Thursday, May 31, 2007

Tests

As Wednesday evening approached, the tension grew around here. Molson and Brenda were going for their final stage of testing in order for him to be a therapy dog with the St. John's Ambulance Brigade. Brenda had already gone through rigorous screening, had provided reference letters and been interviewed--but the hour long test on Wednesday had her nerves in shreds--so much was riding on it. She had her heart set on this and she knew the dog would be put through very tough testing.

Molson, as usual, was coooool as a cucumber!

There were four dogs and their owners being tested that night. The owners were not allowed to speak to their dogs during the test.

The dogs and owners had to stand in a circle and each set of dog and owner was given a number to stand on. Whichever owner the evaluator pointed at, had to give their dog the full 6 feet of lead. Then the evaluator watched how they handled meeting the other dogs. No verbal command could be given and no reassurance if they were getting anxious.

Next, the dog started in a sitting position and the owner was given random commands by the evaluator to--walk straight; turn, pivot, turn right etc. The dog had to follow the owner without any instruction--would he stop when she stopped and go when she went--without any command?

The hardest test was when four people dressed in odd clothing--not normal attire, appeared. Brenda had to walk inside the circle of people, with Molson closest to them. After he passed by them once, he was touched by them without warning. Then Brenda had to leave the circle and turn her back on them. When she turned around, there was a person acting very strangely, as someone with demetia might. The evaluator wanted to see if he would approach with apprehension or allow the strange person to pet him. Then all four people converged on him and began to touch him all over. Still Molson was calm.

They passed--and the evaluator said that Molson did really well! Now this little team of two is ready for the adventures God has in store for them.

I was reading earlier this week, in Amy Carmichael's, Edges of His Ways, some thoughts about pottery that seem related.

On Monday I read about "trial pieces"--those pieces of pottery that served as an example or proof of the skill of the potter. "A piece of clay, or the like, by which the progress of the firing process might be judged, a trial piece." So often I'm not much of a "trial piece," and I fail the tests God sends my way.

On Tuesday the thought was on clay, "marred in the hand of the potter," but not thrown away. Always the potter made it into something new. There was hope in the thought that, "even if we have failed in some supreme test, our God has not done with us."

To pass the test, between the dog and his owner--a bond of trust was needed--even without spoken word. In strange and unexpected circumstances, still calm trust had to prevail. Between God and I should there be any less?

Mark 11:22-24 (New International Version)
22"Have faith in God," Jesus answered. 23"I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. 24Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Molson Made It! He's a St. John's Ambulance Therapy Dog!

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Grateful

I flopped onto the couch with my laptop, glad to be in the cool of the air-conditioned house. It had been such a hot day.

I was checking emails when the doorbell chimed--soft, melodic, Big Ben tones.

Opening the beveled glass front door to the heat outside, I found a young man, wearing a baseball cap, shorts and tee shirt--holding a heavy a rucksack.

He explained that his job was giving away/installing energy saving equipment for the gas company. He showed me the large I.D. tag that hung from his neck and I was reassured to recognize a familiar business name. He handed me a shower head and tap attachments for bathroom and kitchen--as well as foam water pipe insulation.

I thought that perhaps this was a summer job and that he was a university student.

He handed me a form to sign for his records and to account for the free equipment handed out. No problem. But there was a second space to sign, confirming that he had installed the equipment.

"I have a problem signing this," I said.

"No, no, it's all right," he said, "This is just to say I was here."

"Yes, but it says you installed the things and you didn't," I said, "My signature means something to me. It's an ethical thing."

"Well, I can install them for you," he said, "No problem."

I led him to the furnace room where the water heater is, to put the foam on the hot water pipe. On the way down the stairs he said, "Hello," to Tiffany-Amber and Victoria, who were playing on the floor. I sensed a tenderness in him.

He switched my shower head and said he'd been trained to install these properly--and he had me check for leaks. There were none.

In our sun porch, I signed the paper, and he said, "This my first job. I new to this country."

"Then welcome to Canada!" I said, "Where are you from?"

He said, "China," and he told me that it had taken four years to get here.

"Well, this is a wonderful country," I said, motioning to our beautiful home, "If you work hard, God will bless you." And I told him too, about the Chinese young man who goes to our church--telling him his name--as if hearing another Chinese name would be a comfort.

I found myself telling him the story of how, when Paul and I came here from England in 1969, with no money and no car, we stopped at a home in Clarkson, to ask directions to a factory where Paul had a job interview. The woman who came to the door had taken off her apron, got her car keys, and driven us to the interview. A kindness such as that you never forget.

"You are such a nice lady," he said, "You are so kind."

I thought to myself that maybe my efforts to be more gentle since the assertiveness training course I recently took, were bearing fruit.

"I honest," he said, motioning to the paper I had signed in the end.

"I know," I said.

"I don't want you to think I not. Most people don't want me to come in their house and install things."

"I wish you the best in your future," I said--he thanked me, smiling. He seemed not to want to go. I wished afterwards that I had offered him a drink, asked him to sit for a moment.

How much we take for granted--friends, family--living in this wonderful country of ours. How blessed and privileged we are.

Lord, my evening reflection is one of gratitude. I thank you for the riches you've blessed us with here. Help me always to be generous with what you have given, as you are generous. I pray for that young man, who I only know by his five digit I.D. number on the duplicate copy of the form he left behind. You know his name and you love him. Please bless him with friends in this land--and I pray that if he doesn't know you--that he will--for you are the source of all true blessing.

2 Peter 3:13-14 (New International Version)
13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Regrets

Psalm 55:6 (New International Version)
6 I said, "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest-

I sat beside his bed on that evening four years ago. We all knew that it wouldn't be long now before his old lungs, labouring to do their work in spite of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), would exhale for the last time. But we had thought that so many times before--prepared ourselves to say goodbye--only for him to rally and prove the doctors and nurses wrong.

I had worship practice that evening, so I dropped in to the "group home" that was home to Stan, staying as long as I could before I had to leave for the church, promising to come back as soon as I could. There was a quiet expectancy in the house--the same sort as on Christmas Eve. People trod softly and gently.

Friends had come and gone over the course of the days before. On May 23rd he had come home from York County Hospital and we had celebrated his 87th birthday--a steady stream of people coming to the house to wish him well and share some of his cake. He was very much loved.

It was just gone 9.00 when I came back to the house where he lived. Lights had been dimmed and his housemates had either gone to bed or were going. I went into his room and he grasped my hands between his, warmly shaking them, his face radiating the love that drew us all to him.

In his room, all day long, staff had come and gone, singing favourite hymns and choruses, reading scripture out loud. As I took my place beside his bed, I sang softly, cried, kissed his brow, caressed his face and held him until he fell into a peaceful sleep.

I slipped out of his room at around 10.30 and chatted in hushed tones with the night staff who had arrived. There were two, instead of the usual one, for support, in case this should be "the night."

I went out into the dark, knowing that he had wanted me to stay--he who never asked anything for himself and only thought of others. But--practically I thought--I would need to be strong for others in the morning.

The call came around 6.00 a.m. Stan had passed away.

It took me only half an hour to get back to the house where he no longer was. The two staff who had been with him all night had each held one of his hands at the moment he passed from this world into the next. They had encouraged him--"It's all right Stan, you can go." They had shared a holy moment and a little angel dust was clinging to them as they recounted every detail.

I visited a recently bereaved friend this week--went to simply sit beside him on his mourning bench. "It's the regrets that are the hardest thing," he said, voice choking back the tears.

I understood.

Psalm 116:15 (New International Version)
15 Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his saints.

Monday, May 28, 2007

I Once Was Blind

I was driving down highway 400 to the second part of an Assertiveness Training course in Toronto last week, when I glanced up at one of those illuminated signs over the highway.

"Check Blind Spot Before Changing Lanes," it said.

I smiled to myself at the irony as it felt as though I had been doing nothing but checking blind spots ever since the first session.

The day was helpful to all of us in the class--I know it was to me.

Our instructor, Schelley, drew a diagram of the "Johari Window" and talked about the "four selves"--Open (known to others and self), Blind (known to others but not self), Hidden (known to self but hidden to others) and Unknown (to both ourself and others--subconscious). It was the "Blind" window that I had been discovering most about.

On the weekend I was listening to Fresh Air on CBC radio, and heard a wonderful musician--a high school teacher from Toronto, called Max Layton, who was talking about his new CD, Heartbeat of Time.

Max told how one day he was driving along the highway and he was about to change lanes. He checked his blind spot and didn't see anything, so he made the change of lanes, almost hitting a car, because he just didn't see it beside him.

Max didn't know it at the time, but he had a serious vision problem and he was losing his sight. He explained that when there is a blind spot in our field of vision, the brain actually fills in the missing information with what it thinks should be there. In Max's case, it was the pavement on the highway--only it showed it without the car that actually was there.

The disease of the eye that Max had, was Macular Degeneration. His ophthalmologist told him the grim news--he would gradually lose more and more vision until it was gone. He began looking at things with intensity--committing them to memory for the time when he would no longer be able to see. Some of what he saw, he expressed in music and the songs on his CD.

Amazingly for Max, the treatments he was given for the eye problem began to work and his eyesight began improving! Each visit he would try to read the chart on the wall, and he found that he could read more until the happy day when he could read the letter "x "on the bottom line.

As I heard Max's story, I thought of the parallels with my journey of discovery--my eyesight gradually recovering from its areas of blind spots. I know that this process will never end, but the treatment is in progress and I am on my way!

Philippians 4:6-7 (New International Version)
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Following Jesus



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Around the church there has been anticipation and talk about the upcoming baptism service over the past few weeks--and Tiffany-Amber and Victoria surprised us all by asking if they could be baptized. We had family discussions--were they too young--did they understand the step they wanted to take? In the end their parents decided that if they were old enough to say that they wanted to follow Jesus, then they were old enough to be baptised.
Pastor Dave interviewed them both, to be sure that they understood, and agreed that they did--so it was a go--and today was the day. They joined two men, one woman and two teenagers in being baptized.
I was leading worship and Pastor Dave asked me to show the baptismal tank to all of the children on the platform just prior to Sunday School--and explain what would be happening. The pastor's grandson Rowan, had thrown a ball into the tank before church started and there it sat on the bottom. The children noticed it and gathered precariously close to the edge--fascinated. "Step away from the tank!" I said to the little flock.
The week before, two small china mugs had been given to me by Mr. Jolly, a friend of ours. They had been given to him and his wife Dorothy (who recently passed away) by Stanley, a mutual friend who had a developmental disability and who died on May 29th 2003, when he was 87. The girls used to call him Poppa Stan--and he was like a grandfather to them. Tiffany-Amber, especially, gets misty eyed when she speaks of him--she was five when he died and remembers him. I asked Mr. Jolly if he minded me giving the china mugs to Victoria and Tiffany-Amber as a baptismal gift from Poppa Stan and he was delighted to agree to the plan.
Tonight I heard from Alan, a friend who is Roman Catholic, that he assisted in a First Communion service at Holy Family Catholic Church today in Toronto. He started to tell me this by saying, "It being Pentecost Sunday..." How ironic that I, who go to a Pentecostal church, had not realized that it was Pentecost Sunday today! He told me that he then went on to another Roman Catholic church, where he was present for the First Communion of Anna, the daughter of Alex, another friend, who is Anglican, but whose daughter attends a Catholic school with her brother and has chosen to have her First Communion in the Catholic Church. Aidan, her brother, had been confirmed in the Anglican church in January.
Three denominations among many, in which children, teens and adults are declaring and confirming their faith in one God and His Son Jesus Christ.
Our son, Peter, who is on the pastoral team at our church, Hillside Pentecostal Assemly in Tottenham, and who preached at the baptismal service, mentioned in his sermon, that he has been following an interesting discussion that our church youth have been having on Facebook about the fact that there are different denominations. Facebook--a platform for theological debate--among youth--a whole new generation of disciples that we should rejoice over!
Prayer: Dear Father, I thank you for those who today took the step of declaring their faith publicly--Tiffany-Amber, Victoria, Anna--and the many others who did. From our church those were: Ann, Thelma, Sam, Heather and Richard. Please watch over each of them and bless them with an ever increasing awareness of your Presence in their lives.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Peace

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The Poem of a Child.

Living
is like flying a
kite. There is a beginning and an
end to the journey and
lots of obstacles will try to stop
you. But I will
never turn back. My self-confidence will never
end. It
shall pick me up when I fall and give me
strength so I can finish the journey.

My 10 year old, Emma, showed me this poem. It is word for word the way she wrote it. I cried when she read it to me. The depth of it touched my heart and spoke to me of a child who knows she is valuable, she matters and she is able. It spoke to me of hope, and a bright future. It told me that all of the times I have said, "God made you special. He loves you and wouldn't change a hair on your head. You matter to the one who created the Heavens and the Earth." She listened.

I was reminded of a message from our Pastor. He spoke of the shooting at a school in the United States where a young man went into the Science area and opened fire killing many innocents and then himself. He had released tapes to the news, and in them he said he did it so he would matter. Pastor went on to say that he couldn't help but wonder if this boy had been told the message of Christ's love for us, and His gift of salvation if things might have turned out differently.

I thought of all the kids who come out to BG Club, many of whom do not go to church. Everyone of those kids gets told that they matter. They matter to us, they matter to God. They matter so much to God that He sent His only Son, Jesus to die for them. That's the kind of love we tell these kids they are worthy of. That's the kind of love that inspires the self-confident hope that I saw in Emma's poem.

Lord, I am honored to be used by You to reach these lives and tell them You love them. Such a simply, yet powerful message. Life changing. Please let this sink in to their minds and hearts. Let it affect their actions now and for the rest of their lives. Thank-you for the chance to make a difference.

May this encourage you to share the message of God's love to everyone you meet today.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Pearl that Cannot be Bought

Matthew 13:45-46 (New Living Translation)
45 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. 46 When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it.

Victoria and Tiffany-Amber worked side by side with their grandfather in the garden as he toiled on hands and knees, in the hot sun. He was painstakingly weeding--and they worked away with garden rake and trowel, busy and serious about removing the vestiges of fall and winter.

Bringing beauty to this acre of land on which our house has stood for almost nineteen years, is a labour of love for Paul. Every year he finds a reason to plant a few more trees, extend the flower beds, or create another space in which to sit and enjoy nature.

As I pulled out of the driveway in my car to go shopping they hardly noticed me leaving, but I carried the picture of the threesome in the garden in my heart.

Our home has been such a place of happiness over the years. It has sheltered three generations of our family and had its share of temporary guests and visitors. It's hard to think of ever leaving, or of other people living here. We all feel that way, including our grandchildren who live downstairs.

As they worked in the garden, Victoria said, "Grandad, I want to live here forever."

Paul said, "Well, one day, when you're grown up, you might get married and move away."

But Victoria was resolute, "No, I want to live here forever."

Joking, Paul said, "Well then, you might have to buy it. That will be about $250,000 each."

Little did he know it, but his words were taken very seriously by two little girls. Later on, downstairs, they could be found emptying out their money boxes, and calculating the difference between the $14 they had rustled up, and the $500,000 Paul had quoted them.

I loved the determination and hopefulness with which they tackled this comparitively huge purchase. If they only knew our hearts--that we would give our very lives for our children and grandchildren, let alone a piece of land!

There was a merchant, in a long ago story about the Kingdom of God. The merchant sold everything he had to purchase a priceless pearl that he had discovered. The story is about the fact that nothing compares in value to the Kingdom of God, and the wise will seek after it with all of their hearts.

But today I think of a Father whose heart is to give us that pearl--and who gave everything he had to purchase it for us.

He has already paid the price--a price that we had no hope of paying.

Two little girls with high hopes, in a garden--they gave me a glimpse into his heart.

Psalm 37:3-5 (New Living Translation)
3 Trust in the Lord and do good.
Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.
4 Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you your heart’s desires.
5 Commit everything you do to the Lord.

Trust him, and he will help you.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Birthday

It's our son Peter's 37th birthday today, as well as his son Stephen's 6th birthday. Joshua's 3rd birthday was yesterday!

Peter is blessed in so many ways. His treasures are Susan, his wife whom he adores, and four children (with Katherine--almost 9, and Emily 16 months). He is a good father and has a job he enjoys and is challenged by.

In my Daily Light for this day, I had marked some of the verses and beside them I wrote, "Peter--2002."

He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.—Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen.—Surely the wrath of man shall praise you; the remnant of wrath you will put on like a belt.
“For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.”—And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.”
Ps. 77:4; Ps. 113:5, 6; Dan. 4:35; Ps. 77:19; Ps. 76:10; 2 Chron. 16:9; Rom. 8:28; Matt. 10:29, 30

All of these verses were a special encouragement five years ago, when for five months Peter had no job, and due to the circumstances his job had ended under--a company bankruptcy--he had no employment insurance benefits. God provided for their small family through those tough months--there could have been no other way they got through.

It was hard for us to watch as parents. We knew his worth--his character and integrity. It was hard to understand why this had happened, and why the next job took so long to materialize.

Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen.— .

It was true all along, although there was no evidence of it--God was leading through the waters.

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.”

God used those five months to re-orient Peter's life, which had been dangerously out of balance with a job that demanded work-weeks that were sometimes 70 hours. He discovered how close he had come to missing out on the really important things--family and God.

Lessons learned....the tide turned.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.

Prayer: Dear Lord, I thank you for family stories of your faithfulness. Thank you that we can look back and praise you, even for the tough times.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Pondering Time

Revelation 13:8 (New International Version)
8 ... the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world

As a child, the stories I loved best, often involved a child, or a group of children, finding a way to go back to the past. In one story, a child went to stay in an Elizabethan manor house that had been in her family for centuries. It had a beautiful and fragrant herb garden and a maze. Somehow, through magic that happened only to children, she traveled back in time and had adventures with past generations--from the Elizabethan era, then Cavaliers and Roundheads, and so on. It was fascinating to imagine that this might actually be possible.

As an adult, I've pondered the fact that images of events on earth long past, might be traveling to in light to distant stars, or that the stars we see in the sky are actually no longer the way they appear to us, in images that are really of a universe long ago.

Time--if it exists for God, doesn't seem to exist in the way we think of it. The way God tells the story of redemption in the book of Revelation--the time sequence doesn't matter. It's as if God took film clips from the throughout the story and randomly edited them together in a sort of abstract mosaic.

We can be so constrained, by comparison, in our thought patterns. God makes a colourful, breathtakingly beautiful crazy quilt and says, "This is the story, from beginning to end--my Book of books."

Ecclesiastes 3:11 (New International Version)
11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Revelation is Ecclesiastes 3:11--the whole scope of God's work from beginning to end.

Ecclesiastes 3:15 (New International Version)
15 Whatever is has already been,
and what will be has been before;
and God will call the past to account.

This is Revelation--whatever exists today and whatever will exist in the future has already existed in the past. For God calls each event back in its turn.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Piler and Gatherer No More

Philippians 4:13 (New International Version)
13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Colossians 1:29 (New International Version)
29 To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.

I'm so close--I can almost taste the freedom!

Over the past three weeks I've been steadily working on the "clutter epicentre" in our home--our loft room.

The room, which has two skylights and a sloping ceiling under the roof, is reached by stepping up three steps from our landing. It contains a comfortable day-bed, desk, dresser and a large, pine bookcase that contains five shelves of my most cherished books.

Piles of clutter also "reside and hide" in this room and have kept company with Christmas decorations that sat in a pile on the floor for four months before I put them away. I'm just realizing that my mother-in-law will read this and know what a terrible housekeeper I am--but perhaps she will add me to the list of other people she takes care of--even though she's eighty! :)

The clutter has been shrinking as I have worked like an ant, carrying piles of books, papers, old audiotapes and other "stuff" downstairs.

Today--a holiday Monday--the end is in sight!

Being a habitual piler and gatherer--papers, books and magazines gather around me, within arm's length, as snow drifts around doors in winter. But inanimate objects don't really "gather and pile" by themselves--and I aim to change my ways! I have hope and determination for I have proved of late that old habits can be changed.

I want freedom to focus on the things that are duties and passions--without being distraced by clutter.

2 Corinthians 12:9 (New International Version)
9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Facebook Holdout

Isaiah 43:1 (New International Version)
1 But now, this is what the LORD says—
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

It was almost a month ago when I received an email saying, "I've added you as a friend on Facebook..."

It came from Brenda, who had accidentally invited everyone in her address book to become her cyber-buddies.

At that point I didn't really even know what Facebook was, but since then I've learned a lot about this social networking phenomenon that's captured the interest and time of a huge percentage of the population--mainly those in their teens and twenties but also a surprising number of seniors, including my dear mother in law who is nearing her eighty first birthday and who is connected with a host of grandchildren. I must say that I was amazed to see her face on Facebook--using the photo she'd had taken for the church directory!

It was only a few months ago that Paul's mum surprised us all by talking about wanting a computer. Of course she needed a desk too, and a chair--and a printer followed in short order. Coached by a fleet of grandchildren for technical support, she was launched into cyber-space and was soon using Google Earth to visit England and the places she grew up. I started sending her my daily blog posts by email and was honoured to discover that she checks her computer late at night for them.

Brenda, who has always needed a good night's sleep, has been waking up tired of late. I suspect that it has something to do with the addictive nature of Facebook and the fact that late at night she's still up connecting with a host of friends. She told me this morning that long past 11 o'clock she could see that her Nana was on-line and when Brenda sent out a message to her cousins claiming that she was her favourite grandchild, Nana "poked" her--a way of nudging someone in Facebook terminology.

I haven't joined Facebook because I'm already email addicted and I'm introverted enough that I don't want the world to know when I'm on-line--but it has brought people and groups together in an impressive way.

Our church has a Facebook group and I've learned more about people in the congregation there than any other way to this point. Because people tend to be transparent and share very personal information--it's caused me to pray for some young people we are connected with.

I thought about Facebook this morning when I read Isaiah 49:16, See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. Facebook pages have "walls" on which friends can leave messages for you.

How wonderful to read in Isaiah 43:1, I have summoned you by name; you are mine. He has asked us to be his friend and we will never be deleted from his list.

I know that he is always "on-line" and I am on his mind and heart. I may be a Facebook holdout, but I'm glad I'm in his book.

Smiles

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Kite Flyer


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Saturday, May 19, 2007

New Beginnings

Shade dappled our sunlit porch that August morning, nearly nine years ago. My friend Susan and her daughter, Jorie, had come for coffee with me and my mother, who was visiting from England.

We sat, two sets of mothers and daughters, ranging in age from 7 to 72, listening to a summer symphony of crickets and other insect musicians, enjoying the simple luxury of time and savouring our moments together.

Mum had determined to make some changes in her life--turn over a new leaf. I can't remember specifically in what area anymore. While I recorded the details such as the sunlight and shadow--the song of the crickets, in my journal--I didn't record that!

Susan went home and wrote this poem. She was inspired by my mum and her determination to live the rest of her life with a new perspective.

At the time she wrote it she was a mother of nine who thought her life was pretty much as it would be. In the years since she wrote the poem, so much has happened--I don't think that even she could have anticipated the adventure her life has been since then--and it's still unfolding.

I Simply Haven’t Time!

When I was young and arrogant,
I said some things I should recant.
Like, “Hope I die before I’m old…”
Could I have really been that bold?

The years are quickly passing by.
I check the mirror and find that I
Have wrinkles creeping o’er my face,
And signs of age in every place.

Is it too late to realize
That with the “old” comes also “wise?”
There is so much that’s left to do
So many things of real value.

I’ve lately come to understand
That it’s all part of God’s great plan;
I need to live out all my days;
I need the time to learn His ways!

I still have opportunity
To bless each one I come to meet.
To drop some flowers on the path,
And leave His fragrance where I’ve passed.

I’m old? I’m old! And changed my tune…
I want to live, not go too soon.
And tho’ I am no longer spry,
I simply haven’t time to die!

Susan Stewart, August 1998

"The beginning determines the end" From the movie, The Emperor's Club

Two Blue Birds

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Same World--Different Person

Matthew 11:28-30 (New International Version)
28"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Same world--different person

In my heart, regret for all those years I didn't "see"

Control and aggression have no place in a gentle heart

And I thought my heart was gentle


Taking responsibility

For other's feelings and actions

--such hard and unnecessary work

And I didn't even realize I was doing it!


"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me

for I am gentle and humble in heart,

and you will find rest for your souls,

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

And suddenly it is--so light!


1 Corinthians 13:4-5 (New International Version)
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.





Thursday, May 17, 2007

Heart-Strong not Head-Strong

2 Corinthians 10:4-5 (New International Version)
4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Dear Lord, I open my heart and soul to you.
Please give me a pure heart.
Please cleanse my heart of the pollution of selfish motives.
Help me to simply "be" in the world--your child--available to you today--to use for your purposes.
Help me to be free of the "yeast" of self interest--and be interested only in serving others as you served us.

Lady Earth bared her nut brown shoulder in the late afternoon, over which was flung a mantle of mossy green velvet--her dress for this evening. Above, Sister Sky wore stormy gray and silver swirled chiffon.

The world is bright, intense in its new life and vivid spring colours, while my heart in contrast, is mellow, at peace--and I am as much in wonder at the newness of life within as without!

Today God gave me a graphic picture of my heart as it was, before this latest journey of discovery and growth began. In front of my heart I saw a small, busy person, arms raised, as if protecting a goal--playing defence. As I related with people, I realize that this little being was always working hard, catching balls and throwing them back. That person is gone.

I look around and I am in the same world as before, with the same people in my life, but something has changed, and that change is causing other changes, like a ripple in a pond. The world feels new and different--exciting. I'm learning a new language and new manners for this new world.

A surprise--the new "me" (I hope there's a new "me") is resulting in new "others." If one person in a relationship, changes the dance, their partners change too--I hadn't expected that, but I notice it--and I love the changes.

I see how headstrong I've been in the past. I want to be heart-strong.

2 Corinthians 10:17-18 (New International Version)
17But, "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Eagle's Wings

Luke 8:15 (King James Version)
15 But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.

On the way to the garage, early yesterday morning, on one side of the road I drove past barns of dijon mustard and soft banana yellow with spinach green roofs, in fields of relish green. It was a hot-dog morning!

On the other side of the road, the spiky stalks of last year's crop, stood up from the rich, brown earth, like stubble on a weather-beaten face.

"He was a strange fellow," said Paul, this morning at breakfast, describing the owner of the garage where he'd dropped off his car.

The owner had been unrushed and spoke in an unusually slow manner--very methodical and service oriented. "He was," said Paul, "Like an old man, in a young man's body."

"I have parts...or I have parts...or I have parts..." he said to Paul.

"These days a lot of parts are made in China...but they aren't up to scratch--so...what parts would you like?"

"What was I going to say?" asked Paul, "Give me the cheap parts?"

Calm--no rush--what a contrast with my inner battle with attitude before breakfast yesterday!

But the tide is turning and I feel more peaceful, relaxed and free than I can ever remember feeling. I thought that my battle was about controlling my attitude--but I've discovered that it's about just letting go. I've let go of the need to be in charge.

Prayer: Lord, I draw my strength and my wisdom from you.

Come live in me, all my life take over
Come breathe in me and I will rise--on eagle's wings

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Baby Steps

Revelation 21:4 (New International Version)

4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

Amy Carmichael had this to say today, in Edges of His Ways:

"Even little children know what it is to be impatient, and all through our lives we are tempted in this way. Perhaps there is nothing we need more than patience--patience when we do not understand things or when they cannot be explained; patience when things do not turn out as we hoped they would; patience with people; patience with ourselves."

It was 7 o'clock and I was still in the bathroom putting on my makeup when Paul came downstairs. He reminded me that he'd asked me the night before to follow him to a nearby garage so that he could drop his car off for repairs. I'd forgotten all about it and had slept later than I should have in order to do everything I needed before leaving for work at 8.00.

I'd put on a pot of coffee to perk which I planned to bring to a meeting--and was trying to finish getting ready when Paul alerted me, "Some thing's wrong with the coffee!" I ran from the bathroom to find water overflowing from the coffee maker --the coffee filter had chosen that moment to double over and block the flow and the counter top was becoming a river of fast flowing grounds about to cascade down the sides of the cupboards. As we grabbed any absorbent material near at hand to stem the gritty tide, Paul said, "I'll clean it up." I instinctively started to over-ride his offer and say, "No, that's okay, I'll do it," but I caught myself in time and just said, "Thank you."

Paul left for the small country garage, five minutes drive down the road, while I finished combing my hair. I followed a few minutes later, expecting just to pick him up and come right home. I arrived to find him still in his car. I rolled down my window; "They're not open yet," he said, "they must open at 7.30." I glanced at the clock on my dashboard. It said, 7:17--thirteen minutes to wait! Impatience was hitting when I remembered--I hadn't prayed yet--so I turned away from Paul's car, tried to ignore the music I could hear coming from it, and concentrated on writing out a prayer.

Then Paul had a brainwave and decided to poke his car key through an exhaust vent in the garage door--we were home again before 7.30.

As I poured a bowl of cereal, Paul spread passport application forms over the kitchen table. He was taking a day off and this was a task he'd been talking about doing for a while. He began poring over the boxes that asked for various types of identification--some had to be originals and some could be copies. I'd done my own passport application last year and knew it required time and concentration. I told Paul where his citizenship document could be found and he went to the office to look in the filing cabinet for it. I pictured him looking for it in vain--where I could easily spot it--and I went to help find it.

I hadn't even had breakfast yet and I had fought three battles with impatient and aggressive reactions--inside my head. And I don't think Paul had any idea what kind of a monster was trying to jump out at him!

I am suddenly so much more aware of my less flattering automatic reactions and their impact on others and am working hard on being different...Baby steps.

Prayer: Dear Lord, I thank you for the way you use the circumstances of our lives to teach us life lessons. Please keep helping me to learn a different way of "being " in the world.

Galatians 5:22 (New International Version)
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mountain Climbing

"His peace is not the easy, natural peace of the level road. It is the peace of the steep and difficult mountain climb.

Make us Thy mountaineers;...
That undefeated we may climb the hill
As seeing Him who is invisible."
May 14, Edges of His Ways, Amy Carmichael
Hebrews 12:1-2 (New International Version)
1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
This morning I read a little more from "How to Have That Difficult Conversation You've Been Avoiding," by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. The chapter was all about using the word "should." I've often heard about not beating oneself up with "shoulds" but I never thought about the way I've used it towards others.

The doctor duo said that the word should feels very parental and judging. When someone says, "you should, " people feel that their choices are going away. "Instead," they said, "you want the other person to freely choose to do what you are suggesting, to feel good about it, not forced into it."
The chapter was written about me, I thought. I may not say should, but I think it a lot, and I'm sure it comes through loud and clear.
I left the house, got into my car and began the drive to Huntsville for a meeting. On the way my cell phone rang. It was one of my team with some information and a question. Before I knew it, I could feel myself responding--reacting actually--in should mode--and battling against it valiantly. When we were through, I said, "I was trying hard--how did I do?" My coworker laughed and said, "It was funny--you started to splutter and stammer." Great!
I may just have to ask the people in my life to tell me to, "Assume the Lotus position," when they notice me veering off course--that will make me laugh.
I wonder how my coworkers who took the first part of the course with me are doing...
Revelation 1:5-6 (New International Version)
...To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Journey Continues

Isaiah 40:29 (New International Version)
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.

Last Friday I wrote about the assertiveness training course I attended on Thursday, which was all part of God's plan to give the windows of my soul a thorough spring cleaning. The world is looking much different since the unexpected results of that day.

I laugh every time I think of the moment when our instructor, Schelley, told the class to divide into two groups--those who under pressure go into "passive mode" and those who under pressure become aggressive. It was a defining moment. I got up and "crossed the floor" to the smaller group that confessed to aggressive tendencies. As I did, I heard voices in the background saying, "Belinda--you're going to the wrong group." But I knew--I was headed in the right direction.

My self image was gentle, with a strong inner core. Frances says it's steel in there--but nevertheless--it was a nice self image--gentle but strong. When I crossed the floor though, I was owning something less flattering. I was joining the "pushy people." Strangely, my friend, Susan, was being urged by the group, to go across to the pushy side, but was staying firmly in the passive group. She knew too, where she belonged. Instantly that explained a lot to both of us about why we've wrestled with some painful moments in our friendship!

Another friend and coworker, Irene, was at the training (a fellow pushy person). She talked about the perceptions people have of who we are. How wrong they can be--and how wrong our own perceptions can be of who we are!

So, just like Schelley told us to do, I've started an Assertiveness Journal to keep until we go for the next class on May 23rd. So far God has given me assignments to practice with every single day. I'm newly self aware to all the times I ignore people's signals and overstep them. Writing about them helps me to solidify new ways of being.

On Saturday I called my brother and Mum in England and told them about my insight. Robert said that he imagined I'd now be sitting around the house in the Lotus position with thumb and index finger tips touching. Today I called them again and he asked when my next Anger Management class was. Gotta love that British sense of humour! Dear Mum, who was listening on the extension--since Mum's stroke we always have a three way conversation--said, "I'm a better person already!" She wanted to join in the quest for self improvement.

Our weaknesses are usually strengths taken to extreme. My strengths of passion and enthusiasm are what I need to "civilize."

Prayer: Dear Lord, I'm praying--not just for myself--but for my fellow classmates too--all 39 of them. I pray that you will use this training as a vehicle to make a difference for good in our lives--at work and personally.

2 Corinthians 12:9 (New International Version)
9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.

Three Buddies and a Ball




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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Being Who We Are

Psalm 139:14 (New International Version)

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

"I glanced to see a brindle dog of an interesting lineage. The dog was running with an odd lope. Then I saw that his back right leg was missing. Gone. His gait was an adaptation for his disability... He glanced back, like something was chasing him, and I swear he smiled. Then he disappeared down an alleyway and was gone... I loved the fact that his 'dog-ness' was not even slightly compromised even though he was missing 25% of his legs. Sure, he'd adapted for the loss physically but psychologically, he was still just a dog. It was beyond cool."
Dave Hingsburger--Chewing the Fat, May 7th 07 blog address: http://www.davehingsburger.blogspot.com/

Frances' voice coming over the phone was full of excitement. "Did you read Dave's blog about the dog?" she asked.

Dave writes a blog on disability issues that I look forward to reading daily, so I knew the story she was referring to, part of which I've included above. It was about an animal who was still a fun loving dog, despite being three legged.

"That's me," she said, "I've realised that my "handicaps" don't change who I am in the Lord--fearfully and wonderfully made--I need to exist in who I am, always." Then she told me how she'd reversed the letters in the adjective Dave had used and said, "As the dog's "dog-ness" wasn't compromised by his handicap, niether is my "God-ness" compromised by mine!"

Acceptance and his identity...precious gifts God gives to us. I am convinced that he loves us both for all that we can be and for who we are--in all of our present humanity and weakness. How these both can be true is a mystery, but it's clear that it is, from God's Word, which tells us that we are "Accepted in the Beloved."

Ephesians 1:6 (New King James Version)

6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Helper


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Friday, May 11, 2007

Morning Stillness


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Solid Ground

The sweater was lovely. Its style was unique and the colour a beautiful green--my favourite-- but it had hardly been next to my skin for two minutes before the wool fibres began to tickle and irritate as if they were barbs designed to torture the truth out of some captive enemy agent.

I wanted to wear the blouse--I loved the look of it--but I couldn't stand the spiky remains of a label I had done my best to cut out--wearing it became an endurance test until with a sigh of relief, I took it off, hid it away in the back of the closet--and put on something more comfortable.
Over the past couple of weeks, I've realized that the people closest to me have lived with some sharp, pointy edges next to their skin.

In a class on assertiveness yesterday, Schelley, our instructor, told us that we need to know our strengths--be self aware. "We can only become successful," she said, "when we own the truth--when we're not embarrassed by the truth."

Years ago, I had taken assertiveness training and benefitted tremendously from it. I took the course in desperation, when as a new leader, I experienced anxiety and avoidance when it came to addressing issues. Since that time, I've thought that I was comfortably assertive. Yesterday I had an epiphany and realized that under pressure I become aggressive.

All of a sudden I could see how I've crossed boundaries, been judgmental, had bull-dozing tendencies, interrupted people and generally not been very nice. Not all the time--but enough that it matters!

I was sharing this insight with one of my team this afternoon. He nodded cheerfully in agreement--and helpfully added, "Remember the other day when....?" and recounted an interaction we'd had earlier this week. I was mortified and apologized to him. Then I apologized to Paul when I got home for being so edgy in some of my responses. I felt as if I needed to apologize to so many people.

Paul cautioned me, "Be careful, don't get carried away," and he was right. I feel as if I've done what Schelley told us we needed to do--owned the truth--got over being embarrassed by it--and now I can get on with succeeding--with God's help. I feel as if I'm on solid ground!

Prayer: Dear Lord, you are the best instructor in the world--the best teacher and counselor. Thank you for your loving shaping of my life. Thank you for the people you've surrounded me with. Please use all of me--my strengths and my weaknesses to glorify and honour you--I'm yours.

1 John 2:28-29 (New International Version)
28 And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.
29 If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.

A Walk in Bond Head, in the Morning




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The internet went down last night, just as I was about to press "publish," and I lost what I'd written for today. I had published the photo below, though.

God willing I'll catch up tonight!

Have a blessed Friday, Friends,
Belinda

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Tender Buds


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Photo by Belinda Burston
Revelation 4:8 (New International Version)
8....Day and night they never stop saying: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come."

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Friends

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2 Corinthians 5:7 (New International Version)
7 We live by faith, not by sight.
A smaller group than usual of friends gathered last night for cell group. Seven of us, including Tiffany-Amber and Victoria, sat down for dinner and little Ava Claire Jasmine slept on peacefully, near to the table in her car seat.
After dinner, Tiffany-Amber and Victoria went off to play, and Paul, having had a long day that started with the early morning Mayor's Prayer Breakfast, decided to take a break after dinner and rest. Brenda was away meeting with St. Johns Ambulance Brigade about she and Molson joining their therapy dog team--so that left Susan, Frances, Lori Lei and I, with little Ava, who woke up at last and made us all laugh at her chortles and chuckles and cooing sounds.
Instead of doing the Bible study, we sank into the comfortable softness of chairs and couch and chatted for a while before reading a chapter from a book for a change. It was given to me by my friend Angela, and is entitled, She Who Laughs, Lasts--compiled by Ann Spangler and published by Zondervan.
We passed the book around, each reading a paragraph or so out loud before passing it on. The story we read made us all laugh, as was intended.
Then we marveled at the fact that the baby we were all taking turns holding, was only just conceived at this time last year--a miracle that was against all the odds. And now here she is and such a perfect angel of a baby with pure white skin and a smile that needs hardly any encouragement to come out and a dimple in her right cheek, just like her mommy's. This will be a very special Mother's Day for Lori Lei.
Frances reflected on the responsibility of motherhood. Her husband, who has a very high pressure job, buying and selling at the Ontario Food Terminal, told her she didn't know what pressure was. She said, "I told him--pressure? I'm raising Charles Manson--or Billy Graham--and who it is depends on me!" That caused us to dissolve into more laughter.
At just gone ten, they all stepped out into a warm night that felt like springtime. Laughter and the slam of car doors broke the quietness, as goodbyes were called out. I closed the door behind them and thanked God for dear friends and the simple joy of sharing a table and laughter together.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Richmond Hill Mayor's Prayer Breakfast


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It was seven a.m. when Paul and I pulled into the parking lot at the Premiere Ballroom and Convention Centre on Leslie Street, North of Hwy. 7 this morning.
Paul had been shocked into consciousness just an hour earlier when I found him still asleep and realized that the shower I'd heard running earlier hadn't been his!
This was my first Mayor's Prayer Breakfast, and the third for Richmond Hill. I only knew that it was reputed to be a "big" event--and that the police, fire department, politicians and other community leaders would be there, along with pastors, business people and church members. I had no idea what to expect--but what I experienced was a deeply moving two hours that gave me hope for our leaders and for the future.
"Belinda you really have to go to the prayer breakfast, " Sarah Dawson--in the lovely fuchsia suit in the photo above--had told me a month or two ago. Sarah works for Christian Horizons, as do I, and her pastor is one of the organizers of this huge event.
A group of us from Christian Horizons were there--two of the young people who are supported by our agency, as well as at least nine staff. We were there because we value our community leaders and the work they do to provide a safe, healthy and welcoming community for us to live and work in.
The Reverend David Mainse gave the address. I was impressed by his grace, dignity, wisdom and statesmanship. He represented God well to the approximately 500 people.
The St. Theresa of Lisieux Catholic High School Jazz Band and Rachel Cleland-Ainsworth, an opera singer from Markham, provided us with wonderful music. They played and sang our national anthem, O Canada. I sang the words from memory, standing along with the rest of the crowd. I was surprised when Rachel continued singing a second verse that I had never heard before. The words were a prayer:
Ruler supreme
Who hearest humble prayer
Hold our dominion
Within Thy loving care
Help us to find O God in Thee
A lasting, rich reward
As waiting for the Better Day
We ever stand on guard
God keep our land glorious and free
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee
As we left to begin our work day, after praying for all levels and branches of government, each person there was given a book by John Maxwell, The Difference Maker. My prayer is that we will make a difference. I can't wait to read the book.
Prayer: Dear Lord, you tell us in your Word to pray for those who lead us and I confess that I rarely remember to do so. I lift them up to you. Please watch over our soldiers far afield and all those who serve us here.

Monday, May 07, 2007

John

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Photos by Susan Stewart

Today

This was a different "First Day." First day back from vacation. It was as good as "First Day" last week.

We had a house guest for Paul's birthday party weekend--an old friend who used to live with us when we were house parents for a large group of men with disabilities from the early 70's to the early 80's. John is 74 now but there is a huge hole of longing in his heart that never really goes away.

"She shouldn't have waited so long to have me," he says of his mother, "I don't know why she decided to have anudder one."
She was 38 at the time, not old by today's standards, but back in 1933, it sounded older.
She only lived until she was 53 and he was 15--and then, he says, "Nobody wanted me, so they put me away." He shakes his head at this point, his plentiful sand coloured hair slicked back.
John tells us that a doctor there where they "put him away"--like a mismatched piece of furniture in storage, in one of the several institutions he lived in for the next 25 years--told him, "You don't belong there," but "there" he was.

Fast forward to a happier present. Paul and he have a relationship of deep mutual affection. They call each other "buddy" and fuss over each other.

John worries over Paul--calls him every day--tells him not to work so hard. Paul picks him up and brings him to his office a few days a week, where John does shredding and bosses people around. Paul makes sure John eats better than he would otherwise. Like many other children of the thirties John is very careful with every penny he spends. He could live better than he does, but his inner ghosts keep him frugal.

One of the reasons I love my man so much is the heart he has for people like John. From our earliest married days when he was fresh to the field of working with people with disabilities, he would bring people home for the weekend from the institution he worked in at the time. In fact, the weekend Brenda was born, we had such a guest for the weekend. Paul had no clue that his heavily pregnant wife, with a busy two year old, was feeling less than hospitable.

I still remember Philip, who stayed with us that weekend. I remember his wonder at sheets with patterns on them--all he had known were white hospital sheets.

So today I went back to work in my office in the half basement below a house that is home to a group of people with disabilities.

One of my team was waiting with coffee. A few things had happened while I was away. He was glad I was back.

I went upstairs to say, "Hi," to everyone and Jim went into paroxysms of excitement, pointing to me and saying, "There's 'linda." He showed me his new mouth organ and every birthday card he'd been given for his April 28th birthday, describing them as he showed me and telling me who each card was from, even though he doesn't read. He pointed to mine and said, "That's 'linda's card--chocolate cake." And indeed it had a picture of a slice of chocolate cake on it.

Today one friend told me they were so happy because they felt we were on "solid ground." Another told me, when I gave them some advice that was meant to be helpful,"You did that in a way that didn't make me feel put down."

It was a very good day. A day of hope.

Prayer: Dear Lord, your goodness overwhelms me. I cherish the moments in this good day as I cherish the moments of my life measured in years. And I thank you for the man you joined my life with.