Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Detail

(First published: September 30, 2007)

One of my passions is photography. I love the whole process--from that split second when you see a moment--or a shifting of light that must be captured--to experimenting with a photo to bring out its fullest beauty.

I often find that a detail that might otherwise be overlooked when considered as part of a greater whole, is revealed as exquisitely beautiful when the photo is cropped.

In the same way, a detail of significance in scripture can be easily "read past."

The "greater whole" of scripture is essential to consider, but there is a special blessing in focusing in on a passage and allowing God, through the Holy Spirit, to speak through it, revealing a significant truth, or rich depth of meaning that I had not seen before.

Recently God spoke through several verses about being an example, or following an example. I thought of Jesus saying, "Do this in remembrance of me," Luke 22:19 as he distributed the bread and the wine of the Passover.

In September 29th's Daily Light these verses were included:

John 13:14-15 (New International Version)
14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

1 Peter 2:21 (New International Version)
21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

John 5:19 (New International Version) Also quoted in the Daily Light reading, says that,
"the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does."

And John 13:7 says, in part:
Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

Jesus was rightly called Teacher and Rabbi. He was a master teacher, using story telling and questions to elicit learning. Today I ponder his use of example--his method of "show and tell," and his direction to us to then "do" what we have seen.

In examining the integrity of my faith, I look back to the gospel taught by Christ and become more aware of how we have adapted the Gospel to our culture. We can so easily lose the raw radicalism of Jesus' teaching.

His example is the only one I want to follow. Oh to be able to say, as confidently as the apostle Paul, "Therefore I urge you to imitate me, " 1 Corinthians 4:16, and verse 17, "my way of life in Christ Jesus...agrees with what I teach."

Addendum:
Today I was reading Matthew 22 and 23, in which Jesus chastises the Pharisees, scathingly. They held themselves high as the "teachers of the law," and yet they were the antithesis of Jesus' teaching of living by example. They wielded control, power and condemnation. Their standards were impossible for even themselves to attain, and inwardly their hearts were as far from God as you could get. I fall somewhere in between these two polar opposites on any given day. How I seek the way of Jesus.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Family of the Heart

Gentle Readers,
I left Nell last week gazing up into the eyes of the man she would follow anywhere and do anything for, so I really should be writing about what happened next.

Patience...that will follow next week, but my fingers on the keyboard won’t take me there yet.

Perhaps you will remember that the winter of 1947 was bitter and wretched and how Nell returned to the Netherlands that September. She returned to England in 1948 and married Chris, her handsome guardsman, in November.

Those events were where my lens focused last week, but there were other relationships forged between 1947 and 1949 that have to be written into the story, for they were ties that taught me all I ever needed to know about friendship.

In Rotterdam in September 1947, after 9 months of being a nanny and cook in the Krausz household in London, Nell worked through the winter in a typing pool. Today most young people might wonder what a typing pool was: it was a group of secretaries, available to assist any executive without an assigned secretary, with necessary typing. It was in that office that Nell made friends with Mies Kulman. Mies Kulman had a cousin who was also named Mies, and to differentiate between them, Mies Kulman was known as Little Mies, and her cousin was known as Tall Mies. Tall Mies's life was to be woven into ours as our beloved Tante Mies. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Little Mies wanted to go to England and she asked Nell to go with her. And so, always ready for adventure, in April of 1948, Nell crossed the North Sea for a second time, this time with Little Mies. They went to Farnborough Hospital in Kent, where they were employed as domestic workers. They started working in the nurses’ rooms; then were promoted to working for the Sisters, and then the Head Nurses, who all had their own apartments. They also worked for the Matron when her personal maid was on holiday, which was the height of honour!

One of the friendships Nell made was with a teenager from South Shields, in the North East of England. Her name was May, and Nell and she became fast friends.















May spoke with a soft, lilting Geordie accent. Her short, wavy, blond hair framed a lovely face in with blue eyes. Her stunning fair beauty contrasted with Nell's thick dark brown curls and blue eyes.





















As they did their housework, the rooms rang with laughter. Nell and May shared a sense of humour and fun then that has never left either of them.

Tall Mies followed her cousin to England in March of 1949 for a few months before she got married to Uncle Bart and she too, became a lifelong friend of Nell's.


Tante Mies (“Tall Mies”) and Auntie May never met each other, since Auntie May was there in 1948 and Tante Mies in 1949.

This photo is of me with Tante Mies in Rotterdam in 2006.
In the photo below, taken in October 2008, I am with Diane, Auntie May's eldest daughter, whom I have known all of my life.

Tante Mies and Oom Bart didn't have children of their own, but Tante Mies's sister Fred, did, and her eldest daughter, Ingrid, and I have been friends from early childhood. Ingrid now lives in British Columbia. I have flown there for the weddings of two of her daughters. We will always be connected by a bond as close as family.

Tante Mies was the epitome of elegance, with perfectly manicured nails, always painted red or orange. She wore her long black hair in a loose bun and the flat in which she and Oom Bart lived was beautifully furnished with velvet chairs and drapes and richly coloured glass ornaments.
Oom Bart's eyes twinkled with mischief and he loved to spoil Robert and me.

Auntie May, too, was elegant and sophisticated. My memories of her special perfume lingered in my memories of childhood and now it is my signature perfume, the only one I wear--Aromatics Elixer, by Clinique.

I learned from both of these friendships that true friendship is forever and the ties are as strong as blood. Our families are bound together into the second generation, over sixty years since two Dutch and one English girl, met in a hospital in Farnborough, Kent.

Since Nell, my mum, carried both of these friendships into her new life with Chris, I couldn't go forward without writing about them.
Next week, what happened next to Nell and Chris.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Discovering our Territory

New International Version (NIV)
1 Chronicles 4:10 (New International Version)
10 Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, "Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain." And God granted his request.

My friend Magda visited on Wednesday bringing the gift of her presence, but also two yogurt containers full of a hearty beef stew (still warm from the pot;) a delicious, home-made, cranberry lemon loaf and a book.

The book that Magda gave me was entitled, Soul Prints, by Marc Gafni, a rabbi living in Jerusalem. She had enjoyed it, but found a copy for me in a second hand bookstore. Isn't that a wonderful and sensible way to shop for gifts?

So far I have only read the introduction, but already I can tell that I am going to enjoy it, and that God used Magda to place it in my hands.

Marc Gafni explains that each of us has a unique soul print; an essence as personal and unique as a fingerprint or DNA. That resonates with me.

1 Chronicles 4:10, the prayer of Jabez, says:
"Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory!"

I think that "territory," refers to our realm of influence for God; our "place" in time: both here and now and in eternity.

While recovering from my recent medical misadventures, at home, I have had time to think and listen to God. Right now I am asking him to reveal more deeply what my place is, and also asking whether in my busyness, I have missed any of his true, deep purposes for my existence.

On Thursday, Mary Anne, another friend, visited. She and her husband were just commissioned into service as her husband is taking up a pastorate in Haliburton. In "the charge," their pastor said, "People will always want you to step out of your giftings," and he warned them to resist!

Yes, if we take on territory meant for others uniquely fitted for those tasks, they may never take up their positions, and we will be depleted of energy for the things that God has perfectly crafted us to do. Our true selves are, after all, the only gifts we have to offer to God and the world.

Matthew 7:7-8 (New International Version)
Ask, Seek, Knock 7"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

His Eye is on My Sparrows

A blue jay alighted on the railing as my friend and I conversed on the deck. No sooner there and it was gone. But in that instant I saw its lovely form, bigger than I imagined, of course, because I hadn't seen a blue jay up close before. I muse upon that this morning as I think about my "sparrows" about to fly from the nest very soon. The younger one graduated last night, with honours, from secondary school. A long journey ended, a long period in the nest over. She will literally fly away in two weeks to Bible school in a far country for five months. The older one flew away two years ago,for a year to Bible School and travel in six countries, in Europe and Uganda, her childhood home, and then came back to the nest again for a year. Now she will fly again soon, to study on the other side of our country. Already she has become an award winning writer and a travelling photographer. Her photos of African women hang in a gallery exhibit in our small town.

I rejoice that my sparrows know how to fly, in more ways than one. I have tried to provide for their needs in the nest, and help them find their wings. They said I had given them those in their Mothers' Day card. So I guess that job was well enough done. They, my vulnerable ones, have been my very intensive responsibility for more than eighteen years. Now they, beautiful birds, bright blue jays, but vulnerable sparrows, need to fly from this nest. The time has come.

I also am learning to fly again. Not so much literally, but at least figuratively. I need to push myself out of the nest of familiar ways and launch my business in life coaching. It will be easier to do that with my young sparrows out flying on their own. But it won't be easy for any of us. We will always be thinking of each other, wondering how the flying is going, wanting to preen each others' feathers, for my sparrows are good "mothers" to me too. They have taught me a lot about learning to fly, and helped me find my own wings again.

But my greatest, my only true comfort, is that Jesus is watching us, and, if that is so, I should not worry. How hard it is for me to rest even more in Him as I place my sparrows more consciously in His hands. I remember the old song, and play it for you here, with sweet images that remind us of this abiding truth, even as the way it is sung can slow us down to listen.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Devoted Life

Dear Readers,

Susan usually posts on Fridays, but is away in Orillia for a couple of days on training.

So, I share these brief thoughts:

2 Corinthians 5:15 (New International Version)

15And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

Lately it seems so clear that all that we are supposed to be, is an expression of God's love. It all seems suddenly so clear and simple.

Even in Matthew 9, which tells about Jesus visiting the home of Matthew the Tax Collector for dinner, he makes that point. Matthew would have been despised in the Jewish community for his service to the Romans and exploitation of his brothers. Jesus didn't try to hide his relationship with Matthew and furthermore, at his home he was suddenly surrounded by a crowd of similarly shady, fringe folks.

His disciples surely wondered about the road down which their leader was taking them. In response to their confused questions, he gave them some homework. He didn't tell them what to think (I love that,) but he did tell them to go away and do some thinking. He gave them six words to think about.

I desire mercy, not sacrifice.

Mercy, not sacrifice; relationship, not religion; love, not condemnation.

This is good news, not just for the world with which we rub shoulders, but for you and I, just as it was for the disciples, had they looked deeply into their own hearts. Perhaps Jesus hoped that if they pondered the six powerful words, they would see that it was they themselves that needed mercy as much as the "sinners" who were so drawn to Jesus.

So our lives should be devoted to this one thing. To love as he loved. All else will take care of itself.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Surrendered

The experience of sudden illness, taught me a few valuable lessons; and one of them was to relinquish my own agenda.

Some of us are goal driven creatures with personal agendas constantly running throughout working and personal lives and our conversations.

While in hospital, I thought more than once of Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane: Not my will but yours, be done.

Those words are there in the Lord's Prayer too: Thy will be done, and the verses below highlight the attitude of Christ--complete dependence on the Father's will.

John 5:19-20 (New International Version)
19 Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.


Jesus lived his life as the ultimate example of submission to the Father. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul reminds us to imitate Christ:

Philippians 2
1If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

In hospital I missed an annual writer's conference that I have looked forward to eagerly, each year since 2000 when I attended it for the first time. I also had to cancel a flight to England where I had planned to spend two weeks.

I had no choice about relinquishing these things; the decisions were out of my hands. I learned though, that I can trust God's agenda completely.

I feel like a baby, holding onto her daddy's hand, learning to walk new steps. Can I walk in obedience and surrender when the power to choose is mine?

How I want to, Lord. Thy will be done, not mine!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

In Celebration of Friends

I just found this amazing rendition of You've Got a Friend, by Carole King, on my Blog Buddy Deidra's blog, Jumping Tandem It is so beautiful that I had to share it.

I am especially thankful for my friends at this moment, and drew so much strength from their sweet ministrations of love over the past two weeks. Friend: the very word sounds soft and gentle, yet staunch and stalwart. Oh, how I cherish each friend, more than they will ever know. And when it's my turn to be there for you, dear friends. You've got a friend!


The Secondary Six

Ellen, last week, told me to, "Unwrap the gift," of my unexpected circumstances. And, she said, "Let God create in you."

Well, I feel like it is Christmas and I am surrounded by gifts!

"The" gift, the biggie, is simply being alive. I could so easily not have been. Since our nightmare experience of the weekend before last, Paul has heard story after story of others that ended differently. It has been shocking. But that is not the topic of this post.

Friend after friend has asked me, "Weren't you bored?" And, "Did God give you any 'aha moments?'"

Regarding being bored: I remember, like any other child, occasionally whining to my mum, "I'm bored," during long summer holidays. She always presented me with a case of coloured pencils and a pad of paper on which to draw, or I found another book to read, and boredom vanished. I don't know the meaning of the word anymore. To be alive is to observe, to think, to ponder deeply and listen. There is no end of interesting things in this world, and last week, when my world was a little more confined, I still had roommates and their visitors to observe and smile at. I even joined their lives in little ways.

In the hospital, I made a list of the gifts God gave me there. I call them my Secondary Six after "the biggie:"

1) God brought me to a complete and utter halt. It took him and a drastic measure to do so. My life had been so crazy for months before, and even an upcoming joyfully anticipated weekend conference and vacation in England, were piled one on top of the other in ridiculous fashion. It took God to say, "Enough! You are stopping."

2) Deep rest. Yes, there was pain, and there were pokes and pinches, but in between, there were long, uninterrupted stretches to snooze. I leaned into the gift of rest; reading for short moments, keeping up with email on my Blackberry, and just being decadently lazy.

3) Losing some weight. I went into the hospital with 10 extra pounds and left 5 of them behind. Even though Marilyn, our benefits manager at work, told me in mock seriousness, "Belinda, this is not an approved weight loss plan," which of us would not consider losing even a pound or two a bonus? :)

4) The gift of love: I said to one friend that being lavished with so much love in the hospital felt like being alive at your own funeral. I am grateful for each dear friend, coworker and family member who visited, as well as the great prayer team of The Word Guild, who prayed me through, with others. I cherish each card, so many lovingly made by the hands of children, decorated with hearts and flowers and animals, to cheer the heart of their Auntie Belinda and Omie.

5) We hope that my experience in two different hospitals, and the ordeal of the weekend, will make a difference for others. God could not have chosen a better catalyst for change. I am married to a man who knows how to write a powerful letter and get the attention of those that need to listen. If we can make things better for others through our experience, then it will have been worth it.

We have such an appreciation for the dedicated and hard working nurses and doctors at the small, rural, Stevenson Memorial Hospital in Alliston. They have had staffing cutbacks, have no storage room for equipment, old or new, but they know how to nurse! If our voice can make their value known, and if government might think twice about focusing all it's resources on large regional centres--what a blessing that would be.

6) I spent the week in the bed next to a young man with Downs Syndrome. We soon became fast friends through the curtain, calling greetings to one another throughout the long nights. "Hi Belinda," he would call, softly, and, "Hi Paul," I would call back. Just knowing we were there for one another was a comfort. I listened as his support staff came and went, noting with interest their different styles of supporting. I got to know him and his family really well. One of the most wonderful things I heard his elderly father say to someone, was, "I'm so proud of him. He's one of the better things we did by getting older."

By the time I was ready for discharge, his neice asked me, "Where do you go to church? I'm looking..."

I have a feeling that Paul and his family will be blessing our church family with a visit real soon!

So I sit here surrounded, by gifts poured down from a loving Father. And the unwrapping has only just begun.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Still Waters

From the Archives (First published Wednesday, October 24, 2007, by Susan)

Sometimes when I look at myself, I see someone who tries too often to make a splash."Look at me! Look at me!" my behaviour sometimes cries. Just like the average three year old. Pathetic, eh?

Well, there's someone I'm getting to know who doesn't do that at all. Sometimes I think I'd really like to be more like him.We had tea with this new friend, and with a few other people not many weeks ago. Some of us in this group of five were old friends, but others were just getting to know each other. I sent out some tiny tendrils of potential relationship, fragile, tender, trying not to be too vulnerable, deciding to what level of friendship I could begin to trust, taking small risks, yet all the while knowing I was pretty safe. It was myself I was afraid to trust.

We talked about a lot of different things that September afternoon. I told a story about my dad and how he was being treated while in the hospital. I talked a lot because it was a long story and a fresh one. I wondered, as we carried on, if I'd said too much, shared more than I should have. Perhaps I'd bored the party all the way to politely-held-back tears.

The rest of the conversation danced, and leapt with thoughts and ideas and stories, and erupted from time to time into laughter unrestrained. When a stranger broke into our cameraderie with a rudeness that cast a sudden chill, we quickly found the silver lining. The intrusion allowed a rare peek deep into the windows of each others' hearts as we dropped all defenses in our quickness to support each other through the uncomfortableness of it all.

All this time he didn't say much, happily letting others do most of the talking. But his eyes spoke with a rare eloquence and showed a keen interest in all that was being said. And he laughed -- with sincerity -- at ALL the jokes. Perhaps he was quiet, but he was certainly "there."

I don't enjoy goodbyes. I haven't figured out all the "rules" yet, even in middle age, and I never quite know if I will find this to be one of those awkward times - a moment of usually short, and very often intense discomfort. We began to gather our things and I braced myself for that last uncomfortable moment, ready to say, "So long," to these new and old friends.

I needn't have worried about any awkward moments with this new friend. His parting words, accompanied by a friendly, accepting hug, were simply, "Let me know what happens with your dad..."

Let me know what happens with your dad.

For me, there was more in those eight words than in all the other conversation that happened that afternoon. Those eight words told me he was listening, really listening. And more than that, he cares. As my concern for my dad continues I remember those words sometimes. They come back like a warm and welcome blanket over my chilly set of worries.

Still waters run deep. And sometimes they run very deep. And sometimes they leave a good and lasting mark.

And I think I'd like to be more like him. To be the kind of person who leaves that kind of mark.

"Like apples of gold, in settings of silver, is a word aptly spoken." Proverbs 25:11

Monday, June 22, 2009

Chris and Nell, Chapter 2

Europe was slowly rising from the ashes of a war that had torn out it's heart. The war was over, but still much hardship lay ahead before life could resemble anything near to normal.

Nelly had turned 20 on December 15th 1946, and she felt almost grown up, even though she still wore ankle socks. She had a sweet and disarming innocence that was never to leave her, even in old age and she had a spirit of adventure that beckoned her to follow.

One night in January 1947, she boarded a boat that would take her over the stormy North Sea, from the Hook of Holland to Harwich. She was leaving with her parents' permission, in order to learn English by working as a nanny and home help to an Austrian/Scottish family in London.

She left behind the spotless, cobbled, flat streets of Rotterdam, swarming with bicycles. She left the quaint and ornate houses, windows neatly framed with lace trimmed net curtains and potted plants; often with a cat in the gazing out benignly at the world. She left a strong sense of family and home: Gezelligheid.

In the Netherlands, the curtains were never closed, and as the evening fell, scenes of cozy domesticity played themselves out for all the world to see. "Home" was a concept that was celebrated and embraced fully.

The ship chugged on throughout the dark night, over the deep sea, it's green-gray waves swelling and foaming. As the first rays of morning broke, Nelly could see the lights of a new shore, twinkling their welcome. The voices of the English seamen sounded friendly. They laughed a lot and although she couldn't understand their banter, she was ready to embrace their culture and learn.

She boarded a steam train in Harwich, which puffed and blew it's way across the Norfolk Broads to London. The landscape was flat and watery, just like Holland. In fact, she even saw windmills! From her seat in the railway carriage, her eyes drank in every detail eagerly.

Only a few hours after landing in Harwich, the train steamed into Liverpool Street Station in London. The adventure of her life was unfolding and now that she was in London, there was so much to see that she could hardly take it all in. The architecture was so different. She gazed up at the ancient buildings and monuments that had been merely names a day ago. She determined that she would explore every part of this great city over the next nine months.

Nelly had landed in England during the coldest winter in many years. Large drifts of snow covered the country and held it in an icy grip, as power stations shut down for lack of fuel. The British Army was brought in to clear snow from railway cuttings. By February there were food shortages as supplies were cut off and vegetables were frozen in the ground. A deep gloom descended upon Britain. In the Netherlands and the rest of Europe, the winter was taking a similar toll, with famine and civil disorder. Even into March the snow continued, with one of the worst blizzards of the 20th century taking place on March 5th. On March 10th a warming trend resulted in thawing, burst river banks and flooding and gale force winds.

Eventually even this terrible winter had to come to an end and it was not one moment too soon for anyone that lived through it. Nelly had kept in touch with her family in the Netherlands, writing letters about the family she lived with and her attempts at cooking for them. The months of April and May brought sunshine and life to the country and one sunny Sunday afternoon off, Nelly found herself in historic Hyde Park with a Dutch girlfriend who was also working as a nanny.

That day was also a day off for a soldier named Chris, and both of them, each with a friend, met there at Speaker's Corner. A half an hour earlier or later and perhaps they would never have crossed paths, but they did, and for better or worse, their lives were connected from that day on.

The following year, back in England after spending the winter of 1947-48 back in the Netherlands, on November 6th, 1948, Nelly married her Guardsman, Chris at a registry office. She had to have her father's written consent to marry and she did.

Although she had attempted to learn English the year before, working for an Austrian family had meant that the language of the home was German, so the vows she repeated to the best of her ability, were unintelligible to her.

She wore a camel coloured coat, and her ankle socks had given way to nylons. On her left lapel she wore a white carnation. (At the flower shop she had asked for an "anjer," the Dutch word for carnation and somehow they managed to decipher what she was looking for.) She drank in it's fragrance as she gazed up into the eyes of the man she was ready to follow anywhere and do anything for...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Unwrapping the Gift

The night gave way to a brand new day, my first morning waking up at home after five days in the hospital. I lay on the couch downstairs, a chamois coloured, feathery light duvet covering me and keeping me cosily warm. I thought of the hospital, and the routine I knew so well by now, imagining the nurse at that moment, going from patient to patient taking blood pressures and temperatures and checking IV levels. I was thankful to be wearing my own favourite nightie and not the blue hospital gown, double layered for modesty, that would get increasingly tangled as I turned during the night.

I listened to the pitter-patter of the rain on the skylight, in the large hall outside the room. I had so much to be thankful for.

My dependable workhorse of a body has been recovering rapidly this week, but I have found that I have needed to ease it into the day slowly since surgery on Monday morning. So I lay quietly, thinking, and drifting in and out of sleep for quite a while as the rain tap-tapped gently up above.

How often over the past five days, I had imagined the rooms of this house, thinking of being back here, where I belong. Like a clock whose pendulum has stopped it's rhythmic swing, it was as though the heart of the house had stopped beating when I left on Sunday night. The dishwasher still held the same full load of dishes waiting to be washed that I had loaded last weekend. Paul doesn't know how the dishwasher works and had been too distracted anyway this week. It was as if time had temporarily stood still in some ways.

Brenda slept on downstairs, and Paul upstairs, as I slowly slid myself off the couch and threw a sweater over my shoulders, slipped into my Birkenstocks and padded out into our sun porch. I creaked into a floral, cushion padded, wicker chair and drank in the view.

Although the sky was cloudy and gray, trees of every shade of green, from verdigris to viridian, nodded and swayed as the morning shower breezed through their leaves; giving them a Saturday morning scrub.

"How much can happen in a garden in just five days," I thought. The dishwasher may have been frozen in time, but the garden hadn't been. While I was gone the scarlet poppies had burst from their tightly rounded pods. I am amazed at this miracle every year. How does God do that? The peonies too, deep burgundy and creamy pink, had unfurled their petals in glorious and decadent beauty.

I thought of how rarely I enjoy this room. I am usually just "passing through."

One of the gifts that God deposited in me is stamina and energy. It is also my greatest hamartia: my tragic flaw.

I realize that a gift is given to cherish and use; to steward. I have allowed my gift to use me.

Later in the day I picked up the Henri Nouwen book I received for my birthday and which I wrote about recently, Home Tonight. Henri shared a quote that seemed so apropos:

Rabbi Levi saw a man running in the street, and asked him, "Why do you run?" He replied, "I am running after my good fortune!" Rabbi Levi tells him, "Silly man, your good fortune has been trying to chase you, but you are running too fast."

From Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest byWayne Muller, 1999, Bantam Books, New York, p.48.

Susan quoted our friend Ellen already this week, who wisely said to me, "Unwrap the gift. Let God create in you."

I am relaxing into him and allowing him to do just that.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Seeing Things as We Are

No it's not a typo. I really did intend to write, "Seeing things as WE are". I got that from this quote from The Talmud:

"We don't see things as they are; we see things as we are."

Well, so what, you say! Another clever quote. What does it have to do with you and me? Good thought. We need to examine and think about all the stuff that's thrown at us every day, in this culture. Things move so fast and we struggle to keep up. Today has been a slower day for me and I feel guilty. My inner gremlin is working on me telling me I am not doing what I should be doing today...I am wasting time and not accomplishing much. Those rule makers in my head can work overtime on a gorgeous sunny day like today. Why? Because I see things as I am - according to the voices in my head.

We talk a lot about inner gremlins in my Life Coach training program. For they are what keep the kinds of people who like to become life coaches from marketing themselves confidently, and most of all they are what keep the kind of people we expect to coach from making significant changes in their lives. They are what keep us all from moving ahead.

And of course one of the reasons they do is because we somehow believe that these voices are interpreting reality as it really is to us, and that they know better than other parts of us, like our hearts, or our guts, know what is going on.

I suppose one of the gremlins I deal with almost on a daily basis is that I feel so stupid about not learning about those voices a long time ago, or not paying attention to what they really were. Why did it take me so long to learn what I have been learning? And then, when I turn away from that gremlin, turn down the volume on that voice, I hear that sweet voice of the Holy Spirit reminding me that at least I am learning this now, and that God can restore the years that the locust has eaten. He can make up for the time I've lost listening to the wrong voices, for the negative influences of my family of origin, or our culture, or imprisoning mindsets that keep me blocked and locked up within the expectations of others.

If we have the mind of Christ, if we have the Holy Spirit to comfort and guide us, then we can move toward a merger of seeing things as they are, and seeing things as we are. Of course we won't get a perfect fit...not until Heaven, but if we know for sure that our perspective in this life is shaped so much by who we are and where we have come from, then we are more able to tune in humbly to hear God's voice and take on His viewpoints and to remember that with Him, "All things are possible."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Georgia Peach - Chapter 2


Right now she is lying on a sleeping bag folded in four in the corner of our bedroom, just a few feet away from my computer table. She is making soft snuffling sounds as she breathes and will no doubt be snoring soon.

She is sweet and gentle yet full of life. Huge wideset brown eyes look up enquiringly, reticent, yet choosing to trust. "Do you love me?" she seems to ask. "If you do, there's a never ending supply here in return! And even if you don't, I'll keep trying til you do!"

There is no need for a collar and leash, though we use one anyway when we are near traffic as an extra measure of safety. She follows me everywhere I go, staying within a few feet of me as long as we are moving and then venturing out to explore on her own only when I stop. As soon as I call her name she stops in her tracks and snuffles and waddles back to me.

Her movements are slow and plodding for the most part - unless she gets excited - and then she seems to almost forget that she's not a puppy anymore. Today Brenda came over to meet her and after a few minutes of having her neck ruffled and her ears rubbed, Georgia jumped for joy, did a half turn and wiggled her back end where her tail is supposed to be. Brenda just loved her and Georgia just loved her back.

That's the effect she has on most of us. At work she seems to know what she's there for. She waits for the people we support there to come to her and doesn't push herself on anyone. When the house is empty and I'm at work at my desk, she is right beside me - spread-eagled on the floor, or lying on her side, fast asleep. She is the ultimate couch potato. She only has three speeds - slow, slower and slowest - and when she's moving slow, that's fast for her.

She's not an "obedient" dog. She doesn't stay because she's been ordered to, or because she's been disciplined into that habit, but simply because she wants to. She's a people dog, through and through. She wants to be where you are, plain and simple.

Last night I took her next door to say goodnight to the five little guys who live over there. Three were already asleep, but the two youngest were happy to see her. Little Greg picked up her leash and said in two-year-old-ese, "Dough woo-ey boo dawg, I woe who you." (Translation: Don't worry, bull dog. I won't hurt you.") Then he led her around the house by gently pulling on her leash. She's forty pounds of solid muscle and her breed originated to take down a 2,000 pound bull, but she lets a two year old lead her around his house on a leash. That's what you call, "meek".

Nine-month-old Owen sits beside her on the floor and pats her and pulls gently at her soft jowls. She snuffles back and puts up with him, sneaking a lick when we're not looking, like it's her divine calling to tolerate babies. Perhaps it is.

She's kind of ugly as dogs go. So ugly that it's comical - and endearing, too. The poor thing is so big and muscular, clumsy and awkward, that you can't help but love her. You might say she has a face that only a mother could love, but everyone else seems to love her too!

Georgia Peach. She's a gift, all right. Truly an answer to prayer. And if there was any doubt - she's here to stay. :)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Georgia Peach

She waddled up our sidewalk and into our lives just last Saturday. I wanted to keep her but I knew that I couldn't. No way. Ron said in no uncertain terms that he did not want another dog.

"We can't keep up with what we have let alone take on any more responsibilities." All he could remember about having a dog was dog hair everywhere, vet bills, and cleaning up the lawn in the spring after the snow melts, not to mention all the rest of the year through. All I could remember is the unconditional love and devotion. And how much I had prayed for just the right dog to take to work with me every day.

My office is in the basement of a home and my job is managing a program which supports the four young people who live upstairs and who have some pretty special needs. Any dog coming into that home with me would have to be pretty special too. It would have to be calm and easy going - able to deal with unexpected loud noises and odd movements. Able to adapt to 24 different support staff coming and going. Able to sleep under my desk while I worked, and able to stay behind in my office when I went to meetings, and yet a people dog, too, that would be a friend to four pretty special kids. A therapy dog, someone suggested. That's what I needed! But where was I going to get one of those?

I looked into buying a service dog - one that was specially trained to work with children with autism. The $18,000 price tag put me off of that idea pretty quick. I knew God was able, and I knew He knew what my own special needs are, and I knew He knew that Ron did not want another dog. Ever. Period. Final. No more discussion. It was a tall order. It was a dream really... just a dream - but I laid it out before the throne of grace. God COULD do it, I had no doubt of that. But I really didn't know if he WOULD. Only He could no for sure if it was the best thing for all concerned. I learned a long time ago that he knows the desires of our hearts better than we do ourselves (he put them there!) - and he longs to fulfill them.

When my daughter Abby called a couple of weeks ago and said, "You know that dog you wanted for your program? Well, I know someone who has a bulldog - four years old - that he needs to give to a really good home. She's supposed to be really friendly and really good with kids. Would you be interested?"

Interested... Hmmm. Yeah, I was interested. But I didn't know much about bulldogs. I told her to bring her over to meet us and I would think it over. Hope was rising, but I knew there was going to be obstacle after huge obstacle to overcome. I was hoping against hope, but I was hoping.

Abby brought her last Saturday. I told Ron she was coming for a visit and asked him how he felt about it. Boy, was he mad. Well, mad for Ron, that is. He's pretty even tempered and he pretty much lets me do whatever I want - within reason - but this wasn't reasonable. And I knew he was right. It was a pretty heated discussion we had last Friday night.

"Don't worry," I said when all my arguments were exhausted and all of his were maddeningly wise. "I know you're right. I'd really like to have another dog, but not when you feel so strongly against it."

"Well, you know how I feel," he said. "But I'm not going to stand in your way. If you want to get the dog, get the dog. But it's your decision, not mine." I knew it was his way of saying, "I love you more than I don't want another dog."

"No, it's OUR decision," I said. "And we just decided "no"".

And that was that.

I was going to call Abby and tell her not to bring her over after all. But I thought I should at least honor her efforts by keeping my commitment to meet the dog...

So Georgia Peach came over to spend the night on Saturday. I assured Ron that she was going back to Abby's on Sunday afternoon. But you know what happened? He fell head over heels in love with her. As did we all... And tomorrow, when I write a post just about her, I think maybe you'll fall in love with her too.

P.S. I popped up to the hospital with Ron this evening for a short visit with Belinda. She is looking incredibly well. She pulled out a notebook and read a quote to us that she overheard today, so I know she is using this recovery time to gather raw material for when she is able to start writing again. She recounted several stories to us about another patient in her room and laughed and laughed over some of the things she had seen and heard. We couldn't help laughing with her - while at the same time wincing with her, too, as the tenderness in her tummy is still a reality. She's doing really well, though, and the doctor said she may be able to go home by the weekend. All her tubes and IV's are out. She's the miracle patient, that's for sure! :)

Tomorrow: Georgia Peach, Chapter 2.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

God is Good!

I saw Belinda this evening, and was amazed again at how good she looks considering her ordeal this weekend. This morning I popped in for a second on my way to work in order to drop something off, and was a little worried at how tired and weak she seemed. She said she was feeling worse than yesterday and realized she had to rest more today. By early afternoon, however, she was sitting up at the side of her bed, and then ended up going for two walks today, one on my arm, just as vistors' hours were over. She looked much, much brighter tonight than she did this morning and had way more energy. I told her that and asked if she had been able to get more sleep today and she said she did. That seems to be just what the doctor ordered! She continues to feel grateful for the expressions of love and concern from everyone and is grateful most of all for the many prayers for her quick and seamless recovery! God is good!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Recovery - A Gift to Unwrap

I went to see Belinda this evening. I was expecting her to be all tubed up and flaked out. Well, I was right about the tubes, but totally wrong about the flake! When I walked in she didn't see me at first. Her eyes were fixed on her little Blackberry and her thumbs were flying, tapping out a message to someone. No doubt she was returning thanks for some of the good wishes sent her way today. She looked beautiful. Her hair freshly combed and a surprising amount of colour in her cheeks. Her laptop was lying closed on the bedside table, waiting. Next to her in the bed was a book she'd been reading today, and on the windowsill another - one she needed to do some "homework" she felt obligated to complete if needed. (Thank God she was released from that, by a kind hearted and wise Director of The Word Guild - thanks, Denise!).

When she looked up she was surprised and apologised for her appearance, but she needn't have. At her very "worst", she still looked better than me any day at my "best"! She told me about having got up and had a walk around the hospital and even outside "because they told me it would help my recovery," she said.

Ellen came in and that perked her up even further.

Belinda told us about all the visitors she'd had today and it made me tired just listening to them all! There was Bonnie who told her "no you're NOT!" when she said she was still hoping to go to Write! Canada this weekend (and seemed to need to hear that from someone and felt "released" when she did - thanks, Bonnie). And Pastor Dave, who wakened her with a gentle touch on her arm, and prayed with her. And son Peter who took the day off work just to be there and kind of hung around all day. And Brenda who came up not once, but twice. And Dave and Joe who made her laugh and brought a little plastic duck to brighten up her recovery. And Frances, who showed up with her humour and deep concern. And I have a feeling there were still more who I cannot remember.

She ran into people she knew - a visitor to someone in the next bed was a colleague from another agency whose voice she recognized. She called out, "Brenda, is that you? This is Belinda on the other side of the curtain!" and they had a little visit. Out on her walk on Paul's arm she ran into a nurse that went to our church many years ago.

There were flowers around her bedside and cards - one handmade by Tiffany-Amber that was striking in its creativity.

I asked how long her incision was and was surprised to hear, "Want to see it?" I was reminded of a favourite childhood book, "Madeline" who was visited in hospital by her schoolmates who were awed by a look at her scar. I was awed too, though I only saw the bandage. But that was at least 6 or 7 inches long. It was no small incision! (I hope that's not too much information for some of you! :) ) But I was impressed!

It was good to see her doing so well - though I know there will be some difficult days ahead. The temptation is to overdo it when you feel well and then pay for it the next. I expect tomorrow will be more of a day of sleeping... But who knows!

There is much to be thankful for. She was planning to go on vacation on Wednesday. That means she was gearing down anyway and had already cleared her schedule for the next several weeks. The challenge will be to lay down the reins for the next few weeks and just recuperate. To unwrap the gift - as Ellen so aptly put it during our visit this evening.

"Take time to just think," Ellen encouraged. "Let God create in you." I could sense Ellen striking a chord by the responsiveness in Belinda's eyes.

I will finish this post in Belinda's own words - with an email she asked me to forward to The Word Guild Prayer Team, but which applies to all of us who have been praying for her. Here's Belinda:

Dear Claire and other prayer warriors,

At a time like this, you really appreciate God's sustaining strength through the power of prayer.

I did have an extremely painful weekend, but the surgical team that got up in the middle of the night to operate were the best. The incision is healing well. They were in time before tearing occured or a stoma was needed and the nursing staff were amazed when I went for a walk around the hospital this afternoon. (I heard that was good for recovery.) I told the nurse that there were many people praying.

Bonnie was in this afternoon and said in no uncertain terms that I would not be attending Write! Canada. I'm still hoping but I think that might be too much.

The surgeon said I was not to fly to England on Monday as planned. I don't have trip cancellation insurance, but I'm hoping they will have mercy. If not, I am glad to be here and in one piece!

Blessings and love,

Belinda.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Update

I just spoke to Paul. His first words were, "She came through the surgery last night."

I thought he was kidding, but no, Belinda did actually have emergency surgery. All I know at this point is that everything went fine and she, of course, is resting in hospital. Paul came home to get a few hours sleep and will be headed back to the hospital later today.

It is so good to know she is in such good hands - the Father's - who loves her more than we do.

Belinda will be thanking everyone already for their prayers and will be back here in the saddle on Whatever He Says as soon as she is able.

Blessings everyone, Susan.

It's Our Turn

Dear WHS friends,

Desperate times call for desperate measures. :)

It is with great difficulty I am typing this right now, having very foolishly attempted to show off a little on my bike and came to a sudden crashing and completely unwanted encounter with our gravel laneway. The result (besides my utter and complete humiliation) was a broken rearview mirror, a banged up knee, bruised chin, a few scrapes, and -worst of all - a hairline fracture of my left wrist. Being left handed, that little bit of a fracture which barely showed up on the xrays is posing the biggest problem. Especially since the splint they put on it causes my thumb to hit the space bar all the time when I'm trying to type. Arghhh. But enough about me.

Belinda is still under the weather too. The adventure with her health that began on Friday night with a trip to the hospital and which was chronicled here rather humorously yesterday, is not yet over. Please join me in praying for a quick diagnosis and speedy resolve as she goes to see her doctor today. Write! Canada is coming up this weekend (she is writing one of the speeches for the awards gala on Wed. night) and far more importantly, she has a trip to England booked for the following week to visit her Mum. Not to mention the fact that she is still in considerable discomfort (which she has not mentioned to me, but I am sure must be the case.)

God has an amazing plan for this week and no doubt we will all get to share in it via her blog postings as she is able... but in the meantime, part of his plan is that we all hold her up in prayer.

As is so often the case, The Daily Light, Belinda's favourite devotional, will no doubt have been a comfort yesterday (Sunday). The morning portion talks about our sharing in his sufferings (and being able then to share more ably in the comforting of others.) The evening portion talks not only about not worrying about the future and putting our cares into His able hands, but ends with one of her very favourite verses....

"...let us run with endurance the race set before us." Heb. 12:1


And now, dear readers, I think I have written quite enough. Now I am turning it over to you. I'm looking forward to reading your comments to Belinda as we all join in encouraging her and lifting her up before the throne of grace...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Emergency (?)

It was not an unfamiliar pain as my stomach bloated, following a working lunch of chili and a salad with lots of raw broccoli and cauliflower. It happens occasionally, and whenever it does, I know that I am in for several hours of great discomfort.

But I had a long drive home on Friday afternoon, going east from Kitchener, first along the 401, then the 407 and then north on the 400, a small droplet in the stream of dedicated cottagers, laden with canoes, sleeping bags and coolers, who were escaping the concrete jungle for the sparkling lakes and forests of northern Ontario, at the speed of --well, let's just say it wasn't "lightning."

When I got home, I headed for bed as soon as I could. Tiffany-Amber and Victoria's piano recital was at 7.00 p.m. and I was determined not to miss it. Seeing them, all dressed up in white and pink respectively; long hair and eyes both shining, recital adrenalin pumping through them; I had to go. So I belatedly took some Beano, counted the minutes until we had to leave, and lay down.

After the recital, home and feeling chilled and sick, I made my way to bed and tried to get to sleep. But the pain was getting worse, not better. I got up and looked up my symptoms on the Internet and decided that I had better get to the hospital.

Paul's eyes registered deep concern as he threw on some clothes and grabbed his car keys. In short minutes we were on our way and in his mission to get me there as fast as possible, he might as well have had flashing lights on the car. He screeched up to the doors of the Emergency department, letting me off, while he left to park the car.

I must have been a sorry sight. I had thrown on the most warm and comfortable things I could find to wear, without regard for appearance, but I blended in well with a bunch of other pale faced sorry sights, sitting in the dimly lit room. I felt sorriest for the moms with cranky babies.

Headed with relief for the registration desk, I stated the obvious, "I need to see a doctor." And then--some sadistic soul must have thought this up--the woman behind the desk said, "Oh, you need to take a number first and go see a nurse at the triage desk when it is called."

"A number?" I was number 99, and they were working on number 80. Oh, this was not good news.

Paul, my "action man," was disbelieving when he caught up with me. Well, I didn't actually take much "catching up" with by then, as things had pretty much ground to a halt.

But to my relief, when the nurse at the triage desk started calling numbers in the 90's, she went through 91-98 in rapid succession. I didn't want to get missed. I think I might have elbowed number 100 out of the way by this point. "I'm number 99," called, on my way to the desk.

"Some people take a bunch of numbers hoping they'll get in quicker that way," she said, by way of explanation.

"Desperate times call for desperate measures," I thought to myself.

I described my symptoms, which by now were, bloating, and burning pain in the abdomen, coming in waves. She asked me where I would rate the pain on a scale of 1-10. I said, "Well, right at this moment, it is a 6, but a minute ago, it was 11." I hoped that she would remember that I said the pain was in waves.

"You only have up to 10," she said.

"No sense of humour," I thought.

The nurse told me to go and wait until called, and then I felt the first of several urges that night to vomit. There was no time to look for a washroom but fortunately I spotted a stack of kidney shaped plastic vomit receptacles. It is pretty pathetic when you don't care that you are retching in a room full of strangers.

The night turned into an exercise in endurance. We finally made it to the other side of the door, from the outer waiting room to the inner sanctum waiting room, "Waiting," being the operative word.

We waited from 11.30 p.m. to about 6.30 a.m. and Paul got into an altercation with the doctor, which I am sure resulted in me waiting even longer. "My wife has been sitting here for 3 hours in severe pain," he plead with the doctor. The probably tired and stressed doctor replied in automaton fashion, telling him to keep waiting. Paul went back a few minutes later and told him that emphatically that he was rude.

When the night shift changed to the morning shift, a wonderfully, caring and gentle doctor took over, with a fresh and caring nursing staff. Sensitive hands palpated my tender stomach. They hooked me up to an I.V. with morphine and did an ultra sound looking for signs of appenditis or bowel obstruction.

The doctor came back after a while to say that he could see no obvious reason for the pain that required surgery. It felt so good to be so well taken care of and that he had considered every possibility seriously. He said to come back immediately if thepain persisted, but it had changed from burning waves by then to a dull ache, and he sent us off with a prescription for Tylenol 3.

It was such a blessing to arrive back at home in the early afternoon and go to bed, groggy, but grateful.

I couldn't help but think of the comedian Brian Regan's skit, "Emergency Room," to which I can suddenly relate! (Thanks Greg and Frank, for introducing me to this funny man.)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Flint Removal

Grumpy weeks are good ones for making me humble. For me it takes a while. First I go through the complaining stage, reciting to myself all the reasons I have for feeling the way I do. Somewhere in there God begins to challenge my heart, and I take a closer look. It's not that I don't have lots of reasons for needing God's grace to cope and hang in, to give out and to keep going. It's just that the most important thing to God, and really to others, is how I do what I do. What's the point in coping, hanging in, giving out and keeping going, if I don't do them with true grace and gentleness? That was what I always found fault with my mother about, and others who had "power" over my life. If they were harsh, and they often were, I wilted and cringed. Of course I have that capacity well built into me, despite how much I hate it. I may come across as gentle to some, and may indeed be gentle inside, but often it is harshness that lashes out, especially with those closest to me. I am grateful that today I can share challenging and helpful words from Streams in the Desert (of course) that have spoken deeply to my heart, and my need in this area:

When God conquers us and takes all the flint out of our nature, and we get deep visions into the Spirit of Jesus, we then see as never before the great rarity of gentleness of spirit in this dark and unheavenly world.

The graces of the Spirit do not settle themselves down upon us by chance, and if we do not discern certain states of grace, and choose them, and in our thoughts nourish them, they never become fastened in our nature or behavior.

Every advance step in grace must be preceded by first apprehending it, and then a prayerful resolve to have it.

So few are willing to undergo the suffering out of which thorough gentleness comes. We must die before we are turned into gentleness, and crucifixion involves suffering; it is a real breaking and crushing of self, which wrings the heart and conquers the mind.


That breaking and crushing, that wringing of heart, is really a daily thing, which the great saints knew and embraced so well. I want to be gentle. This I truly know. With all my heart. I want "thorough gentleness". So that means I must embrace all that will create that in me.

This reminds of what my daughter said when she was so mad at someone who hurt her regularly. She said she was always glad to have something to apologize for to that person. It helped her to deal with the other issues, helped her to stay humble and in a place of openness to growth. When I struggle most with attitudes in others, that is when I most need to look at myself, and learn the lessons of my own untamed heart.

The servant of the Lord must....be gentle. (2 Tim. 2:24)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Girls' Weekend Away

This past weekend was "Girls' Weekend Away". Once a year all the Stewart girls pack their bags and leave husbands, kids, dogs and all motherly and wifely responsibilities behind to spend a weekend together - reconnecting as friends and sisters and mother and daughters. This was the first year that there was a daughter-in-law/sister-in-law to add to the tradition - one who fits in to our family so well, that it's hard to remember sometimes that she wasn't actually born into it. And there were two babes-in-arms - the breastfeeders in the family who are too dependent on their moms to be left behind, but there were many arms to share the load and they were a joy to have along. We rented two adjoining rooms in a hotel in Cambridge, just off the 401, close to the fabric mill outlet for the sewers in the family, and not too far from St. Jacobs to be able to hit the farmers' market on Saturday morning.

We had a ball - eating meals together, spending money, saving money, celebrating Christy's birthday with ice-cream cake on Saturday night, missing our husbands and the boys, swimming, and hot-tubbing, and shopping til we dropped.

It wasn't all fun and games, though. There were a few tense moments when childhood rivalries and misunderstandings surfaced. On Saturday night, the bed I was sharing with Jorie, was suddenly empty. As the youngest of six sisters and sister-in-law she can be subjected to a lot of well intentioned ideas and as to how she should live life - based on others' experience. She was gone too long to be just making one more trip to the bathroom so I went looking for her in the dark. There she was curled up in the bathtub with a pillow, planning to spend the night there, I suppose, to get away from the rest of us with all our opinions and advice.

I coaxed her back into bed with me and as soon as her sisters caught on to how she was feeling, they rallied around in the darkness and comforted, supported and explained to her that they love her and just want her to learn from their mistakes - they didn't mean to hurt her or make her feel like she couldn't make good decisions on her own! She went to sleep feeling much better. We all did.

It was actually a very poignant moment, one I hope I never forget. An example of sisterly love at its best.

There were other difficult and sometimes emotion-charged moments - when one sister asked another not to use a certain word in a certain context because it caused pain. Or when someone questioned the decisions another had made and caused hurt feelings there.

I was thinking later that it could have been a perfect weekend with no hurt feelings, no moments of frustration, no rubbing together of rough edges. But at the same time, all that jostling together brought things to the surface that could be tackled and we all grew together - as individual women, and as a family - and we wouldn't have it any other way.

I love my girls and I love spending time with them. They sure don't live on the surface of life, but are willing to go right to the depths - to learn about themselves and each other and to grow in God. We are so blessed.

Finding the Yoke Easy

By Claire Alexander

Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me . . . For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NASB.

We live on a horse farm in Ontario, where for twenty-five years our son has managed the seasonal ploughing, seeding, hay baling, and harvesting, as well as the year-round caring for horses boarded here, until his brain hemorrhage nineteen months ago. Even nowadays, where horses are used for pleasure, and not for work, a farmer has to know how to put them together in different fields. He even yields to a hen-pecking order of seniority in feeding them, as horses soon let you know if relationships don’t work.

When a new horse comes to stay, the females (mares) are put into one field, with “fixed” males or geldings in another. A stallion bows to no one, and is separate, with the weanlings and younger horses also finding their niche. A new boarder is watched, and is moved to a different group if kicking and biting ensues.

In my husband’s childhood, his father logged in the bush, using two horses or more in a team, to drag out the heavy trunks. No one could afford a horse merely for pleasure. Settlers of an earlier generation also used oxen matched under a yoke, instead of horses, to break new ground, as we remember from Little House on the Prairie.

When I read the blog “Peace Chaser,” I embedded some of these images in the verse Jesus gave, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me.” I see an element of learning here, not so much from the commands of a human boss, but from the example of a partner alongside. If Jesus says, “Learn of (or from) Me,” we can envision a double wooden yoke, and not a single one. The faithful, mature, reliable draft horse or ox stands still under one side of the doubletree or yoke, while the new, impulsive, willful partner is harnessed.

In Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder tells the boyhood story of the one she will later marry. The father of Almanzo Wilder teaches him on his ninth birthday to fit his young calves into a double wooden yoke. He has to scrape it smooth with broken glass, so nothing rubs their soft necks.

He doesn’t have the advantage of a mature ox to train a young one. He has to find a way to train his calves once they are yoked together. They learn to turn left with “Gee!” and right with “Haw!” As the boy walks in front of them with a pocket full of carrots, they learn “Giddap!” – and “Whoa!” stops them, to get one to eat.

Though one calf individually may stomp, jerk, tug, dig in its hoofs, or bellow, the effort does not result in independence. And even Almanzo has to learn not to work them too long at first, in case they become sullen.

Perhaps I can learn that God’s peace comes when I, too, recognize the principle of being in harness together – when I listen with him, turn with him, pull with him, or stop with him. Obeying begins simply with learning to trust the partner who is sharing the load.

In quietness and trust is your strength . . . your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher. Your ears will hear a word behind you, "This is the way, walk in it," whenever you turn to the right or to the left. Isaiah 30: 15, 20, 21 NASB.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

River of Light

The book is a treasure:
Home Tonight~Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son
By Henri J.M. Nouwen
(A guide to Finding Your Spiritual Home)

Some books, you hold them in your hands and you just know that you and that book are going to be intimately acquainted. When I found this one, wrapped in tissue for my birthday last week, a gift from my friend Irene, I was so excited.
The book cover is a warm orange, fading to gold in the centre, and the pages are thick and irregularly cut. It feels good in the hand. Inside the front cover flap, is a small reproduction of the Rembrandt painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son.

I have loved the heart of Henri Nouwen ever since I first began to read anything of his that I could lay my hands on, many years ago. I love his vulnerability and honesty; his willingness to just be real. His courage in doing so has dared me to be open about my weakness, and taught me that vulnerability brings freedom, and usefulness to God.

This morning, although the day plucked at me insistently and urgently, I resisted its sticky fingers and stole away to my arm chair with Henri. First I prayed, trying hard to ignore the jumpy nerves that urged me to rise and be "doing." I pinned myself to the chair like a butterfly to a display board--willing myself to be immobile. How hard that can be!

I read a little and slowly. "Look at the picture," said Henri, and "Journal what you see in the light and the dark." Well, he didn't say it quite so abruptly you know, but if you want to hear from him directly, you will have to read the book.

At first I thought, "Journal? No, I will just read a little." But something (or Someone) nudged me, "Don't miss the gift in writing what you see." So, I slowed myself down a few degrees further, and picked up my pen. I looked at the picture and let it speak to me. These are the simple thoughts that came, calming my racing brain as they did:

The light in the picture falls like a river from above, illuminating the father and the son in an image of grace and love being given and received.

The one who wears rich robes of status and wealth, bends to embrace the kneeling one in tatters and rags.

Clean hands touch filth, in gentleness and acceptance.

The head of the kneeling figure, rests upon the chest of the father, as if listening to his heartbeat.

Shadows and darkness surround the figures, holding hints of half hidden forms. But father and son are lost in this moment of time, completely aware, only of each other.

Later in the day at a team meeting, I shared the picture and read the scripture passage containing the story: Luke 15:11-32. I asked my team mates to share their reflections. Thoughts were shared. Some were familiar with the painting and one pointed out that one of the father's hands is feminine, the other masculine. In those brief moments at the start of the meeting, the painting was a catalyst for the Holy Spirit. May it be so for you, dear readers.
Luke 15:25-32 (New Living Translation)
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’
28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’
31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. 32 We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Peace Chaser


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Psalm 55:22-23 (New International Version)
22 Cast your cares on the LORD
and he will sustain you; ...
23...But as for me, I trust in you

They were outside for hours, enjoying a sunny Saturday morning in the snow; three playmates; two girls and one dog. They were having the kind of simple fun that was a delight for this grandmother to observe from afar.

A frozen top layer had formed over the snow--a legacy of the bad storms of the previous two days. This was jumped upon until a hole was made. Then the girls began digging. There is something indescribably fascinating about a hole; and the deeper the better. Molson thought so too. He didn't hesitate to poke his head and shoulders deep into the hole to explore, and sniff the scent of earth, leaving only his big golden retriever hind parts above the ground.

Later, I looked at the photos I'd shot quickly from the upper window. In one of them, during a few resting moments, Victoria had laid her head against Molson's furry body. "He was warm," she told me later.

The image of the child's head on the warm, powerful body of the dog, captured me. It evoked a feeling of peace that I longed for.

I read a familiar passage this morning, from Matthew 11. It's the tantalizing invitation given by Jesus--"Come to me, all you who are weary...I will give you rest."

My team and I work under often tremendous pressure and I've been encouraging them to focus on life/work balance--keeping healthy for the long haul. But I've felt like such a poor example lately as a tidal wave of meetings, phone calls and emails demanded attention. I know that I've been intense, not easy to engage in small talk, too focused. I found myself wondering this morning why I couldn't find that "easy yoke" that Jesus spoke of.

The passage in Matthew seemed to me like one of those dreams where you keep running but you never reach your destination. Why, I wondered, would Jesus hold out this "carrot," if we can't get to it? I even wondered what I was doing wrong--if there's a place of peace--a way to walk this life in serenity--and I can't find it--what is wrong with me?

So I read the passage again--in context. I discovered that Jesus is talking about a spiritual peace. We are freed from the burden of "religion" into relationship with God through Christ. In my Life Application Bible, the commentary says that, "The rest Jesus promises is love, healing and peace with God, not the end of all labour."

That was sort of a relief. I can accept the fact that there are days when even the best juggler couldn't keep all the balls in the air, as long as I don't think I should be able to! And the next time I'm feeling overwhelmed, I'm going to think of a little girl with her head on a big furry friend and I'm going to lean into the shoulder of God.

Matthew 11:28-29 (New International Version)
28"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
(From the Archives. First published: March 8, 2007)

Monday, June 08, 2009

Chris and Nell











Here is Christopher's service record given upon his discharge from his regiment in 1952:

Christopher Cater
Service with The Colours, showing transfers, if any, to other Corps

Grenadier Guards

Home 22.5.44--1.3.45 284 days

North Western Europe 2.3.45--2.5.45 62 days

Home 3.5.45--25.2.46 299 days

British Army of the Rhine 26.2.46 --5.12.46 283 days

Home 6.12.46--10.4.52

Length of service – 8 years British Army of the Rhine

Certificate of ServiceArmy number – 2625429

Surname – Cater

First names – Christopher Leslie

Enlisted at – Wolverhampton

Enlisted on – 22.5.45

Corps for which enlisted – Grenadier Guards

Description of Soldier on leaving The Colours:

Year of birth - 4.5.1921

Height – Five foot, eleven and a quarter inches

Complexion – fresh Eyes – hazel Hair – brown

Final Assessment of Conduct and Character(To be completed by the Commanding Officer)Military conduct…exemplary

Testimonial (to be conducted with a view to civil employment)

A thoroughly conscientious and hardworking man, who has done consistently well throughout his service. Clean, honest, and sober.

21st February, 1952Regional Headquarters: Birdcage Walk.

Dad was overseas for the 2 final months of World War 2 and then in England for 299 days before being sent back early in 1946 with the British Army of the Rhine to help oversee prisoners of war in Germany. He was there until the end of 1946 and while there he made friends with some of the men he was guarding. I have a letter written to him several years later, by one of the friends he made, an engineer, and the pencil portrait of Dad was drawn by another of the German soldiers. It is signed KG and the date is June 20 1946.

In 1947 he was back in England and in the barracks at Caterham in Surrey.

Meanwhile, in January of 1947, one year after being released from prison in Holland, Nelly, now 20 years old, set sail for England. She was an au-pair for 9 months, for a familynamed Krausz. Mr. Krausz was Austrian and Mrs. Krausz was Scottish. Nelly looked after their 3 year old boy named Tony and was supposed to do the cooking. There was one problem; Nelly did not know how to cook. She got around this by asking how to cook various dishes. She would say to Mr. and Mrs Krausz, “You might not like it the Dutch way.” Since it was the language common to them all, they spoke German.

It was some time between January and September of 1947, that Nelly and a friend went to Hyde Park in London. The photo above could have been taken on the very day. She and her friend were standing listening to a speaker at Speaker's Corner, when her friend noticed two soldiers in the crowd, also listening. Her friend pointed to one of them and said, "I'm going to marry that one," and before too long, they were talking to them. Nelly's friend did marry the soldier as she predicted, and Nelly became friends with the other one, whose name was Christopher Cater.

Nelly went back to Holland in September, but returned in April of 1948 with another friend, Mies, and they went to work in a hospital this time, in Farnborough, Kent, as domestic workers, starting in the nurses’ rooms, then being promoted to working for the Sisters, then the Head Nurses, who all had their own apartments. They also worked for the Matron when her personal maid was on holiday.

Chris and Nell (he always called her Nell) continued their friendship, which had now become a courtship. At 27 and 21 they had lived through deep pain and trauma and carried within them the wounds.

Next week: Chris and Nell's story continues.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Dear Friends,
It is rare that I am just too tired to write, but this is one of them. I will be back tomorrow, God willing. Happy Sabbath. Be blessed and refreshed.

Summer - Season of Questions

As I reflect upon the coming summer months, I realize that summer has always been a season of questions for me. Each year as a school girl I had the opportunity to make plans that reflected the questions I asked or was allowed to ask about my life. There was uncharted and unprogrammed time to plan. Even if it was a summer job I had to take I at least could ponder the type of job I wanted or was willing to take. There were many things that I hoped would happen that didn’t in those months, many plans I would have liked to make. The point is that I got to ask some important questions that were key to who I was or wanted to be.

I wouldn’t be sharing this now if I didn’t feel that my experience in some measure has been true for all of us, if not all the time, then at least some of it, if not in summer then at least sometime. But summer can be a metaphor for such a time because we likely don’t have to be so preoccupied with survival, at least weather wise. There is sunshine and a bit of a holiday mood, space really for moving outside of the box of our usual preoccupations and for bringing on board something new and exciting, and time for reflection. Such a season is essential in our lives, and is similar to the day of rest we try to have each week. We step outside our routines and reflect upon the deeper issues of faith, vocation, purpose, and our relationship with our creator and our saviour. We can open our hearts and minds more widely to hear His voice, and realize that the really important questions are the ones He asks us, for, whether or not we listen, they are the only real questions that a Christian has to answer.

For me, I find those questions embodied in a lovely song we often sing at our church. This song means all the more to me because I spent two very significant summers on or near the island of Iona, in Scotland, the home of the Iona community, who copyrighted the new arrangement to the song. The lilting but haunting Scottish traditional tune evokes deep memories of the questions I was asking those summers, and the choices I sought to make for my life. It was not an easy time, but I am grateful for all that I learned. My prayer for all of us this coming “summer” is that we would each be open to the essential questions God is asking us about our lives, and that we would have the courage to answer them.

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

Will you love the "you" you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you've found to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In Your company I'll go where Your love and footsteps show.
Thus I'll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

Text: John L. Bell b.1949; Tune: Scottish traditional: Kelvingrove ;
Graham Maule.© 1987, Wild Goose Resource Group, Iona Community, GIA Publications, Inc.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Midnight Wrestlings and Morning Revelation

I am thinking about the words of Jesus tonight. Some of his very last words here on earth:

Forgive them for they know not what they do.

I always thought that was referring only to the fact that those crucifying Jesus had no idea that he was the son of God, very God of very God. And I thought it was very big of him, to say the least. Very big of him.

But tonight I am thinking of those words in my own context. I'm thinking that almost always, the people who most need my forgiveness have no idea that they do! And they have no understanding of what it is they've done. And I'm thinking that it's kind of odd, then, if Jesus could forgive like that, without explaining what he's forgiving them for, then why is it so important for me that people understand what they have done to me?

(I feel like there's a big piece of "self" here about to topple in me...)

Jesus didn't have to say, "Do you folks realize what you are doing to me? Do you realize that you are crucifying your saviour? The One who LOVES you???"

Well, if Jesus didn't have to say that, why do I think I have to make people understand?

I don't. Well, I don't if I can entrust them and the situation, and me in it, to the Father. Can he really sort it all out? That's the crux, isn't it? Do I really trust him to be able to sort it all out? Do I really believe that he can/wants to/will?

Tonight, after cell group, Belinda and I sat and talked over a second cup of coffee. Her mum came up, as she often does, into our conversation. I can't remember Belinda's exact words but she said something like, "Mum doesn't hold onto the things when people hurt her. She just loves them..."

I think Mum and Jesus have a lot in common. And I think I want to be more like them too.

Lord, I believe! Help thou my unbelief!

Addendum:
As the sunlight poked at me from my east bedroom window this morning, and with the twitter and chirps of birds in the background, I stirred and immediately began to mull over what I'd written last night and kind of lay it before the Lord and I came to a more full understanding. This morning I need to add a little:

Jesus forgave those who "knew not what they did" - everyone - no strings attached and no need for them to understand what they were doing. But those who gain RELATIONSHIP with him, do need to come to an understanding of what they have done and how it has hurt him. There is really no basis for a relationship until we do. The deeper we go in that understanding, the deeper also goes our relationship with him.

So in grappling out those things, understanding flows and relationship grows. And it's all based in grace... The grace has to be first, though. Under and in and through it all... Grace. Then understanding. Then relationship. It's all grace.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

It's All About Perspective

Dear Readers,
I am having a busy evening, cooking up a huge pot of chili and some work to do yet; so I dipped into my store of gems and this one is from Susan. I loved reading it all over again. It was first published August 23, 2007. (I am of the age where I enjoy many things over again: Movies, jokes, stories of all kinds.) Join me in enjoying this!

Boy, can I put my foot in my mouth.I can't tell you how many times I've been corrected, rebuked, reminded, pleaded with, punished, warned, you name it, for the things that have come out of my mouth and for the things that people are justifiably afraid will come out of my mouth. I have had a deeply seated belief, for a very long time, that I can't say the right thing no matter how hard I try, and that if I do say the right thing, it's only an abherration.. The "real me" can't do it, after all.

I was in a meeting last week. I was particularly relaxed and just "being myself". That, for me, is living pretty close to the edge. As much as I was enjoying myself, part of me is always poised for the bomb to drop. Sometimes I recognize it myself as it's rolling off my tongue. Other times, someone points it out to me afterwards, but the fear of 'blowing it' is always there.

Imagine my surprise when someone at the meeting, Carolyn, took me aside afterward and said, "You always know just the right thing to say." (She emphasized the word "just".)

I laughed. Right out loud.

She looked slightly taken aback. Could it be she didn't get the joke? I quickly explained. "I NEVER say the right thing. I get in trouble ALL THE TIME for saying the wrong thing." I laughed some more. She smiled, but she didn't laugh with me.

"Sometimes," she said, "our greatest weakness is also our greatest strength. God can take that weakness and turn it into something really good, when we yield it up to him. When you speak from your heart, and passionately, like you did tonight, others feel welcome. It makes them feel like a place has opened up for them and then they can be more open and speak from their hearts too."

It had been a good meeting. A really good meeting, where words flowed and hearts connected. Belinda wrote this about it:
Last night a group of writers who are Christian gathered. What went on was not just about writing, but about ministry to one another's souls.

It all sounded nice, what Carolyn was saying, and I appreciated her efforts to be nice to me, but I was still shaking my head and enjoying the irony of her words as compared to the message that had come to me all my life long. God use my words? Maybe on occasion, but not as a rule. No, just the opposite was true. I sure had her fooled. Wait until she really got to know me. She'd see...

On the way home, Carolyn's words came back to me. For some reason I found myself turning them over and over in my heart. I think it was the humour of it all that I was enjoying thinking about again. I even said it out loud. "You always say just the right thing..."

"No, I don't." I answered and chuckled to myself.

And then I heard a still small voice that stopped me cold. "Yes, you do."

"I do?"

"You can!"

My heart was instantly on fire. I know God's voice when I hear it (sometimes, anyway!) and if this wasn't him, then I'd never heard him. My perspective was changed in an instant. Until now I'd been approaching every opportunity with fear. "I sure hope I don't say something wrong," I would say to myself. A common prayer before every social situation had become, God, please help me not to say the wrong thing.

Suddenly I could envision myself walking into a room with an entirely different attitude. Instead of being afraid of getting into trouble with my words, I could see myself saying, "I always say just the right thing," and then waiting for God to use me to do just that!

It's true. It's working. Not that I don't ever slip up, but I've been expecting God to use my mouth instead of my foot being in there all the time and he is! It's been fun sitting in a meeting and waiting to see what "right thing" will be coming into my head and then hearing it come out of my mouth. When I focused on my weakness and looked to the negative, the negative came. What I'm finding is that when I give that same weakness to God, in his hands it is turned into the purest gold.

A word aptly spoken, is like apples of gold in settings of silver." Proverbs 25:11 NIV

Thanks, Carolyn, and thank you Father-God for a word aptly spoken after that meeting. A word that has turned my perspective upside down and right side out.