Bounty

The Prayer of Jabez

And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying,
“Oh, that You would bless me indeed,
and enlarge my territory,
that Your hand would be with me.
So God granted him what he requested.

[1 Chronicles 4:10]

At Thanksgiving, we are reminded to express gratitude for our many blessings. Living in a land of such beauty and abundance, that is easy to do for most Canadians. Mark 11:24 tells us, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” This means that instead of praying, “God. Please provide for me and my family” one should pray, “I praise you God for your provision.” Pray with gratitude as though it has already been given unto you, and you will receive it. This leap of faith requires the childlike faith that Jesus told us we must have.

Of course, it is God’s nature to bless. Only we limit his bounty with an imperfect faith. In the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles, the descendants of the Hebrew tribes are introduced, beginning with Adam. In Chapter 4, one meets Jabez. He is a descendent of Judah.

The name Jabez means, “Because I bore him in pain.” His mother chose his name because his was a particularly painful childbirth. It is written that Jabez was more honourable than his brothers, yet still he was cursed with an unfortunate name. In Biblical times a man’s name prophesied his future. Jabez chose to disregard his pain-filled name and ask for God’s blessing. “Oh, that You would bless me indeed.” His direct request to God changed his once-ordinary life and left a permanent mark on the history books of Israel. He died an extraordinary man.

When was the last time you asked God to bless you? Is it presumptuous to ask God to bless us? Jabez also asked that God enlarge his territory. “…and enlarge my territory…” When one asks God to enlarge his or her territory the influence he or she can have on the lives of others for God will expand. God will entrust that individual with a greater territory for Christ’s work if only that person asks.

Of course, Jabez knew he couldn’t do anything without God’s presence and influence. “…that Your hand would be with me…” The touch of God comforts people when life expands just as Jabez needed God’s grace in his life as things began to change for him.

Was it because Jabez asked to be blessed and challenged by God that he was? I believe so, yes. God favours those who ask. He holds back nothing from those who are willing to walk with Him and who earnestly want what He wants. Perhaps then, it matters not how one asks but only that one has the faith and the courage to ask.

It is said that when one prays the Prayer of Jabez one finds that he or she will live a life marked with God’s blessings, supernatural provisions, and divine providence at the precise moment they are needed. It may just be worth a try.

I wish all a blessed and bountiful Thanksgiving in this great land of ours.

God’s Time

Autumn is my favourite season. I love the chill in the morning or evening air just as I love to be surprised by the unexpected but always welcome warmth of an afternoon autumn sun. I love the earth’s colours in fall mirrored in cozy fall fashion. I love the ease with which one can daily function in temperate fall climates. Indeed, the movement of life seems somehow easier in the fall. Of course, life is not always if ever truly easy. Life ebbs and flows. There are gains and losses in life, joys and sorrows. One quickly learns that the light of dawn cannot exist without the dark of night.

Seasonally, fall is a time of death. Farmers harvest crops that they have brought to fruition throughout the year. Trees shed leaves. Plump, green grasses wither, turn brown and die as the earth’s mantle awaits its cloak of white snow that will incubate new life. When the timing is perfect, that new life will spring forth from the rejuvenated soils. Ironically, it is in dying that the earth restores itself so that it can be reborn.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 addresses the seasons of an individual’s life as it explores the meaning of life:

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Each season in nature brings with it unique pursuits that are allotted by God. So too the seasons in a man’s life are determined by God. The passage says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). God has an overall plan for each of our lives. God brings about His purpose in His own time.

Though at times it is difficult to do so, we are called to acknowledge each day as a gift from God. We are to accept that God has a reason for all things, and His timing is perfect unto heaven. We are ignorant of God’s timing, just as we are unaware of God’s plan for each of our lives, but we are called to trust in God’s sovereignty. In fact, a life only has meaning when one relies on God’s wisdom, timing, and goodness.

Though everyone desires to be happy and sets about seeking happiness, securing happiness on our own is as elusive as the wind. Instead of pursuing pleasure, we should allow God’s peace and joy to take up residence in our hearts. Instead of chasing the things that we feel will make us cheerful, we need to find contentment in God’s love despite any intangible circumstances.

It is time to do so.

 

 

Embrace of Faith

After I left my marriage, feeling rootless in Canada, I traveled several days by plane, train, ferry and bus to reach the remote, coastal village in Donegal that was Griffin ancestral land. I crossed the border into the Republic of Ireland at Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Still two years before the Good Friday Peace Agreement of 1998, armed British soldiers stood guard at the border crossing. My Uncle Frank awaited my arrival beneath a bus depot light, newspaper tucked beneath his arm, navy knit-cap resting above bright, blue eyes so like my father’s and my own.

“A hundred thousand welcomes,” he said, smiling.

It was midnight before my uncle mutely led me to his cottage, each of us puffing frozen exhales into an aubergine sky. My fatigue was replaced by a sense of marvel at the brilliance of the stars against the blackness of night. A simple mattress placed in front of his fireplace was to be my bed, and after a snack of warm biscuits and hot tea, I slept feeling closer to God than I had in sometime.

In the morning, I opened the curtains to look upon a postcard view that the darkness had hidden from sight the previous night. White cottages dotted emerald hills, white clouds broke an azure sky, and white sailboats danced on cobalt water. My uncle and his toothless hound-dog, Binbo, walked towards town. Pulling on my boots, I chased after them.

The Catholic Church was white and quaint in its splendour. My uncle and I took turns entering the chapel and standing outside with Binbo. As we departed the chapel, my uncle said, “It’s divorce, then?” Ashamed, I could only nod. “Give it to God. He gives beauty for ashes,” Frank said.

My uncle was constructing a home for himself and his wife, Bridie, with the help of my Griffin cousins. I joined in the assembly and physical exertion and the sweet sensation of belonging began to quell my grief. I attended daily Mass with my uncle, and found that my faith sustained me.

On my daily run over the surrounding hills, I’d stop at the white cottage that was my grandfather’s birthplace. Touching its damp stones, the same prayer always settled on my lips. “God. Carry me.” My heart was shattered.

I bought a postcard showing the village chapel. On it I wrote: “I’m in God’s country. Standing where your father stood. Walking where he walked.”  I mailed it to my father in Canada. 

Rain christened Donegal on my last day in Ireland. I plucked a rock from the north wall of my grandfather’s cottage to bring Griffin strength home with me when I left that place that had proven to be my sanctuary in January 1996. My uncle took me to a seaside cemetery and together we examined family headstones.

“There’s always arms for you to fall into, Angela,” Frank said.

I turned to face the seashore, hiding my tears from him. Ocean waves washed clean silver sands, the water reclaiming in its visiting grasp life stuck there, eager to return to the sea. The rain, fragrant with Donegal bell heather, fell ever softly. Something sacred surrounded me and the internal voice I was beginning to heed whispered above the roar of the Irish Sea: I’m with you always.

In the doorway of the bus station, a British soldier stood guard, his unwavering gaze fixed past me. Inside the station, I wrote on an ocean-view postcard: You’re never alone. I mailed it to myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wingspan

In 1966 Scotland, Catholics must indicate their religion on job applications, thwarting another work opportunity for them in bitter Orange Scotland. My father must take everything but a plane to his work and then even that ends in another layoff notice. He’s fed up with uncertain work. Billboard, radio and television advertisements invite worker Scots to go to Canada. In Glasgow’s Canada House, my father enquires about this place: Canada. A tall man with a soft Canadian accent rolls a map of Canada before my father and asks him where he wants to live and what sort of work he would like to do. Scotland has no place for him while Canada is a Proverbs’ bride offering hope, prosperity, and the optimistic future that has been denied him in his sectarian homeland because of his religion.

We live in newly constructed apartments on Hamilton Road in London, Ontario. A Dominion grocery store stands behind the apartments, its neon-lit red maple leaf brandishing its mocha-colored brick, and the Thames River flows nearby. At Easter, as I hunt for chocolate eggs, I find a bird trapped in the gold draperies over the glass patio doors of our main floor apartment. It swoops above my head and I feel air on my face from its frantic wingspan. I yelp and run down the hallway to my parents’ bedroom, my tiny feet padding the cold linoleum. I sneak to my father’s side of the bed, and poke at his bare shoulder. My dad opens his big, blue eyes and wants to know what’s wrang. I tell him there’s a bird trapped in the house.

“Och,” he says. “That’s a wee birdie yer mammy brought hame way her last night, hen. It has a broken wing.”

“Its wings are working now,” I tell him.

“Wha’s gain’ on?” My mother’s voice rises from the mound of blankets next to my father and I duck down beside my father’s side of the bed.

“Och. The wean’s frightened. The wee bird flew at her heid.”

My dad climbs from his bed and takes my small hand in his hard palm as we walk together into the living-room. The bird careens at a rapid speed above our heads.

“See, Dad?”

“Aye, pet. I see right enough.”

My dad opens the patio door.

“Fly away, little bird,” I say.

“The wee thing’s frightened, darlin’. He’ll f’un his way oot when he’s ready tae gae.”

The cold air from outside invades the apartment and I shiver in need of a pee. My dad asks if I want cereal, and I say ‘yes’. He pulls a small, blue plastic bowl from the cupboard and fills it with Cornflakes, sugar and ice cold milk.

“Sit up here, pet-lamb,” he says.

I climb onto the stool next to the countertop. On the chipped formica lies a shoe box, holes pierced in its lid. Inside the shoebox is a terry facecloth. I want to know what the box is for.

“Yer mammy made the wee birdie a bed.”

My dad asks me if I managed to find any Easter eggs, and I shake my head no. I look up at the bird as I eat my cereal. He flies too fast for me to get a good look at him. I don’t want to be afraid, but I cover my head with my hands each time he plunges past.

“Och, he’ll no hurt you, hen,” my dad says. “He’s a harmless, wee sparrow.”

The bird finally finds an opening through the gold drapes and escapes into the April sky pregnant with the promise of an icy, Easter morning rain.

“That’s him away,” my dad says.

“Where to?” I ask, relieved the bird is gone.

“He’s away back hame,” my father says, following the bird’s flight with his bright, blue eyes. My dad turns, winks at me and smiles.

We’re home already, I know. Canada gave our Catholic family the life denied us in Presbyterian Scotland, and we are home. This place called Canada is our home.