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The old man by the sea

20160713_134614I found him… the old man by the sea.  He really does exist.  But let me back up a little.  I just returned from a trip to Canada’s northeast corner, Nova Scotia.  My roaming imagination was full of ideas about Nova Scotia – ship wrecks (remember Titanic), superstitions, stories of Anne of Green Gables and old Victorian tales, and old churches and lighthouses covering the rugged sea coast.  And my imagination was not disappointed!  Whenever I travel, it’s more than just sightseeing for me.  I like to see the people who live there, hear their stories, and learn what they can teach us about their part of our world.  During these uncertain and sometimes fearful times that we live in, the old man by the sea taught me a lot.

Our tour bus unloaded on a small jutted island near Halifax, Nova Scotia just long enough for us to stop and take a picture of the scenery.  There were a few fishing boats, a small café, some old houses and a picturesque lighthouse.  As we walked up to the lighthouse with our cameras, there was an old man sitting on the front porch of his house that sat at the corner of the lighthouse.  We had to cross his yard to get to the lighthouse.

“Come on up!” he greeted everyone in a rusty old seaman’s voice.  He waved and smiled.  “Take as many pictures as you like.  You can walk in my yard.  Come on up and talk.”

And so we did.  Mr. Cutler was his name and he was 92 years old.  The row of small yellow houses next to the lighthouse has been in his family for generations.  With his long white beard and weathered face of an old sea captain, he sat in his chair at the helm of his front porch.  Whenever the tour buses rolled in, he would hang up a few handmade bags to sale, sit outside and greet the visitors to his island.  (My picture here doesn’t do him justice, but he is sitting in the white chair behind the pole with a homemade bag hanging on it, and the lighthouse in the background.)

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Mr. Cutler taught me a very important lesson that day.  He could have been bitter about all the loud and unruly tourists coming to his quiet island and stomping through his yard.  But instead, he embraced it and wanted to share what he had.  He knew he had something special.

Embrace Life.  It is to be shared.

For the rest of my trip through Nova Scotia and Quebec, I was quite amazed at all the churches I passed – old ones, elaborate ones, historical ones.  In earlier times, the people of northern Canada often had a hard life with harsh winters, but their faith and hope in God was very evident in a landscape dotted with churches.  It was said that the people never went more than ten miles without building a church so the families never had to travel more than five miles in either direction to get to church.  Here are some of my favorite ones that I saw along the way.

1-Halifax

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The star constellation in the blue background of this church is confirmed to be the exact constellation on the day Jesus Christ was born.

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5-Prince Edward Island (2)

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This church with the round dome is the 3rd largest church in the world, from Montreal.

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No matter where you go, if you stop and look, you can always find evidence of
God’s Hope in the world.

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Breakfast cooking on the beach

They had been out all night and caught nothing.  They were hungry, tired, and smelled of ocean. The early morning chill still hung in the air. The cold could be added to their list of grievances too, but mostly they were hungry.

As they pulled their boat up on the shore, their muscles sore and aching, they could smell the faint aroma of fresh fish cooking.  They looked around, and as the fog began to clear, they saw in the distance a glowing fire with several fish laying on top.  They could faintly hear the crackling of the fire in the morning stillness, perhaps with a little olive oil drizzled on top as the sweet aroma drifted their way. They looked at each other, quickly dropped their fishing gear, and ran toward the site.  There was freshly baked bread too, warming next to the fire.  Who would leave this here?  Who prepared such a thing?

And then they saw him, leaning over the fire stirring the coals.  He smiled at them, and said, “Come, eat!”  It was their Lord.  The disciples: Peter, James, and John, were still a little confused and shocked over the recent events of the previous days: Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, and then raised back to life three days later.  Their world had been torn upside down.

They sat down on the beach and ate the fish and bread until they were full.  After having been warmed by the fire, they got up and went for a walk. Peter and Jesus went on ahead, John lagged behind a little. Jesus had some very specific words for Peter as they talked, as well as telling him how he would eventually die. “What about him?” Peter asked frantically as he pointed back toward John, Jesus’ beloved disciple.  “That is not your concern,” Jesus answered…

I cannot imagine a better scene on earth than having a morning meal of fresh fish and baked bread sitting with Jesus on the beach, in the quiet dawn of the day as the sun begins to rise. What a great mental picture of Jesus. This story comes from the last chapter of the Gospel of John, as recorded by John, the one who was lagging behind on the beach.  The full story is in John chapter 21.  Below is an excerpt of the specific words that Jesus had for Peter that morning.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, Feed my sheep.”

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Sea Glass

I wouldn’t have seen it this morning if I had not ventured out for a run.  I would have missed a lot of things.  The sun was shining bright and warm, calling me outside, but I had lots to do today.  I need to do some cleaning and catch up on emails, I thought.  Sounds silly now.  Life can pass us by while we’re busy doing stuff, and not just in a big way but in the small simple ways.  Following my new year’s promise to myself, I had decided that I will try to enjoy and experience life with every possible minute this year, and to do the most good with all those “lost opportunities” that come across my way.

What if….

What if we each took this one year and tried to make the very best of it, no matter what.  One year of our lives, given to the very best we can do.  To resolve to smile and laugh more, even during those stiff business meetings or tough times; to resolve not to spread hate no matter what the principal may be; and to resolve to help our fellow human beings more.  It really wouldn’t take that much effort.  It might even make things easier.  And it would change the world.

So I stopped what I was doing this morning, none of which will matter for very long anyway, and I went down to the beach for a run.  The tide was high after the storm and the only part of the sand not covered by water was still too soft for running, so I settled into a walk instead.  As I slowed down my pace, I began to look at the sea shells beneath my feet and caught the glimpse of something glistening, sticking out above the sand.  I reached down to pick it up and could not believe what I held in my hand.  It was a piece of milky white frosted glass, perfectly polished and smoothed around its edges from the friction and waves of the sea.  My first sea glass find!  I have always enjoyed reading about these elusive treasures from the sea, studying their colors and origins, and following the stories of those who collect them.  But as much as I have searched, I have never found any genuine shards of my own.  I wondered what far-off shore or boat this had come from.  It was a small treasure indeed!  And I would have missed it if I had not taken the chance to venture out on this day. 

(Today is Day 16 out of 365 God-given opportunities this year)

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“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” – Marianne Williamson

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Lessons from the Sea ~ King of the Sandcastle Fort

I saw a young boy, about 3 years old, sitting in the sand.  He had made a fortress of sandcastles, shaped from those little plastic molds, all lined up around him on each side.  He was sitting in the middle of the fort playing with his bulldozers and trucks, and on his head, he sported a sahara type hat, which obviously kept him cool during his work.  He looked quite content, being the king of his sandcastle fort.  As I passed by on my morning beach run, I paused for a moment, hoping to capture some of that pure joy this boy obviously had.  Sometimes I think the very young and the very old know the secret to life, and those of us in the middle are just trying to find our way back. Do children know something we adults have forgotten?

Later the same day, I saw another small child walking down the beach tottering behind a young adult.  The adult stopped to ask me if I had seen which direction the child came from.  No, I had not, and then they proceeded on to the lifeguard stand.  I guessed that the child was lost, and I began to scan the beach for the looks of a frantic mom, knowing that would be the easiest way to spot the parents.  A few minutes later, sure enough, I see a young mom sprinting down the beach flapping her arms in all directions.  As she got closer to the lifeguard stand, the young child spotted her too, and started running toward her.  With arms flung outward, they embraced and hugged.  I was glad she didn’t scold him.  Then she thanked the Good Samaritan and the Lifeguard, and they sauntered back home.  What a reunion – parent and child.  Only so much more does our Heavenly Father want that same reunion with His children – arms open, not scolding, only happy to see us.

Thinking on both these things today, the happy boy with his sandcastle fort and the young mom and child, I am reminded of our Heavenly Father’s comforting words from the sea.
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If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.  Psalm 139:9-10

You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves arise, You still them.
Psalms 89:9

The men were amazed, and said, “What kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!”  Matthew 8:27 

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(photography from my son @ facebook.com/JohnMcCuskerPhotography)

Lessons from the Sea ~ how much do I really need?

I like to pack lightly – a selection of feel-good music, flip flops, running shoes, and of course, my books.  I don’t need much else when going to the sea.  It is a time to shed the layers of clothes, worries, and the to-do lists of our busy lives, and to realize just how little we do need instead of how much.  Rather than accumulating the latest of things, it is a time to let go of some things.

My road trip down to the sea follows the same pattern.  As I leave the big city behind, my body begins to relax a little as I drive through the pleasant, flat farmlands of South Georgia, passing nothing but signs for pecans, peaches, and boiled peanuts.  I always turn on the radio about now, partly to pass the time driving through the miles of farmland, but also because I know I’ll find that classic radio station playing the old songs from the 60’s and 70’s – of a time gone by.  Memories of the past occupy my mind for a while as I begin to leave the present worries behind.

Then I start to smell the sea air and see the palm trees in the distance and know my destination is close.  The sea is a wonderful mystery to me.  I am still amazed every time at its vastness.  My first thought upon seeing the ocean is always the same – Wow, God is big!

After settling in and a good night’s rest, I put on my running shoes and head to the beach in the early morning.  I take in all the beauty and mystery of all that God has made for us.  God has hidden such wonderful details and awe in everything He made, from the smallest design in a seashell, to the numerous sands, to an ocean full of underwater sea life.  The sea provides the food that sustains us in our meals, in livelihood and jobs, in recreation, and it was also a central gathering place in Bible times.  I look at all of God’s beauty around me, that which we often cover up with our belongings and stuff, and all the things we miss while we hurry along, and I think that God must sometimes feel like someone who has prepared an elaborate banquet with all kinds of food and delicacies and provisions for his guests, and yet the guests do not appreciate it.  Let us stop for a moment today to say thank you to God for his overflowing abundance that He has given us.

And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:19
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(photography courtesy of my son @ facebook.com/JohnMcCuskerPhotography)

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