Sunday, April 27, 2014

In Honour of Frans van der Lugt, a Man of Kindness, Gentleness and Peace

Last week in the newsletter of one of Christian Horizons's sister organizations;  L'Arche Daybreak; I read of the murder of Dutch Jesuit priest, Frans van der Lugt; co-founder of L'arche Al-Safina; south west of the Old City of Homs, Syria. The 75 year old priest was shot dead on April 7. 

He was a man of gentleness and peace who had lived in Syria for 50 years and was the last European remaining in the old city of Homs, which has been under siege for some time.

He was given a 50 acre parcel of land about 10 years ago, on which he grew vegetables and had a vineyard. He loved animals, grew wildflowers and refused to use pesticides. There he founded the Al-Ard institute, where handicapped children of all religions found a place. 

Every morning, he used to make a circuit of the nearby villages in his old VW van, collecting young people with disabilities from their families and bringing them to the farm where he had created a space where they could work together as part of "a community that values everybody." This was in a culture in which people with disabilities are often hidden away in shame.
People with exceptional needs belong to communities in which their God-given gifts are valued and respected.(Christian Horizons' Vision Statement.)

He refused to leave, even when a UN supervised operation began in February to evacuate 1400 people from the city. He told his brother in Amsterdam that leaving the Syrian people, with whom he identified with in their pain and suffering, was unthinkable, as a shepherd could not leave his sheep.He stayed and shared the hunger of those under siege as they lived with ever dwindling resources of food, scavenging for survival in primitive conditions.

In an article written by Elise Harris for CNA (Catholic News Agency,) she quotes Wael Salibi, a 26 year old friend of Frans van der Lugt: "He changed the lives of thousands of people...he taught us the meaning of love not just with words, but with life."

I had not known of Frans vander Lugt before his death; but his life--and death--inspire me and I write about him so that others will know of his life.

Today Dave Hingsburger wrote a blessing for a young friend of his, on his blog. It was titled, Ruby's First Communion. With his permission I share part of it here, for when I read it, it struck me that the spirit in which Frans vander Lugt lived his life, is what Dave prayed for Ruby; and that is something beautiful.

Today, Ruby, you take
and you make a promise of
Communion with God
Communion with the people of God
Communion with your faith
Communion with your fellows
You taste with your tongue
Your promise
Your promise to be
With God
With People
Your promise to be
The hands of God
The voice of compassion
You promise to
Walk into the desert
With kindness to offer
You promise to
Meet the bitter
With sweet
The hard
with gentle touch
and warm welcome
It is not easy for us, Ruby,
To remember God
In our hearts
It is not easy for anyone, Ruby,
To turn the other cheek
Rather than be the one that strikes it
But I pray, Ruby,
That as you grow
You hold on tight
To the little girl
Who used three year old hands
To help me put the footrests on my wheelchair
To the little girl
Who dropped her change
In the homeless woman's cup
To the little girl
Who super soaked
The crowd at the pride parade
Hold on tight
To the little girl
Who loves to help
Hold on tight
To the little girl
Who is unafraid of diversity
Hold on tight
Don't let go
Of what you know now
You know that
The world is made
Of difference
That the world is made
Of the diversity
Of colour and of texture
That the world is made
By God
Who loves what was made
And you know
that today as you eat
at the table of God
That you promise
To be in Gods world
To do what God puts into your heart
That you promise
To be the oasis
Not the desert
That's a big promise
But you have a big heart
Where God has always lived.   


Saturday, April 26, 2014

One Reason for Keeping a Gratitude Journal

I started keeping a Gratitude Journal on March 1, 2011, inspired by  Ann Voskamp at Holy Experience, who challenged readers of her blog back then to make a list of 1000 gifts. Well, I am 3 years in and my poor list is only 473 items strong and counting, but it gives me joy whenever I read it, because it reminds me of my many blessings, large and small over these years.

This morning for instance, one of the things I wrote that I was thankful for was this:
471: That Paul and I are alone here again. It was lovely to see our friends and host them for 2 weeks, but oh, how nice to enjoy our quiet, normal, rhythm of life again.

There are blessings in company but no matter how much you love people, there are blessings in quietness! Today we both went about our Saturday's work separately--Paul working on a presentation and me creatively using up the many leftovers in our fridge, producing three kinds of delicious soup and cranberry muffins.) Then Paul brought home a movie from the video store to relax together with: August: Osage County,  The cast has many well known actors including one of my favourites, Merle Streep.. It's a dark movie about a crazy, dysfunctional family of women and the pain passed down through four generations. 

Secrets abound in the family and at the end I turned to Paul and said, "So, do you have any secrets?"

Paul smiled and said, "Just that everybody seems to think I'm something special, but I know that I'm not."

I couldn't help myself. I went upstairs and got my Gratitude Journal, and I read to him the other entry from this morning:
472: For standing beside someone in life, who so many look up to and respect--and feeling the same way.

Just one more reason for keeping a Gratitude Journal. :)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Remembering Ralph

It's so important to remember people--to make sure that their stories live on. I wrote this story in January 2009, to honour someone supported by Christian Horizons. The story exemplifies our Vision Statement because Ralph's God-given gifts, his life, and his response to adversity were simply inspirational.

People with exceptional needbelong to communities in which their God-given gifts are valued and respected.

This morning dawned cold in Ontario.

As I got ready for the day, I listened to CBC radio. On the morning show they were reading emails from listeners who described the weather conditions in their part of the province.

It had been a crystal clear winter's night with a full moon. Apparently the moon was as close to the earth as it ever gets. A listener described an early morning walk in the woods, with the moon descending in the west. She said that the woods were floodlit electric blue. What beauty that description conjured up.

On an end table I noticed a folded bulletin from a funeral I had attended the previous Monday. I kept it because I wanted to write about Ralph, who died on New Year's Eve at the age of almost 83.

Ralph's funeral was attended by family and a collection of friends from a cross section of society in Barrie. The funeral service was led by his friend of 32 years, Pastor John Howard, and in the congregation was more than one lawyer, as well as staff from several agencies who had supported him at various times in his life. He had friends everywhere, many of them in high places.

This photograph was taken at the party in April last year, to celebrate one of his dreams that came true at the age of 83--moving into an apartment, at last.

He died with one dream unfulfilled; he always hoped to find a wife.

Ralph's life story could be a script for a movie on injustice and tragedy but he was a man with an air of immense dignity, and he had faith and perseverance enough to move mountains.

In 1965, a series of catastrophic events that were not his fault, resulted him being charged with murder, a charge for which he was not allowed to stand trial because he was deemed unfit to do so. Instead he was placed in a psychiatric facility. Although he couldn't write, he got people to write letters for him. 11 years later, in 1976, in response to one of his letters, a young United Church minister, John Howard, drove up to Penetang to visit him.

John became his friend, and began to advocate for Ralph. Several years later, Ralph finally had his day in court and gained his freedom. By then he had been captive for almost 15 years.

Each year since then Ralph had an annual lunch date with the lawyer who, with John, befriended and helped him. Had he been bitter it would have been understandable, but he was just grateful.

To the last he kept busy, shoveling snow in the winter and mowing grass in the summer, and he kept his lawn mower chained to a tree in someone's back yard.

The manager of the team that supported him last, shared these thoughts about Ralph:

Ralph was always very appreciative of the support that he received. He often remarked on how he wanted to take the staff out for coffee or dream about how he will share his Lottery winnings with the staff. The Lottery winnings would always be millions of dollars. Ralph loved to sit down and eat. Whether it was a huge breakfast, a hearty lunch or a substantial snack, Ralph would eat it all. Ralph kept short accounts; he was very forgiving and wanted to be at peace with everyone.

Ralph had so many leadership qualities that he would make a Leadership guru proud. Ralph was tenacious, he had boundless energy, and he was passionate about his work. He considered his work a calling from God and he served faithfully. He loved his work and appreciated his employers. He was so concerned about getting his work done that he was worried that his employers would tell him to “hit the road” if he didn't show up. Ralph was very goal oriented and reviewed his goals on an ongoing basis. Ralph surrounded himself with positive and influential people with whom he consulted regularly. Ralph was driven and his drive was unstoppable. Ralph was a Maverick and visionary. For Ralph, life was always going to be better around the next corner.

Sundays were very important days for Ralph. This was the day he went to church and where he was surrounded by his church family. He came to church to be nourished for the coming week. Ralph knew that he could not do his work in his own strength but only by God’s grace.

We are thankful for the short time that we had with Ralph and take comfort that he has found peace with the Lord at last.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

What to Wear for Easter

I found this post in my blog's archives; written three years ago by one of my favourite writers and a dear friend; Dave Hingsburger. As an Easter gift, I am sharing it again. Happy Easter everyone!

A guest post by Dave Hingsburger

I've never understood the relationship between clothing and faith. Long before I became aware that we lived in a multi-cultural world, I questioned the very idea that God cares about what we wear to church. The high holidays of Easter and Christmas had my family getting dressed up and trotting off to church. There in the pews I saw everyone else from my small town dressed differently than they did normally. Tough, hard, miners hands stuck out of uncomfortable suits. Strong backed, strong armed mothers looked somehow wrong in pinks and pastels. I remember, wearing shirts that hurt to wear, wondering if God were looking down on us approvingly for dressing up for him. It seemed like we were playing 'pretend' and trying to trick God into thinking that clean clothes meant clean hearts and that well combed hair meant well ordered lives. It didn't make sense to me.
It still doesn't. I see people, in my modern and fast paced city, wearing clothes that tells me of their faith. It seems to me, always, to be a statement more about culture than faith. It strikes me odd, to suggest that God has a dress code. What you wear on your head and what you carry in your heart seems to be two very different things. But then, the other day, I saw something that made me question my thinking. I saw a beautifully dressed couple and from their clothing, I knew that their faith was real and that God was, indeed, smiling and approving.
We had stopped for lunch on a long road trip. We headed to a mall to find a food court. These are places that offer travellers both speed and choice. Joe and I have very different Food Court favourites so we go our separate ways and then meet up at a table. I had decided on having an A and W Swiss Veggie Melt. I lined up and then, in time, ordered. The veggie burger takes a little longer so I pulled to the side to wait. A young couple, the couple in question, were in the line up behind me. They were notable primarily because of how they related to each other. In a place of bustle and hurry, of rush and pressure, many snap at each other and grow impatient with choices taking longer than a second or two. These two were easy with each other and easy on each other. Behind them was a mother with a fussy child. When it came their turn, they turned to her and offered her to go first. She did so, without thanking them for their kindness, and they only glanced at each other with understanding for the mother's plight.
When they got to the counter and placed their order they asked the clerk how her day had been. She looked up in shock and appreciation and said, 'Really busy today.' He said, 'Well, know that it's appreciated.' His girlfriend nodded. The clerk looked at them as if they were from Mars and thanked them. They waited aside with me. We chatted briefly about the day. At one point the young woman offered to hold a small baby as a father, more used to balancing a checkbook than a baby, tried to find his wallet. She giggled with the child until Dad was done and then handed him back. By now several people had noticed them.
My burger was ready and I grabbed it and headed to find a table. Joe and I sat three tables down and one over from the couple. I was just telling him about them when they came into view and Joe looked over to see them. What he saw was, for a moment, quite ordinary. They were in their early twenties. She wore jeans and white embroidered top. He, too, wore jeans and a pull over jersey. They sat across from each other, pulled their burgers out from their wrapping and then set them down on the paper. They then each, quietly, bowed their heads and said grace. Done, they went to their meals.
'Ah,' I thought, 'that explains it.' 
Their difference was marked not by the clothes on their backs but by the behaviour they wore. They had cloaked themselves in humility and service, kindness and consideration. And I swear to you this, no Easter bonnet had ever looked as beautiful. They needed no costume to set them apart. They needed only to be what they believed, act what they felt and wear what they found true in order to demonstrate what God meant in their lives. It takes work to clothe actions in belief and it takes courage to wear one's faith on one's sleeve.
'Hmm,' I thought, to myself. 'Perhaps it's just easier to buy a hat.' 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Vacation in Bond Head

This is what "vacation" looks like if you come to stay at our house. :) All of those apples were peeled, and 7 apple pies were made, to raise money for South Sudan; and this was just one more in a stream of memories absorbed into the walls of our home.

As we peeled together I said to Eileen that I remembered her sitting and chopping or peeling on a previous visit, and she thought for a minute and remembered too, the exact occasion and what it was we were preparing for. 

I reminisced about when there was a deck where the large back room is now, and Mum and I peeled, with a glass of wine, got really silly and laughed and laughed as we sat in the sun and worked.

Later in the day I went shopping and while out I bought Bourbon to make Fannie Flagg's Kentucky Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie! Three of these pies for Easter weekend joined the apple pies in the quota for the day--can't wait to try a slice tomorrow evening at cell group.

I spotted Marmite at No Frills, and bought a jar for Eileen, to replace the jar that was confiscated at the airport. She was so happy to see it when she she came home later on.

A quiet day off, in the company of a friend; a treasure of time; moments cherished.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Chris, one of the friends staying with us at the moment, said, in catching up, "So how has it been going since you stepped down from the worship team to study and write?" I wrote about that last year here.

 I made the decision in June, intending to narrow the focus of my spare time to the one thing I love doing more than anything else--writing. 

Instead, as I explained to Chris with a little embarrassment, life speeded up in July and I was consumed by other duties and callings for the remainder of the year and into the last month, when I have finally slowed down enough to take some time off. Still, it was a good thing to have already let go of the added time that would have been given to being on a worship team.

I was pondering this week whether I am silly to believe that God is involved in such small things as this, something so insignificant to anyone but me. What made me think about this was that I had just found an action that I was about to take blocked repeatedly, and I took it as a hint from God that I needed to pause and consider something more deeply, which I did, and was grateful afterwards for having done so. 

My friend Eileen put it this way, not knowing anything of my own thoughts, "God spoke and the universe came into existence--he created everything, and yet he can find me." Her brow furrowed at the thought as she said, "And more important--I can find him!"

I can't explain the sense of it, but I do believe that God intimately knows us and cares about the smallest details of our lives and I think it's because I experience this sense of guidance; gentle prompts; actions taken that I thought were for one reason but were really for another. 

I haven't given up on writing for one minute. I am more determined than ever to write the things that God gives me to say, as well as I can. 

And I want to say thank you to the people who read this blog. You are such encouragers with whom to share the journey; whether laughing at life with me or considering the bigger questions. Thank you for being there! And maybe Easter, a time of rebirth and resurrection, is a good time to turn the corner with my writing life. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Friends

This week, for a couple of reasons, I am grateful to lean into a guest writer for my Monday Morning work related email. We have friends from England staying with us, and our focus has been on enjoying their company to the full; and secondly, my head has been spaced out from medication related to an unexpected dental procedure! 

So here is a true story with names changed, written by Elaine Day, a direct support professional who works for our organization.

Before turning the blog post over to Elaine though, I want to applaud the staff involved for the elements behind this story of a blossoming friendship between two people with developmental disabilities. The staffs' work shows sensitivity; inspiration; creativity; facilitation skills and caring; helping to fulfill our Christian Horizons' Vision Statement:

People with exceptional needs belong to communities in which their God-given gifts are valued and respected.

Relationships often don't just happen. A little help can make all the difference between loneliness and belonging--and bring a smile to the lips of someone who rarely shows that much emotion. That's enough from me--now over to Elaine--with thanks!

It doesn't matter how much people love their jobs, we all look forward to time off. It’s an opportunity to see family and friends, relax; perhaps, enjoy a meal at a restaurant, a movie, or a sporting event. For most of us, this requires only minor planning, a phone call or perhaps an email.
For some of the people we support, it may not be that simple. They may not have family involved in their lives or their family lives too far to visit on a regular basis. Although they may attend day programs, for the most part, they interact with these peers only during the week. 
This was the situation for one of the people I support. Sam has lived in an institution, a Christian Horizons group home, shared an apartment and now has his own apartment. Sam is well past retirement age but eagerly looks forward to attending his day program three days a week. He gets his groceries and does laundry on Monday and Tuesday.
On Sunday, Sam enjoys going to church with staff and peers. The afternoons, however, can be very long for him. After chatting about Sam’s situation with a staff who works at the group home and in the SIL (supported independent living) where Sam is supported, we came up with an idea we shared with Sam and someone who lives at the group home. We wondered if, every other Sunday, they would like to get together for lunch and a movie. Yes, they both said, they certainly would.

The first week, Sam went to the group home and he supplied the movie and refreshments and enjoyed lunch with Rose, who also finds Sunday afternoons very long.

At their last get-together, Rose joined Sam for lunch at his apartment, prepared by Sam, with assistance. They chose the movie they wanted to watch (from Sam’s collection) and staff made popcorn. At the end of the movie they decided they would like to watch another movie and so it became a double feature afternoon. 
Later in the week, Sam returned from his day program clutching an envelope. (The taxi Sam takes to his day program picks him up and drops him off at Rose’s home). Sam held onto the envelope while he watched television before dinner. Eventually he opened the envelope and inside was a brightly colored “Happy Easter” card. Rose had colored on the inside and a staff, whose handwriting I did not recognize, thanked Sam on Rose’s behalf.Sam was grinning from ear to ear. He held the card until well after dinner and then put it on his dresser so he can see it when he is in his room. 
Sam and Rose remain very happy with their Sunday afternoon get-togethers. It appears to be a win win situation for all involved. Staff at one location are supporting fellow staff from another location, a very thoughtful staff helped Rose choose a card which made Sam smile, which he doesn't do very often.

Best of all Sam and Rose each made a friend.

As Judith Viorst has written “Friends broaden our horizons (and) enhance our self esteem because they think we’re OK”

Friday, April 11, 2014

Dangerous Substance Not Allowed

We have house guests from England staying with us. Yesterday Chris and Eileen arrived, after a long journey from the Lake District via Glasgow. Their 26 year old daughter Nel arrived last week. A nursing student, she wanted to research what she could about nursing in Ontario and is visiting here and there and listening to whomever will talk! :)

File:Marmite.jpgEileen confided that she had to surrender a jar of Marmite at the airport, it was in her purse and spotted as it went through the scanner. At 150 gm. it was classified as a paste, 50 gm. over the 100 gm. limit. This is nothing to do with the reported ban of Marmite and Irn-Bru in Canada!

I wonder how many more jars of Marmite are piled up at the airport, seized from British travelers who only want their Marmite on toast for breakfast. An acquired taste, for sure, but once embedded, a necessity of life! :) Fortunately, it can be found in Canada, and I am in no doubt that the Ashton family will come home with some this afternoon. :)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Welcome to the World Baby Girl!

Kasey Jane Kelly Cater, welcome to the world and welcome to our hearts.
Sweetie this is your Great Auntie Belinda, from far away Canada.
Thank you for showing up on your grandad's birthday on April 6. You were the best gift he could have ever wished for. I did my best surprising him last year by showing up in England for his 60th, but you topped that. 

hear that you have your Great Omie's eyes. Not only does that mean that you will be beautiful, but I hope that they see what her eyes always saw--the best in people--the good in bad situations--the humour in every day life, and the blessings that God gives us in friends and family.

Love like she loved and you will do well.

Your Daddy, Mummy and big sister Jayda are all so proud of you.You are loved, darling. Our hearts grew bigger on Sunday. Can't wait to get to know you. 

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Let Go; Let them Grow

My post focusing on the work our agency does to support people, is about a parent's perspective this week and I am using an excerpts from interview that I did with Lynda Beedham, mom to Eric, several years ago.

The title of this post, "Let Go; Let them Grow," comes from advice Lynda gave, in an article she wrote for other parents.

In the mid nineties, Lynda had applied to every service provider in southern Ontario, but Eric found a home with Christian Horizons, in a process Lynda describes as, "The luck of the draw."

At the time, the Beedhams were in desperate crisis--"Eric just needed to be out of the home.We didn't have a choice," Lynda explains, "He was totally miserable--teenage angst--anxiety--it was horrible for him and for us."

Eric moved into his new home on May 1, 2001, after a three month transition. Lynda had laid the groundwork by saying things to Eric like, "When you grow up and have a house of your own..." building expectation in him and themselves that he would be living elsewhere, not with his family, when he was an adult.

When he first moved, Lynda remembers one of the staff referring to him going back to visit his parents, as, "Going to Eleanor Circle," so that "home" remained his new home. Lynda was impressed that the same staff's first sentences were to Eric welcoming him and telling him about his rights. The effect of this was that Lynda realized that, "This is about him, not me."

Lynda had made a glossary of Eric's signs and signals, but also supported the staff by being an interpreter at first. Slowly her relationship changed for the good with Eric. She now has a role in his life as the bearer of all good things. She can spoil him and send him back home!

Her relationship with the staff is important. She focuses on thinking, not doing, working with staff on strategies and problem solving.

Although Lynda and her husband Brian did not deliberately choose Christian Horizons as the service provider for their son, they are glad that it is. "Because you are part of the faith based community, your staff reflect these values," says Lynda. She has shared her experience with other families and is a strong ambassador for the agency.

Lynda's biggest fear had been that Eric's life would change when she died, "It was obvious that he would need support forever," she says. But Lynda took the advice she give to other parents, 'Let them go; let them grow."

Lynda continues to be a resource for the team that supports Eric. She is also a member of an Ethical Review Team and of the Faith and Culture Inclusion Network.In 2008 she received Autism Ontario's "Advocacy" Award, presented by the Honourable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.