Thursday, December 29, 2005

Tooting My Own Horn

Those of you who know me know that in spite of my oh-so-confident exterior, I'm a pretty modest person and likely to make a self-disparaging comment before bragging about an accomplishment.
However, a recent bit of news really boosted my ego and I wanted to share/brag about it (for those of you who care!).

I received news of my final grades for the first term of my studies and I got an A-, A, A, and A+ on my four courses, giving me an average of 3.92 on the 4.0 scale. Not too shabby, considering that I was mostly taking courses which I didn't enjoy and was pretty much forced to take, to complete my after-degree. These courses included computers, science, and math, all subjects in which I tend to do poorly.

So I celebrate my victory over numbers and facts and computer terminology, and relish in this brief moment of glory. Won't you celebrate with me as well? =)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Christmas Disparity

Let me tell you about my two experiences these last few days. It definitely gave me cause to think about Christmas disparity.

Let's start with yesterday. I had the opportunity to join my in-laws for their club's Christmas celebration. It was held at the Westin Hotel and was a very posh affair; in fact, I might even say it was one of the fanciest dinners I've ever had. The room was lit with the soft flicker of white tealights, and a quaint Christmas tree decorated the far corner of the room. The bar, located at the back of the room, was fully stocked and ready to serve. The servers wore white gloves and walked around serving wine and hors d'oeurves at the beginning of the night. When we sat down at our tables, I noticed that they were fully set (but missing a fork and knife?) and decorated wi
th "scrolls" on each bread plate that, upon opening, revealed the menu for the evening. The dinner began with a server coming around and serving a variety of breads, followed by a second server who served the dipping sauce for the bread, followed by a third server offering more wine. The four-course dinner was very elegant and generous (soup and salad!), and between the salad and the entree we were presented with mango sorbet to cleanse our palates. We were provided with new cutlery prior to the service of the main meal (which explains the missing set at the beginning), and this entree consisted of two cuts of meat (lamb and venison tenderloin) as well as a variety of vegetable sides. This was followed, of course, by a rich chocolatey dessert that was accompanied by ice wine and coffee. And even the coffee wasn't plain - servers came around offering several different types of creamer/whipped cream and sugars to garnish our coffees. I can only speak for myself, but I was absolutely floored by the decadence of my environment and my meal. It was almost excessive, since I was way too full to finish everything on my plate! However, I didn't see too many others oohing and ahhing the way that I did, but I imagine that this had to do with the fact that the rest of the party-goers there were used to such lavish affairs.

Now skip back to two days ago. My hubby and I volunteered (along with our small group) at the local inner-city soup kitchen (the Mustard Seed). As part of the church's monthly ministry to this organization, we showed up early so that we could scrub up and help with the food. We wrapped up plastic knives and forks with dinner napkins and helped sort donated clothes in their upper room, while other volunteers stirred the large vats of stew that were heating on the industrial stove. When the
soup kitchen opened, hundreds of people from the inner city flocked into this rickety old building for a hot meal. The meal, which was generously donated by my church, included beef stew, garlic buns, salad, and a rice krispie square. We served these wearing clear plastic gloves. The people who came for dinner sat at rectangular folding tables with strangers, and were offered juice or coffee by some of our other volunteers. When they had finished their meal, they were allowed seconds (after it was established that most people had received their first helping already). When the stew, salad, and buns had run out, the rice krispie squares became the most coveted food item. Some people had to be turned away because they tried to get our volunteers to fill their bag with all of the squares. In the end, those who missed out on the meal or the treats settled for coffee and day-old donuts that had been donated by local Tim Hortons shops. We then proceeded to walk around the church, collecting dirty dishes and cups, and wiping down the plastic tables with our bleachy hot water. At the end of the night, when all of the cleaning and serving had finished, the volunteers were gathered together to talk about the evening, and it was during this time that I learned that three of the people from the inner city, who normally have nothing positive to say, came up to the kitchen coordinator to let her know how much they appreciated the tasty and generous meal that had been provided. They shared that they always looked forward to the meals from my church, because those stews were among the tastiest they've had.

There are two kinds of Christmas disparity, in my humble opinion. The first, and most obvious kind, is the one that exists between the wealthy and the poor. The Westin party-goers (and I) have a lot of possessions and nice clothes and homes and opportunities. The inner-city residents who went to the Mustard Seed have very little, and in some cases, nothing.

The second kind of Christmas disparity, which is a little harder to spot but, in my opinion is far worse, is the one that exists in the hearts of the thankful and the thankless. The Westin party-goers didn't seem to even notice the extravagance of the dinner and the many blessings that they have been given. By contrast, the Mustard Seed-goers were thankful simply for a plate of stew and a warm roof and a good rice krispie square.

These experiences have really helped to remind me that more than anything, I need to be mindful of my blessings and truly be grateful at all times for everything that I have, whether it is a little or a lot. I mean, there is nothing that makes me better or more entitled to be blessed than the person who lives in the inner city, and yet I have been given that grace. May it never be that I get so ungrateful as to somehow think I deserve what I have been given.

And may God bless the poor and needy, and give the people who go to the Mustard Seed more tasty stew and good rice krispie squares this Christmas.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A Sad Christmas in Northern China

A blast in a mine in Northern China claimed 62 lives yesterday. I've actually lost count of the number of miners who have now died, and the number of mining explosions that have taken place, in the past few weeks. Just two weeks ago, there was a big explosion claiming 169 lives in another part of Northern China. Despite government "crackdowns" on the hazardous conditions under which these people work, evidently not enough has been done.

I am very upset about the way the Chinese government has treated its own people; evidently human life is not
valuable enough for them to take every precaution necessary to ensure that miners work in safe conditions. Given that they have a very controlling and rather powerful Communist government, if they wanted to enforce safety standards in any given industry, surely it would not have been that difficult to do! Why must tragedy after tragedy occur before this is looked into?!

I realize that most people in China do not celebrate Christmas. That makes me even more sad, because they now face having to grieve the loss of loved ones, and they don't even have a hope of something greater in this life (or the next). They've lost their beloved husbands and sons, their brothers and fathers; in many cases, they've also lost their only (or their main) source of income for the family. What will give them hope this season? What will be their joy to celebrate at the end of their year?

I am glad that God is El Roi, "the God who sees me." May He see everyone who is hurting and grieving and without hope in China today, and may He be gracious to them and give them hope.