Saturday, February 27, 2010
Friday, February 26, 2010
"How do I get myself into these things?"
How often I ask myself that question!
You'd think I'd learn. But I don't. At least not up until now.
My latest caper was to decide to invite some co-workers to our church to watch an all day web-cast seminar which is related to the job we do. It seemed like such a good idea at the time! We'll just meet at the church, I thought to myself. I'll make coffee and we can all brown-bag it. It'll be simple!
I guess when I hear those words I should stop myself right there in my tracks. It's never simple. Never. Ever. (Unless somebody else does it.)
Calling Brenda at the church (yes, that's Belinda's daughter) and arranging for a day's use of the sanctuary was not at all difficult. She made it as easy as anyone could imagine it to be. And the rest? Well, I could run over to the church the day before and make sure everything is set up and running okay. I can pick up some water and maybe some juice on the way home. Then the next morning -the day of the seminar - I'll get there a bit early to make coffee and - Voila! - it's a "seminar in a box all unpacked for human use".
Sounds simple, but I just couldn't make it over to the church today. There was just too much "stuff" and too little time to fit it all in. I have no idea how to run the sound system or hook up my computer so that is projected onto the big screen. So I am sitting here on my couch at 1:17 a.m., trying not to panic, and trying to figure out how I'm going to pull this off.
Belinda was kind enough to hand me a few bottles of water as I left her house after cell tonight. And three cans of pop. Not much, but it's a start. Not much of a start. Just a teeny tiny little start.
I have been half-heartedly praying off and on all day. Not really a prayer, just a few desperate "God, help me!" kinds of prayers that probably don't really count as prayers at all.
Or do they?
Probably not, but God has such infinitudinally (that's not a word, but I ain't stopping to find the right one) limitless amounts of grace and mercy that I should not have been surprised when it all fell into place.
Thank God for my youngest son. Just as I was settling into the couch, I could hear his step in the hallway and he appeared at the door of the parlour.
It was more than a greeting. It was great big light bulb going off in my head! Could it be that my problems would be over?
"Whatcha doing tomorrow?," I asked hopefully, while not daring to hope.
"I have to be at work at 10:00..." His voice trailed off at the look of "Aha!" which had taken over my face.
"Perfect!" I said. I quickly explained my predicament and asked him if he owed me any favours. "Cause if you do, I'm calling them all in! NOW!"
So Joel is now coming to the church with me in the morning. While I pick up coffee, he's going to go in and set the video/computer system up for me. Then he's going to test it all to make sure it workds. Then he's going to go to work.
No-one knows how great the sigh of relief that escaped my lips this night. My worries are over! Joel was home.
I knew I had kids for a reason!
Thankyou Father, for laying out my path before me. Thank you for sending Joel along just when I needed him. Thank you that I don't have to figure out how to use that sound system all on my own. No-one knows how grateful I am... Sigh! Zzzzzzzzzz......
Thursday, February 25, 2010
I was a few minutes late but I arrived to smiles and a whispered, "He's ready."
"He" sat on a couch and I noticed right away that he was wearing a suit. I heard that he had been there since first thing that morning and that he had talked of nothing else but this day for the past two weeks.
On the couch beside him, wrapped in pretty pastel paper were flowers, which he said were for ME! I felt appreciated; a special guest--but I was here for him--to celebrate his birthday.
He got up to get his coat, watched benignly by the silver gray cat sitting in the middle of the room.
The flowers were still on the couch. I said, "The flowers."
"Oh, yes," he said, "I forgot," and he went back to get them.
In the car I gave him a birthday gift, a CD, which he studied and thanked me for quickly before opening the card. A bill fluttered from it, and he caught it quickly, "Ten dollars!" he said, "Thank you," while pulling out his wallet and putting away the money.
"That's going towards my boat trip in the summer."
Then a travel mug caught his eye, "Where did you get that from?"
"From Paul," I said, resisting the urge to give it away.
As we drove into town he said, "They closed the institution."
"You can't go in, it's all locked up," he said.
"Would you want to?"
"Yes, just to look around."
In the restaurant we are both hungry for our late lunch and savour our meals to the full. When it is time to order dessert, I ask if he can guess what I will order. He thinks hard and we both say at once, "Carrot cake!" and we laugh, and I tell him that I only eat it when I go out with him. I point out the lemon pie and say, "Evelyn would have ordered that."
"She's dead," he says, and, "Why? When did she die?"
"In 2003. I don't know, people grow old and die. But where is she?"
"Heaven," he says.
I am surprised when he tells me that he is 70. To be sure, I ask what year he was born. "I don't know, but it was before the war," he says.
"Yes, that's it; 1940."
I've known him for almost 30 of his 70 years. I ask him if he remembers Maplewood Lodge and he says, "Yes, I remember Maplewood Lodge. I broke a window and had to pay for it."
"How did you feel about that place?" I ask, knowing that he will give me an unfiltered answer.
"Maplewood Lodge was a good place," he says, without hesitation. It was the place he came having struggled elsewhere. He found a measure of peace in the two acres of land and in the house that also had places in which to find solitude. Since then he has lived in four other places, but he has kept the thread of connection through every move, mostly because to him, a friend is a precious thing.
I said, "Remember how you used to sleep out on the sun porch?" and we talked of the cats who both had kittens at once and chose his house mate George's room in which to have them.
We talked about what happened to us both over the past year and laughed about moments and people we can both remember in the more distant past.
We see one another only once a year and I came expecting to be the one to give. But by making the effort to dress up in a suit; buying me flowers; and knowing what dessert I would choose, he filled my friendship cup, and reminded me that a friendship in which the giving flows both ways is richest.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Along with leading the study, Sue (who denies being a writer as vehemently as Moses denied being a speaker,) began a blog! She has been writing a post to go with each chapter, at Pressing On .
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
It has been a long day--my memoir snippets will continue, but not tonight I'm afraid! I will shoot for Thursday.
Here is something a little less taxing for my brain; a story that Brenda shared with me.
Brenda works in the front office of a private boarding and day school for boys in grades 6-12. The boys are the joy of her job. She loves them, keeps them in line, teases them and laughs with them.
Last week she overheard a conversation between a group of boys. One of them, referring to a game he was playing on his laptop, said, "That's retarded."
"Now why would you say that?" said another boy, "that's offensive."
And the boy with the laptop was silenced.
Later in the week, the mother of the second boy was at the school and Brenda told her what had happened.
She said, "Your boy was good when no one was watching. Make sure when Mother's Day comes, you get something extra special, because you are doing a good job."
"So...I can't get mad at him for losing his swim goggles again?" said the mom.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Sometimes surrender can be as simple as eating a boiled egg,
With family chatter over comics and concerns about cats,
Banter about tasks to do, sun shining on the snow outside the window
Gratitude for home, safety, family and friends
Who phone to say they’d love to see you but need their space,
Recommend the silence they are craving themselves:
The knowing between you that it is God who heals through silence
The sifting of memory of a night’s turmoil in the light of day,
Remembrance of laying down anger and hurt, embracing forgiveness,
Love and loyalty, gratitude and hope,
Putting skin on them in this morning coziness,
Dipping my dead mother’s bone egg spoon into
The soft inside of my egg, reflecting on the softness inside of me
Inside my crusty shell, broken now so I can taste the goodness,
As I am broken in my willingness to let go, to move on
To find fresh and simple joys in this new day.
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”
Saturday, February 20, 2010
By Claire Alexander
The shuffling children settled themselves on the chilly sanctuary floor for the story. A retired Episcopal minister, with overseas experience, carefully held the handrail. She balanced her show-and-tell bag, as someone lifted her chair down the three steps from the choir. Her goal was to penetrate these young minds, on this snowy, February morning.
The solemn, forty days of Lent were approaching, when children could learn ways to help others. And in her mind, the coming Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, became the key to a self-less commitment. Unexpectedly, out of the bag came a Halloween mask.
“When do you wear a mask?” she asked.
After due response, she went on, “Why?”
“So no one knows who you are,” said a little boy.
“Yes,” she replied, and, without discussing reasons for disguises, went on to explain that some places celebrated Mardi Gras and Carnival using masks. During the festivities, all the rich foods like meat, butter, eggs, and sugar were eaten up.
Everyone had a party on “Shrove Tuesday” – the old name that meant it was time the next day to say you were sorry for your sins, and begin a self-disciplined fast, and simpler food. Lent gave people time to get their hearts ready to observe Holy Week: Palm Sunday; Good Friday, when Jesus died; and the glorious resurrection of Easter Sunday.
“Here, at church,” she said, “next Shrove Tuesday night, we are going to have a pancake supper, instead of Mardi Gras. And what comes after that?”
A clear little voice resonated across the ceiling vault, “You hafta wash the dishes!”
Friday, February 19, 2010
But I'm not doing any of that. Knowing how people (wonderfully!) fill my life to overflowing, my wise husband knew I might need a break. So he arranged for a little apartment, away from the main building. I haven't seen a single person I know in three whole days at the resort - though I did run into one of the very few people I know who live in Huntsville when I nipped out to get a much needed haircut at the mall.
When I had pulled out my wallet to pay for my haircut, the person behind the cash told me that "we don't take debit", and directed me to a bank down the mall. On my way back from the cash machine, I saw Doug (who is Belinda's boss) exiting from the bookstore. I said, "Hi," and he looked at me with a kind of surprised look. It took him a few seconds to decide who I was... Remember, I was just coming out of the hair salon and my hair was all puffy and "done". (She even applied hairspray! Yuck!) And he was seeing me in a place I'm sure he never expected to see me. But when the flash of recognition came it hit his face full force as "surprise" turned into a big happy smile.
I had been having big thoughts about how I don't really "fit in" to this kind of environment. When Doug asked me what I was doing here, I quickly explained that Ron was at the Deerhurst and I was just accompanying him there.
"It's a beautiful place," offered Doug.
"Yeah, but it's not my style." I said, and laughed.
Doug kept the smile on his face but his tone became serious, even a little authoritative. I could tell he understood perfectly about it not being my style. "Well, you make sure you enjoy it anyway while you're there." Doug is a leader. He is an unassuming man, but past experience has taught me that following his lead is usually in my best interest. It's like there is a mantle of God's authority on him and you just want to go where he tells you.
Funny how God sends the most unexpected people and arranges the most unexpected circumstances to get the message across to you that his loving heart knows you need to hear. I wasn't poised to receive all God had for me in these few days. So he sent Doug to the mall to talk to me face to face. To hand deliver my marching orders, if you will. If you know Doug at all, you know that "the mall" is not his "style" anymore than The Deerhurst is mine. In fact, Doug should have been in his office at 1:30 in the afternoon, but a fire in the furnace of the building where he works drove him out - and to the mall. To meet me.
God has ways of doing things that just makes me giggle in delight sometimes. Little did Doug know he had been drafted into God's "Ways and Means Committee" on my behalf.
And what's more, I think I hear Father God chuckling, too!
Thursday, February 18, 2010
(Continued from Monday)
By the time they got back to the house it was about 8.00 p.m. They took a roll call and established that everyone was okay, although a large privacy wall had come down and the plumbing was damaged. They knew they needed to get word out to their families that they were safe and they managed over the internet to do that, using Skype, even though the phones weren’t working.
The UN requested that the pilots and flight attendants be on standby at the airport, as they thought they would want to evacuate and a Hummer picked them up and took them to the airport.
Brian, and Carl, his colleague, slept that night on the couch, close to the door. There were a number of bad aftershocks and they woke up twice that night and ran outside.
By Wednesday afternoon Brian realized that he hadn’t eaten anything since Tuesday afternoon. It really began to hit home fully how bad things were. The local people brought bodies to the gate of the UN compound because they didn’t know what else to do.
The flight crew at the airport switched over with another crew. They suggested that if Brian wanted to leave he’d have to go to the airport and stay with them. So Brian went with them and while there he helped change the configuration of the airplane from passenger to med-evac; a procedure that involved taking out the aircraft’s seats. They were expecting things to get really crazy at the airport, but it took a couple of days before they started evacuating people. By Wednesday most of the people from the compound didn’t want to stay at the house so they stayed at the airport, sleeping on benches and eating the rations the military gave them. A few of the flight attendants did what they could to help at the UN hospital.
On Thursday night they announced that evacuations were starting on Friday. Meanwhile, a Trans Capital aircraft left Toronto with emergency food and medical supplies.
On Friday morning Brian and others unloaded the aircraft that had landed, and prepared the airplane for flight again. It was amazing how quickly the relief came and the airport was a beehive of activity. Brian said that a lot of people bash the Americans but they were the first to show up in a Coastguard Hercules. He said that he took his hat off to them. Military airplanes were now coming in from all over the world. The commercial traffic had been stopped immediately; the buildings in the airport were damaged, including the control tower and there was no fuel.
Brian left on the flight out, which took UN people and their families. He felt such relief to be on the plane, but mixed with that relief was a deep sadness for the people who couldn’t leave. Things were starting to get quite desperate on the ground although at first it had seemed quite calm.
Brian sat beside the bodyguard of one of the men who had been killed at the UN; its mission chief: Hedi Annaabi. The bodyguard, an Estonian living in Miami, had been buried under the rubble for two days, but was able to communicate with rescuers by two way radio, while they worked to reach him. The man had been working a month on and a month off as a bodyguard. He told Brian that he was never going back to Haiti. He had decided instead to go back to school.
A French woman on the plane was traveling with two small children of 3 or 4 years old. She had lost her husband in the quake.
The plane landed in Miami and Brian flew out to Toronto the next morning with other people from Port au Prince, including two young men with leg injuries.
It was a tearful reunion when they landed. Brian’s lovely wife Cheryl and their two beautiful children were waiting for him. Brian was not ashamed to say that they all had a good cry.
So much has happened and Brian has been trying to process it all. There were so many moments he looks back on when he feels that he was being guided. The Montana Hotel , where he could have stayed, was reduced to rubble. The five stories of the Caribbean Supermarket collapsed half an hour after he was inside it. He had a strong sense of God being with him when he heard.
He is haunted by a vivid memory of a young man in a green land rover who arrived as he was leaving. He had two girls that he took by the hands as they walked in. He remembers the face of the woman at the cash register and thinks of the nun he sat beside on the plane from Miami. He wonders if they made it out.
Brian is grateful he is alive, but asks himself why he was spared when others weren’t. He has thought more than ever before about the purpose of his life. He feels for the people of Haiti who live in tremendous hardship. The earthquake added to what was already a very difficult situation there.
Mostly he has become aware that life is precious and fragile.
(As told to Belinda Burston by Brian Wilkins)
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
On Monday an anonymous friend left a comment that I wanted to respond to more fully than I could in the comment box.
Anonymous wrote, in part:
...I have been deeply hurt by those with faith and therefore am cautious with my own. I wish what you wrote was true, that our faith teaches the value of others. But, crosses were burned and black people killed by people of our faith. Women are not allowed to be ministers or priests by churches in our faith. 'Sins of the fathers' created a sin based view of disability. 'Kill a Queer for Christ' is a bumper sticker. I want a gentle faith...
When I read the book, Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia, by Carmen Bin Ladin; although the sense of oppressiveness and control clung to me like fog in a Newfoundland outport, I realized that the expression of Islam the author experienced does not represent all who follow that faith. I also realized that Christianity has, by some, been corrupted into a faith of oppression and repression as my anonymous friend pointed out.
Anonymous obviously still had faith in God in spite of being hurt by those with faith, because she referred to "our" faith. But the words he wrote are painfully poignant.
How can a faith that is really the love story of God for humanity, be perverted into a weapon of hate? But it has been. Any reader of history, past or recent, doesn't have to look far to find evidence of that. In the name of Christ, bad things have been done--sometimes by well meaning but misguided people, and other times by those with dark motives.
People can find themselves in spiritually abusive, unhealthy, belief systems that discourage independent thought; some of them calling themselves "Christian." Any system that demands unquestioning obedience and "group think," is dangerous.
I loved Malcolm Gladwell's fascinating book, Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking in which he wrote about "thin slicing;" our ability to gauge what is real and true, seemingly instinctively; but in reality by a rapid summation of what we see and a split second comparison with information we know to be true. "The book argues that intuitive judgment is developed by experience, training, and knowledge." (Wikipedia Blink (book))
If Malcolm Gladwell's argument is correct, then how much more important is it that we pursue a thorough knowledge of God for ourselves? When we press in to know God and to become familiar with the Bible, we will have an inner check in our spirit and our gut when something is wrong. It is dangerous to rely on others for a second hand faith.
There are difficult questions that I have wrestled through to where I have peace. My peace may not be an other's peace on the same subject. And some questions God will have to answer for me in heaven because I don't have the answers yet. But I know the one who is called Faithful and True and am content to trust him.
I would love to hear the thoughts of readers. Have you experienced systems of faith that controlled or abused? How did you overcome the effects of those experiences and find spiritual health?
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
(Next week I will continue my memoir posts)
On Tuesday, January 12th 2010, at 4.53pm local time, a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, killing an estimated 230,000 people; injuring 300,000; and leaving 1,000,000 homeless. This is one man’s story.
Brian Wilkins is a quiet, reserved man, who serves his church, Hillside Community Church, in Tottenham, behind the scenes. He faithfully mans the sound system and does many small, unseen technical things that make things run smoothly. He is more comfortable in the background, while his wife Cheryl, with her beautiful voice, serves as a worship leader.
On January 10th at worship practice, Cheryl mentioned that Brian had left the day before for Haiti. His company, Trans Capital Air, had sent him there to repair a plane for the U.N. Cheryl seemed to be missing him already.
Two days later, on January 12th at around 5 o’clock, we heard the news of the catastrophic, magnitude 7.0 M earthquake that had just hit Haiti. Fear immediately gripped our hearts. Brian was on the U.N. base, close to the epicentre. A phone call from our pastor’s wife, Esther, interrupted our anxious thoughts. Esther’s voice was strained and anxious as she asked us to pray. We heard that the phone lines were down, so we were unprepared for her second phone call, later, this time full of relief, telling us that just after 8.00, Brian had managed to make contact with Cheryl. He was okay!
The previous Saturday, Brian had flown down to Haiti, via Miami. He planned to fly back the following Wednesday: January 13th. On the flight from Miami to Port au Prince he sat beside an elderly nun, the director of an order of nuns working there. She was a very talkative, lovely lady and told Brian that she used to live on the mission, but now went down for a couple of weeks at a time to oversee the work.
Upon arriving in Haiti, Brian made the decision not to stay at the Montana Hotel where his company’s employees would normally stay because it was quite a distance from the airport. Instead he stayed in a rented house in the U.N. compound, with 3 or 4 security police. At first he was a little reluctant, because it meant sharing sleeping quarters and a bathroom, but it was more convenient, he realized, so he overcame his reservations.
At about 2.00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 12th, with their job completed, he and some other mechanics got cleaned up and went back to the house. They had a few hours to kill and one of the mechanics asked Brian if he would like to see a bit of the city--he had to do some grocery shopping. They went to the
Caribbean Supermarket , the multi storey grocery store that all the U.N. people shopped at.
It was almost 5.00, after they had finished their shopping, when they stopped at a local restaurant with an open air courtyard. They were waiting for their order when they felt a gentle shaking that increased in intensity. They heard a loud, deep rumble, followed by screams. The men were thrown back and forth in their chairs and the pavement on the street was moving in a wave. This seemed to last about 30 seconds. Immediately a dust cloud rose up and hid the mountains that normally dominated the city. People were running and screaming. Many were praying and shouting out, “Jesus!” It seemed as if they thought that the world was coming to an end. Everywhere people were trying to use cell phones but they didn’t work.
The airport is low lying but the city is built on a mountain and they were about half way up the mountain at the time of the earthquake. Brian felt bewildered. There was nowhere to run or hide. The restaurant and buildings in its immediate vicinity were still standing, but as they made their way back to the house to make sure everyone else was okay, the full impact of what had happened was evident. Large apartments had collapsed into rubble in the streets. After the initial quake there was panic and screaming, but going back to the house it was pitch black because the hydro was out. It was silent and desolate. Brian felt scared, anxious and helpless. No one knew what was going on...
Part 2 on Thursday...
Monday, February 15, 2010
I close the bedroom door softly and step out into the early morning cosiness of a house warming up after cool night.
My long, soft, black robe hangs loose as I pad down the stairs into a world that looks like a black and white photograph in the gray early light, the lack of colour reinforcing a lingering shudder in my soul.
I just finished listening to an audio book that I borrowed from the library, by Carmen Bin Ladin: Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia. The book left me filled with sadness for the author and her three daughters and also horror at the darkeness of a religion practiced with fanatic piety and brutal punishment of disobedience.
Carmen's face on the cover captivated me with its exotic beauty. I was drawn too, by curiousity--what was life like "inside the kingdom,"--in a world as hidden as its women, in their black abayas and thick veils?
From the first word I was spellbound and held in fascinated dread and a tension that built with each chapter. Carmen's story was painful to listen to; a story of fabulous wealth but inhumanity, hypocricy and suppression.
The book made me grateful for our freedom, so easily taken for granted. It forced me to realize that many in this world live in a system that controls and oppresses.
I am grateful for a faith that teaches the infinite value of each individual regardless of race, gender, wealth, or level of intelligence or ability--and I am grateful that my faith is built on love above all else.
The morning light intensifies, bringing with it colour and chasing away the shadows. I breath deeply the air of freedom.
1 John 2:9-11 (The Message)
9-11Anyone who claims to live in God's light and hates a brother or sister is still in the dark. It's the person who loves brother and sister who dwells in God's light and doesn't block the light from others. But whoever hates is still in the dark, stumbles around in the dark, doesn't know which end is up, blinded by the darkness.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
By Joyful Fox
I have a friend who has made many choices that define her life. She and her husband have a home-based business and they have two children. These are both decisions they made together. While she and her husband were dating, he had a fall - an ordinary fall for reasons that weren't so ordinary. One thing lead to another, and he was diagnosed with MS.
She said, "This sounds strange but we really thought we could beat MS". My friend shared that they did many alternative health treatments - vitamin regimes, acupuncture, and massage, to name a few. They did everything in the hopes to slow down the progress of his illness. Later in our conversation she said, "It is really fortunate that his MS has stayed mainly in his legs."
I felt guilty when she said that. It really shone light on my shaded perspective. For the past year I'v known them I had thought how unfortunate he's in a wheelchair. Chastened gently, I held a new respect for my friend's perspective.
My friend and her husband made another choice when they had children. They chose to tell them their Daddy has 'tricky legs' - that his legs are 'just different'. My friend explained, "We don't want MS to define him." Her children are aged 7 and 5 and they understand Dad's legs are 'just different'.
My son went to the library with them this week. He was curious about all the knobs around the steering wheel of their van. My friend explained that the children's Daddy drives differently and uses his hands, not his feet. Joshua thought that was really neat. Joshua will probably learn to accept people of various differences easily because it was presented that way.
My friend said that because of MS, their lives were "just different". She said, "Our difference is seen right away because of the wheelchair." She acknowledged that, "Because of MS, we have had to make choices right up front. How we're going to live, define ourselves. Others' differences are more hidden but really we're all different."
She also talked about society not making it easy to be different. There was a silence. She didn't need to say any more.
I "got it" I really got it.
My brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was 18. His delusions, hallucinations, and the world he sometimes lives in, is not a world understood or accepted by others. His world is just different.
I worked for Christian Horizons for 10 years, supporting people with mental challenges. These people too have been misunderstood and rejected by others. Their lives are just different.
Each one of us have been made in the image of Christ. Each one of us is uniquely beautiful. I want to see beauty in everyone - the beauty of Christ Himself. I want to stop feeling pity when I see a handicap. I want to be compassionate, empathetic, and supportive but no more pity. Pity comes from pride - believing that I have it better. The truth is, I don't. People don't easily see my handicaps but God does.
I have learned to see MS as an obstacle that sometimes creates roadblocks in lives. Obstacles can be overcome. MS doesn't define lives. We define lives by perspective.
I went to my daughter's violin recital on Saturday afternoon. There were many solo pieces being played - some well and others are still 'works in progress'. One violinist is particularly special to me. When he comes up to play, I always pray he'll shine. At every recital he always shines. He's a talented musician with an incredible ear for music. He's good, I mean really good.
He struggles with autism though and I fear for him. I don't want others' to laugh. I fear he may be mocked. When he pauses before he announces his piece, I hold my breath. When he begins playing, I breathe a sigh of relief. When he talks to others, I stay close-by, smiling- willing others to receive him with respect.
At this recital, I did him a favour. I did me a favour. I just enjoyed the music. I still prayed for him when he did the 'introduction of his song" I still clapped just as loudly at the end. I still felt the incredible surge of pride for him when he played with excellence. This time though I knew he and I were cut from the same cloth. I knew we were equals, each struggling in various ways. I knew he and I were just different.
I had some quiet time for reflection. I remembered my friend saying that 10 years ago they thought they were going to beat MS. We left that statement wide open. Neither of us pursued it.
I wonder if she knows they have beaten MS. It doesn't define them. He is a man, a husband, a father, a business owner. He cares for, protects, and provides for his wife. He's an active, loving daddy. He works diligently each day. His creativity defines his abilities and skill.
I wonder if there will come a day when there is acceptance in this world for people that are just different.
We are reminded to, "Let love of the brethren continue." Hebrews 13:1 NASV
"The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him." 1 John 2:10 NASV
Thursday, February 11, 2010
A house open. A meal shared. Fellowship exchanged. Hearts knitting together. Jesus in the midst.
That's cell group to me.
And tonight was no exception. After all the goodbyes were said and hugs given, I went into the cold night and got into my car. But I didn't head home. I am staying tonight in someone else's home. A guest of sorts. I was needed to support someone who is sleeping downstairs just now so that his caregiver could go away for a few days. I feel completely blessed to be here. My only duty is to sleep and to unlock the door in the morning for the next shift of caregivers. There is beauty, there is order. There is love between these walls. And welcome. Even though I am virtually alone, sitting on my bed in the prettiest little guest room you ever laid eyes on, I feel a sense of welcome. It's knit into the care taken to provide the little things for guests like me. A small TV in one corner. A little group of teddy bears arranged on a shelf to be appearing to hug one another. Things of beauty placed here and there around the room. There is a white cotton blanket folded at the foot of the bed ready to be pulled up over chilly extremities. I am happy, so happy to be staying here tonight.
There are small appointments all over the house that minister to soul and spirit. In the living room, I found this small framed print:
"The Celtic Rune of Hospitality"
I saw a stranger yestreen,
I put food in the eatng place,
Drink in the drinking place,
and in the sacred name of
He blessed myself and my house,
my cattle and my dear ones,
and the lark said in her song
often, often, often,
goes the CHRIST in the stranger's guise.
I have the same feeling here as I do when I'm at Belinda's house. What a privilege to be her friend. There is beauty. There is order. There is function. There is "home". And most of all, there is "welcome".
Sigh... It's going to be another great night. Wish you were here!
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
How deafening is the silence of a confession unacknowledged or received.
It would be comforting to feel forgiven; understood--or maybe even just one among many failed humans.
But I am forgiven--by him ; understood and accepted. Do I need more than that? More than a love that is unending and unconditional? More than boundless grace?
Is mine a humility that cries out for recognition?
Dear Lord, forgive me for selfish motives, even in repentance! Your love, your forgiveness...it is enough. More than enough!
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
He put the hearing aid on my desk. I looked up at him. I am tall but he was a good six inches taller. A head of thick, dark, wavy hair, topped a handsome face from which a pair of brown eyes languidly surveyed this new manager. I had been in the job for nine months and on a steep learning curve for every minute of every day.
"Could you please drop it off at the audiologist's?" he asked, but I heard it as more of a statement than a question.
My stomach churned itself into a knot of frustration. Not at him. At me. I felt helpless, unable to express what I wanted to say! "It's not my job to drop the hearing aid off at the audiologist," and, "I should be assigning tasks to you, not the other way around!" Of course I knew that there must be a better way to say this, but better or not, I couldn't find it in me to say anything at that momemt.
I had fantasy two way conversations with people. I figured that I knew exactly how each one would play out by the time I had imagined them.
I prayed a lot during those first nine months of leading a team. That worked well for the first little while--after all, wasn't that the spiritual way to handle conflict? God must have made allowances for this greenhorn during that period, but eventually he started to nudge me out of my safe and comfortable nest and imply that I might actually have to have conversations with people and "resolve issues."
That was completely out of my comfort zone. I was an introvert, remember. I had spread my wings and embraced a flock of people in my life, developing a comfort zone in a certain sphere--that of being an interdisciplinary team member. But being a team leader was diff-i-cult. Something inside of me didn't see myself in that role; the role of leader.
I remember introducing "my" team at an event and saying (self depracatingly I thought at the time,) that the only thing I directed was the traffic. I thought I was honouring them by saying that, but really I was dishonouring the role that God had put me in.
I had, by then, a team of strong minded individuals to lead. Things had gone fairly smoothly for the first few months--a sort of dreamy honeymoon state for all of us. But then, the honeymoon was over. People began to squabble and get on one another's nerves. Personalities clashed. Paul told me that I was leading by crisis and I needed to be proactive. Okay, I thought, I will have meetings with people and talk to them.
So I had conversations in which I thought I was being perfectly clear. I hinted gently at the problem at hand and people nodded and smiled and seemed to get it. Afterwards I realized that they had completely missed my point. Of course the point was so carefully hidden that it would have taken a virtual Sherlock Holmes to uncover it.
Drastic action was needed, so I signed up for a six week assertiveness training course.
I was amazed to meet other people who had as much difficulty as I did, in speaking their minds; it was very comforting. And to my surprise there were a couple of people in the class who were there to tone down their aggressive tendencies. Thus began a transformation and learning of new patterns.
Towards the end of the course, by which time we had all become friends, we had to pick a scenario to role play. I used the situation with the hearing aid which had rendered me paralysed with frustration. I practiced what I wanted to say and found a way to say it to my partner--something like, "No, I'm sorry, I won't be able to take it. Can you take it please?" It came out so easily and the sky didn't fall when I said it. How I laughed at myself for the way I had sweated over such a simple sentence.
We had an open house at the nine month point, to which we invited local politicians, families, and the Reverend John Klomps for a dedication ceremony. I gave a speech in which I referenced the birthing process of our team and the labour pains we had experienced of late.
The team made a long banner out of white cloth on which they painted a rainbow, and Psalm 127:1a:
Unless the LORD builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
We were growing together as leader and team and at least we got that part very right.
Monday, February 08, 2010
On Thursday evening I stopped at the post office to pick up our mail on the way home from work. I didn't have time to look at it when I got home because it was cell group evening so I put the pile of envelopes on top of the fridge to look at later. I got busy making coffee, setting the table and preparing supper and then the house filled with people.
I forgot about the mail until the next evening, when I noticed the edges of the envelopes sticking out over the top of the fridge. Among the routine mail--bills and flyers--was a rare thing, a hand addressed envelope. My curiosity was stirred by the sender's address label, which said North Bay, a city a couple of hundred kilometers from where we live.
Opening the envelope I found a card with a beautiful painting of a lion's head and inside, a message of encouragement from someone whose name I did not immediately recognize.
A little detective work on my part led me to discover that the sender was a fellow member of The Word Guild. I just had to know what prompted her to send the card, so I emailed her and asked. This is what she wrote back:
It is a little difficult to say no to the nudges of the Holy Spirit! :)
And as I was praying for the TWG members, your name leapt off the page. So much so that until I found one of my old watercolor/cards and began writing He wouldn't release me. I count it a honor and privilege to be a part of your journey through prayer.
Standing guard for you.
I am so grateful for the Holy Spirit who works mysteriously to prompt prayer; for the faithful prayer warriors of The Word Guild prayer team; and for all those whose special ministry it is to pray.
More things are wrought by prayer Than this world dreams of. - Tennyson
Saturday, February 06, 2010
It was really worship practice, but it felt more like Christmas. In the capacious, black leather overnight bag that doubles as a carryall for me, I had two books from my bookshelf to give to friends on the worship team.
One friend has just taken on the leadership of the worship ministry in our church, and the other has just become a worship leader, a new role for her.
Passing the books on to them gave me joy. I had only partially read one, and not the other. Giving them to Cheryl and Frances, said, "I believe in you. I want to invest in your leadership. I am for you!" They received the books with smiling eyes.
But there was more! Frances, too, was rummaging in her purse, and out of its depths she triumphantly pulled a book, which she presented to me.
I gasped in excitement, "Wow, I have always wanted to read a book by Warren Wiersbe."
Frances pointed to the title, God Isn’t in a Hurry: Learning to Slow Down and Live , and said how she knew it fit in perfectly with God's work in my life of late, but her brow furrowed as she tried to explain why also she had chosen that author. "Isn't he the person you wrote the award speech for?" she asked. That had been Rudy Wiebe not Wiersbe--but Warren Wiersbe has been on my "to read" list forever! We laughed in delight at God's way of surprising us perfectly--and the book had cost all of 25 cents at the Global Village thrift store.
Later this week, Susan said, "I hope you haven't picked up Deafening yet!" That is the next book in the Vita book club, which discusses books on disability and also will be discussed on our friend Dave's blog, Rolling Around in My Head . This book is by Frances Itani and we are both reading it and spreading the word among our colleagues. Tonight the book was hanging on my front door knob, tied with a red ribbon.
Now, after giving two books away and receiving two back, I will have to stop everything else and start reading.
Happy Weekend everyone!
Friday, February 05, 2010
She's a half-grown kitten, a calico, with some very unique markings. I've never been a cat person, but I have to admit that she is pretty cute. And since grandson Mikey loves her, well that's all it took for her to be welcomed into my world too. Today she wormed herself right into my heart. It didn't take much, really. I saw her curled up in one of the chairs in the living room fast asleep. I went over to stroke her soft fur and immediately, with eyes still closed and without so much as twitching a muscle, she began to purr. I sat down in the chair next to her, pushed it back into a semi-reclining position, and picked up my laptop. A minute or two later she was crawling up my pantleg and settling herself across my knees. I couldn't see her because the laptop screen was in the way, but I could feel the warm and gentle pressure of her tiny body against my legs . A few minutes later, as I was pecking away at the keys, she walked up my arm and laid down in the softest place she could find - right across my bosom. I smiled at her audacity as I began to stroke her and the little purring machine instantaneously started up again. She was soon fast asleep and stayed there for a good long while as I continued my work.
It's been quite a week or two, with all kinds of things happening in my life which have required all sorts of adjustments. It's been a time of upheaval and change on many fronts. Our home is in the middle of renovations, as are some of my closest relationships and even at work there is some major shifting in the works as I figure out how to make room in my already cramped schedule for a whole new set of responsibilities. These are exciting times of change and challenge and growth and I wouldn't have it any other way.
But that doesn't mean that I know how all of this is going to work or settle out. I've had plenty of opportunity to entertain a host of doubts and fears, if that's what I would choose to do. Instead, though, I want to be like that kitten, able to search out and land softly in a place of rest and recuperation, getting ready for each new burst of energy that will be required over the next while. I want to climb up on Father's knee when there is time for rest, but not stop there. I want to boldly find that place in the shadow of his wing, that place where I can actually hear the beating of his heart...
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16 (NASB)
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Psalm 91:1-4 (NASB)
Thursday, February 04, 2010
I'm working on a special two part blog post detailing the recent events in Haiti as told to me by one of our church members who was there, so I hope you'll forgive a dip into the archives--and enjoy.
I stepped out into the cool crispness of a Canadian winter afternoon, my cheeks growing rosy in the deliciously wood-smoke scented fresh air.
Beside me trotted my faithful furry friend, Molson, his paws crunch-crunching as he trotted along, as happy as a child let out of school early. So many new scents to sniff--where to start? It was all too overwhelming.
As we began our homeward jaunt, behind us in the west, the sky seemed to be awash with a river of pink molten lava, rippled in lavender. The pavement reflected back the pink light, stretching out behind us and pointing like an icy finger in the direction of the sky.
Before us, like a luminous lantern guiding us home, hung a moon in the dusky twilight sky, as creamy white as a bowl of vanilla ice cream.
It felt like a wonderful start to a new week after several very busy ones with some temporarily long hours put in to meet deadlines.
Last week, at my peak of pressure, late on Wednesday, I came home frazzled and testy. It was worship practice night, but I had too much to do at home.
At my personal worst, on a day when I should have worn a sign around my kneck saying, "Approach at your peril," I decided that maybe it was time to leave the worship team. Although I love to sing, my voice is not strong and I don't sing the beautiful harmonies that some of my team mates do. I felt quite dispensable, and hastily sent a quick email to the worship leaders sharing my decision. It felt like a relief at the time, although I knew that there was something amiss in the condition of my heart.
The next day...well, a terrible and hollow feeling descended. What had I done? Every time I thought about Sunday, I felt a sense of loss. I hadn't heard back from anyone. Perhaps they hadn't opened their emails yet. It wasn't long before I was sending another one across cyberspace, saying something like, "If you'll still have me, can I stay?"
Before too long, two emails arrived, relieved and gladly welcoming me back from my self imposed exile. They both also said something I hadn't expected, and which made me feel uncomfortable, "You are irreplaceable." In my reply to the first email I ignored that sentence, focusing on my own relief at still being part of the team and my happiness that sanity had returned. In my reply to the second, I said, "I know that no one is irreplaceable," which seemed right. But I felt a gentle Holy Spirit rebuke; a rebuke I recognize and take seriously when I feel it. I paid attention and considered what it meant.
What I felt God saying to me was that we are all indeed irreplaceable, but not in the inflated sense we might think of it. In our zeal to avoid pride, we also avoid truth. God does not use cookie cutters. There will never be another person that can fit our place exactly. Like a puzzle piece that fits neatly into place, we belong somewhere in his plan, and what joy it is when we find that spot.
Romans 12:3-5 (Amplified Bible)
3For by the grace (unmerited favor of God) given to me I warn everyone among you not to estimate and think of himself more highly than he ought [not to have an exaggerated opinion of his own importance], but to rate his ability with sober judgment, each according to the degree of faith apportioned by God to him.
4For as in one physical body we have many parts (organs, members) and all of these parts do not have the same function or use,
5So we, numerous as we are, are one body in Christ (the Messiah) and individually we are parts one of another [mutually dependent on one another].
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
James 1:2-4 (New International Version)
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
I pondered my post of yesterday this morning, not quite able to shake the sense of having traveled tough terrain. I could smell the smoke and feel the chill of the loneliness of the battlefield.
If you've traveled with me far along this journey, you will remember the hopelessly shallow and silly seventeen year old girl that was. By 33 she was on her way to becoming a woman of some substance.
The path to substance, like the journey of The Velveteen Rabbit to becoming real, was through endurance."It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
Only God could take the raw material of me at 17 and make something of it; something to his glory and honour. But I have to add with the apostle Paul:
Philippians 3:12 (New International Version)
12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Tuesday, February 02, 2010
My world felt as though it had turned upside down. Everything in it had changed. Much was new and exciting--I was being stretched in ways I hadn't imagined before--but nothing was the way it had been and the adjustment was hard.
I mourned the loss of the simple life we had known together as one large family on the farm in the country. It was a life of long days; large meals cooked; endless laundry; shopping, and 24/7 hard work, but we were all together in a place we had grown to love.
I knew though, that painful though they were, God was in the changes. He had given me a verse that somehow I knew was mine for this situation:
Philippians 3:20 (New International Version)
20But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ
That verse told me that this life is temporal. It's not all about here and now, and the choices we made weren't based on an earthly perspective.
I'm not sure that helped though, going through the stress of transition to a totally different lifestyle.
I remember going "home" from "work" one night, and thinking, "I want my Mummy!" Yes! I wanted Mum to be there to lean on, to help me through this difficult time. But she was 3000 miles away in England, and besides, I was 33 years old.
Afer one extremely stressful day; my journal tells me it was January 6th, 1984; I was driving home to Holland Landing and I stopped at a red light at the corner of Main Street and Davis Drive in Newmarket. It was just after 5.00 p.m. One minute I was staring at the red light, panic gnawing at the pit of my stomach and a thousand thoughts swirling in my head--and the next, I was flooded by peace. I knew only that peace had come but not how or why. The light changed to green and I drove on. Moments later, it registered that in England it was five hours later than in Canada. Mum would be going through her nightly routine. She would be praying. I knew that was it! I got home and tried to express the experience in verse. I didn't do a very good job, but here it is:
I felt your gentle touch today Lord,
"Someone" must have lifted me in prayer.
While all around the storm was wildly raging,
I felt within my heart that you were there!
Caught up with all the cares of daily living,
No time I'd found for kneeling at your feet,
But how I thank you, Lord, for your calm presence,
And for somebody who lifted me in prayer.
I learned through those difficult days that although we cry out to God to take us out of difficult circumstances, he sometimes just gives us the strength to get through them and he teaches us lessons that we would learn no other way. I would have gladly wimped out, but he loved me too much to allow me to. He was building spiritual muscle.
Paul was praying about the next step in his life too. He had a well paid government job that was coming to an end as the institution closed. All of the staff were offered comparable positions elsewhere but Noel Churchman had approached Paul about possibily joining Christian Horizons. As we prayed, God gave him a verse, similar to the one he gave to me:
Colossians 3:2 (New International Version)
2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
There was no real choice. Paul left the government, and in June of 1984, nearly six months after I had done so, he too, joined Christian Horizons. The agency had agreed to take the ten of the residents that were hardest to serve and Paul opened up the first Christian Horizons home in Toronto in a duplex which happened to be right in the middle of a Jewish neighbourhood.
It is hard to understand just how it was then, when we now have such a structure of support. We now have policy and procedures to cover every circumstance. Back then we were still creating the structure.
Ed had arranged for a Christian Horizons manager from Muskoka to come down and spend a day with me during my first weeks on the job. Her name was Ruth and I was forever grateful for the wisdom and counsel she shared on how to run a Christian Horizons home. To help him he had two young shiny eyed DSW graduates named Vivien and Gwen.
At one of the meetings during which the ten or so managers from throughout the province got together, one of them said to me, "Don't worry Belinda, one night you will suddenly realize that you actually went to sleep and didn't think about work all night long." That was so helpful! I realized that I wasn't going crazy and that other people had felt as stressed as me and it didn't last forever.
Personally, it was a difficult and dark time. But I found my joy in the people with disabilities who every day at work, accepted me with candour, no hidden agendas (well, not too many) and love. I was supposed to be serving and supporting them, but during that time, they were my support and shelter. They replenished me when I was empty and made me laugh when I thought I had forgotten how.
God had given me a gift that came wrapped in prickly paper--but I knew the giver and I trusted him. That trust plumbed deeper depths before the wrapping came off.
More next week!
Monday, February 01, 2010
Nearly four years ago, at the end of a work day, I found that the silver necklace I was wearing that day had somehow come undone and the pendant had slipped from the chain. The small amethyst coloured stone, in a setting of silver, had vanished.
The stone was unusual in that it changed colour depending on factors in the environment--sometimes it was lavender, other times pale ice blue; but it wasn't the stone or setting itself that was of value--the pendant was originally Mum's and had been a gift from her mother some 65 years before.
On the day I lost it I had been at a hotel, a restaurant and two offices, in three different towns. Finding the pendant seemed hopeless, but I tried. I made phone calls and people went and looked for it and checked to see if it had been handed in, but it wasn't found.
I went to the gravel parking lot opposite my office, where I had parked my car. I looked in the approximate location that I had parked, but couldn't see it. A colleague asked me what I was looking for and I told her. A determined glint filled her eye and she said, "When my shift ends I will look for it Belinda."
I thanked her for her kind promise, but didn't expect the wonderful phone call when it came, telling me that she had, against all odds, found the tiny silver pendant amongst the gravel stones. My joy was overwhelming.
Lost things...God has a particular passion for them. He never gives up his patient pursuit of the lost. Our dogged determination to find something precious that is lost does not compare to his tireless tenacity in search of the lost.
I am grateful that when I lose myself he finds me and when someone close seems to have lost their way, I can trust them to him.