Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Close Quarters; Part One

By Belinda

Tanyard Close, in Alvechurch, is where Mum and Rob both live in housing for older and disabled people.

25 one bedroom flats and bungalows; compactly built, are fitted into an area of land that is smaller than our backyard in Bond Head. The homes are tiny; utilitarian and efficiently designed.

A mix of single and married people live in the close and a sprinkling of people with disabilities, such as the young man whose house is across from Mum's kitchen window. He has Cerebral Palsy; uses a wheelchair and has round-the-clock carer support. Others like Mum, have Helping Hands support two or three times a day and some live without outside support.

At the back of the flats, trees border the lawns at the edge of a brook. The curbs are cut for accessibility, and graded with low edges for safety. The residents know and look out for one another and in the summer neighbours sit out on the benches on the front lawns and chat.

Rob moved into the close after living in dire circumstances for a year and how grateful he was to get one of the coveted flats. When Mum had a stroke, we applied for her to get a flat too, and she got one on the ground floor, and on a corner, right across from the community hall, where she used to love to attend the Sycamore club, a once a week drop-in for seniors. Her flat is number 2 and Rob's upstairs, is number 6. It was obvious to us that God gave her the very best. Flats are not easy to get there and are in high demand when they come free.  We often marvel at how things worked out, so that she has such wonderful support from Rob and he still has his own space and life.

Because Paul came with me on this visit, we rented a car so that he could connect with other friends and family easily. I wondered about parking but Rob assured me that parking in the close is for visitors too, and Mum has no car so never uses a parking space.

We arrived and parked safely next to Rob's car and he mentioned that when the community hall is being used, as it is once a week by a slimming club, parking in the close is difficult to find because it is taken by those using the club. If that happened he told us to park on the grass and move the car after everyone went home...it did happen and we did park on the grass and innocently found ourselves in the midst of an intrigue.

To be continued!

Monday, January 30, 2012

By Belinda

On our journey to England just over two weeks ago, we left Amsterdam in the early morning, just as the sun was rising.

We flew under rosy dawn skies, over the red tiled roofs of the city and briefly over flat, orderly, farm fields divided by canals and dotted with neat farmhouses--unmistakably Dutch. In minutes we reached the sea shore, the beaches of Holland--and we could see the surf dancing on the shoreline like the lace that borders Dutch net curtains. Then we were over the ocean--the North Sea, which I crossed many times as a child, to and from visits to our Dutch relatives.

The Cityhopper droned over the sea dotted with small boats chugging busily along. And then, in less than an hour, we came to the cliffs of England, distinctly different from; although so close in distance to; the country of the Dutch.

We flew over a patchwork of green. From the sky it seemed that the country was entirely farmland; ancient fields laid out as for centuries like a crazy quilt, separated not by canals but by hedgerows and trees. We saw cars moving along the country lanes; farms and villages and eventually taller buildings and bigger roads, and the city of Birmingham.

From the air all looked so peaceful and quiet, but drawing closer to landing, life teemed all around us in increasing intensity.

And so it was on our visit to Alvechurch. From a distance it may seem like a quiet country village, but draw closer and it is alive with the drama of intertwined relationships. And one such drama I found myself in the middle of...but more on that tomorrow (with apologies for being a tease; I would love to write all night but morning comes all too soon!)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Strangers for Only a Moment

By Belinda

We worked our way down the aisle of the KLM Cityhopper that was about to take us from Birmingham to Amsterdam; where we would connect with our flight to Toronto.

We found our seats in row 16; and squeezed into the tiny middle and aisle seats. A man was already seated in the window seat, and as we waited for take off I closed my already heavy eyelids. I could hear snatches of conversation between him and Paul and wondered briefly how my reserved husband would manage with a chatty seatmate, but I had been up since 2.00 a.m. and the pull of sleep was irresistible.

I woke short minutes later with a jump, to the plane accelerating and rising from the runway, my foggy brain wondering where I was.

Now I found myself straining to follow the conversation over the drone of the plane engine. Paul and the man were sharing details, seeking common ground for conversation. They established where they were going: we to Canada and our seatmate to Africa. Next the man told Paul that he currently lives in Aston, on the outskirts of Birmingham.

"My dad used to have a church in Birmingham," said Paul.

"Oh, you grew up in a Christian home?" said the man, "Are you a Christian?"

"Yes," I heard Paul answer.

"Me too," replied our seatmate.

He turned out to be a pastor: Pastor Jacques Bishweka, from Rwanda. He proudly told us that he was the father of 6, even though he was only 40. I was leaning in now, no longer sleepy, interested in the story this man might have to tell, and there was a wonderful story.

I wanted to know his faith story and he told us that he grew up with parents who were "religious" but not Christian. His father was an alcoholic and his mother also drank and died when he was very young.

A crisis or turning point came when he was studying for his A level exams and was extremely stressed. He only had one chance to pass; everything in his future depended on this opportunity; without which he could not go on to higher education.

Jacques's 12 year old sister, who was a Christian, said, "I think you should come to church, there is a pastor speaking whom I think that you would find interesting."

He scoffed at her at first, but she was persistent, "No, really you should come," she said, so he did go. The pastor who was speaking had a prophetic ministry, and at the end of the service he prayed for Jacques and said, "I see you speaking before people. You will go to Europe and speak. God is going to use you to heal people."

The prophesy seemed incredible. Jacques couldn't see how that could possibly happen, but he went back a couple of days later when there was an all night prayer meeting. Again the pastor prayed for Jacques and this time Jacques began to speak in other tongues as can be read about in Acts 2 , and was filled with the Holy Spirit. His life was set on a different course than it had been just days before.

After leaving school, he began to prepare for the ministry and went to Bible school in Kenya, then a man came to him and said, "God has told  me that I have to help you by supporting you to go to Bible college in England." This was beginning to sound like a chapter from the book of Acts!

Indeed, the man supported Jacques, who went to stay with a bishop in their church in England to continue his training. At the point we met Jacques he was working on his Ph.D.. and pastoring a church in Aston.

He lived through the Rwandan genocide in 1994 when 800,000 Rwandans were killed in 100 days, but lost 6 siblings and witnessed the brutal murder of his step mother.

He told us how hard it had been to minister to people who had lived through the massacres in his country and who asked, "How could God allow this? Why didn't he protect us? Where was God?"

Jacques's eyes, which had been animated and dancing until then, were serious, "It was hard to help people  understand that God had nothing to do with what happened." I thought that this was perhaps how God had used him to heal people.

Due to government red tape only 3 of his 6 children in England. The other 3 are in boarding school in Rwanda, and he was on his way to visit them there when we met him. He goes there twice a year to give them support and meet with their teachers.

In spite of everything that could be considered hard, the overwhelming impression of Pastor Jacques Bishweka was joy. We were strangers for only a moment.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Our Day at Schiphol--in Photos

By Belinda

We are safely back in Canada after a 19 hour journey home. The journey shouldn't have been that long but our flight was changed from the one that I had booked, just before we left, meaning that we would have to be at Birmingham airport at 4.30 a.m. and then would have a 5 hour wait between flights, at Schiphol Airport

It was gruelling for Paul--it did make for a very long day; but I loved being surrounded by the Dutch language; people watching; visiting the art exhibition entitled Holland in Winter; reading and taking photographs. I made the most of the time and secretly enjoyed it. 

Here is some of what I saw at the beautiful airport.

I have more to tell, but  just now I am going to bed.

Friday, January 27, 2012

"Good" Bye

It was Saturday evening and Mum was tucked up cozily in bed. Our friends, Eileen, Chris and Nel-Rose had left a couple of hours earlier for their long drive north to Kendal, in the Lake District. Nel is studying nursing at Lancaster University and we are all so happy to see her following her dream.  
I sat on the side of Mum's bed, as usual going over the lovely moments in the day that we had shared. I told Mum that Nel is hoping to do one of her placements in Canada.
"Wouldn't that be nice?" I said, "She might be able to stay with us." 
Mum nodded, "She can stay in my room," she said, smiling. 
"Do you still remember the loft room?" I asked; Mum's stroke in 2003 took some of her memories with it. 
"Oh, yes," she said, "I remember all of your rooms. I don't remember the other house," she added, making a face, and I knew that she was referring to the last house she lived in with Dad, on Snake Lane; a place with no happy memories. That is a house whose rooms she has chosen to forget.
 We reminisced about how she loved looking up at the stars and moon through the skylight over her bed in the loft room. There she was surrounded only by love and happy times with family. And also by all of our friends, who like everyone who ever met Mum, loved her at first sight.

Mum was up for anything and everything; coming with me everywhere I went: worship practices; writer group meetings; church, cell group; shopping--and endless coffees and teas with friends. She loved it all and partook to the full--never admitting to being tired.

It was so good to know that some of those memories remain with Mum as well as with me.

Goodbyes at the end of our happy times together back then, were hard in a different way to now. Then, she was leaving intense happiness for a hard life at home. And yet outwardly we spoke only of gratitude for what God had given us together, and "next time."

We held our sadness close inside and did not admit to it; that would have been too hard. As I would watch her brave, smiling face vanish finally from sight at the airport, I would turn away, holding tightly to Paul's hand, head bowed to hide the brave smile on my own face that was now crumpling into tears in spite of my valiant effort to hold them back.

I am grateful that now it is different when we part. I leave Mum in the care of loving hands; those of Rob, and her carers, who are respectful and kind. She knows that I leave for a life that is happy, and I know that she is cherished.

We still focus on being grateful, as we should, for all that we have been given, and we still cling to "next time;" for always there is next time. We can count on that, whether here, or in heaven, where one of us will be waiting for the other at heaven's gate one day.

With grateful hearts always, we will say, "Until we meet again."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Treat from Druckers

By Belinda

Druckers, a Viennese patisserie in the Kingfisher Centre in Redditch, is a place Mum and I have had many delicious cups of coffee and treats. On this vacation we have had coffee there with several groups of friends, but getting there would be hard for Mum now and not something she would enjoy. However when I spotted her favourite Mille Feuille pastry when there with Rob today, it had to come home with us.

Her smile says it all! Mind you in actuality, the pastry came second to the double chocolate concoction we brought home a day or so ago! That was light and fluffy, but deeply delicious!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Thank you to all who took the time to vote in round two of the Canadian Blog Awards!

Whatever He Says came in third in the Religion Philosophy category--yeay!

Hearty congratulations to Dave Hingsburger of Rolling Around in My Head who won a well deserved Best Personal Blog! Yahoo!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Gift

By Belinda

Prayer: it is our nightly ritual; between the carers who come from Helping Hands to help Mum to bed, and Rob, who comes downstairs to put in eye drops and administer her inhaler; all of us ministering care in different ways.

I am sure that it was she who must have first taught me how--to pray, that is. And yet now, here I am beside her bed, and she ready for sleep first, each evening, at an hour that seems so early, but in sync with the rest of the elderly safely tucked in around the village every night.

We travel far and wide in our prayers; I saying the words, but she with me in every syllable, every name named. We pray showers of blessings on Rob for the blessing he is to Mum. He should be laden down by riches of love and warmth and health and strength if God answers even a fraction of our prayers.

We cover family here, one by one; and those in Canada, and special needs of which we are aware. And at the end each night, Mum, holding my hands, gives a squeeze and smiles with eyes and lips her sweet, "Amen."

One thing I missed each night...her prayers...for me. Selfish though it felt to even think of such a thing, yet in my deepest heart lived a wistful little girl who did.

But tonight at our "Amen," she squeezes my hand and says, "I must pray--for you."

I smile my overflowing gratitude; we close our eyes again, hands clasped; I wait; she tries; clear words won't come, but we both know, in the quiet God hears the heart.  Again we squeeze and say, "Amen," with smiles.

And she says with eyes of blazing love that speak more eloquently than the loveliest of words: "Every night, after we pray, I pray for you...."


 By Belinda

On the gray day on which I took the photos posted yesterday, the real reason for the walk was that Rob wanted us to see some trees that you might not expect to find in Alvechurch--Californian Giant Redwoods. They are dotted around the village and nearby and were planted originally during the Victorian craze for these newly discovered trees in the 1850's.

Click the link: Village of the Giants for a story in
The Village Magazine that tells how they came to be here.

Luke 6:43

The Message (MSG)

Work the Words into Your Life
 43-45"You don't get wormy apples off a healthy tree, nor good apples off a diseased tree. The health of the apple tells the health of the tree. You must begin with your own life-giving lives. It's who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.

John 15:1-2

The Message (MSG)

John 15

The Vine and the Branches
 1-3 "I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn't bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Around the Village

By Belinda

Last night on the eve of our last five precious days here, I realized that I didn't want to waste any of those moments tapping away on my laptop. It's so easy to be "here" but not fully present to the people I am with.

So here are just a few photographs taken last week while walking the village on a blustery, showery day! I know that people who take time to  read here ( and whom I appreciate so much) will understand and agree that this is how it should be.

Don't miss the pink blossom on the tree in one photo below. Even in the chilly weather it was heartening to see such early signs of spring here, along with some snowdrops in bloom and many crocuses shyly unfurling their buds.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

An Afternoon with Friends

By Belinda 

Our friends, Chris, Eileen and Nel-Rose Ashton, drove down from Kendal in the Lake District--a 4 hour drive, to spend the afternoon with us today.

Eileen and I met as school girls when we were both 12, so that makes a friendship that has lasted almost 50 years.

The Ashtons long ago adopted Mum as their own "Omie," and make the journey down to see her several times a year, always bearing home made cakes and bags of other good things. It's a great comfort to know that they keep in touch and are such good friends to Rob and Mum.

They are also friends with many of our friends in Canada, such as Ron and Susan Stewart and Brian and Frances Furuya, having got to know them on their many visits over the years to us. In fact, this year we will be taking back Kendal Mint Cake for Ron Stewart from Chris. This special high energy food was taken to the top of Mount Everest in 1953 and Ron plans to take it on a skiing weekend.

Bruce is a favourite with the beautiful Nel-Rose, who is, however camera shy.

Chris is a garrulous, high energy Yorkshire-man!

I made a chicken casserole with rice, carrots and cauliflower for our lunch, which we followed with Sainsbury's apple and blackcurrant pie and apple crumble, with custard or cream.

We also had tea and coffee with digestive biscuits and chocolate bourbon creams--all in all a party!!

Mum's passport photograph. We think she was about 18, which would mean it was taken in 1944.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Roebuck

By Belinda

After an afternoon spent with memories of the past yesterday, it was time to go out for a meal with Stephen. We first tried the The Moat House Inn, where I went last July with Stephen when we spent the day walking the woods in the area. But alas only the bar was open at the early hour of 5.00 p.m. The woman we spoke to there directed us to several other options in the area--depending on whether we wanted to travel further afield for "cheap and cheerful" or closer if we didn't mind something a bit more pricey.

 The Roebuck was the closest inn and restaurant and I had noticed it on the way to Stephen's home in Alcester (pronounced "All-ster.")

We tried it and found it open. It was obviously newly renovated to transform the old pub into an ultra modern restaurant.

We arrived without reservations and found that many tables close to a blazing fire, were already set aside, and we were taken further back into a colder section of the restaurant, but the staff seated us close to a radiator! We left Canada, where the winter so far has been the mildest we can remember; for England, which has been frosty cold and rainy since we arrived and the damp seems to penetrate the bones. We are weak--we admit it--and not used to the wide open windows and bracing fresh air of England--coddled North Americans now, and used to double glazing, and climate controlled atmospheres in both summer and winter! :)

I went to the "ladies," artfully named "does" and found it a challenge to squeeze in and out of with a handbag and large camera bag. I am not sure if they had accessible washrooms or bedrooms. From the website I don't think so and this may be an important oversight in the renovations. I wish I had thought to ask--but there is an info-line if anyone to whom this is essential is interested in visiting.

The food. It was heavenly!!!

Paul had a sirloin steak with chips, grilled mushroom, tomatoes and fried onion rings. He is--well, let's say he is not easy to please in the food department--but he said it was the best meal he has ever had in a restaurant. The meat was cooked as he asked--well done.

Stephen went for steak and kidney pie--a traditional English dish. He said it was good.

I ordered vegetable lasagne, which came with a salad, coleslaw and bruschetta. The bruschetta was mouth-wateringly delicious and so were the fries that I co-opted from Paul's plate. He passed me his mushroom and tomatoes and they likewise were juicy and full of flavour.

For dessert Paul had sticky toffee pudding and ice cream, and judging by the way his eyes rolled up into his head, it was good! Stephen had sherry trifle with cream and I had a chocolate orange truffle with cream. The flavours were exquisite.

On Sunday Stephen is going to cook a meal for us. He said it has been so long since he has cooked a meal for anyone that he will enjoy doing it.