Monday, April 30, 2012

Aging--Not Sure How Gracefully

By Belinda

Aging: It is when all those things you secretly laughed at in other people who were stereo-typically "older"--things you adamantly said you would never do; appendages or accessories you thought that you would never wear --aging is when those very things suddenly become part of YOUR identity. 

The last year has been one of recovering my vision. This time last year I was literally half blind. One eye went through a rapid decline in vision and I needed to get my eyes tested. But I put it off (because I am a procrastinator) until I began to worry that something was seriously wrong. While at a doctor's appointment for a physical, I asked him to take a look at my right eye. 

"Oh, yes, you have a cataract," he said, as though confirming something I should know. 

"Me? I'm too young for a cataract," I thought but didn't say. 

I mean I had only just the year before, lost all semblance of mystique in the bedroom by adding a C-PAP machine to my nighttime routine. Obviously the benefits far outweighed the loss of pride, and I learned to put up with the wise cracks that came my way. Yes, the force is with me! 

But now--a cataract?

I went through the lengthy process of tests and preoperative preparations, and to my happy surprise, the result of the surgery was near miraculous. Suddenly and immediately, I could see again, and without any corrective lens in that eye. It was wonderful. The eye surgeon smiles now when he sees me coming for check ups and says I am his happiest patient.

There was only one slight problem. Now both eyes were quite different and drug store reading glasses no longer worked well. I do a lot of computer work and love to read, but reading was so exhausting that I found the urge to sleep creeping up after a few minutes.

Finally last week I got a new lens for the other eye to even them out, and excitedly bought some new drug store reading glasses. 

There are reading glasses all over our house. Like a clear plastic crop, they sprout randomly in the bathroom; the kitchen; the den; my purse; my office. Because heaven forbid I should ever be without a pair--I can't see a thing that is small without them. 

Today I was sitting in a morning meeting alternating between looking at a Powerpoint presentation without glasses, and reaching for them to read the handouts, when the unthinkable crossed my mind. I thought of those cord thingies that "old" people wear around their necks with glasses hanging from them. "That would be so handy," I found myself thinking.

My route back to the office would take me right past a Shoppers Drug Mart store and I could hardly wait to go get one of those cords for myself. The unthinkable had become very thinkable!

While hunting around a rack of glasses for the cords, which were skillfully hidden from view (but I wasn't wearing glasses so who knows?) I noticed magnifying glasses. My brother Rob has one of those and uses it regularly, even to read the paper. I thought of how handy it would be to have one in my purse for those moments in a grocery store when you want to read a label that looks like it was printed for some microscopic species of beings. 

I marched to the check out, cord and magnifying glass in hand and confessed to the man behind the counter that it was a terrible thing to be getting old. He said with a big smile, "Hey you weren't planning to use the cord with the magnifying glass were you?"

Very funny!

I attached my glasses to the cord in the car, and for the rest of the afternoon basked in the convenience of only having to reach to my chest for a pair of glasses. No picking up papers to look underneath for my glasses. I humbly repented of all of my mocking thoughts of the past on the subject.

Later in the afternoon I was at the photocopier, trying to assist a support staff in enlarging the print in order to photocopy something for someone who can't read small print. We were both stymied. For the life of me I couldn't figure out how to enlarge the copy and neither could she. Then I remembered what I had in my purse. I retrieved it with triumph and handed it to the person needing the large print--my magnifying glass. He was thrilled!

It was probably overkill for me--for the present at least. :)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Missing Her

By Belinda

It took me by surprise. I was on Facebook, checking out my nephew John's page to see what was up in his life; laughing at the photo of him in the kitchen chopping carrots and thinking of when I was last with him there for a delicious meal. I scrolled through more photos and suddenly she was there...only she isn't any more...

Seeing her made me catch my breath, like bumping into someone unexpectedly. Knowing that she isn't here...I miss her.

Last week when I talked to Rob, he was missing her too. The reality that she is gone is hitting and so is grief. I knew it would in its own time.

I'm still so very grateful, for all that she was to us, for God's tender care of her in her dying. But oh, there is an empty seat, an empty flat, and arms that long to hug her one more time.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Da Group

By Belinda

This afternoon we got together for our inaugural meeting, we four struggling with anger. I had Kerri Jean's updated version of tips for dealing with anger as a discussion resource. 

I knew that what I had to share today was a work in process, and that there is a lot of excellent material out there that is more sophisticated; I just didn't have it at my fingertips. But the most important thing today was not anything written on paper; it was the readiness of our hearts to engage in learning peace; a worthy topic, guaranteed to keep us together with lots to do for a while to come. 

We started first with prayer. It seemed like a very good idea to us all to invite God into the group with us. Then we batted around thoughts on what to call ourselves.

"Anger Management Group," proffered one person.

Another started singing, "I've got peace like a river."

"That's a song," said someone else, "We're looking for a name."

"It is a name," insisted her housemate, and he sang a few more lines of, "I've got peace like a river" loudly and with enthusiasm as if to prove a point.

"That's it then," I said, "How about The Anger Management, A.K.A. Peace Like a River Group." Heads nodded in pleased agreement. 

For half an hour we covered big territory. I listened as they talked about ears and hearts being shut down in anger. We talked about how to leave a fight without leaving angry--no slamming doors or throwing objects. This kind of leaving would  be temporary; to lovingly take care of ourselves as well as let the other person cool down.

I didn't plan on going back to the events of the day of the broken window, but they insisted. There was so much unresolved from that day that it was a perfect situation to debrief and learn from, and we did. 

"Look at me," one man said to his housemate, to get his full attention when he knew wasn't listening, and then he patiently explained; twice; the thing that wasn't heard on Friday.

I asked his housemate if he "heard" it today. 

"A little bit," he said, arms folded. I knew that meant "a lot."

We laughed and listened and learned, and laughed some more. There was such a sense of hope that maybe if we learned all of this well, we might be able to help others. 

We aren't "there" yet; but we are on our way! Thanks for coming with us.

Better Version

By Belinda

My colleague, Kerri Jean Winterler, put some thought into making the words of Peace 101, simpler yet! . Our little anger support group is meeting this afternoon. We are excited about learning better ways to deal with anger together. God uses all things redemptively, doesn't he?

Thank you Kerri Jean, (and here is her version:)
  1. When people disagree and one is angry, talking will make the anger bigger.
  2. The angry person may say things that make you mad. Now two people are mad.
  3. If you explain or defend yourself, your anger will increase/get worse.  When you do this, you are trying to control the other person. 
  4. When both of you are arguing, you are trying to control each other. You want the other person to feel or think the same way as you or do what you want.
  5. When we are yelled at, or blamed, we try to explain ourselves. By doing this, we are trying to make the other person agree with us. 
  6. When we talk back to someone who is angry, it only makes things worse and confusing.
  7.  Instead, one of the people needs to "zip their mouth closed", walk away and not say anything.
  8. Don't walk away angry, or to punish the other person, but to take care of yourself.
  9. You accept that you cannot make the other person do what you want. You are getting away from the anger so you don't get hurt or upset.
  10. "Zipping your mouth" and walking away is loving to yourself and the other person.
  11. When the other person is friendly again, you can both talk and no one needs to be upset.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Peace 101

By Belinda

The other day, when I was talking to my friends from upstairs at work, about better ways to deal with anger, I grabbed my well worn copy of Diffusing Anger and Avoiding Feeding the Flames by Margaret Paul, Ph.D.,and told them how it helped me. "Read it to me," they each said, and I did, paraphrasing to make it easier to understand for people with developmental disabilities, trying to put it in plain language.  When one man said that some of the words were still too difficult, I promised him that I would try to write the main points in simple words for him--and me. I'm going to have a shot at it here.

  1. When people disagree and one is angry, saying ANYTHING will  feed the anger and make it grow.
  2. The angry person may say things that make you mad. Now two people are mad.
  3. Your own anger grows as you defend yourself and try to control the other person.
  4. Both of you are now trying to control the other person's behaviour, feelings or views.
  5. When we are yelled at, or blamed, we defend or explain, trying to change the other person's mind. 
  6. The other person threw out a hook and we bit on to it.
  7.  Instead, one of the people needs to let go completely, and not get hooked into a fight.
  8. Don't walk away angry, or to punish the other person, but to take care of yourself.
  9. You accept that you cannot control the other person but you are getting out of the way of attack.
  10. Completely letting go, is loving to yourself and the other person. 
  11. When the other person is friendly again, you can both talk with no hard feelings.
Well, I don't know if this is simple enough, but it's my attempt at a "Coles Notes" version! I'll try it out tomorrow and see if it is easier to understand for my anger support group! :)

Proverbs 15:1

Amplified Bible (AMP)

Proverbs 15

 1A SOFT answer turns away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.(A)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Stormy Emotional Weather

By Belinda

Psalm 4:4
Amplified Bible (AMP)
4Be angry [or stand in awe] and sin not; commune with your own hearts upon your beds and be silent (sorry for the things you say in your hearts). Selah [pause, and calmly think of that]!(A)

This verse, especially the Amplified Bible version; gives good food for thought. If only I did more of the "pausing" and "calmly thinking," recommended here!

A quote by Steven Covey, was mentioned in a training I took recently and it has stuck in my mind. It gives me so much hope in my own struggles and for those of others.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness.” 
― Steven Covey

I've been trying recently to work through an issue and get my heart into right order--even trying to figure out what "right order is" in the situation. Meanwhile, a couple of the people who live in the group home in which I have my downstairs office, seemed to be yelling at one another every afternoon last week, until there was a mighty crescendo on Friday afternoon, involving crashing glass and a cold breeze blowing in through a window. 

Today, we talked, the people upstairs and I. And I was grateful, because as individually, I chatted with them, figuring out together what went wrong last week, and coming up with a plan to deal with anger better next time, I was talking to myself as well. Relationships are hard work, but having acknowledged that we knew it was worth the work. And no one enjoyed the unsettled weather of last week. 

There is an article by Margaret Paul, Ph.D., that I found somewhere years ago and which recently resurfaced during a clean up:Diffusing Anger and Avoiding Feeding the Flames. Reading it again reminded me of the wisdom of loving disengagement and unhooking from a conflict. 

"Between stimulus and response there is a space...and in that space is freedom and power."

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Follow Up to Yesterday's Post

God is not looking for those who are clever,
but for those in whom he can be wise;
He is not looking for those who are talented,
but for those to whom He can be all sufficient;
He is not looking for those who are powerful,
but for those through whom He can be almighty

Thursday, April 19, 2012

My Fantasy Fear

By Belinda

Last Friday we started our monthly manager's team meeting as usual, with prayer. As the person leading that part of the meeting asked for requests, I hesitated for a moment, then put up my hand. 

I explained to those on my team that didn't know, that I had stepped into the role of acting vice chair on a committee that I find intimidating (a role I have studiously avoided for many years)--and that in that role I was to represent the chair at a regional meeting that was going to be way out of my comfort zone. I confessed my nervousness and sense of inadequacy, while wondering if doing so was making me seem weak in their eyes. I did it anyway, because I needed prayer and because it was the truth after all.

On Sunday evening, at our Catalyst leadership development meeting we watched a half hour session by Patrick Lencioni on vulnerability. It was so good. Afterwards we all shared our own challenges. One person struggled with telling others the "kind truth." I shared my fear of embarrassment and fear of asking dumb questions. Two other people shared their fear of embarrassment and I would never have guessed they ever felt that way, in a million years! The effect that hearing other's vulnerability had on me was paradoxical. I felt a great tenderness towards both of them. 

Yesterday was the meeting I had dreaded. I was so nervous that I did deep breathing on the drive to the five hour meeting to help calm my beating heart and the butterflies in my stomach. One of my team had advised me with a smile, to "power dress." I laughed at that because I might have done that years ago! But this time I just dressed neatly and professionally, and forgot about the "power" part.

I walked into the room and everyone was so nice! People I hadn't seen for a while walked over and warmly welcomed me. The chair of the committee, a woman who is a veteran, having held varied roles of influence in our field over the years; came put over, put her hand on my shoulder and asked how I was.

The meeting was interesting all the way through and I found that I was actually enjoying it. I presented my brief report on behalf of the committee I represented and heard myself sounding confident and relaxed.

I asked a "dumb question" accidentally, and no one said, "That's a dumb question!" but answered it respectfully. I didn't melt.

At the end of the meeting as I chatted with someone before leaving, I confessed that I had felt nervous and intimidated before the meeting. He looked at me in puzzlement as if wondering what there could possibly be to feel intimidated by. I realized that my fear had gone away. I had been held in bondage by a fantasy.

This morning I wrote an email to my team to thank them for their prayers and to update them on the meeting. I told them that I had entered my personal "danger zone" and with God's help and their prayers, I had been victorious. I said that I knew they all had been moving out of their comfort zones lately and were facing new challenges that would stretch them; that I was with them in these challenges

More than one email came back thanking me for my transparency, and saying that they had "fronts" they hide behind, but underneath they have insecurities and often feel inadequate. 

My area of weakness turned out to be used to bind us all together more closely and to open up an opportunity for God to be my strength.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Birth Story

By Belinda

The writers group that I belong to met tonight and our topic was "autobiography." I hadn't written anything new, but shared a story that seems fitting to share here again: Birth Story. The internet is an amazing research tool and I was actually able to find a reference to the pathway described in the tale I heard so many times:

Here is a story that I heard every year on the eve of my birthday, which is on June 1st. Mum stopped telling it after her stroke, but the wonderful thing is that the weekend before the stroke happened (in October 2003,) I asked her to tell it to me again. This was because Susan Stewart's daughter Marjorie, was interviewing me for my biography, for a school project, and I wanted to make sure I had the details right.

Talking to me about it must have stirred up memories, because Mum wrote a long letter to me that weekend, chronicling the whole thing. It was the last letter she ever wrote, because that Monday, she collapsed at the post office in the village, where she had just put the letter into the box. The stroke she was having took away her ability to write, or even articulate many of her thoughts, so her last letter is a special treasure.

Mum was expecting me on June 12th 1950. In those days there were no such thing as pre-natal classes and women's bodies were a mystery, even to some women. I remember as a pre-teen, Mum telling me the "facts of life;" wanting me to be prepared and not horrified at the changes she told me were coming. No one used to speak of such things when she was a child and she told me of girls being terrified when suddenly they started bleeding--even thinking they were dying.

She showed me a diagram of a baby growing in the womb, and then going through the stages of its delivery. That carefully saved scrap of paper was all she had had to prepare her for giving birth. On one of my recent visits to England I found it among some papers. It was almost sixty years old by then and Mum said that I could keep it--this "baby birthing road map."

Mum had only been in England for three years in 1950. That England was far from cosmopolitan and she often felt like, and was called, a "foreigner." Her mother-in-law's welcome, when Dad brought home his beautiful, dark haired bride to meet her, was, "Couldn't you have found an English girl to marry?"

Her family was far away in Holland and Mum was all alone on the day she went into labour, almost two weeks early. She lived in a house called Silvermount Cottage, deep in the countryside near the little village of Woldingham, Surrey. The people she lived with were away on a trip to Liverpool, and Dad was on duty at the Guard’s Barracks in Caterham.

It was May 31st and she had a terrible stomach-ache all day, but in between the griping stomach pains, she spent the day washing baby clothes, which had arrived in a package from Holland, sent by her own dear mother.

As it began to get dark, the pain was more insistent and she knew she had to get help. She began to walk to Woldingham. It was quite a distance and she knew she needed to get there fast, so she took a short cut up a hill, along a rough path through the trees; a path so steep it was called locally, the Drainpipe. This was the part of the story that Mum loved to laugh about; how she climbed the Drainpipe.

It was a great relief when she made it to her friend Mrs. Saffin’s shop, where she said to Mrs. Saffin, “I think I have a cold on my bladder.”

Mrs. Saffin said, “You don’t have a cold on your bladder, you’re going to have a baby!” and quickly called a doctor. They got her to Redhill Hospital, and on the stroke of midnight, I was born.

Mum always emphasized that all through the labour she kept thinking that at the end of it she would be holding her baby and that was what made the pain bearable. When they gave her the baby to hold she asked the nurse, “Is that all?” and the nurse said, “Isn’t that enough?” She counted fingers and toes and thought of what a miracle it was to be holding her own baby.  

I was named after the 1948 Oscar winning movie, Johnny Belinda, starring Jane Wyman, in which a doctor in Cape Breton tutored a deaf mute girl. Also influencing this choice of name was a newspaper comic strip Belinda, aka Belinda Blue-Eyes, created in 1936 by the cartoonist Steve Dowling (1904-1986) and scripted by Bill Connor. It was published in the U.K. newspaper Daily Mirror (Wikipedia.) Although I always wished as a child for a plainer name such as Kate, or Janet, I was relieved that I didn’t end up with Mum’s second choice of name: Mariandl. In comparison, “Belinda” was a tame name!

I never felt anything but cherished, fully and completely, by this wonderful mother. I thank God for her life and her love.

Proverbs 31:28 (New International Version)
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;

Monday, April 16, 2012

Two Gifts for the Journey Home

 By Belinda

At last, with Rob gone to bed, and goodbyes said to Susan, Tim and John, I was able to pack methodically, slowly and carefully--the way I probably do most things in life. I'm much more of a turtle than a hare! 

I carefully stowed some precious treasures in my case, including a very old barometer that once hung in my great grandparents' barge, and my Oma Schipper's jewelry box made out of inlaid wood, with a quilted royal blue lining with golden threads that had once criss-crossed the blue quilting, but now mostly were broken and loose. In the lid is Oma's name, carved from ivory: "Kaatje."

When I'd finished packing, I still had one bag of things that wouldn't fit, and another bag with personal items of my own that I usually keep in Alvechurch ready for my visits. I hated to leave Rob with these bags, as his flat was getting fuller every day with "stuff" we just couldn't part with, but I had no choice.

I had spent my last British pounds on buying chips from the Tudor Rose Fish Bar for supper on Thursday. I thought that I should have saved a little English money for a cup of coffee at the airport while waiting for the plane! I decided that I would switch over the loose change I had left, from my own worn out wallet, into a  brown, soft leather wallet that I had given Mum on one of her trips to Canada years ago. It was perfect and would remind me of her every time I used it. As I transferred my credit cars from the old wallet to new slots in the new, I noticed something blue tucked into the section for paper money. It was a five pound note! How we had missed it when going through Mum's things earlier, I don't know, but there it was, and it felt like she had given me a gift of a cup of coffee at the airport on her! I whispered thank you, with a smile!

My packing was finally done at around 2.30 a.m. and I then got ready for the journey ahead, freshening up with a last wash in Mum's bathroom and putting on fresh make up. By then it was 3.30 and I made a pot of coffee and decided to check email one last time. Little did I know that God had one more gift in store. 

I found an email from an unfamiliar name: Andrew Powell. Here it is!

Dear Belinda,
I am so sorry to hear of the passing of your dear mother Pieternella. Why I am finding you right at this point in time only God really knows. I was fiddling around with the words 'wemeldinge' and 'paauwe' and after 7 years or so of intermittent family tree research... I found you fourth cousin. 

It did not twig that you were in the midst of grief and pain on the passing of your mum. I have some of that same blood running in my veins as you have. 
My prayer is for God to be so real and close to you at this time. That you will see Jesus in the lives of those you meet over these next days and weeks...and the little coincidences are all designed and put there by God just for you...and your family.  May even this email be of some comfort and blessing to you in some small way.

Love from me ...Andrew Paauwe (now Powell)
Sydney, Australia.

My father Tony and your mother Pieternella - 3rd cousins
My grandfather Anthonie and your grandmother Kaatje - 2nd cousins
My great grandfather Izaak and your great grandmother Adriana - 1st cousins
My great, great grandfather Cornelis  and your Great great grandfather Adriaan - Brothers
OUR great great great grandparents...Pieter Paauwe and Sara de mul.

above: Izaak Paauwe (1865-1950) with his grandson (my dad), granddaughter and wife. By the way...Adriaan Paauwe was married to Kaatje van Oosten...this is where the name has flowed down from...and Adriana has come from Adriaan...i presume. excuse me using my school/work computer...yes i am a school teacher with kindergarten and 1st grade this year. ps. I am married to rachel and have 8 kids...Josh, Sam, Jesse, Zachary, Jacob, Levi, Abigail and Sarah... I hope I haven't intruded on your time of sadness. May God restore you.

I looked at the smiling faces looking out at me from the photograph and felt wrapped around in love by a family far away that felt "sent" by God, right at that time. I don't think the timing was accidental. It felt as though Mum had been buried, but from the soil (from "down under") had sprung ten new family members who felt like kindred spirits.

Since then we have corresponded by email and exchanged other photographs. My great grandmother Adriana, who is Izaak's first cousin, resembles him closely! How awesome hey? I shake my head in wonder!

When Rob came down at just after 4.00 to drive me to the airport, he too, was amazed at both gifts--the one I found, and the one that found me. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

By Belinda

March 22: It was my last day in Alvechurch and it felt like so much had happened in the two weeks I'd been there. And yet, not enough!

Rob and I had made a lot of arrangements together during the first week: visits to the funeral home, local housing authority, etc. And we had slowly begun the process of going through Mum's things. Doing this together was so much easier than if either one of us would have tried to do it alone. We decided together what we had to let go, give away or throw away. A trip to the "tip" ("dump" to we North Americans,)  or to the clothing bank, felt almost like a sacred ritual, a parting with things that had been Mum's.

Mum had very little in terms of worldly belongings, but it was surprising how long it took us to go through her shelves and dresser drawers--probably because doing so stirred so many memories for Rob and me. Each memory sparked conversation, laughter or sighs.

Mum saved letters, cards, little slips of paper, photos, etc.. All of them were special to her for some reason. English money and Euros too, were tucked among the other bits of paper, like little surprises left by Mum.   

Finally, down to the last day, all the bedroom shelves and drawers were sorted out at least, but we were left with the nick-nacks and some precious things that I wanted to keep but couldn't possibly fit into my suitcase to take home. Susan helped by carrying Mum's Bible and two small but weighty photo albums home to Canada for me, but still, it looked as though my case was surrounded by a sea of clutter and I couldn't seem to focus on sorting it out. 

There were a couple of things that I still wanted to do by that last day--having lunch with Susan at the Red Lion was one of them, and popping in to see Mum's old and dear friend Trudy Cluderay was the other. Trudy is 97 and helped look after the much younger seniors at the Sycamore Club until it closed within the past couple of years. She still delivered magazines for Mum to look at until recently--and I had taken a photograph of the last ones Mum had. The headlines always made me smile.
But Trudy, too, had become frail over the past year and her independence had been limited.

She hadn't been coming out to Alvechurch Baptist Church, where in the past, I would always join her in "her pew," but friends told me her key-safe code, so that I could drop in and visit her before leaving.

I went there before lunch on that last day and let myself into the little vestibule in front of the door. An atmosphere of peace filled that tiny space. On the ledge was a text, burned into a slice of tree limb. It announced that "It is a good thing to give thanks to the the morning...and every night." Psalm 92:1-2

Inside a gas fire warmed the tastefully decorated and comfortably furnished, living room. I called Trudy's name, but there was no answer and since I knew that she no longer ventured upstairs, I left, feeling that somehow I had visited with her even though she wasn't there.

As the day wore on my packing waited. I knew I was procrastinating but couldn't help it.  I tried to do as much as I could to help Rob with the remaining work as I knew that he would still have so much to do once I was gone. Bit by bit the rooms were being emptied and Mum's "home" and was disappearing. 

My nephew Tim dropped by after work to say goodbye and we parted with hugs. 

Rob and I took Susan to Birmingham Airport to catch her bus to Gatwick Airport in the mid evening. 

Later John also dropped by to say goodbye, even though he had a very early start the next morning. More hugs!

And Bruce joined in with all of the visitors, just happy to have all of his favourite people together in one day.

Finally at around midnight, Rob went back to his flat to get a few hours sleep. We were leaving at 4.30 in the morning. 

Finally, in the stillness of the night, I felt that I could pack. I knew I wouldn't be going to bed. There were emotions in leaving that little home that I couldn't even give words to. In solitude and silence, while the rest of "the close" slept, I prepared to pack a case to leave Mum's flat for the last time. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lunch at the Red Lion

By Belinda

Our last day in Alvechurch before returning home to Canada, was Thursday, March 20 and Susan and I went for lunch at the historic Red Lion. Although there have been many changes over the years; since the row of cottages that stood on the site in the 1700's, where landowners came to discuss the keeping law and order before the police existed, it has been a village gathering place.

We were enveloped in an atmosphere of quiet and hospitality, as small groups of villagers and visitors sat at tables around us enjoying an afternoon meal or pint. On the walls hung many  photos of old Alvechurch, not so different from Alvechurch of today.

The hard part was choosing from a menu full of tempting meals.

Our selections were made and all we had to do was wait!

Susan chose the Beef, Mushroom and Ale Pie

I chose the Carrot and Nut Wellington. Both were DELICIOUS!!!

The Red Lion--we highly recommend a visit!

Monday, April 09, 2012

By Belinda 

Wednesday, March 21, the morning after the funeral, I wrote out a thank you card to Thomas Brothers, the funeral directors, and walked down to Red Lion Street to deliver it personally. I was so grateful for the support we received, and had tried to convey all of my feelings in the card.

I crossed the road to their small business, looking in through the window at the comfortable chairs and quiet room where we had talked to Meg, who had helped us through the process of planning, with such grace, tact and professionalism.

As I entered through the front door, a man with silver gray, short cut hair, emerged from the back office. He was dressed in dark pin striped trousers, a gray brocade waistcoat (vest,) beneath which I caught the occasional flash of red suspenders. His shoes were immaculately polished and his brown eyes twinkled welcome as he greeted me.

He introduced himself as Mr. Thomas, the father of the four Thomas brothers who run the funeral directing business. 

I was able to tell him in person what a blessing his sons had been to us. His eyes smiled with pride and he told me that all but one of the brothers are ex Royal Marines who served in Ireland in the 1980's. At one time there were two brothers serving together. They approach their business with an eye to detail; everything must be perfect: shoes polished, cars washed and polished.

I told him how carefully his staff Maureen had prepared Mum for my last visit with her. He said, "Ah, that's my wife Christine's doing. I leave it all to her. She comes in every Friday to see how things are going. We take care of everyone in the same way, even if no one is coming to see them. She always says that if there is a heaven, when they get to heaven's gates they have to be beautiful!" 

I was loving the stories that began to pour out of Mr. Thomas, who turned out to be as Welsh as his name. In between periodically saying reproachfully, "I'm doing all the talking," he told me a funny story about his dad, whom he said was upstairs, while pointing at the ceiling. I got the feeling that his dad was dead as well as upstairs, and he confirmed that indeed he was. Then he told me that he had taken him home with him on the weekend for the rugby game because Wales was playing! He said he had put him on the couch in front of the t.v., with his spectacles on the top of the box containing his ashes. I roared with laughter!

He told me how his wife had started the business with her redundancy pay when she was made redundant from her job with M.E.B. (Midlands Electricity Board.) Her friend Valda, who had served the refreshments at the Ark, the day before, had also been made redundant at the same time. They both decided together--Valda to open a catering business and Christine to open a funeral business.

Mr. Thomas said that he was a "doubting Thomas," ha ha! For in the first two months there was only one funeral! Now, years later, the majority of funerals announced in the local papers are being handled by Thomas Brothers.

After this delightful visit with Mr. Thomas, I went home to Mum's flat. The interment of Mum's ashes in the churchyard of St. Laurence Church, was at 3.00 that afternoon.

Rob, Susan and I drove up to the church where we met Tim and John. Mark Thomas was already waiting for us there in the sunshine of the afternoon, under another blue sky. He held a beautiful box wooden with Mum's name on a brass plate.

We chatted under the canopy of the spring sky and soon we saw David Martin striding towards us, his white surplice flapping in the breeze.

He spoke simple words of committal and read the beautiful declaration of faith from Job.

Job 19:25-27

English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)
25 For I (A)know that my (B)Redeemer lives,
    and at the last he will stand upon the (C)earth.[a]
26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
    yet in[b] my flesh I shall (D)see God,
27 whom I shall see for myself,
    and my eyes shall behold, and not (E)another.
Rev. David Martin, rector of St. Laurence Church.
After Mum's box had been safely put by Rob, into the small hole dug in the warm reddish Alvechurch clay over Dad's grave, David Martin chatted with Tim and John before heading back to the church. I talked to Mark about his dad's story about taking his grandfather's ashes home for the rugby game. He laughed and told me how when his grandfather was alive he and his brothers would call on purpose during the game just to annoy him, and how his grandfather would get so mad at them he would unplug the phone.

It all felt very comforting and peaceful. And it continues to feel that way...we felt surrounded by love and could feel the prayers of those who were there in spirit caring for us. 

Mark Thomas

Mother of Mine

By Belinda 

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012, was the day of Mum's funeral. I had been working on my tribute to Mum in the few quiet moments I could manage for three days; writing and rewriting it. Each time I read what I had written I knew I needed to work at it more. Rob was a great help without realizing it. I volunteered to write the words on the cards that would accompany several floral tributes that we had ordered on behalf of close family and friends. I wrote the messages out in rough form and Rob edited them because it mattered to him what went on them. He was a tough editor! :) I am Miss Superlative; he is Mr. Plain and Simple. So I wrote my tribute with a mind to what he would say about every line. At 1.30 a.m. Tuesday morning I went to bed finally feeling that it was simple enough for Rob, and meaningful enough for me.

I was worried that with the emotion of the moment my vocal chords would constrict and my voice would turn into a squeak. Friends were praying and my dear friend Dave called from Canada the night before to encourage me. He is a public speaker and said not to worry if my voice filled with emotion, that his does too, with some stories he tells that come from a deep place of meaning. That helped me to relax a little, and I determined to go slow, breath, and go with the flow. 

I mentioned my nervousness to Rob once on Tuesday morning. He had no idea what I was saying or why I even wanted to, but was going with it for my sake. He said something about not getting emotional--that this was a celebration. Dear Reverend David Martin had agreed to be my back up, and had a copy of what I'd written days before. But then I asked Susan if she'd stand by ready to step in if necessary as it would sound more natural coming from her if necessary. She was up for doing anything that would help.

Monday had been gray and cold but Tuesday was a glorious, sunny day, with blue skies. I got up after a few hours of sleep and got ready. Rob and I cleaned and tidied Mum's little flat. Rob decided to tidy his flat too, and lost track of time so that he was still washing his stairs when he should have been getting into his suit and had a last minute panic getting into it and getting his tie tied.

Susan arrived at 11.30 from Rectory Cottage, where she was staying, and just after 1.00 Auntie May, one of Mum's lifelong friends arrived, with her husband, Uncle Tommy; her two daughters Diane and Trudy, and Trudy's husband, Rob. My brother Rob had joked with Auntie May that Mum had always told us that if anything ever happened to her, Auntie May and Uncle Tommy had promised to look after us. He told her we'd be arriving at her doorstep with our suitcases soon. :) By 1.15, our friends Eileen, Chris and Nel-Rose Ashton had also arrived from the Lake District and so had Rob's sons, Tim and John.

We had asked Auntie May and Uncle Tommy to ride with Rob, me, John and Tim in the limousine, which arrived at 1.30 to drive us to Redditch Crematorium. Also waiting outside was another limousine holding Mum's coffin, surrounded by beautiful bouquet's of flowers and floral arrangements. Some of the neighbours in Tanyard Close stood outside their houses as a token of respect and farewell to Mum. It's the tradition in England that the funeral procession leaves from the home of the deceased.

The Thomas brother in charge of Mum's funeral; Mark; escorted Rob and I to Mum's car first, to look at the flowers. Seeing the names of dear friends and my work team, pinned to the flower arrangements made us feel that their love was with us.

We got into our limousine then, and the procession left "the close" slowly, led by Mark, who was in top hat and tails, with a walking stick, walking in front of the car with Mum's coffin. He slowly led the procession on foot down Tanyard Lane to Red Lion Street. All was done with immense dignity and respect.

I sat beside Auntie May for the 3 mile drive to Redditch, and she held my hand tightly. It was hard for her to be saying goodbye to her dear friend--the friend she had met when she was just 16 and Mum was 20.

Our car turned onto the road leading to the crematorium and began to mount a winding hill through a graveyard filled with flowers. The sun was still shining. It was bright and beautiful. 

At the top of the hill stood the crematorium, and outside were waiting the friends and family who had come to support us and pay their last respects to Mum. It meant so much to us that each one of them were present.  

John wanted to be a pall bearer; both he and Tim loved Mum deeply. I will never forget his face, his Omie's coffin on his shoulder, his jaw set with grim determination holding in his tears.

David Martin met us at the door and led the way in, as Mum's favourite hymn, "I the Lord of Sea and Sky" was being played on the organ. As he walked slowly ahead of us, he proclaimed the words from John 11:25:
 I am the resurrection and the lifeThe one who believes in me will live, even though they die;
We sang the hymn, The Lord is My Shepherd, and then it was time for my tribute. I was aware of David Martin sitting close by, supporting me in prayer, and Susan close by ready to step in. I took my time, looked out at the people I was speaking to and although my voice tensed slightly, I managed to speak it all out clearly. Rob, from the front row, looked up at me with a nod of approval that meant the world to me, when I finished. Afterwards he told me that it was such a lovely surprise; that he had no idea I was going to say all that I did, and that he thought I was just going to read a poem or something written by someone else. That alone made it worth it. But then Claire, John's partner, also said, "What you said about your mum was wonderful. I only hope that one day my Jayda can say half as much about me." That too, meant the world to me.

Then Liz, who had once been one of the ambulance attendants taking Mum to hospital, when I was there a few years ago, got up to sing a song she had chosen. We had remained friends and she had emailed me to say that she would delay her holiday to sing at Mum's funeral; she said she would put her heart and soul into it. I knew she sang, but had never heard her sing, and I  had almost asked her to sing a different song, but Rob had said, "No, I think we should just leave it as it is, I don't think we should be chopping and changing." Well, she stood up at the microphone, opened her mouth--and the voice of an angel, as smooth as honey came out. She looked off somewhere far away and sang seemingly without effort. We were all stunned at the beauty of her voice and the song.: Mother of Mine.

After David Martin's words about our family; some of which made Rob and I smile because our family was not quite as ideal as he made us sound; we sang Amazing Grace. From the back row, strong, fine voices sang out loudly. 

The chapel had floor to ceiling windows, and from it's vantage point on a hill, it overlooks the Arrow Valley Park, and green and rolling Worcestershire countryside. Rob said that it felt like a portal to heaven. At the end of the service, Mark Thompson stood before the  coffin and bowed deeply; a final mark of respect.

Outside our friends waited. Four of Mum's carers were there: Emily, Sue, Sam and Lorraine, all of whom I knew well and they had known Mum intimately. They hugged me with tears, telling me how much they had loved Mum.

Everyone said that it had been a special funeral and that it felt like there was something in the atmosphere, a very special feeling. One of Rob's friends, Tom Fitzpatrick, a teacher at a local Catholic school, had taken time away from his class to attend, and sobbed through the whole service.

We felt relief that it was over, but at the same time felt so good that Mum had been so lovingly honoured. Those who were able to, joined us back in Alvechurch, at St. Laurence Church: The Ark. There we were finally able to relax with our friends, drink tea and coffee, and eat sandwiches, miniature pork pies and scones with strawberry jam and cream.

It was a day we would all remember with happiness because it had been just beautiful. As Rob said, "Mum deserved no less."

Saturday, April 07, 2012

By Belinda

 Yesterday our house filled with family after the Good Friday service at church. The sun shone brilliantly and a fresh breeze blew through  our hair as six grandchildren ran around the front yard hunting for Easter eggs hidden by Paul. We threatened to make him wear bunny ears to get into the spirit of the hunt, but he didn't cooperate.

Inside, the house was filled with the fragrance of a baking ham, and over the leisurely process of cooking of the rest of the meal; eating it, and relaxing with full tummies afterwards, we all had much news to catch up on.

Daughter-in-law Sue, and one of our three teenage granddaughters, Elizabeth, have just returned from a missions trip to Barbados with a team from our church. They went with a ministry named Seeds International which aims to plant the seeds of faith in the hearts of children. It was a trip full of "firsts:" first trip away together; first trip out of Canada; first missions trip and first separation as family. They had stories to tell; photos to show and video clips to share of the beautiful children of Barbados in their colourful and neatly pressed school uniforms, singing their hearts out and laughing with delight at the presentations of the team designed to convey the love of Jesus to precious young hearts and souls.

The story that grabbed my heart though, was not from the missions trip itself, but a 6 year old girl left behind at home with her dad and two older brothers; little Claire.

The parting at Lester B. Pearson airport in Toronto was hard for those not going and Claire clung tightly to her mommy, with tears. It was going to be 12 long days, as the team was staying for 3 extra days of sightseeing on the island once the missions trip was over. Sue tried to comfort Claire, saying that when you love someone deeply, you will feel sad when you're apart.

Pete did a great job, with the help of family and friends, of keeping the three remaining kids alive, and eventually the happy day came when he and the children went back to the airport to pick up Sue and Elizabeth. 

There were happy faces, smiles, laughter, gifts, stories to tell and many, many hugs. And one little hand was slipped into Sue's and a small voice was heard to say, "Mommy, apparently I do love you deeply."

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Mothering Sunday in Alvechurch

By Belinda

It was Mothering Sunday in England (March 17,) and the skies were gray and as I set out to walk to Rectory Cottage. The bed and breakfast where Susan was staying is a brisk 10 minute walk from Tanyard Close and a fine but determined drizzle dampened my hair, face and clothes as I strode along.

I could see Susan waiting in the enclosed front porch, looking out for me and she opened the door so that I could come in. 

Celia Hitch, the proprietress, also welcomed me in, along with a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, named Diesel, if my memory serves me correctly. 

Celia suggested that we take the short cut to the village down a newly finished walking path and acrossThe Meadows playing fields. She rummaged around in an umbrella rack and pulled out two collapsible umbrella's for us to borrow, one of them slightly wonky, but usable, and left behind by past guests.  We gratefully hoisted them aloft against the rain and set out down the muddy path for Alvechurch Baptist Church, or ABC as it is known.

Due to renovations the sanctuary of the church is unusable at present, so we made our way to the back where the small congregation was gathering in the church hall.

Fiona, the minister, was away, and there was a young guest speaker from Saltmine Ministries who happened to have a Canadian wife. We found out after the service that she was from Halifax N.S.

The minister started the service by asking for some children to volunteer to help him as he wanted to teach us all how the Queen's socks are folded. He handed three children pairs of socks so that they could show us how they folded socks first. The diversity of methods was very interesting--and one of them looked like mine in which the socks end up in a roll shape. But that's not how the Queen's socks are folded--and since finding out how, I have been doing it "right." :) "First you hold the socks together side by side. Think in thirds," the minister said. You fold one third over the middle third and then the last third over. Then you fold the cuff over, tucking them inside. They end up in a neat, flat package! Very cool.

"That's how I fold mine," whispered Susan. I couldn't help thinking that Mum would have found this a cool thing too. She, like Susan, always found good ways to do things. I tend to just do things without necessarily looking for the good way to do them!

After the sock story the children ran off with their teachers to Sunday School and the minister opened his Bible to the text for the day:John 2:1-11, the first of the signs by which Jesus revealed his glory. As he got to verse 5: His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you, ” Susan and I looked at one another with a smile because it felt like a small sign to me that God knew I was there, silly though that sounds now that I'm writing it! :) The name of this blog is based on that verse. It was a fitting text for Mothering Sunday, since it is about Jesus's mother prompting him to rescue the hosts of a wedding from disaster.

The service ended with the hymn, O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing, written by Charles Wesley, and sung to the tune in the video clip below. The small congregation sang it with all their hearts, the men and women taking their parts as in this version. 

As we sang, the children ran back into the hall from their Sunday School class with arms full of bunches of daffodils, and went down each row handing a bunch to each woman there. Mothering Sunday in Alvechurch, not just survived, but celebrated, with gratitude for one of the best mums anyone ever had.