Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Royal Law

holy experience

By Belinda

I have a cold and my brain feels fuzzy but I am on vacation and can rest and sip chicken soup and cups of tea. I read and reread a passage from James because I am finding it hard to focus and process the words I am reading. At about the third reading the meaning sinks in fully and I reach for my pen...

James 2:8-9 (Amplified Bible)
8 If indeed you [really] fulfill the royal Law in accordance with the Scripture, You shall love your neighbor as [you love] yourself, you do well.(A)

9 But if you show servile regard (prejudice, favoritism) for people, you commit sin and are rebuked and convicted by the Law as violators and offenders.

Favouring the rich over the poor is the opposite of the royal law, which is to love without discrimination of any sort. The verses that follow remind the reader that if we keep the whole law, but stumble at one point, we are guilty of breaking all of it.

With the law it is all or nothing, and since it can never be "all," we being human, fallible lawbreakers, then we are wiser to acknowledge our inability to play by those rules.

James builds on this point in verses 12-13 (New International Version)

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

Here James speaks of the royal law. Not the one of rules we cannot keep but a kinder, gentler law--one that gives freedom. In fact this law is no less demanding and we will be judged by it as we would have by the law of rules but by a different measure--how well did we love? How well did we show mercy?

With all my heart I want to follow this law that gives freedom, for it is far superior to the law that governs by regulations. But even this I cannot do without God softening and changing my heart.

Yet this he came to do.

John 15:12 (New International Version)
12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Best Uncles

By Belinda

Some people woven into the fabric of our lives enrich it with their depth of character and the beauty of who they are. Our children's lives were touched by the many people they grew up with at Maplewood Lodge, our home for ten years; where we lived alongside 12 men at a time who had intellectual disabilities.

At our family Christmas this year, Brenda and Peter spoke of them fondly while looking at some photographs from those happy days. Thirty years later they remember them through the eyes of the children they were then. They didn't understand, or see, disability, but they understood qualities of the heart,and in that department they lived among some giants.

Stanley was 57 when we moved into the home where he had already lived for two years. We had no idea then that he would be part of our lives for the next 29 years, until he died in 2003 at 86. Everyone who knew him loved him, and no wonder. He was the kindest, most selfless person in the world. Having grown up during the Depression, he was always concerned with having enough money in the bank for that proverbial rainy day. He never splurged on himself, but he was generous to a fault with others. When Peter and Brenda played outside, it was Stanley who warned them to stay away from the road. They remember their childhood surrounded by his loving concern.

Years later, when Stanley was an old man, he was cared for by the agency I work for now. Before Christmas I spent some time chatting with one of the two staff who sat with him the night he died, almost 7 years ago. She was young and scared. She'd never been with a dying person before. She and her coworker sang to him, all his favourite songs. They stroked him and held him close as his breathing became shallower. His face began to perspire, and the young staff immediately said that she would change his pajamas for him. Her coworker stopped her; she knew from experience that the time they had dreaded had come. They held one of his hands each and prayed. Then the young staff said, "It's all right Stanley. Go to Jesus." Stanley's eyes were closed, but he raised both his arms up in the air, outstretched to someone only he could see, then he breathed his last breath. It was a holy moment, when heaven intersected with earth, and they were privileged to be there.

On the wall in my laundry room I have a shadow box in which one of the staff placed his last piece of knitting, with the needles exactly as he left them when he put it down, just days before he died. His Special Olympics medal hangs from it.

Mervin reminded me of a daddy long legs. He was tall and thin and walked with the spastic gait of cerebral palsy. He had a shock of dark blond, soft, frizzy hair that stood out from his head, making it look like a dandelion gone to seed. His elderly Jewish parents came to see him regularly and took him home for the holidays. Mervin himself went to church, and like Abe, another man of Jewish background who lived with us, seemed to have found his own faith, in Christ.

I have never known anyone who anticipated Christmas better than Mervin. Some time in September each year he would begin stowing away small gifts beneath his bed, with a twinkle in his eyes akin to the star of Bethlehem. For Mervin there was so much joy in the plotting, hiding and giving.

He was a sweet spirited man with a delightful sense of humour. Peter remembers him always replying, "Pinocchio," whenever he asked him what his name was.

When we left for a family trip to England one summer, Mervin was not well. He had a stubborn cough that turned out to be caused by a blood clot on his lung. He died in hospital while we were away. Although she doesn't remember him now, Brenda was inconsolable and sobbed for days when we heard the news.

We were rich in good friends then and we are rich because of them still.

Monday, December 28, 2009

holy experience

Dear Readers,
My weekly memoir post will be on Tuesday from now on, in order to celebrate Multitude Monday on the right day of the week. Today, with Angcat's permission, I am posting her Christmas update. It is a perfect fit for today and I thought that readers who didn't already get her letter, would want to hear some of what has happened in their family in the past year.


I watched him search the crowd, seeking a familiar someone. Then he caught my eye, and a confident grin spread across his little face, blue eyes glowing with excitement. “Hi Mom”, his voice rang out and small hand waved.

“Hi buddy”, I called back, loving him across the auditorium, loving him being up there with his kindergarten class.

“Come on and ring those bells,
light the Christmas tree,
Jesus is alive,
born for you and me.
Come on and ring those bells,
everybody sing,
Jesus we remember it’s your birthday".

Sweet voices filled the air with song, a cacophony of good intentions, big girl on the right belting out every word loudly, in the right key, others in the line keeping up, and some just shaking their bells in time, gazing solemnly out at the glowing faces of parents and visitors.

A sweet afternoon, but made sweeter still when compared with the grief of last year.

I drove home from Hospital for Sick Children in December, exhausted and overwhelmed. Frank had relieved me so I could go home to rest and see the other children, while he stayed with Nicky, who was racked with uncontrolled seizures. As I drew near to Alliston, I felt a prompt, an urge to drop into the school. When I pulled into the driveway I remembered, due to the volume of cars, that the Christmas concert was that day.

I slipped in through the kitchen and stood at the back of the gym in time to see my three sing with the choir.

Pent up emotion and exhaustion spilled over into the joy of seeing Chris, Becca and Michael up there singing their hearts out, and the tears came, a downpour. A friend glanced over at the end and came with a strong hug and encouraging words, then another to welcome. It was balm, an oasis in a desert of grief. I slipped out before the children saw me so that I could compose myself before the bus got there.

But that was last year.

This time Nicky sang. He gave it his all, in front of the crowd, this child who couldn’t manage going into the gym when it was full last year, not even to sit with his class. How he’s grown.

Through all this we learned of God’s goodness. Not the genie god that gives you what you want when you wish for it, but God who is my strength, my strong tower. I run to Him and I am saved. We knew in our innermost beings the undergirding of His strength and staying power. In our weakness, exhaustion and fear for Nicky, He was, and is, our strength.

Glory to His Name.

Michael stood beside me last night at the Christmas Eve candlelight service.We were some of the last people there so were relegated to standing room only at the back. As the final carol was sung he stood tall on the chair beside me and belted out loudly, in beautiful tune, the words to Silent Night with the rest of the congregation.

I moved closer to him, but he was so engrossed in singing that he didn’t sense his mother leaning in, listening, loving, reveling in this sweet, powerful moment. He’s seven now, so was reading the words on the screen, enjoying his ability, indulging his musical bent with the other three hundred voices raised.

I treasure these moments, and so share them with you.

This morning at 5am, we heard voices. Our beautiful Rebecca had roused any boys who weren’t awake yet and they were all gathered in Chris’s room opening stockings. After falling into bed at 1am, I wasn’t ready for the festivities to begin, but the sight of them choosing togetherness in this predawn moment has nestled into my heart.

We are thankful for friends and family, treasures in this passage, who pray and love. We are upheld, and we pray also for you that you may know the unsurpassed love of our Savior Jesus Christ, and that if you don’t already know Him, that you will seek Him and be found by Him.

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.”
Romans 1:20

Happy Christmas to all of you and may God draw you near as you walk into the New Year.

All our love,

Angela, Frank, Chris, Rebecca, Michael and Nicholas

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Passing the Baton

By Belinda

Our big family Christmas celebration is yet to come; on Boxing Day--our tradition. I spent Christmas Day preparing food, cleaning the house and wrapping the last presents.

Now, at the end of the day, with a cup of tea at hand, I can finally relax. I yawn and listen to the wind battering the house and the rain coming in occasional gusts, while munching on Godiva chocolate!

Brenda just came home with her girls from a party and said, "The pies were well received."

"People said that the pastry was fabulous. I told them--'Not as good as my Mom's.'"

Perhaps--but next time it will be just as good. This was Brenda's first attempt after all!

It was early December when Brenda said she wanted to learn how to make apple pie. On December 12th made pie together--4 each. Brenda baked two of hers and we froze the rest for Christmas.

It was so much fun working in the kitchen together that we've decided to spend the second Saturday of each month baking or cooking. It's something I look forward to--laughing and talking with my daughter, while producing something delicious to share with others.

I laughed at Brenda's perfectly manicured hands, gingerly unwrapping the packet of shortening!

Now that's more like it!

Nearly there.
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The fruits of Brenda's labours! She was exhausted by the end of our baking session. It was quite ambitious to start out by making four pies at once and that meant peeling 8 pounds of apples each, as well as making quite a pile of pastry.

Mum really didn't enjoy cooking or baking but she could make a delicious apple pie. Hers were made in an enamel pie plate. Apple sauce filled golden, crunchy pastry and it was all topped with home made custard.

Making apple pies is a connection with her. Now I feel as though I just passed the baton.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas dear blog friends. Today I'm sharing one of my favourite classics: Bing Crosby and David Bowie's Little Drummer Boy, and sharing their prayer for peace on earth.

However you are celebrating, may you be blessed today.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Thankful Thursday

holy experience

By Belinda

Reading is a capacity that I am endlessly grateful for. Today we begin to celebrate the birth of the one identified as The Word. How fitting to celebrate reading.

It still is amazing to me that lines, dots and squiggles on a page, can be turned by our brains into representations of thoughts.

I remember when the miracle unfolded for me when as a child I was riding on the upper level of a Midland Red, double decker bus. As we lurched along, I stared through the window at the panorama of shops and advertising billboards and began, as we passed them, to stitch the letters together into words! I had already been reading simple books at school about seeing Jack run; and Dick and Dora and their dog; but this was different. It was the first time that a fluid stream of letters came alive before my eyes quite effortlessly--and I realized that the door to a magical world had just opened.

I devoured books insatiably after that. I was as thirsty for books as a sponge is for water. I had been given a precious gift that I would unwrap every time I opened a new book. I lost myself in fairy tales and Greek mythology, poetry and the classics, escaping into my fantasies and probably ruining my eyesight with long nights under the covers with a flashlight.

I love exploring new ideas, learning to better understand others and their points of view. I am enriched and changed by what I read.

Through reading God's book, I know him.

John 1:14 (Contemporary English Version)

The Word became

a human being

and lived here with us.

We saw his true glory,

the glory of the only Son

of the Father.

From him all the kindness

and all the truth of God

have come down to us.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

All I Want for Christmas...

By Belinda

My kitchen tap has been in decline for a very long time. It never did fit properly but the years were not kind to it. Never firmly rooted, it wiggled lately like a loose tooth. And as if that was not bad enough, the water pressure was pathetic. I got into the habit of doing something else while the sink filled.
A month or so ago it also cracked at the base. Now it was also probably harbouring whole armies of bacteria!

Our friend Frank, who recently insisted that I had to learn how to use our TV and DVD player, saw the tap recently and said, "I'll put one in for you, Belinda." It came impulsively out of a big heart that seems compelled to right all wrongs, but he is a very busy father of four little ones, so I said I was sure we'd be getting a new one soon.
Sure enough, Paul did bring home a box with a lovely picture of a shiny tap on it shortly after that, but it sat in his office for a few more weeks while other projects were being finished--and this tap installation needed someone who knew what they were doing: our friend Mark.
Last Tuesday morning Paul said that Mark was coming over to finish some jobs, including the tap. I was so excited! I could hardly wait to get home from work and see it. But at the end of the day, when I walked in and turned on the light in the kitchen, my heart sank. Where the tap should have been there was only a shiny base ! On the counter top were neatly arranged parts, complete with yellow sticky notes with arrows, from Mark, explaining that the piece meant to join two parts together was the wrong one.

Paul got home at about 7.00, tired from a long day, but after hunting down the receipt he drove all the way to Newmarket with the pieces of tap, to the store where he bought it. An hour and a half later he came home for the second time, but without the part! The store had been so busy with Christmas shoppers that they told him they were too busy to deal with our tap. Obviously that should never have happened. He spoke to the boss and the next day he went back. This time he got the right part.

Meanwhile I was now carrying buckets and jugs of water from the laundry room to the kitchen in order to make coffee, wash dishes or peel potatoes. We had our cell group Christmas party on Thursday without a tap!

On Friday Mark was able to come and put the tap in. I went to work hardly daring to hope that it would be in when I got home. But there it was--shiny and beautiful--the most gorgeous, working tap! I was ridiculously excited and happy with it. Paul laughed at me when I took photos of it.

In return I teased him because he kept mentioning how expensive the tap was, and that I should be very careful with it. We laughed a lot that night, and I have not ceased to be grateful for gift of being able to turn on a tap that works properly and fills up the sink quickly with hot water. It has a hose that I can pull out of the base and it can stream or spray! Heaven! Now excuse me, I'm just going to polish my tap.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Outrageous Grace

by Meg

I stood in the still cluttered kitchen, holding the sparkler. I said to myself, I am standing here holding and watching this sparkler because it is reminding me to be in the moment, to celebrate God's unexpected gifts of joy in the midst of sadness and dullness. And I am doing this because these sparklers ended up here in my kitchen because of my daughters, my lovely daughters who are far away for Christmas on the other side of the world. I am cleaning my kitchen for the church choir party, and, in the midst of this chosen drudgery, I am celebrating all that life has given me.

I had lit the sparkler thinking it was a joss stick that the girls had put on that shelf, and I thought I would check its scent and see if it would add to the Christmas atmosphere I was creating for the party. Everything was deliberate and planned, necessitated by organizing it by myself, after years of spontaneous Christmas happenings energized by twenty years of family milling around, pulling me into the moment. Now the unexpected sparkler pulled me into a moment of reflection, wonder and celebration again. Outrageous in a way, to my Martha style preparations.

Isn't that just like God?, I thought again to myself. We are caught up in the daily grind, the tasks, big or small, that fill our days. We are also caught up in the troubles of others, and our own. They weigh us down, and the feelings around them add on tons. We look for alleviation, for special grace to pull us into a new space of joy. I had depended on that for many years, I realized a few weeks ago. Now this Christmas I would recognize more by absence than presence of chosen vessels of grace, beautiful creatures from my own womb, for whom I had chosen to make a dream that wouldn't include me. Ah yes, that choice sparkles in my heart again. Yes, that gives me joy, that freely made choice, that freely given gift.

I check my emails, finding out more news about others' trials and joys. More untimely deaths and illnesses. I phone my friend who struggles with depression and share words of hope and encouragement. I pray through my list, mindful that the number of those with cancer has increased. I sit with a neighbour during her chemo treatment, finding appropriate topics of conversation, reflecting on the apparent smallness of my trial compared with hers. We go to a Christmas party with lots of dancing. The best dancer and most beautifully dressed person is another friend who is still not sure of the status of her own body after two surgeries and multiple treatments for cancer. It was only seven months ago that I was praying for her, thinking she was dying. Here she is glittering and wigged, the life of the party, delighting her husband and family and friends.

The choir director phones me to thank me for giving them such a wonderful time. Our 100 year old always-in-the-family piano had thrilled to an excellent touch the night before as our choir brought our joy and skill into renditions sublime and ridiculous of Christmas music. Outrageous gifts of joy in the midst of a town submerged under snow only the week before, the party cancelled first time around. Now, delay had brought more joy, more celebration.

The words of a much loved song came to mind:

There's a lot of pain,
But a lot more healing;
There's a lot of trouble,
But a lot more peace.
There's a lot of hate,
But a lot more loving;
There's a lot of sin,
But a lot more grace.

Oh Outrageous Grace!
Oh Outrageous Grace!
Love unfurled by Heaven's hand
Oh Outrageous Grace!
Oh Outrageous Grace!
Through my Jesus I can stand.

There's a lot of fear,
But a lot more freedom;
There's a lot of darkness,
But a lot more light.
There's a lot of cloud,
But a lot more vision;
There's a lot of perishing,
But a lot more Life!


There's an enemy
That seeks to kill what it can't control.
It twists and turns
Making mountains out of molehills.
But I will call on the Lord
Who is worthy of praise;
I run to Him and I am saved!

Godfrey Birtill
Copyright 2000
Thankyou Music/PRS

Monday, December 21, 2009

Memoir Monday

By Belinda

The years that we spent living at Maplewood Lodge, from August 1974 to January 1984 were so happy; we all feel that way. And if you were to ask any of the men that lived with us through those years, they would mostly say the same. I know that because some of them are still in my life.

Oma came over from England with Mum to visit twice during those years. She was 80 the first time, in this photo.

When we took over the running of the home from the people who were there before us, I followed the routine that was in place already. On weekdays the men would be picked up at 8.00 a.m by a van that would take them to work at locations in Newmarket, Brampton and Aurora. They would come home again in the afternoon at about 4.00. In between I would be busy shopping, cooking and cleaning.

On Monday mornings the men would bring their sheets and towels downstairs and I would launder them, in summer, hanging them to blow in the wind on the line that hung from near the window in the breezeway. I would fold them up and put them by their places at the three tables in their large kitchen. When they got home they would put them back on their beds. On Thursdays they would bring down their soiled clothing and I would wash them. When she was with us, Oma would sew on missing buttons and ripped seams. She could never rest while there was work to be done. She saw the men as needing extra love and care and she had a lot of compassion for them.

The two acres on which the house stood, was a wonderful place for the children to grow up in. We did not have much in terms of material things and often I was so tired that I fell asleep the moment I stopped moving, but we were together, in a place that was happy and we were all being shaped and changed by living in community with so many people.

A retired English couple who were friends, would come on Sunday mornings and stay with the men so that we could go to church.Paul's sister Sheila lived with us and helped by spending time with the men when they came home from work

I cherished the quiet hours during the day when I was in the kitchen cooking or cleaning and often found that while my mind was on autopilot while I was doing some menial task, inspiration for a poem would strike. It was at such a time that this little poem; more of a word picture than anything; came to me, and the photograph of Brenda is the perfect illustration.

A child's tousled head
in bed,
Eyes dream laden,
tightly shut,
Dark lashes brushing a soft cheek,
rosy with sleep.
Arms flung wide
with abandon,
Or gently holding close
some favoured, furry teddy bear.

Dear child,
each night
I feast my eyes
upon this sight,
and with a mother's grateful heart
I pray,
my thanks to God
whose precious gift
you are,
and share with him
my hopes, my fears,
my prayers...

For one day,
far away from me
you'll sleep,
and I'll no longer
watch beside your bed.
But in his tender care
my Lord will keep
a watch for me
o'er thee.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

If Jesus Had Been Born in 2009

By Belinda

On Thursday at cell group we had a great party! We feasted and laughed and read stories out loud. Tiffany-Amber pointed out that eggnog is called chicken milk in French and I've been smiling at that thought ever since!

Barb Hustler, one of our cell family, shared a story she wrote. She prefaced it with, "I'm no writer." I beg to differ! I loved it and asked if I could publish it here. She said yes, so here is her story:

If Jesus Had Been Born in 2009

And it came to pass that there lived in Bond Head a couple called Mary and Joseph. They had lived there for some time but because the government decided everyone should go to their birthplace for a census, they needed to return to Alliston.

Joseph had been born there but moved to Bond Head where he met Mary. Oh, how lovely she was. They were very much in love.

Anyway, now they had to return to Joseph's home town Alliston, but wouldn't you know it, there was a major winter storm with white outs and everything, and so the highways were closed.

There was only one thing to do--go by snowmobile. Poor Mary, 8 3/4 months pregnant and having to travel on a snowmobile from Bond Head to Alliston.

Well, onto the snowmobile Mary got with Joseph's help. She held onto him real tight and off they went.

When they reached Alliston it was late in the day and lo and behold all the motels were full. Now what would they do? There was not one single room available. They couldn't stay outside in the storm.

Mary knew her baby was coming soon and so one of the motel managers suggested that they could use his garage. He had a couple of air mattresses and a baseboard heater he could loan them. It was better than nothing, so Joseph said, "We'll take it."

They were no sooner settled in the garage when Mary said, "Joseph, it's time. We'd better get to the hospital."

So, onto the snowmobile they got again and off they went to the Emergency doors of the hospital, only to find that cutbacks had closed the hospital.

"Now what will we do? Joseph, do something. My pains are real close and are getting very strong. There is not much time."

"We can't just sit here," Joseph thought to himself, "we'd better get back to the garage."

And so during the night, in that lowly place, the Saviour of the world was born--Christ the King. How glad they were that they had packed their First Aid kit. There was one of those emergency blankets in it and that is what they used to wrap up the little baby boy.

The cat, who lived in the garage, purred with pleasure as he gazed at the little child.

Now it was that a group of snow plow workers had stopped for their coffee break. And as they chatted together, suddenly an angel appeared to them and told them what had happened.

They could hardly believe their eyes and ears and although their coffee break was over, they said to each other, "Let's go and see this special child." And off they went.

They found Mary and Joseph and the baby in the motel garage. They worshipped him and then left. They wanted to tell everyone about the new born King and so they got on the internet and spread the word.

When the Salvation Army heard about the situation, suitable lodging was found for the family, as well as food and clothing.

Meanwhile, some very wise men, who lived down east--Halifax, I think, knew about the fact that a King had been born. So they hopped a jet and came west. After asking many people, including some important officials, they found the child. They wanted to worship the Christ Child too and they came bearing gifts. One had a bar of gold, one had some expensive perfume and another had incense.

The highways by this time, were opened, because it was much later so they came up highway 400, but they left by highway 404, going through Newmarket.

The news media got wind of the story and soon the whole world knew. It was on the news for many days and in all of the newspapers.

But sadly, like most events, it was soon forgotten by most of the people. They got on with other things. But some never forgot. They worshipped him and loved him and followed his teachings.

And some still do. But what about you?

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Gift

Mikey is the most self centred, self absorbed 9 year-old on the face of this planet. Most of the time. I guess that makes him pretty normal.

I love this kid. This fair-skinned fellow with the hair and eyes of an angel but trust me, he's not. (Smile.) But there's just something about him...

We're polar opposites. He's organized and serious and responsible beyond his years. I think he's going to be a businessman someday. I'm forgetful, probably because my thinking process is so scattered and disorganized - and budgets are my nemesis.

Sometimes I don't understand why I could love him so much. He can be just plain mean to his four little brothers. A regular tyrant! Other times he can be so sweet that you think your heart is going to break in two, just thinking about him. But tonight he outdid himself.

As I settled into one of the lazy-boys in the living room next door, his mom (my daughter Beth) told me that I could expect to see a lot of him over his Christmas vacation. And then she told me about a very serious conversation she had with him after school today.

"I have to spend a lot of time with Mommy'sMum," he told his mother.

"Yes, it's always good for you two to spend time together, isn't it? You're pretty special to each other," Beth said, encouraging our relationship.

"No, Mom. I mean I have to spend a specially lot of time with her this Christmas."

"Why?" she asked. I was waiting for her to tell me what he wanted to get from me... But I was wrong this time.

His response melted her heart - and mine too when she relayed it to me. "Because this is her first Christmas without her dad," he said, his eyes all wide and serious.

It's my birthday today. And, sigh, Mikey couldn't possibly have given me a better gift.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thankful Thursday

holy experience

By Belinda

With apologies to Ann Voskamp at Holy Experience for not posting from my gratitude journal on Multitude Mondays with the rest of the gratitude community. I am instituting Thankful Thursday for Multitude Monday, at Whatever He Says. Since Mondays is when I share my memoir posts I am hoping that the main thing is to be thankful; in all things and always!

So far my formal list is not very long. Okay, it has only one entry. But I have made a start! Here goes:

1) I am grateful for central heating. I remember how it was back in England, before central heating became more common in houses there relatively recently. The bitter cold of winter chilled houses and gnawed at our bones. Our shoulders would be tight with the effort of withstanding the shivers. When it got very cold in Mum and Dad's house (they took longer to arrive at that opinion than the rest of us) they would confer about whether or not to put on two, or three, bars on the gas fire. If it was three; oh joy; then our legs would scorch and roast, but our backs and shoulders would still be tense with cold. The temperature in their house was not helped by the fact that Sam the cat, ruled the roost. There was no cat flap but he would pop in and out through the pantry window in the kitchen. If he was out, the window was open several inches, even at -3 degrees outside. At night in the bedrooms it felt like you were camping out on a hillside. Brrrr.

Here and now, our whole house is blessedly warm and snug against the cold outside. And, although during the night, the thermostat is programmed to a much lower temperature, when we get up in the morning, the furnace is already pumping warmth into the night-cool rooms. When I step from the shower, I wrap myself in a fluffy towel, warmed by the air blowing up from the heat register--no shivering goosebumps as I dress for the day.

I realize though, that the degree to which I appreciate the blessing of a warm house, is directly related to having experienced a cold one. I doubt that our grandchildren give a thought to the miracle of a house that is warm in every nook and cranny. Perhaps the number one entry in my gratitude journal should be that I have experienced the ghastly, damp, draughty, cold of an English house in winter!

Of course, I am thankful for Christmas--the real message of Christmas. My blog friend Deidra posted this on her blog Jumping Tandem

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Blurred Boundaries

How important it is to know the difference between decisions that belong to us and those that belong to others.

Many of the stresses and tensions in relationships could be eased by considering this principle.

As a parent it took me an embarrassingly long time to learn where I ended and my growing up children began. I needed to learn the importance of space to make decisions that were not the ones I would have made. Not understanding that they were distinct human beings in their own right, with responsibility for their own actions, made it hard for me to separate my identity from theirs. Funny how I got that all confused.

Isn't this the root of judging others? This mistaken idea that we have governance over their choices? Each of us must answer to God for the choices we make and I think that is a far more effective governing thought. We experience the sometimes painful results of our choices and this is called experience. It would be wonderful if we could learn from the experience of others, but often we learn best by practice and failure and each of us is on a personal journey of trial and error.

It is sad to learn after the fact that we have "misjudged" an other's motives or actions. How much better to be careful not to judge in the first place, but to focus instead on developing Christ's character in ourselves. That is a lifetime's work and, should we by some miracle achieve it sooner, I think we would find ourselves filled with--not judgment--but compassion and overwhelming love.

Colossians 3:12-13 (New International Version)

12 Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

This doesn't mean that we shouldn't talk to someone about how their actions affect us. That matters, but is different to judging or attempting to control their choices. It is also different when we're in an authority or mentorship relationship with someone; then we have a responsibility to work with that person for their good and that of others. But again that is different to judgment and control.

In the quiet I have been pondering these things.

1 Timothy 1:5-7 (New International Version)
5The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. 7They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I lit a candle of vanilla scent. Its sweetness and warmth hung in the air; the light flickered and shimmered as I sat, quiet before him. Tonight we had a wordless communion; like that had with good friends, with whom sitting in silence is comfortable, and comforting somehow.

It felt good just to "be." There was no need to say a word; he knows it all. The words wouldn't come anyway, I was struck silent;quietened.

A great peace filled me. Strange, because I needed his wisdom on something. I didn't need to fight for it though, just rest in him and know that I had it because I had him.

My friend Marilyn wrote today at A Good a Day as Any about the waiting of Advent and how we are waiting still, for him to step into our world today; into the issues that face us and in which we seek his will and ways. She ended her post with the words:

He still steps in.

Yes, he does, if only we wait...Perhaps that was why I was wordless and stilled. I had only to wait...and Advent is a waiting time.

Psalm 131:2 (Amplified Bible)
2Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with his mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me [ceased from fretting].

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Life of Celebration

By Belinda

Brenda and I sipped our Saturday morning coffee recently, sitting back in comfortable armchairs in the sunshine that streamed through the windows of our spacious back room. She was thinking back to her childhood and the impact it had on her, her ten years of growing up at Maplewood Lodge.

She said, "I was always surrounded by adults who listened to me and made me feel as if what I had to say was actually interesting."

"And we celebrated everything!"

Yes, we did celebrate. We celebrated St. Patrick's day by giving prizes to the person who wore the greatest number of green items of clothing or we had Irish stew and mashed potatoes tinted green; we made the same special heart shaped cookies each year at Valentines; we had parties with old fashioned games like Pass the Parcel, and Blind Man's Bluff and Musical Chairs--all played by our children and the men we cared for. Every occasion was duly feted, including 16 birthdays a year, for which I baked and decorated all of the cakes. Our surroundings were humble in terms of furnishings, but those things are so unimportant really when it comes to the enjoyment of life.

The fun, as a parcel is tossed from hand to hand, with layers of paper torn off in the interval when the music stops was intense! Many times the " paper ripper" would have to be urged to stop ripping when the music started again and pass on the parcel that grew ever more tantalizingly small and close to the inner surprise with every layer. Hands held onto that parcel tightly before letting go, willing the music to stop before it passed on. It makes me laugh even now to think of it.

Christmas was the crowning Celebration of Celebrations and preparations began in late October with the baking of the Christmas cakes--a rich concoction from an English recipe, into which after baking for hours in brown paper lined tins, I would poke holes with skewers and pour in brandy, wrapping afterwards in brandy soaked tea towels and putting them somewhere cool to ripen. Sometime in early December the cake would be unwrapped and brushed with sieved apricot jam with which to adhere a layer of almond icing. This would be left to harden for a day or so and then came the layer of royal icing.

I once bumped into Mr. McKenzie, the administrator of Pine Ridge when I was there for a meeting one November and he asked me how things were. I said that I was very busy baking for Christmas. He asked why I was baking and not just buying. I tried to explain that Christmas was home made. It made it more special somehow and each year the same special treats issued from the kitchen and were carefully stored out in the cold breezeway: rocky road fudge; shortbread; sugar cookies decorated by the children; mince pies, and many other delicacies.

We began a tradition of having a big Christmas open house in December, to which a stream of 80 or so people would come: family members, staff from Pine Ridge and friends of the men who lived at Maplewood. We would have large bowls of cold salads, plates of turkey, English trifle and all of the baking would be out for the occasion. We would always spend time after eating, singing some carols.

Christmas shopping and wrapping was a huge undertaking for our large household. It was unthinkable that there would be inequity in the quantity of presents. We recognized that we owed our living to the people we had moved in to support and on Christmas Eve, after they went to bed, I crept into their side of the house and laid piles of presents to add to those from their families, beneath the lights that twinkled magically on the tree. Everyone cooperated by going to bed early that night of the year as if by some unspoken agreement, and there was a hushed anticipation over the whole house. There was at least one true believer in Santa Claus amongst the men, which added to the magic.

In the silence of Christmas Eve, I was often the last person up, padding around the kitchen making last minute preparations for Christmas Day. The wind would blow and snow swirl across the lonely fields ourside, and the sense of waiting was tangible in the air, just as it must have been on the night of Jesus' birth.

I went to bed late on Christmas nights, having stuffed a large turkey and put it in the oven to cook overnight.

We would put one present on the children's beds for them to open when they woke up but then the day of waiting began for them! They enjoy telling now what torture they went through, but it is with laughter.

After a quick breakfast we would all go and join the men around their tree. Some would have gone home for Christmas, but there were usually about 7 who hadn't. The names on the presents would be read out by Paul with a Santa hat on; on his hands and knees by the tree. One person in particular, would never open any of his presents, but would sit while his pile accumulated beside him, until there were no more presents under the tree. Then, and only then, would he begin to open them.

Around our tree the presents beckoned, but we had church yet! Paul would take the children to church while I prepared the Christmas dinner. On his way home he would stop and pick up our very dear, elderly friend, Miss MacDonald, my beloved "Aunt Agnes." Aunt Agnes never married because her first beau died in the First World War and she left the second love of her life behind on the mission field in Africa, when malaria forced her to return to Canada. One year after Christmas I asked her what she had done for Christmas and was crushed to hear that she had spent it alone. I had imagined that she would be in demand at many Christmas tables. I vowed that as long as she lived she would never spend another alone.

Eventually the children, Paul and Aunt Agnes would arrive back from church and sometimes Paul's family would join us too. By this time the children would be getting phone calls from their friends, asking what they got for Christmas. "We don't know yet!" they would say, to the disbelief of their friends.

We didn't intentionally spread the day out like this but there was just so much to be done! Eventually all the presents were opened and dinner was served. The best of all times came then, when the afternoon twilight would deepen and the Christmas lights would twinkle in each room. Boxes of chocolates were opened and snacks laid out; turkey sandwiches made for the evening meal, and a happy quietness settled over all of us in the house. Sated and tired we snoozed intermittently and had another chocolate or two, grateful for the blessings of Christmas.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Your Kingdom Come

By Belinda

I passed these signs on a walk last week. The one on the ground says, "Maximum 50 Begins." It looks as though someone uprooted it and planted the new sign beside it saying, "Maximum 40." When I posted it on my photo blog last week and asked for ideas for captions, a blog friend suggested, "Slowing down." It seemed a perfect caption and analogy for my current goal in life!

Yesterday I had a vacation day at home and mid morning, after putting on some laundry and putting away the dishes from cell group the night before, I found a portion of leftover apple crumble in the fridge, warmed it up in the microwave, poured a steaming cup of black coffee and took them both into the next room where I planned to read, reflect and pray for a while.

There had been a snow fall during the night and the light of the sun shining dazzlingly in a clear blue sky, reflected from the snow into the room so brightly that I adjusted the horizontal blinds to a more gentle light. I opened the footstool in which I keep my bible, books, pens and reading glasses and took them out, managing to knock my coffee cup and spill some drops of coffee on the carpet in the process. I dropped tissues onto the dark spots and stood on them absorbing the coffee quickly, then, sitting down with the apple crumble, I began to read at the same time as lifting a spoonful of the crumble to my lips. As a piece of apple fell from the spoon onto the carpet, I recognized that paradoxically, I was multi-tasking during my "quiet time." There was no rush to do any of these things, nor any good reason to do more than one thing at a time.

I decided to stop and savour each thing individually instead of trying to do so many things at once. So I sat in the chair by the window and enjoyed the beautiful view, while relishing the flavour and texture of each morsel of the apple crisp. It was delicious.

The book we've been reading in cell group, Sabbath by Wayne Muller, has ideas at the end of each chapter for practice. The one at the end of the chapter I read that morning said to:

Slow your pace, interrupt your speed. Notice how willing you are to be stopped. Notice how it feels when you are.

In The Daily Office, I read a reflection, line by line, on the Lord's Prayer. The line that leaped out was, Your Kingdom Come. Peter Scazzero writes:

Lord, may your kingdom come, not mine, nor anyone else's! And may it come first in me and then to those around me. I open up every area of my life to your rule and activity. Father, help me see the mustard seeds of your kingdom all around me. Teach me to wait patiently for you.

Yes, may it be!

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Gift

posted by Susan

I didn't think I would miss him this much. It's my first Christmas without my dad. But Christmas pulls feeling out of you like no other season of the year, and I'm findig myself thinking aobut him a lot.

My love for Dad came late in life. Well, actually it was early and late. With a huge gap in between. When I was little, I had a relationship with him that was very special. The year before I started school, my mom started an office job to support the family. Dad, in poor health, stayed home and supported me. Perhaps, in retrospect, we supported each other. I think now his having to care for me must have been a grounding for him somehow through those turbulent months. I remember visiting the Unemployment Insurance office in Windsor, where there always seemed to be someone who thought my name was "Blondie". I hated that! Then, after stopping for lunch at Grandma Charlotte's - salmon sandwiches and glasses of milk - we would head the few blocks down University Avenue to the Capitol Theatre where Dad would watch the John Wayne matinee while I curled up to nap in the seat next to him. I remember him parting the weeds in one of the deep ditches along the railway track on our way home, and his clear admonishemnts not to touch the nest or the three brown-speckled eggs lying there, or the mother wouldn't return to look after her babies.

There was asparagus picking along the roadsides in early spring, and skating on Devil's Crick in winter. And learning to waltz by standing on his stockinged feet as he danced around the newly polished hardwood floor in the living room. They were golden years.

Then something happened. I'm not sure what. Maybe it was my carefree attitude which resulted in what was most consternating behaviour to most of the adults in my life. Maybe it was the broken pride Dad felt for not being able to support his family. Maybe it was something that can't ever be pinpointed or explained. But something changed.

I became a mystery to Dad. Someone he couldn't understand, much less control. Someone who scared the heck out of him when he thought of how I might turn out. And he became a total jerk to me.

It would be half a century later before this daughter's heart was turned back toward her father, though I'm not sure the father's heart was ever really turned away from me. It was only my perception, I believe now. Perception. How the enemy can twist and use that tool!

I will ever be grateful to Belinda for sharing her journey with her own dad - for giving me hope - for kindling the smalled flicker of desire to see my relationship with my own dad restored. And to my sister Brenda, who modeled for me what a powerful tool in God's hands is "gratitude", especially when mixed with even just a little bit of grace in the way of understanding, acceptance and forgiveness.

Through a series of God-ordained events and many, many, small, incremental changes in my attitude, God began to melt my icy heart and I came to see my dad as the man my mother fell in love with and chose as the father of her children. I began to see my dad through eyes of understanding catastropic events in his childhood and youth, and to appreciate that he very much loved me, it was just that he said so in a lnaguage I had never been able to understand before. But I do now. Thank God for that.

Yeah, I miss my dad this Christmas. I miss him like crazy and I can't wait to see him again. When I think of how I felt just five or six years ago, I know that what happened in my heart was nothing short of a miracle. A miracle he and mom, I strongly suspect, are celebrating together this Christmas. It's their first one in heaven and though I'm sure through all their problems they somehow continued to see heart-to-heart, it's probably their first one ever seeing eye-to-eye. (Smile.)

So I miss my dad, but as I think about the restoration of our relationship, I don't need another single present under the tree this Christmas. Dad's not here where we can see him, but his love still warms my heart. And there he'll always be... What a gift.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What Do I Know?

Our 7th annual Big Christmas Party exceeded anticipated levels of joy, fun, Christmas spirit, laughter and delicious food. It was as if the Ghost of Christmas Present had set up camp in that church hall for the evening, with all the mirth and merriment he could muster.

The hundred people at the party were a mixture of people with disabilities and their support staff. They came ready to celebrate, eat, and sing Christmas carols and it didn't matter one bit if the key was right or wrong. Christmas crackers banged and made us jump as they popped open and the treasures fell out. Some people even put on the crazy red and yellow tissue paper crowns.

This party is like a big family reunion where you get to see more of your favourite people at one time than any other in the year.

Eventually we were spent! People gathered up belongings and the small gifts they had won in the Christmas craft contest, and headed out into the dark winter night where vans were warming up ready to head home to various parts of two counties with shouts of "Goodbye!" and, " Merry Christmas!"

But in an atmosphere of celebration, loss is more keenly felt and one person leaned into me sadly as he left and said, in a low voice that had a catch in it, that he was missing his mother very much. I transitioned from celebration to empathy and in word and gentle touch, tried to convey understanding and sympathy. That was when a pint sized friend of his with hearing aids in both ears and a glorious mane of long auburn hair arrived on the scene.

She spoke with the slightly unclear speech of one hearing impaired from birth but there was no misunderstanding what she had to say. She sized up the situation quickly and, like one of the original angels proclaiming the news of that first Christmas. she said, "What? Don't you know that they celebrate Christmas in heaven? They're probably celebrating right now!"

My sad friend's expression brightened, "No-one told me that before," he said,"I didn't know that."

"Yes," said Miss Messenger of Good News, "I bet they even have turkey. Use your imagination!"

The gloom dispelled--they were on their way--what do I know?!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Christmas Communion

Luke 22:19 (New Living Translation)

19 He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.”

It was the second Sunday in Advent but the first Sunday of the month, so as we do in our church on the first Sunday, we prepared to share communion.

As the familiar words were read, "This is my body..." they took on special significance because this is a time of year when we think of his incarnation--his birth.

Once done, this thing, this planting of God in humanity, there was no turning back, no way out but through the pain and agony of a sacrificial death.

"This is my body..." Did they realize what it meant when he said that? Do we?

The familiar manger scene depicts that precious body in babyhood; vulnerable, as it would remain to the end; a gift given by choice, for us.

Philippians 2:6-8 (New Living Translation)

6 Though he was God,[a]
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges[b];
he took the humble position of a slave[c]
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,[d]
8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

A Gift Divine,
A Gift sublime,
And he is mine...

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Sabbath Psalm

Psalm 23 (Amplified Bible)

Psalm 23
A Psalm of David.
1THE LORD is my Shepherd [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall not lack.
2He makes me lie down in [fresh, tender] green pastures; He leads me beside the still and restful waters.

3He refreshes and restores my life (my self); He leads me in the paths of righteousness [uprightness and right standing with Him--not for my earning it, but] for His name's sake.

4Yes, though I walk through the [deep, sunless] valley of the shadow of death, I will fear or dread no evil, for You are with me; Your rod [to protect] and Your staff [to guide], they comfort me.

5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my [brimming] cup runs over.

6Surely (or only) goodness, mercy, and unfailing love shall follow me all the days of my life, and through the length of my days the house of the Lord [and His presence] shall be my dwelling place.

Pastor Dave announced his text: Psalm 23; but as he read, his voice faded from my consciousness and I was deep in reflection as I began to draw connections from this beautiful psalm, to the practice of Sabbath.

The psalm starts by declaring who we belong to--the Lord--and stating that we shall lack nothing. Lately I have been seeing a connection between God's instruction to give the portion of our income that he asks and his command to rest for one day a week. I think the connection is that both require that we enter into a trust relationship with him. If I do both, will there be enough time and financial resources for my needs? Psalm 23, verse one clearly says:

1THE LORD is my Shepherd [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall not lack.

In Malachi, God puts it plainly, that not giving is to rob him, but we are also really robbing ourselves:

Malachi 3:10 (New International Version)
10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

What his Word says is that if I discipline myself (in other words be a true disciple) and do as he says in the area of rest and money, his resources of spiritual, physical and material provision will be released in my life in abundance.

2He makes me lie down in [fresh, tender] green pastures; He leads me beside the still and restful waters.

3He refreshes and restores my life (my self);

5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my [brimming] cup runs over.

(The overflow of our relationship with him will bless others!)

6Surely (or only) goodness, mercy, and unfailing love shall follow me all the days of my life, and through the length of my days the house of the Lord [and His presence] shall be my dwelling place.

The hallmarks of God--goodness, mercy and love, will follow us; we will leave them in our wake--and what a promise, that his very presence will be our dwelling place.

With incremental steps of obedience, he releases incremental provision and blessings. Is that not exciting?

Monday, December 07, 2009

There is No Place Like Home

By Belinda

This is the house on Second Street; now Bayview Avenue, between Newmarket and Aurora, to which we moved on July 31, 1974. The drawing was done by Al Calverly, a social worker at Pine Ridge, for an article I wrote about the home in 1981 for the Pine Ridge News. By then it was known as Maplewood Lodge.

I spent the month before we moved, preparing to cook for 15 on a daily basis. I visited the ministry of agriculture office and picked up wads of booklets full of recipes. I still have some of them. I loved cooking, but this would be COOKING! A family at our church ran a Home for Special Care (a boarding home associated with the ministry of health) in Newmarket, and they offered to help with the meals for the first day. They gave me useful tips like where to shop in bulk.

We also met the couple we would be replacing as "house parents" for the group of ten men with developmental disabilities. They were an older couple, although I am sure they were no older than we are now. They were moving to another town to run a Home for Special Care.

They told us the routines and said about the men, "You'll find that they will be quite compliant for the most part. They were used to doing what they were told in the institution." I shuddered at those words, which I never forgot, but said nothing, I was learning, and would retain what was useful and right, discarding what was not.

The couple had a two dogs. One, named Brandy, was a big old white bulldog; slow, blind and used to the place, so they said they would like to leave him behind. We said, "Okay."

Brandy didn't stay long because he jumped through the screen door during a thunderstorm the first week we were there and his old owners thought better of leaving him behind.

The house was really two houses. The old farm house, which was probably over a hundred years old, which is seen from the front in Al's drawing, faced the road. Another house built on the back, faced the fields.

We rented the house from the York Regional Police Association who had bought it and a large acreage as an investment, from the Stevens family who were the original owners. The Stevens family were descended from United Empire Loyalists who had been granted the land two hundred years previously, having moved to Canada from the United States after the American Revolution.

It was the Stevens family who lay in the pioneer burial ground in the orchard, although then there was just one complete headstone, for Shadrach and Elizabeth Stevens. Far out in the field, at the back of the house, by the curving bank of the creek that ran through it, was another memorial stone, with the names: Daniel and Lydia Stevens. Why the stone was there is a mystery. I always wondered whether they were buried out there in a place that was special to them. In any case, in later years, when the land was filled with huge houses and the fields and creek were no more, the headstone joined the rest of the family in the orchard. The cemetery is still there, but now surrounded by a black wrought iron fence.

One day, after we had been there for several years, on a gray, misty day, there was a knock at the door and a sombre looking man stood at the door in a raincoat, carrying a briefcase. He handed me a card which identified him as a government cemetery inspector. I was surprised that such a person existed, but he told me that his job was to inspect pioneer burial grounds and make sure that they were being properly maintained. He also told me that there were 32 people buried in ours!

The ten men: Sam, John,, Ivan, Gerald, Jack, Bill, Joe, Stan, Abe and Jim, lived in the original farm house, and we lived in the house at the back. Both houses were connected by a dark stained wooden french door with frosted glass panes.

Neither house was well insulated and they were heated by an oil furnace in the cellar of the farmhouse. A big truck would come and fill up the oil tank that stood outside the house. Because the houses were surrounded by tall, shady trees, and because there were windows facing in all directions that could be opened, we all felt reasonably comfortable in summer, but in the winter it was chilly and we would hear loud bangs and cracks as the house responded to the deep cold. The pipes would frequently freeze and the plumbing to the septic system was primitive and ineffective. Paul spent many hours down below the floor boards, heating pipes, or outside digging and dealing with the septic system blockages. Now, the house would never pass a safety inspection as it was most definitely a fire hazard, but in those days it passed the regulations that were required. We just had to have fire extinguishers strategically placed.

The house stood on two acres of land dotted with trees and flowering shrubs. . There were lilac bushes that surrounded a big vegetable garden close to the apple orchard. Each May I would pick the rhubarb and inhale the fragrance of the lilac. Pink, creamy white and deep burgundy peonies were planted along the south east side of the house and bloomed every June.When we eventually moved, we dug up a couple of the peonies to take with us to our new home; a reminder of such happy years there.

The men we had moved in with were quite independent, and several of them later moved on to live in their own apartments as the home was meant to be a stepping stone. As John, Sam, Jim, Gerald, Ivan and Jack eventually moved, they were replaced by Wesley, Fred, Percy, Rodney, another John, and Tom. Then George and Mervin came to stay on an emergency basis and didn't leave, so the number of men grew to 12.

Our first night there, at about 8.30, we heard a rustling sound in the kitchen. We investigated and found several mice busily running over the countertops as though they owned the kitchen! Over the next few days we waged war on the mice and caught 25 of the critters in traps. We hated to do it, but had no choice. Thereafter we managed to keep them at bay with the help of Buffy the cat.

On my first morning as Mother of Many, I found that I had ten tutors to help me with what I didn't know, which was a lot. I had only to ask and they showed me the ropes. We were off and running...

This photograph is of Paul (with his back to the camera) writing out cheques with the men, which he did weekly, based on what they wanted to take out of their bank accounts.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Breaking Barriers

By Belinda

This week has been full of parties to celebrate Christmas starting with the church international pot luck on Sunday.

On Friday a group of co-workers and friends gathered at our home for our team's Christmas tradition--a dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding rounded out by contributions of vegetables, salads and desserts from every one. It was relaxing and simple; the house was fragrant with the scent of hot mulled cider and roasting meat.

Lunch ended with us reading a story out loud from Stuart MacLean's Vinyl cafe; passing the book around the table and reading a paragraph each to the sound of snorts of laughter and much wiping of eyes with tissues!

Finally, after an attempt at cleaning up, we sat back in the comfortable chairs in the big back room and talked. The conversation drifted to technology and Frank suggested that I might want to get some wires (I'm sure they have a more specific name)in order to play things from my laptop on the T.V.

"Hey, then I could watch a DVD when Paul's not here to put it on," I said, thinking that I could play it from my laptop.

Frank sat up, "But Belinda you have a DVD player," he said.

I explained the problem of the five incomprehensible remotes and said it wasn't a big deal to me that I couldn't use our own TV unless Paul is around. There is so much else to do.

But Frank was determined, "Belinda, you can do this, come on, I'll show you."

"Frank, it won't work," I said equally adamantly. I had a complete mental barrier set up based on previous attempts; but Frank persisted.

Still sure that I couldn't do it, I followed him into the T.V. room. I took a little pad with me to take notes. On the pad I wrote:

Upper right satellite--turn on.
Turn power on T.V.
Sony silver remote push T.V. video button and select "Video 5," below round green button.
Turn Pioneer DVD player on.
JVC machine push button third from left. If the power switch is red it is on standby--turn on.
Use black Pioneer remote for selection from menu.

Frank ran through the process; turned everything off, sat back, and with the air of one that has taught well, had me do it myself a couple of times while he watched.

Referring to my notes for each step, I did it! No one could have been more amazed than I was when it worked and the DVD about Albert Einstein that I borrowed from the library last week played. Paul is away for a few days and watching the DVD wasn't an option until now, except on my laptop. Now it is! Yeay! Thank you, Frank!

The tectonic plates in Brendaland shifted last weekend; those in Belindaland were shifting on Friday.
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Friday, December 04, 2009

The Logic of a Seven-Year-Old

posted by Susan

Matthew is 7, and cute as a button. He transferred from a Christian school to the public system this year, due to financial constraints. If you'd been a fly on the wall at my daughter's house next door, this is the conversation between him and his mom which you would have overheard yesterday:

"Mom, the kids at this school are stupid."


"They don't know ANYTHING..."

"What do you mean, Matthew?" (The discussion about whether it is okay to call anyone "stupid" was reserved for later. Right now Beth was interested in drawing out his feelings.)

"They believe in Santa Claus," he answered, "and they believe in the Easter bunny," (at this point, incredulous, he screwed up his face and tilted his head a little to the side) "but they don't believe in God."

I'm so glad that at seven his spiritual eyes have already been opened and he can identify some of the ironies of the culture around him.

Out of the mouths of babes...

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Advent Contemplation

By Belinda

I listened to the missionary on furlough from Africa. Once we sent men and women there, bearing Good News--a gospel that frees. Now we need that gospel again; proclaimed with soul disturbing power, so that we fall to our knees in recognition that we have far to go in our journey yet.

"Are you busy running here and there and missing the person God wants you to connect with?" he asked.

He spoke of wrong priorities and inflexible schedules. I put up my hand in my heart.

My mind wandered to our family's trip to the movies a couple of weeks ago to see Jim Carey's version of A Christmas Carol--in 3D.

Brenda had taken the girls the previous week and although they were mightily scared by Marley's ghost and the spirits of Christmas, they loved the movie and they wanted to go again and take their grandparents with them. At first I said regretfully that I couldn't afford an evening out, I had so much to do. But when I heard that they were going to the 5 o'clock show and I could still be home for the evening, I happily joined the party.

So that morning we planned the logistics. We would all go in Paul's car, which is the roomiest, and they would pick me up at my office at 4.30.

Later that day, Paul arrived to get me, slightly late and with an empty car. He was a bit frazzled because just as he was leaving, Sue had arrived to do some painting--with our other 4 grandchildren--and he had set up a movie for them to watch until Peter dropped by on his way home from work to pick them up.

He told me that Brenda had something to do in town and would be meeting us at the movie theatre.

Paul and Brenda are two of a kind when it comes to punctuality. Both of them hate being late, so we got to the theatre fast and arrived with just enough time to buy tickets and popcorn before the show.

Paul parked at the back, and as we entered the massive Silver City cineplex movie theatre, I spotted Brenda, in her pink, fur trimmed parka, with her back turned to us. She was looking out for us through the front doors.

She turned around as I called her name, her eyes widened, and in confusion, she and Paul shouted at each other, "Where are the girls!?"

The wires had somehow got crossed--each thought the other was bringing them. The girls were at home alone.

I called home, and Sue answered. "Sue, can you go and see if the girls are downstairs?" I said.

She came back a moment later and confirmed that they were and I said, "Tell them that Grandad is on his way to get them."

Paul was already running for the doors.

Brenda and I bought tickets and popcorn and had a coffee while we waited for the rest of the family--and the 5.30 show.

How ironic and funny that we all forgot the most important thing that night--the kids.

I thought of the babe in a simple manger, born into a world of turmoil and darkness, and he so easily forgotten in the madness that descends at Christmas.

He came to bring us peace.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Sweet Simplicity

By Belinda

John 12:26 (New International Version)
26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

In much of my pursuit of God I have failed to consistently maintain the intimacy of relationship that is implicit in the notion that I am following him.

I know that have only skimmed all that there is to enjoy in him.

How can I know where God is, unless still before him, ready to hear his voice?

Matthew 11:29 (New International Version)
29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

This verse has become more real to me as I have made the choice to live more simply. When I hear God's voice I want to be able to respond, instead of being so scheduled and busy that I have no spare room for his commission.

As I move closer to this goal (I am far from there yet,) I am finding that his burden is light and my soul is more and more at rest.

Isaiah 26:13 (New International Version)

13 O LORD, our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us,
but your name alone do we honor.

"Other lords" have ruled over me: the lords of recognition; affirmation; greed; desire for prominence and achievement, to name a few. I have been their slave and they my masters.

Psalm 119:32 (New International Version)

32 I run in the path of your commands,
for you have set my heart free.

But he is setting this slow student's heart free; teaching me the connection between a life of simplicity and room for God; showing me how practicing Sabbath as a choice leads to joyful obedience to the other teachings of Christ: Unselfishness, humility, servant hood and prayer.

1 Timothy 3:16 a (New International Version)
16Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:...

Our faith is full of mysterious connections spiritually. One step in a direction and everything shifts...

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Tectonic Shift

By Belinda

The countries of Belindaland and Brendaland border on one another, but they are as different as Holland is from Germany. Holland and Germany are two perfectly wonderful countries individually, but different; although, as with Belindaland and Brendaland, their proximity to one another makes their distinctness quite remarkable.

Belindaland is a very placid place with pockets of hilarity. Its climate is mostly sunny and its inhabitants are generally pervaded with a sense that they are well loved and cherished. The population is known for its extreme fondness for apple pie, chocolate zucchini bread and pumpkin nut loaves with occasional cravings for shepherd's pie.

Brendaland's population is animated, gregarious and highly social. They are noted for the perfection of their manicures and pedicures and tattoos in concealed places. They eat out a lot at The Keg and ritualistically engage in the sports of squash and baseball.

This past weekend, through an unusual and rare shift in the tectonic plates of the earth, the borders converged briefly and temporarily, thus throwing the inhabitants of the borderlands into confusion and disorientation.

The first hint of something strange afoot began on Friday, when Brenda, expecting a normal weekend, went to work at her part time job at the church where she is the secretary.

The Christmas International Pot Luck lunch was on Sunday and Brenda had been calling people for several weeks to see what each person was bringing to the lunch. People had been slow to commit to their actual contributions and she was already worried about the quantity of food, but her job would be done when she went home at lunchtime.

But then Pastor arrived and announced that Johanna, who was in charge of the kitchen, had moved house that week, and therefore would not be in the kitchen this Sunday, and Brenda was crowned Queen of the Church Kitchen.

This was when Brendaland began to implode. Brendaland and Kitchenland are very far apart. She also knew that Johanna had not got up on Monday morning of that week and decided to move on a whim. This thing had been known for a while, but the Pastor had held the information close to his chest, or perhaps in a remote cranny at the back of his mind, until the kitchen was unavoidably no longer a future issue to resolve but a present crisis with a hundred hungry mouths depending upon its resolution; and, handily, he passed the crisis over to Brenda.

On Saturday morning, Brenda visited for her usual Saturday morning cup of coffee. She didn't mention anything about the kitchen crisis, but she did confide a worry about heart palpitations.

In the afternoon, Brenda, who would normally be out playing squash at that time, was hard at work painting the trim in her girls' bedroom. She'd been working hard on the bedroom for weeks, after work; not a favourite activity, but it was almost done. I was just about to leave to go shopping when I thought I heard a bump and a muffled cry downstairs. I didn't hear anything more, but went down anyway, just in case...

Brenda had fallen off her ladder--it must have been during a shift in the tectonic plates--and the paint had spilled all over the new cherry laminate floor. She was on her hands and knees, scrubbing while sobbing, surrounded by a sea of white paint.

"Don't worry," I said, in my best ultra-calm voice, quickly mustering paper towels a mop and clean water, "It's going to be all right." And, about ten minutes later, it was.

It wasn't until Sunday morning as I was getting ready to leave for worship practice with my 3 apple pies and vegetable lasagne for the lunch that I heard the unbelievable news that our Brenda was in charge of the kitchen. This was a mismatch of the highest degree! Brenda, our Un-Domestic Goddess was about to be initiated--and at a dinner for the whole church--a dinner at which she was not sure there would be enough food and where she had no idea who would be there to help--except for our trusty friend Susan, who had mercifully said she would be there for her.

When Pastor arrived at church that morning, in sanguine mood, he was met by some unhappy young ladies. The mantle of the church kitchen seemed to have slipped, however reluctantly, to the next generation.

Between worship practice and morning service, and during the offering, I popped down, and gratefully saw people gathering in the kitchen to help. When the service was over and we all lined up to go downstairs, we found tables lined with steaming slow cookers full of all manner of delicious specialities. There was curried chicken; Boston browned beans; lasagne; spicy noodles; rice; macaroni salad; carrots; Brussels sprouts; corn; roast beef and turkey--more than we could possibly eat in fact. And an equally vast quantity of desserts stood on a side table.

After the lunch, her equilibrium returning, Brenda glanced over at our guest speaker, a missionary, Rev. Ken McGowan. Noticing that he was sitting alone at his table, she said, grabbing her coffee, "I'm going to go over and chat with Ken." I saw her slip easily into witty banter, putting him instantly at ease.

"Ah," I thought, "The plates must be shifting back to their normal position."

Not, however, before Brenda spent an hour and a half at the kitchen sink with her impeccably manicured nails in water, insisting on washing all the casserole dishes in which people had brought their food.

"You'll have dishpan hands," said Ann.

"It's too late," said Brenda ruefully, holding up her shrivelled extremities with a smile.

Sue, Johanna and Brenda at the church pot luck (note slight vestiges of dissipating tension in Brenda's normally carefree expression. )

Monday, November 30, 2009

A New Adventure Begins

By Belinda

It was no way to buy a house; in the dark. "Do not do it," I would say to anyone else, but we did. I suppose it was following a trend in our lives really; the trend of leaping first and looking later. Of course we always felt, as we leapt, that it was all part of God's plan, so it wasn't entirely as foolish as it sounds.

We saw the house once, in the evening, and the price and location were right, so we put in an offer conditional on the sale of our house in Tottenham. I really hoped that the house in Tottenham would not sell and thus prove that God wanted us to stay there, but alas, it sold immediately; for the asking price.

So we found ourselves, in February of 1974, with the help of friends and family, packing up our belongings and moving.

The house in Newmarket was built on a ravine lot. The basement had a walkout to the back yard, which overlooked waste land at the back. It was on the edge of Newmarket on a quiet street, and I know it sounds ungrateful but I hated the house the second time I saw it--which was the day we moved in.

I never felt as if it was really our "home," which was why, when Paul asked his question a couple of months after we moved in, I was ready to actually consider it.

He wanted to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities but he had been working in an institution for just over 2 years and he was up against huge barriers. Trying to make even small changes to a system felt impossible from his vantage point.

A couple had been living as house parents for a group of ten men with disabilities, in a home associated with the institution. They were leaving, and there was a search in process for another couple to take over at the end of July...Yes, you can perhaps guess Paul's question.

All that I knew about his work was what I had learned through listening, and helping him with his studies, and having house guests from the institution for weekends sometimes. I had gone to an open house there once and had been overwhelmed by a sea of hands reaching out to shake mine, hungry: for contact, connection, attention, touch.

Paul intended to keep working at the institution, but he wanted to move in with the men, who all had day programs during the week days. I would just have to do the cooking, he said, and of course, the laundry.

Only because I would have done almost anything to move out of the house we were in, I said, "Let's go and see."

It was at the beginning of June that we drove down the dirt road flanked by farms that ran between the towns of Newmarket and Aurora. There, off the road, at the end of a tree lined driveway, stood a rambling, white clapboard house, surrounded by fields and shaded by trees. Near to the road on one corner of the two acres it stood on, was an orchard and under some apple trees I noticed headstones--a pioneer cemetery. The wind blew through the tree tops and across the wildflowers in the fields and it whispered peace and welcome. I knew that we were meant to be there.

We went to England for a vacation that June and told everyone what we planned to do. At the time we were thinking of doing this for a couple of years.

When I think back to it now, such a lot had to happen in a very short time. We had only just moved into our new house, but we found a friend to rent it from us. I had an interview with the social work department at the institution and I must have passed. We went to England, came back, got ready to move again and ready for a family expansion from 5 (Paul's sister Sheila was living with us at the time) to 15. I was 24 and Paul, 27; Peter was 4 and Brenda was 2.

How mysterious and wonderful are the ways by which God works out his purposes in our lives; even stirring a nest he want a person to leave by making it ill fitting and uncomfortable.

And those two years? They stretched to ten, and I think that we would never have moved then, if the institution overseeing the home had not closed; God again stirring the nest when it was time to leave--but I am getting ahead of myself. Stay tuned for the next installment of the adventure of our lives next Monday.