At 100 years old and wheelchair-bound, my grandmother might not immediately appear to be a valourous woman. Even in her youth, she barely topped five feet. She never learned to drive. She left school after grade six to work in the family bakery. But don’t let those facts mislead you: my grandma is most certain a woman of valour.

My grandma was born two months into the First World War. She was a middle child, and I can easily imagine her bickering with siblings as she fought to find her own place in the family. (Yes, I speak from experience as a middle child.)

At age eleven, Grandma left school and began work in the family bakery. There was work to be done and there were family members to feed, and Holland in 1925 was maybe not the easiest place for a girl to pursue her education. Grandma spoke with pride in her later years that even though she left school so early, she was still an avid reader and was knowledgeable about many subjects. She did not let the lack of schooling stand in her way.

Grandpa and Grandma's wedding
Grandpa and Grandma’s wedding

My sisters and I once asked Grandma how she met Grandpa. She told us that she and her friends were giggling over a group of boys, and my grandma told the others, “I like the long one.” Over six feet tall, my grandpa did rather tower over his wife. My grandpa and grandma enjoyed a long marriage, celebrating their 48th wedding anniversary before my grandpa’s death in 1989.

Grandma and Grandpa at their 45th wedding anniversary
Grandma and Grandpa at their 45th wedding anniversary

Grandma and Grandpa were married two months after the Netherlands was invaded by Germany during the Second World War. Throughout the war, Grandma and Grandpa lived with the fear that Grandpa would be captured by German soldiers and brought to work in German factories or worse. Their first child was born during the war, a stillborn son. Their second child, a son name Jan (John), was also born. Trintje (Tena) followed two years later, and Bregtsje (Betty) was born just after the end of the war. My dad, Jabik (Jacob) was another two years later in 1948.

The babies were brought to the church to be baptized as soon as possible, on the Sunday after their birth. As women were supposed to stay at home on bed rest, Grandma did not see her children’s baptisms, but told us later that she knew the baptism had been completed when she heard the church bells begin to ring, signalling the end of the service.

In May of 1950, filled with hope and expectation, and what must have been a whole lot of trepidation, Grandma and Grandpa and their children set off for a new home on a new continent. Immigrating to Canada meant a new chance for their family, but also new and unfamiliar things in almost all of life. I can only imagine what trust and courage this required from my grandparents as they stepped out in faith, following God’s leading.

The SS Volendam
The SS Volendam

A sheet of suggested Bible readings was given to passengers on the Volendam as they sailed 8 days across the ocean. On the first day at sea, Grandma opened her Bible and read these words from Psalm 33:22…

Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,

for our hope is in you alone.

Here, laten Uw goedheid en liefde ons nooit verlaten,

En wij willen U altijd blijven verwachten.

The Bible reading sheet has been carefully saved, even 64 years later
The Bible reading sheet has been carefully saved, even 64 years later

In a new country, Grandma and Grandpa pursued a new life as they continued to trust God’s direction and put their hope in God alone. Moving from place to place so they could earn a living, provide a warm home for their children, and eventually fulfill Grandpa’s dream of having their own farm, they were active members of multiple churches in southwestern Ontario.

A family picture
A family picture

By the time that I was born, Grandma was already 68 years old. My dad once told me that he regretted that his father was quite old when he was born, because Dad was quite young (at 40) when his father died. Despite the age gap between Grandma and me, I was so blessed to grow up with no geographic gap between us. Grandma lived just a few houses down from us for my first thirteen years of life, and she plays an immense role in my childhood memories.

I will never forget the times spent at her house on Sundays either in between church services or after the afternoon service until Dad came to pick me up at 7 or 8. Grandma and I would eat a simple supper together, and then spend the rest of our time playing games. It was the same games almost every time, often played in the same order. Grandma would also use the same moves each time in Chinese Checkers, and yet I was never what the outcome of the game would be. Uno can never be played now without remembering Grandma’s insistence on not using the “nasty cards” (making an opponent pick up cards or skip a turn was not a nice way to play!).

Since Grandma didn’t drive, we picked her up each Sunday after Grandpa’s death to bring her to church. Grandma didn’t like the heavy full-size hymnal that was in the church pew, so she had her own small hymnal that she carried in her purse. A favourite way to pass the drive was to pick out hymns to sing with Grandma as we made our way into town each Sunday. (Of course, I cannot tell that story without mentioning that my dad worried about my apparent lack of musical ability during these impromptu hymn-sings!)

As Grandma entered her late 90s, she began to have difficulty speaking in English. A Dutch speaker until her mid-30s, she had had a late start in her second language. She could still understand English, but Dutch most often came out of her mouth. This often causes frustration for me when I go to visit her, because I understand only minimal Dutch.

I will also always remember the pain of the first time that I went to visit Grandma and could see on her face that she did not know who I was. I sat through the rest of that visit crying as my parents spoke with her in Dutch. My mom had to explain that I was their daughter, her granddaughter.

Good days still come often enough; at her 100th birthday party this past weekend, Grandma greeted me and spoke with me in English each time I talked to her. Each time I have a chance, I take the opportunity to go and visit Grandma. Even if we can’t converse, it’s enough for me to sit and hold her hand for a while.

At Grandma's 100th birthday party this past Sunday
At Grandma’s 100th birthday party this past Sunday

Singing is the best bet for memories to surface. Even on a day that Grandma can’t respond in English, she can sing along to the old hymns that we once sang long ago.

At Grandma’s 100th birthday party, one of the nurses decided to add simple clip-on earrings to Grandma’s outfit. Upon seeing them, one of my aunts declared, “That’s the first time in 100 years this woman has worn earrings!” Even when you’re 100, you’re not too old to try something new.

When Grandma turned 99 last year, I started thinking about all the ways the world has changed since she was born. She has seen and lived through so much history. She has now lived 26 years without her husband. She has lived through the loss of an adult child, in addition to the child she lost at his birth. She must be tired, ready and anxious to go to her heavenly home.

Before my aunt died a year and a half ago, her sister came to see her and said to her, “Say hi to Dad when you get home.”

“It’s one of the first things I plan to do,” was the reply.

Although thinking of Grandma going to her heavenly home brings me much sorrow, I also think of her joyful reunion with her husband and her son and daughter. And I think forward to the day that I will go home, and how I will run to see my grandma again, and laugh with joy over seeing her whole and perfect, how we will speak to each other without confusion or language barriers, how we will run and dance and laugh together, and how we will lift our voices in praise to Jesus once again.

We Walk by Faith, Not by Sight

For we walk by faith, not by sight. II Corinthians 5:7


I walked alone through the dawning day as mist swirled around me. It was not quite light enough to see easily yet, and I was carefully searching for arrows that would tell me I was on the right path. In Galicia, the most western province of Spain, mist is commonplace in the early morning. Eventually the sun causes it to disappear, but the first few hours of my day were generally spent in mist. Particularly when I was walking alone, I was aware that a lack of attention might mean missing a turn off the path and result in getting lost somewhere in the Galician countryside.

Often during these misty mornings my mind would turn to Paul’s words in II Corinthians – we walk by faith, not by sight. This was my theme verse for my journey, and it was literally true for parts of the Camino. There were times I would be walking for a while without seeing an arrow or waymark, but trusting that I was still on the right path. Or there would be places where the arrows seemed to point away from the direction that intuitively seemed right. I learned the hard way to follow the arrows. It takes faith to believe that they are leading to the final destination. We cannot see the whole scope of the journey in one view, but we trust that we will get there eventually.

In my personal devotions time about a year and a half ago, I began praying with urgency to know what God’s plans were for my future – not just the immediate next step, but I longed to know EVERYTHING God has planned for the rest of my years on earth. I am without a doubt a planner. I want to be prepared and equipped. I wanted to know ALL the good things God wants me to do, and what the timeline is for them.

The image I kept receiving from God was of the Good Shepherd leading me, one step at a time, up a rocky mountainside. The way was difficult, and I couldn’t look up from the path too much as I was walking, because I had to be concerned with where my feet were at present. The path was winding, and I couldn’t actually see where it was heading beyond the next curve. Plus the Good Shepherd was in front of me, and he was kind of blocking the view.

This was an image that kept returning to my mind throughout my journey this summer. It probably helped that I was actually climbing rocky mountainsides, but I also couldn’t help but think, if I had actually known, at the beginning of the trip, what the whole thing would be like, I wouldn’t have started. I would have given up before I began. Sometimes I think God purposely does NOT reveal everything to us. Walking by faith instead of sight is not a task given to us by a mean-spirited God, but by a heavenly Father who has our best interests at heart as he continues the sanctifying work in our lives. If we knew all the experiences that lay ahead, all the challenges, all the difficulties, would we dare continue?

God has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11) Even though we cannot see the whole scope of God’s work, we rest in God’s faithfulness.

Even when we do not know how our work will be used in the Kingdom of God, we will persist in believing that God has good works for us to do, planned long ago. Even when we do not see the changes happening in the hearts of our students, we will remain confident that the Holy Spirit is at work in each of them. Even though sometimes, the way God is leading us seems to be the opposite of the direction we should be going, we follow in faith.

God’s faithfulness in the past gives us faith today for the promises of tomorrow.

So we step out in faith, knowing that we are being created anew in Christ Jesus, knowing that long ago he planned good things for us to do, and he will faithfully lead us to those things.

A Time for Everything

Did you think I was done blogging? No, I’m not! I was given the privilege of leading staff devotions for my school.  I wrote three scenes with reflections on the Camino and our school year, using the theme verse for the year, Ephesians 2:10.  Here’s scene one:


For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1


From the first time that I heard about the Camino de Santiago, I wanted to go. I’m not sure how to describe my reasons for wanting to go, and might end up saying it was like the Camino was calling to me. That’s certainly a common enough reason one hears from other pilgrims on the Camino. I believe, actually, it was God calling me to this journey.

This past year I made my plans. I bought my plane tickets in February, and things seemed certain. Then in March, I got really sick. I wondered if I was actually healthy enough to spend every day walking for more than a month. There were a lot of other things to worry about, too – would I be alone for the whole trip, or would I make friends? Would my hiking boots protect my feet, or would I suffer blisters for weeks on end? Would my back injury allow me to carry everything I needed for 40 days, or would I have to give up somewhere along the way? Was it really safe to go to a foreign country on my own?

But each time that I began pondering these what ifs, the Holy Spirit was there to bring comfort and wisdom. Sometimes that was through the prayers or encouragement of a friend, sometimes through advice from someone who had walked the Camino before. Sometimes through words of a song that would remind me of God’s faithfulness. Often through words of Scripture being brought to mind.


God’s faithfulness in the past gives us faith today for the promises of tomorrow.

God had called me to this journey. He has been totally faithful through my entire life, in fact, through all of human history and beyond. So I stepped out in faith, knowing that God’s faithfulness would continue.


As a staff gathered here today, we celebrate God’s faithfulness over the history of JKCS, over the history of each of our individual lives, over the events of our summers; and we anticipate his faithfulness to us this coming year. The summer experiences represented around this room vary widely – rest, relaxation, busyness; joy, sorrow, grief, and loss; excitement, preparation and anticipation, looking back, leaving places of employment, starting a new job or a new teaching assignment here at John Knox.

Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time for every activity under heaven…

A time to be born, and a time to die.

A time to tear down, and a time to build up.

A time to cry, and a time to laugh.

A time to rest, and a time to work.

A time to walk, and a time to lie down, I might add.

A time to say goodbye to previous staff members, and a time to welcome new ones.

A time to send students on to the next grade, and a time to face the challenges of the next group of students God entrusts to us.

God has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11) Even though we cannot see the whole scope of God’s work, we rest in God’s faithfulness.


God already knows each moment we will face, collectively and individually, this year. He knows the moments we will seek his face with great joy, being renewed in his presence and goodness. He knows the moments that we will give in to temptation, perhaps say something we later regret. He knows the student that will challenge us, push us to the limits of our patience and love. He knows the times that we will feel overwhelmed with our workload, lugging buckets of marking to and from school as we try to write report cards that might even begin to reflect on the learning and growth in our students over a term. He knows the moments our hearts will ache from criticism, and the moments when our hearts will be encouraged by the kind words of others.

Each experience will be used by God to continue to shape us into the people he is calling us to be. And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them, Romans tells us. We are God’s masterpieces – he is not content to let us stay the way we are, but calls us to be created anew, into his image. God knows each experience we will have this year. He rejoices with us in the good. He comforts us in the painful. And he uses each one to his good and his glory.