Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Life to the Full

John 10:10 (New International Version)
10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Life "to the full." There are different thoughts on what that means. There is a tension, always, in scripture, that keeps things in balance, like the guy ropes that secure a tent to the ground.

I was talking to a young friend recently and he said to me, "I believe God wants to heal all sickness and that we are all to live an abundant life." I hesitated to reply, but he had the look of blind faith of a scary sort and I just had to say something or by my silence assent to what he said.

So I gently plunged in with another perspective, not meaning to discourage, but to broaden his thoughts.

"If that is true," I asked, "How do you explain the suffering of people such as the apostle Paul? Or my father in law, who died of cancer at the age of 62, having faithfully ministered the Word of God all of his adult life?"

"And," I went on, "Why do we think of death as such a bad thing? Surely to be with the Lord is a wonderful thing?"

I believe with all my heart that God wants us to live a life that is "to the full," but I would rather leave the definition of that to him. I believe that the thing that "the thief" comes to steal and destroy is relationship--intimacy--with God and with each other. Perhaps that is why there is a clear message throughout scripture that God hates those who sow discord among brothers.

In suffering we may discover an intimacy with God that we would never know on the sunny mountaintop. If we always run from pain we may miss the growth that results from having to flex our spiritual muscles.

"Life to the full" makes me think of strength; maturity; depth of wisdom and a seasoning that comes from being tried and found true.

His eyes clouded momentarily as I spoke. It was not the response he had expected, but he considered my words and nodded. I pray that he goes deeper. We serve and follow One familiar with suffering.

Acts 14:21-22 (New International Version)
21They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God," they said.

Romans 5:3-5 (New International Version)
3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Fool's Gold

2 Corinthians 4:18 (New International Version)
18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Curled up beneath a cosy blanket in a wing-backed chair, in the early morning, I listened to the waves of rain pelting the windows and roof, while meditating on the beauty and perfection of God, who made this earth and incredible universe.

I thought of how he demonstrated his love for us in servanthood, sacrifice and humility.

I thanked God that today I am here. Hard though it is for me to imagine, there was a time when I wasn't, and there will be a time when I am not any longer.

Today though, I am here, and I treasure being alive, enjoying all that he has made and ready to be what and whom he planned that I should be.

One night recently, I held Mum's hand and said, "This life is not what it's all about really, is it?" We were so aware in those moments of spiritual intimacy, of the transience of life. We understood that this is just a training ground for something more; so much more than we can imagine.

When I am no longer here, I only pray that I have been fully present in all the ways he intended: as mother, daughter, wife and friend, and in the other roles he calls me to.

I pray that I found and filled, the place uniquely fitted for me. I pray that I did not miss too many of the things he meant for me to do, due to being distracted by the dazzle of fool's gold.

Psalm 39:6 (New International Version)
6 Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro:
He bustles about, but only in vain;
he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it.

Colossians 3:2 (New International Version)
2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things

Matthew 6:19-21 (New International Version)
Treasures in Heaven
19"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Just Saturday

The Saturday afternoon fresh air and sunshine beckoned irresistably, and as soon as I could, I put on my walking shoes, stocked my pockets with biodegradable bags for clean ups on the way, and tried to find a dog that wanted to go for a walk. I didn't have to look far!

Ever since returning from England late on Tuesday evening, I have been adjusting to a world that is still just emerging from winter, having left behind spring in full swing. The grass there was green, but here in Ontario the fields and lawns are still the colour of corn husks, the green still hiding in the roots of the golden grass.

Molson trotted beside me with a spring in his paws, so happy to be outside. Eager brown eyes glanced up at me now and again, while his pink tongue lolled from the side of his smiling mouth.

My Walkman was playing some of my favourite north African music--a CD titled, From Cairo to Casablanca--and while an observer would have seen a tall woman, striding along, long blond hair streaming behind her in the breeze, the sensual, exotic rhythm of Arabic music was pulsing in her ears, and as she waited for her dog to finish sniffing a particularly delicious patch of ground, she was swaying and her foot was tapping to the music only she could hear.

Close to home I let Molson off his leash for the last short distance, while he waited to take his folded leash in his mouth. He proudly carried it, his tail cutting wide, happy swathes; a golden brush, sweeping from side to side.

A day of simple, ordinary things: laundry, shopping, sorting out our tax information, chatting with friends and family on the phone, a movie at home with Paul--and a walk with a good friend with a pink nose.

A day of gratitude for God's goodness and many blessings.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fires in our Inmost Being

I am pondering a lot on pain and grief these days, as I witness the pain of others, whether celebrities or friends, or try to cope with my own. Pain and grief come in many forms, and for the most part are usually unbearable or hard to comprehend. We know so well of those who turn away from God because of the sorrow that has come upon them. And we can all mouth the plain and obvious truth that it is by far the better thing to turn to God in our pain, and grow closer to Him because of it.

Some schools of Christian thought would say that the abundant life should be one where we are able to live without pain. Much confusion has come from such thinking, I believe, for pain is a great motivator and teacher. But we must all be wary of not becoming bitter in our pain, or tempted to despair. And how often we know of how hard it is to console others, and also ourselves, with God's incomparable truth when they are in the midst of the fire.

In my pain this week I have turned again to timeless words quoted in Streams in the Desert:

God often has to burn His lessons into the depths of our being by the fires of protracted pain.

Physical force is stored in the bowels of the earth, in the coal mines, which came from the fiery heat that burned up great forests in ancient ages; and so spiritual force is stored in the depths of our being, through the very pain which we cannot understand.

Like Joseph, let us be more careful to learn all the lessons in the school of sorrow than we are anxious for the hour of deliverance.(March 22/23)

I and we must trust that the fire of pain burning within will become a fire of passion and compassion which will give life and warmth to others in days to come. I and we must choose to lay down our need to know why things happen the way they do, and build upon our trust in God's mercy and grace, and His capacity to work all things together for good.

More than that, we must trust that, like Joseph, in whom were planted visions, dreams, prophecies, promises and great abilities, we may, through our suffering, come one day to "possess the land" promised to us by God. The very depths of our pain can build into us the capacity to fulfill all that God has called us to be and do, if we will embrace the way in which the lessons come.

All you can apprehend in the vision of faith is your own.Look as far as you can, for it is all yours. All that you long to be as a Christian, all that you long to do for God, are within the possibilities of faith. ..Accept for yourself all the promises of His Word, all the desires He awakens within you, all the possibilities of what you may be as a follower of Jesus. All the land you see is given to you.
Streams in the Desert (March 26)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Thursday As It Should Be.

It started this morning with an email.

I knew it was Thursday. Cell group night. But Belinda was barely home from England. It was a lot to expect. "It will start next week," I told myself.

But this morning, there was the email. The subject line said, "Tonight", and the email itself read:

Hi Every one,
I am back from England and have supper prepared for anyone who would like to come for a meal and fellowship tonight. I haven't heard yet whether the new books on Emotionally Healthy Spirituality have arrived, but if so, we will commence the study next week. Meanwhile, I hope to see those who can come, tonight!

Oh joy! Cell group tonight!

Sometimes you don't fully realize how much you miss someone until you suddenly find out you are going to see them again very soon. I fired an email back...

"I am so excited about this being Thursday and you being home and supper being on the table for whoever comes... I feel like I'm coming "home" again, after a very long time..."

I arrived a few minutes later than I'd hoped, but I was in a high state of anticipation all day. I pushed the door open and called out, "I'm home!" Brenda (Belinda's daughter) was in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs, and laughed at my strange greeting. Belinda, who knew exactly what I meant, appeared from somewhere behind her with a huge smile on her face.

Before long Paul was arriving, having driven in to Bradford to pick up Neena. Victoria and Tiffany-Amber appeared already in pyjamas and their hair hanging wet and clean. They had hugs for their Omie, whose eyes sparkled as she hugged them back. My Ron came in too, and we were soon all around the table helping ourselves to thick slabs of fresh bread and steaming bowls of mashed potatoes, homemade stew, and vegetables. Yum!

Paul told jokes, bantered with his grandaughters, and talked politics with Ron. Neena brought photocopies of some nutritional information to share. The girls talked about their day at school, Brenda and I about our favourite highlights from Facebook. Belinda encouraged us to have "more". We all sang Happy Birthday to Victoria (who turned 10 yesterday) and to Tiffany-Amber - who missed having her cake last month and then we all helped to demolish their birthday ice cream cake.

After dinner we lingered at the table over coffee and just enjoyed being together. It felt like it had been a very long time. It was Thursday again, and all was as it should be. It was Thursday and we were exactly where we were supposed to be.

Welcome home, Belinda. Welcome home!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Defending the Faith

1 Peter 3:15 (New International Version)
15But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

It is so good to be home--to have slept in my own bed last night.

I got back at about 8.00 p.m. Tuesday evening, although my luggage didn't (someone else took mine home by mistake.) The plane was delayed in take off, and then with my long and fruitless search at the baggage carousel, Paul had been waiting for me for a while when I emerged into the Arrivals area. Then I needed to buy make up as mine was in the suitcase, so he patiently took me to Shopper's Drug Mart on the way home. No worries--the case is on its way back to me as I type this and is promised to arrive by midnight tonight.

The man behind the check in desk in Birmingham at the start of my journey, told me that my connecting flight from Amsterdam was overbooked in Economy, but that there were lots of seats in Business Class, and not to worry. In Amsterdam I was ushered into the lap of luxury. What an unexpected treat. I found my seat next to a very pleasant doctor from Ontario.

We exchanged pleasantries, but then the conversation led in an unexpected direction, to faith, and suddenly we were deep into theology. When he discovered that I was a Christian, he said that of course, I must believe in the New Testament, not the Old. I found myself explaining the purpose of the law and its inadequacy, Christ's sacrifice, leading to the process of sanctification; the dying to Self and gradual transformation into Christ's image. He listened politely, asking questions and sharing his own reading on Buddha, although he was a Hindu by birth and an agnostic by persuasion.

I showed him some verses in my journal that I had been memorizing last year on the character of Christ and the fruits of the Spirit and he read them with appreciation saying that they reminded him of what he had been reading in his book on Buddhism. I tried to explain the difference. The stumbling block was that Christ is "The Way," not "a way." I felt so inadequate. I at least made the point that not everyone who claims to follow Him is representing his teachings accurately and tried to explain why Christians would want to share their faith, rather than accept all religions as ways to God.

Dinner arrived, we ate, we watched movies, read, and worked on our respective laptops, and we chatted about less controversial topics.

As we parted at the end of our journey, we wished each other well as we went on to the next step of our journeys, both knowing that we still had different world views. I thought afterwards of so many things I wished I had said, or said better, and I could only put my hope, the next morning, in God's Word, which says that he uses the things that are weak.

Then Paul and I opened the Daily Light for March 25th, and the scriptures below were in the evening reading. They were a reminder that it is not about the messenger, but the message; and it will do what God purposes it to, in his time.

Isaiah 55:11 (New International Version)
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:

It will not return to me empty,

but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

1 Corinthians 3:7 (New International Version)
7So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

His Hands

The birds were up in Alvechurch and singing lustily at 4.30 a.m., I can attest to it! Perhaps they started even earlier, but that, at least, was when their songs first penetrated my sleepy brain.

I lay in the dark for a while. My alarm was set for 5.00 a.m. and I decided that I could afford a few more minutes to think and to listen. The birds deserved an appreciative audience.

I sent scattered thanksgivings to God, wondering how I could possibly cover everything. There was so much to be grateful for.

So began my day of leaving England on Tuesday.

A short time later, I was dressed and my suitcase closed. I had 30 precious minutes to spend with Mum before Robert took me to Birmingham Airport.

Her room was still in darkness, with the curtains closed, when I gently entered. She was lying there awake already though.

“Oh,” she said, in apparent amazement, “How did you get here?”

We soon sorted out the source of the temporary confusion. Mum thought that I’d left the night before and that our kiss goodnight was my goodbye.

“Oh, dear, isn’t it terrible?” she said, at the thought of her mix up, “All night long I was thinking of you on your journey. I thought that you must be almost home now.”

I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad that she had another goodbye to say. We are both experts in saying goodbye bravely, but in spite of that it is never easy.

The time came at last. “Mum,” I said, “I am putting you in God’s hands now.” Mum nodded, comforted.

“And you can put me in God’s hands too,” I said, to another nod from Mum.

Then a wonderful thought occurred to me. “Hey Mum! We are both in the same pair of hands.”

There was something infinitely, wonderfully comforting and reassuring in that thought.

I have a plaque with a pair of nail pierced hands, outstretched in invitation. I bought it thirty years ago for Tante Corrie, Mum’s eldest sister.

And as she suffered courageously, through a long battle with breast cancer, she said to me often, “I know in whose hands I am.”

I feel that maybe she was close to me this morning, my dear aunt; giving me a special hug from heaven just when I needed it most.

It is the price of being loved, and loving much, this pain in the heart, at parting..

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Final Evening

After a week of mild spring weather, a chill descended over Britain on this, my final day here. All day a gusty wind spun leaves into the air and sprayed us with rain. It didn't dampen my heart one bit though, I just have too much to be grateful for.

Sleep seemed to have infused Mum with fresh energy and she woke up ready to get dressed and get going. Her appetite made its return today and she tackled the basic things she needs to be able to do, and did them. I clapped and cheered each victory!

In the morning I popped over to the Sycamore Club to give her friends the latest news. I knew that they would want to know, they all love her over there. Her 94 year old friend, Trudy, said, "She doesn't say much, but we all miss her," and she gave me one of Mum's favourite magazines--the ones that have wildly bizarre "true life" stories--and a Cadbury's Easter egg filled with mini eggs, which she had won in the weekly raffle, saying, "I know she will like it."

It was such a kind thought, but I gave it to Mum, in its cardboard box, knowing that she wouldn't eat it. She doesn't have a sweet tooth and rarely eats chocolate, and then only dark chocolate. But Robert and I went out to take back some clothes to Marks and Spencers and when we got back, the egg was open and Mum had been eating it. It was as if she wanted to crash through all barriers today.

Dr. Potter visited and left smiling. I said to him, "I imagine this is what you like to see," as he gazed at a very different looking lady than he had seen this time last week.

Tim, one of my two nephews here and whose 15th birthday is on March 24th, came to say goodbye, and finally, I tucked Mum in one last time. I reminded her, before we prayed, that although I was going, the Lord is with her. She said, as if I had reminded her of something she needed to know, "Yes, that is the way it's going to be from now on." As I prayed, she was "with me," quietly agreeing with every word.

Now the house is still, a packed case lies on the floor across the room. Outside the wind has gathered more gusto, literally, and is roaring its way around the village.

Early Tuesday morning I will be on my way home, placing Mum in God's hands, where she has truly been all along.

In my Daily Light for March 24th I have quotes all over the page, relating to Faith. I am afraid I don't know who wrote them originally, but I will share them here and pray that they are a blessing to someone as they have been to me:

FAITH releases the power, provision and promise of God in the present.

HOPE fastens us to the future. It's a nail in the future.

AS we travel down the road, we come to places where there is no bridge and God says, "You're going to have to trust me on this one." Faith moves us out of our comfort zone, into God's,"I can do it," zone. Our faith does not rest in our ability to believe, but in God's ability to bring it to pass.

Romans 4:20-21 (New International Version)
20Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Friendly Visitor

Dido, Mum's friendly visitor, dropped by this morning to check on her!
Posted by Picasa

Paul's Uncle John and cousin Stephen--great friends as well as family. Uncle John, who will be 80 on July 5th, got back from a 3 week preaching tour of India just three weeks ago. He traveled with another, younger man from his church in Worcester by train and plane from the north to the south and spoke to hundreds, and at least once, over a thousand, pastors and lay people.
Posted by Picasa

Mothering Sunday

This September it will be 40 years since I left England as a bride of 19, with Paul, for the fair land of Canada.

Although the years have found Mum and I crossing the Atlantic countless times, to be together; in 40 years, this is the first Mothering Sunday that I have spent with my Mum.

It was a priceless gift to be here for this special day and to spend it lavishing love on Mum--doing my own bit (but not too much) of mothering of her.

Over the past couple of weeks I have told her countless times how much I love her. I have held her hand and sat beside her for hours, happy just to be with her.

Yesterday our prayers were answered and Mum came home by ambulance, two days earlier than originally planned, in response to begging from all of us for no delay. She did not contract any nasty bugs in the hospital and she recieved good care. While she was gone, two new pieces of equipment arrived that will make life easier for her, so she is all set up for now.

Her Helping Hands ladies don't start back until Monday noon, which is not a problem since I am here and happy to be the helping hand.

This morning Mum woke up at 8.30 after sleeping for 13 hours. She was so exhausted from the journey home and the excitement of being here at last. Robert told me that many elderly people fear going into hospital desperately as they are convinced that once in, they will not come out. Sadly that is too often true.

She started the day with a shower--the first in some weeks, during which she has had sponge baths. I took pleasure vicariously in her feeling warm water on skin and feet soaking in several inches in the bottom of the tub while she sat on the shower bench.

Afterwards, warm towels and cream massaged into dry skin, fresh clothes and a walk back into the living room. Her leg muscles have atrophied alarmingly and every step is a step towards strength. Her balance is much better and she is learning to use the new walking frame that came with her from the hospital. It seemed like mastering a skateboard at first--getting the balance, remembering to lean forward. On the first day, it tilted scarily several times and I stood behind her like a catcher in a baseball game, but today she was a pro.

It was hard to watch her struggle. The struggle is necessary for freedom and independence. Oh, how I longed to ease the path, but true helping is not helping until really needed. I guess that's a lesson we learn all through life in many kinds of relationships.

I went shopping for new clothes that will be more functional we hope, and also found some wonderful slippers that come up around the ankles and close with velcro. They will keep her feet warm and steady on the ground. How good it was to be here to do that.

On Monday morning when Mum's energy is still at its highest, we will have the great trying on of clothes so that I can take back the ones that don't fit or don't work.

It is my last day here, and while I wish I had just a few more days, I am so happy with the time I have been privileged to have. It feels like my mission is accomplished and I can go home with peace of mind and heart.

To all who have cared, prayed and been with us on this journey, we send our warmest thanks.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Hope of Heaven

Her eyes were wide and chocolate brown; gentle and vulnerable as a child’s. Soft, white hair framed her face and stood out behind her as if caught in a perpetual breeze. I couldn’t help stealing glances at her as she slept and imagining her young. She would have been beautiful, I thought. Even now the lines of her face were like a beautiful faded old photograph and her softly wrinkled skin was like cream brushed with a dusting of rose petal pink.

Her name was Edith, and when I asked her how old she was she told me, “Ninety nine.” She said that she lived alone but that she had been married for seventy seven years. “He died,” she said, “That was the trouble."

She was slightly built, but amazingly wiry and energetic, and when I first met her, on the same ward as my mum in the hospital, her restlessness and requests for help from nurses, patients and visitors, every five minutes or so, seemed disruptive. She repeatedly got up from her bedside chair to wander out to the hallway, determinedly clanking along on her walking frame, while everyone tried to direct her back to safety.

The first day I met her I wondered how they would get any sleep at night. But her roommates said that the nurses wheeled her bed out into the hallway during the night so that they could make sure she was safe.

The next day when I got to Mum’s floor with Robert, the nurses told us that Mum had been moved to the next ward. “Oh, good, “I said to Robert quietly, “Mum has escaped from Edith.”

I think that God must have been laughing as we rounded the corner into the new ward and found Mum. Edith had moved too, and was in the bed beside her and looking up at with eyes as bright as a sparrow’s. I felt guilty for my comment. She did seem to be more settled than on the first day we met.

Over the course of four days I got to know Edith better, through just being with her and helping her when I could. She became a person, not just someone who disturbed the peace. I felt sorry that she asked so often, “What must I do now?” She seemed to find it hard to just relax.

On the last night Mum was to be in the hospital, I said goodnight to Edith who was already snugly tucked in bed, beneath a heavy warm hand knitted blanket that she said her friend had made for her. Over the bed hung her two brightly coloured dressing gowns. I had helped her put on the red one when she was cold one evening, and was having difficulty matching up both sides because of several missing buttons.

I was sorry to say goodbye, knowing that I would not see her again, so I took her hand, and just to be sure, I asked again, “How old are you Edith?”

“Ninety nine,” she told me, and when I asked when her birthday was, she told me, March 3rd.

I said, “Wow, you will be a hundred then.”

“Yes,” she said, calmly,“If I’m still here.”

“And if you aren’t, where will you be?” I asked.

Edith paused to think for a moment, then said, “Heaven, I hope.”

2 Corinthians 5:1-3 (Today's New International Version)
Awaiting the New Body 1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

"Sometimes there's God so quickly"

These words from Tennesee Williams' play, A Streetcar Named Desire,were quoted in the Toronto Star this week as an epitaph to the life and death of Natasha Richardson, exquisite actress of the Redgrave clan, and beloved wife of the wonderful actor, Liam Neeson. Her sudden and tragic death captured much sadness for my daughters and me, recognizing the beauty of the love in her marriage and the intensity and authenticity with which both she and her husband have acted their screen and stage roles. We are not much given to ogling famous personalities, and we don't watch TV, but we are touched by all kinds of people and I appreciate our profound conversations. We pondered in a similarly honest way about the tragic death of a local high profile person in Muskoka, who died with her daughter when her ATV drove off the ice into open water on a large Muskoka lake at the beginning of March break. I had heard this impressive woman speak, spoken with her once at a women's luncheon, and last sat opposite her and her daughter at a fundraising event for Africa organized by my own daughter. I did not know her personally, but her intense way of working and approaching life attracted my interest. I know nothing of the personal faith of either woman. But what is obvious to all is that they lived their lives with passion and intensity, seeking to demonstrate in their art or their community service, their marriages and their family lives, their desire to love and be loved.

I am sure I am not alone in my continuing interest in love and death and the forms in which they come, their intense expression and their roles in the lives of all I know or hear about. My interest and concern are always about the quality of spiritual and relational life for everyone, in public and private, and whether or not they have lived and died in the knowledge of God's incredible love for them.

I return in my thoughts again this week to meditating on the words I quoted in my post last Saturday, by William Blake:

And we are put on earth a little space
To learn to bear the beams of love

Gerald May, a psychologist and leader,teacher and author in the spiritual formation movement, also quoted these lines in his book, The Awakened Heart. His amplification of them helped me in my pondering the implications of the word bear in this context. He has said what I was beginning to articulate for myself as I searched dictionary meanings and the internet for comments on the phrase 'bearing the beams of love'.

There is a desire within each of us, in the deep center of ourselves that we call our heart. We were born with it, it is never completely satisfied, and it never dies. We are often unaware of it, but it is always awake. It is the human desire for love. Every person on this earth yearns to love, to be loved, to know love. Our true identity, our reason for being, is to be found in this desire.

I think William Blake was right about the purpose of humanity; we are here to learn to bear the beams of love. There are three meanings of bearing love: to endure it, to carry it, and to bring it forth. In the first, we are meant to grow in our capacity to endure love, beauty and pain. In the second, we are meant to carry love and spread it around, as children carry laughter and measles. And in the third we are meant to bring new love into the world, to be bearers of love. This is the threefold nature of our longing.
Gerald May: The Awakened Heart

Well, you may say, it's all fine and dandy to work this out conceptually, but what matters is how we live it. Absolutely. What we really share about on this blog, and what others do in so many ways, is our struggles in living out these eternal, timeless realities. For indeed, "Sometimes there's God so quickly."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Breaking News

Mum got the wonderful news today, that she is coming home tomorrow (March 21st). It was supposed to be Monday, so that all of the paperwork could be in place for her care package, but Robert managed to arrange to break her out sooner.

She is with our friends Chris and Eileen in this photo. Eileen and I first met at 12 years old, when we were in the same class at school. That means we have been friends for, ahem, 47 years!

A Faithful Servant

Wandering the ancient churchyard that surrounds St. Laurence Church in Alvechurch, I read the inscription on an old grave that stands close to the church doors.

I always find myself wondering who the people were and about their stories.

This grave holds five members of the Tibbatts family:
William and Martha, and three daughters: Martha, Sarah and Betsy.

The inscription reads:
In affectionate remembrance of William Tibbatts of the Wasthills Farm, born February 17th 1806, died April 16th 1877
And of Martha, his wife, born June 11th 1819, died March 3rd 1903
In loving memory of
Sarah, second daughter of William and Martha Tibbatts, born September 26th 1853 and died March 26th 1898
Also Martha, eldest daughter of William and Martha Tibbatts, born May 28th 1851, died November 20th 1934
Also Betsy, third daughter of the above, born May 15th 1856, died November 12th 1936

I was surprised to find a sixth person is buried there--someone not a member of the family; a man who was their servant.

This is the inscription:
In loving memory of William Pestridge, born January 1st 1857, died October 13th 1935
For 43 years, faithful servant to the above family.

The grave monument looks prosperous for a farming family. It seems that in a day and age when people in different social classes rigidly kept to their place, William must have been as much family as servant—a very unusual thing.

I wonder about their relationships and this man, who seems to have given his whole life to serve the family. It is no small thing to be honoured as a faithful servant. In fact, I can think of no better way to be remembered .

Matthew 25:21 (New International Version)
21"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Winter’s End

Nahum1:7 (New International Version)
7 The LORD is good,
a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him,

I left the land of Canada emerging slowly and tentatively from the deep, cold winter. Her brown warrior earth carried shields of frozen silver when I saw her last.

I came to England and found the gentle spring had arrived too: blossom, buds and blackbird song; daffodils nodding and daisies gazing up from fine green beds.

A gauzy haze hung over the land today; and quietness, as if the world had paused in its roar of busyness.

A thousand memories still live on the village streets I know so well. The church clock chimes in the Norman bell tower that overlooks the village, as it chimed through the years of my childhood in quarter hours. Time moves more slowly here it seems.

Besides the privilege of being with and serving Mum during a period of illness; the reason for my sudden visit; there has been a time for reflection and quietness. Today she was brighter and had a better appetite and we hope that she will come home very soon, and I am pressing deeper into God.

How true these words of St. John of the Cross are: “Christ is known very little by those who consider themselves his friends." I am getting to know him better.

I brought with me, Thomas a Kempis’s book, Of the Imitation of Christ; a book that has lain on my bookshelf unread for many years. Now that I am reading it I think that I will read it for the rest of my life as part of my Sacred Hour; it is so wonderful. I had no idea who Thomas a Kempis was when I started reading, but I was surprised to discover that he lived the life of a monk and priest over six hundred years ago. The book is a deep, rich well of wisdom and good counsel.

A thought from Thomas for today:
It is good for us that we sometimes have some weariness’s and crosses, for they often call a man back to his own heart; that he may know that he is here in banishment, and may not set his trust in any worldly thing.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Counting Blessings and Continuing Prayers

Psalm 48:9 (New International Version)
9 Within your temple, O God,
we meditate on your unfailing love.

Mum is in hospital being assessed. She seems a little brighter today (Tuesday)but was so happy when we arrived as soon as visiting hours started. She looked so lost, sitting beside her bed in a chair, waiting. I was given permission to stay beyond visiting hours, for which I was so grateful as I had three extra hours with her. Our hope is that she will get the treatment she needs to get better, but the hospital staff are thin on the ground and are very rushed and my worst fear is that her care there might be less. There are horror stories on the news about the hospitals here, and I see first hand how understaffed they are. I mustn't go there, so instead I will focus on the blessings for the past day or so.

I thank God for:

Carers who truly live up to their name; who touch Mum with gentle hands and speak to her in soft tones.

Dr. Potter, who kindly and seriously listened to my “diagnosis” of Mum’s condition (which was wrong,) and then explained several of the signs that he would expect to see (but wasn't) if my diagnosis was correct. I felt respected, treated gently, and heard.

For the cheery paramedics, Sue and Liz, who made the journey to the hospital, and wait there, a pleasure and who felt like friends by the end of a couple of hours.

For Angela, Mum’s assigned nurse in the Medical Assessment Unit, whom I observed for five and a half hours never walking at less than a brisk clip across the ward. She was obviously working extremely hard and over busy, but I was there for Mum and so I interrupted her anyway for things that were needed, and never received anything other than a patient, smiling response under obvious pressure.

For the young doctor who eventually assessed Mum (he might have been 40—everyone looks young to me these days.) When he asked Mum how she was feeling and she did not answer immediately, I explained that Mum would not mind us speaking for her, (Mum‘s standard response to doctors who inquire as to her wellbeing is to brightly and politely say, “I’m very well, thank you.”) The doctor put up his hand to stop us, and insisted on talking first to Mum. He became an instant hero in my eyes. When he drew the curtain around her bed to examine her, we listened as he asked her what she had done when she worked. “I was a typist,” said Mum. And she was, when she was 18. We heard him reply, “You have typist’s hands.”

Lord, please bless each one of these dear people, whose hands have touched Mum; whose words have fallen on her ears, and whose gifts and skills have ministered caring and healing to her.

Prayer is to live life in the presence of God
Peter Scazzaro

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Dance

The birds sing me awake with their morning chorus of trills, chirps and exultant, full throated songs.

It is still early and I burrow deeper into the duvet. I am more night owl than lark, and my first waking moments normally consist of groping for the alarm clock that has already gone off while my fuzzy brain calculates whether I absolutely must get up.

Strange—because at the end of each day I feel that I could go on forever and going to bed at a reasonable hour is something I find hard to do.

I listen for stirring in the next room, and several times a soft bump or bang has brought my brain to full alert as I jump from the bed to help Mum.

The steps in the dance of our relationship have changed and I find my feet stepping awkwardly, unsure. I try hard to convince her to stay safe, while aware that she is not a child. I try to imagine putting up a bedrail for her safety, and I can’t. As Robert says, that would be crossing a line, and yet her legs are frail, weak and unsteady and she weaves precariously even when I am helping. As I assist her back into bed this morning she indicates that emptying the commode is the way I can help. Message understood.

I administer eye drops and medication that makes her choke or gag, I think, “I don’t want this to be what our relationship is about.” But it needs to be done.

The last few days have been emotional as her carers come in and out and spend time holding her hand and sitting with her after doing her care. There are several who have become deeply attached to her; she is a favourite. “We love caring for your Mum,” they say. But love has been a lump in the throat for all of us in the past few days.

We anxiously wait for Dr. Potter’s visit to discuss our worries and questions. He listens, examines her gently and carefully, and raises going to hospital with Robert and I, but most importantly, with Mum. She says, “No, no, no. I would rather die.” But she cannot resist our pleas for her wellbeing, and she agrees to go. I thank the Lord that dying will wait for another day.

It is Monday, the day that she would normally be at the Sycamore Club, across from her flat and her friends are there. I go and tell them all that she is going in to hospital so that they won’t worry when they see the ambulance pull up. They are thankful and send me back with their love.

An hour or so later she is being carried to the ambulance on a stretcher, bundled in a white blanket. The door of Sycamore Club opens, and the windows and door are instantly filled with her friends, waving. They remind me of a flock of birds suddenly appearing from within a bush. They call out, “Goodbye, Pieter. Get well soon we all miss you!”

On our way: Mum with Sue the para-medic

Monday, March 16, 2009

His Garment of Love

Colossians 3:12-14
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

I pull over my hands and arms the twin sleeves of compassion and kindness. May these sister virtues flow through the embrace of my arms and the touch of my hands in this good day.

Over my shoulders may the garment of Christ be a cloak of humility. His back stooped to wash dirt encrusted feet, and endured the cruel sting of Pilate’s flail. His shoulders bore the cross for me; shall my shoulders not bend too, in service and sacrifice?

Around me I gather the warmth of his gentleness, patience and forgiveness; may my heart be filled with his grace and forbearance, always remembering that I have received these gifts in unlimited measure but they are meant to be given as they were received.I put on the belt of his love, which is also the thread of which this entire garment is woven; this garment of Christ.

Romans 13:14
Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Travel Tales

On Wednesday Brenda and I got up early as she was leaving at 7.00 a.m. for Birmingham airport to catch a flight to Amsterdam where she would connect with a flight to Toronto. Brenda gets anxious when she travels and building in a comfort zone of time helps reduce her stress.

Robert drove her to the airport and Peter went along to see her off and they were two thirds of the way to the airport when she suddenly turned to Robert and said, “Uncle Bob, did you put the case in the car?” Robert’s face fell and soberly he said, “No.” Both of them said they had the same tingly feeling come over them at that moment. Robert was calculating the time it would take to go back, when Peter finally revealed, after allowing just the right amount of tension that he had put it in.

I stayed home in Alvechurch with Mum, and it was some time later, when Robert and Peter would have been on their way back from the airport, that Mum asked the time of Brenda’s flight from Amsterdam.

“I’ll just go and check,” I said to Mum.

I had the itinerary in a wallet with my passport, which I had put in the front zippered compartment of my suitcase, but to my surprise, it wasn’t there. I opened the second zippered section—nothing there either. I looked inside the case, but it was empty. A sinking realization hit me--my passport was in the zippered compartment of Brenda’s case. It was similar to mine and had been beside it in the cupboard. My passport was now on its way to Canada without me.

I didn’t tell Mum, who had by now forgotten what I had left the room to look for anyway. I didn’t want to worry her, but I was getting a tad tense (please note the example of British understatement.)

When Robert and Peter arrived home, I confided first in Peter and begged him not to tell anyone. “I can’t believe that I did this,” I said.

“I can,” he said, and reminded me of my habit of getting into other people’s cars and trying to drive them. Why wouldn’t I put my passport in someone else’s suitcase?

Later on Peter said, “Mom, your arrival at the airport without your passport is probably actually your ticket in. If you show up with it, they will probably say, “If you were really Belinda Burston, you would have packed your passport in someone else’s luggage, and you will say, ‘but I did—I did.’”

How slowly the hours passed as I mentally tracked Brenda’s journey home. She should have landed in Toronto at 9.00 p.m. English time, and I figured that she should be home at around 10.30 p.m. But at 11.00 p.m., Paul called to say that poor Brenda’s plane to Amsterdam had been delayed for repairs, and she had missed her connecting flight in Amsterdam. KLM had rerouted her journey through Detroit and she would not be home until the early hours of the morning.

“Well, when you pick her up, before doing anything else, please check the front compartment of her suitcase for my passport,” I said.

He responded quite calmly I thought.

The next morning Brenda called with the full tale of her adventure and to my relief, my passport made it safely home—a fact for which I am deeply grateful.

The passport is on its back to me by registered mail in an envelope described merely as “documents--” just in case Customs should wonder why a passport is being sent to England on its own.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Learning to Bear the Beams of Love

"And we are put on earth a little space
That we may learn to bear the beams of love."

William Blake
Songs of Innocence and Experience

I have always loved these words, ever since I first met them in my class on the Romantic poets in my second year of studying English Literature at university. They were like pools of water in the dry land of cynicism and godlessness among many writers through the centuries. Those words, along with other noble sentiments from some of the few Christian or Christianized poets, playwrights, essayists and novelists that one can find among the pages of history, helped me to hear God's voice when I wasn't regularly feeding on His Word.

But I believe the words themselves are timeless, even for devout Christians. We can struggle, even in our devotion, to discern what life is all about. The cacophony of demands upon our time, the confusion and terror in the global village, the ever increasing war upon our inner peace and joy - all of these add up to one question: What is worth doing?

And in the end I believe we come back to that same place that most people do, whether or not they are Christian. They come back to this timeless truth, that life is all about learning to love and be loved. As Christians we may explore those truths in deep and wider ways as we experience the glory and wonder of God's unconditional love for us, but I imagine, and know for myself, that the challenge is huge in a human sense of just learning to love and continue to love those human beings with whom we have regular contact.

I am often heard to quote this Irish saying:

"To live above with the Saints we love,
Ah that is the purest glory;
To live below with the Saints we know,
Ah, that is another story."

And I must freely admit that the context for my sharing it has been my own cynicism about other Christians and their attitudes, particularly when I have been hurt and misunderstood by them. So the lesson, the learning for me, of course is most of all about the poverty of my own spirit, my own love, as one of the Saints about whom others might share that saying.

I have been struck by the particularity of love, and the way that God helps us to show it, when we partner with Him in bearing beams of love. We have seen that in the beautiful details of Susan and Brenda's story about their father and their family, in Belinda and Brenda and Robert's caring for their mother, in the details about rubbing backs and sharing breakfast, in waiting for doctors and praying with folded hands. We have heard it before in the struggles for Frank and Ang and Nicky, and all those we pray for, through this blog and in all our private realms.

I recall the amazing way God worked out the details on the last morning of my mother's life. For months I had wondered if she might die when I was at class at seminary in Toronto, when I would be out of town for 24 hours. I didn't consciously pray that I would be present when Mum died, but that was indeed my desire. Mum began to go down quickly a few days before I would go to class, and I had told my professor that I wasn't sure if I would have to miss class one week. But it was hard to make plans each week for transportation and all the rest, as I was using buses in the middle of the night, or rides with a friend. Somehow I made the decision, on March 30th of last year, that I would not take the offered ride and that I would miss my class. My spirit was telling me, as I was learning to bear the beams of love for my mother, which was not easy, that this was such a time. Yet I didn't know how fast it would be.

The very next morning I went in to see Mum when I would have been walking in to my class in Toronto. She was already unconscious, and she died in my arms a few hours later. I had time to call my sister and nephew to be with us, and together we watched her cross the threshold into the presence of God and the time at last to live above with the Saints we love. Until the end of my days I will be touched by that beam of love that I was able to bear.

It is always a thrill when we see others learning to bear these beams. We bless Belinda and Susan as they speak for all of us yearning to be there for others, leaning on God's grace. I think we will always feel like beginners in this school, and I guess that is okay, for then it is really not about us, and yet we have the privilege of making beautiful stories out of all kinds of brokenness, in His love.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Can it Really be Day Six?

March 11/09
It hardly seems possible that I have been here in England for six days. Brenda flew back today, and Peter has been here for two days already.My days are spent with Mum, tempting her with small light meals and a couple of times giving in to her longing for a small piece of fish and a few chips—which gives my Dutch cousin Rob, much cause for mirth. “Belinda,” he laughs over the phone, “usually you start with chicken soup—but--fish and chips?”

Every banana, bowl of soup, or sip of the food supplement the doctor ordered, is ground gained, but Mum is still weak and spends most of her time in bed, resting. Dr. Potter says that her eyes look brighter and her tongue looks better and that is encouraging--he has last week to compare with.Sometimes she coughs and then her body is wracked by vomiting, and what little she has eaten comes back until she has only the dry heaves. It hurts to see her frail frame go through that, and I rub her back gently and pray that it will stop soon.

I don’t like the look of her feet and ankles, darkened to deep purple by the blood that pooled there after sitting up for a couple of hours. Her circulation is very poor. I will ask the doctor about that when he comes on Monday.

But I am so grateful to be here with her; to give Rob a bit of a rest as well, as he has no day away or time to relax for long and I know that he feels it. No matter how much we love someone, we need to care for ourselves in order to care well.

The most precious thing has been saying goodnight and praying with Mum at the end of the day. The first night I asked if she would like me to pray with her and she nodded with the eagerness of one lost in the desert and offered a cool drink of water. She folded her hands on top of her bedclothes and closed her eyes, and when I finished, she said with such peace in her voice, “Amen.”

For the blessing of these moments together I am so grateful.

The Lord of Sea and Sky

Susan was right--I'm in an internet cafe in Redditch, with Peter, and after a few glitches with the laptop, I am going to schedule four posts: two for today and then Sunday and Monday. Thank you SO much, Meg and Susan, for keeping up with posting to WHS! It means more than you can know!

Thank you, dear readers, for your faithful prayers for Mum. She is so much better than when we arrived. She has far to go, and we don't know what tomorrow will bring, but this is the day the Lord has made--and we are being glad and rejoicing in it!

Here is the first of my journal/updates:

March 5-6/09
It was the day of my flight to England with Brenda and soon we would be on our way to Mum, but the pre-flight hours were filled with steady plodding through the many things to be done before leaving. In the morning I met with a co-worker, and something in the conversation caused me to reach for the small bible that I carry in my briefcase.

I opened the domed fastener of the tiny, dark blue, leather bound book and a piece of paper fluttered to the ground. I caught my breath as I recognized Mum’s familiar neat, forward-slanting handwriting of six years ago. She had written out the words to a hymn: I the Lord of Sea and Sky. I remembered how this hymn had deeply touched her after Dad died. She loved it so much that she asked if I knew it. I didn’t, but asked if she would write out the words—and it was her response to my request that fell to the floor in my office the day I was to fly to see her.

I the Lord of sea and sky I have heard my people cry
All who dwell in dark and sin
My hand will save
I, who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?

Here I am, Lord
It is I, Lord
I have heard you calling in the night
I will go, Lord, if you lead me,
I will hold your people in my heart

I the Lord of snow and rain
I have borne my people’s pain
I have wept for love of them
They turn away
I will break their hearts of stone
Give them hearts for love alone
I will speak my word to them
Whom shall I send?

I the Lord of wind and flame
I will tend the poor and lame
I will set a feast for them
My hand will save
Finest bread I will provide
Till their hearts are satisfied
I will give my life for them
Whom shall I send?

Brenda and I got on a plane leaving Toronto on Thursday evening. On Friday morning we landed in Amsterdam. As we left Schippol airport on a City Hopper, bound for Birmingham, England.

We looked down on the neat, straight streets of old Amsterdam, with their ornately decorated houses and steep roofs. We left the shoreline of Holland behind, and then crossed the North Sea, gazing down on what looked like toy cargo ships in the vast expanse of water. Very soon the sea gave way to the unmistakeable patchwork quilt of green, brown and soft gold English fields.

Brenda was seated by the window and suddenly said, “Mom, look, can you see that? It’s beautiful.” I strained to see and caught a glimpse of a rainbow, but what she could see in the fluffy clouds below was the full circle of a rainbow with the shadow of the plane in the centre.

Deuteronomy 32:11-12 (New International Version)
11 like an eagle that stirs up its nest
and hovers over its young,
that spreads its wings to catch them
and carries them on its pinions.
12 The LORD alone led him;..

With us in spirit...

Today (Friday) Belinda is hoping to take the train from Alvechurch into Redditch. If she is able to make it, then she will do some posting on Whatever He Says from an Internet cafe. She says she has some posts ready. With that in mind, and sure that there will be something forthcoming from her later today, (but just in case there isn't!) I'm going to share just a bit of scripture. I read it one day this week and heard it in her voice, not St. Paul's... :) I know these words could easily have come from her own heart...

5For though I am away from you in body, yet I am with you in spirit, delighted at the sight of your [standing shoulder to shoulder in such] orderly array and the firmness and the solid front and steadfastness of your faith in Christ [that leaning of the entire human personality on Him in absolute trust and confidence in His power, wisdom, and goodness].
6As you have therefore received Christ, [even] Jesus the Lord, [so] walk (regulate your lives and conduct yourselves) in union with and conformity to Him.
7Have the roots [of your being] firmly and deeply planted [in Him, fixed and founded in Him], being continually built up in Him, becoming increasingly more confirmed and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and abounding and overflowing in it with thanksgiving!

Colossians 2: 5-7 The Amplified Bible.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Violent Changes

"We are all in the process of becoming who we will eventually be..."

These are the words I used to start my father's eulogy. I was eventually getting to the point that my Dad, though he had a rough start, had turned out to be a pretty amazing man by the time he reached the end of his life. We were blessed to have him around long enough to find out who he eventually ended up to be.

I've been thinking about that alot these last few days. Another quote which I picked up this week from a book called "Fierce Conversations" by Susan Scott says, "You get what you tolerate." The author is empahsizing here that whatever behaviour in our co-workers which we don't want and we don't confront, will never change. We end up getting whatever we ignore. If someone is late all the time, and we don't have a conversation pointing that out, they will continue to be late all the time. People will not tend to change on their own without some kind of confrontation. Whatever you tolerate is what you end up getting.

In Matthew 11, Jesus talked about "taking the Kingdom by violence" and that "the violent take it by force".

Then in Luke 3, He said " The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." (Luke 3:9, NASB)

Jesus takes our need to change pretty seriously!

I've been thinking about how I need to take some things in my life just that seriously. Whatever I tolerate in myself is what I'm going to get. I really don't want to end up "being" some of the things I am in the process of "becoming" right now.

One of things I need to do is to stop "agreeing" with some of the things in my life that need to change. By that I mean that I say things -mostly to myself - like: "That's just the way I am", or "I get that (name a behaviour) from my grandmother."

Saying that, believing that, makes it okay to keep tolerating. It's not my fault, after all. It's hereditary.


The fact is that Jesus has given us everything we need to become like him. 2 Peter 3, says:
3His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." (NASB)

That's my challenge for today. To stop tolerating that in myself which God wants confronted and changed. To take the Kingdom (in my life) by violence...

It's a big order, true. And I'm not up for the challenge. But God is. And I'm leaning hard into Him.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Shame - A Checklist

I don't know how Belinda does this almost every day! I am devoid of the energy to write anything meaningful tonight. But I'd like to share something interesting that I ran across today. Please note that I didn't write the following. Credit is given to the author at the end of this short excerpt. I could see myself in this list of rules -sometimes as the shame-er, and sometimes as the shame-ee. Shame is something far from God's heart and something he doesn't want us to experience in any way - either as the victim or the perpetrator. I know some of the power of shame. It can debilitate and destroy.

"Shame is a common problem in Christian homes. Feelings of shame keep us from walking in freedom and hinder us in conquering problems. The dictionary defines shame as: the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper."

The identifying factor in shame is not if you feel you have done something wrong, but the feeling that who you are is wrong. Below is a quick quiz to rate how you function in your home and to see if you are extending grace or shame to others.

8 Rules for a Shame-Based Home
1. There is a rule maker and the rule-maker is always right.

2. In the family you must always be in control.

3. Always be right and do everything right.

4. When rules one and two fail -- blame someone else.

5. Deny everyone any expression of personhood: dreams, hopes, needs, feelings. Ridicule all expression of feelings.

6. Always hide and maintain secrecy. Appearance is important.

7. Don’t ever acknowledge a mistake, don’t make yourself vulnerable.

8. Don’t trust anyone.

[from Identifying Shame, Craig Hill, Family Foundations Int., for more information go to http://www.familyfoundations.com/]

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

News From Alvechurch

Monday evening, March 9, 8:00 p.m.

I couldn't stand it anymore! I've had dozens of requests for news of how things were going in England. I finally broke down after work today and called Paul, at home here in Bond Head, for an update. I knew he would have talked to Belinda since her arrival in England. It was too late at 6 o'clock for me to call Belinda in England as it would be past 11:00 over there.

But Paul gave me the happy news that the time difference would be only four hours, not five, for a few weeks and that if I called right away, I would probably be able to reach her before everything and everyone was battened down for the night.

So call I did. It was wonderful to hear Belinda's voice at the other end of the phone. Half a world away and she sounded like she was in the next room. (Sorry, but I still can't get over the miracle of transatlantic phone calls!) It was even more wonderful to hear that Mum started to do better immediately upon Belinda's and Brenda's arrival on Friday. She is eating a little more every day and brightening up and talking more. Belinda said to thank everyone for their prayers!

Peter's passport came and he arrived there this morning about 10:00. This afternoon Brenda and Peter went out for a walk around Alvechurch while Belinda stayed with Mum. Then they all had fish'n'chips together before Peter went upstairs for a visit with Robert and his boys, John and Tim, and where Peter will be spending the night. Mum had a few chips with the rest of the family.

Belinda said she prayed with Mum both last night and tonight before she went to sleep and that it was a great blessing for both mother and daughter. I'm sure she will be writing about that and much more in the coming days. Belinda says she's keeping a journal... so stay tuned!

I'm not sure when Belinda will be able to get out and to an internet cafe to send us news herself, but that, as it should be, is not her first priority right now. But I think there's a good chance we'll hear from her later this week with another chapter of The Alvechurch Chronicles.

Once again, thankyou everyone for your prayers. And Belinda, God bless you and your family over there! What good news that your mum brightened up at your arrival!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Saturday Morning Gastfreundschaft (German Hospitality)

My navigation skills hadn't kicked in yet on Saturday morning and as a result, we missed taking the correct turn which would lead us back onto the freeway across Kitchener-Waterloo and then up the 401 to our hotel in Cambridge. Instead, sister Brenda and I found ourselves on King St., heading towards Waterloo's downtown area. It wasn't a disaster - we could still take University Avenue, or Bridgeport Road north to 85, but another idea popped into my mind. We had just had breakfast with our brother Dave and his wife Heather at The Stone Crock in St. Jacob's and were feeling more than a little nostalgic after celebrating our Dad's birthday together the evening before.

"Want to go see 103 Alexandra?" I asked Bren. She asked if was very far, and when I said it would be only about 10 minutes, she was happy to agree.

Our grandparents had bought the house at 103 Alexandra Avenue in Waterloo in 1943 when our Mom was just 17, and they had lived there for all of our growing up years. It was full of happy memories for both of us. And a few not-so-happy, too. But that is the stuff that families are made of. There are always a few dark threads woven into the tapestry - it's the shadows that give the good stuff clarity and depth.

Brenda drove up and parked two houses down and across the street and started fishing for her camera. I got out and started to walk down the street. I wanted to see the old girl from every angle. She looked so much smaller! The big maple tree I loved to climb was still there. It looked smaller too. I couldn't believe how small. The garage looked exactly the same, though the door needed a coat of paint. My eyes took in a thousand details as my mind and heart were flooded with a sense of my roots and a thousand remembrances.

Someone stepped out of the house onto the big front porch where our family would gather every summer afternoon. I thought he might wonder why someone was staring at his house, especially with Brenda snapping pictures, so I called to him as I stepped across the street toward him.

"Excuse me," I said. "Our grandparents used to own this house and we're just taking a bit of a walk down memory lane." Brenda caught up to me and stood beside me as we talked. He asked me a few questions about my grandparents and about the house and before I knew it, we were being invited in to meet the current owner.

We could hardly contain our glee! What a blessing to step back into that house once again. So much of it looked exactly the same. There was fireplace where we used to hang our stockings when we stayed there at Christmas. And there was the banister I used to slide down, even though I was told a million times I shouldn't. There was the bedroom that was Uncle Lawrie's and the door that led up to attic. The doors, the trim, even the doorknobs. So much of the house was exactly the same.

We thanked our new friend Henning, and as we came down the stairs after having had a tour all the way up to the attic, he invited us to come and see the bar.

There at the back of the house, behind the kitchen where Grandma and Grandpa used to sleep, was a new addition. The focal point of the room (other than it was filled with people on this Saturday morning as it is every Saturday morning), was a fully stocked bar. Before we knew it, we were in the centre of the party. We were being offered something to drink, and pickled garlic, and bowls of steaming home-made soup. A plate of sliced bratwurst and cheese was pushed toward us and we were quickly introduced to every person in the room. What a welcome! Here we had shown up as strangers on a Saturday morning, and when we left not an hour later, we were on a first name basis with our hosts, and being invited back "anytime". And they really meant it!

Brenda and I were bowled over with the goodness of God and how he sets up scenes like this to bless us. As we waved to our new friends and drove away, we talked about what an over-the-top and way-beyond-belief blessing it was to be able to "come home" again to Grandma and Grandpa's house. It meant the world to us to be able see it from the inside one more time. And we talked about how the family of God should be just that hospitable as Henning and his friends. They made us feel beyond welcome - we felt like we "belonged".

As we drove back to the highway (no missed turns, this time), we talked about the people God sends our way. We want them to feel just like we were made to feel on Saturday morning at 103 Alexandra Avenue - only moreso, of course, because of Jesus - and how we need to adjust our lives, and even the setup of our homes to do just that.
Even so, let it be, Lord Jesus!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

No shortcuts to fulfilling God's vision

I saw Slumdog Millionaire this week. I hadn't planned to; my daughter and I just went on the spur of the moment. It's hard to talk about its impact. Yes, it had a happy ending, but it was a rough fairy tale. For someone who has seen a lot of roughness in Uganda, it was hard for me. I have sat on the floor in front of thugs pointing an AK47 at me and my family. In a sense I have never fully recovered from the trauma of that incident. Yet it was mild in comparison with what goes on every day all over the world: Christian martyrdoms, about 500 a day, terrible tortures, horrendous crimes. Even regarding the production and follow up of this movie there have been concerns about fairness in the treatment of the child stars from the real slums of India. Throughout the movie I kept my head down a lot, not wanting to imprint on my brain scenes of horror and violence.

But above and beyond all that I have to agree that this story is a powerful one about vision. It was the sense of destiny that kept the hero moving ahead against all odds, until he achieved his goal and dream - to be united with the love of his life. His faith and vision ignited faith and vision in her and enabled her to rise to that destiny. The power of that faith spoke to the brother who had the power to help to make it happen, despite his own lack of faith and vision, his own compromise and corruption.

I am excited about the power of vision. If I weren't I wouldn't have applied for and been accepted this past week into a training program to become a professional Christian Life Coach. Life Coaching is about helping others close the gap between their vision for their lives and the realities they live with every day. It is about implanting in others what God has implanted in me, and what I have to ask others to encourage me in, and have to grow in faith about every single day.

Proverbs 29:18 says "Where there is no vision, the people perish." This is so true. We may not perish physically, but we may perish morally, emotionally or spiritually, if we have no vision, and certainly if we do not have God's vision for our lives. And we know that He works with our visions and dreams, the desires of our hearts, and weaves them into the visions for our whole lives. His grace makes Romans 8:28 true every day, and more especially as we move forward very intentionally in obedience to our calling and vision.

But there are no shortcuts. I was reminded of that as I went onto www.biblegateway.com this morning to find the correct reference for that verse. All across the top of the website was a moving ad from a Christian university saying "There are no shortcuts to the fulfillment of God's plans for you." It was a highlighting of my reading for today in the Bible League Devotional Planner: "We live by faith, not by sight." 2 Cor. 5:7 And as if God was determined I should never ever forget it, Streams in the Desert for today had these words:

There is no way of learning faith except by trial. It is God's school of faith, and it is far better for us to learn to trust God than to enjoy life...The lesson of faith, once learned, is an everlasting acquisition and an eternal fortune made; and without trust even riches will leave us poor.
(from Days of Heaven on Earth)

The hero of Slumdog Millionaire got the money and the girl. We like him getting the money because he didn't cheat, and he went on the program to win the girl. So the fairy tale rings true as they always do, to teach us universal truths, as this one teaches us about the power of vision. But for those of us who know Jesus Christ, and who have our vision for our lives caught up with Him, we must be willing to pay big prices for the fulfillment of that vision, must accept the hardship of having no shortcuts, and must learn true faith by trial.

As I write my mind is flashing back, visually and audibly, to a scene at a conference a few years ago. Members of a Christian worship band were praying over us. One of them began shouting over me: "FAITH! FAITH!! Woman of FAITH!! You are a great woman of FAITH!! It is FAITH that will change your circumstances!!!!". Well, five years down the road, I can see how faith has changed my circumstances, and brought me further along the road to the fulfilment of my vision, of God's vision for my life. And indeed there have been no shortcuts. And often each day I can still feel like a beginner in the school of faith. But I have a faithful Father, who undergirds me and leads me on, and empowers me with faith, through His Holy Spirit.

And the Lord answered me, and said, "Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie; though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come." ( Habakkuk 2: 2-3)

Saturday, March 07, 2009

In Jesus Name

Tonight I am in Cambridge, Ontario, staying at a hotel, sharing a small suite with my dear sister Brenda. In characteristic unselfish form, she is taking the foldout couch and leaving the bed for me. She doesn't want to waken me when she wakes up early for her Sacred Hour. I will be having my own sacred hour before I sleep tonight. (God and I have this deal, you see. I don't talk to him before my first coffee of the day, and he doesn't talk to me! :) Don't worry. He knows I'm not a morning person and I think he's pretty okay with that!)

Our brother Dave, and his wife Heather, are in a room two floors above us. It is our dad's birthday today - it would have been his 85th (on March 6th). We decided to celebrate together, and I'm really glad we did. We went out to The Keg for dinner, and afterwards, while Heather went shopping, the three of us siblings came back to our hotel room just to hang out.

A short time before my dad passed away, he had a special talk with Dave. I'm not sure what transpired in those private moments, but I know my brother is a different man. Not only did he drive all the way to Cambridge from Windsor to meet with us weekend, but he spent the entire evening talking and sharing with us. Deep sharing, not just small talk. I think I heard more words come out of Dave's mouth, and feelings from his heart this evening than in the last 20 years all put together. A father's blessing is a powerful thing and the evidence is all over our dear brother. I'm so incredibly grateful that Dad did that! And yes, it's better late than never.

We talked about a lot of different things tonight, including, of course, memories of our parents. At one point, after a few funny and light-hearted reminisinces, I asked a question that turned the conversation to a more thoughtful and serious tone.

"What is the legacy that Mom left you?" The room went quiet for a few moments as the question was carefully pondered.

We all agreed, even my burly brother, that if you knew Mom, you knew you were loved. She had friends from all classes of society, and her love was fiercely loyal, faithful to the end. We all three knew she believed in us, that her love was unconditional, that she would always be there for us - no matter what. She may not have been a perfect mother, but she was perfect in that regard.

My thoughts, of course, turn to England, and Belinda's dear Mum. Belinda and Brenda will have arrived there and settled in by now, having left Toronto together Thursday evening. Belinda's son Peter will join them on Sunday if his passport gets there on time! :)

Belinda's Mum and my Mom, had a lot in common, especially as far as that love thing goes. The first time I met Mum, I was getting into my car to leave Belinda's house, after having had tea together. She and Belinda stood on the front porch waving goodbye to me. I saw my friend turn slightly toward her mum. I didn't hear her question, but I heard her mother's response in her lovely Dutch accent. "She's very special..." She was talking about ME! Belinda's mum had no idea that the wind would catch what she said and deliver it straight to my heart, but I heard every word, and I am so glad I did.

I thought, as I drove away that day, how many things are said about people when they think others can't hear. She could have said a thousand different things like, "I didn't think she was ever going to leave..." or "she talks too much". But there was none of that. No wonder Belinda had been so eager for me to meet her mum. What I was left with, and which has stuck in my heart these many years since are the powerful words, "she's very special".

And so I think of Mum tonight. I pray that with the same measure her love has been poured out over the years, God would give back in multiplied measure.

Oh, God, bless dear Mum, and every moment she has with her children and grandchildren. Let the love she has poured out over the years come back to her in full measure! Let her know it's healing and restorative power, even as she has ministered it to others out of the great and loving, forgiving, accepting heart you put into her. Father, bless Belinda too as she is there. Help her to rest and to know that You have everything under perfect control. Take care of her, Lord, and her little family, too. In Jesus Name... Amen!

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Lord's Prayer according to me

This is a version of the Lord's prayer that I wrote for a reflection session at our church in May of 2007. It was subsequently published in the church newsletter. It was a very helpful exercise for me, and others, to put my own words and thoughts into the structure of the Lord's Prayer. I could have edited it and made it shorter, but somehow it seems appropriate to share it as I wrote it then. I suggest it as an exercise for you, especially in this season of Lent.

The Lord's Prayer According to Meg

Our Father, who art in Heaven....

Daddy God, my heavenly father, shared with all who live, creator of the universe, father of all, who dwells on high in heaven, as well as in my heart, who dwells in me and in the hearts of all who seek you, who want to be with you now and in heaven,

Hallowed be your name.....

You are holy to me...I call your name holy to all...may I always do so...may I always keep your name holy...may I always call others to do so too...may I see your name hallowed in all the earth, as the day of your coming approaches....

Your kingdom come....

I long to see your kingdom come here on earth...may all that you are and all that you give me and all that comes from you and all that you want to see happen...may it come to pass in every way and place and time...especially in my life, my heart, my home, my relationships, my town, my province, my country....

Your will be done....

I want to do your will...I want to see others do your will...today, and every day...from now on...not my will, but your will...knowing that what you will is best for me and for all, higher and better and truer and freer...even when I don't understand....

On earth, as it is in Heaven....

Here and now...in the future...here on earth...I want to see all that you already see from heaven...all the possibilities and hopes and dreams you have for all of us...that you have had from before our lives began...from before time began...I want to see that happen...may all that I am be available to help that happen....

Give us this day our daily bread.....

Daddy, I ask and trust you for all that I need today, for me and for all your children, all that our bodies, minds and hearts need to grow and become all that you call me and your children to be today and in the days to come....

And forgive us our trespasses....

Daddy God, forgive me and all your children for all that I and we have done and said, all that I and we do and say, all that I and we will do and say today and in the days to come that will go outside of the boundaries you have laid out for me and for your children in our words and actions....

As we forgive those who trespass against us....

I know that we can ask for this forgiveness if we are willing to give it to those who trespass our boundaries, who violate us and abuse us and misunderstand us, and that the more I and we understand our own brokenness and sinfulness and weakness and recognize how unable we are without your power to do what you call us to do in loving others and even ourselves....the more we will be able to accept others in all their weakness and brokenness which causes them to do the things that hurt me and others....

And lead us not into temptation....

Daddy, I need you to order my steps today...to go before me and walk beside me...to lead me into all that you want me to do and be...we all need you to do that...so that we will not stray into situations and relationships that are dangerous to us or to others...so that we will not trespass your boundaries in our thoughts and words and actions....so that we will not get into the kind of trouble that is really of our own making....

But deliver us from evil....

Since you know us so well, Daddy, we can rely on you to see us out of trouble that will come our way, that becomes evil or is already evil, but we ask you anyway to protect us and take us through and out of all that is evil, in situations and in people, in our own thoughts and emotions, because you are faithful and you know we seek to follow you and be all that you want us to be....

For yours is the kingdom...

It's really all about you, Daddy. You set it up and you have your plans...you know the end from the beginning....

The power....

You could do it all for us...for you have awesome, total and unlimited power to do all that you want...after all you created the universe...and you give us your power....you want to use your power in our lives...to be and do all that we need...so that we may be and do all that you need us to do in our lives, in this world....

And the glory....

Your majesty and your glory are unbelievable and beyond description...and you want to bring your glory to pass in our lives....you want to share your glory with us....you want all that we are and do to shine with the witness of your presence...

Forever and ever....

I can't imagine forever but I believe it....that all this is true and always has been and always will be and that you can make it all so...that just as you have been and will be forever so we can be forever with you....


So be it, Daddy....may I always believe and know and do all that I have said here...may I mean it more each day...may I always seek to live according to these words...may we live according to your words....your plans...your dreams....and may all that you offer us bring to pass all our words and plans and dreams that you delight in.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Second Birth

My brother arrived only two years and ten months after me, but his arrival is ingrained in my memory. I had the measles and was banished to what felt like the farthest corner of our small cottage in Romsley; separated from everyone else.

I remember the intensity of my feeling of resentment. Terrible as it sounds now, in my mind, there was only one word for this interloper--poop. Poor Robert did nothing to deserve this.

Throughout my childhood, he was my partner in endless battles, unless someone dared to pick on him. If that happened, although I was the victim of bullying myself at school, Tiger Girl took over, with a fury that banished all fear. I once chased an older boy around a field with a dog leash swirling over my head like a medieval flail because he was threatening Robert.

A while ago Robert described how important it is to him to make sure Mum's clothing is clean and not stained in any way and we remembered how she always kept us “spotless” (her word). We laughed as we remembered the spit on a handkerchief method that Mum would employ and I reminded him of the big brown birthmark on his thumb that he had wanted her to “get off” when he was little. Mum’s response was, “But that was why I chose you.” She told him that out of all the babies, she saw him, and noticed that he was special because of that mark!

Yesterday he told me that he had been by her bedside, holding her hand, then said that he was just going upstairs to his flat for a few minutes to wash some dishes. Mum stroked his face and hair with the back of her hand, and said, "Don't be long," with much tenderness. Robert commented that so much can flow through a touch. We spoke of when Dad was in hospital and had just days to live, six years ago. He and Dad had a very painful relationship, added to by the alcoholism that plagued Dad's life. In those last days, the real person that he was came to the surface and for the first time, Robert received the blessing of Dad's affection. This morning Robert remembered how Dad, with his big soft hand (by then,) rubbed his right arm and said, "Robert, you've lost weight."

Robert said, "Then I knew that he was seeing things." But it was the first time, for those brief hours when Dad was lucid, and also not under the influence of alcohol, that Robert felt his love and approval.

When Mum stroked his hair yesterday, Robert said that the hairs stood up on the back of his kneck and he almost felt as if Dad was there.

Mum is being attended to by a flock of helpers--the district health nurse, her doctor, social worker and her Helping Hands ladies. She is surrounded in much prayer and I am praying that we get there in time to tell her how much she means to us.

Tonight Brenda and I fly.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Birth Story

Proverbs 31:31 (New International Version)
31 Give her the reward she has earned,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Mum is much on my mind at the moment. I'm thankful that in less than three days I will be with her.

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, which she was writing for a school project and I wanted to make sure I had the details of my birth story 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 on that Monday, she collapsed at the post office in the village, where she had just put it into the letter box.

I was expected 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 the going through the stages of its delivery. That carefully saved scrap of paper was all she had had to prepare her when I was on the way. 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 her son 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 Waldingham, 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 Waldingham. 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.” (This must have been the great understatement of all time.)

Mrs. Saffin quickly assessed the situation and said, “You don’t have a cold on your bladder, you’re going to have a baby”, and they 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 placed me in her arms she counted all of my fingers and toes and thought of what a miracle it was to be holding her own baby. I was named Belinda after a character in the 1948 movie Johnny Belinda. I never felt anything but cherished, fully and completely, by this wonderful mother.

How I thank God for her and celebrate all that she is and has been to us.

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

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Reflections on the Bush that Burns

By Ian Bedford

This reflection comes to us via Magda Wills, one of our blog readers, who shared it with me (Meg) as a result of reading my recent blog post on "dust". It comes out of the recent fires in Australia, and Ian and his wife Judy were among the safe, but knew of many who lost lives or homes. He wrote this reflection at their church retreat, and feels led to share it with others. I feel privileged to be able to present it to all of you. It is one small way we can join in their pain and learn lessons along with them out of this terrible tragedy.

Reflections on the Bush that Burns

Yahweh God, we gather you know something about the bush that burns
We read somewhere that once you spoke through such a bush
We struggle to hear what you are saying through the bush that we have seen burning
We see lives lost, homes and livelihoods lost, and your creation’s beauty blackened beyond recognition
What words are you saying in such events?
Once before your words called a man to an impossible challenge to confront injustice and seek a people’s freedom
Once before your words called a man to obey, however incapable he felt, and to believe in your capacity to use the resources you had given
What words of yours are now calling US to confront, to seek freedom, to believe in your capacity to use?
Are there words calling us to acknowledge complicity in being inadequate stewards of your creation?
Are there words calling us to be more committed to understanding and recovering the balance and wholeness, the Shalom, of the whole created order?
Yet, as the smoke from the bush that burns begins to settle, we do see new creation emerge.
We see people caring and sharing, giving and going in support of those most personally impacted by the bush that burnt.
We se a closeness, a community, emerge from the ashes that seems to have echoes of the community of engagement that we gather you called us ll to be.
Surely that is one of the words you speak from the bush that burns.
But we also see people struggling with any notion at all that you can speak from the bush that burns.
Indeed, in varying ways, those people are US.
We cannot justify the pain and suffering, the destruction.
We cannot find answers to why this is so.
And we struggle to even believe that you can ever be in the bush that burns, let alone ARE there.
Forgive our damaged faith and help us to have ears to hear what you are giving us through the bush that burns,.
Even more, help us to recognise and act on what you are calling us to GIVE and BE through the bush that burns
To give of our resources, our abilities, and the most costly of all, our relationships, to those whose lives now struggle physically, emotionally, spiritually as a result of the bush that burns.
And finally, it is for these we pray most intensely and with most bewilderment.
Bring healing, hope, wholeness and joyfulness into their inner being, the soul of those who are living these struggles.
Show us how to be your word to them.
And, as the green shoots sprout from the burned eucalypt’s trunks,
As the seedling whose life is ignited by this same flame shows amid the blackened soil,
May we all find the life to which you call us,
Together as community, as stewards of your creation,
Sharing the new beginning to which these signs of hope point, whatever questions of ours remain.