Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gifts in Strange Packages

By Belinda

God had been all over our coming to Maplewood Lodge in the beginning when we bought a house in the dark that I hated when I saw it in the light. It made me open to the opportunity of living elsewhere and doing something radically different to being a stay at home mom. So we rented out the house we owned and moved into a farmhouse on two acres of land that was home to ten, and later twelve, men with disabilities.

I did stay at home, which was always what I wanted to do when we had children, but it was "home" with a twist and just included a few extra people!

I said to someone in recent weeks, "Sometimes God gives gifts in strange packages." I have found it so! Often when I have been disappointed by a turn of events I wonder if God is secretly trying to give me a gift (if only I would stop wallowing in self pity and a bad attitude, and recieve it.)

When we did that incredibly naive job of buying a house in 1974, we had no idea that it was how God would get us to the next place in our lives.

Our children grew up on the farm with rosy cheeks and the wind in their hair as they climbed old trees and looked out across fields of waving corn--corn that whispered and creaked if they walked in it and listened. They awoke to mornings when the mist rolled across the fields until the sun burnt it off and the breeze sighed tales of summers past. In the field ran a creek into which Jeff, one of their friends, fell everytime he came over to play. He was a very precocious child, a sort of mathematical genius, but not good around water. They played in the long cupboards that ran the length of the house beneath the roof, and in winter they tobogganed for hours down the hill out back. I only found out after the fact that they had also played in the old barn on the property, leaping from upper floors in the old and dangerous building. Thank the Lord for guardian angels!

But as the 1970's turned into the 1980's, we heard of plans to close Pine Ridge, the institution where Paul worked. It is hard now to believe this, but we had mixed feelings about the planned closure. In fact I even wrote a letter to the local paper, expressing my belief that for some people, the institution had the support system needed for their complex needs--a point of view that I would hear years later from parents when other institutions closed. By that time I was able to reassure them that even for those with complex needs, life is better on the outside of an institution.

By 1983, the planning for the closure was well underway. Paul was in upper management at the institution by then, and helping to facilitate the closure by connecting with outside agencies who might offer homes and support to the people moving back to the community.

Within the institution there was great tension as staff adjusted to the thought of huge change coming into their work life. Everyone was guaranteed another government job, but it would mean a different location and different job.

We, too, wondered what would become of our home. We were praying about it and knew that God had a plan; but he never sees fit to reveal his plans too far ahead of time. Up until then we had been supported by an interdisciplinary team at Pine Ridge. We had access to behaviour management; health services; recreation department and vocational services. We needed to decide what to do when Pine Ridge closed.

Some options we considered, explored and prayed about were: coming under the auspices of the local association for community living, where many of the people who we lived with went to day programs; we considered being connected with Huronia Regional Centre, an institution to the north, in Orillia, and we considered the possibility of being independent. The latter idea didn't appeal to us at all, even though the families of the men we cared for liked the idea because we had formed a strong relationship with many of them. We pointed out to them that if anything happened to us, or if we took a different direction in our lives in the future, this option would not have much security for their family members.

Paul was attending many planning meetings throughout the stressful and unsettling early months of 1983. One evening he came home from a meeting at the Nottawasaga Inn near Alliston, where he and other government staff had been meeting with the leaders of community agencies. He said, "Lynn (his nickname for me), today I met a man named Noel Churchman; the Executive Director of a small agency called Christian Horizons." He went on to tell me how impressed he had been, both by Noel Churchman, and by the agency. Most of all he was struck by the fact that Christian Horizons was willing to support even the people with the greatest challenges."

We both thought the same thing--how wonderful it would be if Christian Horizons would consider taking over our home; it would be the perfect fit. Of course we had no idea if they would be interested, and didn't know what this would mean for us, but we began to pray about it.

Meanwhile, work continued on finding homes for the people living at Pine Ridge. There was a strong parents group opposing the closure, and one day Mr. McKenzie, the administrator, brought the vice president of the concerned parents group to visit our home. I knew that this was a great honour. Our home was filled with second hand furniture. It could happily be described as rustic although it was neat, tidy and clean. But Mr. McKenzie was shrewdly banking on a mother's instinct to know love when she saw it--and she did. She said that this was where she wanted her son to come and said that she had seen other homes that were brand new but felt to her, cold and sterile. Here, in this home, she said, she could feel the love. And so it was that Paul, her son, began a transition to our home, replacing one of the other men who was moving back to his home community of Brampton.

One day that summer, Noel Churchman came to visit us and look at our home. We were getting to know eachother; talking about the possibility of working together and what that might mean. Noel was tall, and skinny as a rail with a slight stoop. His features were sharp and his gray blue eyes twinkled with a quick intelligence and wit that could be biting. He had been a school principal when God called him to work for Christian Horizons in the 1960's. I learned later of the shoe box in which the bills to be paid were kept--the extent of the systems in place when Noel came on board.

It was in November when another staff of Christian Horizons came to talk to us. He was dark haired and as thin as Noel. His dark and gentle eyes danced with a humour that lay just below the surface and his questions were probing. His name was Ed Sider, and he was then the director of operations for Christian Horizons.

Before he left he said to me, "Lynn, (he had picked up Paul's nickname as did many others back then) we would like to offer you a position as director of this house, for Christian Horizons." But then he told me that Christian Horizons did not have a "live in" model. We would have to move out.

Of course we had been praying and we were willing to do anything that God asked us to do and I told Ed that, "But," I said, "The house we own (a different one to the one I had hated) is rented out."

I went on, "Even though they don't have a lease, we wouldn't want to just tell our tenants to move out without giving them sufficient notice."

Ed did not seem worried by that at all. He said to take as much time as we needed and not to feel rushed. "Let's work towards January," he said. That was very comforting.

Ed left to drive back to Kitchener before supper. He had not been gone for very long, I was just clearing up the pots and pans from our meal, when there was a knock on our door.

I opened it up, wiping my hands on a towel and I could hardly believe it; there stood our tenant. He had never come to our house before. He seemed awkward and uneasy. He apologized for bothering us and said that he was really sorry, but they had been offered a house at a rent they couldn't turn down. He said that they would be moving out on December 31st.

It was all I could do to keep my composure, but I did manage it and told him not to worry--that I was so happy they had this great opportunity for a lower rent.

God knew that in the months ahead, which would be turbulent and stressful in the extreme, I would need to have a sign to look back on that we had made the right decision. How often I looked back to that night in the months ahead....


Marilyn Yocum said...

Oh, marvelous story! And God does indeed often send gifts in strange packages - we mustn't jump to conclusions by judging any circumstance.

Angcat said...

How beautifully told Belinda.

I love your descriptions of the children and their experiences there.

And also how you described Noel and Ed. I could see their faces.


Suz said...

The reason the saying "God works in mysterious ways" is so popular is that it is true. We see it all the time and marvel at it though we should be expecting it.

your story was very encouraging.

Thank you.