Monday, August 31, 2009

The Cusp

From 11 to 12 is only a year but the transition stands out in my memory. 12 was a no-man's land of limbo.

Children's clothes no longer fit, but adults clothes didn't either. It was 1961-62, and I straddled the land of childhood and adolescence awkwardly, feeling as though I belonged in neither. I was always tall and prone to plumpness. Now I was decidedly chubby and in the morphing from child to young woman there was not a swan in sight.

My curiosity about sexuality was partially satisfied by Mum. She did a good job of explaining what to expect physically so that I wasn't surprised by what was happening, but there was another dimension to sex that I learned about from Dad's hidden Playboy magazines and his bookshelf, which I studied with interest. Still, much of it was a mystery that I was naive, curious and confused about.

Instead of walking through the churchyard with its tall elm trees and along the long, hedge lined black path to the village school, my friends and I now caught a bus outside the Red Lion that took us to Redditch, and Bridley Moor Secondary Modern School.

I didn't enjoy that first year at Bridley Moor, and developed headaches to avoid it when I could, supplemented by days when I would leave for school but come home once Mum had left for work, or spend the day in a tree in the churchyard reading,or walk to nearby Barnt Green and the Lickey Hills with a friend and hide out for the day. According to my school report for that year, I was absent 24 days.

Musically Britain was entering an exciting era. Up to this point we were either Elvis or Cliff Richard fans, but suddenly we heard of a new group called the Beatles. Music became absolutely entwined with the experience of growing up. For Christmas 1961, I had a small box record player and the Beatle's record, Please Please Me and I Want to Hold Your Hand. I still have that record.

The Beatles, Rolling Stones and a myriad of other groups and singers, many of them from Liverpool, established a culture that was unique to our emerging generation. Their songs expressed our longings, our imagined experiences and heartbreaks.

At 12, a group of us became friends at Bridley Moor: Eileen, who lived in Redditch, and Linda, Elaine and Diana from Alvechurch. Eileen now lives in the north of England and we are still close friends.

Mum was now working in an office, at Autocar and Transporters. Dad was working at the Austin Motor Company in nearby Longbridge. They were not any happier together than before, but I developed my own coping mechanisms--I kept busy and distracted with friends, or reading or drawing in my room.

I have a book of poems and stories that I wrote the year I was 11, illustrated with angels and fairies--the stuff of my imagination. In some of the poems, my faith in God is evident, a thread that had been woven, however tenuously, through my life from its beginnings. Fairy tales and Greek mythology had been my passion. They were about to be exchanged for the thrill of ghost stories and science fiction.

Meanwhile, the village wrapped itself around us, with its dense fogs in which time seemed to stand still, and people grew older alongside the memories of those that had been, borrowing the streets and fields and shops as a backdrop for our lives.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

I Give Up!


I give up! My brain is mushier than a bowl of overcooked spaghetti and I am soooo tired I can barely think straight.

I hate not writing but I just can't string two coherent thoughts together tonight.

I started my day with a funeral mass for a collegue in another agency. I was gone for the morning, and then the spaghetti supper was next.

We fed spaghetti, meatballs, sauce and caesar salad to what felt like the 5000. So many contributions from so many people made it an amazing evening, but now I am seriously out of steam and hopelessly tired.

We had fun, we were profoundly moved be the presentation after supper and we raised a heartening amount of money to help people in Armenia and the Ukraine.

God bless the people who said, "Sign me up to help again next year." Next year? First I think I will sink into the gift of Sabbath.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Living Watersheds and Dancing Metaphors

Last week several people commented on my post about Algonquin Park and Niagara Falls with the greeting "Happy ICLW!". I, despite my plea for preservation of beautiful natural wonders, didn't know the meaning of this acronym and dutifully did an internet search about it. It seems to be a toss up between "International Comment Leaving Week" and the "International Center for Living Watersheds". I was intrigued by the latter, knowing The Park to be a watershed, and a living one because it is protected and maintained as a vital and fresh one. I also of course began to see spiritual parallels right away. In my single days in the renewal movement in Toronto I edited a small magazine I called Living Letter loving the apostle Paul's injunction to be ambassadors for Christ in all we do and say. So for me the image of a "living watershed" is similar, except of course it can't be found in scripture.

But the connections with other scriptural images are obvious, the clearest one being that out of those who are in Christ will flow streams of living water. Stepping up from water to a watershed in its other meaning brings more theological reflection: a watershed is "an important period, time event or factor that marks a change or division." (Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary) Can't you see the metaphor? We need to be people who create events or are catalysts for periods in people's lives to make important choices happen, changes for the better, changes that may mean a decisive turn, even a division that needs to happen between the old and the new in their lives. What an exciting metaphor to contemplate - to be a living watershed!!

Now to gather in more wool from my week: the message on Sunday evening by our pastor used a metaphor from the news story of a collision between a bread truck and a steel truck on the Burlington skyway. She called her talk "When Bread Meets Steel". She said this was the stuff of the Christian life - negotiating the collisions in our lives between the soft life giving things and the harsh realities. Those sorts of collisions are also watersheds.

Now I'm going to jump even more with my metaphors: steel looks negative in this previous story, but there is a way in which we can see it positively. More on that in a moment. To keep connected to our watershed metaphor let's imagine that as we give life through living water and are people who continually supply that, in Christ's strength and abundance, then we, like the bread of life, provide food for the journey on which such collisions happen. And we can only have the strength to withstand life's tough things ourselves and be watersheds for others if we ourselves have met a lot of steel, and had the strength of the steel built into our very beings.

Streams in the Desert speaks to this again, on this very day I am writing:

I stood once in the test room of a great steel mill. All around me were little partitions and compartments. Steel had been tested to the limit, and marked with figures that showed its breaking point. Some pieces had been twisted until they broke, and the strength of torsion was marked on them. Some had been stretched to the breaking point and their tensile strength indicated. Some had been compressed to the crushing point, and also marked. The master of the steel mill knew just what these pieces of steel would stand under strain. He knew just what they would bear if placed in the great ship, building or bridge. He knew this because his testing room revealed it.

It is often so with God's children. God does not want us to be like vases of glass or porcelain. He would have us like these toughened pieces of steel, able to bear twisting and crushing to the uttermost without collapse.

He wants us to be, not hothouse plants, but storm-beaten oaks, not sand dunes driven with every gust of wind, but granite rocks withstanding the fiercest storms. To make us such He must needs bring us into His testing room of suffering. Many of us need no other argument than our own experiences to prove that suffering is indeed God's testing room of faith.


And if you feel dragged around in my dance with words and metaphors, please forgive me and take what you will out of my indulgence. I will end with yet another metaphor that came alive again this week for me, about words and their uses. I had to ask forgiveness for offending and hurting people with my words on several occasions, and I remembered the slogan I once hung over my desk and should definitely place prominently again: "O Lord, may my words be sweet today, for tomorrow I may have to eat them".

As I can't get away from metaphors this week, may I say that I hope there is life in my words this week for you, as bread or as water, and may they strengthen you as you develop the steel you need to withstand the storms of life.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sweet Inspiration

By Susan

We have all been deeply moved by Belinda's chronicling of her family history. It was my Aunt Edith's birthday this past week, and after starting this post, I thought I would do a bit of a series on "Life Changers", people who have inspired me, or affected me deeply in some positive way. Now that I've completed this story, I have a whole new appreciation for how much work Belinda has put into those family histories she has been writing! Thankyou Belinda. You're inspiration, too!

Maybe it was because I was looking at some old family photos the night before. Or maybe I just sensed that "this" was the day. But either way, I woke up on Wednesday morning with thoughts of Aunt Edith dancing in my mind. I was at least five minutes into my memory bank before I realized it was her birthday. I was back amid the brightly patterned quilts and crisp cotton sheets flapping on the line, later to be pressed crisp with a set of flatirons which were left on the woodstove to get hot. Aunt Edith would touch her spit-moistened finger to a hot iron and decide by the sizzle if it was warm enough to do the job, or would be left to cool down for a minute so it didn't scorch the cloth. Sometimes, if I begged long enough, and promised to be careful, I would be allowed to iron Grandpa's brightly coloured red and blue cotton handkerchiefs that were bought in packages of three at the five and dime on rare visits into town. Rows of peas and beans and beets as straight as a ruler and without a weed in sight. I remembered sitting with her at the kitchen table with bowls of fat red raspberries in front of us, fresh from the garden, covered with cream and then sprinkled with brown sugar. I thought of how her eyes and voice had softened when she took me into the darkness of the barn early of a summer's morning to catch the wonder of a suckling goat in the stall nuzzling its mother.

That's when I realized that today her birthday. That stirred my emotions deeply, and only caused me to dig deeper into the archives. I thought about games of Scrabble - endless games of Scrabble - on the big kitchen table, surrounded by an assortment of mismatched press-back chairs. And the colouring book and crayons kept in the drawer of the corner cupboard for when children came to visit. I thought about the Family Herald, (every weekly issue subheaded "Canada's National Farm Magazine"), and how, when the work was finally done, in the late afternoon, I would be invited to climb up onto her lap and she would turn to the second last page - the children's page - and read out loud the story that was always there.

Years before I was born, when she was just nine years old she had developed an infection in the bone of her shin - osteomyelitus was the big word we learned to master as children when we asked questions about the long wide scar on the side of her leg, which she would sit and rub when the weather changed, and more and more as the summer days shortened and a crispness would beging to settle with the setting of the sun.

She was the youngest of six children, the sister of my grandmother. Her sister Verly died of a ruptured appendix at the age of 10, leaving just the five children in the family, and a set of parents who became more than a little over-protective of their youngest daughter, who never fully recovered from the infection that ravaged the bone in her leg. She required surgery and a trip to the hospital in Stratford to remove the diseased portions and allow it to heal. My mother, who was born when Aunt Edith was just 12, and was more like a sister to her than a neice, told me that there had been suitors, one of them very serious, but Grandpa was convinced that no-one would be able to provide adequately for his sickly daughter and he turned them all away. So she stayed single all of her days, and remained home to look after her aging parents instead. Grandma was crippled by osteo-arthritis, and though loved by her, I only ever knew her as an invalid who stayed night and day in a daybed in a corner of the parlour, and who needed the help of her "sickly" daughter to lift her on and off of the chamber pot that was kept under the bed between usings.

Aunt Edith was fifty years old when Grandpa died some nine or ten years after Grandma. The house they had lived in and where she nursed her parents to the end reverted back to the farm which Grandpa sold when he retired from farming twenty years earlier. The agreement with the buyer was that the house was theirs, Grandma's and Grandpa's, to live in as long as they lived, but upon their death, it again became part of the farm. Grandpa had made that agreement with his son-in-law in good faith, not knowing then that the young man would despair of farming a few years later and would sell it to more distant relatives, who in turn would sell it to complete strangers who did not have Aunt Edith's welfare at heart. She was set up to be left destitute and dependent on the charity of her siblings when her parents were finished with the house.

Grandpa died in October and in the spring of the following year, all of her parents' earthly possessions were spread out in the yard around the house and auctioned off to the highest bidders. Some of the buyers were family, but most were antique dealers or perfect strangers looking for bargains. It was the proceeds from that sale with just enough held back to furnish a bedroom, that was all that remained of the life she knew on the farm, indeed the only life she had ever known. After being dependent on her parents her whole life, she was suddenly without resources. She had her sisters, who fussed and worried over her as she waited to decide where she would live. Everyone expected her to continue her life of dependency, but God had other plans.

Aunt Edith had a Grade Four education, having left early partly because education for girls in those days was considered an unecessary luxury and partly because of her delicate health. She was in no position to offer much in the job market in those days. She decided that she would be happiest working in hospital, and encouraged by my mom, she applied at several. The first one to call back was K-W hospital in Kitchener and suddenly Aunt Edith had a new identity. She went from being dependant to independent when she donned the blue striped shirt and white pinafore of a nurse's aid. She had been prepared for this job in many ways by her life experience with her parents and the new lifestyle fit her to a tee. I remember her spending much of her time off work in those days starching and ironing her pinafores into stiff white boards, and applying liquid shoe polish to her white lace-up nursing shoes until every last spot was covered and she made them look like brand new. She took to wearing a tensor bandage over the weak place in her leg, and when she came home at night, she would take the bandage off and rub and rub that spot on her leg, but you would never hear her complain.

A few years later, the hospital decided that they would be fading out the nurse's aid position and would replace it with academically qualified Registered Nursing Assistants (RNAs). Aunt Edith was given the opportunity to take the courses and upgrade, or face unemployment.

It felt to me during those months, as though everyone in the entire family was holding their breath. No-one was sure of what Aunt Edith would do if she lost her job, but they needn't have worried. She simply applied that Mennonite work ethic which she grew up with and carried throughout her whole life, to this new turn in the road. She studied hard, passed her exams, and the photo taken at her graduation, with her holding her new credentials, was a cherished treasure of my mother's. We were all so very proud of her, but Mom, I think was the proudest of all.

Because she had no family of her own, Aunt Edith belonged to all of us. She was everyone's favourite aunt and considered a member of each nuclear family . She painstakingly remembered every single birthday of every single neice and nephew and their children and their grandchildren. If you didn't get another single card, you could always count on one envelope arriving with writing so tiny that is was difficult to read. Even in her handwriting, Aunt Edith's shyness prevailed.

In spite of the rigours of her strict Mennonite upbringing, Aunt Edith had a great sense of fun. I rember Uncle Ed telling us once, about how Edith and her sister Edna (his wife) had begun to dismantle the flowerpot centrepiece of their table. First they drew out the flowers and then they began to eat the soil. He was aghast until they could no longer contain their giggles and he realized the "dirt" they were eating was made of crushed oreo cookies and the potted plant was actually meant to be dessert.

Because Aunt Edith had never had children of her own, I was determined to honour her love of children, especially babies, and her commitment to all of us by using Edith as the second part of our oldest daughter's name, hence "Elizabeth Edith Ann Stewart". Beth remembers her well, and is honoured to be carrying her name.

If Aunt Edith had not faced the drastic changes in her life with such courage, I would never have had the confidence to start my own post-secondary education at age 47 and to enter the working world after 27 years at home with my kids. And what I would have missed!
Happy birthday, Aunt Edith. You led by example, and your courage, to this day, encourages me.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's All About Perspective

By Susan

(from the archives)

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, her words echoed in my heart. 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 all over again. I even said them out loud a few times. "You always say just the right thing..."

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

And then I heard a still small voice, "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 that moment I was 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."

Now suddenly I could envision myself walking into a room with an entirely different attitude. Instead of being afraid of getting into trouble, I could see myself saying, "I always say the right thing," and then waiting 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.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Power of Nice

My old-faithful Honda conked out last week, right outside my office at the end of a long day when I was leaving late.

I needed to leave in the morning for a meeting some distance away, so I arranged with the dealership to rent a car at a special rate for Honda customers. When I called the rental company, though, I had to jump through hoops to get the rate, including calling Honda again. When I called the car rental company again, I got a different person. I explained the what had happened and he surprised me by saying, "How does $30 a day sound?"

Since that was $5 lower than the price I was expecting, I said I was happy. He said he just wanted to make up for the trouble I'd gone through.

Later on, I thought of how little it took to turn the experience of customer service around. He could have just given me the right price, and the price he offered was only $5 less than that, but the gesture made all the difference.

A few days later, on Friday evening, I dropped by our village post office with some posters advertising a fundraising spaghetti dinner my work team and our church are organizing for this coming Saturday. Laurie, the woman who runs the post office was outside, sitting in the sunshine, having a smoke break. She goes to a Ukrainian Orthodox church in the village, and when she saw that the focus of the fundraiser was the needs of children with disabilities in the Ukraine, she said she'd put one up in her church too.

My next stop was up the road from the post office, where every Friday evening, the ladies of her church (St. Catherine's) sell pies at the side of the road as a fundraiser for their church. I intended to buy half the pies I needed for the spaghetti supper and help them with their cause at the same time. When I told the ladies why I was buying the pies, one of them said, "How many more do you need? We'll make them for you--our church will help your church!" So the ladies of St. Catherine's Ukrainian Orthodox Church are making us 5 more pies this week. Their spontaneous generosity made my day.

That evening, Paul and I decided to drive into town for supper at Cooke's Bay Fish and Chips. As we sat waiting for our fish and chips to arrive, I spotted a small bucket full of umbrellas. Above it was a cheery sign with a smiley face, that read, "Take one when it's raining and please bring back when it's sunny." Their trust in their customers was refreshing.

Just like one of those umbrellas, the warmth spread by the kind acts of the past week, will act like a shield against the odd puddle of negativity that may cross my path.

The Power of Nice.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Delight

The sound of the front door opening and voices in the hallway heralded visitors. The voices were feminine and cheery and Paul's voice was welcoming as they drew closer to the room at the back of the house, where I was.

To my surprise, there stood Jane and Barb, two friends from our cell group--but this was Tuesday, not Thursday and it looked as though they were on a mission.

We chatted briefly and then Jane said, "We came with a purpose."

"I thought so!" I said, greatly curious about what it might be. Jane was carrying a small zippered portfolio from which she was pulling something out.

"I brought you a gift," she announced; her whole being radiating joy in giving.

"It is one of a kind," and she handed me a letter sized laminated document and a smaller one the size of a recipe card.

I looked at the emblems that were duplicated on the cards and Jane asked me what I thought.

"I like the message," I said, feeling something, I didn't know what, as I looked at them.

"It's your coat of arms," she said, probably giving up on me ever catching on.

My coat of arms--the one I had described in my blog post of last Thursday,Taking Hills ; my coat of arms!

Jane's eyes danced with delight. I gasped with the realization that she had created this for me with clip art on her computer. I remembered last Thursday's cell group conversation when I had enthusiastically shared that the mental imagery of four quadrants had helped me to focus and described what they were. Jane had been listening attentively at the time, I thought. Now her loving gift had given me a visual image to keep the focus ever before me. It was absolutely perfect. I wrapped her in a grateful hug.

As I looked at the quadrants after she left, my eyes fell on the lower right hand corner, which declared, "Sabbath." Jane said it represented the care of the body that I had spoken and written about: getting sufficient rest, eating healthily and exercise. I found myself glancing at the evening sky outside. Yes, there was time for a walk before it got dark...my coat of arms was doing its work.


2 Corinthians 9:7 (Amplified Bible)
7Let each one [give] as he has made up his own mind and purposed in his heart, not reluctantly or sorrowfully or under compulsion, for God loves (He takes pleasure in, prizes above other things, and is unwilling to abandon or to do without) a cheerful (joyous, "prompt to do it") giver [whose heart is in his giving].

Monday, August 24, 2009

Village

By Belinda

The moving van that carried us with all of our belongings to our new home in the village of Alvechurch, came to a stop at 48 Bear Hill. I was almost 9 and Robert was just 6.

Upstairs there were three bedrooms and a bathroom. The room that was mine had pink wallpaper, covered with tiny rosebuds in a diamond pattern and the windows faced west towards the Lickey Hills and the sunset. My bed had a cast iron frame and bedstead, painted pink, with springs that squeaked with every movement.

Downstairs there was a kitchen and hallway with a red flagstone tiled floor, which either Dad or Mum would sweep and mop every day. The kitchen and living room both had fireplaces in which we burned coal. There was a flat roofed addition to the house on one side. It had a passageway, an outside washroom, a coal bunker and a room that Dad used for his tools and workbench.

The village was drenched in history and we arrived in it at a time in which it still felt like a microcosmic world. Parts of the church of St. Laurence that stood on the hill and overlooked our house, were over a thousand years old. We walked through the churchyard every day on our way to the small village school that had been built in the 1850's.

In my second of three years at the school, when I was ten, my teacher was Miss Harding, a woman with brooding, gentle, brown eyes and strong eyebrows. Her hair was parted on the side and was of medium length, chestnut brown and frizzily wild. I loved her.

One day that year, I was asked to go to the Headmaster, Mr. Lowe's office. A Dutch girl had come to the school and because I could speak Dutch, I was assigned to be her friend and help her as much as I could. Her name was Lisbet and her family had come to live in Alvechurch for a year. They lived on the Redditch Road in a lovely home, much bigger than our modest council house. I understood what it was to feel homesick and also how she must miss Holland. I think that's why my school report for that year noted that Belinda, "...has an unusual appreciation of human problems."


I spent much time with Lisbeth and her family. Her older sister Ann-Marie went to the nearby High School and I was shocked at the swear words she used liberally in her conversation. Mum had always erred on the side of caution. I once read the word "pesky" in a comic book and asked her what it meant. She said she didn't know, but it didn't sound nice and I shouldn't use it!

The school report for that year seems prophetic, as if in that child of ten, Miss Harding saw accurately the child who was and the woman I would be--a lover of literature and poetry, not so good with numbers, but an artist and lover of words.
Further down Bear Hill lay the village shops. Miss Twitty had a sweet shop at which the village children were frequent visitors. Her hair was cut in a short bob.She was thin and angular and seemed all boney shoulders and elbows. Her wiry body moved quickly.She had bought the shop in 1933 from the previous owners after taking it over in 1929 when they retired. She had her sitting room on the right hand side behnd the shop door and would emerge on hearing the ping of the bell attached to the top of the door. She worked at the shop for 34 years.

In the same row of shops was Gidley's haberdasher's shop, which I thought for many years was "Giggly's." There was Pretty's Bakery and the Post Office, as well as Turners the ironmonger and Onions the greengrocer. Mrs. Haynes had a shoe shop and became a friend of Mum's although I never heard them call eachother anything other than Mrs. Haynes and Mrs. Cater. At Christmas time she and Mum would have a glass of sherry to celebrate and then, as she often did, Mum would confide her troubles.

Mr. Dobin the milkman delivered the milk with a rattle of bottles in the early morning and Samuel Dedicoat was the coalman who would shake empty his sacks of coal into our coal house.

Across the road, before getting to the village, was a big field that sloped down towards a brook. No longer there, a housing estate is where we played for long hours in its long waving grass, or climbed the trees that hung over the brook. A holly tree became our look out post and a hedgerow was our playroom as three or four of us would find our way into the space inside it which was hollowed out, and play games of make believe.

Our parents were unhappy together. At night, their voices were arrows, piercing our hearts when we were in bed and maybe they thought we wouldn't hear. Mum would be crying, and Dad, loud and bellowing with anger. He was well known at the village pubs, a part of his life that Mum refused to share, so he went alone and they grew further apart. Alcohol made him nasty, argumentative and prone to irrational fits of rage. The tears would trickle down my cheeks and soak the pillow as I wished things were different.

At 11 I took the 11 Plus exam which decided whether you would go to a grammar school or a secondary modern school. I failed the exam, and so in September of 1961 I went to Bridley Moor Secondary Modern School, in Redditch. Somewhere in the school was a 14 year old boy named Paul Burston. Although we were there together for at least a year, we didn't meet for another 5 years...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Forty Years



By Belinda



Let the bells ring out again

Bringing loads and loads of cheer

To the celebrating pair

Praying that your love won't wane

But grow deeper year by year

In God's tender love and care

May your future brighter grow

In the joy that both can know

That the Eternal God doth reign

Rev. Ron .F. T. Burston (Paul's dad) August 23rd 1972 (3rd Wedding Anniversary)

Forty years ago today I was a nervous 19 year old, with hands that shook as they held a bouquet of yellow roses.

I have been celebrating, during the weeks leading up to this day, by remembering (and writing of course,) about some parts of our journey.

Our celebration of this milestone anniversary, has been unique to "us." We are very different in personality and what falls within each of our comfort zones. So as the day approached, we talked through how we were going to celebrate.

For me it was important to acknowledge the blessing of being together at all, and then for so long. I didn't need any fanfare or big party to do that; I only really needed one person. Every other acknowledgement would just be a blessing.

We discussed going away for the weekend together, but then we thought we would plan just a day away together. We talked some more and realized that what we both just really wanted to do was just be here, at home, together. So that's what we.ve been doing this weekend: "Being;" "at home;" "together," having celebrations with family and ejoying it very much.


Our 40 years together have held days of pain and shadow; as well as light and laughter. That we are here today is by God's grace and in spite of ourselves. I celebrate that.

John 9:3 (New International Version)
3..."but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Set Apart yet Close By

by Meg

Last time it was Niagara Falls; this time Algonquin Park. Another day away, another natural wonder. So many times we've driven through The Park, on the way to somewhere else, intent on making time on the journey, not oblivious to the beauty, but not having or taking the time to experience it.

Finally the day came, a day set apart for the purpose of exploring this amazing place, of finally venturing off the highway and into the wilds on either side. And it was made simpler and more special this first time by our friends...excited explorers who have walked all the trails but one, and many times at that.

Like experiencing The Falls I felt immersed: enveloped by miles of trees and all forms of ground cover, aware of the potential for hours of gazing and drinking in the glory of natural beauty, witness to the wonders of divine creation far surpassing any man-made wizardry.

Returning home sun-kissed and wind-blessed I pondered the difference between The Falls and The Park. Both are visited by millions of people. Both possess an ongoing capacity to fascinate and enthrall and absorb the attention of humankind. Yet here there is space to be part of the beauty without being overwhelmed by the people. Of course it helps that there is no city surrounding parts of The Park! Duh, Meg.

And that's really it. Before there was a chance for a city to grow up around its special wonders, The Park was set apart. The Falls got the city, the theme parks, the hotels, the casinos and restaurants, the endless tide of commercialism. The boundaries weren't drawn in time to preserve the wonder and direct the way attention would be given.

So here I go for the spiritual parallels again. Guess you could feel them creeping up on you. Intentionality in drawing boundaries, setting things apart for their special purposes, matching things in appropriate ways. I was jarred by the dissonance at Niagara Falls between natural stupendous creation and man made hideous cheap thrills. I didn't have to deal with that at Algonquin Park. The human creations were tastefully serving the natural creations, framing it and setting it off, enabling greater appreciation of it instead of exploiting it.

What are the lessons to learn more than just appreciation for the creation of national parks? How can we apply this to our own lives? How do we make choices for ourselves so that we can be integrated and resonant like the world surrounding The Park, instead of disrespectful and dissonant like the world surrounding The Falls ? How do we take what is most precious in our lives and preserve it by drawing boundaries and keeping it set apart and sacred? How do we hear God calling us to do that, to bring into balance and harmony our connection between ourselves and His wonders in our world and our lives?

I am grateful today for so much food for heart and soul, mind and spirit, as well as fresh air and exercise for my body, and a feast for my eyes. I have travelled to many places in the world. I have had many spiritual experiences. But today I have enjoyed communion with the Lord of lords in a fresh and deeply personal way just "around the corner" from my home.

We can find such places and moments in many ways and days in our lives. They may already be set apart, or we may draw those boundaries ourselves. Either way, God waits to speak to us through them, as we set ourselves and time apart to seek His face in their midst.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Update and Thanks

Thank you faithful friends who prayed for William and his mommy and daddy.

I hear that William is doing just fine and his mommy is doing very well too. They are still in separate hospitals, but Heather was getting a pass in order to go to William to breastfeed him, and tomorrow we pray that he can come to her hospital to stay until she is fully recovered.

Last night Susan and I had a quiet moment after cell group, and we read the Daily Light for William's birthday. The morning and evening both were wonderful, speaking of God's faithfulness, and the evening had these words, which were such a comfort:

Evening
If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.—“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”—“When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.”—“The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. And he thrust out the enemy before you.”

Prov. 24:10; Isa. 40:29; 2 Cor. 12:9; Ps. 91:15; Deut. 33:27;

In Your Father's Hands




This is a photo of our newest little grandson, William Patrick Douglas Stewart. He had a bit of a rough start. His mom laboured long and hard, but when it was evident he was going into distress, he was finally delivered by emergency c-section. I caught this photo of him through the nursery glass with his father's wedding-ringed hand reaching out to touch him.

Only a few hours old, little William was having trouble breathing, so they sent a team up from Sick Kids to assess him and decide whether he should be transferred to another hospital. Just now I got a text message from Andrew that reads simply...

"We need you to take care of Heather. I'm going to Southlake with William."

I texted back, "I'm on my way."

So little William is to be separated from his mom already, who loves him more than life. How hard that must be for her. But his father will be with him and that will be some comfort to her, I know.
As we four grandparents peeped through that nursery window this evening, my eyes weren't on the baby. I was watching my son, gazing at his son. It was a precious moment. A moment I will remember as long as I live.

God speed, little William. You are in your father's hands, and in your Father's hands. There's no safer place in the world to be...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Devoted

By Belinda

This little song that God gave me a while ago, and the scriptures and verse from the hymn, I the Lord of Sea and Sky (one of Mum's favourite hymns,) are precious to me and I pray that they will speak to you as they do to me today:

Leviticus 27:21 (New International Version)
21 When the field is released in the Jubilee, it will become holy, like a field devoted to the LORD;...

I long to be to you, my King
A field devoted to the Lord
For you my soul and spirit sing
For you my heart beats and I cling
To you alone

I long to have my heart ploughed deep
A field devoted to the Lord
The hardened clods of clay that sleep
Awoken, broken, in his keep
For him alone

Belinda, Feb. 2008

2 Chronicles 7:14 (New International Version)
14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

2 Chronicles 16:9 (New International Version)
9 For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.

I, the Lord of snow and rain
I have borne my people's pain
I have wept for love of them
They turn away
I will break their hearts of stone
Give them hearts for love alone
I will speak my word to them
Whom shall I send?

Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night
I will go, Lord, if you lead me
I will hold your people in my heart

(From the hymn by Daniel L Schutte)

Jeremiah 4:3-4 (New International Version)
3 This is what the LORD says to the men of Judah and to Jerusalem:
"Break up your unplowed ground
and do not sow among thorns.
4 Circumcise yourselves to the LORD,

circumcise your hearts,...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Taking Hills

It's not that my life is a battleground exactly, but I have found myself thinking a lot lately about the "taking of hills," which is military terminology, I think. I've actually found it a helpful mental image, as if ground gained is ground I want to keep and defend.

It might be, for instance, a pound lost in the battle of the bulge. Or it could be substituting a new habit for an unhelpful old one. Whatever small victory I have just won, on my mind's eye I see myself planting a flag on a hill with the a word or number to symbolize it.

My flags are decorated with my own coat of arms, with four quadrants, representing the four most important areas of my life. Distilling the important things down to four, for someone like me, is a very good thing and helps me develop focus. I can approach life like a book-aholic in a book store, intoxicated with the smell and feel of so many books, so many choices, and wanting to fill my shopping cart with far more than I could hope to read. Actually that metaphor is far too close for comfort. :)

In the top left hand quarter, is a picture of an open book, representing The Word. The Word is God, according to the first chapter of the gospel of John--God's revealing of himself to us, through the written page. Unless I am spending time soaking up the Word; pondering it, considering it and allowing God to speak to me through it, I am a pale shadow of what God intended me to be; a ghostly, sickly, substitute version of all that he intended.

In the top right hand quadrant there are people: my family and friends. I need daily solitude, but it is my springboard to healthy community. I thrive on relationship and love connecting with people.

The bottom left quadrant holds a feather quill and ink well. I could not live happily without writing. For me it is almost as though things become more real when I write about them. I feel compelled to record!

The bottom right quadrant represents investments in physical health such as exercise, healthy eating and intentionally resting and having down time. I have deep awe for the complex and beautiful thing that a body is. I want to care for it at least as well as I do my car--okay, maybe better. If you saw my car you would know what I mean.

Really, these four things are what are most important to me. From each of them flows everything else that is meaningful, as a sub category. For instance, although I love singing, it is very tied in with The Word. The words of old Wesleyan hymns were my first theology texts and it is what I am singing that makes me want to sing.

Knowing what my four priorities are, is helping me sort out what to say "no" to. There are good things that I would love to do, but there is only so much time and energy a person has access to. I am saving mine for my four things.

I'm curious. What are your four things, dear readers? And what hills are you taking?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Vote to be Counted

By Belinda

My friend Irene remembered this post from last October and we laughed about it last week. I hope you enjoy reliving this story about Brenda and "a vote to be counted."

It was cell group night and the big back room hummed with conversation and laughter as we shared a meal.

Around the big, oval table, there were three generations of our family, and friends who had gathered to do a study after supper.

Brenda was still dressed in a suit jacket and skirt as she hadn’t changed since coming home from work. She was animatedly telling a funny story from her day, when we heard the distant chime of the doorbell from the front of the house.

I opened the door to find a canvasser from one of the main political parties, holding a clipboard. A young girl that looked like she might be his daughter was with him. He wanted to verify the people he had on his list as residing in our home and also asked if we planned to vote in the upcoming election.

I quickly confirmed the names, and said that Paul and I would be voting.“What about Brenda?” he asked.“She doesn’t vote,” I said, sure that I remembered that from a recent conversation.

“Oh,” he said, with an understanding tone, “you mean she can’t get out any more; she’s an older person?”

“No,” I said, really wanting to get back to the group, “she can vote, but she just chooses not to.”

He looked down at his chart with furrowed brow, “I’m not sure how to record that,” he said, obviously disappointed. He scribbled something, said goodnight, and went off into the dark night, headed for one of our neighbours.

“Who was that?” Paul asked when I got back to the table.I repeated the conversation I’d had with the man at the door, and when I got to the part about Brenda not voting, she grasped the table with both hands, her eyes wide, and spluttered in staccato syllables, “What?! Democratic process! Important!”

I realized I’d made a mistake.“I’m so sorry, I was sure you’d said you weren’t voting! But quick,” I said, “you can probably catch them; they were headed for one of the neighbours, although I’m not sure which side.”

She jumped up; ran down the hall, through the front door, and out into the dark night in her business suit and heels, leaving all of us in the dust, laughing nervously at the vehemence of her reaction at my mistake.

She came back a few moments later, dishevelled but with a triumphant gleam in her eye. It turned out she’d spotted the canvasser at the neighbour’s door and hid behind the trees until they were done. Then she emerged from the dark shadows and cried, as she approached them, “I vote!”

Brenda said to the startled man, “I can’t believe that after 36 years, my mom doesn’t know that I vote!”“Did you give her a hard time?” he wanted to know, as he corrected his form; and she confirmed that she had.

While it unfolded like a scene from a crazy television situation comedy, I admit I was glad to discover that I was wrong, and that our daughter is passionate about voting, a right that was so hard won for women.The whole of North America is in pre-election fever, even Bond Head; and I can't help but think of the apostle Paul's words to the young Timothy.

1 Timothy 2:1-2 (New Century Version)1 First, I tell you to pray for all people, asking God for what they need and being thankful to him.2 Pray for rulers and for all who have authority so that we can have quiet and peaceful lives full of worship and respect for God.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Letter



By Belinda
The dog days of summer are here and it is a sultry, sunny afternoon after church as ten of us tuck in our chairs around our long, sturdy, pine dinner table. Three generations, eating pizza and salad, laughing, talking loudly and simultaneously, and glad in each other's company; celebrating this moment--the now.

Later, in a quieter moment, I show our daughter-in-law Sue, a letter written to Dad in 1956, by a man he met in Germany when he was there ten years earlier with the British Army of the Rhine, Ernst Moller, and we are transported back to an earlier generation of family and an enigmatic glimpse into connections with another time and place. The letter is a treasure.

If you, faithful readers, will forgive me jumping back in time in our journey, I will transcribe the letter for you. I think you will find it interesting:

Ernst Moller,
Hamburg-Bergdorf,
Reinbekerweg 77,
Forsthaus

12th February 1956

My dear Christopher,
I am sure it was one of the greatest and most agreeable surprises of my life when, on coming home from work one evening, it was the 17th of January, my wife told me that a clerk of the Bergedorfen town administration had inquired about me or my address and had left a letter behind for me to verify that I was the person wanted, i.e. Ernst Moller. Well, I was, and it hardly needed the enclosed photos to see that only you could have been the writer of that letter directed to the Burgermeister. I recognized you, as it were, at first sight, for I have not forgotten you, nor has my wife, and I have not forgotten the name of the place Stourbridge either, nor that must have had something to do with a school house and I flatter myself to remember your handwriting, having had a specimen of that about 10 years ago. To cut a long story short, we remember so well as if you had left Bergedorf only a short time ago, in fact, now and again, during all these years, we have been talking about you and the good time we had together and what might have become of you.

I meant to write you in answer to your letter to the Burgermeister, but as it happened, you anticipated me. So, first of all, let me thank you for your kind letter, which I got on February 2nd. You wrote you hoped I would receive it also with some degree of pleasure. I wish to tell you that I received with a considerable amount of pleasure. We are happy that you have made up your mind to write and thus re-established contact with us. We are still living at the Forsthaus, I am sure you will remember the place. We have nt yet got a home or separate apartment or a flat of our own, the housing problem over here being far from being solved. But apart from that, things have changed a good deal and I wonder if you would recognize Hamburg...or me or Betty. She is keeping well, still going strong. I am 52 now. Do you remember our two daughters? Erika is 19 and is cultivating the slim line, and "little" Ingeborg is 12, a cheeky brat and rather boyish. Dear me, it's 10 years since you left here and time has drawn a few more lines into our faces and endowed me with a little embonpoint.

You would love to see us again. Dear Chris, we should love to see you again. May I take it you are planning a visit to Hamburg and Bergedorf this year? You are welcome whenever you choose to come. Of course, you will be our guest, we think we can manage to accommodate you (a couch in the living room would do, wouldn't it?) You see, staying at a hotel or boarding house is likely to be too expensive. So if you won't mind staying at our humble and somewhat restricted and noisy place (in the ground floor is a pub or restaurant again) it's quite all right. But I would like to suggest, if you can manage of course, to come not before spring-time. Things will look brighter then, the days will be longer, nature at its best, you no longer need a winter coat etc. At the time being we are at grips with a hard winter, a cold spell is giving us much trouble.

Please, give me a rough outline of your intentions, of when you think to come (say April or May or June or later) and for how long. If I can manage I shall then take a day or two off or even get part of my holidays, so I can show you over Hamburg and the docks, now in full swing again, and our surroundings, and I am sure we shall have a grand time. And of course, there will be no end of asking questions and telling and talking; you remember we always enjoyed a good chat on any subject.

Excuse the delay in answering your letter, but I could not find the time and leisure to write you a letter in understandable English as I hope this one will turn out to be.

I am still working as a designing engineer in the dock district of Hamburg and that is a good distance from Bergedorf so that much of my spare time will be already taken up by covering the way and in the evenings there is always a lot to do at home.

Are you still single?

Thank you once more, my wife and Erika and Ingeborg join me in kind regards and best wishes for your health. We are looking forward to seeing you again.

Yours faithfully,
Ernst Moller

I enclose the letter from the Burgermeister and your photograph

*************************************************************
I don't know if Dad ever replied to Ernst Moller's letter. He certainly never went back to Hamburg. It is interesting that he apparently had made no mention of being married, or having a family in his letter to Ernst, but perhaps his letter was brief and to the point, merely trying to establish contact with an old friend. So many questions, to which the answers can only be imagined. I wonder who Ernst was; how they met and what their relationship was. I wonder if in Ernst and Betty, Dad found the parent figures he really never had.

Dad showed me the letter for the first time, in 2002, just months before he died. I found it again when I went back to help sort out his few papers after his death.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Secret Admirer





By Belinda
A secret admirer--that's what I was when I took the two pictures of a very young Paul. He was just 19 then, and working on a church we were building in Redditch. Note, I only took photos of his back. I was much too shy to boldly take one from the front. And he had no idea how besotted with him I was.

I still love taking photos when he isn't looking, like the one of him above, digging in the garden with our granddaughter Victoria.

43 years have past since the first two photos were taken, but at 62 years old now, Paul spent this morning and several days over the past couple of weeks, working alongside a bunch of men, women and some of the youth at our church; digging, carrying bricks, and laying interlocking stone. They have been building a ramp so that the church will be accessible and a beautiful garden walled garden. Things haven't changed much in 43 years. He works hard and pushes his body beyond exhaustion when he has set his mind to a goal.

I am thankful that God saw fit all those years ago, to answer my prayers and promote me from secret admirer to wife, so that I could give up stalking him, camera in hand. I love this man who digs in the dirt with children, and who spends his life on making things better for others. Yes, I am so very grateful.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Explore the Roar

by Meg


We paid our admission to the Maid of the Mist and got into line with hordes of people at Niagara Falls. Complimentary postcards were thrust into our hands: Explore the Roar they said. A proclamation and a challenge. We were in for a little adventure. Since 1846 these little boats had been providing a thrill for those seeking to get a little closer to the greatest source of electrical power in the world. We were in for a roar all right. And a soak, I thought, as we donned our large blue ponchos, ready to look like oversize versions of those bags they put flyers in to throw them into our driveways.


Friendly line-mates compared Niagara thrills with us, agreeing this was the best. "There's a moment", this Kilimanjaro climber excitedly proclaimed, " when it really feels like you are coming into the presence of God". That's it! I thought. That's why we do things like this. We want a memorable experience that takes us closer to the author of natural wonders, something that takes us out of ourselves and reminds us of our smallness in the face of creation.


Satisfyingly soaked, we smiled our way on the elevator ride back up to the souvenir shop and hunted for a hot cup of tea. Another line for that, with another friendly person. A worker for the Midway rides, she enthusiastically recommended some sites to round out our day. I politely listened, then gratefully took our Earl Grey bags in cardboard and water to a table by the window overlooking the park. Our next destination, for a rest on a bench until the drops of rain started. What a blessing amid Midway madness, strange creatures glaring at us from atop buildings and peeping from doorways and windows, that there were flowers, benches, grass, sanity and peace in the midst of the competition with Mother Nature for first prize in thrills.


Why should we need more than the roar of the Falls? Drenching from its spray and a confrontation with our vulnerability in its wake? Recognition that without the motor power and the soundness of that small craft we would be bobbing (if we were lucky) on the water or sucked under by the current?


Recalling Aslan's roar and realizing how easily we underestimate God's power, I contemplated our spirituality, our church life, our Christian events. What do they resemble? Are they like the Falls, the spray, the roar, in their (super)natural wonder and magnificence? Are they even like the natural serenity of the park, the trees, the flowers, the grass, the unhurried quiet away from busyness? Or are they like cheap thrills ( or not so cheap) - Ripley's Believe It or Not, wax replicas of real people, cheesy imitations of real beauty, the list goes on. Do we try to dish out "spiritual" experience like souvenirs, T shirts stamped "Been there..done that..."? You know the deal. What's the "take home" from church/prayer time/worship for you/me? What are we looking for?

And could we say, as with Niagara Falls, that we get what we look for? That finding the "real thing" is only for those who really want it? That there are lots of substitutes beckoning to us all the time..so near, and yet, needing a search, a definitive choice, a saying no sometimes in order to say yes.

If we want to explore the roar, if we want to taste the peace afterwards, we may need to be sure, be ready, and be willing to be satisfied with nothing but the real thing.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Does It Matter?

by Susan

I approach the restaurant in the gathering dusk, grateful to be grabbing a couple of hours away from our crazy lifestyle while Ron and I calmly, and quietly reconnect. Someone else is doing the cooking and cleaning up the dishes tonight. Hallelujah.

I was careful to notice all kinds of details around me, things I would mostly have normally ignored. How many cigarette butts around the front door? Was all the signage properly lit? Were the windows clean? How long, in seconds, did it take the hostess to seat us? Did the server put down the prescribed napkin on the table and did she tell us her name as she greeted us? Did she mention all of today's specials? How long did it take for our drinks to arrive at the table after ordering? Were they the proper temperature and appealing in their presentation? Were there any lights burnt out in the dining room? Was there any kitchen staff in the dining room? Was it apparent which of the employees was the manager? Was the server wearing the correct uniform head to toe, including an apron with the restaurant logo and black lace-up shoes?

I love that kind of thing and being so particular did not take away from the enjoyment of our evening one bit. Between noting the efficiencies of the server (or lack thereof), checking the washrooms , and evaluating the quality and taste appeal of the food, we talked, and enjoyed each others' company, as we always do when we're together. (Well, almost always. :) ) When we arrived home, I went onto the computer and reported in detail on our experience in the restaurant. Because that is what mystery shoppers do. And sometimes - I am a mystery shopper.

It's a fun way for us to get to eat out for free. There's a bit of adventure involved, too, a bit of acting since part of the job requires getting the name of the manager and other bits of information without giving away the underlying purpose of our visit. I'm always up for a bit of adventure.

It is pure pleasure to go back and report on a job well done. Not only do I actually like filling out forms, but it's just as much fun for me to be able report on poor service and know that my observations will reach the right ears and actually make a difference.

Our youngest son, Joel, works in the restaurant business and has given us a bit of insight as to what it's like from the other side of the restaurant (so to speak). He says he's always received good marks.

I don't think of it as a job. It's a hobby, really, as it requires only a few hours a month, and I barely make enough to cover my expenses. Neither do I think of it as "spying" on anyone, as much as being a part of the process of improvement of a product and service.

I've often been tempted to blow my cover. It's hard not to tell a server that you are going to be reporting on what a good job she's done when the service has been excellent and you have enjoyed every minute of your visit. It's just as tempting not to inform a slow, inefficient and irresponsible server that you're going to be reporting on his or her actions, too. It is a test that they don't even know they're going through. And its purpose is to evaluate what they're doing well, and what, if anything, they can do to improve their service thereby giving people better value for their restaurant dollar. I often wonder how the actions and attitudes of those restaurant personel might be different if they knew I was about to report on every detail of their service to me tonight?

I wonder how many mystery shoppers I've been evaluated by today? How many people and situations has God sent into my life in order to test what I've said and to try my intent to follow through. How have I been at replacing my ways with his ways? I can't help drawing the parallels. Have I been tried and proven true? Or have I been tried and shown to be needing adjustments still in my character and attitudes?

How easy it is to lose sight of this, but everyone in our lives is a "mystery shopper", really. Everything we do counts for time and eternity. Today someone blocked me in at a gas station and instead of driving out, I had to make a complicated maneuver to get extricate my car from the parking lot. Did it matter that I assigned a very quiet, yet uncomplimentary description to the driver of that other car even though she wasn't able to read my lips? Did it matter that I stopped to encourage someone today, setting aside my own agenda in order to encourage her through a very difficult time in her life?

Does it matter? Does it really make a difference? You bet it does.

Lord, help me see everyone along my path as a mystery shopper who is representing you. Help me to make the difference that you want me to make by learning to submit to your ways, setting my own ways aside. Help me know it matters. It all matters...

Serious Parenting

From Belinda's Archives

I lounged in a comfortable, wing back chair in our big sunny room at the back of the house, chatting with my brother on the phone. As usual, we laughed a lot.

“It’s good to look to a funny side of things if you can,” said Robert. Reflecting on the past, he said,“I always took myself too seriously.”

I’d been sharing a funny conversation that I’d had with some friends the week before. We were talking about how much has changed in one generation, when it comes to bringing up children.We remembered the amount of freedom kids had a few years ago. We would leave the house in the morning and maybe drop back in for lunch; or maybe not. Nobody worried too much. Parents knew that you were with friends and would come home eventually.

Someone said that his mother used to lock him out of the house. As people compared notes, it seemed that this was not an uncommon practice! One person after another said, “Yes, my mother did that too.” Some mothers did it to clean the house; other mothers did it to keep it clean. Kids would press their faces up against the windows and beg, “Mom, please can I come in?” all to no avail.

A friend told me that if she got sent home sick from school, her mother wouldn’t let her in. “You’re not sick, go back to school,” she would say.

Marc, who looked to be the youngest in the group, grew up on a farm. He said that if he or his siblings misbehaved, they had to do the laundry—on a washboard in the ash tub.

Robert and I remembered the torture we went through because laughter was not allowed at the dinner table. This rule of course, is almost guaranteed to produce uproarious and uncontrollable laughter.

Our parents (mainly Dad,) would say strange things to us, like, “Don’t answer back.” I mean, aren’t we supposed to answer back?

“Don’t contradict,” was always a puzzle to me. How were we to tell our parents when they were wrong?

And of course we frequently heard that, “Children should be seen and not heard.” It’s hard to imagine parents telling their children that today.

I said to Robert that there we were, a reasonably well adjusted group of people, in spite of everything.

Robert said, “Apart from a few twitches, and the fact that when someone raised their hand to scratch his head, everyone ducked,” and we laughed.

It is the grace of God that children, the most vulnerable and precious gift imaginable, entrusted to untrained and very inept grown ups, turn out as they do. As parents we can take very little of the credit and can only be grateful.

Psalm 127:3-5 (New International Version)
3 Sons are a heritage from the LORD,children a reward from him.4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth.5 Blessed is the manwhose quiver is full of them...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Challenge

By Belinda

Sometimes God speaks on many levels, driving home a message loud and clear. Sunday morning was one of those times.

Before I left for church I read a blog post written by my friend Dave Hingsburger, in which he wrote in frustration about the deification of a soccer player:

What makes him a God?
According to the women interviewed: he's hot.
According to the men interviewed: he's rich.
Yeah, that's what I want in my God. I have need of a cute guy who can kick balls with incredible accuracy when I'm in the depths of despair. Yeah, I really want a God, who looks good in ripped jeans when I'm struggling to make it through my day.
How shallow have we become?


His question, "How shallow have we become?" challenged me. I get so caught up in trivia and forget the truly important.

I was singing on the worship team that morning and got to church early for our practice. Frances, my friend who is also on the team, said she'd been thinking about the Marvin Gaye song, I Heard it Through the Grapevine, and how apt it would be to change the word "guy" to "god." It fit my train of thought about Dave's post.

Ooh, I bet you're wondering how I knew
About your plans to make me blue
With some other god that you knew before.
Between the two of us
You know I love you more...


Our worship team leader, Cheryl, wanted to practice a song that was new to us: Revelation Song. We'd never sung it before but as we did, we were captured by the power of the lyrics and the beauty of the melody. We managed to learn it well enough to include it and it was the last song in the service before Pastor Dave spoke.

Pastor Dave's sermon was inspiring and challenging, from Philippians 3:13-14, on single mindedness and passion.

Philippians 3:13-14 (New International Version)
13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

He also referred to Matthew 21:28-32, the story of the two sons whose father asked them to go and work in the vineyard. One refused, but later did; and the other said he would, but didn't. "Which of the two was obeying his father?" Jesus asked, as he challenged those listening, saying that the prostitutes and hated tax collectors would go into the Kingdom before them, because they responded to John the Baptist's call to repentance.

Again, I checked my faithless heart. In the story of the two sons, which one am I more like? I am quick to respond, but often lack follow through.

The beautiful song we sang that morning, Revelation Song, by Kari Jobe, drew all of us back to a place of worship as we sang words that painted a picture of his awesome majesty and beauty.

Through all of the words I read, conversations, and the sermon that morning, God's Holy Spirit wooed my heart back to where it belongs...to him alone. I pray that you are as blessed as we were, as you listen to the song.



Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Start of a New Chapter




By Belinda

We lived for a year in a room at the back of the Old School House where Dad grew up, in Hagley with my grandmother Lucy, just down the road from the house that had been ours for the previous 3 years.

When we moved to Alvechurch at the end of that year, we left behind the beautiful Clent Hills, through which we often walked with Dad. He had known the hills from boyhood. Sometimes Robert and went into the woods with our friends. Although we were strictly forbidden to go beyond a certain two trees that Mum could see from the window, of course we did. The hills held secret places like the Temple of Theseus, the first accurate copy of a Greek building in England. We just called it "the temple." There was also a "ruined" castle. Although both of these were meant to look ancient, they weren't really, but still, they were 200 years old--not that we knew anything of that at the time.

Once, while in the woods with Robert and some friends, I took off my shoes and waded into a pond covered with huge lily pads. My legs parted the cool, green water as I strode out into it, until I put my foot forward again--and could not feel the bottom. I stepped back to safety, but forever after I had the sense that I was protected that day by a guardian angel, who saw to it that I didn't take another step. I couldn't swim and would have drowned. I had dreams of my guardian angel. He had long robes and a halo, just like the stained glass depictions of angels in the parish church. No doubt I kept him busy.

We also left behind the field where we played for many happy hours, with the winding path that led to Hagley Hall and the old church of St. John the Baptist, with its tall steeple. In that field I walked and talked to God. I just knew he was there and since I was very shy and had no close friends, he was my closest friend and confidante.

We attended the Sunday School at St. John the Baptist briefly. It was the church in which Dad had sung in the choir as a boy and he took us there sometimes. My one memory of the Sunday School is being cast in the role of the father, in a play that we were rehearsing based on the story of the prodigal son. I had to stand in the pulpit and look off into the distance, shading my eyes, looking for my "son" to come home. Unfortunately I could not stop giggling and that was the end of my amateur dramatic career. Robert's one memory is dropping the basket of eggs that someone gave him to carry up the aisle of the church in the Harvest Festival.

Behind the church was a cricket field, with a club house, and where, on lazy summer afternoons, we would watch the cricket match. The cricketers wore white flannel trousers, sweaters, shin pads and white cricket caps. We would sit on the big, slightly rusted, metal lawn roller that was used to keep the cricket pitch smooth, as we watched.

In the spring of 1959, Mum, Robert and I traveled in the back of the big moving truck, with our furniture, to the council house on Bear Hill that was to be our new home. Dad rode there on his motor bike. The truck rumbled along, taking us further away from Hagley with every bump and roll. We had lived there for 4 years—which feels like forever to a child.

We had left behind something else that was precious: our cat, Molly, who I loved. I don't know why we didn't bring her with us, but I missed her terribly and I cried for her often. Fortunately I didn't know her fate until years later when I learned that she had been shot one day when she had an accident in the house. I would have been heartbroken.

Although homesick for Hagley, I had no idea then what a wonderful place God had brought us to. Of all the places we could have found a home, we were blessed to be in Alvechurch.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Snow Day in Summer







By Belinda

It was a strangely hot day, in a summer that has been unusually cool. I wanted to take my golden boy for a walk, but as I left at 7.00 in the evening, Paul warned me not to go as far as usual--there was a severe weather warning in effect.

We set out, walking quickly. I thought that if I could just make it to the park and back, that would be a good run for both of us. I noticed the hush and the heat, and the darkening clouds overhead, but kept going. I had an umbrella in case the rain hit before we got home.

As we approached the park I felt reassured by the row of cars parked along the edge of the green. It meant a soccer game was going on. But as I got closer I realized that no one was on the field and the cars were pulling out, one by one. They were more sensible than I.

I turned around as lightning flashed and thunder rumbled ominously. As we raced for home the first drops fell and I raised my umbrella. Seconds later the rain had progressed from drops to shower, to sheets blown horizontally by a wind that had come from nowhere. I was wet, but Molson was drenched, and he shook himself every few minutes, as if to ensure saturation of his human friend.

We arrived just as Paul, with a very stressed face, was at the door with car keys in hand, about to go and look for us.

The power was out and as the thunder cracked up above, Paul said we should head for the basement apartment. He'd spotted a funnel cloud and didn't want to take any chances.

We watched and listened, as the full fury of the storm vented itself. I put a towel on the couch and Molson hopped up beside me, his fur damp even though I'd toweled him off. He got as close as he possibly could. He doesn't like storms.

Later, when the storm was dying down, we ventured outside to survey the damage. Trees were down and the wind had rearranged anything not tied down and some things that were. We heard siren's that stopped nearby. The road through Bond Head was blocked at each end by trees that had fallen on hydro wires. The storm was an unruly visitor, leaving behind a mess.

When Tiffany-Amber and Victoria arrived home from their dad's, we were looking after them until later in the evening, so they snuggled up, one on each side of me on the couch, and I read to them, by the light of a candle and a camping lantern, from Tiger Rising by Kate di Camillo. At the end of every short chapter I paused and waited for the eager, "Another chapter, please," until at last, Tiffany-Amber said, "Done!"

We went to bed in a house silent, with no hum of appliances. Outside, the dark was deep, with no light in sight. We all hoped for hydro in the morning.

Morning came but hydro didn't. There was no hot water, but there was water--I was grateful for that. I washed quickly and got ready for the day. It was a vacation day that I planned to use for much needed organizing and cleaning in our house--an ongoing project. Paul ventured into the outer world--the nearby town of Bradford, where the power was on--and returned bearing toasted bagels and steaming cups of coffee--an unexpected treat that seemed utterly delicious.

Later I went to Newmarket for lunch with my friend Irene. I came home with supplies of more battery operated lanterns and a coleman burner, resigned to at least another 24 hours before power came back on as our next door neighbour had said it could be two days.

As I walked through the door though, I heard the hum of air conditioning. We had power! It had come back on at noon.

It is amazing how 16 hours without hydro can make you appreciate it when you have it again. I turned on the tap and marveled that hot water came out. I turned on the dishwasher full of dirty dishes and of course, I put on the kettle for a cup of tea!

Thank you, those who worried about what might have happened to me, and to Susan, for putting up the message after we talked on the phone. As she said, this felt like a snow day in summer.

Today's Family Story is coming. It'll be there for tomorrow. Blessings and love!

No Post?!!

Hi Everyone,

Let me first of all assure you that Belinda is okay this time. No emergency surgery or anything like that. It's just that Bond Head, where Belinda lives and writes from, is one of those places that lost its electrical power in the thunderstorm last evening. I just spoke to her. She asked me to let everyone know that all is well. She has a day off today and no doubt her regular "Monday" blog will be up as soon as that power goes back on.

I think it's kind of cool that we've been talking about "sabbath" at our cell group on Thursday nights and comparing it to having a snow day - when everything quiets down and all the activity ceases. Well, it's not a snow day, exactly, (about as far from it as you can get, weather-wise!) but the power is out - no television, no computer, no cooking. It must be summertime's substitute for that snow day.

Happy Sabbath, Belinda!

Susan.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Hope Springs Eternal

Tonight I am feeling very tired, so I am posting one of Susan's posts, from March last year. Enjoy! I did.

by Susan Stewart

The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. Ecclesiastes 1:6

I like surprises. So I don’t usually bother with listening to weather reports. I do enjoy listening to people talk about the weather, though. Especially during our Canadian winters. I almost always chuckle to myself when someone complains about the snow and cold. What do people expect living here in the Great White North?Well, my philosophy is to expect nothing. Not before May 1st, anyway. I don’t look for spring until it is long past due, and you know what? I’m never disappointed. In fact, every upturn in the mercury feels like an unexpected – and undeserved – blessing.

Last night late, as I left my car by the laneway and walked tired up the long sidewalk toward our old farmhouse, I felt a strange and unexpected sensation. Out of the darkness, the wind was blowing soft and gentle on my face. It seemed a stark difference to the biting cold that has been nipping at us all this winter long.

Spring is definitely, if barely, in the air. Last night, even though a cold white blanket of snow still covered the darkened earth in my view, I could feel its promise in the gentleness of the wind and I could actually smell its coming sweetness. The memory lingers this morning as I write. I am finding myself, long before it’s really due, with everyone else, hoping for spring to come soon.

The rhythm of the seasons speak to us of God's faithfulness. We hope for spring because it's always come. Our hope is based on what we have experienced and know to be true and our hearts are quickened by the hints we see of the promise to come. A receding snowbank. A dripping icicle growing smaller by the hour. A bare patch appearing in the garden on the south side of the house, where a few snowdrops unfurl the earliest gifts of spring. Soon we will be looking for the crocuses, then tulips, daffodils, and hyacinth, soon followed by summer in all it's glory.

I've walked down some difficult pathways in the last few years, and I'm learning to remember, in what is sometimes the dead of winter in my soul, and in my circumstances, that spring will surely come. We often pray, "Let your kingdom come, Your will done, here on earth, just like it is in heaven." I don't think that's just talking about the end of the age, but also the here and now. In our lives, winter passes, spring returns. His kingdom comes, his will is done more and more as our lives in him unfold. In the midst of the difficult circumstances, we can't see what God is doing beneath the snow of our hearts, and in the hearts of others, but he is getting things ready, allowing things to mature perfectly, waiting to be gloriously revealed with his perfect timing.

At the very beginning of the book of Titus, Paul says that we have "...a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at his appointed season he brought his word to light...”

Come again, into the difficult circumstances of our lives, into the unlovely places in our hearts, Lord Jesus, come and bring your Word to light. Melt our hearts, reveal your glory in our midst. Even so, come, Lord Jesus, come...

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Real Wealth

by Meg

I've been hearing, reading, and talking a lot about wealth lately. When I was preparing for my garage sale last week I listened to a CBC program about money and happiness, and the correlation or lack of between the two. A famous Canadian Christian multibillionare said he was no happier or less happy than he was when he began his business, and still lives in the same house he had back then. A saliva test survey discovered that many people who have more money show much more of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva. They also feel guilty about their wealth. Longstanding Christian friends who visited recently were expressing concern about how the prosperity gospel is creeping into a movement they had formerly respected. Their summation of that gospel was that one gives to get something for oneself, to get more - the actual epitome of a worldly mindset that is against the true giving, freedom from care attitude of Jesus and His followers.

There were a number of years in my young adult life when I sought to live the Christian life by avoiding wealth as I understood it and so remaining not only poor monetarily, but poor in terms of living out my talents and gifts and relationships in the fulness I believe God intended. Now as I prepare for later years and take stock of all I have learned and experienced, I find myself needing fresh input and insight. As I prepare to coach others, I am a learner myself.

My Life Coaching homework and lessons this week were about wealth and mindset. There, in the secular foundational course book we use and then discuss from a Christian point of view, was a wonderfully stated position about wealth. It made me realize that I, as a person who has always despised wealth in many forms, sought to work for the poor and underprivileged, and continued to be frugal no matter what my net worth, discovered that, in light of the course material's parameters, I really have a poverty mindset in many ways. Not about monetary wealth, but about any kind of wealth. And that in having such a mindset I can easily be displaying a very worldly way of being - which is worrying about not having enough, believing I don't or won't have enough, and so remaining in a place that is out of sync with a truly Christian worldview. (I can imagine I am actually in 'good' company with many Christians, for the body of Christ is rather skewed in its attitudes in many ways.)

In our text ( Becoming a Professional Life Coach) by Patrick Williams and Diane Menendez can be found these nuggets of wisdom and truth:

A real sense of personal wealth comes from knowing that we always have a reserve of whatever resource we're focused on. (p.269)

Real wealth comes from experiencing more than enough of whatever is at issue. (p. 270)

Scarcity is simply a habitual way of thinking...and robs clients of the ability to feel appreciation for the abundance they do have in many areas of their lives. (p.276)

We focus on the importance of having a sense of abundance - a reserve of sense of wealth - in key areas: relationship (or love), time, vision, money, career and contribution. (p.276)

Sometimes clients discover that in order to create a true sense of wealth for themselves, they need to simplify. For example, they may discover that to create a wealth of time, they need to have a smaller house with a smaller yard to mow. (p.277)

These expanded views have helped me get out of the box in thinking about wealth. They are new companions along the journey to gaining a truer understanding of what abundant living as a Christian is really meant to be, to examining my assumptions and those of others about what it means to have the mind of Christ and a truly Christian worldview.

Let us not be afraid to receive truth, a wealth of truth, from many sources, and to trust in the abundance of understanding in seeing that all truth is God's truth. That is indeed wealth available for us all, as we prayerfully engage in life in all its fulness.

But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. ( Phil. 4:9 KJV)

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to his power that is at work within us. (Eph. 3:20)

Friday, August 07, 2009

There is No Condemnation

by Susan

"Can I have a sleepover?"

Those are words that are sweet to my ears. To me, they mean that one of my grandsons next door knows that his Mommy'sMum's house, just down the laneway, is a welcome place for him, a place he feels safe enough to sleep over at without his parents being in the same house.

I decided a long time ago that I wanted our home to be a "haven" to our grandchildren. I wanted to cultivate a place where each one felt safe to be exactly who God made them to be, where they could be comfortable in their own skin because everyone around them is comfortable with them too. I wanted it to be a place free from criticism, where they always felt like they were understood, or at least a serious attempt was being made to hear and to understand.

I'm not sure I've always succeeded with that ideal, but sometimes I think we've come close. Like this morning...

Mike and Beth (the parents of those boys next door) are borrowing our camper for two weeks later this month for a family vacation to P.E.I. Before heading east, they felt it prudent to spend some time getting comfortable, not only driving with a trailer behind them, but also getting familiar with putting it up and down and getting the boys accustomed to sleeping in it. So last night they came to get the trailer, drove it around the block a few times and then parked it down the laneway at a spot in their yard about halfway between the two houses, where they went about learning to set it up.

Anticipation was high amidst the boys, and the excitement was difficult for each of them to contain. Before long the tent was ready and the boys were making trips back and forth to the house to brush their teeth, get pyjamas on, and bring out their sleeping bags.

I must admit I was surprised when Mikey, at the last minute said, "Mommy'sMum, can I have a sleepover?" My goal is to never say "no" to those kids - at least not unless I have a very good reason. What kind of a "haven" would it be, if you couldn't count on being accepted in? And Mikey, who will be nine in September, has proven himself to be very responsible and easy to have around. He knows the house rules and he keeps them very diligently. (There are only four: "No food out of the kitchen", "no fighting or you go home", "speak to your grandparents with respect", and "clean up your own messes". Sweet and simple. It wasn't hard to say, "Sure - if it's okay with your Mom and Dad."

A few minutes later we were cuddled up on the couch together, with Mikey peering over my shoulder as I opened the last emails of the day on my laptop and checked into Facebook. He became heavier and heavier as he leaned into my right arm, and before long, he was fast asleep. I extracted myself and tucked a pillow under his head and a comforter around his little body before going upstairs to bed myself.

This morning I woke up early. Mikey was still asleep on the couch as I gathered my things and prepared to leave the house in time to keep an 8:30 appointment. At the last minute it dawned on me that I should go in to tell him that I was on my way so he woulddn't wake up and wonder if I was still there or not.

I leaned over the couch and tousled those golden curls. Mikey looks like an angel - but he's not, if you get my drift. It's hard to tell that, though when he's sleeping. As I gazed down at him, my heart turned within me, as it always does, and once again, as always, I was filled with pure love.

Mikey was sound asleep and had a hard time responding to my voice. "I'm leaving for work now, buddy. When you wake up, Auntie Jorie and Uncle Dave are here. You can crawl in with one of them, or go out to the tent where your dad is." I kissed him on the forehead as he squirmed, and yawned, and wriggled himself into semi conciousness. He nodded his head and shook himself from head to toe, even though his eyes were still closed. As I stood up to leave, he suddenly opened his eyes and sat up, holding both arms out wide.

"Big hug before you go." he said. There was no question in his mind but there would be a response on my part, and he was absolutely right, of course. We wrapped our arms around each other and hugged - hard. I tucked him back in under the covers and headed for the door, filled with so much gratitude. It's hard to imagine how much joy just one child can bring to a grandmother's heart. And that all ten of my grandchildren live within ten minutes of my house, and half of them right next door, is blessing beyond comprehension.

I was thinking as I left the house. I thought about how Mikey didn't sit up on the couch and list all the things he'd done wrong the day before and ask my forgiveness before he stretched out his arms to hug me. I wouldn't have wanted him to do that. In that moment, it was our relationship of love and mutual acceptance that was important, and that was all. That doesn't mean there isn't a time for correction on my part, and confession and asking for forgiveness on his, but I wouldn't want him to approach me all the time with complete awareness of his shortcomings that come between me and him.

I wonder if that is how God feels when I approach him. Instead of resting in his love and provision for me, and leaning into relationship (hugging him first), I have always tended to approach him with a profound sense of my shortcomings along with a long list of confessions. "Lord, I'm sorry about this, and please forgive me for that. And that. And this, and this, and that."

When Ron comes home from work at night, I don't ask him to please confess everything he might have done wrong today before we can talk. He knows he's "pre-forgiven". If he overspent some money, or forgot to mail a letter, or had some thoughts he shouldn't have, I don't want to hear about that first. I'm just glad he's home. I want a hug and I want to hear how his day is going. I want relationship. That doesn't mean that later on we won't need to talk something through and that there isn't a place for confession and forgiveness and growing in grace and forgiveness together. That's part of relationship too - but perhaps not what should come first.

Of late, as I have approached Father in the deepest silence of my heart, I have willed to come to him resting in his goodness, sure of the efficacy of his shed blood - with all my sin, weaknesses and short-coming covered by his shed blood. "It is finished", he said on the cross. My sin is dealt with.

Please don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that there is no place or need to ask forgiveness and to repent, or, in repentance, to purposefully turn away from my ways in order to embrace His, but I am beginning to think that God would prefer us to come as we are, and then let him sort out the "stuff" later if there is any stuff to sort out.

I think that's a big key when it comes to silent communion with God. Accept his love and forgiveness at face value. Give your dad a hug. Receive one back. And leave the confession for at least another phase or two...

Romans 8
Life Through the Spirit
1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,[a] 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature,[b] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.[c] And so he condemned sin in sinful man,[d]