focus on doing well in His eyes, according to His Law, which you know. Jesus Christ will pass judgment on both Jew and Gentile in the end. Beware, you who think of yourselves as particularly knowledgable and obedient: your hypocrisy will be painfully obvious when you do inevitably fail. Though men praise you for upholding the letter of the law, how will you fare in the court of God when He examines your spirit?

Romans 3:1-31

The Jewish people have a spiritual advantage only in that we have known our sin longest (thanks to our stewardship of the Law). We are no better off than our Gentile brethren when it comes to fulfilling God’s holy requirements for redemption, and our own scriptures record our long history of broken covenants and failures, declaring that “all have turned aside.” But now God has manifested His righteousness outside of the Law, in the Person of Jesus. Though we are damned by our insufficiencies, Christ is sufficient. He perfectly and completely fulfils the behavioural and sacrificial requirements of the Law on our behalf, accepted by the Father as the justification of any soul who accepts His substitution by faith.

Romans 4:1-25

Consider that Abraham was counted as righteous by his faith, not as a consequence of any deeds done. The promise was not given to him as though earned and owed, but as a gift before even the Law was given. Obedience to the Law is, therefore, a sign of righteousness and not the definition of it. Abraham believed God when the evidence of his senses protested; Abraham trusted God when his everyone dismissed His promise as impossible. It was this faith -- this act of the will -- that God labelled as righteousness. It is the belief in Christ that saves us now, made through a similar decision of the heart. As for Abraham, so for us now: salvation cannot be earned and is not owed.

Romans 5:1-21

So Christ is justified by the Law, and we are justified through Him by faith. He is our access key to the eternal glory and love of God. Jesus died willingly to offer us the gift of heavenly reconciliation, while we were ungodly and hopeless -- and now, in light of His act of redemption, even our suffering can become a catalyst for hope. Understand that Adam’s initial sin caused a spiritually fatal division between all of creation and the LORD. The Law was then given through Moses to expose the hereditary brokenness of sin that has infected every descendant of Adam, including Abraham. One man’s disobedience damned the whole world with sin, as laid out in the Law -- and now one man, Jesus Christ our Lord, has saved it by the free gift of His abounding grace.

Romans 6:1-23

Through baptism, we are symbolically buried and resurrected with Christ, but we also spiritually experience death and new life through Jesus. Our sin is dead! And our physical deaths hold no threat because the debt of our sin that we owed to God through the Law has been satisfied already by Jesus. Therefore, we must live our lives acutely aware of the fact that we have been freed from the grip of sin; we must strive towards righteousness as evidence of our justification (by His grace, through our faith). Devote yourselves wholeheartedly to righteousness and sanctification, and rejoice in God’s free gift of eternal life in Christ.

Romans 7:1-25

Is it not obvious that all laws are binding only for the living? Even marriage vows expire after one spouse dies. Consider yourselves, by the death of Christ, no longer wedded to sin and the Law that defines it, but rather bonded instead to Jesus Christ, who has saved you. That said, we cannot completely ignore the Law, as it is through the Law that we are able to identify, acknowledge and repent from our sins. The role of the Law for us now is to contrast what is ungodly and sinful with that which is holy, righteous and good. We use that information to align ourselves with Christ through the mastery of our sinful desires and fleshly inclinations. Therefore, delight in the Law of God, constantly battling to serve the LORD instead of sin.

Romans 8:1-39

So although we behaviourally attend to the Law, we are neither bound to it nor condemned by it because the substitutionary death of Christ has set us free. We live now as though already resurrected, having the same powerful Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave at work within our lives. We must set our minds on Him; we must abandon our pursuit of the flesh. We are not simply allied with Christ, we have been adopted by him as siblings! And adopted by the Father as His children! When we suffer, we suffer with Christ as children of God; when we are lost in pain and grief, we are known by the Spirit of God who works all things for our good, on our behalf. The LORD knew us and chose us from the beginning; He has justified our souls through His Son, and He loves us as He loves His Son. If God is for us, who can be against us? If Christ has claimed us, what could possibly sabotage his love? Nothing -- not life or death, not angels or kings, nothing now, nothing to come -- nothing has the power to pry us from the loving embrace of our Saviour.

Romans 9:1-33

My heart aches for Jews who do not yet know that saving embrace. God’s promise, His Law, the covenants, this adoption we now experience -- all of this belongs to them, all of this has prepared them for Jesus, and yet they refuse the promise, Law, covenant and adoption fulfilled! They cannot accept that their blood ties to Abraham and Isaac are insufficient. They are significant (God has historically favoured the nation of Israel and through them has revealed His heart of mercy and compassion to the world), but insufficient, because even among the patriarchs He did not extend His grace based on lineage alone. As it is written, “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated.” Ultimately it is God’s decision to grant or withhold the gift of His mercy, and He has the divine right to impose restrictions and conditions upon it however He may choose. We know from the prophets that His compassion is far-reaching, but not indiscriminate. He has set the ransom at “perfect righteousness under the Law.” Perfection is unreachable by the efforts of man, but was attained by Jesus and is granted to us through faith in the Son. The Law has condemned everyone but Christ.

Romans 10:1-21

I pray to God for their souls. They are trying so hard to be righteous, desperate to earn their salvation by obedience to the Law. O Israel! Give up this vain pursuit and trust in Jesus! Wait no longer for your Messiah, search no further for your Christ! Confess with your mouth that Jesus is LORD and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, and you will be saved. Confess and believe -- that’s it. Everyone who does this will be saved, regardless of their ancestry and heritage. The biggest hurdle now is that people must hear this good news in order to believe it. We must send missionaries who will preach the message of Christ until everyone is given a chance to listen, respond and believe. The LORD offered Himself directly to the People of Israel for centuries; now He has gifted the whole world access to Himself through Jesus Christ, His Son.

Romans 11:1-36

Hope is not lost for the Jews, but their hope in works will fail them. As in the days of Elijah when God preserved for Himself a remnant of loyal worshippers from the ruins of their executed and exiled nation, so now will He graciously save the portion of Israel that is willing to submit to His Word. You Gentiles have benefitted from the blindness of my kinsmen, but I hope your acceptance of God’s extended grace will inspire jealousy among the Jews that leads to faith in Christ. When you interact with the Jews, don’t be smug; instead, consider them as the natural limbs of a tree, and yourselves as grafted limbs. You thrive only because of their healthy roots. Remember that all branches can be pruned, if unhealthy or unfruitful. They resist Truth now as you so recently did, and God can save even dead branches by His glorious and mysterious power and will.

Romans 12:1-21

But how can we discern the will of God, that we might align our thoughts and actions with His perfect goodness? By sacrificially offering our lives to Jesus Christ, and by submitting our minds to the transformation and renewal of the Spirit. God has uniquely equipped every believer with spiritual gifts (of prophecy, teaching, exhortation, generosity, etc), and we must work together to serve people and glorify Him, just as different parts of the human body work together to accomplish a common goal. In the face of persecution, train yourselves to react with blessings and prayer. Practice empathy and humility; pursue justice but not vengeance; aim always towards peace. This is the path to God-honouring righteousness.

Romans 13:1-14

As one step towards peace, submit yourselves to the governing authorities that God has put in place for you. People in positions of power serve under the sovereign reign of the LORD and have been appointed as ministers of God on earth. Their job is justice and order on your behalf; therefore, you must pay the taxes and pay heed to the laws. Give respect and honour where it is due, incurring no debts of any kind. Do everything with integrity and in love, and you will naturally keep the commandments. Eternity is not some distant thing -- life is fleeting and we don’t have time for sin. Shun the temptations of darkness and walk instead in Light.

Romans 14:1-23

Do not get distracted by petty arguments that don’t matter in light of eternity. The details of exactly how a person worships God can vary, as long as we all belong to Jesus, by faith. Do not pass judgement on each other, and do not maliciously goad each other into sins of the conscience. Each of us is accountable to God for our beliefs and actions, not to the court of our peers. Being self-righteous about matters of preference is spiritual sabotage of the Church body, and does not lead to God-honouring righteousness.

Romans 15:1-33

Is your faith objectively stronger than that of others? Help them. But when you offer help and encouragement, do so out of love and with a heart of humble service, not with an attitude of stooping superiority, or motivated by the praise and accolades of others. Welcome others and live in harmony, united in your desire to glorify the LORD. Our Scriptures foretold the worship of Gentiles among the Jews, and this has now been accomplished by Christ, who extended His hope to everyone by through the ultimate act of humble service. I remind you of these things not as a chastisement, but as an encouragement. For the most part, you’re healthy and doing very well. Your faith is a testament to the work that Christ has accomplished, and I am proud of the role that He has permitted me to play in your salvation and growth. God has kept me busy with other similar ventures, introducing the Gentile nations to Jesus Christ, but now I look forward to a respite from that work through a visit to you, on my way to Spain. My current mission is one of encouragement and support, not evangelism. Please pray for me as I travel -- that I will serve God and His people well, and that I may soon come to you for a time of joyful rest.

Romans 16:1-27

I ask that you greet your congregations on my behalf and on behalf of all the churches of Christ, which I represent. Please give Phoebe a warm welcome, and offer special greetings to Prisca and Aquila, who have given so much. Greetings also to the many other believers who have faithfully served us and served with us from your community. I implore all of you to hold fast to the doctrines you have been taught. Beware those who would divide and distract you, if given the chance. Be wise in what is good and innocent of what is evil, and God will use you to crush Satan underfoot. Greetings from Timothy and our fellow workers here. To the LORD, who has revealed the long-dormant mysteries of the gospel through the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, we say Amen!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"True-Blue"



Khloe had always liked making things up, and loved all sorts of stories and tales; 

She thought often of hunting with ogres, or having tea with the old Prince of Wales.
She would picture herself surrounded by gemstones and treasures beyond all compare,
Or utterly penniless, drifting ashore on a deserted island somewhere. 
She daydreamed so often of wild events that her real life could seem rather dull,
So sometimes, in small ways, she would exaggerate the details when there was a lull.  

The changes she made were always minute and would often go quite undetected. 

If she’d seen three geese, she might just say nine -- which was slightly more than expected. 
She liked to impress; she loved to surprise; she enjoyed the attention of interested eyes;
She craved the applause that performance provided and simple reporting denies. 
This sometimes led Khloe to slip on the line that divides an untruth from what’s real…
The temptation to lie when the telling was good was an urge that she often could feel. 

On her walk back from school, as she crossed through the park, something caught Khloe’s attention.

From the dirt she picked up a blue five dollar bill, and looked around with apprehension. 
No one was near -- no soul in sight -- so she put the blue bill in her pocket and zoom!
Up and down streets she ran all the way home, then quick as a flash she went into her room.
Her heart was pounding with pleasure and fear as she stared at the sapphire paper;
Who would she tell first? How to celebrate? ...Should she even confess to the caper?

As Khloe’s mind stewed over the issue, her imagination started to spin.

Before an hour of time had collapsed, the little blue note had developed a twin. 
Not five in her head but ten had she found lying under the swing, lost and alone,
Which is what she told Jessie and Eddie next morning, when they caught up on the phone. 
“It was there on the ground,” Khloe explained, “I noticed the colour purple. Quite bright.”
“You’re lucky,” sighed Jessie. “You’re rich!” Eddie cried, both girls assuming the sum to be right.

All the legends and myths that Khloe had read began crowding and clouding her thoughts;

By lunch her blue five had become a green twenty, and her tummy was turning to knots.
“You found twenty dollars right here in the park?” Kaleb asked, as if in a trance.
“Maybe there’s more! I’ve got to get looking!” and he leapt up to seize on his chance. 
Kaleb found Nick and they dug ‘round the swings for a while before Nick came to the source.
“Kaleb says you found twenty?” And she nodded assent. “You boys are on the right course.”

Khloe stayed in the park all afternoon and told her tale to all that would listen. 

At some point the bounty she found swelled again, and her eyes would sparkle and glisten
As she filled the air talking of polymer treasure, and whether to save it or spend...
But somewhere deep down she knew it was false and the truth might come out, in the end.
By the time Isabella showed up at the park, the swing sand had all been removed;
And a dozen young people were mining for gold in the place that Khloe’d approved. 

“Fifty bucks!? A red bill!”  Isabella exclaimed, “I’ve never seen that much in one place!

Can I see it, just to hold it a minute?” she asked. And then Khloe went red in the face.
And just at that moment, who would walk up but Jessie and Eddie, girls side by side. 
“Good timing!” said Isabella, “now Khloe can show everyone  what she found by the slide.”
“By the SLIDE!?” shouted Nick, “but you said by the swing! Why did you let us dig the wrong spot!? 
If the twenty was there, I’ve been wasting my time! Nice, Khloe. For real, thanks a lot.”

“No, it was ten,” Jessie told him. “The bill was bright purple. She told us this morning.”

Eddie nodded, but soon the other kids came as a mob without any warning.
“It was green, twenty bucks,” Kaleb argued. “I thought she said brown…” said Lysander.
And as tempers grew short and accusations grew thick, the air filled up with slander.
Oh, how her insides wriggled and squirmed when Khloe thought of her coming confession!
Never before had she been caught so deep inside an elaborate invention. 

“Stop!” she hollered. “Stop,” she whispered. “It was only blue… it was only a five.

The truth got away from me. I'm sorry I lied. It was foolish for me to contrive
A story that was more than what happened. I didn’t want anyone to feel hurt.”
And she brought from her pocket the sapphire bill that she’d actually found in the dirt.
Her friends looked with pity at Khloe’s blue bill and decided that day to be gracious. 
And Khloe committed to truth after that… at least, her fictions were far less audacious. 

She still likes inventing and making things up, but the lesson she learned really took. 

With the five bucks she’d found, she bought writing paper, and now she is drafting a book.
There is space in this world for daydreams and phantoms, for goblins and fairies, too,
But speaking the truth in real life is important if keeping friends matters to you. 
When you cross paths with three geese, you should say so; when you find a blue bill, celebrate --
Then write up a story about nine blue-billed geese! I bet you that tale would be great.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

"Noted Needs"



A week before the end of summer holidays, Emily and her mum left the house for the all-important back-to-school shopping trip. They never spent extravagantly, but Emily was always given a few new things to wear, a new backpack (if the old one needed replacing), a pack of hair ties and some office supplies. One of the things that she requested last August was a box of golf pencils.


Golf pencils are most often found in the pockets of people who golf, as the name suggests. Golfers are given a new pencil for nearly every game they play, and so the life of their golf pencils is rather a short one. Most golf course golf pencils are thrown away at the end of a match, whether or not they have recorded a winning score on their cards. 

But golf pencils can be found in other places, too. Reliably, librarians favour the stunted little graphite implements, scattering them around the shelves and computer tables with stacks of scrap paper, ready to hand whenever someone needs to scribble a note or scrawl down a reference number for whatever book they were hunting. Like the scrap paper, library golf pencils tend to walk away from their posts, never to return. Golf pencils are assumed by everyone, it seems, to be essentially disposable. 

Emily had seen her first golf pencil in a library. It was yellow, about the length of her finger, and had no eraser on its end. She had picked it up with a scrap of paper and had spent a few minutes filling the sheet with doodles while her babysitter tried to find them a suitable movie from the online catalogue. Emily had absentmindedly slipped the pencil into her pocket on the way out of the library. It went through the wash a few days later and got lost sometime after that.

The memory of it came back to her while standing in Staples last August, staring at the wall of perfectly sharpened, multi-coloured pencils. The display had been almost overwhelming, but then she had noticed a chunky, almost square box sitting down on a shelf near the ground. For $10.96 (plus tax) she could buy a set of 144 pencils. Emily had already picked out a few soft white erasers, so it didn’t matter that these ones were without rubber tips of their own. Her mother looked quizzical but agreed to the purchase. 

Emily started school with a pencil case that was absolutely stuffed full of writing utensils. It felt like a treasure chest of sunny gold every time she unzipped the pouch, and she felt almost guilty, somehow, for hoarding so much wealth. It was for this reason that she was so willing to share when Danny had tapped her on the shoulder a week into their September classes. 

“Emily,” asked Danny, “do you have a pencil I could borrow for the rest of the day? I think I’ve lost mine.”

Emily grinned. “I have a pencil you can keep,” she said, handing over one of her 144 golf pencils.

Later that very afternoon, Emily’s class was preparing to take a math test when she felt another tap on her shoulder. When she turned around, Danny was pointing over to Eric, who was looking a little sheepish. “I can’t find any pencils in my desk,” he confessed. “Can I borrow one from you? Danny says you gave his one this morning when he was in a pinch.”

Emily smiled, happy to help again. “Keep it,” she told him, handing Eric another of her pencils. She had so many, after all. She could certainly spare a few more. 

Over the next several months, Emily developed a sort of reputation for being well stocked with pencils and quite willing to share. Other kids in her class came to depend on her generosity when a lack of pencils left them in crisis. Some of her classmates had asked more than once, but she never begrudged their carelessness because she knew from first-hand experience how easy it was to lose a golf pencil. 

Emily had been carefully keeping track of how many pencils were left in her original box. She had used more than twenty pencils on her own over the school year and had given most of the others away whenever asked for help. She’d even offered a golf pencil to her teacher once or twice! By early May, she was down to just nine little yellow pencils, and she was starting to get nervous. As with most of her worries and woes, Emily brought the issue to her mother. 

“I know we usually only go back-to-school shopping in the summer, but just this once can we go end-of-school shopping too?” she asked. “My classmates rely on me, and I don’t want to let them down.”

Though slightly baffled at how even a whole class could go through such a big box of little pencils, Emily’s mother agreed to restock her supply. Together they went back to Staples and bought another case of 144, so that she would be well-equipped and ready to help whenever a friend was in need. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

"End In Sight"



Most families function under some kind of motto, though very few take the trouble to name it outright. 


Probably your family has a united mission of this sort, whether you know it or not -- some guiding principle that everyone subconsciously adheres to; a rule that quietly governs the behaviour of those within the household. Perhaps your family motto is something like: “Mind your own business,” or its near-opposite, “What’s yours is mine.” In my house, growing up, the motto was, “A job half-done is a job not done at all,” and there could be rather severe consequences for unfinished chores and duties.

In Jason’s house, the motto wasn’t only spoken, but it was also written up and framed over their dining room table. It was certainly something his mother and father believed, but Jason wasn’t quite as loyal to the family motto as were his parents. It read: “Hard work builds good character.”  

Thanks to the motto, Jason found himself doing very difficult things on a regular basis. Most of them were not the type of project that could be finished with an hour of diligent effort, through diligence was certainly helpful when tackling the jobs that his parents put on his proverbial plate. Last summer, for example, Jason’s dad had completely demolished their front porch -- and rebuilding it took up every weekend of the school holiday. Jason had worked beside him the whole time, helping to measure and drill, hammer and saw. It was a fun project for the first weekend or two, especially during the demolition phase, but Jason tired of porch-building long before it was finished. 

“I want to do something else,” Jason protested one Saturday morning. It was only ten o’clock, and sweat was already starting to bead up on his forehead from the heat. “Can’t we take a day off?”

“Jason, this is a big project. If we put it off today, it’ll be that much easier to put it off again tomorrow, and next weekend. Better to persevere and buckle-down. Let’s get as much done as we can before we take a break. Remember, we’re building a deck, but we’re also building our character! There is double satisfaction for those who stick it out when things get hard.” 

Jason sighed. He thought a day off from character building would be nice too. But in time, bit by bit, the new front porch had taken shape under their diligent effort. When they finally finished the whole thing, Jason was proud of what they had built together and proud of himself for making it all the way to the end without quitting. 

Jason was in the middle of a new project right now. He’d come up with the idea at Christmas when his mom had made a passing comment about wanting a nice, warm blanket that she could use when she was reading. His mom loved to read, and curled up on the couch nearly every night with a novel of some kind. She read big, thick books with thousands of pages, chipping away at them a chapter at a time. She read the Lord of the Rings, David Copperfield, Don Quixote and the Bible. Basically, as long as it was too big for a backpack, she was into it. 

Jason hadn’t developed the perseverance to get all the way through even one of her favourite books, but he was determined to help her enjoy them all the more by making her a blanket to curl up with. 

He’d roped his dad into helping him get the supplies he needed, and went to YouTube for a tutorial on how to crochet. He stuck to simple stitches and basic yarn, and made excellent progress for the first little while. His mom’s birthday was quite close to Mother’s Day, so his goal was to finish in time to give the blanket to her as a gift that would cover both… but by the end of January, things were feeling pretty hopeless, and his excitement about the blanket had evaporated. 

“I want to do something else,” Jason sighed. “Dad, do you think Mom would like this as a scarf instead?”  

“It’s pretty big for a scarf, at this point,” said his father. “Harder than you thought it would be, eh?” 

Jason nodded. His dad put down his phone and looked over at Jason compassionately. “You’ve set yourself a mighty goal, and the road ahead might still be a long one, but there is tremendous value in persevering through to the end of any project you’ve set your mind to. And you’ll be proud of yourself when you finish! Keep going, buddy, bit by bit, one step and one stitch at a time. You can do it.”


Jason sighed. He could feel his character stretching with every twist of the yarn and dodge of the needle. His fingers were sore and his brain was burning, but he kept at the task with diligence until the big scarf grew into a full-sized blanket, nice and warm and perfect for curling up with a book. 

Jason’s mother cried when she unwrapped his birthday / Mother’s Day present, which is always a good sign. And he was proud of himself for making it all the way through, without quitting. He didn’t want to admit it, but he couldn’t help himself: maybe there was something true about his family’s motto after all. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

"Moving House"


Summer break was less than two months away when Mackenzie announced she was moving. The child was one of Mr. Merkus’s kindergarten favourites, for she was helpful and fair, and reliably kind towards even the oddest of playfellows. In the way of children, her declaration was made with the same carefree tone that she might use to report the colour of her jacket or the name of a doll; she simply said it and moved on, appearing utterly unconcerned about her impending departure. Mr. Merkus squatted down beside the table where Mackenzie was working with playdough. “Kenzie,” he commented, “our class will miss you very much, you know. When does your family move?” Mackenzie mashed together a lump of red and yellow playdough while she answered. “We’re moving house tomorrow, but don’t be sad. We’re not going far. Just across the street, this time.” “Oh,” said Mr. Merkus, a little perplexed. “It seems an awful lot of trouble, just to move across the street.” Mackenzie smiled. “Not much trouble, if everybody pulls their own weight.” Mr. Merkus thought it was a clever thing that the little girl would know how to use that expression. He gave her a thumbs-up and sauntered over to another set of pupils. At lunchtime, Mr. Merkus went into the staff room to use the microwave. There he fell into conversation with the other kindergarten teacher, Ms. Gregory. “Have you heard that Mackenzie’s family is moving tomorrow?” he asked. “Yes! They live right around the corner from me. I’ve been looking forward to their move for quite some time. You’re planning to help, I hope?” Mr. Merkus furrowed his eyebrows. “Do you think it would be entirely appropriate?” “Appropriate!” Ms. Gregory said with a laugh. “If it was inappropriate, do you think the Mayor would be coming? The whole neighbourhood will be there! Many hands make light work, as they say. You really must come and join in, Chris. Don’t miss all the fun!” Mr. Merkus nodded his head slowly, considering this new information. The microwave beeped. He took his lunch back to his classroom without another word. Mr. Merkus didn’t live in the neighbourhood where he worked, though he did call the city his home. When the weather was warm enough, he would commute by bicycle, weaving through the residential streets and admiring the wide variety of houses present on each. Such was the case on the day that Mackenzie’s family was set to move. As he neared the school, he noticed a man using a big roll of yellow caution tape to close off a cul-de-sac. Mr. Merkus paused briefly at the sight. On the sidewalk, coiled up like an immense python snake, was the largest cut of rope that Mr. Merkus had ever seen. It was as thick as your arm, and the colour of dry summer grass. The man with the tape smiled and nodded, as though Mr. Merkus was already in on the secret. Mr. Merkus nodded back, both puzzled and intrigued by the man, his tape, and his rope. But the bell was about to ring, so he had no choice but to pedal on with his questions. The rest of the day appeared normal enough, and by mid-afternoon, Mr. Merkus had nearly forgotten his early morning encounter with the caution tape man -- until two o’clock, when there was a knock at his classroom door. He was greeted by the very same gentleman he’d seen on the street, arms overburdened by a wobbly heap of construction gloves. Several pairs fell from the pile as the man made his way into the room. “Afternoon, Mr. Merkus! I’m Kenzie’s dad, here to deliver the gloves for moving day! Every willing student and teacher gets a pair. You’ll be joining us, I hope?” Mackenzie stood beside her father and started sorting out the sets that were labeled extra-small. “I . . . will, yes,” said Mr. Merkus. He helped Mackenzie sift through the pile, and made sure that every child was properly fit with protective gear before finding himself a rather larger pair, and opening the classroom door for Mackenzie’s father once again. “Thank you,” the man said from behind his leathery load. “I’d shake your hand, but I haven’t a spare. See you soon!” Mr. Merkus closed the door behind him. At the end of the day, it was customary for parents and guardians to gather about the school in quiet groups, awaiting the release of their children. For Mr. Merkus, moving day was proving exceptional even in this regard. When he led his line of students onto the playground, he was met by a veritable horde of people crowding in around his kids. Each child was quickly claimed by their proper adult and then hoisted up onto shoulders so that they would be able to see over the growing mass, as a witness to whatever it was they were assembling to do. Mr. Merkus was swept up in the moment and, along with everyone else, he moved down the street and around the corner, coming to a halt in front of the yellow caution tape. It was a physically feeble barrier, but the community respected its symbolic request for cooperation. Mr. Merkus looked around. At first blush, there didn’t seem to be anything special or unusual about the houses on this street. Two rows of two-storey homes faced each other; each had a driveway, many with a car parked out front. About halfway down the road, Mr. Merkus noticed that the monstrous, serpentine rope he’d seen coiled up that morning had been fastened by hooks the size of battleship anchors to the underside of the house. Where the building’s foundation should have been, a layer of bricks had been removed to reveal a hulking set of wheels. The house was perched on four gigantic castors, of the style that is commonly found on office chairs, or mobile bed frames. Mackenzie was perched on her front porch, which was now suspended a good three feet from the ground. The bottom steps had been lifted away, set off to the side, on a neighbouring lawn. Just when Mr. Merkus was wondering what they would happen next, Ms. Gregory appeared at his side. “Got your gloves?” she asked, inspecting his hands. “Those ropes have been known to splinter in the past. They’ve been used for generations of house moving, so a little wear and weathering is to be expected. Almost time to pull your weight!” She gestured to the house, the rope and then over to the empty lot across the road. He hadn’t noticed it before. Suddenly the whole situation became shockingly clear. “We’re going to DRAG it?!” he gasped. “Of course,” said Ms. Gregory. “What were you expecting?” A well-dressed woman with an absurdly large pair of scissors came over to the crowd and ceremonially cut through the caution tape. The crowd formed itself into a line along both sides of the rope, bent in unison, and picked it up. “On my count,” cried Mackenzie’s dad from his driveway. “One, two, THREE!” Everyone heaved their hardest, and the house rolled a few feet forward. After a pause, Mackenzie’s father called out again, and then again, measuring their progress as he paced beside his home with each pull. It took them an hour to shuffle the house into the street, get it turned around, and then coax it up the driveway and into its new space. A team of people brought the bricks over and began burying the big wheels behind them. Another team of people handed out hot dogs and popsicles to everyone who had helped haul the house across the street. Mr. Merkus joined a group of people transplanting the garden beds, and he was up to his elbows in the dirt when Mackenzie’s father finally tracked him down for that handshake. “Thanks for helping us move. It’s a real blessing to live in such a supportive community. Sure couldn’t do this alone!” “Happy to help,” Mr. Merkus replied, surveying the scene. The whole street was full of laughter and friendship, a welcome reminder that human kindness was still alive and kicking, at least in little neighbourhood cul-de-sacs. He walked back to the school to retrieve his bike with a heart full of hope for the world. And he smiled as he pedaled, all the way home.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

"The Lemon's Aide"




Living a life in constant yellow can be a wearying existence.
When you're yellow, people expect you to carry on as though every moment of your life is bathed in sunshine from dawn 'til dusk, but the truth is that even Yellows have blue days.
Just ask Lemon.
Lemon was a tough guy to peel. Although bright and smooth in appearance, he often struggled to keep up with the expectation of being the life of the party. He compared himself too frequently to Banana and Passion-fruit (one admired for his form and the other for flavour), but even with this self-troubling habit most others in the fruit basket couldn't see past his goofiness to the sour pit he was feeding.
Lemon was sad. When you're so yellow, there's no opportunity to show off some of the other colours that are experienced just below the surface. The pinks of love, the blues of melancholy and the oranges of adventurousness never saw the sun on Lemon's peel... but before too long another colour began seeping out from his core.
"Lemon," Papaya commented one afternoon, "you're looking a little lime... are you okay?"
Lemon did what he could to let the comment roll off his back: "I'm fine, I just need a little more Vitamin D, that's all."
But sunshine wasn't enough to stop Lemon's greenness from spreading. In a few days, everyone had noticed – and they began to talk. "I know he's been hanging out with the Veggies recently," Apple said to Peach as they watched Lemon roll slowly from one side of the basket to the other. "Maybe the broccoli has been rubbing off on him a little too much?"
Lemon's friends tried to cheer him up and get his yellow back, but they couldn't figure out the root problem. Lemon was looking darker and darker every day, and everyone was worried.
"Is he rotting?" a little grape asked.
The response was uncertain and hushed. "He's sick, honey. Tired maybe... maybe more."
Two weeks after Lemon's hue had begun to darken, Radish got thrown in with the fruits.
"Are you an avocado?" Radish asked, unaware of the gradual pigmented depression Lemon had found himself in. She based her question solely on that which could be observed: the once yellow Lemon was now a very deep blueish-greyish-green colour.
"I'm a lemon," said Lemon.
Radish furrowed her eyebrows. "What has happened to your sunshine?"
Lemon sighed heavily, brimming with tears. The dimples that had once served to highlight his cheer now seemed to emphasize the depth of his creases and the weight in his eyes. "I've lost it," Lemon confessed. "It's been gone for a terribly long time."
"Well then," said Radish, gently, "I will help you find it again."
Radish listened while Lemon opened up. He spoke of the wear his friends had on him at times, and he recalled moments of frustration and fatigue often suppressed in order to serve his bubbly social role. He confided in Radish for a long time while she said nothing with neither smile nor tear. She simply listened.
Little by little, Lemon's grey lightened, the blue faded, and the green disappeared. Little by little, Lemon was yellowing. When he had explained everything he'd been keeping to himself, and all that pressure had been released, he laughed. Radish looked pleased, but also different, somehow.
Before Lemon had a chance to inquire, Radish nodded quietly and tipped her head to one side. "Did you know," she began, as though it were a question, "that colours are contagious? They have an amazing quality about them that is transferable – blues and yellows and even pinks – they can be passed on or pulled in by others. You've gotten much yellow back, and I've got some of that now too! But I also took on a bit of your blue and a little green, to help you get rid of it. So that's why I look a little odd – I'm brighter, but also darker than when I arrived here. More the colouring of an unusually ripe apple than a radish, you might say."
"But I don't want you to be blue or green!" Lemon cried, obviously distressed.
Radish smiled. "It's okay Lem. It's what friends do. We share the good and the bad, the blue and the yellow. We trade off and balance out and complement. It's our design."
Lemon gave Radish a hug. If this act seems impossible, consider that a radish is rarely a radish in such tales, and such tales are rarely told with the simple intention of entertainment. Rather, they often come prepared with an applicable punch:
When life gives you Lemons, be the Lemon's aide.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

"Uncivil War"



If only you’d met them three summers ago, you’d have said they were peas in a pod --

So similar and so familiar were they, separate sightings had seemed rather odd.
Had you met them in winter two Christmases past, you may not have told them apart
For they wore matching outfits from headbands to socks. (They really had mastered the art.)
Last spring had you passed them on sidewalk or street, you’d have noticed them walking in sync
But by fall something dreadful had broken their bond, and their friendship had come to the brink.

Now Zoey and Sara did nothing by bicker and squabble and quarrel and fight,
And because they were sisters this tension prevailed throughout morning and evening and night.
As soon as the sunshine peeked over the trees, Sara leapt out of bed with a smile
But her joy was soon quenched by a shout from her sibling, of “Go back to sleep for a while!”
And that set them off for the rest of the day, ever getting at each other’s throats,
Grumbling and arguing under their breath, one pouting while the other girl gloats.

At breakfast one morning, Zoey requested for her eggs to be sunny-side-up.
Sara sniffed with distaste and asked for her’s scrambled, pouring OJ, not milk, in her cup.
They went back to their bedroom to pick out some clothes, and Sara chose a get-up in green
So Zoey wore Valentine’s Day pinks and reds, as though nothing could shake her routine.
Side by side in the bathroom, both brushing their teeth, they glared at each other’s reflection...
When Zoey lashed out, “Sara, you’re in my space!” With her fist, Sara offered correction.

“ENOUGH!” cried their mom, firmly taking control. “All this chirping and nagging must end!
From now on you will speak with politeness and tact. If you cannot? Then simply pretend!
You girls are making my hairs all turn grey from the stress and division you’re causing.
Battles rage ‘round the clock, and your tempers are flared every minute without even pausing!
Drop all the outrage, anger and spite, and let’s aim for some peace and tranquility.
Unless you would like to be grounded for life, you must practice the skill of civility.”

Then she used the old line about holding your tongue if you can’t think of nice things to say,
And both Sara and Zoey collapsed into silence -- cold shoulders, both looking away.
They kept their mouths closed on the short walk to school and all through the long day of classes
Which seemed to drag out longer than usual, time thick and slow like molasses.
Their quiet walk home, they stayed hushed over dinner and noiseless remained for three days
With neither girl willing to say a kind word, ending trouble by voicing a phrase.

At first, their mother rejoiced in the stillness, enjoying the muteness of daughters,
But she soon came to worry that nothing would be able to stir up such calm waters.
“Surely you can’t sustain silence forever,” she commented on day number two.
“You don’t have to agree on all things to be kind; a dose of good manners will do.”
Both girls nodded their heads and stared down at their shoes, feeling trapped, uncertain and sad,
For although they were mad, each girl knew in her heart that the other one wasn’t that bad.

How do you broker a truce when both sides of the war feel that they’re in the right?
How do you come back to peace talks when no one wants to look like they’re losing the fight?
For Zoey and Sara, the answer came down to inviting a mediator:
Their mom would give guidance to the conversation they had to have sooner or later.
On Saturday morning they went out for brunch and things got off to a civil start
When they all ordered pancakes and peach juice and quiche (which is a cheesy, egg-filled tart).

When their platters arrived, Sara knew it was time to put their differences aside,
So she timidly asked for Zoey to pass her the syrup, and Zoey complied.
A few seconds later, Zoey needed the salt and asked Sara to lend her a hand;
Sara found it easy to offer assistance, when phrased as request, not demand.
As three they talked over the trouble they’d had last August that caused their estrangement,
And with courtesy and tact the sisters worked out a new, civil and social arrangement.

So now when you meet them, you needn’t be wary of setting their tempers alight.
Though conflicts between them still surface near daily, they discuss them with words quite polite.
While each girl’s developed her own sense of style, they don’t go out of their way to clash;
They’ve come to appreciate ways that they differ, their dealings more like a dance than a crash.
Can we now find peace? Can we settle fights? Well, the advice of their mother proves true:
You don’t have to agree on all things to be kind; a dose of good manners will do.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

"Psychological Warfare"


A suit of armour used to be an obvious thing: a full-body shield of metal, used by knights in the face of battle. The wars of the past featured soldiers on horseback, raging against a physical enemy, and when spears and swords are the weapons to hand, you’d better have a way to protect yourself.

But the battlefield has changed.

In our modern times, we stand on a different line of scrimmage that requires a new type of armour. For the most part, the weapons that exist in our community are more ethereal, almost invisible, though just as dangerous and sharp. We fight against words and ideas. We fight against moods and attitudes. Our defences are, likewise, difficult to identify. While most of our armour has to be worn in the mind to protect the spirit, there are certain physical things that can bolster our inner strength and remind us of the powerful protection that cannot easily be seen. They can boost our confidence when we are threatened. They can help us to summon our courage.

Although he was quite young, Waleed was a veteran of this brand of war. He had suffered attacks that were just as frightening as any Medieval siege. Verbal grenades had left him with emotional scars, but that didn’t cause him to cower. For every wound he sustained, he had deflected a hundred blows, thanks to the strength of his internal armor.

On hard days (which was not every day, but which did come up from time to time), Waleed had a secret weapon, a piece of external armour that he could wear. It was an old, pink-and-purple polka-dot short-sleeved t-shirt that he kept at the back of his closet.

The shirt had once belonged to Kyran, Waleed’s older brother. Kyran had never shied away from anything; he was always up for a challenge, always seemed ready to take on the world. Kyran had also been a great encourager of others, whatever they were trying to do. When Waleed needed a confidence boost, he would pull out that old polka-dot shirt and find it a little easier to face the day ahead.

The last time he’d worn it, Waleed had been auditioning for a play at his school. He had worked hard on his public-speaking skills, but it was a nerve-wracking thing to climb up on stage and perform, especially before you’ve actually memorized any lines. He’d worn Kyran’s t-shirt under his hoodie, so nobody else even saw it -- but he knew it was there, and it helped him to fight off the whispers of self-criticism that swirled around in his head when he was quiet.

“I can do this,” he told himself. It’s important to be firm when you're talking to yourself. You have to speak hope and truth with boldness, because fear is often quite sure of itself, and doubt can be awfully convincing. “I can do this,” repeated Waleed. He got the role, and he wore polka-dots under his costume on the opening night, too, but found that he didn’t need his armour after that first performance. Kyran’s shirt had done its job.

This week, Waleed pulled it out again. He’d been feeling a little low lately, after getting back a test that didn’t go very well. His teacher had been sympathetic, but Waleed was still disappointed, and the little voice in his head had started to whisper discouraging things.

“I thought you were so smart,” hissed his subconscious mind.

“I am smart,” said Waleed. This conversation wasn’t new, but it was always difficult.

“You can’t do anything right,” taunted the voice.

“I can learn from my mistakes. It’s okay to fail, as long as I try,” Waleed told himself firmly. The boldness of this thought silenced his internal critic for a while, but this was a daily battle, and Waleed’s confidence was in need of an extra little boost.

There was another test coming up on Friday. Waleed wore his brother’s polka-dot shirt for the review on Wednesday, for the practice quiz on Thursday and for Friday’s actual test. It wasn’t a good-luck charm or a talisman, exactly -- he didn’t think wearing it would make him do better on the test or anything -- but when he wore it, he remembered his brother’s encouragement, and the strength of his brother’s character, and that reminded Waleed of his own strength, courage and character. Armour doesn’t win a battle, it just protects the fighter. To win, you still have to fight.

Waleed fought his doubts and fears all the way through the test. Those nagging thoughts were like distracting dragons, but he kept focussed on his quest and when he was finished, he felt pretty good. The rest of the day went pretty well, too. That night, Waleed was able to smile at his reflection in the mirror, even after he’d taken off his short-sleeved shield. The voices were silent, for the moment. The shirt had done its job.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

"Lady in Waiting"


Angelina’s baby sister was just about to turn one year old. Everyone had been preparing for a big family get-together on the weekend, where little Olivia would get her very first taste of birthday cake. Angelina had spent a great deal of time folding paper napkins into origami crowns and stars and flowers; her dad had spent his week hanging streamers from the ceiling all over the house, and various aunties and uncles were making up trays full of delicious treats and goodies for the party on Saturday. But it was Angelina’s mother who had the very best job of all: she was baking the cake.

On Thursday evening, Angelina’s mother started pulling out all of her baking materials and arranging them along their long counter. She had worked as a professional cake decorator once, so her supply cupboards for this type of work were full to bursting and every piece was of top-notch quality. There were pans and platters and bowls and brushes galore. She brought out her industrial stand mixer and a collection of spreaders and spatulas. She had a large, black tool box that was a treasure chest of highly-pigmented food colourings, piping bags and tips for making different shapes and textures of icing. Each item was laid out with great care, as a painter would carefully set out his paints at the beginning of a large project.

Angelina had watched her mother make many cakes before, but she rarely was invited to eat them when the decorations were complete. All sorts of people hired her mom to make cakes for their most special occasions -- weddings, graduations, retirement parties and the like -- but for Olivia’s first birthday, she would finally be allowed to indulge in one of her mother’s masterpieces. There had been a magnificent cake for Angelina’s birthday, of course, but that was so long ago now.

Angelina sat at the kitchen table, folding a few remaining napkins into delicate paper flowers. Over at the counter, she could hear her mother muttering to herself as she mixed the batter for her sister’s birthday cake. After a while, Angelina walked over to where her mother was working, hoping to watch, or help, or, if she was lucky, to taste.

Angelina’s mother carefully poured the thick, shiny batter into the waiting baking pans, already floured and greased. With a spatula, she scraped out the mixing bowl until it was perfectly clean, before handing the empty bowl and wiped-off scraper to Angelina for washing. Usually a bit of the batter would be left in the bottom or along one edge of these tools, but her mom had been especially careful today. Angelina sighed with disappointment. She would have to wait until the next phase of this process to taste-test.

The kitchen smelled better and better as the cakes began to warm and rise in the oven. Angelina peered through the window in the oven door to get a better look, as the gooey cakes transformed into soft and solid circles and goodness. Finally the timer went off and Angelina’s mother gently lifted the cake pans onto the top of the stove to cool. The aroma that escaped from inside the oven was absolutely heavenly!

“Patience, my girl,” grinned her mother when she saw the look of longing on Angelina’s eager face. The girl looked up a little sheepishly, and went back to folding napkins while they waited.

An hour later, they were ready to continue. The first thing that Angelina’s mother did was to pop the cakes out of their pans and cut off the rounded top of the cakes to make them nice and flat. Usually those cake tops were considered waste and so could be eaten immediately, but when Angelina reached up to break a piece off, her mother shook her head. “We’re going to use those bits to make cake pops this time,” she said. Angelina sighed again, resigning herself to more waiting. Surely there would be something to taste before too long.

Angelina’s mother whipped up a buttercream icing by combining a great glob of butter with several cups of icing sugar, a splash of vanilla and just a dribble of milk. Her mother dropped a dollop of white icing into several small bowls, smearing a coloured paste into each with a toothpick. Angelina mixed the bright pigment into each little batch while her mom layered up the cake and covered the whole thing with a thin crumb-coat of buttercream icing before setting it in the fridge to chill. More waiting ensued.

When the cake had chilled another hour, Angelina and her mom covered it in a rainbow of icing, using each of the colours in turn. They then used even more icing to make a dough out of the leftover cake tops, rolling them into round little balls, roughly the size of a Timbit, finally covering them in a smooth layer of white. They stuck them around the top of the rainbow cake and shook a tin of sprinkles over the whole thing. Angelina’s mouth watered as her eyes surveyed their finished masterpiece with pride. It was beautiful and it would taste wonderful, but how could she wait for two more days!?

“Thank you for helping me, and for being so patient,” said Angelina’s mom, once all the baking bits were cleaned up and the counters were once again clear. “Time to celebrate.”   She pulled two cake pops out of hiding. They were covered in sprinkles and extra large. Angelina took one and beamed. No. More. Waiting.