Sunday, April 19, 2015

That Thing in Your Hand

The title of this blog post goes back several years to when employees at the Provincial Government funded agency where I work were challenged to participate in a campaign called "The Power of One." The idea was that if many staff at Christian Horizons raised $500 each for CH Global, which is only funded by donations; collectively it would add up to a significant amount.  It was in the last quarter of the fiscal year, a busy time at work, and I remember having a sinking feeling. I am not a natural fundraiser and it felt like one more pressure added to my full plate.

That attitude didn't last long, thank goodness. I was soon thinking of the old bible story of David and Goliath. No one was stepping up to fight the giant Goliath until a young shepherd boy named David  reminded them that there was a God in Israel who only needed a willing heart and pair of hands. My attitude to that point resembled that of King of Israel at that time: Saul; who was defeated before he even tried, because he looked at the natural possibilities--not the supernatural. There was really no choice--I preferred to be David than King Saul.

That's when I thought of another even older bible story--this time about the reluctant leader, Moses; when God asked him, " What is that in your hand?" God used the staff in his hand supernaturally as a sign to the people of Israel that Moses really was commissioned by him to lead them out of Egypt. I thought about what I had in my hand, and it was pie. I put my goal out on Facebook: 25 pies at $20, equaling $500. By the end of March I had sold over 50 pies and raised over $1000. In my experience, God always exceeds our expectations.

Image result for dwayne milleyIt was a couple of years later, November 2013, and at a leadership conference I again felt God tap me on the shoulder with a nudge to bake pies for CH Global. I touched base with my boss at the time, Dwayne Milley, and he approved the idea, asking only if I'd mind getting behind our $10,000 district project--a simple guest house in South Sudan, where visiting workers could stay. CH Global was giving support to the people there. I began taking pie orders with that project in mind, drawing energy from thinking of this people so far away, who had so much less than we do here in North America. Two weeks into December, civil war broke out in South Sudan, and the little guest house we were funding, became a place where an impossibly large number of people fled, from the atrocities that began as the war took hold. 

So many people got behind the pie project, donating pie boxes, flour, sugar, apples, and peeling box upon box of apples to be frozen. Many people helped by buying pies at above market price and I have now had a lot of practice, baking hundreds of pies and raising thousands of dollars. All the time with people far away on our hearts.

Last week I went to my hairdresser, Gravity Salon, in Barrie, where Ivo Tiberio, the owner, and his staff, are part of the cheering section for the pies for South Sudan, giving generous support at every opportunity. 

I never go to the hairdresser without at least five pies in my trunk--just in case someone asks, and I had five with me last week. As I stood at the cash register paying for my hair cut and colour, the pies were snapped up. 

Ivo, called me over to his chair. The woman whose hair he was cutting wanted to ask me about the project. She looked to be in her late thirties, with fine features and her ash brown hair cut in a stylish mid length bob. "Why South Sudan?"  she asked.

I told her the story in a nutshell, then she told me she'd bought pie before when we were both in the salon at the same time. And then she said, "I haven't been in South Sudan, but I've been in the north with the Canadian Armed Forces in charge of logistics." She said,"You need to know that while all the wealth is in the south, it is all taken to the north."

Dwayne moved from Christian Horizons to CH Global last October. He now gets to see first hand what most of us can only imagine in the Third World.  On April 16 he posted a story on his own blog about South Sudan and you can read it HERE. I read it this afternoon and spent some time searching for words for the emotion I felt. Then I gave up--it is impossible to describe without diminishing the impact of Dwayne's words, so I hope that everyone who reads this, clicks on the link and reads his story.

I continue to be amazed at what happens when you follow God's lead. And when you simply pick up, "that thing in your hand."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Doesn't it drive you a little crazy when things just go missing? I wrote about the case of the missing salmon three years ago when Tippy and Tori were 13 and 14. Here is that little story, since they both just spent the weekend with us and are so much more grown up now!

I was loading the dishwasher when Brenda wandered upstairs and into our kitchen with her brow furrowed and a perplexed expression on her face.

She told me that she had just posted as her status on Facebook :
"Ok its official--I have lost my mind--and my salmon! Made my lunch for tomorrow and could have sworn I put the leftovers in the fridge but the illusive salmon is missing in action! If I ever find it I'll let I you know where I put it!"

I am used to hunting my kitchen and office for things that seem to vaporise the moment they leave my hand, but it was funny to see Brenda standing there in her pajamas telling me that she had actually looked inside her washing machine, dryer, oven and microwave for her salmon.

We had decided that weekend to split some of the items we buy in large boxes from Costco. We figured we would save money as well as space that way. One thing we bought was a salmon steak, which I had baked and then put into two large take-out containers from Swiss Chalet that used to contain chicken. These containers aren't small, so how hard could it be to find one in her apartment downstairs? I went downstairs to help, sure I that would spot it in no time.

We recruited Tippy, and laughingly proposed a prize for the one to find the salmon. We looked in all the cupboards, the garbage bins, even the appliances; again. Nothing.

Tori was in the shower, but when she emerged, Brenda asked her if she had seen the salmon. She replied with a flippant, "No, but feel free to interrogate the shampoo!"

Molson was circling us, his soft nose nuzzling my hands, but if he had anything to do with this, where was the evidence? The container would have been left behind and it was nowhere to be seen.

My mind turned to the one member of the downstairs household not present: Kevin, who was upstairs working in his office. The salmon had to be with him; "I bet he's playing a joke on you," I said.

Brenda was about to buy the Kevin theory when there was a crack in the case. Tori caved under the pressure of knowing that he was about to undergo interrogation, and confessed.

She had taken the Swiss Chalet container from the fridge into the TV room thinking that it held chicken. When she found that it contained salmon, she left it on the table. Enter Molson; “Only Too Glad to Help;” stage left.

I couldn’t believe it. “Tori, you actually watched us searching high and low, and you knew all along where the salmon had gone?" 

She said she hadn’t known what to do. She hadn't banked on her mother going into "Such a Tizzy" over the salmon; or me, "The Big Guns" as she put it; being called in!

She went and retrieved the missing container from her room and held it out to us.

"What were you going to do with it?" I said, looking at the empty container with vestiges of salmon clinging to the edges.

"I was going to wait until tomorrow and then dispose of it!" she said, as though referring to an inconvenient dead body.
And I thought that she seemed a little too comfortable with this problem solving method.

As for her partner in crime, Molson; we decided that since the mystery of the missing salmon was solved, he might as well finish off the job he had started. 

And he was only too happy to oblige!

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

That In Between Time

One of our three eldest granddaughters is 16, and two are 17. To say that they are growing up fast seems an understatement. That "in between time" between childhood and adulthood is a tender, precious time.

I wrote about one of them recently in a post entitled, A Little Adventure. It was during that very adventure, while Tori and I were driving to Owen Sound to pick up her new pet rats, that I noticed she had the sniffles and offered her a purse sized package of Kleenex. She was so thrilled with the Kleenex package that I told her to keep it, and the next time the family all got together for Sunday lunch, I had an assortment of several little fancy Kleenex packages; from my bulk Costco pack; for each of the girls. I watched them pick out the patterns that appealed to their individual taste and saw I'd guessed correctly when I thought I knew which ones they'd each choose: the camouflage print drew Tippy, the teal green print was Tori's, and K went for the bright pink and orange print.

A few weeks later when we were at Montana's celebrating Tippy's 17th birthday, Tori said, "Omie, we are so popular at school with our Kleenex." 

"Yes," said Tippy, "Everyone thinks they are so cool!"

Who would have guessed that popularity comes in the shape of  Kleenex?  :)

Another joy is shared pleasures. Tori and I were having breakfast together a few weeks ago when she told me about a movie she'd enjoyed, starring Bill Murray. One of my all time favourite movies starred Bill Murray: the 1991, What About Bob . 

"Would you like to see it?" I asked her. 

"Sure!" she said,  

I couldn't wait to order it online; it was less than $4; and that's how she came to spend Saturday afternoon with her grandparents, all three of us laughing till our stomachs hurt, at a very old but very funny movie. 

It was Good Friday when the family gathered next at our place for dinner after church.  After the meal, the dishwasher hummed away with its first load and some of us were relaxing in La Z Boy chairs in the big living room, too pleasantly full to move far. I mentioned something to my daughter-in-law, Sue, about the situation in the world, which isn't good. Tippy, who had been quietly sketching, looked up and said, her eyes filled with concern, "What is going on in the world, what do you mean?" 

 Where to start and what to say to this sensitive one?

Events of the day before were weighing on my heart so I told her that in Kenya, 150 students not so much older than she is, had gone to bed on Wednesday not imagining the horror that they would wake up to on Thursday morning. I told her that a militant Islamist group; Al- Shabaab; had gone through the dorms demanding to know which students were Christian, which then became their death sentence.

I was torn as I told her. Was I burdening her with something she did not need to know?  Yet she had asked a serious question and it deserved an answer.

Tippy's brow furrowed, but her words were not what I expected. 

"At least they stood for what they believed," she said.

It was a message of hope beyond this life; a reminder that I needed. A young person in Canada was honouring the courage of peers in Kenya who did not deny their faith in the face of what could only have been unspeakable terror.  In doing so she showed me who she is becoming. And if it were remotely possible to love her even more, in that moment, I did.

They and their cousin K are teens; they are tender; and they are vulnerable. But there is also sprouting strength.

Monday, March 09, 2015


A couple of weeks ago I picked up a phone message from Brenda asking if I would like to go to a concert. Does spring follow winter? I mean really! "Yes!!!" I said.

Not only a concert, but a "Musical Extravaganza," by the music department of St. Andrew's College, her beloved SAC, where she works with "her boys." The concert was at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing ArtsI could hardly wait. 

Last Wednesday night I drove to Aurora to meet Brenda for supper in the college dining hall, where, with the kind permission of the head of the kitchen staff, we enjoyed a meal of succulent sliced pork loin in apple sauce with the faintest hint of cloves, followed by profiteroles with strawberry sauce. We could not have had a more delicious meal in the best restaurant in town.

The hall was filled with teachers who live on campus and their families, students, and custodial staff, many of whom came by to say a warm "Hi!" to "Brenda's mom." It felt like a big family gathering; a community of friends. 

Yellow school buses were lined up outside the main doors, ready to set out for Richmond Hill. Inside, excitement hung in the air--an atmosphere fueled by anticipation and nervous energy.

Of course I had my camera with me, but sadly, once we were seated, an usher told us that photos and videos were not allowed. These were some photos I took of the amazing art in the foyer on the way in.

The Director of Music, Sandi Chasson, deserves a standing ovation for the amazing music that we were privileged to experience that night. Garry Page; a stellar musician in his own right, also Director of Bands and an amusing Master of Ceremonies; kept the audience engaged and laughing as he hosted the evening.

John Richardson, Director of Bands conducted the Middle School boys with excellence; the bond between him and the boys was so evident, and the music was flawless, at least to this appreciative audience member's ear!

The pipes and drums thrilled us, calling to heart and soul with their beautiful harmonies and ancient rhythms; the jazz bands made our feet tap and itch to dance and solo improvisations captured us with their bravery and spontaneous creativity. The percussion and small pipe ensembles--each band blew me away with their professionalism, the result of obvious hard work and practice. 

And the Platinum Band, which ended the evening? "Among the best in high school musicians" said the program, describing their recent triple-gold win at the MusicFest Regionals, and that nails it. They were smooth as a bar of Cadbury's chocolate, and seemingly effortless in their musicianship. A truly triumphant ending to an evening for which applause seemed hardly enough to express our enjoyment and which had begun with an invitation, "Do you want to go to a concert?" So glad I said, "Yes!"

Saturday, February 21, 2015

David and Xiaoqian's Wedding

It was the week in which Canadians celebrated the 50th anniversary of our flag and David Stewart and his bride Xiaoqian Liu, celebrated their love by getting married on Valentine's Day. It almost felt as though a Divine event planner had been at work in bringing all these things together.

From different cultural backgrounds, their wedding bore testimony to the power of love to overcome obstacles, and the importance of young couples being surrounded by family, community and prayer.

David and Xiaoqian's wedding was both cross cultural, blending Chinese and Canadian traditions; and counter cultural in that the focus was on getting married, not "the wedding," although that was lovely. 

The reception hall in the church basement was decorated with Chinese lanterns, fans, lovely floral table centrepieces and origami birds.


The bride wore red; the traditional bridal colour in China; symbolizing good luck, happiness, vitality, joy and long life. Xiaoqian had ordered her red lace wedding dress and veil on-line; but the Chinese dress with stand up collar; in white delicate floral patterned satin; that she wore to the reception, was made to measure in a tailor's shop in Shanghai that has existed for 1000 years! Xiaoqian had four fittings for the exquisite dress, and at each one adjustments were made to create the perfect fit.

During the ceremony, the bride and groom looked into each other's eyes and seemed to see no one else as they vowed to love and value one another. Later they showed honour to their parents by kneeling and serving tea to them.

In China a daughter leaves the family upon marriage and becomes part of her bridegroom's family, and it is sons who care for their parents in old age. Lily and Xiaoqian have a close emotional bond and Lily's joy in her daughter's wedding was tinged with sorrow at letting her go. But David, in his speech, assured her that he had now become her son, she was not losing her daughter but gaining him. As his words were translated to her, Lily raised her hand in the air with a cry of joy, and then went to the podium and spontaneously made a speech in Chinese, translated by Xiaoqian, in which she expressed her gratitude and happiness. Their small family of two, had been enfolded by the large Stewart clan of 9 siblings, with spouses and many nieces and nephews.

We had the honour of hosting Pastor Daniel Fong and his wife Judy, who traveled from Montreal to officiate at the wedding. We did not know them before they arrived on Friday afternoon, but there were not enough hours during their stay to hear all that we wanted to of the story of their life to this point, in which Pastor Daniel left a career as an engineer in the aerospace industry, to become a pastor. We are now looking forward to another visit in May and to hearing the rest of their story.

After David and Xiaoqian left for  a few days at Niagara Falls, Lily stayed with David's parents, Susan and Ron, until Thursday, when she was leaving for China. On Wednesday, Chinese Lunar New Year's Eve, Lily went shopping with Susan for the ingredients for a New Year's feast of all sorts of special delicacies, which she prepared for the family. David and Xiaoqian came back for the celebration and so that they could take her to the airport the next day. They literally rang in the New Year by ringing a bell high on the roof of the Stewart house.

Friday came and the many celebrations were over at last. But our memories remain, along with new friendships, to be cherished.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Our Maple Leaf A Symbol of Unity

We left for the city at 6.30 a.m. with a crescent moon still bright in the morning  sky. By the time we were on the Gardiner Expressway, the sun was up and washing the city of Toronto in a rosy glow as though trying its best to counteract the arctic chill of the coldest morning of the winter.

I told Paul that I felt like Forrest Gump, the movie character who was accidentally present at many historic moments. We were on our way to an event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the flag of Canada, the distinctive Maple Leaf. Paul had been invited weeks earlier to be in a commemorative photo; a living recreation of the flag; but a few days before the event had received an email saying that there was still space and a significant other could accompany him if he wished! It felt surreal, and an exciting honour that we would both be in a photograph that would be included in the public record of this celebration. 

We made our way to the Mattamy Athletic Centre; the site of the old Maple Leaf Gardens, and soon joined a throng of other guests dressed in red, gathering for coffee and refreshments to start the day.

Paul was wearing a burgundy shirt, so he was offered a 
tomato red one from a box of sweat shirts, and was helped to find his size by a friendly man who introduced himself as Joe and told Paul he surely didn't need XXL, he thought he could fit into an XL. He came over and stood beside us as we looked down from the top of the stadium, to the red maple leaf and red panels down below on the floor and the preparations underway for the photo later on. He folded his arms and leaned in to chat and I noticed a pin on his lapel. I asked about it and he told us that it was his Order of Canada pin, and that he was made an Officer of the Order in 2013, for his contribution to the arts. "Joe" introduced himself as Joseph Macerollo, and it soon was evident that he was a world renowned master musician and accordianist. 

At the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto doctoral candidates study the physiology of making music under him. They learn how to use the machine of their body with an instrument; the accordion; to put sound out into space. As Joe explained this, he gestured with his hand as if throwing something into the air out in front of him like the sound he was describing. He said, "People usually pull from the left, but that creates a nasal sound from an accordion," and he demonstrated his technique called "the snake" where the musician moves strategically to create sound. In any orchestra in the world now, there are musicians who have studied under Joseph Macerollo, a man who had to get his degree in piano, because the accordion was not taken seriously enough.

He played the accordion with the Toronto Symphony with the great opera singer, the late Luciano Pavarotti, who was known for firing accordionists; usually within the first 10 minutes. But Pavorotti turned around to Joe, when he was playing, and gave him two thumbs up. 

In 2003 during the SARS outbreak in Canada, a group of students from the Netherlands came over for classes with Joe. Joe was well known in the Netherlands, as he had been there in person. But the University of Toronto was in lock down due to the crisis. One of the students called Joe and asked if five of them might instead come to his house. Joe took pity on them and agreed, and since his son was home, he and his wife planned to feed the six young people. But to his surprise a yellow school bus rolled up to his home, with a flag in the window with an accordion on it. And there were thirty seven students on the bus, not five. Word had got around that they were going to his home and the others had begged to come along! Joe ordered pizza and Crispy Cream donuts for all of them and taught a master class; a kind and generous act that didn't surprise us after talking to Joe for a few minutes.

When Paul mentioned that he had seen some members of the Royal Canadian Air Farce; the long running CBC comedy series: in the crowd, Joe's warm brown eyes lit up. He had played for the show and said that he and Scott Irvine, a tuba player were the only two musicians that survived the cuts at CBC. He laughed at a memory of female comedian Luba Goy, who quipped as she attempted to play the accordion, "My boobs get in the way of the bellows!"

"Where did you see them?" he asked, looking around, and Paul pointed him in the direction where he had last seen them.  

After he left, Paul said, "I guess it's ordinary people that do extraordinary things and don't even think about it." 

Our interchange seemed symbolic of the event we were participating in; the creation of a "living flag" made of people representing many nations of the world; many abilities and disabilities; from all walks of life; young and old. It would show those who bring themselves, their art and their cultures to enrich this country; all part of a large scale unique photograph by renowned photographer Edward Burtynsky. 100 brand new citizens of Canada were being sworn in during the ceremony and in the crowd mingled both new and old citizens, along with icons such as Joseph Macerollo and members of the Royal Canadian Air Farce. 

Oh, Canada! Our Canada.
 Paul and I are in the middle of the top right hand quarter of the right red band.

If you are interested in more information on Joe, here is a link to a video Interview of Joe Macerollo by Chris Fonseca

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Constant Friend

You were with me in a garden long ago; with  green shadow dappled lawnsedged with terracotta bricks; and trees filled with blackbird song. When I, a child of three or four, came in from play one day to say that I had talked with you.

You were with me too, in fields where I heard your voice above the distant lowing of cattle; on the wind that sighed, and riffled rolling waves of silver green grass. To this shy girl when eight, you were a confidante.

You were with me, stirring my heart when nine, to give the only gift I had; my life; to you, a fervent offering. Praying alone in the one room we lived in then, I said impulsively, "I will be a missionary." 

You were with me in the dark, helping me endure my many fears, night terrors, and deep insecurities.

You were with me in the songs I sang in school assemblies, through which I learned of your childhood; your life; and sacrificial death. Hot tears filled my eyes each year through Holy Week as we sang sad hymns about your crucifixion. 

You were with me at two Billy Graham movies in my teens, where your Spirit called to mine, and I responded with a whispered, "Yes;" not knowing really what that meant.

You were with me in the church; in joy and disillusionment; community and disunity; a broken body in so many ways; you have been my hope and Rock.

You were with me in many signs of love so real and clear, just when needed.

You were with me in my mother's grey blue eyes of blazing love, and the deep peace that was in them at the end.

But what if I had never known you?  What if I had never heard or recognized your voice? What if I had said, "No?" 

Different choices; I would be less; unshaped by the One who has the Master plan for my life. How much I would have missed, and never known it.

But I do know you!  

Your is the constant that has held me and holds me still, after all these years.