Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Safe Keeper

By Belinda

Memory fascinates me. Being a writer, one for whom the past is an endless source of material, I am often struck by the fact that an event can be remembered, or "seen" differently at different moments, by one person.

And a person can be remembered at one moment for their flaws, along with the pain they caused. At another moment, their many redeeming qualities surface in memory: the person's humour, sensitive soul or work ethic. 

It's as though light catches the sparkle or casts a shadow, depending on the angle it's shining from at a given moment. Ideally we would remember absolutely factually, and yet facts can be fluid in the mind; fraught with feelings and layers of complexities that are hard to understand and unravel.

I have been deep in the shadows of  memory; facing hard truths with greater clarity and courage; sharper pain and deeper guilt. Of course, how can we ever truly understand or "know" the past? And yet, we try, whether it is raking about in the ashes of our own, or those of others.

My journey back in time was unexpectedly healing and freeing in the end. I shed shackles along the way! And I learned some important things:

  1. Facing a hard truth is only that:  hard. It doesn't kill you to do it, it only hurts.
  2. Having faced it, accepting it is almost easy. Accepting is important.
  3. Only God knows the whole truth of a thing and he is a Safe Keeper of all things placed in his hands. 
  4. We don't need to know and understand everything. He does.
  5. It's okay to feel sadness; disappointment; dismay. Love can co-exist with these feelings.
  6. The guilt of previous generations is not upon my shoulders; it never was. 
  7. We know instinctively that justice demands payment for offence. We are all offenders and the price has been paid.
  8. Hallelujah!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hey there friends...It has been a busy few days and there will be no let up for a couple more. I have much to write, but not enough time! But I didn't want to vanish without explanation.

Paul and the team are back from Mishkeegogamang. I am thankful to again have the company of my best friend and husband of 43 years (even though a day late for our anniversary on August 23.)

Stay tuned! :) 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Burden

By Belinda

The old ache surfaced recently. While walking sunny summer streets, with green leaves dancing playful and holly hocks nodding as I passed, with an incongruous mourning in my soul.

There is no sense to this guilt, and yet it lies like undigested meat in my gut, an unwelcome, yet familiar inhabitant in the deepest recesses of my being.

I weep in sorrow for a wrong not mine and seek a means of atonement, as though somehow that might make amends. But that would be impossible.

I try hard to understand, to resolve the impossible dissonance. 

The heartache is like an aching tooth that reminds you constantly of its presence. I pray, I read, I seek peace, and finally a glimmer comes. 

Guilt is anger turned inward on oneself. Far easier to bear it personally than to turn it on ones you love, no matter what. 
  And understanding that, helps...a lot.

Ephesians 3:20-21

New International Version (NIV)
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Voices Past and Present

By Belinda

I am a listener rather than a talker. 

I don't mean to say that I am skilled in listening, because I'm still working on that. But I do prefer to listen rather than talk and I am blessed to have a family and friends that enjoy talking. When any one of them falls suddenly silent and turns to me, saying, "You're quiet, what's going on in your life?" I suddenly feel like a bit of a dud, as though they got short changed if they want sparkling conversation from me!

Those whom God has placed in my intimate circle, do not disappoint in conversation however, and many a time during a phone call, I find myself reaching for a notepad and pen, to record a  funny or witty sentence, or a story.

And I sometimes feel as though I carry within me echoes of voices long gone, through stories I have listened to. I find that very cool; that in story, a voice lives on.

This morning, being Sunday, with a little less rush than the usual morning sprint, I made an egg for breakfast. As I was washing the dishes afterwards I picked up the fork from the hot soapy water and   "heard," "Don't forget to wash between the tines Aggie."

Now "Aggie," was my "Aunt" Agnes MacDonald, who died in her early 90's about twenty years ago. The voice, was that of her mother, who died in the 1930's when Agnes was in Africa as a missionary. I remember her photograph in Aunt Agnes's flat, a plump woman with hair drawn back in a bun, surrounded by her four children, a boy in a stiff starched collar and three girls with long hair, bedecked with large puffed bows.

I loved listening to Aunt Agnes's stories and this was one of them, how her Scottish mother would admonish her to wash a fork.

She also told me how on freezing cold mornings in their home in Aurora, where her father worked on the railroad, her mother would call up from the kitchen, "Come down and dress by the fire Aggie," and Agnes the child would scamper down the stairs to the mother she loved dearly, and the deliciously warm kitchen.

These memories would have been 70 or 80 years old when I heard them. 

As well, she had had a close tie of friendship with Alice Belle Garrigus an American woman missionary who worked in Newfoundland from 1910, to her death in 1949

After Aunt Agnes caught malaria in the Congo, and almost died, she had to return to Canada, so she became a sort of itinerant evangelist, going to Western Canada, and later Newfoundland, where she met Miss Garrigus, who became a mentor and mother figure to her.  

Later, after she left Newfoundland, Aunt Agnes would go back to visit her friend, and Miss Garrigus kept a drawer into which she would put little things for Agnes, throughout the intervening months. When Agnes arrived, she would motion to the drawer and say, "Everything in there is for you." 

That I have stored the voice of Alice Garrigus, even in that one sentence, is, I think, a precious thing.

Aunt Agnes carried on the tradition of little gifts in our friendship. When I would go to her apartment for breakfast, I would first buy the ingredients and then cook for us both on Monday mornings in the 1970's. The tiny table in her kitchen would be set with two places, and beside mine would often be a little trinket, an old but pretty corsage, or some other little gift that she thought would delight me.

I love that in the Bible, we can listen in on voices of two thousand years ago or more. 

One of my favourite Bible conversations is that between Jesus and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. I find it full of subtle humour and irony.

I wonder if my voice will live on in a story passed down through generations, as others voices have. If an instruction on how to wash a fork is not forgotten, it is more than possible I suppose! That thought is enough to inspire me to greater circumspection. :)

P.S. In researching a little I found that Alice Garrigus wrote her story in a book, Walking in the King's Highway, which can be found online by clicking the link.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

For Those Who are Weary

By Belinda

No words tonight, but I am posting an old Steven Curtis Chapman song. 

For those who are weary and need to know that God is with them: "When you are a Soldier."

Friday, August 17, 2012

Crazy Lady on the Loose

By Belinda

Tonight after cell group, Susan and I sat our the gray-green back room. The colour, called, "Sparrow," by Benjamin Moore, reminds me of the North Sea, and I love it. 

The crickets and cicada's chirped and sang loudly through the windows that I had just wound open to let the in the summer field symphony and a little cool evening breeze. 

Both our homes are in the throes of being organized; ours after a long series of renovations, and Susan's after one set of married children has left, and another son is about to leave for university on the east coast.

Susan said that what drives her CRAZY is when people leave things in her laundry room, like piles of clothes or stuff in the dryer, or things that don't belong in a laundry room.

"Do you know what drives ME crazy?" I asked. I didn't wait for an answer, but went on, "It's when people go in MY tool box, borrow things, and DON'T put them back!" 

I have my own little tool box for simple jobs like hanging pictures. It isn't sophisticated or anything, just filled with a supply of wire, screws, picture hooks, a level, a hammer, a set of screwdrivers, a pencil, and a few other odds and ends--including a very necessary retractable measuring tape. I don't have a lot of stuff, but when I need it I count on it being there to use.

With new colours on the walls at last, I wanted to hang pictures but I found that the measuring tape that used to be in the box had vanished. Paul had replaced it, bless his heart, and I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but the tape was thin, limp, and as useful as a piece of string. Okay I was ungrateful.

The day I went out to Costco to look for pictures, I stopped at Canadian Tire on the way home to pick up a new solid measuring tape. I stood in front of the display rack for a few minutes deliberating, and came out with a Stanley measuring tape with a long life, nylon coated blade. It was perfect and I took it to the cash register with a sense of great satisfaction.

I plonked it on the counter top beside a other few purchases and when the man in front of me gathered his stuff to leave, overcome with excitement and having the urge to share it, I picked up the tape  and looked at the teenager about to ring in my items, and said, "This is MINE. And my husband is not touching it!"

Have you ever cracked a joke and known instantly that the other person didn't get it? At all?

The girl said, "O...kay...," slowly, with a straight face, and proceeded to ring in the items without another word. 

The silence fell around us. I felt as though I had morphed into "crazy lady," and as though she was thinking, "I have a strange one here, better just stay calm and do my job."

Crazy Lady gathered her bags and probably to both of our relief, left the store as fast as possible. 

It probably served me right for being so possessive of my measuring tape. 

Or perhaps that should be, "ours." :)

Monday, August 13, 2012


By Belinda

I'm not sure where the page popped up from in my office today, but there it was with the words to the beautiful song by Greg Ferguson that we heard at a Willow Creek Summit, several years ago. I brought home the piece of paper intending to look up the song on You Tube and share it here. The song is really a prayer, but its words will also minister to the hungry soul. Be blessed.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Call and Response

By Belinda

It was July 26, just over two weeks ago, when Paul and I, along with Paul's cousins, Stephen and Sam, and two friends, Arthur and Liz, drove high into the Malvern Hills, a place of immense beauty, to scatter Uncle John's ashes.
(A quick aside: I found a link here to some breathtaking photographs that capture the dramatic and glorious landscape.)
I've wanted to tell this brief story ever since.

I had met Arthur and Liz, Uncle John's friends, in the past, but I only knew them slightly and knew nothing about them. I just knew that they respected and loved Uncle John. 

The weather on the hills changed every few minutes. While we   prayed and scattered the ashes, the rain held off, but before the storm clouds shadowed the fields below us I took advantage of what sun I could, and ran around taking photographs. 

As I returned to the group I heard Arthur discussing something with Paul. What grabbed my attention were the words, "I am the only one in my entire family who is a Christian." 

For me, I had to ask, "Please tell me your story;"  for it's the story I never get tired of hearing.

So he told me, at least this bit, that I have to share.

Arthur, back in the late 1970's, was an executive in the Austin Motor Company, part of British Leyland in Longbridge during an era of turbulence and tremendous upheaval.  He was involved in the intense political situation with Derek Robinson, referred to in the press as "Red Robbo," due to his membership in the Communist party.  

Dad and Rob were among the vast number of employees at Longbridge. Robinson was a proponent of the measured day work system rather than piecework, which explains why Dad was always in trouble with the union for working too hard. Robinson was reported by the BBC to have been behind over 500 walk outs at Longbridge, costing over 200 million pounds in lost production. 

It was during this time of intense pressure that Arthur, one sleepless night, got up and went out for a walk at 4.00 a.m. He was at a point of desperate stress, and found himself throwing out an invitation to the God he didn't believe in: "If you exist, please show me." 

He had no idea where those words even came from, but he immediately noticed a man was walking towards him. The man stopped and said, "You seem lost."

"Yes, I am a little lost," said Arthur.

The man was a Franciscan; a member of a Roman Catholic order; and he invited Arthur back to his home to talk. That was the start of Arthur's faith story--almost a sort of Damascus Road experience! I wish I had asked more questions but the rain was starting and everyone was scattering in all directions. 

One of my favourite portrayals of God speaking to someone is found in this Call and Response song from the movie, The Color Purple, where Shug Avery hears God's call and responds! I cry when I watch it, just as I wanted to when Arthur told his story.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Face of the Future

By Belinda

Our house, which has been tense with a gradually cresting wave of anxiety all week, was suddenly empty this morning. 

The tension was about the details that needed to come together for Paul's latest trip north to the Mishkeegogamang First Nation.

As of Thursday he had a van (a bit beaten up in appearance, but in running order) and a camper trailer (fully equipped with everything the tiny team would need and generously loaned by Susan and Ron Stewart,) but no hitch; the one he had ordered hadn't arrived and he worried that it might not arrive on Friday. It came first thing in the morning on Friday, and by 8.30 a.m. was on the van to Paul's huge relief.

In the afternoon, Ron came over to give Paul a quick tutorial on how to work the hook up and other trailer details and then the anxiety turned to anticipation.

Each trip north has been unique. The difference this time is that Paul is leading a group of four females, three of them between 14 and 20. There is Joyce Marshall, a retired nurse from our church; our granddaughter Tippy, (14,) who plans to share her gift and love of art with the children of Mish;  Kiki, (16) a brilliant international-baccalaureate student who is headed for political science, and Rebecca (20,) of Jewish background, who is studying social psychology.

Kiki arrived last night and spent the night with us and I met Rebecca and her grandmother this morning at a car pool in King. Paul had taken Tippy shopping for art supplies the evening before--the adventure was about to begin.

As Brenda and I talked with Kiki around our kitchen table last night, I learned so much from her. I should probably be embarrassed to admit this, but I had never heard the term micro aggression, although it has huge significance to the people I work to support (people with disabilities.) As we talked, I got goosebumps thinking of the deep significance of someone with Kiki's gifts witnessing the circumstances in which the aboriginal people of Canada live.

Rebecca, as the granddaughter of holocaust survivors, has a heritage that knows prejudice and discrimination. I felt a deep sense that these young people were going north in part, to bear witness and to be formed as well as informed. 

The plans are loose--planning is one of the things that is hard to do with a people of a culture whose concept of time is different to that of ours. But God's agenda is sure and I can't wait to see how it unfolds!

I heard from Paul this evening. They made it as far as Cochrane and found a motel room with two rooms available. Joyce is sharing a room with the three young women. I hope she gets some sleep! :)

Tomorrow morning they are going to swim with Ganuk the polar bear before starting the 8 hour drive to Thunder Bay. On Monday they should arrive in Mish.

Kiki had an 8 week summer job as the leader of a government funded program for children of African background. She has sacrificed two weeks pay to be on this trip; no small thing.

As the five of them drove off, I waved goodbye and thought of the mark each of them will make on our world, these young people. It felt as though the future is in very good hands.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Nobody Tells You

By Belinda

Nobody tells you that when you lose someone you love, you don't just lose them.

Everything in the complex network of relationship around the space that held the person, shifts. You lose the way the missing person affected the interplay of those relationships too.

Five months since Mum died, and I am just realizing that she was the glue that held some relationships together; the mortar between the bricks; the sun around which our planets circled!

Without her we flounder a little, trying to find our feet on this unfamiliar terrain. So much of our relationship and conversation was about her. 

We need to redefine our relationship now; find new common ground...without her.

What we have in common is tainted by pain, though each differently affected. There must be more.

We will find our way and find one another in a new way. We love each other. We just don't  know quite how to be yet; now that she's gone.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The View From Here

By Belinda

We left our home in the hands of Sue, our daughter-in-law, when we went to England. She was painting our entrance hallway (which is huge;) kitchen; office, and TV room. 

We were coming back on August 1, and on July 30, she sent me this message on FB with a photo.

"The view from up here. I would take a better shot but I don't want you to see the colour yet. Should be all finished tomorrow!!"

The photo was scary in more than one way. Of course, my heart leaped into my mouth at the sight of the height to which Sue had climbed on the scaffolding. Even now it makes the palms of my hands clammy. I was also nervous about my colour choice for the hallway, Benjamin Moore's Honey Moon, a pale dijon yellow. I left for England wondering if I'd made the right choice.

I have had my share of decorating disasters. I don't think that I have an eye for choosing colour, but I know when I love something (and it's usually in someone else's house.) 

Our hallway had been a safe taupe colour for about 10 years. I loved it, but it was time for fresh paint and a change. One day when I was still deliberating over colours, the writers group that meets here arrived. 

"Yellow will make  your art work pop!" said a writer who is also an amazingly gifted graphic artist. 

From that moment I took a leap that made me nervous, towards a lighter, brighter shade of pale!

As we opened the front door and entered the house, I was holding my breath. And when I walked in, I still didn't exhale. Sue said that at one point as the colour went on, she thought, "Oh, no, what have we done!" And that's a little how I felt when I first saw it. It was so different from the dark taupe, and the hall looked so bright--and dazzlingly yellow! And the new flooring that had looked a deep honey next to the taupe, now looked gold.

Sue had done an amazing job of the painting so I called her to thank her for all of her hard work--it was her biggest job so far in her painting business, which she is considering calling, "Burston with Colour!" :) 

She nervously asked, "Do you like the colour?"

"It's so different, I'm adjusting to it Sue," I said. She knew exactly what I meant. 

"It's funny,I thought it was much more of a caramel," she said.

She had hung our big picture of poppies on one of the walls to break up the yellow, but even that looked to me to be too bright.

Fortunately Brenda convinced me that the poppies were wonderful, and I started to see the space with accents of red and black. I realized that some of the accessories that had gone with the taupe just didn't match the yellow and I could hardly wait to go shopping on Saturday for accents for the new colour scheme. When I did, I found a rug and table runner on sale at Pier 1 Imports, some beautiful prints at Costco and an inexpensive lamp at Canadian Tire.

I worked so hard that day--and in the end, we have the most beautiful, welcoming hallway you could imagine. 

Sometimes a bold decision takes your breath away. This one did. It was a big risk for such a large space. I am grateful for the happiness that floods my heart now as the light pours down from the skylight into the warm and cosy hallway that is our home.


Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Missing in Action in Bond Head

By Belinda

Just in case anyone thinks I've vanished from the earth, no, I am still here. I have just been working hard at things other than writing since I got home from England. And hoping that all of the ideas dancing about in my brain don't vapourize the moment I sit down to write. 

To show for my efforts at non-writing things I have six clean downstairs rooms and only two messy ones (this is a rare occurrence, I'm afraid.) Let's not talk about upstairs; but the ones below that are spotless look so beautiful that I am inspired to conquer the rest of the messy kingdom that is our home with the same zeal that overtook me when taking on the first ones.

What came over me? You might well ask! Well, a couple of things:

One of them was the fact that while we were away, we engaged the services of our daughter-in-law Sue, who is an incredibly good painter, to paint our massive entrance hallway and three of our rooms; more on that tomorrow, I hope. But, coming home to freshly painted rooms meant putting them back in order, hanging pictures etc. etc..

The second thing was that on the way home from England, we encountered one of those airport check-in staff who are sprinkled randomly among the sensible ones, and who think their job is to torture travelers with insanely silly, senseless rules and apply them rigidly. This meant that  our hand luggage which I had been sure was within the allowable weight, had to be rearranged and purged of every ounce over the 5 kilos we were apparently allowed. 

I remained steadfastly pleasant. No good could come of anything else, since I knew that she thought she was being conscientious and that we were really a health and safety hazard. Thank goodness that Paul held back from expressing his feelings; she has no idea what she missed. We were eventually saved by one of her colleagues saying that, "Oh, no, laptops don't count in the weight," and reassuring her that she would be quite okay to allow us on board with what we had left.  

However in the temporary pandemonium that had me shoving whatever I could into the front zippered compartments of the cases going in the cargo hold, I included one of the books that I intended to read on the plane journey.

This meant that when I finished the other book I was reading and discovered that I was out of reading material with four long hours stretching ahead of me, I stood up, retrieved my laptop from the overhead luggage compartment--and made myself a new schedule.

For some reason Brenda found this so hilarious that she said, "Mom, I'm telling my friends at work about this. My mom made herself another schedule. Ha ha ha!" 

"Well," I told her, "Laugh on my daughter, because my new schedule is different to all of my previous ones!" Those who know me well, know that I never give up hope of managing time better.:)

But this time I actually got real. By that I mean that there were no more illusions. I put in my non-negotiables first, including the amount of sleep I need. Then the necessary things--and to my shock when I did it that way for once, rather than trying to cram in everything I want and hope to do; there was no time for those things on a week day. In fact, after sleeping; doing basic hygiene (admittably that takes a long time;) time in prayer; exercise; cooking; eating; traveling, paid work, and writing for one hour for pleasure, there is no time left to clean or study or do anything else.

So I decided that Saturday has to be a work day like the rest, only a housework day--and Sunday, blessed Sunday, is Sabbath and that is when I embrace the gift God gave us in fellowship with friends and family and rest.

So I'm actually doing less, but I'm busier than ever because I now realize how little time I truly have--if that makes any sense. Laugh along with me because I realize how wacky this sounds. But wait until I show you a bit of what I've done tomorrow. Over and out for now--I'm late for bed. :)

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The Case of the Cases

By Belinda

We arrived safely back in our second homeland, Canada, this afternoon, grateful to be home after our time away, full of memories to cherish.

Three days before we left though, Rob said, in an innocent attempt to be helpful, “I was thinking Belinda, I can get the suitcases down from the loft and put them behind the settee, and then you can pack them.”

I tried hard to calm my voice, and hoped he wouldn’t hear the tension I felt at the suggestion, just saying, “Oh, no, no, Rob, that’s okay, I’ll pack them on Tuesday; it won’t take me long.”

“I just thought it would be easy for you to start putting stuff in,” said Rob, and then joked, “I didn’t mean to make you feel like I wanted you to ‘get packing!’”

Rob aborted his plan with no further protest however, while I was left to ponder my adamant rejection of it. Packing to go home is always stressful to me, but I’ve never given much thought as to why that is. I realize that it’s associated with the fact that I hated going near a suitcase a moment sooner than I had to when I visited Mum, because it emphasized the fact that I was leaving. 

Although we never said so, (our “code” of being grateful for the time together and optimistically looking forward to “next time,” would not allow us to wallow in sadness,) there was always a lot of underlying emotion in saying goodbye, in spite of our outward bravery.

So I would try to pack without her knowing, which seems hilarious now! Mum knew that packing had to be done, she was always far more sensible and organized than I have ever been! Somehow though, packing in private, and not a moment sooner than necessary, is a leftover from that time, and I hadn’t realized it until Rob’s helpful suggestion inadvertently sent me into stress at the thought of packing in the living room, and sooner than I had to.

A few hours later, having figured this out, I confessed to Rob and Paul how weird I get at the thought of packing and said that if it was okay with Rob I would put the cases on his bed the day before leaving and pack them there. That was perfectly fine with him.
Not so long ago I would have just felt the underlying tension and not said anything, but I’m sure it would have shown. It would not have occurred to me that I had any other choice.

Speaking the feelings out loud though; acknowledging them and letting others know, helped me separate from them. And having accepted them and spoken about them, and asked for what I needed, amazingly, their power was gone. I no longer felt stressed.

Noticing my emotions, and putting space between me and them is just one of the many things I am working on rather late in life! And I'm sure that although I have a long way to go, the people around me are very relieved. :)