Monday, May 31, 2010

Surpise!


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By Belinda
A couple of weeks ago, when I was still in England, Brenda sent me a message to ask if I could "hold May 28th" for some "mom and daughter" time.

"Sure," I said, "Consider it booked."

Friday came, and at the end of the day I was zonked after an all day meeting at our home, where we have our managers meetings. Susan left, hugging me and saying, "See you next week." She was off to her annual, "Girls weekend away," at the cottage, with her 6 daughters, counting daughter-in-law Heather.

Before going out with Brenda, I unwound by watching the end of a series that Paul and I had almost finished. In the bathroom afterwards I tried to do something with the puffy eyed face, surrounded by a mop of uncooperative hair, that stared back at me from the mirror! Glued and sprayed together, I looked at the clock. It was 7.00, the time we had arranged to go out,  but Brenda, who  is always hyper-punctual, had not come upstairs. I went to look for her.

"Just have to do one more thing," she said, unusually casual, as she tapped away on her laptop, and then she came upstairs.

We left Paul behind on the couch and meandered over the road to Poco Cappello, a restaurant in our little hamlet of Bond Head that we hadn't been to since it changed hands a while ago.

We walked through the shady perennial garden and past the patio. I was beginning to worry that we should have made reservations. It seemed busy and there was not a restaurant staff in view, but as we poked our heads around the corner of a room, my mouth fell open at the sight of 3 of my dearest friends--Frances, Irene, and Susan, who was supposed to be on her way to a cottage at that very moment. It was a surprise early 60th birthday celebration for me!

A fragrant bouquet of flowers lay at my place, from Irene.

Beside the flowers were four cards addressed to Ba; Bo; Quilla, and Mom. B'a is a contraction of Belinda; Susan's nickname for me. Bo originated with the name Bolinda-Sue, which was my name in a fun rap that was performed at a staff retreat years ago--to Irene I have been Bo ever since. Frances's name for me, when she isn't calling me Bel, is Quilla; an allusion to my passion for writing. And "Mom"--well, it goes without saying who the 4th dear friend was!

Each card and message was as unique as each of the dear friends are. In Frances's was a receipt for a book on order about Frances Ridley Havergal, the hymn writer, born in my home county of Worcestershire, in England. Readers here know of my love of hymns and how they shaped my early faith.

Frances had a gift bag too, from which she drew a copy of my beloved Daily Light, the devotional I have read daily ever since Aunt Agnes, another of my dear friends, long in heaven, introduced me to it. "It isn't for you, dear," Frances said, and went on to tell that it was for the husband in a new young couple at church, who had asked her what "that book" was, from which she was always quoting during worship services. She said that her desire to give him a copy was prompted by the many that I have given to people over the years. Someone giving a Daily Light to someone, sort of in my name, and passing on the blessing, was a great gift.


I was already wearing Brenda's gift, a family ring with our birthstones set in white gold. She wanted me to have it in time for my trip to England, so Mum could see it. I will treasure this beautiful ring as long as I live.

Susan's gift was the most beautiful hand bag I have ever seen. It is a soft green and aqua leather, with detachable tulips, hanging from leather cords. I love it of course and will have fun using it with the detachable straps that can change it into many different styles of bag.

Irene emailed me the next day to say, "Frances wanted me to bring my gift for you to supper last night hence I’m looking forward giving it to you when we get together next week." :-))

In all of the kerfuffle about my birthday, which isn't even here yet, I had not got Frances's gift to her, for her birthday that was on May 27th, but I brought it with me to church on Sunday. I gave it to her in the parking lot before we went in to worship practice; a picture of two oriental poppies on a background of black. She loved it as much as I hope she would. My nickname for Frances is Poppy, because that flower perfectly captures her flamboyant and yet delicately fragile persona. Frances's teenaged daughter Summer, looked on in interest as her mom opened her gift, and then said, "
We have so many things with poppies on in our house."

"That's funny," I said, "We have a lot of things with poppies in our house, too."

"Lest we forget!" said Frances, with a smile.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Don't Wanna be a Hot Head

By Belinda

"Cool headednes, self possession and restraint." I pondered these qualities, mentioned in a devotional book I was reading, with longing.

I realized that if they were the benchmark to shoot for, I had recently failed yet again. Another person had clearly done something wrong and I corrected them, but I was ashamed that I had done it out of  barely contained hot-headedness and anger that simmered not far beneath the surface of my words.

I found myself doing another "What if?" exercise. Here's what I came up with:
  1. What if next time I waited before responding; allowing time to calm down before saying a word?
  2. What if I listened, seeking to understand the one who had offended me?
  3. What if I asked myself whether I am the best person to respond? Am I jumping too quickly before thinking things through sufficiently?
  4. What if, having heard the situation or concerns that prompted the words or action that offended me; I made my focus addressing the concerns rather than defending myself or others.
  5. What if I paused to pray before doing a thing?
If I did, I think that God might actually have a chance of growing the fruit of self control in me, and demonstrating another aspect of  his image in this jar of very earthy clay.
2 Timothy 1:7 (New International Version)
7For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

Galatians 5:22-23 (New International Version)
22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Friday, May 28, 2010

From the Archives - Heading Home

Fridays with Susan.  This is from the archives...  first posted September 27, 2007, slightly edited.

Black smudges of smoky grey clouds rise from the northern horizon as ominous harbingers of darkness, haunting a sky that glows a clear and endless purple-rose in the deepening twilight. I pop in my latest audio book as I turn my car south, heading home at the end of another crazy-busy workday. Rising and falling over hill and dale, my senses are fully aware of the beauty of the evening sky, the perfect backdrop for listening to Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller.

I'm loving this book. Loving it. I'm glad I bought the audio version. The words are read aloud by the author himself and so with certain inflections that might be missed by a different reader. Those words are not only filling my ears, but reaching down to grab my soul - hard - and give it a good shake. I can't wait to read - or should I say, "listen to" - the sequel.

Hearing Donald Miller, as close and as real as if he was sitting there in the passenger seat, reveal his deepest thoughts, opening up hidden places of both peace and angst, makes me want to go back somewhere I think I might have been many years ago. Or maybe I've never been there at all, but somehow it's a place I'm aware of, and long for. A place, a "real" place, a "transparent" place, a place I gradually had to build a wall around not just because I was rejected so many times, but because I had failed others so many times too, just as they had failed me. I think a part of me - some "real" part - must have just given up and laid down somewhere along the way, raising its tired, wounded head here and there a time or two, even going so far as to wag a tail on the rare occasion. But only with a few and very trusted people. For the most part, as it's dawning on me now, I've too often surrounded my true self with a big fluffy cushion of "facade". And all the while priding myself on being "real". Hah.

Yuck.

Fluffy fake facades are so safe. At least that's what we tell ourselves. Are they? Knowing what little I do about God's Upside-down Kingdom, I doubt it. I'll bet the safest and most peaceful place on earth has to be a place of authenticity. That's the place where Jesus stood. Every step he took on earth, even to being stripped naked, beaten, and carrying a heavy cross, he never tried to be anything more - or less - than who he was. He never seemed to "try" at all. He was safe in his own skin. Safe in his personal identity. Father's son. Father's own.

I'm homesick. Homesick enough to be willing to risk getting hurt to get back there. Not just to visit once in a while. I want to move back home. At least I think I am willing. Right now tonight, I am.

"Let your yes be yes, and your no be no," Jesus said.

And let my "me" be the real me. So be it, Lord Jesus. But I'll really need your help.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lessons in Care

By Belinda

Sally, Sue, Jackie, Sam, Tracey, Stephanie, Cheryl, Lisa, Pat, Lorraine, Kerry, Jodie; I get to know them all, as three times a day, in pairs, they let themselves in through the front door of Mum's flat, with the key kept in the key safe outside.

When Mum first needed more help than we could give, it was hard to get accustomed to having our privacy invaded, and on such a regularly daily schedule.

How reassuring it is now, though, to see the good care she receives; overseen by Rob's watchful eye.

"You all right Pieter?" says Sam. She sits beside Mum and opens the TV guide.

"What day is it today?" she says, and then begins to read out the programs.

"You like "Dickinson's Real Deal" don't you Pieter?" and Mum nods, their heads together, absorbed for the moment in planning the day's viewing.

To hear the easy conversation, knowing that these women share more of Mum's life than I do now, makes me happy. I feel that she is in kind hands. They are quick and efficient; they have to be; but they talk to her, sharing chit-chat and laughter.

But I have to adjust to how early Mum goes to bed now. She used to insist on being the last one up in the household, and when she visited me in Canada we laughed at how she had to relinquish that right to me, as I reserved "late night pottering rights" here. But now her Helping Hands ladies arrive at just after 7.00 p.m. to help her get ready for bed and at 7.30 she is tucked in, waiting for Rob, who comes down to put in eye drops and talks to her for a while as he does her inhalers for the night and leaves at about 8.00.

I want to make a change, but I don't. I am very aware that I am entering a delicate eco-system in which I don't live. I have no right to interfere in a routine that works and which gives Rob the time he also needs, to rest.

But I do think about how long the night is, and Mum does necessarily spend hours alone in the day. So one day as we sit on the couch together, I ask, just making conversation, if she would ever want to think about a care home. I never want to think of it, but it might be a support she needs one day.

I am just wondering, but Mum is quick to vehemently answer, "No!" followed by the exclamation, "They are interfering busybodies!"

The forceful words are uncharacteristic of Mum. I try to explain that I wondered if she might sometimes be lonely, but she explains, deliberately, "Belinda, I have a normal life."

And I understand. She makes me think about my own work with an agency that supports people who have disabilities.

When interviewing, there is a scenario question we sometimes use about a lady who compulsively collects small plastic items and stashes them in her room. One day when she is out at work, the staff decide to have a clean out and they throw away her collection. When she comes home, she discovers that her items are gone and is distraught.

"What," we ask, "Would you do?"

I have heard gasps of horror and seen expressions of concern on candidate's faces. Often they say that they will comfort the woman. But when pressed, "Would you do anything more?" after a pause to think, some people say that they would write a report. This is when I feel the panic in my chest building because of what too often comes next. The report is not to document the abuse of invading privacy and taking personal property, but to document the woman's behaviour.

How often are we, "Interfering busybodies" in people's lives? Mum makes me wonder. The phrase perfectly captures the distinction between giving needed (and wanted) support, and Mum's intuitive awareness of how boundaries can be crossed as in the scenario above.

I'm listening to a fascinating audio book called Drive:The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel H. Pink. In it he says that what people really want is, Competence; Autonomy and Relatedness. I found that an interesting point to ponder. So simple really. If we work towards environments that are fertile hotbeds growing competence, autonomy and relatedness we would be moving in a good direction.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Quick Newsflash--Mum is Home

By Belinda
Thank you for praying. Mum is home, leg stitched up, not hurting and in good spirits. Rob is shattered and needs a good sleep. Relief and gratitude.

A Walk with the Master

By Belinda
Psalm 16:11 (New International Version)

11 You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

"Bruce needs watching and handling by a strong arm. Molson goes along knowing the steps and pace."

So wrote my friend Marilyn, in a comment on yesterday's post and she managed to sum up the respective characters of the two dogs in my life  perfectly.

I hesitated to compare our walk with God to my walking with my furry friends, but I can't help thinking about the parallels often when I'm out with a dog. And since God uses the metaphor of sheep throughout the Bible, maybe it's okay. I hope so anyway!

For my first few walks with Bruce, before I "took charge," he was the one taking me for a walk. We didn't have a relationship;I was the means to an end; the end being, "walkies." But as we quickly got to know one another, our relationship grew. He wanted to please me then, and my love lavished on him in words of praise, fell on his ears like a benediction; I could tell it did. I knew he was listening and loving the experience of hitting the mark. 

To tame the more unruly aspects of his character, I had to deliver correction consistently and quickly. I am a softy, but I knew that inconsistent, unpredictable responses would be unfair to Bruce. I loved him and wanted to teach him well so that he would learn what wasn't acceptable. I gave equally quick praise for his attempts at control. 

Molson, in the photo I took on Monday, looks like he is taking himself for a walk. Being a retriever, he loves nothing more than to carry his leash in his mouth, proudly. But although he looks as though he is oblivious to my presence, he is very aware of it. He is perfectly trustworthy to go on far ahead, but he looks back at me frequently, checking with his peripheral vision to make sure I am there and he is quick to respond to a word or a gesture even from far away. His trustworthiness means that he has greater freedom.

But there are places in the walk when I need to put the leash back on. Another dog of unknown personality may be approaching or there is a busy road to cross. On or off, to Molson, the leash is his friend. He happily presents himself for it to be put on and in this picture it makes me think of the scarlet thread that ties us to our Lord and which runs throughout scripture.

The closer my relationship with my four legged friends, the greater the trust, the more pleasant and peaceful the walk.

Isaiah 42:3 (New International Version)
3 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;

 
John 10:27 (New International Version)
27My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dear Friends,
I had a phone call from Rob before I left for work this morning to say that Mum had not been well over the weekend. She had some chest congestion when I was there that was normal for her, but it got worse.

He called in the doctor yesterday (she isn't strong enough to fight anything off,) and he said that as soon as she started antibiotics that he prescribed, she showed signs of improvement. He said her fleet of Helping Hands ladies were being marvelous.

Tonight as soon as I got home from work, I called Rob. It was 10.45 pm in England and John my nephew answered the phone. He said that Rob had gone to the hospital with Mum. Apparently she had had a fall and there was a lot of blood. I can  only think that she got up after going to bed and lost her balance.

Right now I wish I was sleeping in the room next to hers, listening for movement in the night.

I  hope I can post a "Mum update" soon saying that her leg is stitched up and she is right as rain. Stay tuned.

A Heart to Obey

By Belinda

Deuteronomy 5:10 (New Living Translation)
10 But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.
I have been back from England less than a week, but it feels as though I plunged at full speed into life in back in Canada without skipping a beat. Part of my heart got left behind though, and I find my thoughts drifting back to what I know Mum and Rob will be doing as each moment passes, glancing at the clock, adding five hours, and imagining Mum asleep already in her bed, or watching a favourite murder mystery.

And on Saturday, this past weekend, as I went about my Saturday chores, I thought about what I was doing just a week ago.

In the afternoon, with my little newly tamed, four legged friend, Bruce, I had set out for a longish walk. I had truly fallen in love with that little creature by then, and I could tell he loved me, too. He trotted along by my side, doing so well at being relatively civilized and occasionally nudging my leg affectionately with his cold, wet nose; while I, for my part, lavished him with frequent and enthusiastic praise for being "Such a good boy!"

We followed a path to the top of one of the hills that surround the village. Noisily bleating sheep dotted the fields and the wind that sang in the treetops, carried the fragrance of hawthorne and lilac blossom.

Coming towards us, across the fields from the opposite direction, was a crowd of hikers. Bruce and I turned around to go back down the hill, while they followed. Bruce's many stops to sniff delectable smells, meant that they were almost upon us when a beautiful fox, white-tipped tail flying out behind him, ran across the path a little further down the hill disappearing through a hedge and into a field.

That was all too much for Bruce, who completely forgot his manners. Surrounded now by the hikers, I tried to hang on to a highly excited, small but powerful animal, who wanted to chase the fox. He had to settle for rolling on the ground to try and apply the fox scent to himself.

Later, we caught up again with the hikers, in the churchyard.

They all looked to be very fit, although they were all gray haired and in their seventies or eighties.

I said hello to them and asked how far they were walking.

"Oh, I reckon by the end of today we shall have done 9 miles," said one woman.

I was in awe. I had nearly died earlier that week after an hour and a half walk!

"Yes, nuts isn't it?" said one of the men, "But we do it two or three times a week, and you get used to it."

They were great role models for how to age with vitality!

Back at home in Canada, since returning I have already had lots of walks with Molson and I notice how different he feels on the leash, compared to Bruce. I notice other differences too. I'm amazed at how intimate a relationship a dog and human can have and my relationship with both dogs is different because their personalities are so different.

I think about my relationship with God and as I walk I think about the many parallels I see in my walk with him. More on that tomorrow!

Psalm 32:8-9 (New International Version)

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you and watch over you.
9 Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Prayer Pre-eminent; The Prayer Supreme: Part 2 of 2

By Belinda

Based on a sermon on unity, preached by Pastor Paul Mallard, at Wood Green Evangelical Church in Worcester on Sunday, May 16th 2010.

The model of the doctrine of the Trinity is in these verses:

John 17:11 (New International Version)
11I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one.
John 17:21-23 (New International Version)
21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Unity
"That they may be one as I am in you and you in me."
Three and One. Both extremes at the same time.
  • Monotheism--one in mind, will and purpose; one God
  • God is three: God the Father; Son and Holy Spirit
The Father is not the Son; the Father sent the Son. The Father and Son sent the Holy Spirit.
  • Oneness of heart, relationship, passion and vision. And yet, not uniformity; not clones.
  • It's okay to disagree, but not attack.  If you attack me, you are attacking Christ, because we are united in Christ.
  • Diversity within unity.We can only have unity on the basis of truth: Unity in The Truth, is vital.
This is the foundation for witness and ministering:
May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Visible, tangible and real; it demonstrates something.

Once we've got the gospel right; the greatest single thing that stops evangelism is division.

Pastor Mallard shared a story of going to preach at a small church in Wales. He stopped to ask a man for directions to the little church that was tucked away in a small, hard to find corner of the village. The man gave him instructions on how to get there, then said, "You don't want to go there; they all hate one another there."

The difficulty, Pastor Mallard said, is that we are called to be both holy and yet in the world. If the Church is a Lifeboat, we need to have boats that are welcoming or people will take their chances in the water.

We have to be willing to humble ourselves and forgive one another. God uses imperfect people; people who get it wrong.

Destiny
John 17:24 (New International Version)
24"Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
This is our destiny--to be with him, where he is. If we don't get on now--we will be together for eternity.

We want to be in heaven with Jesus, but the amazing thing is that he wants us to be with him! It is a reciprocal desire.

Pastor Mallard described visiting the stacks in Cambridge, when he studied there. He was in awe at all of the books.

"If you read a page,have you read all the books? No, but you've made a start. And that is this life...the first page with God."

Intimacy
John 17:25 (New International Version)
25"Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.

We don't have to earn his love. We just have to bask in it. The moment we stop loving one another, it's as if we cut our throats spiritually. If we want God to bless us with souls, he needs to trust them to a loving community.

A perfect addendum to Pastor Mallard's sermon on John 17, is the story behind the song, Hold Us Together, which I posted with part one on Saturday.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Prayer Pre-eminent; The Prayer Supreme: Part 1 of 2

By Belinda

"If I never heard another sermon, this one would suffice to meditate on for the rest of my life." That is what I wrote in my little red moleskin journal last Sunday morning at Wood Green Evangelical Church in Worcester.

As soon as Pastor Paul Mallard started preaching, I started writing. I am so glad that God had me in that place, at that time, so that I could both be blessed by the message he shared, and could pass it on here. I will share it in two or more parts.

The sermon was on Jesus's prayer, recorded in John 17. I encourage you to grab a Bible and follow along.

The prayer is broken down as follows:
Verses 1-5 For himself prior to the cross

Verses 6-19 For his disciples; 11 frightened men

Verses 20-26 Jesus literally prays for US!

At this point (when Jesus prayed the prayer,) to all intents and purposes, the Church was over. But that is not what Jesus knew (verse 20.)

Verses 20-23 are a prayer for unity:
20"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
John 17:11 (New International Version)
11I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one.
  • Jesus had a passion for unity:
  • He prayed for it
  • It is what he came for
  • What he longs for
Unity is difficult. Everything Jesus prays in this prayer--you can't take for granted. It will take a huge work--a supernatural work of God for us to be unified--to be holy.

Every single letter written in the New Testament has something to say about unity, e.g. the book of Philippians--Paul writes: "Make my joy complete by being united."

If we had the mind of Christ we would not have disunity in any church. The Holy Spirit will not bless you if you are divided.

The book of Ephesians lists 15 things to "put off"(see Ephesians 4:21-32) and 8 of them are about relationship (discord; gossip; anger etc.)

Talk to missionaries--the biggest single cultural hazard faced, is not danger or spiritual warfare--it's your fellow missionaries.

The only person who delights in a divided church is the devil.

Unity is possible or Jesus would not have prayed for it!

That is all for this post, friends. I will continue on Monday.

I leave you with a song that my friend Janet Sketchley, posted on her blog, God With Us: Finding Joy. I love it and it fits so perfectly with this message.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Follow Me

Fridays with Susan...

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me -- put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you."  Philippians 4:9

Those are Paul's words in a letter written to the Philippian Christians from a jail cell.  Jane was leading us in the Bible study at our cell group. It was right at the end of the study, when she got to this passage and it hit me hard.

Could I write these words to someone just like Paul did?  Could I tell someone to follow me, to do everything that I did?  If they emulated me, would the peace of God be with them?

The thought terrified me as I thought about what the consequences might be if even one person decided they were going to follow me.  We tend to think that what we do affects only us, at least I do, but it doesn't!  I was amazed recently when I made some lifestyle changes, what an impact that had on my children and even some of my friends.  They were all watching me, unbeknownst to me, and some of them were actually inspired - by my example alone - no preaching on my part - to make some similar changes themselves.  I was really surprised by that.  I thought my actions affected only me and it really surprised me when there was a significant ripple effect.

So if my positive actions are affecting others, wouldn't some of my negative actions also be?  I'm not referring so much to interactions with others here, but some of the choices I make in how I live my life.  What about the way I talk to to my husband?  Or what I do when the store clerk gives me too much change?  Or how I handle disappointment?  Or how I use my time - how much of it I give to the Internet and other vain pursuits? The things I eat?

What about you?  Could you pen those words to another, could you challenge them to follow you, with any sense of certainty that you weren't steering them way down a wrong path?

Well, I think it's about time I got myself positioned to do just that... to be able to say to others, "Go ahead - follow me!"

Hmmm.  It's not about "me" after all.  It's really not.  Whether I like it or not, or whether I recognize it or not, I am a leader.  And so are you!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ancient Yet Accessible

 By Belinda

It was the last day of my vacation in Alvechurch and the weather, which had been unseasonably cool until then, had changed overnight.

The sun shone through leaves of intense, vibrant green. The summer blue sky was dotted with cotton ball white clouds. And the whole village was alive with birdsong. Exuberant trills, chirrups and throaty warbles filled air that was already intoxicating with the perfume of trees heavy with lilac blossom.

I needed to make a quick trip to the Co-Op--a convenience store in the village; to buy a few treats to share with friends who were visiting for tea later in the day.

"Would you like to come with me to the Co-op, Mum?" I asked.

Mum is very contented in her little home, and seems to have no desire that drives her to leave it.

It is easy to forget that when she traveled to vacation with us in Canada, she joined me in every adventure I was involved in and even some with Paul, such as helping do roofing!  She just wanted to be with me in whatever I was doing and if that meant going to a writers group meeting that happened to be on the night she arrived, she wouldn't hesitate--she did it.

Knowing all of this about Mum, when she answered "Yes," it affirmed that inside a body and mind that is slowed by the effect of a stroke; her heart, spirit and soul, as I thought, remained unchanged.

And so, with Rob's help and instruction and tips, the  foldaway wheelchair purchased for doctor's appointments, was dusted off and prepared, with a soft cushion on the seat. Mum exchanged her cosy royal blue slippers that fasten snugly around her ankles with Velcro tabs, for sturdy beige leather, lace up shoes. We helped her on with her soft, three quarter length, stone coloured jacket and she reluctantly gave in to Robs and my suggestion of her small but colourful blanket to keep her warm and preserve her modesty, where her knee high black stockings ended.(Rob resorted to, "Mum, they will be able to see your knickers!) The blanket was crocheted by Olive; a spry 80 year old neighbour who makes them for everyone in Tanyard Close, including Bruce!

Out of the front door we rolled, and into the glorious fresh air and the beautiful day.

We discovered a village new to both of us, searching for lips from sidewalks and finding them everywhere. To my happy surprise, without knowing it, because we never noticed it before; we had an accessible village!

We left Tanyard Close, with its tulips, daffodils, blue bells, and pansies everywhere in pots and gardens; and soon passed by the imposing, cream painted, Red Lion pub and restaurant. We noticed that it was ramped (not that Mum was headed there--I just was happy to see that she could, if she wanted to.) Then we passed Mum's old church, Alvechurch Baptist Church. A large sign proclaimed with red letters, "Open Church" and invited passers by to come in and have some quiet moments. "Look Mum, your church is open," I said, and even though we were on a different mission, it was wonderful to see a ramp to the front door and know that she could have gone inside and enjoyed some quiet moments.

We trundled by a row of centuries old houses and past the Tudor Rose fish and chip shop, and the breezed carried the lunchtime fish and chips frying, to our nostrils.

Crossing the road, we made our way to the Co-Op in the village square. The doors slid open at our approach as if by silent butlers awaiting our arrival. Even though the little store was humming with villagers and some aisles had piles of boxes with items waiting to be shelved, we navigated quite handily. Mum gazed with interest at the rows of magazines that we passed; the canned goods; and then we got to our destination, the cake aisle, where I met an old school friend who had just lost 3 stone (42 pounds) at Weight Watchers, stacking the shelves with cakes. She recommended the WW lemon slice bar as very tasty and we took one to accompany the ones I really wanted--the coconut covered jam sponge, and Jamaica Ginger cake! :)

We headed home by a different route, through the alleys and short cuts that run across the village.

Beside the village hall, at the foot of Bear Hill, where we used to live; in the council houses that are beyond the older homes; I paused, put on the wheelchair brakes and took a photo.

Mum, "out" in the ancient yet accessible village.
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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

New and Free!

By Belinda

I turned to Leviticus 14, part of my reading for the day. "Not exactly the most exciting or gripping part of the Bible," I thought, but I would plod through.

The chapter is about infectious skin diseases and mildew in houses! To my surprise God began to speak even through a passage I was expecting to "just get through."

Three things struck me (with the caveat that these are my humble and limited thoughts on a passage that probably has much more profound meaning):
  1. The passage mentions sacrifices of doves and lambs for cleansing. If the spreading nature of skin diseases and mildew represents sin in humankind, then the sacrifice of the most harmless and innocent creatures on the altar of our sin, is a picture of the devastation our sin wreaks on the innocent; both in the natural world and our relationships. For truly, no man is an island (John Donne,) and only a brief pondering affirms that as true when it comes to our sin: greed, selfishness, bitterness, gossip, to name only those we tend to ignore. 
  2. Leviticus 14:33-53 describes the drastic action for mildew on a house wall: the removal of the affected portion of bricks--and, if this is not successful, the demolishing and removal to the outside of town, of the stones, timber and plaster. It reminded me of the renovations God does; how he makes us new when we become his.

  3. Leviticus 14:53 (New International Version) 53 Then he is to release the live bird in the open fields outside the town. Freedom! Release from old bondages! It is finished!

    All of this affirms the message of the song that I posted here last Friday. Its message continues to sing in my heart!

I Will Change Your Name

(D.J. Butler)

I will change your name
You shall no longer be called
Wounded, outcast
Lonely or afraid

I will change your name
Your new name shall be
Confidence, joyfulness
Overcoming one

Faithfulness, friend of God
One who seeks my face.

Copyright © 1987 Mercy Publishing. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mum

By Belinda

I leave England today, if the cloud of volcanic ash allows. I take with me a heart full of treasured memories.

I arrived to find Mum incredibly well. She amazes me with her continued recovery of ability to communicate her thoughts. She had a stroke in October 2003, and although I initially heard that after 2 years a person's recovery reaches a plateau, we never found that to be the case for Mum, who continues to happily surprise us. In great part, I am sure this is due to Rob's company, conversation, and loving care, as well as Mum's attitude on life, and God's goodness.

Interestingly, just before I left Canada, I finished listening to an audio book I had borrowed from the library, My Stroke of Insight by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. Dr. Jill is a brain scientist who suffered an exploding blood vessel in her brain. Her book, written over her 8 year recovery, was fascinating and contained so much excellent information. Her experience of long, continued recovery has been our experience too.

Mum continues to find it hard to express complex thoughts, although I know she has a deep thought life and understands everything going on around her. Sometimes she tries so hard to say something that just won't come out. But at these times she just laughs, shrugs and lets it go, with a smile in her eyes.

Since her stroke, Mum's spiritual life is simple. She no longer reads or prays, but she knows God. When I am here, one of the rituals we have is praying together once she is in bed, with me doing the praying and Mum saying a heartfelt "Amen," at the end. We hold each others hands and at the end, hers squeeze mine in agreement and thanks. We pray for every family member and their needs, and thank God for the wonderful carers he has put in her life.

One day last week, at the end of the prayer she said,, with furrowed brow, "You didn't pray for yourself!"

I laughed and said that it would sound funny to say, "And God, please bless me too."

A few nights later, at the end of our prayer, her hands gripped mine in that final soft squeeze, but her eyes were remained closed. Mum continued the prayer where I had left off; with, "And Lord, please look after my Belinda."

That moment is one of the golden treasures I carry home with me.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

A Place of Peace

By Belinda
John 11:25 (New International Version)

25Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;

As Rob and I wander among the rows of graves in the village churchyard, he points out name after familiar name. A lawn mower drones nearby, and every few minutes someone passes through going this way or that. The churchyard is not a lonely place.

So many of the recent headstones belong to people or families we knew growing up. Here people are not laid to rest among strangers and the community of those who are at rest, seems as real as the people bustling around the streets.

Down the hill below the church, in my mum's snug flat, tucked beneath the duvet at night, I listen to the church clock as it chimes the hours over the dark church yard and I think of my father lying there for7 years now. It is a pleasant place to be, beneath the ancient trees and surrounded by peaceful, rolling, green hills. He would have not wanted to rest anywhere else.

One  headstone belongs to my old headmaster, Mr. Lowe. For 3 happy years, from 1959 to 1961 I attended Alvechurch Church of England primary school.

Mr. Lowe was a man of military bearing with a mustache, fresh complexion and kind eyes. I see him in my mind's eye, walking, hands behind his back like a sergeant major and always in a dark suit, buttoned in the middle.

I noticed that the scripture on his headstone is incorrect--I can't seem to help seeing these things. "The resurrection and the light," should be "The resurrection and the life." And I wonder if that drives him nuts--to be so permanently memorialized with a misquote when he was a reader at the church and would definitely have caught it himself!
Probably not! After all he is now with the one who is both the Light of the World, and the Resurrection and the Life!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

B & B

By Belinda

B & B--Belinda and Bruce; Bonded and Best friends.

It was the day after my public humiliation. I had been brought to my knees by my nephew's Staffordshire bull terrier, Bruce; in the village street--and in front of a man with a well behaved Scottie dog at that. I realized that drastic action was needed.

I felt a little bit like a Doggie Super Nanny, taking on the delinquent Brucie.

I believe in my heart that people are responsible for how a dog behaves and therefore it was I who needed to make the changes that would tame the wee beastie.

I'm not an expert--obviously :) but I think that dogs really do want to please people. It is our job to teach them how to do that.

I also think that they are happy when they know their proper place in the pecking order--and it's not at the top!

I don't believe that dogs are into democracy--and I'm not into domination by force or shouting, so we needed to come to an understanding.

I had confidence in Bruce's intelligence and he quickly proved it by learning in a flash that when he pulled, a quick yank on the collar occurred and the walk came to an immediate halt. I would not move forward until the all the pull had gone out of his paws. As soon as he stood waiting quietly, we moved forward. A few repeats of this process and he was trotting along like a civilized little dog--with occasional reminders.

Next we worked on the darting and lunging. I realized that at least in part, it was a startle reflex, triggered by fright at big, noisy vehicles passing, or any sudden unexpected sight or sound. I figured that the more he knew I was confidently in charge, the safer he would feel.. It seems funny thinking of this powerfully built dog being frightened, but why not? I remember being scared out of my wits myself when I was little and a big truck drove by. Calming words help him feel safe and the lunging is decreasing.

The third issue was his aggression towards other dogs. Rob's initial warning about this was intimidating. So many dog owners walk their dogs around the village unleashed. The prospect of confronting this situation on a canal tow path or narrow laneway filled me with so much fear that for the first few walks I turned around and avoided the approach of other dogs, especially if they were loose. After a day or two I progressed to backing up grass banks and almost disappearing into hedgerows--not a very satisfactory solution--and I didn't like being stung by the nettles in the hedges.

"Enough of this!" I decided, "I need to take charge."

So I have been keeping Bruce on a tight rein and coaching him as other dogs approach; alternating between a quick, "No!" if he barks, and lavish praise for no barking. Realizing the obvious; that nothing can happen if I maintain control on a short leash; took away my fear.

For most of the time on the walks I am in praise lavishing mode--and I can tell he likes it. He looks like a happy little dog.

On Friday morning Rob came in from his morning walk with Bruce.

"Who was a different dog today at the end of the leash then?" he said as Bruce trotted in.

That made me smile! We're not a perfect pair yet, but we sure love each other and we're having fun getting there.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Sifting through Treasures

Fridays with Susan...

Daughter-in-law Heather came over today with her Sweet William, accompanied by Andrew who stayed and helped for a few hours before going off to work.  While William played in the baby jail, as we affectionately call it, we went through "stuff".  Heather finished off the mudroom we had mostly done on Monday and then tackled the books upstairs. She culled hundreds, if not thousands of children's books from eight shelves down to one.  I stayed downstairs and sifted through boxes and boxes of papers and treasures of all kinds.  Not as productive as Heather, I managed to cull about one-third of what I went through.  But it was good to see the "junk" go into one pile, the good stuff I don't want go into another for others to enjoy, and the good stuff I do want, carefully set aside to be properly stored and/or to be put back into good use.  We are downsizing from eleven crammed rooms to seven as we turn the upstairs of our house into an apartment for Heather and Andrew and William.  We're looking forward to their moving in sometime in mid to late summer.

I have to admit I was more than a bit overwhelmed by the "wealth" I have accumulated.  I found letters from dear ones who have long since left this world and those are the things, I think, I treasure most.  But I also sifted through several archive boxes of journals and sermon notes, and even some old poems and songs I had written and long forgotten. 

A day spent like that brings one to a place of introspective evaluation.  I am quickly approaching the end of what is generally considered "middle age" as I come up to what is scarily referred to as "the golden years" or  "the twilight years".  Going through all that stuff today, much of which remains to be put into useful form for others, has taken any fear out of that journey for me.  There is no other juncture in my life where I have had the stash of wisdom and resources like this which have been culled from a life of living.  God has poured in a lot of stuff over the last twenty years or so!  The time is coming to begin to sift that pile, both the seen and the unseen, to cull out of it the lessons which might be the most useful to others.

One of the things I ran across was a short note I had made on a non-descript piece of paper.  I doubt anyone else would realize what a treasure it is.  But to me it sums up so much more than would appear at first glance.  I could write sermon after sermon after sermon around these five short lines.  The prose leaves much to be desired, but the sentiment, based on Matthew 6:33 burns in my heart with more fire today than on the day I wrote it down in Raleigh, North Carolina, more than twenty years ago.  Perhaps because then I wrote it down in faith, hoping that it was something that would be realized in my life.  In retrospect, I can see  the writing of that note was the beginning of a period in my life where God allowed everything else to be stripped away - including even my sanity for a time - in order to begin the process of bringing this cry of my heart into fruition. And now, having been through all that, these words have become so precious.  Not because I've "arrived", but because he is in control of the journey.

Seek the Lord...  not his provision.
Desire God...  not worldly things.
Set your heart on Jesus himself!
Seek His Kingdom...  not what it brings.
Seek His Kingdom... not what it brings.

I suspect there will be more on this in the coming days...
By Belinda

I'm not taking Susan's place today her post is coming and I'm looking forward to it! But the words to this song were mentioned in a book I am reading and I want to share it as a blessing to all who visit here this morning. It was all the more special as I found that the scripture verse that pops up is in Dutch! How cool is that as a special hug from God to all of us Dutchies (or Dutchie wannabes? :))

Here is the scripture in English. Blessings today, dear friends! :)
Galatians 5:22-23 (New International Version)

22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Beauty of Jesus

By Belinda

The Beauty Of Jesus

Amazon.co.uk Low prices on the beauty of jesus. Free UK Delivery on Amazon Orders
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I was looking up the words to a hymn, Let the Beauty of Jesus be Seen in Me, and  the advertisement above popped up--no kidding. I'm considering placing an order!

While in England I have been reading a book by  a Canadian author, Jean Little, entitled, His Banner Over Me. Although it is supposed to be a children's book (ages 8-12!) I am thoroughly enjoying the book.

One of the things I love about it is that each chapter starts with the verse of a hymn. It reminds me of how the inspired words of hymns nourished my soul as a child. I read them like a devotional book and sang them sincerely as they gave words to my young journey of faith. This one, written by Albert Osborn, has been on my heart this morning:

Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me
All His wonderful passion and purity
Oh, Thou Spirit divine, all my nature refine
Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me


This is my prayer, especially while here in England with my family. One family member has had a lot of hurt in his young life so far and gotten lost along the way. It feels as though he needs to feel and see God in someone more than he needs words, although if God gives me the right words and the moment, I am ready--but only if he does.

Looking for a video clip of the hymn on You Tube, I came across a young girl's video testimony of coming to faith. The change in her face, from "before Jesus" to "after Jesus," says it all. I have seen the light in someone's eyes change as dramatically and beautifully as this young girl's. He is real and he changes lives.

Today I lift up in prayer those in our lives who need Jesus.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Introducing Bruce

By Belinda

I was a bit apprehensive about our first meeting, I admit. I had heard how he warned off some of Mum’s carers with a snap and growl, when they bent to pat him suddenly and I feared similar rejection, although I know enough to let a dog make the first move.

To my relief, when we met, my brother Rob announced, “Look at that! Bruce took to Belinda right away.”

I felt honoured and special, until our friends the Ashtons visited later that week and he immediately jumped onto the couch beside lovely young Nel--and rested a paw on her knee. You would almost think he had an eye for the ladies.

Bruce, a 3 year old brindle Staffordshire bull terrier came to my nephew John, Rob’s son, like Brenda’s Molson, as a gift. Both are purebred dogs with champion blood flowing in their veins, and both needed loving homes.

Bruce’s first owner, Jo, had a baby and worried about his aggressive, protective instincts, so they looked for a new home for him. In April she wrote to Rob, “It was the hardest thing I had to do. I miss him every day and think of him always.” She also wrote that he loved to be rubbed under his collar and have his ears rubbed too. Her letter made getting to know Bruce so much easier.

My first afternoon in Alvechurch, I went with Rob and Bruce to The Meadows—playing fields and a park in the village—and Bruce’s favourite place. There, after carefully scanning the horizon for other dogs, Rob let him off the leash. 40 pounds of power in a compact muscular body rocketed after a huge stick, running with it, shaking it and hanging from it as Rob lifted it in the air. I wore myself out chasing after him and the stick. His energy is boundless.

The next day I offered to take Bruce for a walk on my own. Rob was grateful. He has back and foot problems and can only take him for short walks. Rob told me to be careful—that Bruce is a darter—after birds, other dogs, anything that attracts his attention. He also warned me to be careful of other dogs, especially if they are loose.

Every walk begins with a valiant attempt by Bruce to head for The Meadows. He is like a child, longing for the freedom of running free and until all hope is lost, his feet try to scamper in that direction even if we are going the opposite way.

We have walked miles together in my first week here and it has been a daily adventure. Britain is a nation of dog lovers and dogs and their owners are out and about everywhere at all times of the day. Bruce’s auto-responder is set to “fight,” an inbred trait that has yet to be tempered with training. I am used to having 80 pounds of sunshine bounding along by my side. I am getting used to 40 pounds of solid muscle pulling in the opposite direction or suddenly and without warning, attempting a “dart!”

Without him I would just be walking the roads of the village. With Bruce I can cover hills and trails, country roads and canal banks in perfect safety.

He grunts and snuffles his pleasure as he strains forward into the walk, soft ears folding back over his big head as he trots. And he seems to know to wait, when I want to stop to take a photograph.

This afternoon on the way home he suddenly began to snap, snarl and lunge. Across the road was a white haired man in glasses with a little white Scottie dog. I stopped, holding tightly to Bruce, ready to wait for him to cross and go on ahead, but he shouted, “No, you go first.” As I went to move forward, Bruce leaped ahead and I lost my balance, falling into the road, first on my knee with a sickening bump and then my rear end.
“Are you okay?” shouted Scottie man.

“Yes,” I shouted back, trying to assume some semblance of dignity. I wasn’t okay though, I was shaken, bruised, and my knee was skinned. But I limped home determined to look up “training Staffords” on the internet.

We have a week left. Can I become the Alpha dog?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

By Belinda

It is one of my Mornings at Mum’s. The early morning is quiet; thinking and praying time, of course with the requisite cup of fresh brewed, delicious, black coffee.

From where I sit, by the window, my eye travels over a hawthorn covered stone wall; a patch of grass; two gray green, weathered wooden fences, between the roofs of two bungalows, to a bedroom window in a white house. The house was Mum and Dad’s last home together and the bedroom was Dad’s. It was from that room he was taken by paramedics, in December 2002, suffering with the pneumonia from which he never recovered.

“Relationship—with God and with people—nothing else matters:” that was the last wisdom that Paul’s dad, a pastor who cared passionately about doctrine, shared with him just before he died in 1986.

In comparison to relationship, some of what had seemed so important; wasn’t. It was all very simple in the end.

Both of our fathers struggled with relationships, in different ways. I think of that now as I look at that curtained bedroom window. The hurts of life damage our ability to relate. We try to heal the hurt with things that soothe and numb the pain; things that ultimately steal and kill.

Drugs; alcohol; food; shopping; the internet; ministry; approval, etc., take space in our lives that relationship with God, family and friends were meant to fill. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to learn this and some never do. Even knowing  it, it is easy to forget and gravitate to old patterns.

Replacements for God have a sting in their tail. They rob us of health; eat up the prime years of youth and productivity; tear down relationships and lay waste to lives. At their best they are second best.

If it is true that relationship matters above all else, then the neglect and perversion of relationship may be the root sin from which all others flow. For we were created to love and enjoy God and one another.

Yet, wounded as we are, God will bind up our brokeness if we only give it to him.

And this is our hope when we turn to him...

Isaiah 44:22 (New Living Translation
22 I have swept away your sins like a cloud.
I have scattered your offenses like the morning mist.
Oh, return to me,
for I have paid the price to set you free.”

Joel 2:23-25 (New International Version)
23 Be glad, O people of Zion,
rejoice in the LORD your God,
for he has given you
the autumn rains in righteousness. 
He sends you abundant showers,
both autumn and spring rains, as before.
24 The threshing floors will be filled with grain;
the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.
25a "I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Perfect Synchronicity

By Belinda

The day of my flight to England (last Monday,) I woke shortly after 6.00 a.m. Just three hours had passed since I had relaxed into the couch cushions for the second time in the night (I hadn’t wanted to disturb Paul in the event I had another restless night.)

I had made an attempt at sleep at 11.00 pm, but lay wide awake for an hour before taking my cue to use this precious time productively. My “To Do before I Leave” work list was waiting for me in the morning so why not make a start? I figured it would take about 2 hours to finish and it seemed like a great idea to ride the wave of wakefulness.

First though, I swept the floor, mopped it and put away the last dishes left on the countertop from Sunday’s big family dinner. Brenda, asleep in her apartment downstairs, probably wondered what was going on in the middle of the night.

By 3.00 a.m., with a sense of peace, I went back to the couch and instantly fell asleep.

Susan dropped by at 8.30 a.m. for a goodbye cup of coffee, on her way to a training session.

She pulled out her flip camera.

“Take this with you,” she said, “And I don’t care if I should never see it again.”

She wanted me to know that she wouldn't feel devastated if some terrible fate befell her camera. How typical of her generous heart and giving nature, I thought.

“I’ve never been to Alvechurch,” she said, “But I feel as though I know Bear Hill and Snake Lane and Tanyard Close as well as if I had.”

She said that she imagined me taking the camera to those places and walking the steep hill to St. Laurence’s church yard, and the black path I used to walk to school, and bringing them home. The possibilities excited me. What a gift to have this amazing tool to take with me.

The rest of the day unfolded busily yet without stress. I was grateful for the two hours of work I did in the middle of the night, for it left me just an hour to complete in the office and then I could start my vacation feeling that the important things were done.

I did some shopping, did laundry and packed, right up until it was time to leave for the airport. We stopped at Honda on the way, to drop off my car for its spring/summer service and snow tire removal.

Finally I was in Paul’s car, being taken to the airport.

I thought back to my rising panic the previous Wednesday evening, when it seemed that there were 5 days ahead with too much to do in such a short amount of time, and I could only thank God for the exercise of “What if,” which changed the course of those days; and for the wonderful way they unfolded instead, step by step.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Hallelujah!

Paula Walker is one of our little crowd of cherished Whatever He Says readers. She wrote to tell me of her "What if" moment this week and graciously gave permission to share it here. It is a wonderful example of stepping onto the stone God pointed out, and asking, "What if I just embraced this moment?"

By Paula

My 'what if' moment, today, happened when at 9:15 a.m. my dear son invited himself, and four others for brunch at 9:30 - the four included my 'now away at college' grandson and a young teacher visiting here from Provence, France.

I flirted with saying "I had my breakfast at the proper time at 6:30 am and defintely am not ready for brunch" but fortunately said nothing out loud ( a miracle for me !)

Instead, quickly weighing the opportunity I was being given to share time with people I love dearly, I decided all other responsibilities, some of them rather pressing, would be dealt with later in the day. I managed, with some help, to pull together a pretty decent meal of fruit salad, cheesy scrambled eggs, chewy montreal bagels with cream cheese and even made some banana muffins to go with our thick, rich, coffee. We talked and ate for two hours.

I learned wonderful things about my grandson's new apartment in downtown Toronto ( like he has enough room for a grandma to stay overnight!)and I was graciously offered a house to stay in whenever I can get to Provence ...... but most importantly, I was able to share laughter, joy and the warm blessings of family and friends around our 'tribal gathering place' - the dining room table - on a rainy, Saturday morning.

As I returned to the kitchen from waving goodbye to start my clean-up, I listened absolutely awestruck as the radio (96.3 FM) played Handel's Hallelujah Chorus. It has been our 'family song' for decades, always played at way too many decibels by my husband to waken us on Christmas morning, and on sleepy Sunday mornings, and every holiday morning just for starters - get my drift ??

And here it was at noon, on an early May Saturday, on a morning radio show. Coincidence ?

I think not ! It was a benediction.
Paula

Friday, May 07, 2010

Friday Report

Fridays with Susan...

Today (Thursday) was my last day off after some time spent resting and recuperating.  It's been a slow and easy two weeks and I'm really excited about getting back in the saddle tomorrow.  I've had a whole week to frame the "what if" questions I will take with me tomorrow.

In spite of some great backup in my absence, there will be a logjam.  Reports to process, human resources issues to follow up on, people to say hello to, emails to answer, phone calls to return, projects to get back to, and the "how ARE you?" question to answer over, and over, and over again.  It will be wonderful - emphasis on the "full"!

All my natural defences have tried several times to rise up and take me to a state of panic and dread.  But I'm not listening to those.  I have a new way of living - a new way of being.  Remember my questions from last week?  The ones Belinda has been bringing us back to all week?  I'll be taking them with me tomorrow - and though I have many to choose from, I'll be stepping only on those stones the Lord points out to me - and not worrying about those which need to be left for another day.  And when I'm done, I'll be done.  I will pack up and go home based on making sure that I reserve enough strength for the long haul.  Monday will come soon enough.

I'm becoming addicted to the "what if" way of life.

I had one very particularly tough day since writing last week.  It was tough for a number of reasons.  I took hits from several directions and in quick succession - all on the same day.

Blow #1:  There was more than one set of eyes that used to be filled with joy to see me - but instead steadfastly avoided mine too many times in a row for me to be mistaken or think I was imagining things.  (Oh, the pain of rejection and lost relationship!)

Blow #2:  There was a phone call that came relaying the disappointing news that some of my actions and attitudes had been misrepresented in a way that cast a shadow on my reputation.  (Oh, the disappointment and damage to my pride!)

Blow #3.  I picked absolutely the wrong time to tease someone who I love with all my heart, and would never hurt on purpose.  I didn't realize how fragile she was feeling and my silly words caused her to break down and cry.   In the ensuing moments of my completeley inadequate attempt to pick up the pieces and apologize, the deeper issue that was causing concern came to the surface.  My heart broke as I realized there was nothing I could do that would help this dear person in the situation she was facing.  (Oh, the sense of helplessness and hopelessness! And I only made it worse.)

Blow #4: I stumbled in an area that I thought had been resolved and would never fail in again. It wasn't a big fall, just a little short-lived stumble, but it shook me to my foundations and left me feeling frightened and uncertain of myself.  (Oh, the disappointment in myself and the fear of becoming entrapped once again!)

All this happened on the same day.  There was a time, and not very many days ago, that a day like that would have flattened me for weeks.  But instead of turning to my old ways, which, incidentally, were calling me loudly, I resolved to ask God for some what-if questions instead.

Blow # 1:  What if I actually reached out to those people instead of running as fast as I can in the opposite direction?  What if I refused to feel that comfortable old sense of rejection, but instead showed them somehow that God had shed abroad his love in my heart already?  What if I chose to see them as hurting people too, and afraid just like me, instead of "mean".  What if I did that even before they gave me any indication that they were ready to love me back and before I had any assurance that I would be "safe"?

Blow #2:  What if I waited to talk to the one person whose perception I most cared about who was in that room and had heard, with everyone else, the things that were said in reference to me before I started reacting and getting my bloomers in a knot?  What if I waited to hear her perspective on what happened before I started building up defenses in my heart and taking up an offence in return?  What if I trusted God with my reputation instead of taking up arms in my own defence?

Blow #3:  What if I just held my hurting friend?  What if I didn't try to do a thing to fix it, but just let her know I accepted her, I cared deeply, and that she could count on me to pray?

Blow #4:  What if I just forgave myelf even as I asked God's forgiveness and purposed to learn what I could from my mistake?  What if I shunned self-pity and saw it as an opportunity instead, to learn more about myself, the weaknesses in my defences and most importantly, What if I just pulled up  my socks, tied my shoes and got back in the game?

What if?

Well, three of those blows have already been either profoundly resolved or defused.  Because I stopped to ask God "what if" and cooperated with him as he held me back long enough to listen closely to my heart's response to his reply, I have been blessed beyond my wildest expectations.  Not only were the actions that I took measured, and wise (with His wisdom, not mine!) but my heart was completely at rest through it all - and still is. 

I have realized during this week of trying out "what if" that asking those questions and waiting for God's direction in his reply, positions me to be "abiding in him".  I have loved the idea of those scriptures in John 15, but I have always felt badly whenever I ran across them.  It sounds to easy - to abide in him.  I wonder how many times I have asked him, "How do you do that?" and have never really understood his reply.  I have always fallen so far short of what he describes.  I think he's drawing me closer though, to the understanding and application of that incredible truth.  Am I "there"  yet?  No.  But because of the events of this week, I have some tangible hope in my heart for "knowing him" and "abiding in his love".  More than ever before.

You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I'm no longer calling you servants because servants don't understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I've named you friends because I've let you in on everything I've heard from the Father.  You didn't choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won't spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.  But remember the root command: Love one another.   John 15:15-17.  The Message

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Heart of the Matter

By Belinda

I slept soundly and woke up refreshed on Sunday morning when my alarm went off at 5.30 a.m. That was the time I had to take my crock pot out of the fridge and turn it on so that the roast could cook for 8 hours and be ready for our big family lunch after church.

It was wonderful being up so early on a Sunday morning and I felt the expansive pleasure of having four whole hours ahead before I needed to leave for worship practice.

After breakfast, I sat down on the couch with a second cup of delicious black coffee. The clock ticking was the only sound in the still sleeping household. I opened my Daily Light and began to read...and God began to speak. No I didn't hear an audible voice, but just as surely as I had felt him pointing out the stones I was to step on, I felt him now, speaking through his word, and a particular verse that leaped off the page. I don't usually bombard with so many scripture verses, but I feel compelled to pass these on:

 26 Dear child, I want your full attention;
   please do what I show you. (Proverbs 23:26, The Message)

The Message version seems very appropriate. My Daily Light had the NIV version had simply said, "My son, give me your heart."

I was reminded of God saying to his people through the prophet Malachi, to bring the whole tithe into the store house. God was telling me to hold nothing back, to give him all of my heart. I looked up the book of  Malachi and God continued to speak:

Malachi 2:11 (New International Version)
11 Judah has broken faith...by marrying the daughter of a foreign god.

"Yes, Lord," I acknowledged, "I have broken faith with you, so often."

Malachi 3:7 (New International Version)
7b ... Return to me, and I will return to you," says the LORD Almighty.

10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

God was telling me to trust him (as tithing is all about trusting and I don't really think that this passage is about money as much as it is about obedience and trust.)

11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the LORD Almighty. 12 "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the LORD Almighty.

Through this verse God reminded me that if I take steps that are sometimes counter-intuitive and trust him, then the fruit will result, and my land (a metaphor for my life,) will be a delightful land.

Through all of this back and forth conversation with God I was writing in my journal and I had two blog post written in quick minutes. I was amazed that the fruit was already evident.

When I finally went upstairs to check email, there were several from Susan, and in one of them she said that she had a draft blog post waiting to be used whenever I needed it over the next few days of transition to England. Now I had three posts. God was demonstrating his principle of fruit and blessing following obedience.

We rarely sing hymns any more at church, but that morning, Cheryl had chosen the hymn by Edward Mote, The Solid Rock.

As we sang out the third verse and the refrain, I smiled at God's continued demonstration of intimate involvement and mentoring in my life and thought of the stones Susan had seen planted in my pathway:

His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.


Post Script: God blessed me with yet another post on the topic of "What if," by a regular reader. It will be posted on Saturday! :)

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Stepping Stones

By Belinda

So, what's up with me? Well, a lot! The journey of this past week has been deeply significant, starting with my Thursday post and my 5 inaugural "What ifs..." I call them inaugural because I plan to make a regular practice of asking that question of myself.

On Friday night Paul and I had turned in at a reasonable time, but he was unusually restless. Several times he turned over just as I was about to drop off to sleep and after this happened a few times, I was wide awake. A bright full moon lighting up the bedroom added to my wakefulness and by midnight I decided that I might as well get up and do something useful.

I may sound like the full moon got the better of me, but I balanced my budget and paid some bills; tidied up a room that was a disaster and made a list of essential work related things to do before leaving. All of this took a load off my mind. By 3.00 a.m. I found a comfy couch and dropped off into a peaceful sleep.

All day Saturday, a day with much on my list of things to do as I prepared to go away, I experienced myself stepping on the stones that Jesus pointed out, making choices as the day went by, to do this or that thing, with a real sense that it wasn't possible to do everything, but being guided in each decision.

At the hairdressers for my root touch up, I relaxed and read a good book under the processor. Then a pleasant young man shampooed my hair and gave my hair a conditioning treatment and me a head massage that was incredible. To my surprise he also massaged my face. My emotions about that were a mixture of "Hey, what about my makeup?" and "This feels so good." He massaged my jaw and cheeks and I relaxed!

Jamie, my hairdresser, has long blonde hair with natural curls, big blue eyes above a finely featured face with lovely bones. She is by nature animated and slightly distracted, she is a gifted hairdresser, and she has a heart of gold. She had supervised another hairdresser doing the colour, but to my joy, she said she would do the blowdry herself--and she asked if I needed a bang trim.

I said, "Are you serious? I was just grateful to be squeezed in for my colour. You would trim my bangs?!" And she did. I left there feeling beautiful and that at least my hair was ready for my trip to England.

That evening, after watching a wonderful movie from the library, with Paul, I took Molson out for a walk, and reveled in the sights, sounds and smells of the spring evening under a setting sun--and in the company of my four legged friend.

Once home I had a dinner to prepare for the next day, when 12 of us would be together to celebrate Paul's birthday, which is on Monday. I peeled, chopped, simmered and mashed while listening to a gripping audio book and at 10.30 I was finished.

I hadn't had my time with God, and I felt Jesus pointing out that stone now, and I felt him saying, "Be still and know that I am God." Instead of praying or reading, I sat on the couch and relaxed into his presence, emptying my mind of the chatter of the day, just being with him.

I relaxed so well that I fell asleep and woke up at 11.00. I had planned to still check emails and write a blog post, but I felt him say, "What if you just went to bed?"

"Yes," I thought, "What if I just did that? I think I will."

And I did. More tomorrow on next steps in my adventure.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Stop the Noise

Hey! I have landed, just before the second wave of volcano dust struck and I am thankful to be safely in Alvechurch.

I want to alert readers that there is a fresh post at Pressing On called Stop the Noise. Stop by and you will be blessed and encouraged by the words and music you will find there.

Doing Life Differently

By Belinda

Friends, I left for England on Monday and in case it took me a day or so to get hooked up to the internet, I have scheduled a couple of posts. I'll be in touch with more "Alvechurch Chronicles" as soon as I can!
____________________________________________________________________

"What if," I have discovered, is a powerful agent for change.

It is the stick of dynamite blasting away the rock pile blocking my path; the tool that loosens the baked on debris from the corners of my life.

"What if," tells me that change is possible.

All I have to do is to ask myself that powerful question and answer, "Why not try and see what happens?"

"What if," is encouragement to change up the counter-productive patterns in my life, because it reminds me that it is as simple as making a decision to try out doing life differently.

Doing Life Differently.

What would you like to do differently?

What is holding you back?

Do you realise that you can?

Don't get overly complicated on me now!

Just ask yourself, "What if..." and then come back and share with us what is happening. Because things will be happening.

Tomorrow I will share some of what's up with me. :)

Monday, May 03, 2010

Susan's Psalm

I can't forgive him!  You know I can't!  It's not humanly possible.

But Lord, because I call you "Lord" and because you say I must...  I lay down my arms today.  Not that I ever had a right to carry them... I know that full well, when I think of all that you have forgiven me. 

But Lord, only you know how much hurt was caused.  Only you know how much damage has been done.

If there was something I could do - something you had given me to do, I would do it, Lord. I would confront him if you let me!  It's all so clear to me. Why can't he see it?  He thinks I am the crazy one - that I am the one who lacks understanding!  How can he possibly think that he could be so right when his attitude is so far from your heart of love.  So far... 

I forgive that person, Lord - just as you have forgiven me.  I grit my teeth and forgive him.  And I remember.

I remember just how trustworthy you are.  You always keep your promises.  Every single one.

You are going to bring some good from this, Lord, I know that full well.  The enemy may have meant it for evil, but you will use it for good.  And so...   I bless him, Lord.  I bless him with all my heart.  I pray you bless him too.  Bless his going out and his coming in.  His rising up and his sitting down.  Bless his house with salvation, Lord, and prosper his soul.  Though I would like to march into his heart and straighten it around, dear Lord, I know that I would only wreak havoc there, and do much more damage than good.  And so, dear Lord, even as my own heart is safe within your hands, I entrust his heart to you.

And I will wait. I will wait like a weaned child on his mother's lap.  I will lay my head against your breast and wait.  My pulse slows and peace slides in once more.  I sigh with a groaning too deep for words.  And I lay back to rest in your love.  Your trustworthiness is my secure and peaceful place.

I will wait for your goodness to be revealed, Lord!  It may not be soon.  It may not even be in my lifetime.  But it will surely come. 

I will wait, and I will trust.  And this shall be my theme.

"I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living...

Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD."   Psalm 27:  13, 14 KJV

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Then...

By Belinda

"Then..." is what follows "What if?"  :)

After my Thursday post, I had to come back and give you, dear reader friends and encouragers, an update on the last two days, since my Potentially Pending Panic Attack.

Writing out my 5 what ifs, had an immediate calming effect on me. Peace settled like a soft blanket around a baby, and I physically felt myself exhale.

Why would such a simple exercise have such a profound effect?

Because all of the "what ifs" were possible! They were simply choices I could make. I was not a helpless victim of my circumstance. I had some choices to make, and dreaming of what if...helped me choose well.

On Wednesday night I knew that I had two working days left. I could have spent all 16 of those hours in my office and still not accomplished everything I wished I could do. But--I didn't tell you this--Thursday was a Staff Connection Day. I was out for 6 hours of that day in a church, celebrating with 35 wonderful staff, playing games, worshipping and praising God in song and participitating in a commissioning service for 11 of the staff.

Significantly, this was the first event I've organized with an Events Committee. I'm usually scrambling without enough time to involve others and you can't thrust things on people at the last minute. What a refreshing change it was to check in with people along the way and find people just glad to touch base, ask a question here and there, but busy doing their part. It was wonderful and I was so grateful. And the event was awesome.

Susan was praying for the day from her recovery couch at home. I chose to relax into the day and "be there" with people. I looked into every face and every pair of shining eyes with love and joy.

Afterwards I went to the office and worked as hard as I could for 2 hours then packed up everything I would need for the next day and left for home. I went to the grocery store to pick up a few things for cell group supper (the main part of which was cooking in a crock pot) and on my way home I looked at my watch. It was only 5.15. I got to the post office before it closed at 5.30 and there were some parcels I would not have been able to pick up had I been 15 minutes later.

One of the parcels (all books for cell group) was a book I'd ordered especially for Jane, to thank her for leading us in our studies of late. She was thrilled with it and surprised. We won't see each other for two more weeks since I'll be in England and she will be busy with studies. I felt in perfect synchronization with God's timing.

The other thing I didn't mention in my Thursday post was that on Friday one of my team needed me to partner with them in interviews. She told me we had interviews scheduled from 10.00 a.m. to 3.00 p.m. in Richmond Hill. There was one person, John, in a partner agency, who I really wanted to talk to before leaving and I'd asked him if we could talk at the beginning or the end of the day on Friday. He said, "Can you meet me in Barrie at 4.00?" I said, "Yes." Barrie is about an hour from Richmond Hill. No time in the office, but trusting God.

On Friday morning John emailed me to say he had been up all night with a streaming cold and congestion and suggested that we talk by phone instead at 4.00, which was fine with me.

Before leaving I phoned my hairdresser, hoping against hope that she could squeeze me in on Friday evening, Saturday or Monday. Friday evening they were closed and Monday she is off, said the girl at the front desk. "All I need is a root touch up," I said, "If Jamie tells someone else what to do, I don't mind them doing it. They are very short roots, but I don't want to take them with me to England!" They squeezed me in on Saturday at 12.45 at a time when Jamie can supervise it being done. :)

I checked to see if I could get my car in for a spring/summer tune up and snow tires taken off on Saturday (I know, it's almost midsummer!) but they were booking for Tuesday already. No worries, I have a dear husband who will be happy to take care of that for me while I'm away.

I went to Richmond Hill for the interviews. When I got there I found my coworker had scheduled two more interviews--at 3.00 and 4.00. She apologized for not calling to tell me--but God had already taken care of my Barrie meeting! I tried to call John at 4.00, hoping to squeeze our chat quickly between interviews, but he had gone down the hall for a minute and missed the call. We arranged a call on Monday--a final detail--and I didn't have to talk about something important under time pressure.

My planned evening home with Paul didn't happen because he decided to go to Men's Fellowship--yes, thrown over for Men's Fellowship--imagine! I was going to go shopping at Costco instead, but as I was driving home at 5.30 I decided that instead I would go home and eat supper and take my golden boy, Molson, out for a walk instead. After all, we only have so many walks left before Monday.

As I walked in the cool breeze of the evening, in the light of the setting sun, with one of my best friends on earth enjoying the moment with me to the fullest--I knew that I had chosen well.

Jesus had been with me every moment of the day, pointing out the stones Susan wrote about yesterday. And I didn't get wet feet, let alone turn into the crazed woman, sloshing in water that Susan described, and which she has personally witnessed me being a time or two!

Yes, I still have a few "paper details" to cover, but I am getting a vision of my own right now: Me with my hands outstretched, weighing something in each and saying "Paper, or people?"

The paper could blow away in a gust of breeze and the world wouldn't miss it too much. When the crunch is on, I have learned what counts most!