Friday, July 31, 2009

Silence Is Golden

I'm going deep. Deep into the essence of "me". Deep into who I am. It's a place in my heart, I think.

It's a place that is surprisingly simple and easy to get to. It just takes putting aside my agenda - and what I want to do and say and think about - and simply "connecting", person-to-person, with the Jesus who lives in my heart.

It's a place that I love more than life itself - because He is there, the lover of my soul. (And the creator of it, too. It's a place that I have neglected, sadly, for most of my life, simply because I didn't know it was there or how to get to it - that it was where I would find God or that it may be the only place on this earth where I can truly know him.

"Deep calls unto deep," it says in Psalm 42 and I have a new understanding of what that can mean. God is deep - and he calls to my "deep". He wants to relate to me.

I've always believed, I guess, (I must have, because that is the knowledge I acted upon and positioned myself for) that God is "up there" somewhere, and we are here - separated by our sin. When I prayed, i would think about "approaching him", and what I needed to do to be presentable in his presence as I approached "the throne of grace". I would spend the first big chunk of time thinking about how holy he is, how he is surrounded by the glory of his pure righteousness - and feeling sorry for my sins - or trying to - and confessing and asking forgiveness for whatever I might be feeling guilty about at that particular time - and feeling very apart from him. There was so much between us, after all, all the sins I had committed since the last time we had met - me very much below him...

"He shall be called Emmanuel, God with us" the Bible says - with us - and in us and through us.

"In Him we live, and move, and have our being." another scripture says.

I can believe that I didn't know this before - or understand it completely - or appreciate its value. And I'm so incredibly grateful that I know it now...

Yesterday, as has been my custom, I left my office to go for lunch and to take Peach for a bathroom break. I went to the car first, and did a couple errands. On the way back to the program, and my office, I stopped in front of the park, over by the soccer fields where I know it's deserted at this time of day. Peach fairly fell over herself door when I opened it and then she ambled down the hill. She played and sniffed around my feet, while I found my spot on the empty bleachers. I sat down and turned my palms upward - because I was coming "just as I am". I turned my attention inward.

My brain travels at a thousand miles a minute. My thoughts are far from organized - they tumble and fall and interconnect and disconnect and it's going all the time. If my brain is like a computer and full of files, then I am running to and fro constantly from this file to that, leaving drawers open, and papers scattered here and there, as I to the next one - or two or three. It's never quiet inside my head. Never. But I tell it all to be still - I will those thoughts to be still - and I begin to look inside - to find that place where He lives. In the silence of my heart, in the centre of my being. It's a simple thing to do, but it isn't easy. It's about centreing. It's about leaving all that peripheral stuff and going in to lie down beside still waters - where He leads me. My own thoughts want to break in - to sabotage this silent connection with God - but I keep pushing them back. Occasionally a thought breaks through, and sometimes two or three running, and though it might distract me, I don't let it side-track me. I stay put, and I will myself to go right back to the silent place in my heart. The silence has become precious to me - and worth fighting for. It's precious because it's where I connect with God. When I have found that still place, and made that connection, I am ready to listen, to hear His voice. That's when I open the devotional book I brought with me, and I begin to read - to "hear" what God is saying to me through it. And to hear what he is saying directly to my heart. Mostly it's about just loving and being loved - the heart of any relationship. The one we have with God is no different.

I had to rearrange a few deeply held misbeliefs about who God is and what he wants from me and it's taken me a lifetime to get to this place of replacing my ideas about things with His ways... and that's where I'll pick up next week...

In the meantime, it's all about grace. Just like it says in everyone's favourite hymn - It's grace that's brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home..

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Of Rings and Things

My curious friend Susan asked so many questions about my engagement ring that I decided to answer them here.

You may recall, dear readers, that on December 23rd, 1967 (oh happy day,) Paul and I finally (but not forever,) straightened out our communication issues and agreed that we both liked each other very much indeed and we had better stick together from that day forth.

Susan's questions caused me to dust off my journal again to trace the course of romance from that point on, particularly with regard to the ring.

We set off into the new year of 1968 together and it was on February 16th that Paul astounded me by asking me to get engaged to him on my birthday: June 1st. I wrote that night, "I can't explain why, I just know it was meant to be. There could never be anyone else..."

We decided to have my ring made in the "jewelery quarter" in Birmingham. In Hockley, to be exact, which is where Dad's family lived when he was born. I chose the design of the ring from a photograph in a catalogue. We went to see the man who was going to make it on March 16th and showed him the picture of the ring. He looked at the design; four diamonds in the shape of a cross in the centre, surrounded by ten diamonds; and then showed us the diamonds that he planned to use in it. They had been wrapped up in a black cloth and were estate diamonds--old diamonds that he had purchased. They were cut differently to the modern way of doing so, as I found out when I needed to have one replaced years later.

We went for the fitting of the ring on May 15th and it was polished and ready to take home in its little ivory box lined in black velvet. Although it wasn't official until June 1st, I took it home with me, as I couldn't bear to be parted from it, I loved it so much.

Paul canceled his life insurance policy in order to pay for it. I guess that since he was only 21, it was a gamble he was willing to take!

Thanks for asking Susan, and getting me to dig further. :) I haven't forgotten some other questions that were asked recently. I promise I will answer them soon.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Can it Really be True?

It was June 1st, 1968, my 18th birthday, and we were engaged! Since the party on December 23rd 1967; the night of the red dress; Paul and I had been inseparable.

In typical fashion for me, that day unfolded in a whirlwind of activity. I feel breathless reading the account below. I should explain that Mum would have been immobilized at the thought of a preparing for a party--even a small family one, which was why I started the day by making sausage rolls and a flan; not that I minded--I loved doing that sort of thing:

Woke up at 7.00, got up, had breakfast, made my sausage rolls and bacon and egg flan and got ready to go to Redditch.

Auntie Corry and Oma phoned from Germany to congratulate us.

The weather was really boiling hot. Caught the 20 to 11 bus into Redditch and bought some last minute bits for the party; some shoes, a handbag, some earrings and some perfume for Mrs. B's birthday tomorrow.

Was just in time for the dentist at 11.45. Got home at 1.00 and all afternoon was busy cooking and getting things ready for the party.

Had a bath and changed and was just ready when Paul arrived. Diana phoned to say happy birthday too, and had a stack of cards (over 20!) Paul gave me the most beautiful birthday present--a little gold watch. Oh, it's really sweet--he shouldn't have--he's so good to me.

Everyone soon arrived and the party really was a success. We had some super presents. Everyone really got on well--Mr. and Mrs. B. nattering away with Mr. and Mrs. C. and everyone else laughing and eating!

Paul and I sat alone, just together, and had our own private party in the dining room later. It ended with a good sing-song with John on the guitar and Mr. B. on the accordian.

Can it really be true that we're engaged at last!? Thank God for every wonderful blessing!

And can it really be true that this was 41 years ago? But it was. And I notice that I had a weakness for excessive exclamation marks even then.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Thinking Time

I am in Kotsy's, a local diner, waiting for a friend I'm meeting for breakfast. I think she's forgotten, or maybe I got the days mixed up.

I am enjoying being out and about earlier than usual, and the early morning sunshine streaming through the window. Having some extra thinking time is not such a bad thing either.

I figure she's not coming so I order a modest toasted bagel with cream cheese instead of the artery busting Early Bird Special I would have ordered if not alone, wondering why it should make a difference. I conclude that I must be a social eater.

I think about yesterday morning's CBC radio program, Fresh Air, that included an interview with the curator of the Kingston Penitentiary Museum. Among other interesting facts, he said that in the 19th century, the prisoners were ordered to observe a rule of silence. There was to be no conversing at all with other prisoners, and with the guards they were to use as few words as possible. The idea was to give the prisoners time to reflect upon their crimes and to repent. Hence, "Penitentiary" and the monastic idea of penitence. I too, am grateful for reflecting time, with a dose of repentance thrown in.

Over the weekend I was wearing Blunder Boots as I clumsily trod on relational toes, miscommunicating and causing hurt. I'm grateful for the opportunity of forgiveness, healing, and maybe even that my bumbling will be forgotten. I resolve to practice more careful ways of expressing my thoughts.

Over the news on the diner radio, I hear the report of the fatal car accident on highway 400, just 3 km from our home, early on Saturday morning. The 19 year old driver exited his vehicle after an accident, and was killed as a truck plowed into him and his vehicle. His two young passengers are in critical condition in hospital. One of them attended our church with his family when he was younger. It seems that alcohol was a factor in the original accident that left the car stranded in the middle of the highway.

In an instant life can change forever and now, three lives (including the truck driver's,) will never be the same.

I pray for the boys in the accident, and the truck driver--their families too. I pray for forgiveness, and healing, physically and emotionally...and even one day, that they can put the memory of this terrible weekend behind them.

Monday, July 27, 2009


This is Oma; Mum's mother, Kaatje. I took this photo of her on the "balcon" of her flat on Saftlevenstraat, in the centre of Rotterdam, in August of 1966, when I was 16 and she was 70. The street was built in the 19th century but sadly, since then, the old houses have been torn down and replaced by modern buildings.

The photo evokes so many memories. In flower boxes on the white painted balcony she had potted red geraniums. Each day she nipped off the dead flowers and showed me how to do it. I loved the pungent scent of geranium leaves that clung to my fingers.

On her feet are the "pantoufles" that she always wore inside. She shuffled along in them, with a soft flip flop sound.

The small balcony was off her living room, which had tall windows, with stained glass panes at the top. Attached to the outside of the window was a mirror, which was angled so that callers could be seen when the doorbell rang.The morning sun shone through the stained glass window panes, and lay in fingers of green, gold and blue on the already colourful oriental rug that covered the ornately carved wooden dining table. Four dining chairs, with sea green brocade cushions, surrounded the table and there were two matching arm chairs in the same material, with carved wooden arm rests. In one alcove was an antique china cabinet with carved wooden owls on twin spires. In it were Oma's china cups and silver tea spoons.

The mantle clock with Westminster chimes sounded the quarter hours inside and from outside there would have been the distant rumble of traffic and the occasional blast from the funnel of a ship in the nearby harbour.

Oma was rarely at rest, except when she had a "dutje," (a light nap.) She was usually busy preparing meals, making tea or coffee, or cleaning. At leisure she might be knitting socks, or, when we were small, making clothes for our dolls or teddy bears from scraps of material; or crocheting or knitting them small garments. She loved dolls as an adult, perhaps she didn't have any in her childhood. She had a collection which she dressed with hand sewn replicas of the national costume worn in her home province of Zeeland.

I never saw her reading anything but the "courant," (newspaper) or the Margriet magazine, but she was always ready for a rousing game of "Mens Erger je Niet" (Ludo). I don't think she had any idea of being merciful to us. She would throw the dice and count out loud in Dutch, "Een, twee, drie, veer, vijf, zes," and laugh gleefully as she knocked our "men" off the board. She played with as much excitement as we did.

Although we lived across the sea in England, she was always a presence in our lives. She was in Romsley for Robert's birth, and then the following year, when I was 4, we visited Holland as a family. The years that I was 8 and 9, Mum, Robert and I spent a total of 7 happy months in Holland and summers in later years too. In between our visits she crossed the sea and visited us whenever she could.

Her life had been far from easy, and by the time I was born, she was a widow, and would have been on a limited income, but we would never have known of any limits, for she was cheerful, industrious and full of laughter.

She had always wanted to take sewing lessons and in her later years, she did. Afterwards she added making her own clothes to her list of talents.

I have some of her knitting needles and some of her china cups and saucers, but I hope that I have some of "her," in the fibre of who I am, too.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

It is Written

I read this week about the 40 days that Jesus spent out in the wild wastelands as part of the final preparation for of his three years of public teaching. "Full of the Holy Spirit," he ate nothing during that time, and the Devil stalked him, tempting him.

In each of his replies to the temptations of the Devil, Jesus began with the words, "It is written," or, in another version, "The Scriptures say..."

It is written:

"Man does not live on bread alone."

"Worship the Lord your God and serve him only."

"Do not put the Lord your God to the test."

It is written; but have we read it enough?

In order to respond as Jesus did when we are in the maelstrom and under dire pressure; in order to discern Truth from a close imitation, we must be saturated in the truth.

Since the Devil uses the strategy of counterfeit and one his titles is Father of Lies, not being familiar with the Word leaves us vulnerable to deception.

What could be more important than to study it, ponder it; know it?

As I was pondering this, I happened to read the Wednesday post, How to Read the Bible: Eat this Book, on my friend Ann Voskamp's blog, Holy Experience. It blessed me to read it and it affirmed what God was saying to me.

Ann also posted the stunningly beautiful video clip, Creation Calls--are you listening? Click here to view Thanks Ann, for two sources of worship and meditation on this Sabbath day.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Turning Round the Corners of the World

We were saying goodbye outside the US Security gate in Terminal 1. My other daughter cautioned my husband not to take any more pictures. We heard the annoyance of one officer arguing with other passengers. Three of them joined in a huddle, their holsters bulging, while my daughters, husband, three young friends and I stood, each waiting to give and receive our hug, and send my younger girl, my grown up baby, through the gates and on to the other side of the world. As I awaited my turn, saved to the last, tears sprang quickly to my eyes, and the first words of Sydney Carter's song leapt into my consciousness:

"One more step along the world I go"

I whispered to my daughter of this special confirmation, and that I would write more about it to her, as it felt such an affirmation of God's seal of approval on this mighty new embarkation: a high school graduate on her way to a half year at Bible school "down under", the furthest point we could choose from home to send her, yet somewhere that felt so safe and sure and full of promise and hope, a place to consolidate her sure foundation in Christ, and prepare her for her life journey.

We had sent our older daughter to a linked Bible school in a castle in Britain two years before, and the growth and learning and friendships that came out of her time led to many creative and important decisions. She is soon to leave us for her university studies, now chosen with confidence and excitement, her connections with a vital local church there already made.

How wonderfully my prayers have been answered. And why should I have doubted my Lord? He has seen me through so many journeys and brought me safely home again, always home to Him, who watches over me as the apple of His eye. How could I ever doubt that He would do anything less for my children?

One more step along the world I go,
One more step along the world I go,
From the old things to the new
Keep me travelling along with you.
And it's from the old I travel to the new,
Keep me travelling along with you.

Round the corners of the world I turn,
More and more about the world I learn.
And the new things that I see
You'll be looking at along with me.

As I travel through the bad and good
Keep me travelling the way I should.
Where I see no way to go
You'll be telling me the way, I know.

Give me courage when the world is rough,
Keep me loving when the world is tough.
Leap and sing in all I do,
Keep me travelling along with you.

Sydney Carter
author of Lord of the Dance

Such a simple song,yet so profound,embedded in my heart from early days of worship leading in the seventies, days of my own exploration and launching out, risking and wondering.

I look back and see that all that I sang about, all that the words say for all of us, have come true. He has indeed looked at everything "along with me". He has indeed given me courage, made me loving, and even able to "leap and sing in all I do" when the world has been tough and rough. I could truly take this song as a signature tune for my life.

So now, I sing it for my daughters as they turn round the corners of the world, and as I move forward into a season without them close by. I need to pray, as profoundly as ever before, for myself as well,

And it's from the old I travel to the new,
Keep me travelling along with you.

Psalm 121: 7-8

The Lord will keep you from all harm -
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Two Minutes of Silence

My father was shipped overseas in 1943 with the Royal Montreal Regiment. On D-day, instead of crossing the channel to the coast of Normandy, he was in hospital - being treated for pneumonia. Because of his illness, he avoided almost certain death since only a handful of the comrades he had lived and trained with for battle, returned. Although he was overseas for only three of his 85 years, his life was deeply impacted in that time. On the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour each year, you could count on where he would be and what he would be doing. He would be remembering those that gave their lives in service to this country - and observing a minute of silence.

I always found those moments of silence awkward growing up. I understood the grave importance of those sixty seconds - my father had somehow instilled that into our developing characters - but I was never really sure what I should think about. So I would stand there - and let my mind and thoughts enter into a free-fall - vaguely trying to think about and "remember" people who had died I was born. But I found those moments interminably long and the urge to fidget was almost overwhelming.

Silence has never been one of my strong points. If there was ever a lull in a conversation I felt intensely uncomfortable, until the silence was filled with activity or words. It is only of late that I have learned to appreciate, and truly enjoy, the exquisite pleasure of spending time with someone I hold dear and just listening to the clock tick in comfortable silence. However quiet it may seem, though, my mind has always raced - all my life long - with words and pictures and thoughts jumbling, and tumbling and falling over each other like the roaring waters of a roiling white water river. "Quiet time", or daily devotions, for me, has always been quiet on the outside, but on the inside, my thoughts and words and distractions ran almost unchecked - rampant and loud. I tried, but I've just never been very good at "silence" or "quiet", even though I've learned to conform on the outside and make people think I am actually calm- even as on the inside I am coming apart at the seams.

"He leads me beside still waters..." (Psalm 23)

In our Thursday night cell group, we are studying a book/DVD series entitled "Emotionally Healthy Spirituality". A critical part of this study has involved me in learning to regularly practice "silence" for two minutes at a time and several times a day as part of our "Daily Office". It's not a religious exercise, but simply a way of turning our own thoughts and the distractions of the world down, and becoming sensitive to God - setting aside our busy lives for a bit to open our hearts and minds to him. Silence not just on the outside, but the inside, too. You can't be silent before God - at least I can't - without surrendering - your agenda, your thoughts, your worries, your words, your life.

It certainly requires some discipline in order to make myself shut up and just "be", even just for two minutes at a time. But oh, my goodness, I can't believe what's happening to me as a result.

It wasn't easy in the beginning - and there are still distractions which attempt to pull me away from every angle, but as my skill is increasing, I am already beginning to treasure these moments like nothing else, and to value them above everything else in my day. Why? Because it's not about "doing", but about "being" - with Him. It's simply stopping and checking in. It's relationship.

Are all my problems going away? No, of course not. But my ability to rest in the Lord and to lean into his strength in the midst of what life throws at me is increasing exponentially.

It's all about Him...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

In Praise of Doctors

I went for a post-operative check up on Monday, with the surgeon who saved my life on June 15th.

Dr. Keshoofy is a kind and gracious Iranian, for whom I will always thank God.

All was well, and as he shook my hand in parting, he gave me a copy of the operative note. Dr. Keshoofy explained that was in case I had a recurrence of symptoms in the future. There is a higher than normal likelihood of that due to scar tissue, and he said that it will be helpful to the doctor who sees me, should that happen, if I can show them what was done this time.

It was fascinating reading the extent of detail in the notes, from the putting on of Ted stockings to prevent blood clots, to noting that all the sponge and instrument counts were reported to be correct. In between was more information on the operation than anyone but family and a few friends would want to know.

Since I have an appreciation for the need for good documentation, but struggle with the balance between paperwork and people work, I truly admired the level of detail in the operative note. Obviously you want your doctor to be a detail person!

There was another fine doctor whose report I began to read this week. That of Dr. Luke. I noticed with acute clarity, his wording at the start of his account. Suddenly I saw him as the doctor that he was, and a very good one at that.

Luke 1:1-4 (Amplified Bible)
1SINCE [as is well known] many have undertaken to put in order and draw up a [thorough] narrative of the surely established deeds which have been accomplished and fulfilled in and among us,
2Exactly as they were handed down to us by those who from the [official] beginning [of Jesus' ministry] were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word [that is, of the doctrine concerning the attainment through Christ of salvation in the kingdom of God],
3It seemed good and desirable to me, [and so I have determined] also
after [having searched out diligently and followed all things closely and traced accurately the course from the highest to the minutest detail from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,
4[My purpose is] that you may know the full truth and understand with certainty and security against error the accounts (histories) and doctrines of the faith of which you have been informed and in which you have been orally instructed.

I thank God for Dr. Luke, who was known as the "beloved physician," because for anyone who needs to know that they can trust a documented account, who better to have recorded the facts than a doctor?

Dear Lord, I thank you for hands that heal and minds that are scientific and detailed. Thank you for extending my life physically through Dr. Keshoofy, and thank you for dear Dr. Luke, who faithfully recorded facts that would lead many to eternal life.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Fickle Heart~Faithful God

Dear readers: Turn back the calendar to December of 1967. It was England at the height of the Swinging Sixties, a heady and exciting time to be young and I was 17. The previous December Paul had asked me out and I had said no, because I was dating someone else at the time. By April I had ended that short lived romance and besides, I had fallen in love with Paul, but that didn't stop me going out with someone else when he didn't fill the void fast enough. I was as fickle as the English weather.

My journals keep me humble because they shatter any idealized recollectiions! In comparison my own children seemed so much more mature in their youth. It is evident that my life was as busy then as it would continue to be. Trying to change that goes against my natural bent but I am glad that some other things did change.

This is my journal entry for the day that Paul and I finally did get together once and for all: December 23rd, 1967.

Oh, what a mixed day! Got up, had a bath and went to the Regent Boutique in Redditch where I met Lynn. Had a short natter and bought a red dress for tonight, which I hated when I got home, but which looked gorgeous when I actually came to wear it tonight. My make up went perfect and so did my hair. I made some small cakes and really felt partyish. Eileen phoned twice and we went to John's flat together. D was already there but when every one started to dance, he didn't ask me and Paul did. D and B left at 9.30 and didn't say goodbye. Danced with Paul until 11.30 and I was just in heaven because I've always liked Paul (what an understatement that was!) He took me home and we sat talking in the car for one and a half hours. I can't believe it's happened but he asked me out! I'm not such a fool as to make the same mistake twice, so I said yes. I don't know how I'll tell D. I'll have to pray about it.

Oh dear, I groan when I read it now. I didn't actually tell D, in spite of "praying about it." My courage failed me, and I was a wretched failure at parting well, but I knew that night in the car that I was with the one to whom I belonged and through thick and thin, good times and some tough, God has bound our hearts together in deeper love through each passing year.

God is gracious and patient and his blessings are out of all proportion to what we deserve. I am so grateful for that. He makes something beautiful out of our lives in spite of our mistakes and sometimes even through them.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Tone of Voice

Dear Friends, Cleaning out some closets, I found this poem, saved many years ago. I've tried unsuccessfully to find the author, so cannot give credit.

To be aware of tone is a reminder that I have needed often.

It's not so much what you say,
as the manner in which you say it;
It's not so much the language you use,
as the tone in which you convey it.

"Come here", I sharply said,
And the child cowered and wept.
"Come here", I said he looked and smiled,
And straight to my lap he crept.

Words may be mild and fair,

But the tone may pierce like a dart;
Words may be soft as the summer air,
But the tone may break my heart;

For words come from the mind

Grow by study and art,
But tone leaps from the inner self,
Revealing the state of heart.

Whether you know it or not,
Whether you mean or care,
Gentleness, kindness, love and hate,
Envy, anger are there.

Then, would you quarrels avoid
and peace and love rejoice?
Keep anger not only out of your words,
Keep it out of your voice.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I'm not sure what order these photographs were taken in. I would like to think that the one that appears first here, is actually the last one, but I'm afraid it probably wasn't.

It looks like my brother was happily playing with my beaten up baby carraige, until a battle for possession ensued, which I seem to have won.

Robert was born in 1953, and although I was not quite 3 when he arrived, I remember it clearly.

Oma had arrived from Holland with a suitcase full of tiny baby clothes. How happy Mum must have been to have her beloved mother there in Romsley.

I didn't see Robert immediately because I had the measles. Everyone else was busy in another part of the house with this new little being who was now part of our family. I had intense feelings about this and they weren't very loving.

All too soon, Oma had to go home to Holland and Mum fell into a deep post partum depression. She didn't know what was happening, but her beautiful, thick, dark hair began to fall out and she was deeply unhappy. One day she went into the village chemist shop and burst into tears. The pharmacist not only listened, which simple kindness she never forgot, but he gave her a special shampoo for her hair, and a tonic. He also told her that she would feel better eventually, which gave her hope, the most important tonic of all.

My English grandmother, Lucy, one day came to visit and took me away with her to Hagley. She said that Mum was too protective and that I needed to be less dependant on her. When Mum realized what had happened, she was hysterical with panic. She got on her bicycle and set off after us, but her wheel hit a hole in the road and she flew off the bike. She landed on her head, cutting it open and was taken to hospital.

When Lucy came back from Hagley, it was without me, but she told Mum that I would be fine--I was with Dad's stepfather Peter (a man who was feared and far from stable.) I did come home safely, but I can't begin to imagine the helplessness and utter fear and distress this caused Mum, whose nerves were in a fragile state and who had a fierce instinct to keep us safe.

Mum sang Dutch nursery rhymes to us and the sounds of the language became familiar to us. The next year, just after Robert turned one, we crossed the North Sea to Holland for a holiday. It was April and I was almost 4. We stayed with Oma and her family in her flat on the Schiedamseweg.

In contrast to the lonely cottage in Romsley, we were surrounded in Holland with family. Oma's flat was a gathering place for our many aunts and uncles. Anyone was welcome at her table and she managed to always produce a delicious meal. That memory is deeply imprinted in my mind. I am sure it is the reason that I love our table to be full of people eating a meal that I have prepared.

At the end of April we watched the Koninginnedag (Queen's Day) celebrations in the street below. There was a parade, special treats, and children danced around a street organ playing traditional Dutch folk songs. Everywhere there were orange streamers and some of the girls wore orange bows tied in their hair (the House of Orange is the Dutch royal house.) I had never seen anything like it. It was such a joyful time.

But we couldn't stay. Our life was in England, and after tearful goodbyes, we made the journey back by boat and train, to Romsley. Mum cried on the journey home, even though she tried to be brave. Although she loved Dad, there were some big differences in their views on marriage and family life.

She had first crossed the North Sea in 1947 with a sense of adventure and hope for the future. But now it seemed that her heart would always be torn in two directions.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Letting Go

Proverbs 16:9 (New International Version)
9 In his heart a man plans his course,
but the LORD determines his steps.

The members of a local congregation in need of a new pastor, were each given a list of 18 pastoral qualities to prioritize. From the results, the search committee would create a profile of the ideal replacement pastor.

While there is wisdom in defining the qualities sought in a pastoral candidate, this caused me to ponder the seemingly random way in which my life has unfolded.

Some might have a shopping list of "must have" qualities in a potential spouse, but I didn't. At first I didn't "see" Paul at all and by the time I did, I had already turned him down. I was beside myself a few months later when it dawned on me that I had make a mistake. We were both shy, so I was convinced that I had missed my one and only chance at happiness.

"He will never, ever again, ask me out, " I sobbed to Mum. But happily, he did, and at last we were both on the same page, at the same time.

By then I was in love because of what I saw in him, not because he matched a list that I had in mind. Before I met him, I didn't even know that I would love a man with strong leadership qualities and a heart of such compassion that it humbles and inspires me. And I'm sure that neither of us would have thought of picking someone with the qualities that we each have--we are so different in almost every way. But we complement one another so well that we fit like lock and key, and I am enough of a romantic to believe that we were made for each other.

All of this made me think of our culture of doing, planning; setting goals and being busy, versus waiting; listening; being still and knowing that God has an agenda.

While my life is a testimony to God having an agenda that is more wonderful than any I could have dreamed, I am still learning how to be still.

I pray that the congregation finds God's man or woman for their pulpit, and that if the person feels called by God to the church; that they throw out the list.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Dance of the Teapot

Last week I found out that Beauty and the Beast may be performed locally this autumn. I fantasized out loud about what part I wished I could sing. Mrs Potts came immediately to mind, but only for her beautiful song. "But I wouldn't make a very good pot", I said to my friends. I think my vanity about appearance would have overridden the joy of singing that gorgeous love song.

Of course I have always loved teapots. If I became a collector, I think it would be of teapots. I have some of my aunt's collection, destined to be kept because most of them came across the ocean from Scotland in the mid 1800's with my great grandparents, and graced family tables, along with their oversized sugar bowls, for many years since. I proudly use them from time to time, determined that a beautiful teapot should not just be on a shelf, but part of a social experience.

My lessons on a potter's wheel have also convinced me that if I were a potter I would want to make teapots. So much grace and beauty and skill all in one item. The spout of course makes all the difference to a really usable teapot. No point having your tea dribble off the spout and on to a tablecloth. I always check that out in stores, and pass on my inherited wisdom to anyone willing to listen.

Then there was the time I visited a "kindergarten" class in Uganda and pulled something out of my head and experience with which to entertain these children. I sang the teapot song, with actions!!

I'm a little teapot, short and stout.
Here is my handle; here is my spout.
When I get all steamed up, then I shout:
"Tip me over and pour me out!"

I think I chose it because I love the actions and the tune, and the delight and silliness of the song. I didn't think about cultural relevance at the time; after all, my Ugandan friends are used to boiling their tea with milk, if you please, in a regular pot on the fire, then storing it in a thermos.

My new favourite author, Sue Monk Kidd, has now brought teapots into my vocabulary of spiritual symbolism. In her book on midlife spiritual crisis, When the Heart Waits, she takes the teapot song to new heights, with her story of a tap-dance recital at the age of five dressed up as a teapot. I am so envious. I am learning to tap dance all over again to recapture some childhood delight. That's part of my midlife crisis. Still, I don't think my silliness would drive me to do something similar on the stage of Beauty and the Beast. (I don't know how they perform it live.) I'll keep you posted on that one.

Sue says that "the dance of the teapot is the dance we all do in the dark night":

We're containers filled with an ego elixir we've brewed ourselves. When the heat is turned up inside and the old begins to burn away, we must offer God the handle and the spout of our lives. God tips us over and pours us out. The "me" is poured out: the self with a lowercase s, the old ways of being, the old ways of relating to God. We're emptied so that we can be refilled with new and living waters.

Midlife is a time of tipping over. It is a good time to learn that simple little song. It gave me a way of thinking about my experience that wasn't mysterious and threatening. I was dancing a childhood dance, that's all. And if I ever got to feeling terribly 'spiritual' about it all, I imagined myself in that ridiculous teapot costume and that took care of that.

"Tip me over and pour me out" is the underlying theme of the spiritual dark. (p. 150)

The possibilities strike me - a new movement - Teapots for Jesus!! - see the headlines - Mrs. Potts, Evangelist for our Time!!

I think I can just content myself with taking myself less seriously as I struggle with my darkness. God knows...He's with me....even in my teapot.

And for sure, if you think I've gone potty, maybe I have!!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Short and Sweet

"My people shall be satisfied with my goodness..." Jer. 31:14

I have been hearing the beating of Father's heart in these words these last few days. I can only imagine what it would mean to him that we his children, the objects of his love, would be satisfied with his goodness alone. Not running to and fro and here and there looking for satisfaction or fulfillment in anything else. Not looking to find it in a book or a relationship or in our work, or in a television show. Not settling for second best. Him alone.

His goodness Nothing more is needed, nothing less will do. Not looking anywhere else to be satisfied, not putting our hope in "stuff" or people, but finding all our sufficiency in him.

I saw his goodness in a thousand ways today. In the fledgling robin that found it's way to a safe place on our back porch, perched on the edge of the bucket son Joel left there after washing his car. In the rosy glow of billowing clouds on the horizon as dusk settled over the hills. In the brilliant hues of the butterfly that briefly settled on the mat at the back door for a few minutes this afternoon. In the bread that was broken together and shared today with others, not once, but twice. In the hearts that were broken open and contents spilled out in humility as lives were shared. In the patience of a friend who struggled through the awkwardness of a discordant note and waited until understanding broke through - and intimacy was preserved. In the laughter of a team of co-workers who love each other and are passionate about their work. In the silent "thankyou" which came from the big brown eyes of my dog Peach, after cleaning out her itching ears. In the goodnight hug of a faithful friend. In the soft and steady breathing on the pillow beside me as I get ready to go to sleep.

Satisfied with his goodness. Making his heart glad.

That's all I want to do Lord. That's all I want to be. Satisfied. With your goodness. Nothing more, nothing less.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

God Talk

In the category of cuteness, our five year old grandson seems to have received a double helping. A sprinkle of freckles adorns a button nose, just below brown eyes that are curious and thoughtful. And he is heart stoppingly cuddly.

It is another quality, though, that I cherish above the ones that make me smile at his lovableness: For such a little one, he seems to have an unusual connection with God.

He frequently inserts God into conversation, as if he thinks about him a lot and likes to make sure that we don't forget about him.

This week Peter is home with his two youngest children as Sue is in Ottawa with the two oldest, at camp. They came over for the afternoon after church on Sunday, which gave Peter a bit of a break, and was also a chance for us to have a good talk; something we always enjoy.

The conversation ran to a book I had read recently; a book which has some controversial aspects. Peter, who hasn't read it, eyed me guardedly when I said I had enjoyed it and that it had reinforced and revealed some aspects of God's character in a different way.

"What do you mean, 'some aspects of God's character in a different way?'" he asked with one eyebrow arching ever so slightly. And I began to feel some pressure to explain well.

I said, "Well, the book revealed the lengths that God will go to in order to make himself accessible to people who might be closed to him otherwise, because of the hurts they have suffered."

"Go on," said my watchful son.

"It's like Jesus coming in the flesh--as a man, so that we could relate to him and be in relationship--in contrast with the "God of Mount Sinai" who seemed so far away from the people; separated by peals of thunder and smoke and fire."

"But he is the same God," said Peter, "Not two different Gods."

A slight tension crept in as mutual understanding evaded us, which I knew was silly, because I knew that in fact, we both were agreed on every point.

It was at just then that I noticed, with a little embarrassment, Littlest Grandson observing us closely.

"You are making God happy," he said, "Because you are talking about him."

"Sweetie, you are right," I said. And my heart melted.

(The book I was describing to Peter, was, The Shack by William P. Young.)

John 10:3-5 (New International Version)
3The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Molson's Big Adventure

It was going to be a few days away at a cottage and she was so excited. At first he was going. We talked about the water and how he would love it. We could see the flash of golden fur in sparkling lake and people running from the shower of water as he shook himself off.

But then a worried look crossed Brenda's face. Haliburton was a long distance from Bond Head and Molson doesn't travel well. No, cancel that: He doesn't travel; he paces and pants --and then he does ungentlemanly things--over the back seat. Brenda has a new car. Plans changed; no cottage for Molson.

It was either go to the kennel, or stay with me she said. We both knew this conversation was a formality because she knows how much I love him; no kennel for Molson.

It was a gray evening a couple of weeks ago when Brenda was still away. Storm clouds were burgeoning and we were settling down for a quiet evening in when the phone rang. Brenda, was calling from the cottage on her cell phone and the line was crackling and breaking up; the connection failed. A few minutes later the phone rang again and this time she managed to convey to me that Molson's services might be needed that very night. She gave me the number of the owner of the kennel he came from and asked me to call her. She got little else out before the line went dead again.

I was beside myself with the excitement of the moment. Molson, came to us at about a year old, through a very special set of circumstances that involved no exchange of money and only an understanding that when he was needed to sire a litter, he would be available. Time went by and the call never came; Molson lived in blissful innocence--until now.

I called the kennel owner. She said to bring him over and they would bring him back when the deed was done.

Clipping his new red leash onto his collar, out into the gathering darkness we went. The wind was rising and as we drove towards Beeton (slowly, so as not to upset his tummy.) It started to rain. I peered beyond the windshield wipers that were wildly slapping away at the torrents of water and strained to find the right house on the side road just north of town. "Yes, this must be it," I thought as I compared the roadside green emergency number with the one on the hastily scribbled note that I clutched in my hand.

The large rambling farmhouse was well kept and pretty. I could see that, even in the dark. With Molson in tow, I dashed through the rain to the door with "Welcome Friends" on it.

I knocked. We waited. As the door opened, I felt slightly awkward. "I didn't know if I should pack pyjamas and a toothbrush," I said to the tall, lean woman who opened it. Joking eased my nervousness. Anyone would have thought it was me being set up!

She laughed and said that they would probably have him home in a couple of hours. Since he was new to this, she wasn't sure how long it would take, and his date was still on her way.

I handed over the red leash, and after stalling for a few moments by checking out a couple of adorable litters of puppies, I knew that I really had to leave.

It felt strange driving away without Molson, knowing that when he came home, he would have experienced such an important rite of passage.

As promised, it was not long before I had a call to say that he was on his way home. "Um, did it go well?" I asked.

"Well he was willing, but we won't know for sure for 28 days," said the voice on the other end, explaining some intimate details about the process.

The next day, my friend Dave took great delight in the whole story and imagined Molson telling his dog friends, eyes wide: "And I thought she was just taking me out for a walk."

I must say that he holds his head high now, when we are out, and there is a certain gleam in his eye when he spots another dog, that wasn't there before!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

More on Mary and Martha

Dear Friends, Magda Wills, a blog reader and writer friend, often shares her reflections on what has been written on Whatever He Says, via email. This time I asked if I could share her thoughts on a recent post, here.

The post was, "Nothing for the Journey," which mentioned Mary and Martha.

Here are Magda's thoughts--with thanks:

It's by grace we are saved, not by our works (nor non-works) lest we should boast. Years ago a close Christian friend asked what I thought it really meant to be saved. What are we saved from? I remember answering "from ourselves." God has used poor health, a Balaam-like experience and many closed doors in the transforming process to a Mary.

Eventually we learn that God is trying to tell us something. But that usually doesn't happen until we experience the truth for ourselves and then we start making the right choices out of our own desire rather than His discipline. Our will and God's will become one and the same. That has been my experience as I find truth in our wedding text John 8:32:

If you stick with this, living what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.(The Message)

As I learned over and over again that the world could function quite well without me and that the outcome of a Mary life is peace and an intimate relationship with Christ I had not thought possible, I started to make my own choices rather than being forced into this lifestyle by God's discipline. I do not feel I have to save or help the world but rather those whom God has chosen for me. This too has been a freeing experience.

I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. John 17:6

And so the model for my life is the story of the woman at the well. Jesus sat at the well to rest after leaving Judea where the Pharisees were busy with outcome evaluation, comparing the number of baptisms by John's disciples to the number by Jesus disciples'. Years ago I heard my calling to be a woman at the well (my home named the Chartwell model) and God would bring the people to me. I also felt He was calling me to write about the spiritual process and how it differs from the religious process. You can imagine my surprise a few years later when I heard a lecture on how the story of the woman at the well is the introduction of the New Testament spiritual process modelled by Jesus, in comparison to the Old Testment religious process.

I believe we can learn much about a scripture passage by exploring what happened just before. So the woman at the well story comes after Jesus refused to get caught up in the competitive outcome evaluation of the Pharisees, and the Martha/Mary story follows the story of the good Samaritan in which the religious leaders were too busy with their religious projects or sticking to their legalistic religious laws of not touching an unclean person to help a "neighbour" in distress.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Family Grows

At the Festival of Britain in 1951

Belinda at about 6 months old--1950

Mum and Dad started out their life together, apart. Dad was stationed at the Guards Barracks in Caterham, near Croydon, Surrey. Mum continued to work at Farnborough Hospital in Kent and then boarded in a cottage in the small village of Woldingham in Surrey, while waiting for rooms in married quarters to open up.

Although they were married in November 1948 and had gone together to on a trip to Holland so that he could meet Mum's family, they were still living separately when I was born on at midnight between May 31st and June 1st 1950. I wrote the dramatic story of that night in a post entitled Birth Story

Mum was alone at the cottage when she went into labour, and she gave birth alone at the hospital in Redhill, Surrey as Dad did not know she had gone to the hospital. Sometime between June 1st 1950 and February 1952 when Dad left the regiment, though, Mum and I moved into the barracks.

I have memories of Caterham barracks: the sound of the reveille; the bugle call, in the morning, and the bellicose voice of the sergeant major, harshly calling commands to the troops on the parade ground. And the barracks in the photograph on the link above, feel so familiar to me. I have one more memory from that time, of a cook in a tent. I was only 21 months old when Dad was discharged from the army in February 1952.

Dad's commanding officer noted that his military conduct was "exemplary," and his assessment of his character was : A thoroughly conscientious and hardworking man, who has done consistently well throughout his service. Clean, honest, and sober.

Dad left the army with painful shrapnel wounds in his legs and his hearing was damaged by the sound of blasts and gunfire. He also took with him certain habits. The polishing of shoes was an art. With brush and cloth in hand and a can of polish he would bring a leather shoe to a brilliant shine. Spit was an essential part of perfecting the glossy luster. In fact, someone recently told me that when their son joined the army he went to Dad (he would have been in his 70's then) to learn how to polish a shoe properly. Dad told the young recruit that the polish had to be Cherry Blossom--no other would do, and I can imagine him showing him how to take care with the details--the arch beneath the shoe where no one sees, and the part where the leather upper meets the sole.

When in later years Dad worked as a commissionaire and wore a uniform with brass buttons, I remember him using a flat strip of plastic with openings for the buttons, and that slid beneath them to protect the cloth of the jacket, and polishing these to a bright shine. He always took pride in these things as well as good posture and manners.

There were strains showing in Mum and Dad's relationship. When I cried, which I did a lot to begin with, he thought she should just let me cry. Her instinct was to comfort and she felt torn and conflicted when he was impatient with her for following her heart. He was drinking regularly. Partly this was a cultural norm in England and the army, but also a growing physical dependancy. Maybe it dulled the pain of the distant past and the more recent trauma of the battlefield. It certainly helped him feel more at ease with people, but it was also to exact a heavy price.

Still, with Dad's discharge from the army in 1952, a new life was about to begin in the civilian world. The small family moved to another isolated cottage on the outskirts of the village of Romsley in Worcestershire. It was not too far from Hagley, where Dad had grown up and he found work on Lord Cobham's estate as a woodsman in the Clent Hills.

Mum was lonely, homesick and missing her family, whom she had not seen for 3 years. They took in a lodger to help with expenses, but still, there was not much money. From that time in 1952, I remember the song Wonderful Copenhagen by Danny Kaye playing on the radio. Something about the tune captures the poignancy of those years in Romsley. And in July of 1952 another baby was on the way.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Nothing for the Journey

Mark 6:8-9 (New International Version)
8 These were his instructions: "Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9Wear sandals but not an extra tunic.

These words reminded me of the total dependance on God that must be my life from this point on if I am truly to LIVE. I choose this and no other way. I take nothing else for the journey but my Saviour--my staff--on whom I lean.

I make no other provision but him. He must be my only hope and source of sustenance.

Luke 10:38-42 (New International Version)
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"
41"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed.
Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

Take nothing for the journey

Only one thing is needed

Mary has chosen what is better

I choose with Mary: Him...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Inner Maze of Waiting

We sat on the porch, musing about our coming empty nest, brainstorming about things for my husband to do as I set about building a new career and pursue some well established new directions. Yet even I am finding this waiting stage strange. I am excited about new possibilities, grieving things and ways of living left behind, and absorbed in helping release my two emerging butterflies from their chrysalids. Two weeks ago they were my sparrows, now they are my butterflies, in some ways still struggling to break free of the confining boundaries of their cocoon/chrysalids. These daughters are starting out on the big road of life in a new bigger way. Yet my husband and I are also working through these stages of transformation ourselves.

I love the butterfly/transformation message so much that I wrote a whole thesis about it for my Master of Religious Education twenty five years ago. It is indeed a universal symbol, not just for Christians, but something deeply embedded and understood in the human psyche. It doesn't take much for us to love a butterfly symbol for tattoos or jewellery, lawn stakes or placemats, clothing or wall plaques....we feel that little rush of delight in its beauty, its joy and message, that it really is possible to become new, to undergo complete transformation.

Sue Monk Kidd, in her book, When the Heart Waits, expressed it this way:

I found myself staring at the chrysalis, at this lump of brown silence. It overwhelmed me with its simple truth. A creature can separate from an old way of existence, enter a time of metamorphosis, and emerge to a new level of being. ..In that moment it struck me clearly that the waiting process actually has three distinct phases that need to be maneuvered: separation, transformation, and emergence. I knew that I had come upon the inner maze of waiting.

Probably the biggest lesson I am learning in this inner maze is to rest and trust, to not need to know the way out of the maze, for me or for my dear ones. I have come as far as I have in this particular transformation because I learned to wait and let things develop naturally. However much I chafed at the slowness of that process, in hindsight of course I saw how each stage was so necessary.

Yes, God does indeed "make all things new". That is His delight. However, it doesn't mean that he does it instantly, like a magician. He takes the time He needs, the time we need, whether we think we do or not.

And He brings His wonderful law of spiritual ecology into full force during that slow process:

Romans 8:28.
" And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

I remind myself, as I write these words, of God's continuous message to us all, His wonderful, terrible declaration:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
Isaiah 55: 8-10

God is in charge. He has His way of bringing about His plans in our lives, which interweaves with our own longings and desires. While we wait in the inner maze, He works mysteriously, using natural processes but according to His ways and thoughts. Like the caterpillar who enters a chrysalid, we surrender to death to our ways and enter the maze of waiting, and if we wait patiently enough, in His time we emerge into the transformation needed, and wonderfully possible, in whatever phase of our lives we are.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Mercy and Grace - A little and a lot.

I've had a number of speeding tickets. They don't seem to have the desired effect on me, which is to influence me to slow down. With every one I have said, "This time I'm going to change," but admittedly, it never seems to last. Until recently...

I shared a previous experience in court on this blog about a year ago. I fought a ticket which needed to be fought - and at the end of my day in court (most of it spent waiting), the prosecutor said to the judge, "We are withdrawing the charges, Your Worship," then turned and pointed in my direction before adding, "And we're going to hire her."

It was a very cool experience - one in which God had taught me much about facing intimidation and relying on Him to be my protection and for Him to be my strength in any given situation where I might feel overpowered and/or outnumbered.

So when I got the next ticket - last September - I was facing court again, but this time without a shred of fear. I deserved this ticket, and though I chose not to fight it, I did decide to go to court in order to see if I would be offered a reduction in the charges. It wasn't the fine for exceeding the speed limit by 30 kilometres an hour that motivated me to do so, but the fact that I would be losing four points off my licence, quite possibly followed by a huge increase in insurance premiums.

I arrived at the court house a few minutes early, but was chagrined to realize that I had no money on me for parking. I left my car at a pay-and-park anyway, knowing I would probably have to pay a higher premium for the space that morning - in the form of a parking ticket. I rushed into the court house and ran around finding Court Room # 1, only to realize I was in the wrong courthouse. I quickly got directions, was reoriented and ran down the street to the right building this time. I was 15 minutes late. Arghhhh!

I passed all the other poor souls who had already gone through the process and were seated on pew-like benches facing the front and waiting for the proceedings to begin. I approached the prosecutor who peered at me over horn-rimmed reading glasses and said, "Yes..?"

I gave him my name and waited while he went through a long list of violators until he found me - second last on the list.

"Susan Stewart. Ah, here you are." He pointed to my name on the page and I followed his finger across to silently read the charges against me while he stated them out loud. "I see you are charged with 30 over the limit. That's a fine of $210 and 4 points off your licence." He looked up at me over those imposing glasses and paused.

What could I say? I held my breath, hoping for mercy, but knowing it was so ill-deserved that I didn't even bother to pray.

"How about changing that to "disobey sign"? The penalty for that is 2 points off your licence and the fine will be set at $100. Are you willing to accept that?" He stared down at his page, waiting, it seemed, for me to find fault with his offer.

But I nearly jumped out of my skin. I put my hand over my heart in a bit of a dramatic flair and said, "Sir, I gladly and gratefully accept."

His serious and officious expression was suddenly transformed into a smile. He looked around at the other court officials who were nearby and listening in to our exchange. "On second thought, let's make that $80," he said to my utter delight. "We'll bring it down just because you're being so nice about it." He put a stroke through the $100 he had written and wrote 80 in its place.

"You're the first one to be nice to me today." He continued in a way that was obviously meant to make the court officials around him smile. They did. Apparently I was sharing my day in court with bunch of people who were not as happy with the outcome of their talk with the prosecutor as I was. I felt fantastic on many levels.

"Thankyou!" was all I could splutter out. I gratefully went to take my seat and wait for the judge to enter the courtroom while I finally allowed myself to pray, "Lord, please help this to go fast enough to keep my car from being towed away. I got back to my car to find that I would be charged $16 for parking that morning - $12 if I made an early payment within 15 working days of receiving the ticket.

I marveled, as I drove home later (under the speed limit, I might add!) at the kindness and the mercy I received and how good it felt to be in that position. They should have thrown the book thrown at me. It's not like it was my first offence. All the evidence was there and the citing officer was in the court ready to testify. They could have nailed me to the wall.

I felt, in the midst of this experience, in some small measure, the mercy and the grace of our God. It felt pretty good, but doesn't compare with what is in store for me one day in His courtroom...

"And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—" Ephesians 2:6-8 NIV

"...I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness." Jeremiah 31:3 NIV

"...but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD. Jeremiah 29:4

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Wineskins Old and New

Mark 2:21-22 (New International Version)
21"No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins."

What are my "new wine skins?" I wonder. I pray for the answer.

It is almost 4 weeks since God stopped me in my tracks--and his timing was significant.

In the three weeks that lay head of me then, I had, I thought, a significant role to play in several areas of my life.

But it was as if God chose exactly that time to say to me, "You think that you are so needed and that your world can't proceed without you? Well, dear daughter, lie back (I had no choice in this part) and observe."

I am grateful that I am still here and that I have this second chance to live a new life--my "new wine." But I am searching for the personal meaning of "new wine skins."

Continuing to live and doing so in a way that honours God's intentions in all of this is what I want. But how can I withstand the internal and external pressure to pick up speed and many responsibilities?

I wish that I could end this neatly, with answers that are inspirational for others. Dear friends, at the moment I can't.

I feel weak and helpless in this area; needy, and dependant on God (but I do recognize that this is truly a good thing.)

As I step back into "my world," I need to hold tightly to Father's hand. I don't know how I can do it any other way. I have nothing in me but a healthy fear of stepping onto old paths, and a longing to learn new ones.

Together in the journey that you share with me! Belinda

Mark 4:18-20 (New International Version)
18Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Ladies of Ardill's

It was in the fall of 1969 that we arrived in Canada from England; complete greenhorns, mere children, when it came to our new country; love, marriage--and just about anything else.

We moved into a one bedroom apartment on Temperance Street in Aurora, and the first urgent thing was to find work. We were limited by the fact that we had no car and no telephone for our first year. Both of these were luxuries we could not afford.

Paul had apprenticed in England for five years as a grinder and polisher of surgical needles, but since that trade didn't exist in Canada, he found work in a nearby factory.

I soon found a job too, at a small department store that had been owned by a family in Aurora for three generations. It stood on the corner of Yonge and Wellington. There were a couple of guys working downstairs in the ski shop but it is the ladies that I remember most. I became one of the ladies of Ardill's.

Peggy was short and trim and wiry of build. She wore her auburn hair cut close to her head, framing a face with keen brown eyes and high cheekbones. Peggy worked in dry goods, measuring and cutting fabric and selling sewing patterns. She also changed the window displays. Peggy was probably in her early forties, but she wore hot pants, which were shorts worn beneath a mini dress that opened from the waist to show off the hot pants beneath.

Bev was also short and slim. A nimble, energetic woman, with gray hair, worn in a bouffant style.

Marg was older, and solidly built. A large woman, with gray hair, glasses and an air of no nonsense.

The office was inhabited by Grace, the daughter of missionaries. She had never married and lived alone. She had slightly wild looking, gray hair and an awkward gait as if she had a leg injury or had polio. She always looked a little distracted but she was kind and did what she could to make sure I understood things.

There was Sharon, a Barbie doll of a woman, with long, bleached hair, who wore sexy clothes and heels. She worked for spending money and to buy more clothes.

Ruth-Anne was still in high school and worked on Thursday and Friday evenings and Saturdays.

Dolly was a part-timer studying to be a nurse. She eyed my belly with anxiety as my due date approached. I didn't show much, even towards the end, and she obviously thought something was wrong. I could feel the baby moving around healthily and my doctor wasn't worried and so neither was I.

Bea was the lady I worked with every day and who showed me how to do the job. She too, had gray hair and was nearing retirement age. She was petite and wore her hair up in a French roll. I never saw it down or in any other style. She had dark brown eyes and a deep, throaty laugh and an old fashioned way of talking. She had never had children but crocheted a granny square afghan for our baby. She and her husband Ed were very kind and supportive to us and stayed in touch for many years after we both left Ardill's.

I felt as though I were learning my own language all over again. In England we called sweaters, jumpers, but I learned that when someone asked me for the jumpers, they were really asking where the pinafore dresses were. When someone asked me for a vest, instead of an undershirt, they wanted a waistcoat! There were many funny moments as both I and the customers tried to figure out what item of clothing they wanted in language I could understand.

Towards Christmas a shipment of artificial leather gloves and mittens arrived from Korea to be sold. I found the smell nauseating and several times had to beat a retreat from a customer to the washroom to escape the unbearably pungent stench and throw up.

As Christmas Eve drew closer, the lingerie department was afloat with desperate men looking for a gift for their wives and girlfriends--any gift at all would do and as they made their selections I wondered how they would be received. After Christmas I found out, as we were then afloat again, but with ladies this time, exchanging their gifts.

Another high school student worked with Ruth-Anne, and I noticed that her belly was swelling even faster than mine. Naively I thought that perhaps she had a stomach tumour or something else wrong physically. No one spoke about it, or not to me at least. It was only when she and Ruth-Anne visited me after Peter was born, that she told me she had had a baby too, but had given her up for adoption. She tenderly touched Peter and her eyes lingered on him wistfully. Peter is now 39 and I wonder if she and her daughter know one another now. I hope so.

The afghan that Bea crocheted for Peter came back out of the trunk it was stored in when our grandchildren were born. Victoria became extremely attached to it and loved it so much that it fell apart. One Christmas I took apart the individual surviving squares and sewed all of them by hand onto a soft, green fleece blanket. It was one of her most treasured presents that year. She is 10 now and still cherishes that blanket, with squares that were lovingly crocheted 40 years ago.

Ardills eventually moved from the corner of Yonge and Wellington to the Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket, but only for a short time before closing down. It doesn't matter; in my memory the ladies of Ardills live on.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


(Although this post is "from the archives," and was published on May 7th, 2007, it happens that today was also my first day back at work after three weeks of recovery from surgery, and vacation. In the post below, I refer to "First Day," which was referring to the previous week when, in 2007 I had been recording the days of my vacation at home, preparing for Paul's 60th birthday celebration.)

This was a different "First Day." First day back from vacation. It was as good as "First Day" last week.

We had a house guest for Paul's birthday party weekend--an old friend who used to live with us when we were house parents for a large group of men with disabilities from the early 70's to the early 80's. John is 74 now but there is a huge hole of longing in his heart that never really goes away.

"She shouldn't have waited so long to have me," he says of his mother, "I don't know why she decided to have anudder one."She was 38 at the time, not old by today's standards, but back in 1933, it sounded older.

She only lived until she was 53 and he was 15--and then, he says, "Nobody wanted me, so they put me away." He shakes his head at this point, his plentiful sand coloured hair slicked back.John tells us that a doctor there where they "put him away"--like a mismatched piece of furniture in storage, in one of the several institutions he lived in for the next 25 years--told him, "You don't belong there," but "there" he was.

Fast forward to a happier present. Paul and he have a relationship of deep mutual affection. They call each other "buddy" and fuss over each other.

John worries over Paul--calls him every day--tells him not to work so hard. Paul picks him up and brings him to his office a few days a week, where John does shredding and bosses people around. Paul makes sure John eats better than he would otherwise. Like many other children of the thirties John is very careful with every penny he spends. He could live better than he does, but his inner ghosts keep him frugal.

One of the reasons I love my man so much is the heart he has for people like John. From our earliest married days when he was fresh to the field of working with people with disabilities, he would bring people home for the weekend from the institution he worked in at the time. In fact, the weekend Brenda was born, we had such a guest for the weekend. Paul had no clue that his heavily pregnant wife, with a busy two year old, was feeling less than hospitable.

I still remember Philip, who stayed with us that weekend. I remember his wonder at sheets with patterns on them--all he had known were white hospital sheets.

So today I went back to work in my office in the half basement below a house that is home to a group of people with disabilities.

One of my team was waiting with coffee. A few things had happened while I was away. He was glad I was back.

I went upstairs to say, "Hi," to everyone and Jim went into paroxysms of excitement, pointing to me and saying, "There's 'linda." He showed me his new mouth organ and every birthday card he'd been given for his April 28th birthday, describing them as he showed me and telling me who each card was from, even though he doesn't read. He pointed to mine and said, "That's 'linda's card--chocolate cake." And indeed it had a picture of a slice of chocolate cake on it.

Today one friend told me they were so happy because they felt we were on "solid ground." Another told me, when I gave them some advice that was meant to be helpful,"You did that in a way that didn't make me feel put down."

It was a very good day. A day of hope.

Prayer: Dear Lord, your goodness overwhelms me. I cherish the moments in this good day as I cherish the moments of my life measured in years. And I thank you for the man you joined my life with.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Birds with Broken Wings

Their faces were full of joy and hope. Chris looked down with a smile at his "vrouwje," a Dutch endearment meaning little wife. Neither one knew the depths of brokenness that each brought to their oneness, hoping to find in the other, the missing piece, the lost part.

Nell loved this man with all her heart. For him she chose to make England her home, leaving behind her own beloved parents in the Netherlands and her sisters and brothers. It was a choice that was to leave an ache in her heart that would lodge there and become as familiar and unremitting as breath itself, but today she only saw him; his poet's soul, his courtly good manners and proud bearing.

The day after their registry office wedding, while Chris was still on leave, they boarded a train at grand Paddington Station in central London. Overhead. above the rails, stood high glassed arches, in place since the time of Queen Victoria. Chris was taking Nell to meet his mother, Lucy, in Hagley, but first they had to get to Birmingham.

They boarded the train going to Snow Hill Station in Birmingham and opened a sliding door that led into a carriage from the corridor running the length of the train. Nell was excited and nervous. She had only seen the south east of England and she looked forward to seeing more of the country. Most of all she wondered what her mother-in-law was like. She felt apprehensive, not knowing much about this woman who had given birth to her husband. Talking to her would be difficult as her English was not yet at all fluent.

She knew that she had a strange sense of humour. She had sent a package to Chris at the barracks. As they always did, whenever one of them got a parcel from home, the other soldiers gathered around to see what was in the package. It was a pork pie, a traditional English delicacy; an odd thing though, to send in a parcel. As Chris lifted it out, it became evident that there was something odd about the pie. It was made of wood. His mates laughed, but inside, Chris wasn't laughing.

The train engine pulled away with a huge head of steam and a shrill hoot; chug-chugging, slowly at first, gathering speed as the dark tunnel of the station gave way to bright daylight. The train built up to 4 beat rhythm and sped faster and faster as the carriage swayed and the rails clanged beneath the wheels.

London was left behind quickly, and rolling fields and sleepy villages and quiet station platforms took its place. Nell didn't tire of looking at the vista passing by.

In Birmingham, Nell noticed a different accent, broad and hard to understand. They changed trains and got on one to Stourbridge, from where they traveled by bus to Hagley, the village where Chris grew up. It was a long journey, taking at least 4 hours.

Hagley was surrounded by the Clent Hills and the estate of Lord Cobham whose ancestors had taken part in the gunpowder plot, attempting to blow up the houses of parliament and kill King James 1 in 1605. The house where Lucy lived was not far from Hagley Hall.

As Chris and Nell walked from the bus stop, Nell's heart beat faster with apprehension. She was hungry, thirsty and tired from the journey.

The house was surrounded by a garden stocked with a variety of crysanthemums and dahlias and just behind it was a hen house from which great clucking and broody sounds emerged. To get to the kitchen door they passed the outdoor latrine.

As they entered the kitchen, Nell blinked and her eyes grew accustomed to the darker room. Chris was talking to the woman who stood by the table. A variety of smells assaulted her nostrils, pipe tobacco, strong tea with sterilized milk and others that were as yet unidentifiable.

Lucy and Nell surveyed each other. Lucy was big boned and had unusually big hands for a woman. She wore her long dark hair braided, with the braids wound around her head. Her features were strong with high cheekbones, but her eyes had a gleam that made Nell frightened.

Nell, couldn't understand everything Lucy said to Chris, but there were some words spoken that went to her heart and were never forgotten. "Did you have to marry a foreigner? Couldn't you find an English girl?"

On the opposite wall to the entance to the kitchen, was a big old fashioned open fire and stove. In a chair on the right hand side, sat an old man, rotund and balding and smoking a pipe. This was Peter Thornburgh, Chris's step-father, who had beaten both Chris and Lucy throughout Chris's childhood. But now he seemed the only member of Nell's new family to have a kind word, and he shouted his welcome, with the voice of one who is deaf and doesn't know that he is speaking over loud.

Nell waited in vain to be offered even a sandwich. Any hopes of even being liked were disappointed. She couldn't wait to leave the oppressive atmosphere of this home. Chris though, seemed unaware of just how hurt and uncomfortable she felt.

Not a minute too soon they started back to London.There were no available flats in married quarters at the barracks yet so Chris headed back to Caterham barracks and Nell went to Farnborough Hospital.

Temporarily Nell moved into a cottage in Waldingham called Silvermount Cottage, until a flat became available at the barracks and she and Chris could live together as man and wife.

Loneliness was setting in. She found herself going to the barracks as often as she could, by bus. Later in life she was to say that it was always her going to him. She didn't see it at the time, but it was true. Still, loving was about giving, wasn't it?

Nell and Chris's story continues next Monday...

Sunday, July 05, 2009

His Plans are Good

The storm that we sailed through as we left Liverpool for the turbulent Irish Sea, reduced us to pasty faces, churning stomachs and weak knees. When we absolutely had to get up, the floor seemed to move away with every step we took and we clutched wildly at the railings along the walls. But within 24 hours it abated and we began to enjoy bracing walks up on deck, the salt spray on our cheeks and the wind in our hair.

A we walked hand in hand, thinking of the new land that we were sailing towards, and the life that was as yet completely unknown, with the drone of the ship's engines in the background, Paul turned to me and said tentatively, "I expect you'll be wanting to work, when we get to Canada. I mean, you'll want to have some independance."

I said, "Oh...I was thinking how nice it would be to be dependant." (Have mercy on me. I was just a 19 year old newlywed.)

If you could have seen one of those little thought bubbles over each of our heads they would probably have been very funny. Paul's would probably have shown him with the weight of the world on his shoulders and a ball and chain on his ankle--all the responsibility was on him. Mine would have shown my dream bubble of cozy wedded domesticity bursting.

Back in those days, couples launched into marriage with little or no preparation. Now pre-marital counseling is de rigeur and partners are helped to talk about important issues ahead of time, which is a very good thing. We were on our own, making startling discoveries about each other after marriage.

I had graduated 3 years earlier at 16, from Bridley Moor Secondary Modern School , with 5 GCE O levels and 3 CSE's.

In spite of my English teacher encouraging me towards journalism, and my art teacher towards teaching art, I planned to go to Holland, at least for a year or two. In order to do this, I needed to save some money.

And so between leaving school and getting married, I did the last thing I had imagined myself doing. I worked in an accounting office, processing pays for a fleet of rugged transport drivers. From that job I acquired an empathy with and sensitivity to, all of the stressed out payroll staff that I have worked with since. I also married my bosses son, which distracted me from going to Holland, and diverted me, like a metal ball in a pinball machine, to the shores of another country altogether.

I did feel a sense of inferiority later on, due to the fact that I never did pursue a formal post secondary education, but looking back, I don't know where it would have fit into my life. While I appreciate the reasons for, and value of earning a degree, I came to terms with my lack of one and realized that God looked after my education in other less conventional, but very effective ways.

I am grateful for God's guidance of my life and the innate ability he gave me to simply trust him. I could never have planned a life as wonderful as mine has been to this point.

I did indeed find a job once we settled into our apartment in Aurora....stay tuned for that story next week.

Psalm 143:8 (Amplified Bible)
8 Cause me to hear Your loving-kindness in the morning, for on You do I lean and in You do I trust. Cause me to know the way wherein I should walk, for I lift up my inner self to You.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Empress of England!

Re: The post entitled, How I Came to be Here: what a great surprise I had today when our son Peter emailed me these links to a website with photos and information about the CP Liner we sailed here on, (The Empress of England,) as well as a copy of the passenger list for September 27th, 1969. In the ship's log, you can read about the storm that stopped just short of hurricane force.

The Empress of England

Empress of England Log and Tourist Passenger List, September 27th 1969 (Pages 2 & 3)

Peter, thank you!

Lessons on the Lake

We'd gone in a circle it seemed. The eight of us in the pontoon boat were pondering where we were. The big lake had no familiar landmarks for us. The steadily falling rain and wind beating against the canvas and plastic only increased our sense of lostness in the grey Sunday afternoon. Yesterday had been a glorious day in our rented boat, a special family weekend plan to look over lake life while we could.

Now I, the driver, was particularly worried about how we were going to get to our destination and then back home in time to turn in the boat. I wondered aloud if we should stop at a dock and see if some cottager would take pity on us and help us find our place on the map. But how to tell who was home in the midst of the drizzle? Hardly any other boats were on the water, and we, the brave but seemingly foolish ones, had ventured forth to make the most of our investment.

"Let's pray", came the suggestion, and we all agreed. A moment or two later the proud towers of the new resort beckoned like sentinels from the high cliffs beyond. We moved in their direction, and recognized the familiar numbered buoys in the waters ahead. At last we would be able to match three dimensional reality with the map we had been trying to follow. With sighs of relief, we found our place on the map, and reoriented our course.

Reflecting upon the possibilities of what might have happened, we were quick to note God's faithfulness in meeting our need when we put our only hope in Him. Too tired to eloquently spout parables or draw fine object lessons to impress each other, we tucked in our vulnerability and hung our hearts on the reward to come of making port for a break in the journey, and finding our way home again.

Half an hour later, cheered by steamy cappucinos from the trendy lakeside nautical shop, we piled in again for the next leg of the journey, relieved that there were fewer islands to provide circles to get lost in again.

Somehow it seemed to me that God wouldn't let me have even a boat tour without a reminder of my need for Him. I'd wondered what I'd learn most about on this voyage among million dollar boathouses. I already had a distaste for that lifestyle. No need to learn more about that. But I did need a reminder that even in my genteel poverty but seeming wealth for a weekend it was not right to even have the luxury of looking down upon others with material riches. Out there on the choppy waters in the pouring rain I and we were in the same "boat" with everyone else on the lake....completely helpless without a map and numbered buoys.