Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Category Archives: Stories from my life

Day one of my eightieth year

Image by M W from Pixabay 

Another birthday, this one is number 79. That many candles on a birthday cake would set off the smoke alarm; perhaps I should feel more alarmed than I do.

In my younger days I couldn’t comprehend the world being able to withstand the impact when all those 9’s in 1999 would rotate to become 2000. It seems I wasn’t alone in having irrational fears about that date, but it is 21 years behind us now. So many years are behind me now that I begin to wonder how many remain in front of me.

I had my annual physical checkup yesterday and the doctor found my heart and lungs were sound. I complained of sciatica in one hip and he thought it was probably arthritis. After checking out the range of pain free movement in my legs he dismissed that idea. So I am hale and hearty, with twinges of discomfort here and there to tell me that my body remembers all those years that are behind me.

As I grow older it becomes clear that I need to choose to become the kind of old guy who is interested in the people and goings on around me. There are enough complainers already, saying how the world isn’t what it used to be, mainly because no one cares about them anymore. Some old people are story tellers, they are more interesting, but eventually you have heard all the stories and they’re not learning new ones.

Story telling isn’t a bad thing. Every person has a story that is interesting and instructive to others, but some folks get into a rut of telling and retelling just a small part of their story. It believe it would be a good school project for upper grade children to interview the elderly, try to draw out their stories and write them down.

The really delightful older people are those who want to hear your story, and those who ask you what you want to hear about the things they have done and seen in life. It seems to me that people like that usually don’t develop dementia so soon as others. There are many causes of dementia, but medical experts tell us the brain is a plastic organ, able to develop new paths of memory in people with an active curiosity.

I consider myself to have an active mind. At times my curiosity leads me to information that causes me to change my mind about something. That is a healthy exercise for the mind. Another helpful exercise would be to become more of an active listener to other people. Not an aggressive listener, but less of a passive observer. Just as I have to choose to get physical exercise because my work no longer involves much physical activity, so I must choose to do things that exercise my mind, to keep it fit and healthy.

Thank you Howie

In the summer of 1978 I drove east to Ontario, looking for work and a home for my family. In a few days I was working in a factory that made engineered rubber parts for the automobile industry. The first week I worked with Larry who was assigned a few presses on the press line where rows of hydraulic presses produced vast quantities of rubber parts.

The presses we worked on were making sheets of 64 to 100 body bolt cushions. These parts became obsolete when automobiles switched to unibody construction, except for the monstrous body bolt cushions used in pickup trucks. The moulds had to be maintained at temperatures above 300° F to cure the rubber. We sprayed the moulds with a release agent, inserted 64 or 100 metal rings into the mould cavities, inserted slabs of raw rubber, closed that press and moved on to the next one. The Ontario summer was already oppressively hot and humid for this prairie boy and it was even hotter and more humid working over those moulds. It was a shock to my body, but that shock seemed to help me quickly become acclimatized.

For the most part we worked quickly and quietly, but the quiet would periodically interrupted by angry yells, bangs and thumps coming from Howie. I observed that this uproar happened every time parts did not release from the upper portion of the moulds as they should. Howie would have to reach in with a brass tipped bar to pry those parts down, making as much noise as he could to let us all know of his displeasure. I decided I would do well to keep my distance from Howie.

The second week I was given presses to run by myself. The first time I had parts stick to the underside of the top part of the mould and began trying awkwardly to get them down, Howie appeared beside me and took the bar from my hands. He got the parts down and then showed me once again how much mould release to spray on that part of the mould. Then he was back to his own work leaving me to meditate on how mistaken a first impression can be.

As the days went by, I realized that Howie was intense in his work, probably the best and fastest worker in the plant and got frustrated when things didn’t go right. But his anger was never directed at the people around him. He was easy to get along with, liked by everyone, and the first to help the new guy who was floundering in his work.

I worked in that plant for 15 years and learned how to operate those presses and every other machine in the plant. The most useful lesson was to not jump to conclusions about what a person was like. Thank you Howie for that lesson.

Changes in the weather

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay 

It is mid-winter in the great white north country, but yesterday morning the temperature shot up to 6°C and it rained. The rain stopped by dinner time, then the wind came up. It started snowing in the afternoon and the wind came up higher – gusts up to 100 km/hour.

We were cosy and warm in our home, even with the wind howling around us. Then the electricity went off at 9 pm. I started a fire in the wood stove, then bundled up and went out to the wood pile in our back yard to get more. I made it to where the wood pile should be. I am sure it is still there, but now it is buried under thick, hard-packed snow. I came back inside and decided there wasn’t anything else to do but go to bed.

The electricity came back on at 10:30. That means there was a SaskPower crew out there in miserable weather, working hard to take care of us. Thank you folks.

In texting with our daughter this morning I mentioned that we couldn’t open our front door. The storm door opens out and the snow was packed tight against us. It didn’t take long until our oldest grandson was here shoveling the snow away and shoveling the front walk. I could have done it myself, maybe I need to be careful what I say to his Mom. Thank you Nathan.

I’m feeling kind of pampered this morning.

Asphalt cowboys

Image by fkevin from Pixabay 

Our oldest grandson obtained his 1A license yesterday, which means he is qualified to drive a tuck like the one illustrated above. That brought back memories of when I worked in the Post Office in Moose Jaw almost fifty years ago.

Most of the time I worked the night shift, which was when most of the semi-trailer trucks came in. These trucks had to come down a narrow back alley with power poles along one side, pull into the loading area behind the Post Office , make a U-turn and back up to the loading dock. Chief (not very respectful, but that’s what indigenous men got called) came from Calgary. He came down the back alley geared down but full throttle, made the U-turn and backed up to the loading dock. The trailer was always square on to the loading dock with no gap to trip over when unloading. Pop came towards morning with a full load from Winnipeg; he drove more quietly and slowly, but he also got square to the loading dock the first time, every time.

Chief and Pop were the only 100% reliable drivers, none of the others could ever get square to the dock in those close confines. Occasionally a driver would make several attempts, but still leave an open angle between the trailer floor and the dock. We were thankful that those trucks never had large quantities of mail for us. None of us ever got hurt taking bags and packages out of those trailers, but the danger was there. Usually one of us would get into the trailer and throw stuff out to the others.

Extra truckers were called into service during the Christmas rush. I remember one who wouldn’t even venture into the alley. He looked it over and then decided to park in the street in front of the Post Office. We wheeled a cart out to the street and he handed the mail bags out to us from the side door of the trailer.

How did we make it this far?

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Nothing has been heard from this corner for ten days. I don’t have a good explanation for that, except that my mind has been elsewhere. Our 50th wedding anniversary is coming up in a few days and I have been contemplating how we got here and where do we go from here. In between all that heavy thinking I have been able to get some useful things done, like finish painting the garage and clean out much of the accumulated detritus inside.

When Chris and I married on Saturday, August 1, 1970 I was 28 years old, had a good job and a place to live; Chris was 17. I think in some ways she was the more mature person. I had grown up walking on eggshells is dread of the next explosion of anger from my father. He was never violent, except with his tongue, but that left me with a fear of anything that might lead to conflict.

But I found a new Father a few months before the wedding day. In the spring of the year I was facing a crisis, several of them in fact. A feeling of doom was building up inside and I didn’t know what to do. I took a drive around the countryside to consider that dark cloud in the fresh air and sunshine. When I got home I knelt and confessed to God that all of my troubles were of my own doing, they were not the fault of anyone else, and asked Him to forgive me and help me find a way out. Then I made a very open-ended promise: I would do anything He asked of me for the rest of my life.

It didn’t seem like anything much happened, yet the feeling of doom was gone and I was able to make rational decisions. Several months later it dawned on me that my life had changed, my interests and my goals were leading in a totally different direction and that change had begun when I prayed. Up to that time I had taken a very cynical view of people who claimed to be born again; most of them were not any more honest or honourable than others who made no boast of knowing God.

But I could not deny that I had changed, was still changing. That must be what the Bible calls a new birth, the beginning of a new kind of life. It’s not so much that I know God, but He knows me and remembers the promise I made back in the spring of 1970. Every once in a while He asks me to do something, often it is a habit or an attitude that needs to go, and reminds me that this is part of what I promised. I believe that is a big part of the reason I am still married to the same lady after 50 years.

What are we afraid of?

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I was afraid of a lot of things as a boy, the two main ones being girls and dogs. Girls were different, mysterious; they didn’t look, talk or act like boys. The thought of actually speaking to one crippled my mind and my tongue.

Yet there was always a girl or two that I could talk to without stammering like an imbecile. For some reason most of them were named Joan. Thinking back, it might have been because Joan was the most common girl’s name for that era, just like Robert was for boys. There were two grades to a classroom in our school and three Roberts in my class. In order to distinguish between us we were known as Bob Dixon, Bobby Adamus and I had to be Robert Goodnough.

There were two girls with whom I never had a problem visiting and they weren’t even named Joan. But they were cousins and that was even better. By now I think I have pretty much gotten over my fear of girls, of any age. I finally plucked up enough courage to ask one to marry me. Then we had a daughter to raise and by now we have two teenage granddaughters.

Dogs were even worse than girls. Not all dogs, but any big dog that barked was surely some kin of the Hound of the Baskervilles. I had a half mile to walk to school, straight down the west side of town. Halfway between home and school there was a house set well back from the street with a dog chained up outside.

Every day, when I walked by that house, the dog would bark. It was a big, dark coloured dog. My friends said it was half wolf. I was terrified. This went on for a couple years as I passed from nine to ten to eleven. I didn’t pray much in those days, but every time that dog barked I prayed that God would protect me from that evil wolf dog and give me the courage to keep on walking.

There was a wide coulee several miles east of ton with a little creek running along the bottom called the Arm River. At most places the river was ankle deep. But there was one spot that was wider and deep enough for children to swim in. It was an old-fashioned swimming hole, completely unsupervised, the nearest house a half mile away.

I didn’t go there often, it was too far and I couldn’t swim. I was afraid of water, too. But I knew that I was in no danger of drowning in that swimming hole; if I stood up in the deepest place my head was well above the water.

One day as I was walking home from school I saw that evil wolf dog trotting down the road toward me. I took to the opposite side of the road and he went by without paying me any attention. I noticed two things as he passed – he was dripping wet, and the pupils of his eyes were rectangular horizontal slits, not like the eyes of any dog I’d ever seen before. He was a wolf dog for sure.

The next day I heard that he had been down at the swimming hole. A young boy who couldn’t swim had gotten into the deep part where the water was over his head. He was floundering, gasping for air and calling for help. The dog had jumped in, the boy had grabbed his long fur and the dog had towed him up and out of the water. Apparently the dog was quicker thinking than the boys.

Thus ended my fear of the evil wolf dog. What had I been afraid of anyway? It wasn’t the dog, it was the overheated thoughts in my own mind.

Isn’t that how it is most times? Often, the things we fear the most have no existence outside of our own minds. Those thoughts can paralyze us. I wonder if, in our present circumstances, fears like that might not be doing more harm than the virus. I don’t mean to suggest that we should act as though the virus is not dangerous; let’s take all necessary precautions. But at the same time, let’s pray to God to be set free from irrational fears that hinder us from reaching out to those who are lonely, or in any kind of distress.

Only an empty box

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Agnes grew up 100 years ago on a farm in southwestern Saskatchewan. Her parents were members of a church which called itself Mennonite and worshipped in the German language. At home the family spoke a Low German dialect called Plautdietsch, and English.  There were 14 children in the family, spaced about two years apart. Agnes was number six.

The church claimed to hold to the original Mennonite faith. In her teens Agnes memorized a summary of the teachings of that faith, a German catechism which dated from 1792 and the bishop baptized her. She was the only one in her baptismal class to memorize the whole catechism, yet they were all baptized. The catechism said that they needed to be born again to become Christians and eligible for church membership, but the bishop said nothing of that.

Agnes was the last child in the family to learn German. As time went on, she realized the church had nothing for her younger siblings. Really, it had nothing for her. The catechism told of a faith that had once been, might yet be in some other place, but had died in this church. All that remained were traditions that could only be taught in the German language.

The church was like a box with ornate German lettering claiming to be the faithful remnant of the ancient Mennonite faith. But when Agnes had opened the box, she found it empty. So she threw it away. She remembered what the catechism said about Christian life, but did not found that life in the box.

Agnes was my mother; I am my mother’s son. That is why I have never found the “Mennonite culture” to be attractive. I didn’t want the box, I wanted to find the faith. In my adult years I searched for a place where the ancient Mennonite faith was still a living thing, not just words in the ai in a language I couldn’t understand. And I found it.

Memories of the 1998 Ice Storm

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Image by cplo from Pixabay

We had been to Saskatchewan to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday. We left Moose Jaw on New Year’s Day, 1998 and arrived at our home at Acton Vale Quebec about 3:00 am Monday January 4. There was a gentle rain falling and by the time we were up and around in the morning it had turned to a freezing drizzle.

The rain got heavier toward evening and the temperature was just right that it fell as rain and instantly froze on to everything it touched. We needed to go into Montreal the next day and the ice was building up on the highways and streets, but there were ruts to drive in.

Wednesday was when the power first went out. The electric wires were encased in a thick sheath of ice and tree branches were starting to fall on the wires. We had a wood stove in the basement that kept our house warm and we could use it to warm up our food and we had a kerosene lamp for light. We felt secure in our home, but if I opened the door I could hear the crack if falling branches and every once in a while there were flashes of light from the countryside. The power lines were so heavy with ice that finally one of the wooden power poles couldn’t bear the load anymore. When one power pole fell, it took the whole power line for a mile with it.

The rain continued for two more days. Thursday there were stories of massive steel power line pylons crumpling to the ground in a heap of twisted metal. The ice on our roof was so thick that we heard a few ominous cracks, but no damage was done. Massive hardwood trees lost branches, sometimes whole trees lay on the ground. Tall evergreens lost their treetops. Other trees bent over until their tops touched the ground, then froze there. Deer were frightened by the branches falling all around them and came out of the woods to stand on the roads.

Late Friday the rain stopped. By that time most of Montreal was in the dark and the whole region south of Montreal to the Vermont border. 100,000 wooden power poles had broken and 100 steel pylons. A Columnist for La Presse (they had a generator to keep the newspaper going) wrote of leaving work in the afternoon and walking down the centre of Sherbrooke Street during what should have been rush hour. It wasn’t safe to walk on the sidewalk because of the danger of falling chunks of ice from the buildup on the buildings.

The army was called out. In our area they patrolled the streets of Acton Vale to prevent looting. In Montreal they went door to door to see if anyone needed help. This was too much for some new immigrants. One said “I knew in my head that they were coming to see if we were safe. But our fear was stronger than we were and we went to our friends. In the country I came from, when the army knocked on your door they weren’t coming to help you.”

By Monday the cleanup and rebuilding was in full swing. Quebec has the youngest farmers in Canada and they were up for whatever it took to keep their farms running. Even before the rain stopped the farm organization had located a warehouse in Tennessee full of generators. They bought them all and got them loaded on semis heading for Quebec.

Hydro Quebec called in tree service companies from neighbouring states to remove the tree branches hanging on the wires, or threatening to fall on them. They ordered massive amounts of new wooden poles from forestry companies in British Columbia. They went to a steel supplier with warehouses all across the province. They had all their inventory in all the warehouses on their computers, but there was no electricity to run the computers and no lights in the warehouse. They improvised and found all the steel needed to rebuild the pylons.

For several weeks our electricity was on and off. We had supper company one day and the lights went out just as we were about to sit down to eat. But the food was ready and we ate by lamplight. We had an evening church service, beginning with lamp light. The electricity came on during the sermon and I got up and blew out the light. A few minutes later the lights went out again and I relit the lamp. The minister was unperturbed by it all.

It seemed during the storm that everything around us was falling apart and would never be the same again. Yet three months later a newspaper columnist wrote, “We sometimes think we are poor. But we have just built an electrical distribution system in a few weeks that a lot of countries won’t have 100 years from now.”

We moved back to Saskatchewan that spring to take care of my mother. We have visited the Acton Vale area several times since and see no sign of the trauma of 22 years ago.

We lost Rose

My phone rang this morning as we were getting ready to leave for church. It was brother-in-law Jim; his first words were “We lost Rose.”

We were with the family yesterday around Rose’s hospital bed in Moose Jaw. We couldn’t tell if she knew we were there or not, but she was still breathing. Her husband Butch was there, their daughters Michelle and Crystal, Rose’s brother Jim and three of her four sisters. Jim is the oldest in the family, then Chris, to whom I am married; Rose was the middle of five girls.

Chris grew up in the home of an aunt and uncle, the others remained with their parents. Chris kept in contact with her siblings, with Rose more than any of the others.

Rose married at 15, was still happily married at 61. Way too young for this to happen. She had cancer a year ago, was now cancer free, but not strong enough to fight off the pneumonia that was the beginning of the end.

The family talked about old times, about everything and nothing. Mike and Kevin, the sons-in-law, brought in dinner for us all. We watched the nurse come in to check on Rose, give her morphine every two hours, place a steam mask close to her face from time to time to ease her breathing. We were aware of her presence. Was she aware of ours? We don’t know.

We left for home at 5 PM; Chris said good-bye to Rose, knowing it was for the last time. She breathed her last at 2 AM this morning. Jim’s call delivered the shock we knew was coming. We lost Rose.

© Bob Goodnough, December 29, 2019

A refuge

A refuge, a place where I could escape the storms that beat around me; that’s what I needed. When one is young, many storms are more imagined than real. But my father’s anger was real. He was not violent, but when he lost his temper angry words rang throughout the house, seemed to be in the air I breathed. I needed a place of refuge where I could breathe and sort it all out.

When I was nine years old, my parents moved to a small farm that bordered the northwest edge of Craik, Saskatchewan. I discovered my place of refuge the day after we moved in. I found in a hollow, halfway up the bank at the far end of the coulee that ran through our pasture. In that hollow sat a rectangular granite boulder, shaped like a giant step or chair, worn smooth by thousands of buffalo trying to relieve their itch, over a thousand years or more.

First, I sat on the rock, then I sat in the hollow beside it and something wonderful happened—all evidence of the modern world disappeared. I was alone on the open prairie, no buildings, fences, roads or telephone lines were visible. Even the sounds did not penetrate this peaceful spot.

How long had the rock been here? Geologists say that when Lake Agassiz drained thousands of years ago, the rushing waters that carved the ravines, coulees and river valleys of Saskatchewan also swept rocks like this to new locations.  It had been here through the time the buffalo roamed the prairies and the hunters followed them. The time since the settlers had come was just a tiny blip in its history.

Through the rest of my growing-up years that rock became my refuge. When life seemed difficult, I would leave the house and find this spot, my place of refuge. In that quiet and secure place I would rest until the anxiety, the fear, and yes, my anger, had dissipated.

Eight years later I left home. Twice I moved back for a time and each time the ancient buffalo rubbing stone was there when I needed it. Later, in my twenties and on my own, I faced new anxieties and fears.  The rock of my childhood was far away, and no longer the hidden spot it once was. A four-lane highway now runs through the old pasture, the rock is visible from the highway.

It took years for me to find the rock of refuge spoken of in Psalm 94:22 “My God is the rock of my refuge.” I found the words of the Bible drawing me towards that rock. The eternal rock. I read in Malachi 3:6: “I am the Lord, I change not,” and in Hebrews 6:8: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” I heard and responded to The Spirit’s call to build my life upon that rock. I found that rock to be a refuge of peace wherever I was, whatever the circumstances.

Now I wanted to find a church built upon that rock, where I could be in fellowship with people with a living faith and lives solidly anchored to the rock, Jesus Christ. I knew that wouldn’t be the church I had attended in my youth.

I read in history books of a people who had lived such a faith centuries ago. People for whom the kingdom of God was separate from the kingdoms of this world; people for whom their relationship with Jesus Christ was more important than this earthly life. Other people called them Anabaptists, Waldensians and Mennonites. Surely there would be Christians like that today in the Mennonite churches. I visited many churches, met many good people; most were unaware of the old-time faith.

My search finally led me to a church whose members believe and live the faith I had read about; I became a member of that church 40 years ago.

© Bob Goodnough, January 3, 2019

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