Posted in Blog, In the Word

Beauty from Ashes

For our 11-year anniversary, Farmer Boots and I went to hear Gianna Jessen, the brilliant, captivating, joyful woman who survived a late-term abortion 39 years ago.

“How could you not love me?” she asks winsomely, and the audience agrees. She wins us over easily with her soft voice and infectious laugh. She gives us pieces of her remarkable story: the story of a 2-and-a-half pound baby girl, who was supposed to be born dead, but confounded the abortionists by refusing to die; the story of the toddler who was never supposed to walk or hold up her head, but somehow grew up into a young woman who ran two marathons — marathons in which she finished last, bloody-footed but not beaten.

Gianna tasted the bitterness and rejection of death before she was ever born, and yet she refuses to let any of this define her. She stands strong in her identity as God’s girl. “Don’t mess with me,” she warns us, “My Father runs the world.”

tumblr_gianna-jessen-09-09-15If her story of survival against all odds is remarkable — which it is — it is secondary to the larger story she hints at — the narrative of redemption that we are all invited to be a part of. Just looking at the joy shining out of Gianna’s beautiful face as she tells us how much she loves life, we see how Jesus brings beauty from ashes.

I have seen YouTube clips of Gianna Jessen before. I was familiar with her story, and her engaging manner. I was prepared to laugh and cry, to come away strengthened in my prolife convictions, and inspired in my walk with the Lord.

But what I did not anticipate was the perspective that my chronic illness would give me.

“I have been blessed with the gift of cerebral palsy.” Gianna opened. She spoke of how she had to lean on Jesus for every step — quite literally — and how this literal dependence upon Him creates a closer relationship.

Cerebral palsy was something that I had previously seen as an add-on to Gianna’s main story, an unfortunate fact that she happens to live with. But now, as a person with an invisible disability, I saw her illness as an intrinsic part of who she was, a piece of herself. It shapes her every move, every decision, every day. Very deep down, it is a part of her, not just her body, but her mind and her spirit.

She made the choice to stand here in front of us, unassisted by a mobility device. My previously-healthy self would have been oblivious to the independence represented by this choice.

She may lose her balance a little, but she laughs it off. My newly-disabled self can appreciate the courage that takes.

She flew into town and will fly out again in the space of a day or two, and she is very likely extending her energy to its limit by speaking at this event. That pace, madcap for a person with a chronic illness, takes a determination that I could not have understood before.

After her speech, she excuses herself to sit at a table and greet people from a seated position. This is her way of taking care of herself, and I can see the prudence and respect for herself that she has learned from long experience with a disability.

Our conditions are different, but there are certain commonalities to all disabilities. They place limits on our lives, shrinking our lives down in scope and size. A certain choice may be made, a certain event may be attended, but many other choices and events are thereby eliminated.

For myself, I find myself bound more and more to the home. As the mother of five busy young children, prioritizing their care and education does not leave much energy for outings. This exception for our anniversary was carefully planned for, and it was by no means a certainty that we were going to make it through the whole thing.

But it is not just outings that shrink in frequency and length. Everything shrinks. Our new house has a wonderful big wooded backyard which I will probably never be able to explore with my children. I can’t even make it as far as my husband’s garden without the riding lawn mower. I cannot participate in my family’s life in nearly as full a manner as I want to.

“This is not how I pictured my life to be, exhausted and worn out just from making meals. My dreams and visions and plans for motherhood are all slipping away,” I cried to Brian in a moment of self-pity just the night before. “My life is slipping away!”

But here, sitting in this auditorium listening to Gianna describe her condition as a gift that Jesus gave her in order to help her to depend more fully upon Him, I realize how my condition, too, is a call to rely more fully upon Him.

“How can you, healthy person, tell me what the quality of my life is?” she asks. She speaks about the extreme arrogance of the ableist notion of quality of life. “My life is not slipping away.”

And it is at these words that my eyes, already filled with tears, suddenly overflow.  Were these not the very words I whined to my husband just the night before?  I sob silently as I realize how incredibly whiny I am, and how Jesus loves and comforts me anyway.

“My life is not slipping away.” My very words were echoed back at me — minus the petulance and self-pity, charged instead with the power and determination of one who is living for the glory of God. And I felt His love for me. I knew that He had put those words in Gianna Jessen’s mouth for me this night.

And isn’t that just like Him? To come and meet me right where I am, in the midst of my peevish discontent, and to offer me no reproach at all, but only love and inspiration, reminding me that I have a purpose, a life and a hope.

“This is what you have,” Gianna said. “Now how are you going to use it?”

At the end of her speech, Gianna outlined an area in her own life which is causing her to feel impatience. And she told us God’s response to her. “Are you willing to give me your whole life, Gianna?”

Again, I felt convicted, and called to give my whole life to the Lord. As much as I congratulate myself for accepting this disability without a lot of kicking and screaming, there are still many areas in which I am fighting Him, trying to hold on to my own visions and dreams for my life.

Am I willing to give him my whole life? Am I, like Gianna, willing to accept this illness as the gift of Ehlers Danlos? Am I willing to see it as a blessing and an opportunity to lean on Him more fully?

Gianna Jessen is enchanting. She is a courageous advocate for the unborn, valiantly speaking unpopular, politically incorrect words to remind us of those we would rather forget. She speaks for the most vulnerable among us, lending her sweet voice to unborn children who cannot speak for themselves. But last night, it was Jesus’ voice that I heard, speaking right to my spirit.

Oh, and by the way, in case you are wondering, yes, I did go up to meet Gianna after the event. I sat in front of her on my walker-seat, because of course I could not have stood up, and I tried to tell her what her words had meant to me. I told her that the very words I had used in self-pity to my husband the day before, Jesus had used to convict and uplift me in her speech tonight.

“What were the words?” she asked.

And, true to form, I could not remember the words! Ha! My God does have a sense of humour! After an hour of sitting upright with a less-than-optimum amount of blood getting to my brain, my aphasia was in full gear. For such a very wordy girl, glorying in verbosity, occasionally bordering on the fustian, (or hadn’t you noticed?), my once-impeccable memory for words has become sadly deficient.

But never mind, I remember them now.

And perhaps the gift of Ehlers Danlos, with a liberal helping of aphasia, is just His way of blessing me with the all-new opportunity to learn to listen more than I speak.

And, listening closely, this is what I hear:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations…

 Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours.

(Isaiah 61)

 

photo credit: The Empty Quarter, Arabian Desert, UAE via photopin (license)

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Posted in Blog, In the World

Media Blackout on Parental Rights Hearing?

Ontario father Eustathios (Steve) Tourloukis was in Superior Court yesterday in Hamilton,  where Kathleen Wynne’s Attorney General allegedly argued to take away the father’s parental rights pertaining to the education of his children. I say allegedly because I can find only one source for this information, a blog written by Lee Iacobelli, the chair of Parental Rights in Education Defense Fund (PRIEDF), an organization which is financially supporting Mr. Tourloukis’ court case.

Why is the media so silent? This is a case with ramifications far beyond one father. If Premier Wynne and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (EFTO), who have sought intervenor status in the proceedings, are successful, they will have set the precedent of revoking fundamental parental rights in education!

This is an extremely controversial curriculum. It was controversial in 2010, when it was first introduced by Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government. So controversial that he pulled it, promising not to reintroduce it without parental consultation, much to the chagrin of then-Minister of Education now-Premier Wynne.

It was controversial at the time of its implementation in September 2015, when it was discovered through documents disclosed via a Freedom of Information request that Wynne had lied to the public in her assurance that this curriculum had been revised with input from parental consultation.

It was controversial when the man in charge of the development of the curriculum,  former Deputy Minister of Education, Ben Levin, was arrested and convicted on child pornography charges.

It was controversial throughout the school year, as school enrollment plunged. While the government will not admit that the new sex-ed curriculum plays any role in this decrease in enrollment, Wynne certainly seems to feel threatened by it, going so far as to attack homeschooling  as outrageous and irresponsible.

And it remains so controversial, in fact, that concessions have been made to parents of students at Thorncliffe Park Public School. (Never mind the obvious bias of the CBC article, which makes the parents’ concerns seem ridiculous — that is for another blog post, another time) Despite Wynne’s previous assertions that she would not back down on this, in May 2016, the Toronto District School Board agreed to offer a “sanitized” version of the sex ed curriculum, in respect to the Muslim beliefs of the school population.

So why won’t Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) allow Mr. Tourloukis to be informed of what and when his children will be exposed to in contravention of his Greek Orthodox beliefs?

The Liberal government is just as full of obfuscation, doubletalk, and outright deception in the area of education as they are in every other scandal-ridden area.  Liz Sandals, Minister of Education in September 2015 as the curriculum rolled out, confirmed that parents would be allowed to opt out, stating that “It’s actually in the Education Act that a parent has the right to withdraw their child from content they don’t want their child to receive.”  Wynne confirmed that parents had the right to opt-out from objectionable content, although she could not help but place a moral judgment on those who would avail themselves of this right.

So why did Tourloukis have to actually take his school board to court in an effort to get them to comply with the Education Act? And why, when he did, has Wynne’s government prepared a factum stating the intention to have his parental rights to his children’s education revoked?.

Why is this not reported in the mainstream media?  Other than Mr. Iacobelli’s blog, you won’t find a word about yesterday’s hearing, presided over by Justice Reid at the Superior Court in Hamilton.

Mr. Tourloukis’ legal counsel, Albertos Polizogopoulis, replied to my email yesterday with the statement that “No decision was issued today. It will likely be several months.”

And if you want to find out what that decision is, you will have to hunt pretty hard for it.

Posted in Blog, In the World, Little Boots

Let Love Be Genuine

When explaining current events to my boys, I told them that ISIS persecute and kill those who do not agree with their religion. Terrorists from ISIS killed people in France, and every day they persecute people in their own country. Refugees fleeing from their homes are asking to come to Canada..

“But what if there are spies hidden within the refugees?” Encyclopedia Boots asked.

An eight-year-old boy, as free from racial and religious prejudice as only a child can be,  put his finger directly on the very real fear that many Canadians are facing.

“Well, yes, that is a risk,” I told him. “So what do you think Canada should do?”

In the media (both corporate and social), we seem to be so divided along party lines, speaking within a framework that is predetermined for us by our political leaders. But as Christians, having pledged our lives to the service of He who has died and risen for us, we must resist the urge to trot out the familiar soundbites of those pundits who espouse the values of our particular political bent. Our response, in this as in all things, must be to turn to the Word of God

 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 22:36-40

Sure, love my neighbour as myself, the Conservative Right acknowledges. But it goes on to ask: Are these 25,000 refugees, many of them Muslim, really my neighbours? Are we merely opening the door to a people who will bring the problems of their country into our own? 

When an expert in the law poses to Jesus the question “And who is my neighbour?”, Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-36). This man, despised by the Jews for his race and religion, showed more mercy to the wounded Jew than did the priest and the Levite who passed him by. “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”  He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:29-36)

Okay. So they are our neighbours. But what if there are terrorists hidden within the ranks of the well-intentioned refugees? If even 5% of the 25,000 are terrorists,  we would be inviting 1,250 terrorists into our country. Surely Christian compassion cannot mean that we are to put the welfare of our own country at risk by helping our Syrian neighbours, at the risk of bringing in potential enemies.

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

 If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:27-36

As Christians, we must not be ruled by fear.

On the other hand, it seems that the Liberal Left, in its eagerness to prove its distinctiveness from the Conservative Right, moves past compassion and into foolhardiness.

Trudeau has pledged to welcome 25,000 refugees by year end. They are vetting 100 each day. But to meet the self-imposed deadline, he will need to process refugees almost ten times faster! How can they reasonably expect to screen almost 1000 people each day, and still maintain adequate security?

And yet those even further left on the political spectrum, are quick to dismiss these security concerns as hateful prejudice and fear-mongering. NDP leader Tom Mulcair has even criticized Trudeau’s policy of attempting to keep out terrorists by excluding single men in favour of women, children and families.  Mulcair states that this is “simply wrong,” and “not the Canadian way.”

Is it really so wrong to give preferential treatment to those who are most vulnerable?

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27

Obviously, there is a security concern. Even an eight-year-old, who has no idea of the skin colour or the religion of the “bad guys” in ISIS, can see that. We needn’t prove our compassion by affecting blindness.

But that valid security concern does not veto our obligation to help our fellow man. They have asked for help, and we can give it. As Christians, we must give it.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good…Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them .. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:9,14,18,21

Part of living peaceably with all, so far as it depends on us, includes taking appropriate security precautions (abhoring what is evil) to preserve the peace within our nation. We need to forget arbitrary deadlines given as election platforms. Take the necessary time to screen the refugees fully and carefully as possible. And then welcome them, in genuine love.

Posted in Blog, In the World

Prier pour Paris

One day after the terrorist attack which killed 129 people (so far) in Paris, France, you may see several posts circulating the internet in an attempt to shame people for praying for Paris. Because Paris wasn’t the only victim of terrorist action in the last couple of days. There was also an attack that killed 19 people in Baghdad, Iraq. And one that killed 43 people in Beirut, Lebanon, over the past couple of days. One of these posts claims racism is the reason that Paris is garnering more attention — because it is white people who died in Paris.

The attack in Paris resonates with us strongly in North America. It hits us close to home because Paris is familiar, not in colour, but in culture.

If you are American, France was, as Obama declared yesterday, one of your nation’s oldest allies. Don’t forget where the Statue of Liberty came from.

And if you are Canadian, France is the motherland to a large portion of the population. As Trudeau reminded us yesterday, they are our French cousins.

Paris is not just a popular, familiar tourist destination; it is a nation connected deeply to the roots of our own.

There is another reason why this tragedy has made such big news — it is newsworthy because it is rare. This is in stark comparison to the attacks that happen daily — yes, literally daily — in the Middle East. According to the wikipedia article circulated by the anti-mourners, there have been more than 300 terrorist attacks so far this year, only a handful on Western soil, and certainly none so large as the one in Paris yesterday.The overwhelming majority are in the Middle East.

The fact that Islamic terrorists are killing innocent people in the Middle East on a daily basis should not stop us from praying for their victims in Paris — we need more prayer, not less.

Of course we are mourning for France. Not only are we entitled to this outpouring of emotion for our oldest ally, our cousin, but France is entitled to this outflowing of prayer support from us.

I have to wonder if these posters would have espoused the same anti-mourning declarations after 9/11? I don’t think an American audience in those traumatized days would have stood for such an anti-American sentiment. We should not stand for such anti-France sentiment now.

But please know that our prayer for Paris does not mean that we are not also praying for the Middle East. We are.

The video prayer that I linked to in my tribute post to France is from Operation World, a site with prayer videos to help us pray for every nation. Sign up for their daily email to receive a video prayercast for a different nation every day.

And yes, Pray for Lebanon! Pray for Iraq!

But don’t let anybody shame you for praying for France.