Sunday, December 15, 2013

I Could Not Make This Up

The pie crunch is on this week. 55 have been delivered since this adventure began in November, but this week is when many are due all at once. It's a daily journey. I was going to say, "One pie at a time," but actually it's more like "Ten pies at a time" at the moment. :)

On Saturday morning I had a hairdressing appointment; an island of much needed relaxation in the Sea of Pies.

I hurried in from the biting cold outside, stamping the snow from my shoes, glad to be inside the bright and warm salon, while outside the first major storm of the winter was brewing.

Jamie, my hairdresser, welcomed me and showed me to a chair on the main floor. She explained that she'd be doing my hair there rather than upstairs in her own small, elegantly decorated room, because she'd be working on another customer at the same time as me who was coming in for a shampoo and set.

Shortly after I sat down, a car pulled up out front and parked, and a blond woman who looked to be a few years older than me, gingerly made her way through the snow, holding tightly onto the arm of a man . They were warmly greeted like old friends by Jamie, and Ivo, the owner of the salon.

The man, whose name was Tony, sank into a chair to wait for the woman, who was his wife. I was sure I knew who they were. A few months ago, Jamie was chatting about a customer named Francesca who was a dear friend, and who came in for a shampoo and set every week. In the course of the few details Jamie shared then, I had realized that her husband was the owner of the company at the Ontario Food Terminal that my friend Brian works as a buyer and seller for--the Brian who has recently been supplying apples for the pies for South Sudan. At the time it had seemed a coincidence; but now I was in the next chair to Francesca. Still, it seemed inappropriate somehow to blurt out to someone who was a stranger that we had a mutual connection.

We exchanged small talk as I was seated between Francesca and her husband and then Jamie asked Ivo to help her by rinsing off my colour.

As Ivo worked on my hair he asked, "So are you going somewhere nice tonight?"

"Actually, I'm going home to bake pies," I said, and shared the story of the guest house in South Sudan and fact that now almost a quarter of it had been built by pie.

"Are you still taking orders?" he asked, and before I knew it I was baking three more pies for three upcoming events in Ivo's life.

"Don't worry if you can't get them done by next weekend," he said, "I'll still take them after Christmas." He patted  his softly rounded belly and said with a smile, "I work hard on this!"

We were still chatting about pie as I walked back to my chair, and Jamie, who has been following the posts on Facebook about them, explained the story to Francesca.

A few minutes later, Francesca said, "Where did you get the apples for those pies?"

"F.G. Lister," I said, and Tony said, "I own that company--I'm Brian's boss!"

I told Tony about the guest house project then, and pulled up the last blog post I had written about it, on my phone, so that he could read it, which he did, with interest.

Then he said, "We don't sell the kind of apples you need for pies at the Food Terminal, but I have a contact for Northern Spy apples; I buy them for my wife's pies. When do you need them for? Do you have cold storage?"

I felt like a certain cup-bearer named Nehemiah whose king gave him timber to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, except that it sounded like I was being given apples to build the walls of a guest house in South Sudan.

I am running out of apples and I don't know when Tony's apples will arrive, but I do know that so far, the making of the pies has been provided for in ways that have amazed me and I could never have imagined the connection that happened on Saturday.

There is a need for a safe place to stay with basic amenities, for people going through CH Global (the non government funded, global branch of the organization I work for,) to help those in need in Africa's newest country, and I know that every pie made and sold is a step towards that.

As I have worked in my kitchen, alone or with friends, doing just that, the pies have been a gift that have kept me focused on what Christmas is all about, and too busy to get distracted by what it is not.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Multiplied Blessings

Have you ever been part of something so much bigger than yourself that you feel that you are right in the middle of the adventure and mystery that is God? 

Well, that is how it feels right now with the Pies for South Sudan.

It's a bit of a scary place to be, but daring to step forward because he said so, and do something that makes absolutely no logical sense, without having any idea how it can all work out is when miracle dust starts to fall from heaven and you just have to smile--well, laugh, actually, with joy.

I ended my last proper blog post with these words from my journal:
"I just need to remember to relax and breathe--and stick closely connected to his heart and voice. This is how radical obedience works in practice. 
And when we place our trembling hands in his great strong one, it is an opportunity for him to be shown to the watching world, right here, right now; not in the pages of the past."
 God had nudged me to bake pies to raise funds for our district project, a guest house in South Sudan, and at the point that I wrote that, I had 81 orders for the pies, which are priced at $20 each. The orders kept coming in. At 100, my boss, Dwayne Milley, said, "Belinda, I think you should stop taking orders." 

That made sense, but since when has God ever, "made sense?" I found that I couldn't bring myself to stop taking orders; even though I didn't go looking for them; because it felt like turning off a tap that God had turned on. I had to trust that he would make it possible to do what he was giving me to do.

People have donated boxes, pie plates, flour, sugar and apples. Our cell group put together over 100 pie boxes one evening and put on the labels that someone else had designed so beautifully. They say, "Belinda's Homemade Apple Pie...Enjoy Locally...Give Globally."
 I took a break from pie baking on Saturday evening when Paul and I went to a local retirement residence to support our worship team who were there singing carols. 

I was sitting next to Michael, a young dad who is our church treasurer. "What's all this about pies, Belinda?" he asked, having seen many pie conversations going on via Facebook.


I explained what I was doing--and that I had just over 100 orders by then, which had raised over $2000. He said at first, "That's an awful lot of work for $2000."

Then I told him about the guest house and how it only cost $10,000, and how many people had pitched in to help in so many different ways and his eyes took on a gleam that told me he was inspired, and he said, "If you have another apple peeling party, let us know. We want to teach our kids to help others.." A few minutes later he smiled and said, "That guest house only costs $10,000. That means that almost a quarter of it has been built by pies." 
"Spoken like a true accountant," I thought!

We had bagged and frozen over 100 pounds of apples for the pies. But my friend Susan had given me her Mennonite grandmother's recipe for Schnitz Pie several years ago and word got out! So I made an experimental couple of them, just to be sure I could, and people started ordering them. The only trouble was that the apples needed to be sliced thicker for this kind of pie.

So I sent my friend Brian, who works at the Ontario Food Terminal, and who had donated a very generous 3 boxes of apples already,  a message. I said that if it wouldn't be asking too much, could he possible get me another box of apples? He responded right away that he would get me some more, then yesterday he told me they'd be here on Friday.

I was so grateful and excited, that I wrote back:
"Yay!! I have 500 pie plates and a Lee Valley Tools Apple Peeler Corer Slicer is on its way by mail! Thank you SO much. We have raised over $2000 with pie." and I told him, "The guest house we're building in South Sudan only costs $10,000, so almost a quarter of it will be built with your apples. How cool is that?"
This was when Brian wrote back to me, and with his permission I am sharing what he wrote:
 "So a seed that came from God gets sold for less than a penny; gets picked and packed for the cost of say, $15, then through the journey it somehow increases to less than $200 wholesale, which has a net worth of $2000 after they spend time on their journey with you...have somehow paid one quarter of the price to build a house...2 fish 5 loaves?"
How very cool is that?

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Hello!

Hello dear friends. I am so sorry for going "missing in action" since both the season of Christmas and responding to the call to bake pies have swallowed me whole!

If anyone out there is still checking here, please be patient--I will be back. I'm missing writing and connecting with "you." 

I hope that you are enjoying the crazy as much as I am. Let's embrace it and go with the flow; let go what we can; hold on tight, and remember the important--our friends, our families, and the reason we are celebrating at all right now--a King who stooped to love us with his very self.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Truth About the Pie

I followed a nudge from God to bake pies to raise funds for South Sudan. I realize that "a nudge from God" might sound strange, so I will explain. 

I was at our Christian Horizons  annual leadership conference at the beginning of November, listening to people sharing about the work our organization does globally. Two of our coworkers plunged into the icy waters of Lake Couchiching to raise funds. They raised about $2000 with their frigid swim!

I felt that God was tapping me on the shoulder to help in some way and I turned to the person next to me during the final keynote speech and said, "I think I have to bake pies again!" I've done it before as a fund raiser, a couple of years ago; offering the simple gift of something I can do and watching God use it.

The day after we got back, my friend Jane emailed me and asked, "Do you by chance have any pies for sale?" and I took that as confirmation! :)

So that weekend I put it out to the world on Face Book, sharing the project of the guest house in South Sudan; sharing the vision.

Five days later this is an excerpt from my journal:

"....In five days I have orders for 81 pies and donations of pie boxes; apples; people to peel apples. And a nervous stomach! 

Yes, that is the bare naked truth.

And yet I think that is exactly how I ought to be feeling; anything different and I would be out of touch with reality. 

It's exactly the feeling that will cause me to constantly run back to God and remember that:
It was his call I heard
The massive orders came because it was his call
He calls  us to what is possible--in partnership with him
I can trust him completely for the resources of time, energy and provisions to fulfill the assignment
I just need to remember to relax and breathe--and stick closely connected to his heart and voice. This is how radical obedience works in practice.

And when we place our trembling hands in his great strong one, it is an opportunity for him to be shown to the watching world, right here, right now; not in the pages of the past."

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Definition of Patience

I was thinking about "patience" today and I thought, "What could require more patience than to serve children in a candy store?"

Actually, I didn't think "candy store," but "sweet shop," and my mind wandered back through many decades, to the 1950's in Alvechurch, the Worcestershire village in England, in which I grew up.

There were several sweet shops in the village, but the quintessential sweet shop belonged to Miss Twitty.  The lamp post in this photograph is right in front of what used to be her sweet shop, at the bottom of Bear Hill.

Miss Twitty worked in this little shop for 34 years; from 1929, when the previous owners retired, to 1963, and she had bought it in 1933. Thirty four years of serving the children of the village.

I only knew her for the last 4 of her years in the shop, but they were the years I grew from 9 years old to 13--so they were significant and she was imprinted on my memory of childhood.

Miss Twitty wore her steel gray hair parted on the side and cut in a chin length bob. Blue gray beady eyes peered from behind glasses perched on the nose of a sharp featured face.She was thin and angular; all shoulders and elbows.

Her sitting room was to the right of the shop door and she would emerge from there on hearing the chime of the door bell.

How often I stood in front of her counter, gazing at the jars full of old fashioned sweets: Lemon drops; flying saucers (rice paper discs filled with sherbet;) toffees; liquorice; dolly mixture; sweet tarts; jelly babies; aniseed balls; pineapple rock; an array of Cadbury chocolate bars; and ice lollies and ice creams in the freezer.

I was painfully shy and my voice shrank to a whisper when addressing Miss Twitty. I can only imagine how she must have had to strain to hear me squeaking out my order, having deliberated for an eternity on what it would be; finally turning over the coins that had been clutched in my hot and sweaty fist. What patience she must have had with the children, for these were serious decisions requiring much thought; long staring at the jars of sweets and many changed minds.

Miss Twitty's sweet shop is memorialized on one of the park benches on the village green.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Industrious Girl

We were sitting at the kitchen table, drinking our coffee one recent morning, me and my man. I was overcome with appreciation for who he is and I told him that one of the things I love about him is that he would do anything--and I mean, any-thing, for his family.

So then I was curious. "What do you appreciate about me, specifically?" I asked. I mean, sometimes it is nice to know, isn't it? :)

This seemed to be a hard question. I could tell the pressure was on. The clock was ticking, like on a quiz show with a time limit before the buzzer rings. I could see the furrowed brow and the figurative pencil being chewed. Beads of sweat were breaking out!

Then, "Industrious!" Paul said triumphantly, "You are very industrious."

Um, "Industrious?" I didn't feel like I hit the jackpot somehow with that quality. I mean, I'm sure that when he first fell for me,  it wasn't because he spotted "Industrious Girl." :)

I have to admit a few more romantic adjectives were squeezed out--under the pressure of realizing that more were required. Such are the unexpected danger zones that shake up morning coffee in our house.

I have been laughing to myself about my "outstanding industriousness" ever since. Maybe the gift of something to smile at all week is the best gift of all.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Home

It happens every now and then; getting lost; and I need to find my bearings again, the true and sure things, including my best "me," which sometimes goes missing in action.

I need to find home, that place of retreat and security, where I know and am known. Home safe.

I pick up my pen and write. A heart can pour through pen to page and in doing so find such sweet relief.

I quiet my restless soul and sit silent.

I read.

I read the words I need to soak me; to soften me; to move my heart back to kindness, gentleness and humility.

I close my eyes to listen better--just in case God might have something to say. He sometimes speaks against the background tick of clock, whirring chimes and the hum of a house.

I hear a welcome. Welcome home.

And I am grateful; to be enfolded in the grace that only waits for an open heart.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

We Remember

As we approach Remembrance Day, this week was also the 33rd annual Holocaust Education Week. Paul and I attended a lecture given by Dr. Beth Griesch-Polelle, an associate professor in the Department of History at Bowling Green State University. The evening was hosted by Reena, a Jewish organization that supports people with developmental disabilities.

The presentation was titled, "Euthanasia: The First Victims," and it focused on the extermination of over 200,000 persons with disabilities who were among the first victims of the euthanasia project--a process of eliminating those deemed unworthy of life.


Professor Greisch-Polelle spoke of Bishop von Galen, an aristocratic Roman Catholic clergyman, who earned the nickname, "The Lion of Munster," for his open criticism of the Nazis through his sermons in 1941, where he spoke of the murder of developmentally disabled individuals and outrages  against Christian clergy, both Catholic and Protestant. He told his congregation of the of a paralysed World War 1 veteran who was taken from the hospital and put to death and charged them with teaching their children biblical values, in opposition to the indoctrination they were receiving in school.

The bishop's sermons were copied and disseminated throughout Germany and beyond. He fully expected to be arrested and sent to a camp, but to his sorrow, rather than harm such an influential figure, in his place, 24 secular priests and 13 members of the regular clergy were deported into concentration camps and 10 lost their lives (The Church in History Information Centre.)

Reading about the life of this man inspires me. Remembering the past and its horrors, warns me not to be complacent in the present, but to be alert to the insidious devaluing of one life in comparison with another.

Hitler and the Gestapo systematically advanced their agenda of racial purification, hoping to harden the German people gradually to the killing of the "unfit." In spite of this there were protests, which were brutally put down and there were thousands of arrests, executions and disappearances.

To those who make it their work to ensure that we never forget I am grateful. Tomorrow in our churches we will remember those who laid down their lives to make this world a better place. The best way we can honour their sacrifice is to guard the freedoms their lives were given for.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Bright Moments on a Cold Day

I left the house early, coffee mug in hand, braving the driving rain on the way to my car and an appointment with Jamie, my lovely hairdresser.

The grayness of the day outside only made the cosy salon more welcoming when I arrived. "It's the perfect day to be at the hairdresser," I said to Ivo, the salon owner.

Jamie arrived just after me, and ushered me to her small room upstairs, where the walls, matched the greenish gray of Lake Simcoe across the road.
 
It was good to see my friend again and have the completely self indulgent experience of putting my hair in her hands while we catch up on the past couple of months in our lives.

As I settled into the chair, Jamie said, "I have a story for you," and then slid the decoratively frosted glass door to her room, closed for privacy.

"This is like a little doll's house, so many stories are shared here: heart-rending; silly--and mostly a whole lot of laughter," she said.

She began her story by telling me about a friend whom she has never met face to face. They met through a dating website but for one reason and another, their only relationship has been through text message. Even so they've become good friends.

He moved to Barrie to support his mother who has cancer and she has been losing the battle. This week she moved into a hospice. and his two little daughters who live with their mother in another city, were brought by their other grandparents to say goodbye to their grandma.

He comes to Jamie's mind several times a day. She hasn't lost her mother, but she lost a grandmother who was like a mother. She thought about how this must feel--losing his mother--and she mentioned in one of her texts that she had added him to her prayers. She was surprised when he texted back how deeply that touched him.

Jamie's own road has had some rocky patches lately and she said that one day this week as she stepped into the shower she was just about to drift into the "Poor Me's" when this friend's situation came to mind, and she thought, "It might be tough but it's not 'that.' It could have been 'that,' and I'm so grateful it's not." Her own problems seemed suddenly much smaller in comparison.

I thought of what's been going on with me lately--the determination to live wholeheartedly and with gratitude and how that has changed my experience in the moment. Remembering the load some people have to carry as Jamie did, is a good discipline.

I stepped back out into the wintry day, with great hair; a story; and a grateful heart; ready to start a new Whole Hearted Week.

Proverbs 4:23
Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)
23 Above all, be careful what you think because your thoughts control your life.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sweet Essentials


A deep slate gray cloud blanket rolled back from the north eastern sky to make room for a day whose chosen morning dress was peach and palest gold. And I was thinking, at the start of this day, of the sweet essentials that make such a difference!

While tidying up my email inbox before leaving work the evening before--I clicked on an email that I almost filed to read later. It was entitled, "Accessibility Report."

It was late, and at that time of the day it didn't seem an urgent thing to read, but I opened it, and was so glad that I had! There on the front cover was a photo of someone we support at our fall family barbecue; somebody I have known for 37 years.

Immediately my day was transformed! From being focused only on emptying an inbox so that I could go home knowing I'd have a fresh start in the morning; to a reminder of what it is that drives that work and all those emails and paperwork!

In no time I was making copies of the report, which was written in plain language so that people with disabilities can read it more easily. I made copies not only for the person on the cover, but for the other people whose photographs I saw in the report; photographs that had been taken at our fall family barbecue. I knew that they would love to have a copy of the report for themselves, and be so thrilled to see their photographs in this provincial publication! My lips curved in a smile in anticipation of their excitement.

How easily we can lose sight of the purpose of our work. Digging deep to remember why it is we do the job we do makes a huge difference. If at home caring for a family, it can mean remembering why we do the piles of laundry, the vacuuming and cook the many meals to be consumed each week.

Suddenly our heart beat quickens with purpose and passion and our eyes are fixed on something beyond, and bigger than, the present moment; captured again by, the "Sweet Essentials!"

Monday, October 21, 2013

Inspiration of One Sort and Another

I glanced to my left as I followed the grey road north this morning and was lost in awe. Yet again. 

It is a wonder to me that I arrive anywhere, when everything in me wants to pull to the side of the road and be amazed. 

I settled instead for being amazed and keeping going. I am a constant captive of the beauty of creation, and this morning it was a far off row of trees, a mixture of deciduous and coniferous; ochre leafy trees and army green soldier trees that stood as though at attention in the line of forest across the misty fields.

I continued to think about my weekend decision to choose a different mind set; acceptance of what is; pondering the fine line between acceptance and changing what I can.

I did reach my destination and when my meeting was over  my work colleague asked me, "And you? How are you doing?"

I told her of my weekend decision to be done with complaining; to be grateful; to change what I can (starting with my mind set) and to give my whole heart to whatever it is I am doing. 

I couldn't help it, I had to say what had been in my head, even though she burst out laughing and said that it would be her quote of the day; I told her the phrase that came to my mind, even though not very polite sounding, was: "Piss or get off the pot!" It summed up what I was thinking. Either make up your mind to get on with it or stop all together; just don't be half hearted about it! 

I left my young friend laughing and talking about finding a visual reminder of a pot and thought that inspiration comes in many different ways. :)  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Let Gratitude Glow



Each night I point my car west to go home from work, and on Friday evening the sun was a giant, vivid red globe, slowly being put to bed beneath the covers of approaching night. It was a ravishingly beautiful beginning to the weekend.
 
Today, Saturday, has been gray and drizzly, but on the hills that surround our house, the red, yellow and orange of autumn glowed through the gray like bright embers amongst the ashes in a grate; unquenchable glory!
 
I had time in the day to reflect a little on life in my corner of the world, and made a decision. I decided to accept things as they are in a couple of areas.  
 
It is less important what the acceptance is about than the fact that it helped to change perspective. Changing how you think about something is almost as powerful, if not more so, than actually changing the circumstance.
 
The decision moved me from discontent to gratitude and I would rather experience my life with gratitude.
 
Let gratitude glow through a driving drizzle like those leafy embers on the hills! 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Lessons Learned and Lost


If our grandson William could live on only two foods, they'd be Yorkshire puddings and the little meringue "nests" that come in boxes. 

Because it was Thanksgiving dinner we were eating, we didn't have Yorkshire puddings (although I actually considered making them!) but I made sure that I had a good supply of meringues.

Pete was governing his son's meringue intake, which was a good idea, for no one has ever seen him stop eating them of his own accord. I laughed, watching William draw on his considerable negotiating skills and at one point I said, "I think you may have just found a loophole!"

For the second time in as many days, he asked, "What's a loophole?" and Pete and I knew that whatever profound lesson we had hoped to convey the day before, it had been lost on William. 

"Well, at least it was fun to write about;" I thought to myself,  "Humility is a good quality to develop."

It was later in the day when granddaughter Tori whispered to Brenda, "Are we going home soon?" 

Brenda, said, "Don't ask that, it's rude."

Tori's eyes widened as she protested, looking at me, "I was just doing what Omie taught us: 'authentic self representation!'"

Now does that face in the middle look like it needs to learn authentic self representation? She has enough spunk for...anything.

I had explained the concept one day because Tori's sister Tippy, often deferred to others when offered a choice. "Be authentic, don't be afraid to say what you really want or feel," I had urged; "When people ask, it's because they genuinely want to know what you would like." It's a lesson I learned late in life and still have to remind myself of. 

How ironic that those who need a lesson are often the last to learn it and yet it may be etched forever into the heart of the one who least needed it!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Observer

They bring me joy, these boys of mine: my son, Pete, and his two sons. A extra few hours of vacation tagged on to the Thanksgiving weekend, gave me time to surprise them at the hockey arena and hang out for both boys' hockey games, with brunch at the Golden Griddle in between.





A friendly woman in a Robin's egg blue hijab, greeted us and showed us to our table, explaining our menu options and the cost for children and adults at the buffet. We settled in to enjoy our meal.

William, the youngest boy was born curious; a scientific observer and thinker. Nothing escapes his attention.

Over lunch, his dad and I were talking and one of us used the word "loophole." William looked up from the place mat he was colouring. 

"What's a 'loophole?'" he wanted to know.

I laughed at the challenge presented by the question and deferred to Pete's younger and more agile brain. He explained that a loophole is when rules are in place for a specific purpose, but someone finds a gap through which they can bend the rules, or get around them, without breaking them exactly. William listened carefully, and nodded, his curiosity satisfied, for the time being at least.

As we left the restaurant, the woman who had greeted us at the door, took my credit card so that I could pay our bill. I pointed out that one of the boys was over 10, the age for the child's rate on the buffet but we had been given that rate for both children, and I wanted to pay the difference. She made the adjustment to the bill and then looked into my eyes, "Thank you," she said, "Not many people would have done that."

I said, a little embarrassed, "It's the right thing."

With a gesture that attempted to convey to the meaning of her words she said, "When you do that, God..."

"Blesses you?" I finished her sentence with a smile, both of us understanding that we were on exactly the same wave length, "I believe that too."

Outside, Pete and the boys were waiting. "Was something wrong?" Pete asked.

"No," I said, "We were just undercharged."

"Isn't that a good thing?" asked William, with innocent logic.

And I had a chance to at least model the word "integrity" for my young observer--which felt like it balanced out that lesson on "loopholes." :)

The Gift Strewn Day

I drove my car towards the on-ramp to Highway 400 and noticed the mist hanging close to the ground, although high in the sky the morning sun was up and shining brightly.  

As my car merged with the morning traffic headed for the city of Toronto, to my left stood trees, like layers of delicate silvery lace, backed by ghostly hills; while on my right, through the blanket of swirling fog covering the fields of the Holland Marsh, rose the rooftops of farmhouses, storage sheds and barns. 

Slowly, the lanes of traffic oozed towards the city and tall buildings rose from the mist now tinged with the faint orange hue of smog. I was in awe of the beauty all the same.

That evening, on my way home, I stopped at the Sobey's grocery store in Bradford to pick up a few things. As I loaded the bags into my car trunk, the sky to the west, was deep salmon red on the horizon, fading into the indigo blue of approaching night.

Night was falling fast as I continued home, and by the time I was on the outskirts of Bond Head, a silver sliver of moon hung like a rakish smile in the sky with a bright star winking below and in the west.

Throughout the day, from the journey to work to coming home, my life went on, preoccupied with temporary things, while all around and in between, intense and lavish loveliness attended me.

And I could not let it pass without sharing what I saw that gift strewn day.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Love Story

Like so many dogs, my brother Rob's Staffordshire bull terrier seems to have been "sent on assignment." So far, I'd have to say he is accomplishing his mission because for a small dog, he takes up a big amount of heart space.

Bruce had some big paw prints to fill when he came into Rob's life. Thirty years ago Rob had another Staffordshire bull terrier, the aptly named, Boss.

The first time Rob took Boss out as a puppy, he let him loose on a country path surrounded by fields, thinking that it would be safe. Boss took off like a shot, his little legs running at top speed down the path towards the road. He wouldn't turn back no matter how loudly Rob called, and the only way he could stop him was by overtaking him. 

By the time he was two years old, Boss still wasn't coming when called, and Rob began to wonder what he was doing wrong.  But finally he learned Boss's one weakness; he couldn't bear to be rejected. Rob discovered this when he became so frustrated one day that he shouted at Boss, "Go on, I don't want you," and then went and hid behind a tree. Boss panicked and when Rob appeared again and ignored him, Boss stayed with him and kept looking back to make sure he was there. He could even be seen springing up above the corn in a cornfield, like a springer spaniel, looking for Rob.

After Boss died, his place in Rob's heart was always empty. Over the years he thought about getting another dog, but never did.

Rob once expressed his longing to Mum: "If only I could have Boss back for one day, to cuddle him and inhale the familiar smell of his fur."

"Oh, but a day wouldn't be enough," Mum said.

One day Rob walked along the path where he used to take him, out in the country. He imagined Boss thundering across the fields as he used to. After checking to make sure no one was looking, he put his hands to his mouth and called out his name over the empty fields, just to hear the sound and imagine for a moment that he was really still there.

Perhaps the call carried beyond the fields to heaven, because not long after that, friends who lived on a farm in Herefordshire, called to say that they had to re-home their dog, a Staffordshire bull terrier named Bruce. They had just had a baby, and they felt uneasy about Bruce's behaviour around him.

On January 8, 2010, Bruce came to live with Rob. He arrived on the day that 30 years earlier, Boss had been born! 

On Bruce's underbelly, he has a little white oblong patch that looks like a gift label. According to Rob it says, "To Rob from Boss."

A short while after Bruce arrived Rob was watching Bruce Springsteen on TV--the most famous "Bruce" in the world. And he suddenly remembered that Bruce Springsteen's nickname is "The Boss."

People who love dogs know that they are a better example of God's faithfulness, forgiveness and unconditional love than most humans. 

And as for Rob, he says that his relationship with Bruce is a love story that gets him out of bed every morning!

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Life's Small Vanities!

Little vanities? I have them! Not too many. And mine do double duty, being a source of innocent pleasure and laughter at the same time.

Visitors to our house often pause at a photograph of Paul and I on our wedding day.

Inevitably someone will look hard and say, "Has anyone told you, you look like Gwyneth Paltrow?"And I laugh and say modestly, "A few."


My friends have to forgive me taking my small pleasures where I find them. :) One of my few claims to fame is looking like Gwyneth, 44 years ago!

On Friday last week, after a morning meeting, some of our work team went out for lunch together to celebrate the fact that it was almost the end of a week worked hard. It felt good to be almost at the weekend.

Our server was lovely, attentive and pleasant. Someone commented that she was one of those people you just like, with an extra pleasant, friendly personality. As she took my order, she commented on the beauty of the day and her love of the fall.

I love listening when people wax passionate and poetic so I stopped ordering and asked her, what was it that she loved about the fall especially? Her eyes became dreamy and she began to talk about the crispness, the light, the scent in the air...then she stopped, looked hard at me.

"Do I know you from somewhere?" she said. 

I said, "No, I don't think so." 

"I've seen you somewhere before," she insisted, "Are you on T.V? Someone famous?" 

I was laughing as I caught the eyes of my table companions willing me to say something about "You Know Who."

But I couldn't, at the risk of someone bursting into laughter and thinking I had the delusions of grandeur that I actually do have! 

She asked again, "Are you?" I shook my head, laughing.

And as she left, still wondering where she had seen me before, my friends chorused, "Gwyneth?" 

Well...I suppose...I could be a much older, very distant, far removed, cousin! :)  

Monday, September 23, 2013

Perfection's Name is Love

"In the end, everything must become love. Perfection's name is love."Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Collected Sermons P. 165
After I published yesterday's post, I read it again, and thought briefly, "What was I thinking?" 

That thought often occurs when I have been completely honest. The desire to "self edit" rears up, the urge to present my "self" in a better light: to seem more humble--or pleasing in another way--take your pick from the list of common virtues! :) But what I posted was pretty much what I had written in my journal, and was what I really thought about yesterday, and the funny idea of changing what I wrote has a connection with something I was pondering this past weekend. 

It had to do with the basic imperfection that lies at the heart of us all and the way we struggle against its acceptance in ourselves and others.

I started thinking about this, when at the end of my work week, someone that I think of as highly professional, signed off an email in a way that left me smiling and thinking of the title of a book by John Ortberg that we once studied at our Thursday evening supper and study group: Everybody's Normal Till You Get to Know Them

The fact is that the email let me see behind the professional "persona," to the slightly wacky humanity of a person and it gave food for my introvert brain for a satisfying number of hours!

I found myself thinking, truly no one is perfect; a fact that we have surprising difficulty with if you will stick with me as I try to explain.

What if we considered this fact a "given?" What if we went into our day, knowing in the core of our souls that we were about to engage with a world of people as flawed as we are, and with as much private weirdness as we have ourselves, and to expect it, not be surprised by it.

Handing people we meet invisible cards that grant them such acceptance is a gift rarely given, except to our closest friends.

Instead I tend to look "up" to others and "down" on myself. In doing so I do others a disservice because their pedestal comes with certain expectations. Expectations, along with their kinfolk, Assumptions, are usually a mistake and I don't like others having them about me.

I'm ending with a quote from a writer who has experienced a lot of flack for writing with vulnerability but whose book about the shame and blame game has impacted many. She came to mind when I was writing this. As for me, I am going to do my best to accept myself as kindly as I offer acceptance to others, and to remember, that as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote, "Perfection's name is Love."


“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.
Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.
Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.” ― BrenĂ© BrownThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Sunday, September 22, 2013

This Writer's Prayer

During the past couple of days I found time, energy and inspiration--the key ingredients to write anything of worth.

After my Sweet September post, Brave Raven left a lovely comment, quoting some of the lines I had written, and saying that she checks daily for just such a gift. Today in church I thanked her with a hug for the encouragement of her words. She, and a small but loyal band of readers make me want to write my heart out.

I have a target reader, I realize; that unseen and mainly unknown friend for whom I tap out the words on the screen...it is someone who may or may not have faith in God personally, but they are open and "listening." They read here because what I write is down to earth, honest, and sometimes the adventure of my life is funny. I have a list in my head of those I know are reading and I never take them for granted; I treasure and appreciate them.

This afternoon I wrote a writing prayer in my journal, and here it is, just so you know what I'm asking God for. If he answers, you will know it. :)

Lord, help me to write words of worth in a way that sparkles with beauty, insight and fun, and through which you breathe, and speak, even when you are not explicitly mentioned.

My big ask of you is that when you give me a glimpse of something I hadn't thought of, you will help me to share it simply. You know that I am prone to quoting text and verse, and can make things complicated and bookish, when the real skill is to do the opposite--to captivate the reader as you have captivated me. 

That's it. 

And if you answer my prayer, my heart will sing!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Sweet September

Honestly-summer this year was exhausting!

July and August were busy at work, with significant change to adjust to, and then on the home front there were all of the emotions that went with the move of our beloved family downstairs into their new home, in August.

So much was going on that there was no energy for some things that I love, especially writing, and I felt that was okay for the time being. But I noticed the world around me; the fields that surrounded our house in August full of an army of soldiers standing row upon row with golden spears in hand. They stood erect and tall awaiting the battle cry, and I admired their fortitude; until one September day I looked out and saw an army of warriors gone to seed; standing now in remembrance of summer past.  

I welcomed September with its sense of returning order and normalcy, even though a "new normal." Tonight rain drummed on our rooftop and skylights and I reflected on a day that felt like a turning point.

Today in the new office in the city where I now work part of the week, I felt completely at home. I relaxed into my office and felt I belonged. My laptop got connected to the printer in the hallway, and I had my first phone calls directly to that office phone. It didn't matter that it was only our IT department calling to set up the printer on the laptop--someone found me there! People dropped in to visit, and in between, I enjoyed the hum of activity surrounding me. I have a new place, and "a place" is what I have. I didn't even mind the long drive  home. I had an engrossing crime novel to listen to on the journey and I considered the drive the start of my weekend.

So friends, all this to let you know that it is well in Belindaland, and I hope with you.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Uh-oh!

On Tuesday when I came home from work, Paul said,"Belinda, did you drop off the movies at the video store? The video store says that we haven't brought back The Iceman."

I'd started the week on Monday with Paul calling out as I left the house for work, "Could you take  a movie back to the video store on the way?"

"Sure," I said, I had a few spare minutes. And I also grabbed the items waiting on the bottom shelf of the hall table, to be returned to the library. 

I'd dropped everything off at their respective destinations. I remembered checking inside the DVD cases to check that the Rizoli and Isles episodes we'd enjoyed over the weekend, were there, before dropping them into the chute in the outside wall of the library. This wasn't my fault, I was pretty sure, I knew I'd dropped everything off. "Maybe they lost it, " I said to Paul. 

Paul hunted high and low in the den, just in case it was still there, but couldn't find it. I knew he had a suspicion that I had something to do with the missing DVD but I was equally sure that it was nothing to do with me. The video store would find it, eventually, I was sure.

They did, sort of. It was Wednesday when Paul said, "The video store called again to tell us that the library has The Iceman." He said that the only way it would get from the library to the video store was if I went in and got it. I was stunned that The Iceman was at the library. I have no idea how that happened.

It was rather embarrassing at the library on Thursday, explaining why I was there to pick up The Iceman. The librarian looked up from the books she was working on, and peered over her glasses at me, with friendly eyes and a smile. "Don't worry, she said, as she slid open the door, "It happens all the time." And she waved her hand like the library's own Vanna White, at a shelf full of DVDs that didn't belong to the library. 

She said, "These are from schools, video stores--all over! What did you say the one you're looking for was called?" And she soon handed me The Iceman.

My next stop was Videoquest where I handed over the DVD at last. The girl behind the counter asked if I wanted to settle the account now. I said yes, and asked how much I owed, "Five dollars," she said, "Did you like the movie?"

"I didn't watch the movie," I said, "My husband did."

"Then he owes you five dollars," she said.

"Oh no," I felt compelled to say, and explained about the library and the shelf of DVDs left behind by other people, just to make myself feel better.

I said, "It's not going to get better either, there are a lot of Baby Boomers getting older you know."

And the owner, who was labeling DVDs, looked up from her work and nodded knowingly with a smile. 

I just realized why she was smiling. The demographics are in her favour. She may be about to become very, very rich. :)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Written in Haste! Read with Humour

I have a running list of things that hang like pegs on a washing line in my brain: Things to be done.

Last week one of these was looming. Our pastor had been busy organizing a "ministry expo," to be held after church on Sunday. All the ministries in the church would have a booth set up to communicate their vision and purpose to church members and have sign up sheets, hopefully to recruit newly interested people who previously had no idea that such a wonderful opportunity existed.

I needed to complete a description of the cell group that meets in our home each Thursday, and use picture frames to display the details. I'd been wracking my brains thinking how to describe "us," then I had the idea of asking the people who come, how they would describe our group.

They brainstormed a number of adjectives and I wished that I had written them all down, they were so good. The basic picture that emerged was of a group that was welcoming, about "family," and where you didn't have to be a biblical scholar to feel at home. And there was no question too dumb to be asked.

It was Saturday evening, after a busy day of going to the hairdresser; then for an afternoon out with friends; and then on to a spontaneous visit to Brenda with Susan, that I tried to remember all the things they had said. Susan helped a lot as she had been there, and I took notes this time! She even took me to WalMart on the way home, to pick up my picture frames.

I was tired before I went to bed on Saturday evening, as I made my display on the computer. It was simple, but I had it done. The next morning I set up the picture frames and the sign up sheets on the spot on a table, helpfully marked by our pastor: "Belinda."

It was only as I was wandering around the other displays that I noticed people pointing at mine and smiling. I wondered what was so funny. That was when Paul said that I really should have proof read and edited my display, which read:

Thursday Evenings 
Dinner 6.30-8.00 p.m.Bible/Book Study  8.00-9.00 p.m.
Important things to know about the Bond Head Cell Group 

Relational Family Belonging 

Food—we break bread together each week sharing a meal! 

Multi-generational group 

Currently 9 of us 
Come as you are and where you are at! 

No dumb questions

What I had meant as a welcoming invitation, "No dumb questions;" was being read as an instruction and having quite the opposite effect!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

School Days

At 20 minutes to 7, a cheery voice called from the hallway below, "Hello!" 

I looked down over the banister, and shouted a welcome in the direction of the woman with short auburn hair and vibrant blue eyes; my friend Carolyn.

"You're probably thinking I'm early, but I'm not staying," she said, her voice husky with congestion, and coughs punctuating her words.

"I'm sick and I don't want to spread it to everyone else, but I just had to drop off your copy of my book!"

The book, Pine Warbler, is Carolyn's third, and one of the endorsements of her writing, at the beginning of the book, is mine. Exciting!

I followed Carolyn out to her car to pick up another copy of the book from her trunk. A September heatwave has enveloped Ontario and late in the day, the air outside was still hot. Against her protests about not wanting to spread whatever she was fighting off, I hugged her goodbye, and went back inside as she drove off, just as other writing friends arrived.

In the end there were just six of us, as several couldn't make it tonight. As I had anticipated, the topic "School Days," elicited creative responses.

Debbie said that she hadn't written about the evening's topic, but shared a speech she's giving this weekend on the disease she survived 5 years ago; ovarian cancer. When she finished the speech, which chronicled a journey none of us would wish to take, sharing all the things she had learned along the way; we insisted that she had indeed written about the topic, even if she didn't think she had!

Susan Starrett wrote about her favourite school day memory--recess! She wrote in slam poetry, a word picture that had us laughing and remembering, it was so vividly evocative, describing the games we all played and the wildly spinning pieces of playground equipment, long removed from the safety conscious playgrounds of today.

I shared the blog post I wrote yesterday, including my friend Dave's comment at the end, about life classes he's had to retake, which made everyone laugh.

Magda wrote her memories of school in one room country schools in Canada after leaving her homeland of Holland, just before the end of her first school year; of an ill-equipped teacher who forced Magda, a left handed child, to write with her right hand until her parents intervened, and who flew into a rage at the children one day when she was unable to maintain classroom discipline with the older boys and took it out on two little six year old girls because they were talking to one another. She told them they would be strapped, even though she had told Madga to help the other girl, who was having difficulties, and that was why she was talking to her. She refused to listen though and told them that they could choose between being strapped immediately, or at 12 o'clock. The other girl chose to be strapped right away, while Magda chose the later time, having a getaway plan in mind. She remembers running home to the calls of the older girls shouting that the strap didn't really hurt that badly. 

It turned out as we talked, that three of the other writers in the room had been strapped in school. It is hard to imagine that anyone thought this was okay at one time, not so long ago. Parents would say, "You must have done something to deserve it," if a child complained, and often add their own punishment to reinforce solidarity with the teacher.

Gail read two poems recalling the magical hiding places found by children when they want to escape.

We laughed and cried a little at the stories that tumbled out one after the other. School days had traumatized some, and shaped all of us. Magda said that just writing about it was healing.

All too soon, it was time to say goodbye again. I walked out with my friends, into the dark driveway. A hot breeze still blew, feeling like air from a heating vent in winter. School days may be back, but there remains a bit of summer to enjoy, even now!

Monday, September 09, 2013

All I Really Need to Know...

Tomorrow evening a flock of writing friends will descend on our house and share their individual perspectives on our assignment for September--"School Days." I'm looking forward to it. Some will be funny. Some will be deep. All will be good! I've thought hard, but haven't come up with anything exciting about my own school days. 

I've written about the teachers etched in my memory before. They are forever frozen in time for me, just as they looked in the 1950's and 60's. But I think I'll leave them resting in peace and undisturbed for now. :)

I love the little book by Robert Fulgham, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, but I'm still learning, all the time, and my best lessons don't involve holding hands or even milk and cookies. 

I guess it's all in how you view "education." I continue to learn from books, from other people and from my mistakes (I hate making them, beat myself up when I do, but take consolation in learning to be a little bit better with every mistake I make.) 

Sometimes I wonder, as I apologize, yet again, "Is it just me?" Oh, I hope not, but I have a sneaking suspicion...

From Mum I learned to celebrate and appreciate. I learned to see the best in people; to be bravely vulnerable; the value of humour; and to understand what is truly important in life.

From Dad I learned to argue from either side of a debate. I had so much practice over dinner at home that I can usually see the other side, and that can be a valuable asset. He also taught me to think, and love art, music and reading.

From my brother Rob I've learned the value of simplicity and contentment.

I believe that God has his very own education plan for each of us. His lessons are innovative. We would never sign up ahead of time if we saw them in a glossy brochure and yet they are priceless.

So "School Days?" They never end!

Sunday, September 08, 2013

White Space

It was just over a week ago that I looked at the massive amount of emails piled up in my in-box at work and decided that I had to do something about them.  Over the next several days I spent time sorting; responding; filing and deleting--until finally--pristine, dazzling white space stared back at me from my computer screen.

Ever since that splendid moment of triumph, I have waged a daily battle to hang on to it.

Partly because it has been such a busy summer at work, I found that I had no energy to write. I was even beginning to wonder if my well of inspiration had dried up--was my season to write, over?

It felt to me; not only about writing, but about a few other things too; as though God had pressed the "pause" button. 

Just like my father, who in gentlemanly fashion always walked on the side closest to the traffic when we were out together, and when were about to cross the street, put his arm across my chest like the barrier at a railroad crossing, holding me back until it was safe; it's felt like God has been holding me back, and by doing so, giving me the gift of space.

Today I realized what a gift that space has been. And not only the space, but the inner freedom to accept the gift.

There is peace in waiting for God to say, "Go."

Fall is a time for new notebooks, full of pages just waiting to be written on. 

A time of new beginnings.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Going with Christ

Saturday dawned. The washing machine slish-sloshed the first of several loads. 

It was golden, warm and sunny and on my agenda I had Friendship Sunday invitations--six of them!

The thought of that sent me to my basket of devotional reading for a few minutes of spiritual muscle building. There is nothing like a leap out of your comfort zone to bring you to your knees, and going out into the neighbourhood with six invitations, qualified.

As I read, I found a prescription for inspiration in a short sermon of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's, delivered on January 1, 1934 in London. January 1st, that universal day of good intentions! 

Bonhoeffer wrote:
So a new beginning is not something one can do for oneself. One can only pray for it to happen... But we can pray only when we have realized that there is something we cannot do for ourselves, that we have reached our limit, that someone else must be the one to begin.

And he went on to speak from his text, Luke 9: 57-62

Luke 9:57-62

The Message (MSG)
57 On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said.
58 Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”
Jesus said to another, “Follow me.”
59 He said, “Certainly, but first excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have to make arrangements for my father’s funeral.”
60 Jesus refused. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”
61 Then another said, “I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.”

I was getting a message loud and clear! It was magnified when I read the Daily Light evening reading for August 24 which only served to light the fuse on my by now fully loaded rocket ship. 

Brenda was coming for tea at 11.45, so I left right away at 11.30, sure that I would be back in 15 minutes.

I had noticed that the invitations did not have the address of our church printed on them so I decided that if no one answered a door I would go to the next house. Leaving them in the doorway would be a waste. I would only hand one to someone personally so that I could give directions.

In my journey there were three houses at which the door was not answered, but I had four lovely conversations and handed out invitations that were received with thanks! 

My next door neighbour was very busy getting ready for a trip with her extended family, but said that if she could manage it she would come.

I met a lovely young couple with their little girl; new to the neighbourhood. We chatted about their house, all that they had done since moving in, how long we'd lived here (25  years!) They thanked me for the invitation.

The next door was opened by a young woman who listened as children ran in and out, stopping in curiosity to listen too. She seemed interested and said thank you.

Her next door neighbour was interested in the church as they were traveling further than they liked to their own church--and the woman had been praying for the woman next door who had seemed interested when I gave her the invitation. "Maybe we could come together," she said. We talked a while about churches and our histories, which had some things in common. 

"Do you have a Bible study at your house on Thursday nights?" she asked, "We notice all the cars when we drive by on our way to Awana." (Awana is a children's program.)

It was only then that I realized I was half an hour late for tea with Brenda and had to run to make sure I didn't miss her!

45 minutes out of the boat, casting a net and seeing what God would do.

Bohoeffer's sermon finishes with these words:
Let your new beginning with Christ be followed by a story of going with Christ....I can think of nothing better.