Sunday, May 31, 2009

Two Completely Different Lives

"I have lived two completely different lives thus far," he said.

He was only in his thirties--was he talking about a career change maybe? No; it was something far deeper; he was trying hard to express the difference an encounter with Christ had made in his life. Imagine what it would take to change a man's view of women; his perspective on money and, in fact, the whole path of his life. Something profoundly real and good would have to happen to have that much power. Stories like his are the greatest evidence for the reality of God.

When a person starts to tell me his or her faith story, I get ready for something wonderful. Eyes fill with tears, hands reach for tissues, hearts spill over with a gratitude that is hard to express and I am right there with the person, because I understand.

It may sound weird but I was grateful that I solidified my faith at the age of 16, having grown up in a non church-going family. I knew that I had made a personal choice; a decision that made a difference. Even though I knew that growing up in a Christian home would have been a great blessing, I always wondered how different it would be if hadn't felt that I had chosen. My life would have been very different if I hadn't done so and I am forever grateful for a living relationship with him.

In Canada there is such a secular bent in society, and such a bias against Christianity, that I am always very interested in and awed at, the ways that God gets people's attention anyway. And he does, over and over again.

One woman's epiphany came at her mother's funeral. As she stood at before the open coffin, she knew that whatever it was that made her mother, her mother; was no longer there. She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was more than just physical existence, and she turned to faith in Christ. That moment changed the focus of her life and gave it meaning from that point on.

At school I loved the hymn: Tell me the Stories of Jesus. I have never got tired of listening.

Tell me the stories of Jesus I love to hear;
Things I would ask Him to tell me if He were here;
Scenes by the wayside, tales of the sea,
Stories of Jesus, tell them to me.

First let me hear how the children stood round His knee,
And I shall fancy His blessing resting on me;
Words full of kindness,
deeds full of grace,
All in the love light of Jesus’ face.

Tell me, in accents of wonder,
how rolled the sea,
Tossing the boat in a tempest on Galilee;
And how the Maker, ready and kind,
Chided the billows, and hushed the wind.

Into the city I’d follow the children’s band,
Waving a branch of the palm tree high in my hand.
One of His heralds, yes, I would sing
Loudest hosannas, “Jesus is King!”

Show me that scene in the garden, of bitter pain.
Show me the cross where my Savior for me was slain.
Sad ones or bright ones, so that they be
Stories of Jesus, tell them to me.

Will­iam H. Park­er, 1885. Parker wrote this hymn for his Sun­day school stu­dents at the Chel­sea Street Bap­tist Church, New Bas­ford, Not­ting­ham, Eng­land.

Joshua 24:14-15 (New International Version)
14 "Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Leading with our ears

Another week of ruminating on how to connect with others in helping ways. Another week of pondering the connection between suffering and sustenance for our souls. Another week of visioning for a future profession and ministry: how to be a life coach and one day a counsellor/therapist coming from an authentic place within myself.

In this process I have been joined by a blog reader who does her own writing, research and ruminating on similar subjects. This week she shared some powerful words from Larry Crabb's book, Soul Talk. :

Every person who relates with people - whether as coach, counselor, spiritual director, therapist, pastor, elder, caregiver, spouse, parent, friend or mentor - needs to speak Soul Talk. And that means we must stop talking so quickly out of what we think we know and learn to lead with our ears...If we learn the discipline of silence as we engage in conversation and think passion as we quietly listen, perhaps we'll spend less energy figuring out what to do as experts and more energy allowing the powerful life of Christ to surface within us and be released in the words we speak. We'll leave behind the sandy foundation of expert knowledge and savvy wisdom and build instead on the solid rock of divine energy, on the foundation of life with the Trinity.

Crabb's message is the key to this process is to experience and function out of our own brokenness. We don't need to become superhuman and expert, we just need to come alongside and be human and listening to the hearts of others, and sharing as we are led once we have permission to look in on their stories.

I recall a similar message in one of our texts for the foundational course in Christian counselling, William Kirwan's Biblical Concepts for Christian Counseling. He bemoaned the lack of empathy, genuineness and warmth in much Christian counselling, the prevalence of Job's counsellors who label people's issues and say "There you are!" instead of asking, like God in the garden asked Adam and Eve, "Where are you?". He urged us to ask the right questions and listen for the true answers about where people are, allow them to speak for themselves and be part of the process of solving their own problems:

Good listening helps to keep the counselor's responses close to the counselee's feelings and experiences, permitting corrections of any misunderstanding the counselor may have. The active listener is open to being corrected. When answering the counselor's question, "Where are you?" the counselee must have the freedom to correct any misapprehensions by saying, "No, not there; I am over here." Often such freedom is not allowed in Christian counseling. The counselee's problems are forced into preconceived molds or categories. The theological points made by the counselor may be accurate, precise, and even profound, but they still may not fit the counselee's problems. If the counselor is to know the right doctrine to apply (as Jesus always did), it is essential to understand exactly where the counselee is. (p. 140)

Furthermore, as my blog reader friend Magda said so well, we need our wounds to help us become better healers and helpers: "The wounded heart listens differently than the person who has never experienced pain, either in reality or through denial."

We do not need to be afraid of suffering, of wounds, or of not having the answers for others. We just need to come to others in our own brokenness, with our wounded hearts and Christ's open wounded hands, and open our ears before we open our mouths.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Riding the Bulldozer

"But from everlasting to everlasting, the Lord's love is with them who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children - with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts." Psalm 103:17,18

I've watched the landscape change over the past few weeks on a piece of land south of Tottenham. First the surveyors came in with their instruments and planted little florescent orange flags here and there. Then little black fences were built around the entire quarter section of rolling farmland to contain the silt that would soon be stirred up. Then the equipment moved in and huge yellow machines -bulldozers and earthmovers - tore out all kinds of trees, removed entire hills and created great swales. One day there were farm fields with some very hilly sections, and just a few weeks later, there is a gently rolling landscape laid out like a brown earth blanket and ready to have an entire subdivision laid out on it.

I couldn't believe how much work those monstrous machines could accomplish, and in how short a time. I thought about what a different perspective the driver of that machine would have from someone who might be on the ground and in the way.

And I thought about how God's kingdom is kind of like that.

He moves through history rearranging the landscape and accomplishing his purposes. We have a choice. We can get on that bulldozer with him and join him in his work, or we can be crushed in the maelstrom as he moves forward anyway, with us or without us.

I'd rather be with him...

"The way of the Lord is a stronghold to the upright, but ruin to the workers of iniquity." Proverbs 10:29

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Still, RUN

I love people and never get tired of sitting across from someone, looking into their eyes and listening to what they have to say.

What I just wrote sounds as though I am a good listener, but all too often I am whirling around faster than--than a washer on the spin cycle! Anyone with a smidgen of interpersonal radar would not find that inviting. But, thank goodness that in spite of "me," I sometimes do see the one in front of me and just enjoy "what God has made" in that other person. And what he makes is delightful. The snippets of wisdom I glean from conversations, I take away to ponder later.

Today someone told me that he had coached a girl's basketball team to win two championships. I had such fun listening to his coaching stories. His eyes sparkled as the stories came with laughter in his deep voice. Of the training, some girls would say, “I’m tired, I’m not doing it.” He would smile and say, “I know. Still, RUN.” He said they would complain as they ran, but when they won the championship they all thanked him.

Tonight the muscles in my back were tense, tired, and insulted by my having lifted a heavy weight improperly earlier today, but after shopping on the way home, I had planned to prepare two casseroles for two upcoming group dinners. The thought of the conversation earlier in the day kept me going. It was a night when I told myself, "Still, RUN."

Sometimes all the strength we have, and all we need, is the strength to make the next step, with God's help. Still, RUN!

Hebrews 12:1-2 (Amplified Bible)
1THEREFORE THEN, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who have borne testimony to the Truth], let us strip off and throw aside every encumbrance (unnecessary weight) and that sin which so readily (deftly and cleverly) clings to and entangles us, and let us run with patient endurance and steady and active persistence the appointed course of the race that is set before us,
2Looking away [from all that will distract] to Jesus, Who is the Leader and the Source of our faith [giving the first incentive for our belief] and is also its Finisher [bringing it to maturity and perfection]. He, for the joy [of obtaining the prize] that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising and ignoring the shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

So We Practice

Sounds, smells and feelings, laid down in memory as a child, are so powerful.

A whiff of eau de cologne can evoke a strong memory of Oma's handkerchief and Polo peppermints and lipstick the inside of Mum's purse. Paraffin lighter fuel--that would be Mum's apron pocket!

I have always loved listening to a piano being practiced and I think it goes back to happy summer days in Holland as a child, at Oma's. I would sometimes press against the screened window in the long, dark back room of her second storey flat, listening and looking for fascinating glimpses of the lives of people I would never know; the people that lived in the flats bordering on the courtyard. The old, tall Dutch houses created a barrier from the city sounds of traffic and trams, and made the sounds from within the courtyard echo louder : The wind in the trees, snatches of conversation, the chirping of birds; someone behind an open garden door practicing the piano...

So now, when I hear my granddaughters downstairs practicing their piano, I often cannot resist the urge to slip down and sit on the stairs. I listen with all the appreciation of a season ticket holder and applaud their efforts with enthusiasm.

They were practicing a duet tonight; sisters, so alike in appearance and as close as peas in a pod. They are like wind and fire, these two, with personalities as different as their features are alike, but they love one another fiercely.

I listen to them learning the duet. They go over and over the first few bars. Tiffany-Amber is relaxed and laughing. Music comes easily to her ear, if not her eye. Victoria is intently concentrating on the music. Their differences so evident. I love watching them as well as listening.

They make mistakes and stop, starting over and persevering, working together and yet having fun.

I think of how much their practice reflects life. We practice. If we're wise we read the music and we get the first few bars down pat after a while. We go further and clumsily mess up again, our fingers hitting wrong notes or with the wrong timing. We try over and over again, getting further and further along in the score.

And then, if all of the right ingredients are there: the right music, practice, and perseverance, Life infuses our fingers and a beautiful melody from another Kingdom can be heard.

2 Timothy 2:14-15 (The Message)
14-15Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God's people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out. Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won't be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

From the Archives: Deeper into Truth

I was in my car, waiting for the lights to change when the woman caught my attention. I watched her as she crossed the road into the plaza. Her dark blonde hair was short and spiky--slightly unkempt--her face was pale and had a slightly quizzical expression. Her clothes were odd. Beneath the skirt of a cotton dress, she wore turquoise leggings and over her dress a short, light brown jacket. "An artistic soul," I thought at first,"Someone who marches to the beat of their own drum." Then she put a cigarette to her mouth and took a long drag on it as she hurried along--and with that small action, my impression changed--her eccentricity seemed of a different kind as she hurried along the street.

I thought of how quickly an impression can change based on very limited information and I thought of how limited my ability is to "see" well at all.

My friend Irene and I were chatting recently about the Johari Window. This window is a diagram related to how we appear or present ourselves. There are four squares that represent information about ourselves that is a) known both to ourselves and to others b) known to ourselves but not to others c) not known to ourselves but known to others and d) not known to ourselves or others. The bottom line is that perception is far from accurate or complete, much of the time.

I realize that my "vision" is limited. While I see little and in one dimension, God sees the integrated whole. I see in black and white--not the full spectrum of colour--God sees in technicolour.

Dear Lord, for all the times that I am quick to judge when I have no right, please forgive me. Thank you for this simple reminder of my limitations and your omniscience.

1 Corinthians 13:12 (New International Version)
12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

(First published March 17/07)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Christopher's Story Part 3 The War

In 1944, Chris was working in a reserved occupation, glass blowing, in Lancashire. But it also happened to be a traditional recruiting area for the Brigade of Guards. In spite of being officially prohibited from enlisting, he managed to do so and his service record shows that he enlisted in the Grenadier Guards at Wolverhampton on May 22nd 1944. He was 23.

Although the regiment was formed in 1656, during King Charles the 11's exile, and was originally named the First Footguards, the name Grenadier was given after 1815, when they defeated the French Grenadiers at Waterloo. Then the bearskin of the grenadier company was adopted by the entire regiment, and the "grenade" replaced the former badge of "royal cypher and crown."

Chris, whose hard earlier life had given him little to take pride in, must felt a sense of belonging in the army such as he had never had before. He was assigned to the King's Company, an elite corp. because they were short one man and he was 6 feet tall.

After training for about 10 months, he was in Europe for two months; from March 2nd to May 2nd, 1945.  He returned in 1946 as part of the occupying force, the British Army of the Rhine.

There were many key events that took place during the two months Chris spent in Europe. He arrived as part of an armoured brigade, just three weeks after the horrific bombing of Dresden by the Allies; which took place in mid February. The Allies took Cologne on March 7th 1945 and on April 30th 1945, Adolph Hitler committed suicide. May 7th, just 5 days after he returned to England, saw the unconditional surrender of all German forces to the Allies and May 8th was Victory in Europe Day.

Chris, like many other soldiers did not talk a lot about the war with us. That time seemed to be a closed door, behind which were memories he did not care to resurrect.

He did share the memory of one day with me towards the end of his life, and although by then it was almost sixty years later, it seemed as vivid as if it happened just yesterday.

Dad's memory of Friday, April 13th 1945:
He was in the infantry, the First All Grenadier Regiment of Foot guards and their objective was Zeven, in Germany.

Dad was riding with a convoy of 4 Sherman tanks, motorized infantry. This meant that you either rode on top of a tank, or a half track (half car, half tank with regular wheels on the front for steering and caterpillar tracks on the back to propel the vehicle.)

The wireless operator handed Dad the earphones and told him to listen to the German broadcast in which someone was warning them in English, saying, "You'll regret it."

Dad was on the fourth tank. The second tank blew up, hit by an 88mm German gun. All the infantry then quickly got off (and by then were into a heavily wooded area and the tanks were ineffective--they were blind). In open formation they had to go through the woods (seeing "for" the tanks.)

They did not see a single German, strangely, but found German horse drawn artillery, all killed, soldiers and horses, by a bomb blast. Dad said that there was not a mark on them.

Then, quite a way through the woods, they came under artillery fire and took cover. A guardsman named Douglas (Dougie) Clegg, from Manchester, told Dad that it was Friday the 13th and said that it was their own guns that were firing on them. It lasted about 8-10 minutes. Dad said that they had evidently been ordered to pull back and the reason that they had been fired on was that they were too far forward.

Dad saw a guardsman crouched over on a tree trunk. He went back to him and tried to find out if he was wounded, and where. He clearly had a shrapnel chest wound, the size of a shilling, Dad said. He did the only thing he could, and lifted him in a fireman's lift, carrying him to a tank that was pulling out. The soldiers on top of the tank lifted him off Dad, onto the tank.

Dad suddenly realized as the tanks pulled away that he hadn't got on one himself. He saw a Bren gun carrier and got into it. He shouted to the driver to get them out, but it was stuck because is had stopped on ground that was too high and the tracks weren't engaging with the ground. All of them rocked the carrier until one track engaged, and finally it got them out.

After this, they were on foot, in the heavily wooded area attacking the Alpine German troops, the 9th Reserve Jaeger Battalion that had been in a school. They drove them out, including the Volkstern (home guard) and S.S. They were in retreat.

Dad went into the school and found a German sniper rifle. It was a beautiful rifle, with wide telescopic sights. It was in a long corridor and on the wall at the end of the corridor was a big picture of Hitler. Dad thought he would try the rifle and shoot at the picture, but then realized that in a confined space, bullets could ricochet. He turned around, and there was an open doorway behind him. He could see the back half of a German vehicle and there was was a German helmet, resting on something. Dad thought he'd shoot at that instead, but stopped and decided to go and look at it first. To his horror, when he picked it up, he found that it was supported on the warhead of a bazooka bomb. The Germans that had been there were either dead or had pulled out.

After going through the school and on beyond it, a German came out from behind a tree with his hands up in surrender. A guardsman named Burkett ("killer Burkett was his nickname,) had a Bren machine gun, which was normally operated from the ground, on his hip. He shot the surrendering soldier with the Bren gun, from his hip, almost cutting him in two. In horror, Dad gasped, "Why on earth did you do that, he was only a young lad?"

The lines get blurry between friend and foe when a human life can be snuffed out by one of the "good guys."

Chris returned to England on May 5th 1945, returning to Germany on the 26th of February 1946 where he stayed until the 5th of December 1946 as part of the British Army of the Rhine, overseeing prisoners of war.

Next week, Pieternella's War Years continue...and in two weeks time, Chris and Nel meet.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Wisdom Listens

The past two weeks have been busier than usual, with long hours. Even though it was only a four day week because of the holiday last weekend I was so looking forward to Friday. When I finally left the office in which I spent Friday afternoon, I urged the other stragglers to leave as I bid them farewell with a sense of joyful anticipation.

Today I did a bit of this and a bit of that--talking on the phone to family, folding laundry, digging in the dirt and pulling weeds--a spot of shopping too. Then finally as the twilight gathered, I stepped out with my golden boy for a walk.

The air outside the house was cooling down, but the moisture in the air still clung to us.

I considered how Christmassy Molson looked, with his mismatched red collar and green leash--like a reindeer that had showed up for the wrong seasonal celebration. But he was happily oblivious. He cared only for sniffing the trail, and he did it, nose to the ground, with the concentration of a forensic detective.

My senses were immediately saturated to the point of intoxication. The air was heavy with the scent of blossom, mostly lilac. I thought that this must surely be how heaven smells.

Birds chirped and chirruped their evening settling songs and from across the fields came the raucous cries of a flock of geese. Hydro wires hummed, and a ball bounced in a dark driveway--a boy taking the day to the edge of night.

I pondered a phrase that a friend had left on my answering machine this week: Knowledge speaks, wisdom listens. Four words with a lot of meat behind them.

I turned them over and over in my mind, this way and that, thinking of how they could be interpreted:

If knowledge speaks it is wisdom to listen.

"Knowledge" speaks, but "Wisdom" listens.

I thought of the fight for independence of small children and then teens; the necessary pushing back against parents without which there would be no separate identity formed. Their struggle is as necessary as that of a beautiful butterfly in order for it to emerge from the cocoon.

But true maturity realizes that in listening there is wisdom and wisdom to be gained. I am still learning to listen well, and fail often.

The twilight had turned to deep dusk by the time we turned into our road. I unclipped Molson's leash and he waited expectantly for me to fold it so that he could take it in his mouth. He loves to trot the last leg of the walk, proudly carrying his leash, free of constraint. As we crossed a parking lot and neared the edge of the street though, I called for him to stop. He did.

Knowledge speaks, wisdom listens.
I love it.

James 1:19 (New International Version)
19My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Yikes! Wrong Song on Thursday

This morning when I told Frances about my Thursday post about her arrangement of Psalm 136, set to the tune, She Moved Through the Fair, she said, "That wasn't the song, it was My Lagan Love!" This explains the "finagling" I referred to that had to be done, in order to make the words fit. Apologies to Frances. Here is the right song. But we do get to enjoy two absolutely lovely melodies. Frances's version, was based on the Kate Bush rendition, but I can't find it on You Tube, so here is the most lovely I could find, by Boreen.

Placing a "higher value" on suffering

I have never forgotten her words, spoken softly but firmly as she taught our teleconference class in Christian life coaching. That was back in April of this year, the first month of my wonderful training. My classmates from Singapore, Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and more places, and I, from Muskoka, Ontario, listened and engaged through the long distance phone lines and dutifully took our notes about the differences between regular and Christian life coaching. The main difference that stood out for me was encased in her words: "We place a higher value on suffering."

Those words were in some ways a truism for me, a "duh". Okay, so we get it. We Christians know all about suffering and its value, I guess, or are supposed to. But in this day and age of the prosperity gospel, the wonderings about whether we are doing something wrong if we have difficulties, we need to be told that. Especially in the world of life coaching. For that is where we are trained to help others to fulfill long dormant dreams, to live their best life, to be the person they have always wanted to be, to move forward in spite of the obstacles and negative mindsets that may have plagued them all their lives.

A.B. Simpson is quoted in Streams in the Desert (where else? This little book is jampacked with big truths about learning through suffering):

Trials and hard places are needed to press us forward, even as the furnace fires in the hold of that mighty ship give force that moves the piston, drives the engine, and propels that great vessel across the sea in the face of the winds and the waves.

It's not just about enduring suffering and growing from's about its necessity in the Christian life. And so its necessity in Christian life coaching.

Another aspect of this theme is given by Thomas Moore about depression in his book, Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life, and his chapter called "Gifts of Depression":

Maybe we could appreciate the role of depression in the economy of the soul more if we could only take away the negative connotations of the word. What if 'depression' were simply a state of being, neither good nor bad, something the soul does in its own good time and for its own good reasons?

Depression grants the gift of experience not as a literal fact but as an attitude toward yourself. You get a sense of having lived through something, of being older and wiser. You know that life is suffering, and that knowledge makes a difference. You can't enjoy the bouncy, carefree innocence of youth any longer, a realization that entails both sadness because of the loss, and pleasure in a new feeling of self-acceptance and self-knowledge. This awareness of age has a halo of melancholy around it, but it also enjoys a measure of nobility.

It really is possible, at every level, to rejoice in our trials and our sadness. Not only can they produce great inner growth and push us forward to better achieve our goals and dreams, but they can even provide a satisfaction in themselves, a quiet knowledge of God's presence in them, and of our greater awareness of our own companionship, with Him, and with ourselves.

I am so deeply grateful that when I develop my Christian life coaching business I can incorporate all levels of experience, my own in my understanding, and all that my clients will be going through. I will not be coaching them to get out of their depression, or get past the difficulties in their lives, but I will have the privilege of being with them in the midst of them, encouraging them to place a high value on them, and receive all that is possible from and through them. This then can be part of the abundant living that we are promised.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Nolan Visits The Government

It's funny how children will take bits and pieces of their limited knowledge and knit them together into their own version of "reality".

Last weekend, we took five-year-old Nolan to Ottawa for a special weekend away with Papa and Mommy'sMum. When we asked him where he would like to go, he chose "Ottawa" over all other offers, including Niagara Falls, Agawa Canyon, Science North, and various other adventures. He hears a lot about "the government" in his household, and maybe that was the attraction. He has a dad that half jokingly blames any and all of his financial woes on having to pay the government so many taxes, and a mom who does her best to clean up any wrong perceptions by explaining that the tax money daddy has to pay doesn't just go to "the government", but is used to build highways and hospitals and parks.

When we arrived in Ottawa, the first thing Nolan wanted to see was "the government". So we took him to Parliament Hill. The lineup to tour the inside was long so we just wandered around the grounds. He was especially intrigued with the fountain, out of the centre of which sprouts the "eternal flame". He peered down into the water and asked me why there was money in the fountain.

Nolan asked if he could throw some money in too, but even though we spoiled him thoroughly all weekend, I was glad I didn't have any change to give him and could say "no" with good reason. I certainly didn't expect him to understand, but I couldn't resist drawing attention to the irony of his idea. "I give the government enough money already without throwing it in a fountain for them."

Upon arrival home a few days later, his Mom and Dad asked him about his trip. With shining blue eyes he recounted the highlights of his great adventure.

"I saw the government!" he exclaimed, referring to the Parliament buildings. He was wide-eyed with wonder as he continued. "They're rich!" he said, as his mommy nodded with understanding. She was waiting for him to tell her how he had visited the Canadian Mint, or The Currency Museum, but he had something else on his mind.

"You know where they keep their money?" he asked. "In a fountain!"

We all, of course, erupted in laughter at his childish misperception.

I imagine Father God has many moments of laughter as we, his children, try to piece together our bits of understanding as to who he is and what he is about. Nolan did his best at putting two and two together and figuring out in his mind how it all fits, but his perspective was just far too limited to come out right. I wonder how often we think we've got God all figured out when really our perspective is just too limited to come to any real understanding of what he's all about.

It's got me thinking, anyway.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Give Thanks to God

Among the loose, precious pieces of paper between the pages of my Bible is an ivory page, bearing the familiar embellished handwriting of my friend Frances. It is an arrangement based on Psalm 136 that she wrote and sang a few years ago, to the tune of She Moved Through the Fair--a beautiful Celtic song. Frances's voice is perfect for Celtic folk music, and I've never forgotten how lovely it sounded. All I can do to help you experience it is to type out the words and add two video clips. One is of DadGad playing the tune on an acoustic guitar. It is incredibly beautiful. The other is of Sinead O'Connor singing the song in 1997. You might be able to imagine how the words might fit with a bit of finagling! :) I hope you enjoy it all--the words and the music.

Give thanks to God for He is good
His love endures forever
Give thanks to him the God of Gods
His love endures forever
Give thanks to Him who is Lord of Lords
His love endures forever

Give thanks to Him who does great things
Who skillfully made the heavens--
And who placed earth upon the sea
His love endures forever

Give thanks to Him who made heavenly lights
His love endures forever
And made the sun to rule the day
His love endures forever
The moon and stars to rule the night
His love endures forever

Give thanks to Him who parts the seas
And leads Israel safely through
But throws Pharaoh into the sea
His love endures forever

He saves us from our enemies
His love endures forever
He breathes life into all living things
His love endures forever
Thank Him who is the great I AM
His love endures forever

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Knowing by Heart

Psalm 139:1-4 (New International Version)
1 O LORD, you have searched meand you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD

Her husband of forty or so years was doing the talking, but I was watching her. Her subtle response to what he was saying was priceless to observe.

I don't remember what he was saying, but I remember every slight shift of her expression.She had no idea that she was being so acutely observed; that I saw her quick glance away as he spoke; the merry twinkle of the eye; the lips pressed together as if to hold back the words that threatened to escape--and the tiniest of smiles. All of them combined to say, "I love that man, but right now he's singing a familiar song that doesn't make as much sense as he thinks it does--and I'm not saying a word."

Her response made me think of that poignantly beautiful song, recorded by Eva Cassidy, I Know You By Heart. And I thought, is there anything better than to be known by heart? I don't think so.

Being known by heart in human relationships is hard won, whether in a marriage or friendship. It is forged in the fires of misunderstanding and tears and is the precious fruit of persistence and faithfulness to one another in spite of the occasional urge to throw something--hard.

Fear keeps some from being known by heart--no-one gets past the heavily guarded door that guards it. Oh what they miss.

I cherish my close relationships--the ones where we fit like a foot in a comfortable old slipper or a key in a lock. I fall back upon them as into soft, supportive pillows. In these relationships I can show the side of me that is weak and flawed and know that I am still loved.

The Bible says that there is one who knows us even more intimately than the most intimate of friends--and loves us still. He knows us by heart.

Psalm 139:15-17 (New International Version)
15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
16 your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them.

(From the Archives 07.08.31)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Taking It Up a Notch

"From the Archives" will be tomorrow instead of today. God birthed a different post for Tuesday, and "just in case" someone else out there needs to hear it, here it is--and I hope it makes sense. :)

A sobering thought just struck me: We don't just live our lives "with" our children and grandchildren; we live them "before" them.

With every response we teach them more powerfully than words ever could, how to be, and what is important.

Is what I want to teach them being adequately represented by my words and actions? Not really.

Oh, don't get me wrong, I think that much good is lived out before them, but there is something I need to be better at, and that is demonstrating how much I love them by the time and focused attention I give them, individually and as a group.

I have, in my busyness, fallen into the trap of "being with" them often, cooking wonderfully hospitable meals and creating a place of welcome, but not so often "doing with."

I think that is the longing of every child's heart of the adults in their lives.

I want to do better at this. I want to teach them by my attention and time (while they still want it!) that they are precious and important.

I want to know them more intimately and share the adventure of life with them more fully, while I can.

There will be times when I am just exhausted; I am not just a grandmother, after all. But that role can be taken up a notch and I want to do better at it.

For all the children in our lives, who need to be loved with all of our hearts and energy, I pray that God will teach us how to love well.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pieternella (Nelly) 1941-43

The words on the back of the photograph of the young man read:

"In remembrance of my beloved son Gerd. For my little, dear Nelly! From Frau Marie Weers.
Gerd was born 25.3.23, on a Sunday, in the morning at 8 o'clock."


Each day people's lives are changed forever in big ways and small by those whose lives touch theirs.

This is how it was in 1941 when Kaatje (Kitty,) my mother's sister, who was 11 at the time, came home in a state of excitement. She couldn't wait to tell the family about the wonderful new friend she had made. His name was Gerd von Minden; he was 18 and in the Kriegsmarine; the German navy; on a boat docked in the Schie river in Rotterdam. Before long, Kaatje brought him home to meet her family, with his 19 year old friend, Kurt Reske, who was from Prussia

They found a place of friendship, and family, in our family, while they were stationed in Rotterdam from 1941-43. Oma used to wash and starch parts of Kurt’s uniform and he would bring them bread, which he had access to because he was a cook on the ship. Mum was in her 15th year when these boys--for that is what they were--came into her life.

When Mum shared this part of our history with me when I was a teenager, she struggled. But she wanted me to know, and I knew that whatever she was trying to tell me was very hard. I tried to guess what it might be, but my guesses were far off and for many years afterwards I tried hard to reconcile myself to what she told me.

A dark spot of shame grew in my heart, even as I tried to understand. Not shame of her--how could that be? But it wasn't the history I wanted. It was only in recent years that I came to terms with it through writing the story and sharing it--and letting go of judgements I had no right to make.

We see things in black and white and yet real life is not so simple. I don't know what I would have done in their situation. Would I have forbidden my children to speak to the enemy in the streets? But these were boys, more like older brothers than anything. They gave the children chocolate and made friends of them. My uncle, who loved horses, made friends with the soldiers in the cavalry.

In 1943 Gerd was sent to the Adriatic Sea – they never saw him again. He died on the 12th of October 1944. He was 21 by then. The boy who they knew was terrified of dying in the water, drowned when his ship was torpedoed. Kurt’s boat was sunk too, but he survived, although in ill health. He was sent home to Germany with TB. Kaatje too, died in 1942, of blood poisoning. She was only 12.

Kurt, who is in the group photo above, fell in love with Mum. He kissed her only once, and they lost touch when he and Gerd were sent away. In 1944, when Mum was 18, he wrote from Germany, and asked her father for her hand in marriage. Mum never saw the letter, but her father wrote back and said that if he really loved her, he would not ask, because of his illness.

I look into Gerd's eyes in the photo and grieve a life lost so young, an only son. It seems important to tell the small part of his story that I know, here. I'm glad that he found a welcome somewhere, when he would never see his own mother again.

As the war swirled around them all, there were darker shadows yet to come in all of their lives

Nelly's story will continue in two weeks. Next Monday, Christopher's story continues.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


On Saturday, I, with my daughter-in-law Susan, my granddaughter and her friend, all set out for Hamilton for a Michael W. Smith concert at Copps Coliseum.

We left at 10.30 a.m., intending to enjoy this day to the full, and we did! Every single minute of it was perfect.

We had tickets in the Artist Circle, thanks to the generosity of my friend Susan's sister Brenda, who sadly couldn't make the concert herself. To add to the excitement we had an invitation to the V.I.P. lounge to meet the artists who would be opening for Michael W.Smith: Jon Bauer, High Valley, Kevin Pauls and Christine Evans.

We had lunch at Kelsey's upon arriving in Hamilton, and then found the nearest mall to shop in until 4.30, when the V.I.P. lounge opened. And so we found ourselves ushered in through a separate entrance to the crowds that would be arriving later. I was right out of my comfort zone, but planned to hide behind my daughter-in-law and granddaughter and let them do any meeting and greeting there was to be done, but from the moment we arrived, I kept bumping into people I knew, and in no time I was engaged in one conversation after another, totally forgetting my nervousness. The bands turned out to be just nice human beings, although we really didn't get close enough to them that they could bite!

There must have been 6,000 people at the Coliseum and the show was full of amazing music, as well as an atmosphere of worship and honour to God.

So, since a picture is worth a thousand words, I am sharing some photos of the concert, hoping that you enjoy them.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"All That is Here are Humans"

This week I was helping my daughter with a class presentation about the effectiveness of UN Peacekeeping in the world. One of our sources was Romeo Dallaire's book, Shake Hands With the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda ,his account of the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990's when he was in charge of the ineffective UN force at that time. What he experienced and witnessed drove him into despair and madness for a time, and through his faith and therapy and the faithful love of his wife, he came back to sanity and is a powerful voice in the world today against the hypocrisy of many policies of our western governments.

I was riveted by something he said in the introduction:

Engraved still in my brain is the judgment of a small group of bureaucrats who came to "assess" the situation in the first weeks of the genocide: " We will recommend to our government not to intervene as the risks are high and all that is here are humans".

Besides the rage I feel along with him at "man's inhumanity to man", and the unspeakable evil that was unleashed in those few weeks, I ponder these words in the wider context of all that we and I do in so many contexts each day.

All that is here are humans.

All that is here are humans.

What does it really mean to say that?

How many times do we say that in one way or another to ourselves, or in our actions or our inaction?

How many times do we refuse to take risks, to move out of our comfort zones, in order to help others in their "humanity"?

How many times do I demean my own humanity, and that of another, a friend even, by not being willing to risk my reputation, my pride, my comfort, in order to reach out to them?

I find I have to ask myself this question more, rather than less, as I move on in my Christian life. I am struck more each day by the judgmentalism of Christians, and my own judgments, not only of others, but of myself.

I feel I have many more new levels to explore in my spiritual journey. After more than 40 years on this journey, I often feel I have only begun. I am more and more grateful for the new challenges God is bringing into my life: study and work in the areas of coaching and counselling, which really means learning, growing, and giving (and of course receiving) in the arenas of validating personhood and giving life.

But I know that what matters to Him, and really to me and my growth, is what is going on inside me. As I seek to grow to be more like Him, am I becoming more human? He became fully human. So it is completely spiritually "logical" that growing in Him means growing in my humanity. How often do we or I think that way? Even to ask myself that question in this way seems new for me.

I need to remember this every day: All that is here are humans. Then I need to decide what I am called to do because of that.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Food for Thought

Our daughter Beth lives next door with her family of husband, brother-in-law and five little boys, and if her lights are on, I can rarely resist checking in. She has four lazyboy chairs in her living room, perfectly situated for conversation and when it is after 10 p.m., as it was tonight when I turned off of our laneway and into her driveway, her crazily active boys are sure to be all in bed. Perfect for a good night chat. I can't tell you what a blessing it is to have such a good friend living right next door.

Tonight we talked about a number of things that were concerning us. She told me about how she was addressing a particular issue and I told her how I was impressed at her assertiveness and the tenacity to see a wrong righted where she had a God-given responsibility to do so.

"How come you're like that?" I asked. "What gives you the courage to stand up for yourself until the issue is dealt with?" I was thinking of my own passive nature (passive doesn't mean quiet, necessarily!) I knew I would have backed down in the same situation, while also knowing that I would have felt frustrated and probably wounded to some degree or another. Not Beth. She was addressing the issue with clarity and intentionality and not letting go until she has done all that she can do.

I was surprised when she said, "You taught me that." And then said there had been a defining moment in her life.

She immediately took me back to when she was in her mid teens - nearly 20 years ago. We had stopped at an Arby's restaurant in Newmarket. We ordered takeout, just before closing time and realized too late that her friend Lorraine had not received the apple turnover she had paid for. I went back to the door of the restaurant to let them know of their mistake, but they had just locked up and were pointedly ignoring my knocks. If it had been my apple turnover, I would have just left, but Beth remembers me saying to her that "Lorraine should get what she paid for". I was not going to let those workers inside the restaurant rest until she got was coming to her.

I banged louder and louder, watching the people inside continue to ignore us, until finally they could stand it no more. After a full five mintues, a disgruntled young man in an Arby's uniform ambled over to the door. He said, "We're closed," as though I hadn't noticed after five minutes of banging on a locked door! I quickly explained the reason for my attempts at after-hours entry, a turnover was popped into a bag and handed over and we were on our way.

It wasn't a big deal. If it had happened to me I would certainly have let it go. But when it was a kid being taken advantage of, something kicked in and I had to hang on - until we got the desired result. I had completely forgotten about the incident. In fact, I'm sure I would have had trouble recalling it even a month later, never mind going on 20 years now. But to Beth it was defining moment in her young life.

It struck me deeply how that silly little incident could have such a deep and lasting impact. It was no big deal, truly. And yet God used it to deeply etch some character into a young heart - character that he knew he would need for a specific purpose one day.

We never know what effect our actions and attitudes will have on the young lives who are watching. What to me was a small and an entirely forgettable incident was something that she would never forget and had profoundly influenced her future and the wonderful person she came to be in adulthood. It really makes you think...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Devil's in the Details

Whoops--I started this post and accidentally pressed the publish button with just the start of the title, "The Devil." I'm sure some people wondered what that was about. I will try again!

I have never counted myself as an excellent out loud story teller. The trouble is, occasionally there is a story that I want to tell.

If my stories were paintings they would be in the style of the impressionists; those 19th century French artists who used tiny dots or brush strokes, of light and dark and colour, to create the impression of whatever it was they were painting. Viewed up close all one can see is seemingly random dots. From afar, the portrait or scene is clear.

The older I get, the less I worry about unnecessary details, and have got used to my children saying, "Mom, that's not what happened." I throw out the approximate facts, not with any intention of misleading, but I honestly just want to make a point and don't let the details get in the way.

And so it was last Friday at lunch with my coworkers. One of them was running a half marathon on the weekend, which reminded me of the amazing documentary Paul and I had recently watched, called, Super Heroes. There was a man who had run a half marathon in Finland, in below freezing temperatures. I started off by telling them how he had prepared for the cold by sitting in very cold water for an extended period--"It was, like, minus 8 degrees." I said.

"Belinda, the water would have been frozen," said one of my work mates.

"Well, it was very cold," I said, "And he stayed in it for an amazing length of time, actually raising his body temperature." Every one was suitably impressed by that.

"And then he ran the half marathon, in freezing temperatures, barefoot, with no clothes on."

Again my helpful workmate drew me back to reality. "He ran naked?"

"No!" I laughed, "Not naked. He had spandex shorts on, but that was all--he had no proper clothes on." The thought of a truly naked marathoner was quite funny for a moment and distracted me further.

By the time I got the story out, amazing as it was (he should have lost toes to frost bite, but willed them back to life from waxy white lifelessness) I think it lost something, but it did make me think about my poor grip on some details and how fixed some other people are on them! :)

I so admire people who can recite the names of actors and actresses in the movies they're talking about. If I can remember the title of the movie I am doing very well, even though I love watching movies.

I have come to the conclusion that there are detail people and non detail people and I know which camp I am in! How about you?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Fruit of Our Faith

2 Peter 1:3-9 (New International Version)
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.

5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.

These inspiring words from 2 Peter tell us that faith is a foundation to be built upon, step by step, leading us ultimately and unbelievably, to participate in the divine nature (verse 4.)

If we don't build incrementally upon the foundation of our faith, Peter tells us that we will be ineffective, unproductive and nearsighted, forgetting that we have been cleansed from past sins.

In other words, although we may have responded to God initially in faith, we are like stunted trees, weak and sickly.

Peter's words in verse 3 arrest me! "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness." And in verse 4, "He has given us his very great and precious promises so that through them we may participate in the divine nature."

The key is that none of it is our doing and yet there is something to be done.

Jeremiah 17:7-8 (New International Version)
7 "But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.
8 He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit."


goodness, knowledge, self control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness


Faith is the beginning, and the end is love. Love is the divine nature, the fruit of our faith.
2 Peter 3:18 (New International Version)
18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

High Horses and Other Modes of Transport

Proverbs 16:18 (New International Version)

18 Pride goes before destruction,a haughty spirit before a fall.

My eyes fluttered open as the grey light of dawn filtered into my room. Stretching in the warm cocoon of my bed, I reached into the crispy cold air of my bedroom with my outstretched arms. Something important was tugging at my sleepy brain, and slowly I remembered; I had an adventure planned for this morning!

As quietly as I could, I slipped from between the covers. Shivering and teeth chattering, I quickly dressed and padded downstairs, careful not to wake my sleeping parents and brother. My parents certainly wouldn't have understood my mission -- and my brother, three years younger, would have wanted to tag along.

Leaving the still silent house with a couple of apples in my pocket, I stepped out into a world already alive with chirping, twittering bird-song and began to run through the frosty grass towards the meadow.

There she stood, my friend Merrylegs; and at my approach she walked towards the fence, the breath from her nostrils hanging in the cold air. Her warm velvety nose nuzzled into my outstretched hand, her lips feeling for the juicy apple to munch.I climbed over the fence and jumped to the ground, landing with a thud.

My aim was to ride Merrylegs, but I'd never ridden a horse, and all of a sudden, standing right beside her, I realized how high she stood.

After a few valiant attempts to jump on, which she patiently tolerated, I realized that my fantasy of galloping around the field would be unfulfilled, that day at least!

This was my first encounter with a "high horse," but not my last. Every now and then it seems, a "high horse" gallops into view and unlike my experience with Merrylegs, it is all too easy to climb up on them.

It's not a trait I like and I'm learning to dismount as soon as I realize I'm up there. It's a height I'd rather not fall from.I think about Jesus, who chose a very different mode of transport. A king who rode a donkey-- a beast that speaks of humility. How different from my "high horse" that speaks of self and pride.

Dear Lord, please help me, when I feel the "high horse" trotting into my vicinity, to look around instead for the donkey. Please transform me, help me to choose the path of gentleness and humility.

Zechariah 9:9 (New International Version
The Coming of Zion's King
9 Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!See, your king comes to you,righteous and having salvation,gentle and riding on a donkey,on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
(September 29, 2006)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Christopher's Story Part 2

In this photo, Christopher is in the 2nd row from the bottom, and is 2nd from the right.

In the second photo he is in the second row, on the far right
In the third, back row, far right, already showing the proud posture that would stand him in good stead as a soldier.

Fourth, in his early teens, taken in the mid 1930's

At 17 (1938)

I am curled up very comfortably, in a wing backed reclining armchair and waking up from a delicious afternoon nap. My eyes register movement from outside the window. The branches of the Magnolia tree, heavy with luminous pink blossom, are nodding in the afternoon breeze. The clock ticks away seconds and minutes, a comforting sound when there is no rush to do anything in particular.

It is Mother's Day, in May of 2009 in North America, but my mind is drifting back, far back across 8 decades to the 1920's, 30's and early 40's and to England, the place of my birth. It is time to pick up Christopher's story where we left him two weeks ago, with his mother Lucy, a virtual stranger to him when his Auntie Agnes took him from Birmingham to live with her, in a farm cottage in Wassell Grove.

Christopher's life changed in a moment at 4 years old. Up until then, he had known only the close knit community of the back streets of Hockley in Birmingham, with uncles, aunts and grandparents. Now it was time for Lucy to care for him.

Lucy could not even care for herself. She had been thrown out of her home in disgrace when she became pregnant and given up her baby to her parents to care for so that she could work in a sanatorium for T.B. patients in order to survive. She had married a much older man, who was now widowed, and at 21 she was destitute and scratching out a meagre living working for the village rector.

Lucy had a streak of cruelty running in her veins. She insisted on calling Christopher "Leslie," his middle name, even though he disliked it. It was the name of the man his Auntie Agnes told him was his father (Leslie Holland, a jeweller in Birmingham,) although Lucy steadfastly to her death refused to tell him who his father was, never confirming it.

They were so hungry that Christopher pulled carrots from the farmer's field to eat, even though there was a good chance of getting caught by the local policeman.

Soon Christopher and Lucy moved from the cottage into Hagley, and the schoolhouse in Hall Gardens. It was there that Lucy met and married another older man: Peter Thornburgh, one of the most feared men in nearby Stourbridge. Options were few for a woman in her situation. Violence became a familiar pattern, and beatings for both her and Christopher. She had three children with Peter: Patricia, Sidney and Frank.

Peter kept pidgeons and would sit on his doorstep with a timer, waiting for them to come back. If they landed by mistake on a neighbour's roof, he would shoot them off.

One day Lucy sent Christopher to look for Peter in the hide when he was out hunting and when he called for him, he was terrified when pellets whistled over his head.

Peter used to put a net over the holes leading from rabbit warrens, and send his dog down, to chase rabbits into the net. He shot his own dog with a 12 bore shot gun because it came out with nothing.

He once showed Christopher a ferret in a cage, and encouraged him to touch it, saying that it was lovely and cuddly. When it bit right through Christopher's finger, Peter laughed and said, "You won't do that again, will you?"

Childhood was a time of poverty, fear and cruelty for Christopher, who was a sensitive child with a love of music, singing and art. He sang in the church choir, and loved poetry and literature. At the same time he had a deep sense of inferiority and shame; a message communicated since birth, and which never left him.

As soon as possible, Christopher left home for Smethwick/Oldbury on the outskirts of Birmingham, where he apprenticed as a glassblower. He was sent north to Lancashire with a young friend for more training.

The second great war of the century had begun in Europe and Britain had declare war on Germany in 1939, but glass blowers were a "reserved occupation."

(To explain: From Wikipedia)
"A reserved occupation (also known as essential services) is an occupation considered important enough to a country that those serving in such occupations are exempt - in fact forbidden - from military service."

"World War II in the UK, in 1938, a Schedule of Reserved Occupations had been drawn up, exempting certain key skilled workers from conscription. This was as a result of the problems from World War I, when too many skilled workers were allowed to enlist, thus creating serious problems in certain key industries. The reserved (or scheduled) occupation scheme was a complicated one, covering five million men in a vast range of jobs."

Lancashire, however, was traditionally a big recruitment area for the Brigade of Guards, and eventually, Christopher did manage to enlist, in spite of being officially prohibited from doing so, on the 22nd of May, 1944.

The firm he worked for was very unhappy, at his enlisting, but did not stop him.

Chris was 23 and the next 8 years would have a profound affect on him, changing him forever...

Christopher's Story, Part 3, will continue in two weeks. Next week: Pieternella's Story, Part 2.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day


I am a mother.
I sometimes wound as well as heal.
I unintentionally sometimes inflict guilt--and knowingly, as well as unwittingly, cross boundaries.
I have the terrifying power to crush a heart with a look or a word.
There are days when I feel more like a toxic waste dump of generational junk than the ideal woman of Proverbs 31.
Motherhood humbles me. I find myself doing and saying things I was sure I would never do or say.
I regret, repent and cannot forgive myself for some mistakes.
Motherhood drives me to my knees before God.
It fills my heart with a love that is a physical ache sometimes.
I am overwhelmed at knowing that I would be capable of terrible things if anyone threatened my children. The violence of that instinct shocks me.
Motherhood pulls out of me my best and sometimes my worst.
And sometimes I wonder how God could entrust children to such blundering hands. But he does, and somehow they survive.
And wonder of wonders, they find it in their hearts to love, and forgive, and even demonstrate honour, on days like today.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Bright, Beautiful, Faithful and True: Tribute to My Mother

This is my second Mother's Day without my mother, who died on March 31st, 2008, in my arms, in the last month of her 95th year, of colorectal cancer. Her face and body were shrunk to a fraction of their former beauty and strength, but still she died with dignity and grace. I, despite many years of emotional hardship in my relationship with this powerful figure in my life, was able to lovingly pray with her a number of times in her final months, and crawl into bed beside her to rub her back. My sister and I shall never forget the tender moments of my mother's final days, and the opportunity God gave us to show our love to the mother who was faithful and true to us in the ways she knew. Although we are relieved to not have her sometimes critical spirit and sharp tongue wound us at times, are released from receiving surprise emotional "kicks", we miss our mother, and we always will. We look back on the life of Dorothy and are able to celebrate the person that she was above and beyond the dark side that very few people saw. I shall be eternally glad that the final words God gave me to speak over my mother as I rocked her in my arms were "Good mummy. Good mummy." They came from a place deep within my spirit, and deep within God's heart living within me. My final tribute to my mother who was there for me all her days, in her way. The other final tribute to her that God gave me to give publicly at her memorial service is what I feel led to share today. It was given in Windsor, Ontario, where Mum spent so much of her life, and where I was born and grew up. After she was cremated we took her back there to be placed beside my father in a special plot near their beloved church. The friends we spoke to had not seen her in her final days, and that was how Mum wanted it to be. So I was able to honour her in her death as they had known her in her life.

Reflections about Dorothy Hallam by her daughter, Meg Wardroper

All things bright and beautiful. Dorothy loved beautiful things, whether daffodils or Davenport, petunias or pettipoint, hummingbirds or Harris tweed. She had an eye for beauty and she created beautiful things. Most of all Dorothy was beautiful, inside and out. And bright. More than that, she was faithful, and she was true. These words from our hymn, and from scripture, express the essence of Dorothy Margaret Wilson Hallam for me, her daughter, and for so many of us here, family and friends. We want to honour our dear Dorothy today with some words which will try to do justice in some small way to her spirit and her being.

We get the opportunity to do this because she can’t prevent us from doing so, and we know that since she is with us today we hope somehow she will enjoy it, the way she would enjoy a birthday, so let us celebrate her as if she were indeed at her birthday party, on her day which is just ten days from now. She is already at a party in Heaven, with my father, her brothers and sisters, her mother and father, and so many others she will know and recognize. Just a few weeks before she died Mum was talking about looking forward so much to seeing Dad, getting herself ready after waiting twenty years. What a reunion that must have been! And what a privilege it was for me and my sister and nephew to be with Mum in her final hours, to watch her pass from this world to the next, and breathe a sigh of relief that at last her pain was over.

“Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints.” He watched over Mum’s death, and prepared her and all of us, working out so many details of time and place, care and contact. Mum’s death began when she was still here in Windsor. She didn’t want you to know, and so it suited her to have her last days in a place where you couldn’t see her suffer, and we were blessed to be able to be there for and with her in that time. And because she was far away so many of you wrote lovely cards and letters to her and called her. Often we would read notes to her telling how much she was missed for some particular quality and she would say “I never knew”, and we would rejoice that before she died she really did hear how much she was loved and appreciated. She was overwhelmed with the little quilt made so lovingly by the group here at St. Mary’s, placed it in her room so that she could see it well, and took it to the last communion service she attended downstairs at James St. Place. And you will not be surprised to know that she made new friends in her home in Bracebridge.

I would like to read to you from the homily written by our rector, Kellina Baetz, in Bracebridge, who often saw Mum at the service in James Street Place, or, in her final months, gave her communion at her bedside.

Psalm 23 ends with the words, ‘I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” And in John’s Gospel, Jesus says He is going to prepare a place for those who trust in Him. And that place, he assures us, is with God. Meg wanted us to thank God for the place that Dorothy had to live in during her last days. And even though they weren’t easy days, I found during my visits with Dorothy that her little room did have a sense of home to it. Often, there would be family with her, praying fervently or just chatting. Lunch trays and other clues let me know that staff and caregivers had been in and out, faithfully going about their life-giving routines. And there were little touches of loving care throughout the room, such as the greeting cards draped over the blinds, reminding Dorothy of all the people who loved her. And when Dorothy smiled, it lit the whole place up.”

Dorothy’s unforgettable smile will be part of all our memories. Part of her brightness and beauty. That is how it is for one of my daughters, who visited Mum the evening before she died, spoke to her and squeezed her hand when Mum was semi-conscious. And she remembers her Grandma’s beautiful smile, given out of that semi-conscious state, just for her.

She always tried to be bright. About a month ago when I was visiting she was resting and not saying much, but when a staff member came in with a dinner tray, Mum rolled over to greet her brightly with the words “Well, what have you cooked up for me tonight?” Almost to the very end, Mum did her best to be cheerful and show others that she cared and was aware of and interested in them. And she didn’t miss a beat. Last summer on one of the rare days when Mum was able to come to the cottage, she lay on a bed out on the screen porch she loved so well, directly opposite me, where I was at the other end of the porch, behind the table. We were at least fifteen feet apart. I spilled some water and it dripped over the edge of the table. I didn’t rush to clean it up because I thought Mum couldn’t see it. Then I heard a voice from the apparently sleeping form at the other end of the porch: “What’s that dripping off the table?” I was caught. Mum was, until a few days before her death, as bright as a button and as sharp as a tack.

What bothered Mum the most about her disease was that it made her self-centered in her estimation, and a great bother to others. We didn’t see her that way, but that was how she saw herself. She had always been the one to be there for others, to make delicious meals, put on lovely parties, drive people to various places, be the one to call or write notes, host bridge parties and help lead meetings. When we talked about her being President of the WA, she tossed it off by saying that people know that teachers don’t mind getting up and making fools of themselves. I just know she was using her natural gift of leadership, bred into her through generations of family members who were in service professions and served their communities unselfishly and wisely.

She didn’t know how to be selfish or unfaithful. And she was true, true blue. Honest to the core, and of course always ready to feel she had not done enough or said the right thing. I like to think of Mum as a true Scot, a fierce warrior princess. I would like to have had her as a commander in a battle!! She would win!! And yet she was a diplomat, able to hold her tongue for years, probably in some matters forever.

Modest to a fault, all Dorothy could think of as an epitaph for her tombstone was the line, “She was useful.” My dear Mummy, this is my epitaph for you: You always were, and still are bright, beautiful, faithful and true. Thank you for being my mother, thank you for being our friend.

Friday, May 08, 2009

New Every Morning

Thunder. It cracks and then rolls across the stratosphere bouncing and echoing for miles and miles across the fields. It is shockingly, jarringly loud. Even Ron, who sleeps through everything, is jarred awake and says a little comically, “Did you hear that?”

Lights go on in the house next door. Two little boys, whose bedroom is downstairs must have heard the thunder too and are running for the safety and security of Mom and Dad’s bed. I imagine they are being pulled in and tucked up close, with whispered words of comfort soothing and quieting their souls as their heartbeats begin to slow back down to a normal cadence and the warmth of their parents’ bodies lull them back to sleep.

I lie in the dark and listen to the rain come, countless tiny drops forming individually and then falling from heaven to create a muted drumming sound, washing the earth clean and forming the perfect backdrop to my thoughts.

Slowly, imperceptively, the sound of the rain softens and fades. Now I hear the intermittent dripping of a sodden, freshened world waiting to wake to a new day. It is still night, but soon the light will begin gather and the birds begin to waken and chirp and sing.

I love the changing weather. I often marvel when people complain about rainy days and talk about “the terrible weather”. People who I guess would love to see every day the same, the sun always shining, the weather always predictable. I wonder and feel a little sad for them at what they must miss. I exult in those sunny warm days, too, but I also love the wonder of a world being washed clean, the stillness being split apart sometimes by crashing thunder or a landscaped white washed in newly fallen snow. The changing weather to me, is a changing backdrop to each new days’ freshness and potential for adventure. I look forward to stepping outside into the rain-softened world later this morning, the musky, clean smell of wet cedars and sodden earth filling my senses.

Ah, there is the first trill. There’s always one. The first bird of the morning who feels, I’m sure, that it is their solemn duty to call the sun forth, even while it is still completely dark. But that bird is right. The promise of morning, and a whole new day, is here. A solitary car flies down the wet pavement. The world begins to awaken. Alarm clocks sound. Lights go on. Coffee pots are plugged in. Morning is breaking. It’s a whole new day.

This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.
The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.

"The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him."
The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
To the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the LORD.
Lamentations 3:21-26

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Somebody's Mother

I don't know who wrote this poem, but it is very old. It was shared with me by my beloved Aunt Agnes MacDonald many years ago.

(Thursday--my friend Claire Alexander found the author of the poem: Mary Dow Brine. The anthology it comes in is the "Poetry for Children" edited by Amy Neally. Thank you Claire!)

It makes me cry whenever I read it. It is unashamedly sentimental and it touches me somewhere deep.

Because this weekend we honour our mothers I am sharing it with the readers of Whatever He Says.

The woman was old and ragged and gray,
And bent with the chill of the winter's day;

The street was wet with a recent snow,
And the woman's feet were aged and slow.

She stood at the crossing and waited long,
Alone, uncared for, among the throng

Of human beings who passed her by,
None heeded the glance of her anxious eye.

Down the street with laughter and shout,
Glad in the freedom of "school let out,"

Came the boys like a flock of sheep,
Hailing the snow, piled white and deep.

Past the woman so old and gray,
Hastened the children on their way;

None offered a helping hand to her,
So meek, so timid, afraid to stir,

Lest the carraige wheels or the horses feet,
Should knock her down in the slippery street.

At last came one of the merry troop--
The gayest laddie of all the group;

He paused beside her and whispered low;
"I'll help you across if you wish to go."

Her aged hand on his strong young arm,
She placed and so without hurt or harm,

He guided the trembling feet along,
Proud that his own were firm and strong.

Then back to his friends again he went.
His young heart happy and well content.

"She's somebody's mother, boys, you know,
For all she's aged and poor and slow;

And I hope some fellow will lend a hand,
To my mother, you understand,

If ever she's poor and old and gray,
When her own dear boy is far away."

And "somebody's mother" bowed low her head,
In her home that night--and the prayer she said,

Was, "God be kind to the noble boy,
Who is somebody's son and pride and joy."

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


At the end of a long and busy day at work, glad to be home for the evening, I steer my somewhat beaten up Honda into the curving driveway leading to our front door.

I notice and appreciate, the fact that it is still daylight. Outside the garage doors a child's bike stands abandoned and on the curving patio outside our sun porch sits a lawn chair with an air of having been recently vacated. Signs of the start of the season of sunshine and outdoor pursuits.

I open the car door and reach for my briefcase, empty thermos and another bag, full of books, lunch box and bits and pieces that overflow as I try to wrestle them strategically into place for the trip into the house.

As I head for the door, a child runs around the corner of the house with the grace of a gazelle, long hair flowing behind her, cheeks rosy with fresh air. "Hide and seek!" she pants conspiratorially as she disappears around the other side of the house.

My bags land with a thud on the floor in the hallway, but the sound of children's laughter outside, lures me to the windows overlooking the back lawns.

I see Tiffany-Amber loping down the lawn towards the woodpile, and Victoria darting low behind it.

I notice that Tiffany-Amber is growing up fast and sprouting curves. "It is all too soon," I think, but then she throws back her head, and does a perfect wolf howl. I am relieved. For now. She is still the child who can morph into any animal at will, taking on its very essence somehow, and becoming the animal or bird she is imitating.

At the office I have reason to call someone I haven't spoken to for a while. After an initial greeting, she asks, "Grandchildren?" and before pursuing the reason for the call, we share a moment or two enumerating the number and ages of our respective granchildren. Then we both sigh and agree that they are among the greatest treasures of life.

Yesterday I completed a questionnaire for someone and the final question was, "Tell me anything else about yourself that you would like to." I said, "I am almost 59 and this is the best time of my life."

It truly is. Tonight I went with my girl and her girls, to see the movie, Earth. It was amazingly beautiful and impossible to watch without being awed at God's creation. We munched popcorn, shared slushies and later walked laughing through the chilly dark night to find the car; three generations of womanhood, bound by love and family.

Tomorrow it is Special Persons Day at the school that three of our other grandchildren go to: Katherine, Stephen and Josh. I will be honoured to be there. We only get so many of these in a lifetime and a grandparent knows these things.

Tonight I thank God for changing seasons and for the wisdom to be present in the moment that is now. I have seen my children grow to adulthood when I turned my back for a moment. With grandchildren there will be no turning around.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Paying Attention to Two Worlds

The natural world amazes me. My senses are saturated with beauty daily--I pay attention because that's the way God made me--I can't help it.

Yesterday, in anticipation of a hot day ahead, I had pulled down the blinds and the windows were open to catch the cool breeze before the heat came.

Outside, the wind blowing through the trees sounded like waves washing up on a beach. Wooosh--wooosh went the wind "waves"--while the blinds tap-tapped at the window frames.

This morning though, was motionless. I sat in my green room and watched the stillness outside. Not a leaf moved. The sky was ominous grey and the air hung moist and heavy.

I could hear only the occasional distant chirping or calling of birds and the tick-tick-ticking of our golden oak wall clock--a minimalist concert. The clock's rhythmic keeping of time contrasted with the random, free form sounds of nature.

The ticking reminded me that time can be a taskmaster--but the world runs according to time--it seems that for now at least, there is no escaping that.

And yet--there is freedom in listening for another Master's voice. What do I know of his plans--his schedule--unless I listen?

I wonder if this listening lay behind the conversation between Jesus and a man named Nicodemus--a Pharisee. If ever there as a group bound by rules and rituals it was the Pharisees--and yet this Pharisee sought out Jesus. Not in daytime--as his contentious peers had done, seeking to entrap Jesus with their questions. Nicodemus came--we are told by John in the third chapter of his gospel--by night--secretly, seeking--questioning sincerely.

Jesus said to him, "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." John 3:8.

Jesus also said, in the prayer recorded in John 17, that although we are in the world, we are not of it (verse 16).

Part of me must always be paying attention, listening for--a voice from another world--even as I go about the daily business of this world. I would love my spiritual antennae to be as finely tuned as my senses are to beauty.

1 Samuel 3:10 (New International Version)
10 The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!"
Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening."

(From the Archives July 8th 2007)

Monday, May 04, 2009

Pieternella (Nelly)

My Mum: Pieternella Kaatje Janny Schipper, known as Nelly, was born in Rotterdam, into a world between two wars: World War 1 and World War 11. She arrived on December 15th 1926, three days after her mother Kaatje's 31st birthday.

One of her earliest memories was of her twin brother Jan and sister Kaatje, being born May 28, 1928. At that time the family was living at their baker's shop.

Nelly had three older siblings. Two sisters: Cornelia Adriana and Adriana Dingena, and a brother, Dingenis Pieter. Nelly's father, Jan Schipper, named the children, and each child's middle name was the first name of the next child.

The twins each took one of Nelly's middle names: Kaatje Dina and Jan Adrian, although Kaatje was known as Kitty to her friends. The twins were followed by two more children, Dirk Louis and Alijda Marina Helena, making Jan and Kaatje's family of eight complete.

The years leading up to the start of World War 11 were hard, with ten mouths to feed on the meagre income from the struggling business. Nelly's father, Jan, was frail physically, having never fully recovered his health after having the Spanish flu. The Spanish flu pandemic swept the world from 1918-1920 and the disease struck healthy young adults rather than children and the weak elderly, killing an estimated 50 million to 100 million worldwide. The majority of deaths were from bacterial pneumonia, a secondary infection caused by the flu.

Jan was left with weakened lungs and asthma. A baker's shop with flour in the air, was the worst environment for him but he struggled on. He was generous to a fault, loaning money to others with just their word that they would pay it back, but often they didn't or couldn't. He didn't believe in insurance and when the shop caught fire, they were ruined financially.

Jan, by this time looked much older than his age, and Kaatje had to take in washing for other people to help the family survive. There was no hot running water, and she would carry hot water up the stairs to their flat in order to do the laundry.

Nelly was a peacemaker. She was especially devoted to her mother and although her brothers and sisters had arguments amongst themselves, she loved them all.

She was a natural beauty, with shiny, thick, dark hair, almond shaped blue eyes and rosy cheeks. In this photograph she was 14, which means that it was taken in 1940-41, a year in which her world turned upside down.

On the morning of May 10 1940, Nelly woke up to a noise like thunder. Her father came up to the bedroom and told the children that war had broken out. The Germans were invading the Netherlands although the country had intended to remain neutral in the war in Europe.

Nelly was relieved that it was planes and gunfire that she could hear and not thunder, which she was frightened of. On May 14th the Germans gave an ultimatum over the radio: surrender by 5.00 p.m. or they would flatten Rotterdam. The city had already been badly bombed and they surrendered, although Zeeland, to the south, continued to resist the Wehrmacht until the 17th.

Unbelievably, the children went to school on May the 10th as usual, but were sent home by their teacher, who told them not to come back until the war was over. Nelly said to her friend, "The last war lasted four years. Just imagine if we don't have to go to school for four years!"

This dream didn't come true, they had to go back to school after all, but were to move schools twice as the invading German army took the schools over for barracks. A dark shadow had fallen over Europe.

Across the North Sea, Britain had been at war with Germany since September 1, 1939, when the Germans invaded Poland, and a 19 year old boy named Christopher was dreaming of joining the British army.

Next week...Christopher's Story, Part 2