Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Skyward

A  bank of pale grey clouds bordered the eastern horizon, edged thinly with shimmering molten copper. And slowly, the tiniest, brightest, diamond peeked above the gleaming edge, growing in size and brilliance with every second.  The start of yesterday morning's drive to the city!

Today, driving home,  the western sky was an exultant symphony of turquoise swirled with peachy, puffy, back lit clouds. Just so much beauty.

And this afternoon a farewell party for our boss, who will before the weekend fly into that sky on silvered wings; bound for a far off land of brilliant colours, pungent scents, exotic spices, and the music of the sitar. He and his wife will meet the daughter of their hearts face to face at last. 

For months he has been distracted, impatient, and frustrated by slow moving bureaucracy, every fibre of his being longing to bring her home. When the word came at last that the paperwork was all in place, joy arose in our cold Canadian city and a celebration feast was called for. And so we brought our best--food from many different cultures, reflecting the colourful cultural array of our team; and we laughed and ate and shared his excitement, and the party was lit by the shine in his eyes.

Karen and Dwayne, our hearts soar skyward with you as you go to bring Deepika home!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sharing the Ride

It's been an exciting and nerve-wracking week, which on so many levels seems like a dream in retrospect.

The adventure began when Paul received a phone call last November, telling him that he was to be inducted into the Order of Ontario. He was stunned at the news and spent most of that day trying to process it. He felt unworthy of this recognition, our province's highest official honour.

In our almost 45 years of marriage, Paul's overriding characteristics have been generosity, compassion, leadership, and courage to speak out for justice and equity, even in the face of strong opposing forces.

Still, the honour felt overwhelming. This sense only deepened at the ceremony, with the other 25 new appointees to the Order of Ontario. We both felt humbled in the company of these men and women and yet, in talking with some of them, many came from humble beginnings, and were simply living out their destiny and calling in their respective fields, using their particular gifts for the benefit of others in Ontario and the world.

The wife of world renowned physicist and the father of attosecond science, Paul Corkum, smiled as she said to me, "We get to go along for the ride."

Yes, we do!

Ahead of the official announcement of this year's appointees, we were instructed to keep the information confidential, so not even our own children and their spouses, knew why we had asked them to take the day off work until they received their invitations in the mail. Our church family and our coworkers and friends, did not know until this week. Paul was asked to share a few words about the honour this morning to our faith family at Hillside Community Church. With his permission, I share his words here:

I have to say it was a sobering moment when I learned that the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the honourable David C. Onley,  was inducting me into the Order of Ontario for my leadership in the social service sector and for the work in the First Nations community.
I have always wanted very much to help people with disabilities and those who are discriminated against, and ostracised, I believe it is a reflection of Christ’s love working through me that empowers me to reach out to the very people Jesus identified as important to his Kingdom. 
This award suggests that perhaps I have succeeded in some measure, however let me be clear this award is also one that belongs to Hillside and Christian Horizons as without the support and passion of my colleagues and brother and sisters I would not have had this recognition.
I am also very grateful to Belinda my wife, for her support over the years.
Although I feel very self-conscious about talking about this award, I am reminded that--
 
ALL THE GLORY BELONGS TO GOD

Monday, January 20, 2014

Don't Take Yourself too Seriously

I still remember a long ago New Year's Eve. I was working alone in my office after most of the rest of the world had already gone home, and I was just finishing a few things before going out into the last night of the year.

I don't remember anymore what it was that I was so annoyed about, only that I was, at something that I was about to respond to by email. Suddenly, as I was about to press "send," I stopped, my finger poised over the mouse. Did I want the first thing someone read in the New Year to be a snitty email from me? Did I really want to leave behind a toxic trail from one year into the next?

Whatever I was so miffed about, suddenly didn't matter so much. I remembered something I'd heard somewhere--something about leaving behind a wake--or maybe it was about leaving fingerprints on people's lives! Anyway, I realized that just on the off chance that I might never be seen or heard from again I didn't want the last thing I did, to be unkind, even if it felt in that moment, justified.

I realized that I had gotten all tied up in a knot over something that really didn't matter and it involved taking myself way too seriously.

So I shook off the silliness, deleted whatever self righteousness was staring at me from the screen, turned off the computer and went home.

It wasn't the last time I climbed onto a high horse and had to get off, but I have learned to hear the neighing as one approaches and run in the opposite direction!

A point can be made without righteous indignation, sharpness, harshness or unkindness. Sometimes, oh this is the true Exclamation Mark I think, the point is "got" quite quickly by the other person. And there are times it doesn't need to be made at all, particularly if it just has to do with "me."

Someone once said to me that they wanted to leave every room better than when they walked into it. It was a person much younger than me who said it, but I stored it away as a gem of wisdom. I realize that it doesn't really matter how clever you are--people won't remember that about you as much as how pleasant it was to spend time with you--whether you were kind--and that you added some laughter and lightness to their day.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Talk Less!

Time for another of the Life Lessons on my list. This probably doesn't qualify quite as an Exclamation Mark as it's still a lesson in process. It's something that I wish I practiced better than I do, even though by nature I'm a quiet person--and that is, talking less. I rarely regret  the things I didn't say. On the other hand I've lost count of the times I've wished I could just press the "undo" button on words that have popped out of my mouth in the emotion of a moment.

And at times that others come to talk to me, why is it that I think that I have to talk so much? Usually people already know the answers to their dilemmas. Talking it out helps them to realize that--if only the listener focuses on helping them think things through.

A professional coach once told me that she had the letters W A I T on the wall of her office, strategically placed so that she'd see them behind the person she was meeting with. The letters stood for:

Why
Am
I
Talking?

I now have my own set of these letters, carved in wood, and given to me by my friend Jane, for Christmas. They stand in a window in our family room, where I look at them often in the hope that their message will sink in.

One tip I've found that helps me stop talking and listen, is focusing on my breathing. It helps me relax, stop thinking of what "I" have to say, and listen to understand. 

I think back often to conversations with my father, where he was combative and provocative. The two ways I typically reacted were withdrawing in frustration, or arguing back, with disdain for his point of view.

How I wish that I could go back in time and break the pattern. If I could, I would answer his questions with my own. I would hear him out and try to understand his point of view. One of my deepest regrets is knowing that probably not one person on earth ever fully understood or knew him. I had the chance. I missed it with him, but it isn't too late with the people still in my life.

It is a gift to truly know someone else as well as you can, and the only way to do so is to listen.

And at the very least, if you are not so outspoken people think you are far wiser than you actually are!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Plan not to Plan

First, an addendum to my prologue:
These "Exclamation Marks" are on my own hands and I'm sharing them just for fun, not because I think they are the final word in wisdom for everyone; They represent "aha" moments for me, or what has worked in my life.
 
They are also not written in any kind of orderly sequence or order of importance, which fits in with the first lesson I've learned, which is:
Plan not to Plan
 
This is coming from someone, who as you will know, if you've spent any time with me at all; has spent way too much time planning. And trying to fit more things than are humanly possible into a given time frame. And who never gives up trying to be better organized.
 
I like being organized and I like thinking through what is most important to get on with, but that's not what I mean. I'm talking about those longer term plans. Goodness, even a week can go seriously awry, let alone five years.
 
In one of my journals there is a page on which, at 36 years old, I made a four year plan. It was 1986, and I was looking four years ahead to being 40.  When I found the list again some time later, I looked at the goals and shook my head. Not because I hadn't reached most of them, but because I couldn't imagine why some of them were on the list! In their place I had done things that were far more interesting and important. I mean, "Get an F licence?" Really? I don't know why I wanted to do that! :)
 
So I don't even worry about thinking that far ahead. Life has far too many variables to add to the adventure, so why even think of squeezing yourself into such a tight box of limited possibilities?
 
Planning and then trying to stick to the plan can lead to frustration and a sense of failure if you are rigid, so I think that it's wise to plan flexibly, giving God permission to interrupt your plans. I couldn't help bringing him into the conversation because he really is important to this point. I firmly believe that he has a plan and that it is good.
 
There is an adage that says that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail, but that, my friends, has not proven true in my life.
 


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Life Lessons--Prologue; a word about Faith

After writing about my Exclamation Marks and saying that I would write about the life lessons they represent to me, I was suddenly struck with self doubt.

"What was I thinking, that I thought I had 'life lessons' to share with anyone?" I thought.

As I share the thoughts that did come to mind over the next little while, let me say that just because they are things I believe to be true or helpful, does not mean I practice them well, although I try!

I won't write about my faith as one of my life lessons as that would diminish it somehow. The fact of faith is intrinsic to who I am. There are lessons that I could and have written about related to faith. They are different to the context of my Exclamation Marks--although any sound lesson can find its root and be confirmed in scripture--the pages of the Bible. 

The underlying premise of my faith is this: God exists;  an active relationship with him is possible; he loves each and every human with a love that is inconceivable and unconditional; his plans are best, but his ways are beyond understanding, and they are often opposite to accepted wisdom! 

Well having said that I will begin--stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Exclamation Marks!

I remember many long ago conversations with my dear Aunt Agnes (I've written several times about her on this blog, and if you click on her name it will link to one of the stories.) She would often laugh at how old she "suddenly" found herself (she was 50 years older than me,) and yet how inside she felt just like the young girl she once had been. On her apartment wall hung a black and white photograph of a pretty young girl in a long skirt and starched white blouse, hair tied back in a large black bow. The twinkle in her eye had not changed a bit in the many decades since the photograph was taken.

Now that I'm in my sixties I so relate. There are parts of my body that just aren't what they used to be, but my heart and spirit don't feel old.

One day last fall I was driving somewhere when I noticed my hands on the steering wheel. I work my poor hands hard and they are usually sorely neglected in the manicure department, but it was the brown "age spots" that caught my attention.

Right then and there I decided. I'm not going to call them 'age spots," I hate the sound of it. Nope--I had a flash of inspiration! I decided to reframe my view of the spots; they would each represent a hard won life lesson learned--a kind of badge of honour instead of something to feel ashamed of.

Later I was telling some friends about my "epiphany" and said that I was trying to think of a good name for the spots that related to this idea. "Bullet points!" said one  friend--a clever idea, I thought.

But I think I'm going to call them "Exclamation Marks" because I am rather addicted to their overuse, and it kind of fits, because when you learn a life lesson, you feel like exclaiming something like, "Eureka!"

What are my life lessons? Well, that's a whole other blog post, which would require some thinking time---I promise I will write about them soon. But meanwhile, I'd love to read yours, in the comment section.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Christmas Extended

We left for Florida the day after Boxing Day, and I came home this past Saturday evening to a Christmas tree still brightly twinkling, wreaths on the doors, and our front yard lit up at night like, well, a Christmas tree!

On my kitchen wall hang two ornamental gold painted metal card holders; one in the shape of a Christmas wreath and the other a Christmas tree. They are handy, because our many Christmas cards can be arranged in them, instead of falling off shelves as people walk by.

Every possible moment I've been listening to a lovely Christmas CD given to Paul :) by Brenda and Kevin: The Piano Guys--A Family Christmas. Since we celebrate Christmas with family on Boxing Day, I had only had one day to enjoy Paul's CD before leaving and I just can't bear to put it away yet. 

Now that the unpacking from our trip, the laundry and grocery shopping is done, the next job is putting away our Christmas decorations and tonight I made a good beginning.

When I got to the Christmas card holders I took them off the wall and put back the pictures that normally hang there, in their place. Then I began to take out the cards, group family photographs and Christmas letters. 

I must admit that when these first began to arrive in early December, I had to fight the urge to think uncharitable thoughts about the organized senders. With every card received, the pressure mounted because my own long list of cards to send was not keeping up. I gave myself a shake though; told myself to not be so silly, and began to take joy in opening the cards arriving from Holland, Spain and England as well as friends nearby.

As I dismantled my card holders this evening, each card was reread, each photo looked at again, each Christmas letter lingered over one more time. I think I enjoyed them even more then second time around. And I couldn't bring myself to throw many of them away, but tied them up with a ribbon, with the year, "2013," written on the back of the end card.

Words mean so much, and I treasure those written by friends. I love Facebook, and the group celebrations with the world of friends there, but a personal, handwritten note with a memory shared, or a word of blessing or kind word of appreciation, is a special gift that is worth more than any other to me.

So, as I lick the last crumbs of a piece of my friend Cheryl's Christmas shortcake from my lips (one of a few pieces found serendipitously in a Christmas cookie tin on top of my fridge,) I wish you all a very merry extended Christmas, because in Bond Head, it isn't over yet, and I suppose that today really is Epiphany after all, and the 12th day of Christmas!

Friday, January 03, 2014

True Friends Join You in the Crazy

It was the last day of baking to fill the Christmas orders for apple pie. I had taken the day off from my job as there were an unmentionable and impossible number of pies to be baked before the next morning.

My dear friend Irene also had a day off and was coming to help me by peeling apples. Early that morning she texted me to say, "I'm on my way. Don't start without me!"  

"Don't worry, I won't!" I texted back. And I thought, "True friends join you in the crazy."

She put in a solid 8 hours peeling and slicing and assembling more pie boxes while I rolled pastry and plugged away at assembling and baking pies. Another two friends were coming later; Susan and Kathy; and Irene didn't want to leave until they arrived. And I knew I was being handed from the care of one guardian angel friend to two more.

Kathy and Susan arrived after their own days at work. The peeling was all done, but I had many other things that they could do to help. We laughed a lot as we worked, but I think I stressed them out too, with my instructions to "Weigh and bag 1 pound 6 ounces of apples--exactly." I am obsessive when it comes to measurements and other parts of the process of making the pies.

When we three sat down for a break before they left, and had a cup of decaffeinated coffee and cake, I apologized. They both looked at me as if they didn't know what I was talking about when I said, "I feel as though here you are, two grown women who have baked many pies in  your lives, and I've been treating you like you didn't know what you were doing."

And they both shook their heads and said in all seriousness, "Oh, no, it's quality control." 

And I thought, "True friends close their eyes to the crazy!"

I had been thinking about my mum throughout my pie making and over our coffee, I told Susan and Kathy about her apple pies. She did not enjoy cooking or baking as I do, but she did make a special apple pie.

Mum's apple pie was substantial and made in a large white enameled pie plate, with a dark blue border around the rim. She cooked her apples first in a small amount of water and some sugar, so that they were a thick apple sauce, or appelmoes as she called it in Dutch. The crunchy golden pastry was sprinkled with sugar and she always made delicious, thick, Birds Custard to pour over our large slices.

When we were very small, Mum made up a story that we loved to hear over and over again, about a little pixie man who wandered away from home and got lost in a forest when the sun went down. Of course in later years we realized that this story had a message that Mum wanted to impart subtly! But in the story, a giant finds the pixie man, pops him into his breast pocket, and from this vantage point, high above the tree tops, the pixie man was able to guide him to his home. The mummy pixie man was so grateful to the giant that she baked him an apple pie in a big saucepan lid, and they all became fast friends! I think that the message that was implanted in me was to "bake pie!" :)

Susan and Kathy shared their memories of their own mothers' pies. Susan grew up in Windsor, and her mom drove to work in Detroit every day. Every year at American Thanksgiving, which she would get off as a holiday, she would make apple pie. 

Kathy remembered her mother making mincemeat pie from homemade mincemeat and always adding an apple to the mincemeat to "cut the sugar." Pie weaves itself into our memories of childhood.

True friends, so many of them, came alongside in this adventure to help or purchase pies, or both. If I were to name them all, the list would be long. But I have the list in my head and heart and I am so grateful. 

True friends join you in the crazy!

Gifts

In the morning we begin our journey home from Florida--from the land of voices that fall like sugar on the ear with their soft, "Honey's" and "Y'all's." The people here have been just out and out happily polite and pleasant where ever we went--the epitome of "nice."

This time away has been wonderful way to start the New Year--a gift--from the journey down through the states, away from the frigid cold of a recent ice storm in Canada--to the simplest of things enjoyed together as a family. I have tucked away some precious memories.

One memory is the excitement of crossing the border with Tippy and Tori, who have never been out of Ontario, and the laughter inside the car because I wasn't sure at which exact moment we had definitely crossed the border and could start cheering.

The sheer beauty of West Virginia as we drove by the Appalachian Mountains was stunning.

Just hanging out with two of my granddaughters for so many days strung together was a joy. Tippy, quiet; thoughtful; artistic; simple in her wants and pleasures. Tori, vibrant; funny; with a caustic wit that I am spared because of her affection.

Relaxing for hours and reading for sheer pleasure for as long as I wanted.

Listening to a boisterously noisy game of Dog-Opoly being played with high competitiveness and much laughter downstairs.

A day at Cocoa Beach, and watching children, especially, with their chubby legs and clumsy gait, enjoying surf and sand.

Mostly, the gift has been "being" in the heart of loving family; spending time with my precious daughter, who is a happy,  happy, upbeat creature and lover of people. And our son-in-law who serves his family with kindness and gently teasing humour. 

Back home Paul has held the fort and hosted pets who will no doubt be happy to see their main family again. 

I go back with tank filled up with rest, refreshment, love and energy. So grateful.


Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Surfacing into a New Year

Happy 2014 everyone! 

I am in Florida with family this week; a precious time of focusing on rest and relationship. I am with Brenda, Kevin, Tippy and Tori. Paul is taking care of Molson the dog and Hazel the cat at home in Canada.

This morning Brenda asked what goals we had for this year. As I pondered, gave up, and turned the question back to her, she gave me mine--"Write on your blog!" she said. And so I am.

I have some catching up to do since I last wrote on December 15. I had baked 55 pies at that point, since mid November, when I felt a "God nudge" to bake pies to raise money for the global, non-government funded branch of Christian Horizonsthe organization I work for. 

To those who might read "God nudge," and not understand what that means, I can only say that it's not something that happens to me every day, but I recognize it when it does by an inexplicable inner "knowing" that I am supposed to do something. It usually makes no rational sense and by following the prompting, I am stepping out entirely in dependence and trust that if I do my part and just follow, God has the details covered. 

I believe to the core of my being that God exists, and that he engages in relationship with any human soul that opens heart and ears to his voice. But following his voice is a scary ride. On December 15 I wrote:
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...
It was ten days to Christmas and I had 59 more pies to bake by December 24. I had amazingly met Tony, the owner of a produce company on December 14 at my Saturday hairdressing appointment, and he had promised me Northern Spy apples. But on Monday morning I wondered, would they really come? 

Paul and I had been reading Ann Voskamp's devotional, The Greatest Gift--Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas during Advent. That Monday morning the story was of Jonah, who Ann wrote was startled awake "by the gift of utter dependence." I wrote in my journal that morning that:
He (God) has given me that gift too, in the South Sudan, Apple Pie Project. It is a gift that fits uncomfortably, with feelings that flit between exhilaration--and the potential for--what? Fear? Panic? Whatever it was that the disciple Peter felt when he took his eyes off the familiar figure with him out on the water--that feeling. 
I continued:
I receive the gift and take it with firm hands and a slightly quaking stomach, both faith and human weakness mingling.
Is this what it should feel like, out here atop the waves (of pie?)
That morning I was driving to work when Susan called to ask if I had seen my friend Brian's post on Facebook. I hadn't. She told me that he'd written that the first thing Tony had done when he got to work that Monday morning, was make a phone call and order my apples. The Northern Spy's would be at my house that day! And they were.

The week ahead had two evening Christmas concerts involving grandchildren. I baked pies afterwards deep into the morning hours. The Northern Spy's were the most exquisite apple I had ever tasted or sliced. Alone in the silence, I savoured the sound of sharpened and honed knife blade squeaking and crunching through the firm white flesh of apple, and the velvety feel of perfection in the hand, of a round of palest cream, chilled pastry dough. 

Dear friends, Irene, Susan and Kathy, came alongside, peeling and weighing apples, spraying pie dishes--giving moral support and doing anything they could to help. 

By December 20th, the pies were done, by the grace of God and with the help of many friends! 


This was about pie, but so much more. There are stories to tell of where pies went and how they were sold and resold. Of pie negotiations and happiness brought to people who enjoyed them.

And even this vacation, which came about because Brenda and Kevin rented a holiday villa in Florida for a week after Christmas and which happened to have a spare room, meant that recovery time was built into this adventure. 

What a much needed gift this rest has been; a perfect ending to the pie project, at least for now!